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Hipsters get Remembered, Legends Never Die

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“Hey,” says Tony Stark, voice muffled by the screwdriver clamped between his teeth. “You don't have a job, right?”

Bucky sighs internally. Here he was, hoping he could spend the next hour lying on his back, one-handedly scrolling through Instagram without making small talk, but he supposes he should have known better. He lifts his head from the surprisingly comfortable hospital-trolley bed to glare balefully at Stark. “Oh yeah. I put high school ed, military experience, PTSD, missing arm and 10k of debt on my resume and the offers came flooding in.”

Stark takes the screwdriver out of his mouth, fiddling with something impossibly small the the bicep of the prosthetic that’s 90% attached to Bucky’s shoulder. “Well you should never put your financial details on a resume, that's just bad sense,” he says vaguely. “I could probably pay that off for you.”

Bucky drops his head back onto the thin pillow, fixing his exasperated glare on his phone screen as he holds it back up. “No. You're already building me a new arm. I already owe you about….”

“Two hundred million dollars of R and D, tech development and materials, but who's counting,” Stark says, withdrawing the screwdriver and clicking the metal plate down. “You better not be taking selfies in my lab. Who even let you in with your phone? This is literally spitting in the face of your NDA.”

“I’m not,” Bucky lies. “Well, you can’t see anything in them except my face.”

“You baffle me,” Stark says. “I want to study your brain. You’re simultaneously a sixteen year old girl and and a hundred year old man in the same body. How does this happen, what is happening to the youth of today?”

“The economy,” Bucky says, tilting his chin up slightly to try and get rid of the jaw shadow that’s making him look gross. “And that’s sexist. You’re a sexist old man who doesn’t understand youth culture.”

“Call me old one more time and I’ll program this arm to punch you in your own face,” Stark says vaguely, leaning back to tap something on the mid-air screen he’s got thrown up behind him. “Now, concentrate real hard Buckaroo, and wiggle your fingers."

Bucky lifts his right hand and wiggles his fingers right in Stark’s face.

Stark grins. “Asshole. Now the vibranium ones.”

Bucky swallows hard, looks down at the dull sheen of his new fingers. He concentrates real hard, and the fingers all twitch.

 


 

 

Bucky drops his keys into the bowl by the door, kicking the door shut with his heel as he tugs his earbuds out. He grunts an indistinct hello over at his sister Becca, who is at the table eating cereal like the box is going to expire in the next ten seconds.

“Got a new arm yet?” she asks, eyes glued down on one of her awful boring medical journals. There are four open on the table, like she can read them all simultaneously.

“Does it look like I have a new arm?” Bucky replies, trying to extricate himself from the cord of his headphones, wishing for the millionth time that he could afford a pair of wireless ones. Not even Beats or anything, just a pair that has good bass and doesn’t try to strangle him everytime he uses them. “Final fitting isn't until the 23rd, and that’s if the next two relay sessions go as planned.”

“Just imagine it,” she says, eyes gleaming as she finally looks up away from her book. She’s possibly more excited than Bucky is. “On a related note, we're out of cereal.”

“How the hell is that related?” Bucky asks, but takes pity on her and decides to cook dinner. After all, he is the grown up here, by a whole eleven months and a boat-load of life experience. Still, he doesn’t turn down her help when she offers it, because chopping is one of things that is just a pain to do with one hand, no matter how much he practices. Asking her to help gets him thinking about first the not-too-distant possibility of having two arms again, and then the not-quite-conversation he'd had with Stark while fitting his potential new limb.

“So, Stark asked me if I had a job, earlier.”

Becca shovels her final fork full of stir-fry into her mouth. “Did you reply with something sarcastic and scathing?”

“Well it was a stupid question,” Bucky mutters, scowling.

Becca swallows, showing she's actually thinking about what she's going to say. “Maybe he wanted to offer you a job,” she muses.

Bucky snorts. “Sure. And you're gonna be named chief of medicine tomorrow.”

“Don’t mock the dreams of a lowly intern,” Becca says sternly. “I'll wash up. Go and dream about working for Tony Stark.”

"Shut up, Bec,” Bucky says and starts tidying up.

 


 

Bucky changes out of his skinny jeans, baggy tank, leather jacket ensemble, swapping his perfect early Fall outfit for a pair of gross Stark Industries medical scrubs. A nurse checks his vitals, tries to get him to surrender his I-phone and then ushers him into the lab. Tony Stark doesn’t say hello. Instead, he attaches sensors to Bucky's temples, the prosthetic to his shoulder and then says, “If you can move those fingers, I'll give you a job.”

Bucks blinks. “What?”

“Well, I will get someone to hand you the application forms and a pen because Pepper says I can't just give jobs out to my favourites.”

“What?” Bucky repeats. “You can't just give jobs out to your favourites.”

“Then why have favourites?” Tony complains, lifting Bucky’s hand and bending the fingers. “There are three people in this trial and you're the only one that offers enlightening conversations.”

Bucky snorts. “What, sarcasm and complaining about the subway?”

“Yes. Anyway, the job is office based, being a PA so you have to organise shit and take notes and type boring emails. Which is perfect because then I can test your motor skills.”

Bucky thinks of his last job. Staring down the sight of a rifle, breathing in dust and blinking sweat out of his eyes. He wonders if he misses it, some days.

He blinks himself back to the present. “I’m not working for you, Stark. I’d kill you within a week.”

“No, not me, I have a PA. You know the guy who hangs around outside sometimes and looks like he hasn’t slept in a week? Yeah, him. He’s great, so I’m good. It’s nice that you thought of me first, though.”

Narrowing his eyes, Bucky starts to feel slightly suspicious. “So it’s someone you know.”

Tony puts his finger on his nose and points at Bucky. “Exactly.”

“Who the fuck do you know that needs a PA that’ll be able to type four words a minute?”

“If you can type four words a minute to begin with I'll be amazed. Besides, you can make coffee with one hand.”

Bucky shakes his head. “I'm not being some schmuck’s bitch, Stark.”

“Don't ever tell him that I said this, but he's not just some schmuck,” Tony says. “You’ll love him,” he adds, and grins wide enough for Bucky to be worried.

 


 

Bucky moves not only the fingers of his new hand, but his wrist too. Stark claims that Bucky’s a miracle and he’s a genius, then takes the arm away. On Bucky’s way out, he puts a tablet down on the bench and gestures for Bucky to pick it up.

“What’s this?”

“Your application form!” Tony says, like Bucky’s dense. “Come on, you’re like twenty-six, you're a millennial, you know paper is so outdated.”

Bucky shoves his I-phone in his pocket and picks up the tablet with not a small amount of trepidation. “You’re giving me a two thousand dollar, top-range StarkPad because you don’t like paper.”

“Just click save when you’re done and it’ll send it straight to me. Well not me, my PA.”

“You’ve not even given me a job spec,” Bucky argues. “I told you-”

“It’s all on there,” Tony says. “Job spec, contract, application form, pay and benefit details.”

“Benefits?” Bucky asks quickly. He may have his pride but he’s not dumb. Not being a one-armed veteran in this economy.

“Dental, medical, sick pay,” Tony handwaves, showing that he’s a bastard who has never had to worry about any of that, ever. “Nothing but the best for the people who make coffee and type four words a minute.”

“There’s a catch,” Bucky insists. “There’s gotta be.”

“Nope,” Tony says. “Now shoo, I have an Avengers meeting ten minutes ago.”

“Of course you do,” Bucky says. “Later, bitch.”

“Fill in the form!” Tony yells after him. Bucky rolls his eyes but doesn’t answer. On his way out of the building he passes Stark’s PA who has three Starkpads under one arm, a phone jammed between his ear and shoulder and a tray of six coffees balanced in his free hand. He looks determined but slightly crazy-eyed, but Bucky can’t really blame him.

Nope, thinks Bucky. Even dental isn’t worth looking like that.

 


 

Curiosity gets the better of him though, and he finds himself opening up the files on the StarkPad. When he sees the pay, he has to sit down. When he sees what the benefits cover, he slides off of the couch onto the floor. When he sees who he could be potentially working for, he mashes his face into a pillow and starts yelling inarticulately.

“No,” he says, caught somewhere between giddy excitement and shock. “No, no, absolutely no fuckin’ way, no.”

But the expenses account, whispers a traitorous little bitch voice in his head. You could buy new suits for work. Nice suits. You’re allowed twenty bucks a day for food. So many bagels can be bought for twenty bucks. You could go to Starbucks everyday.

“No,” Bucky gasps in delight, knowing that in this him versus him argument, he’s probably going to win.

You could start paying Becca rent adds the voice , and that does it. Even though the money left by their parents helps subsidise most of the rent on their tiny Bed-Stuy apartment, he aches to start contributing, to stop being such a burden.

“Buck?”

Becca chooses that moment to stumble out of her bedroom, wearing scrubs and a hoodie and yawning so hard that Bucky can see her goddamn tonsils. Ugh. Working night shifts is not a good look on her. Neither are pink scrubs but Bucky’s going to keep his trap shut about that one. She’ll only retaliate by saying something about his haircut and that’s not a battleground he will entertain. He can rock an undercut without looking like a douche and he will not be told otherwise.

“Hey, Bec. Coffee’s on the counter.”

“Why are you making guinea-pig noises?” she asks. “I’ve not heard you make that noise since you got a talking Adventure Team Commander G.I Joe for Christmas.”

“I was eight,” he starts to argue, and then decides that he’s got bigger issues. “Speaking of Team Commander, check this out.”

He holds out the Starkpad. She looks at the not-actually-a-real-brand-Keurig and then decides he’s piqued her interest enough to hold off on coffee, walking over to snatch it from him. Just to be petty, he doesn’t tell her what she’s looking at, just entertains himself with watching her increasingly confused expression.

“Wait, did Tony Stark actually offer you a job?” she asks.

“Yep,” Bucky says. “Well, it’s a Stark Industries outsourcing position. I’ll be working for SI but actually within SHIELD. Apparently Stark is bankrolling a lot of the new SHIELD, in terms of paying tech personnel and shit.”

“SHIELD?” Becca squeaks. “New SHIELD?”

“No, the old one that got blown up five years ago,” Bucky rolls his eyes. “Bitch, you wouldn’t catch me working in DC even if SHIELD HQ wasn't at the bottom of the Potomac.”

Becca’s barely listening. Her eyes are zipping back and forth reading, and Bucky can barely contain his glee waiting for her to get to the really good part-

“WHAT THE SHIT, BUCKY?!” she screeches, and winces as their neighbor bangs on the wall. “What the fuck,” she hisses. “This is a joke, right?”

“No,” Bucky says. “I’m fairly confident it’s not.”

“You have to apply,” Becca says. “Bucky. Bucky . You have to apply. You’ll be working for-”

“I know,” Bucky says, and then, “I don’t know. Stark only wants me to do it so he can check in on my arm.”

“Who cares?! He could be offering it to you so he could check on your dick, you cannot turn this down.”

“It’s crazy,” Bucky says. “And you know the best part isn’t even who I’ll be working for.”

Becca looks at him like he’s lost his mind. “Better than being PA for one of the original Avengers? The first Avenger?”

“Yeah!” Bucky says with a grin, leaning over to point. “Just scroll back up and look at the dental package on this bad boy.”

 


 

He doesn’t apply straight away though. The job seems straightforward but it comes with a high-risk-warning that’s literally written into the contract. Bucky’s been in a high-risk job before and lost an arm and a good chunk of his mental stability for it. He can’t rush into that again, he reasons. His therapist would be proud.   

On the penultimate relay test, Stark demands to know where his application is, threatens to withhold the arm and then offers to up the wage. In the corner, his PA looks heavenward and immediately calls HR.

 


 

On the final relay test, Bucky hands back the StarkPad without a word. Tony picks it up from the table where he’d had Bucky place it, then throws it over to his PA who catches it without even looking. “Working for these guys isn’t all that bad,” says the PA. “The hazard pay alone is enough for a deposit on a decent sized condo.”

“The hazard pay alone would buy you a year's supply of leather jackets and shiny smartphones,” Tony translates into Bucky-speak. “You won’t regret it!”

“I regret everything, so much, all of the time,” Bucky says flatly, and Stark ugly-cackles.

 


 

He gets an email saying his application has been accepted on the 16th. He has a short interview with Stark Industries HR on the 19th. He forgets all about the possibility of a job while he’s admitted for surgery on the 22nd.

On the 23rd, he wakes up with his new arm attached. He can’t even think about the job, too caught up in the brilliance of his new arm, the first clumsy movements of his fingers as he lifts his hand and waves at his sister.

 


 

He has to stay in the SI hospital-lab complex for ten days after having his arm fitted. Outside the weather is turning colder, so Bucky spends most of his time inside complaining bitterly about it, in between PT and various neurological and physical tests. His sister visits and tells him to grow up, though she does bring him Starbucks so she is forgiven.

In those ten days, Bucky breaks two door handles, sixteen pens, one Starkpad and his earbuds. He also pulls what feels like every muscle in his back and shoulder, and gives himself a black eye when he goes to rub his eyebrow and misjudges the force needed.

Stark just shrugs and says that out of the three candidates, he’s still doing the best despite the black eye. One girl has broken her other wrist and can only move the new arm 60% of the time, and the other has had to have the entire prosthetic removed.

“One out of three isn’t bad, they say,” Stark says, with enough annoyance to show how he feels about that. “You have an interview tomorrow, by the way.”

“What?” Bucky yelps, and then howls when he realises that as well as making a truly embarrassing noise he’s just put his new thumb through the screen of his I-phone. He pulls it out with a sickening crunching sound, little pieces of glass falling to the floor.

“Oh look, you need the job to buy yourself a new one,” Stark says, and then has the audacity to look put-out when Bucky throws the remains of his beloved phone at him. “Jeez, ungrateful much? Call your sister, get her to bring you a suit.”

“How can I call my sister? I’ve just broken my fucking phone!”

Stark looks down at the shattered remains of the I-phone. “You kids, so attached to your material possessions,” he says, and Bucky sputters because he’d like to see Stark’s reaction if someone had taken one of his suits off of him. “Fine. I’ll get your contacts and apps and bookmarks and put them into a new Starkphone,” he says, and crouches down. “This doesn’t count as you handing me this by the way.”

Bucky murder eyes him, real fingers twitching. Stark picks up the remains of his phone and waves it at him before leaving the room. Bucky scowls and mutters, “yeah you better,” before remembering just how much porn is saved into the bookmarks of his phone.

He looks at his new metal hand and wonders if he could knock himself the fuck out just to save the indignity of Stark mentioning it.

 


 

Luckily, Stark doesn’t turn up to mock Bucky about the ridiculous amount of barebacking videos he has saved into his phone bookmarks. Less luckily, Pepper Potts turns up to return his phone and Bucky is torn between dying of mortification and asking her for a selfie. She’s so beautiful that Bucky’s poor bisexual brain can’t handle it.

“Tony asked me to return this,” she says, looking a little bemused. “I’m not sure why.”

“Uhhhh,” Bucky says, taking the phone. “Thanks. God, I’m sorry. Just, Pepper Potts is handing me a Starkphone. I feel like swooning.”

Pepper smiles. Bucky nearly does swoon. “You deal with Iron Man on an almost daily basis,” she says. “You should be used to meeting famous people by now.”

“Yeah, but you’re Pepper Potts,” Bucky says, trying to keep the awe out of his voice. “He’s just a man in a can.”

“I can see why Tony likes you,” she says. “And why he recommended you for the job.”

“God, the job,” Bucky says, pressing his palm to his forehead. His real palm, he’s not an idiot. “I nearly forgot. Oh man.”

“You’ll be fine,” Pepper says and her smile is so warm that Bucky can’t help it. He asks for a selfie. She says yes and Bucky uses his brand new Starkphone to post it straight to Instagram.

 


 

Becca turns up and helps him get into his suit. He would argue that he can do it himself but he’s only got one shirt and if he rips the buttons off then he’s gonna be going to his interview in a FRANKIE SAYS RELAX t-shirt. Also, turns out that tying a tie isn’t something he can do yet.

“You’ll be fine,” Becca says. “Want me to put concealer on your black eye?”

“I want this to go well, Becks,” he says. “Ugh, I hate being serious.”

“You will need to, at some point, start being serious about some things,” she says. “You can’t focus all of your energy on coffee and Instagram forever.”

“I can and I will.”

“You need so much more therapy,” she says fondly. “Now go get a job.”

Bucky grabs hold of her with his real hand, the metal one whirring unhappily. “Oh god, what do I say? I have no interview experience, I have no job experience.”

“Transferable skills,” she says.

“What, like I once sat for thirteen hours scoping out a potential weapons drop and that means I’m patient?”

“Exactly!” she beams. “And you can spend three hours deliberating between two almost identical pictures of coffee cups which shows you have a critical eye.”

“Which shows I have nothing better to do with my day,” he grumbles. “Okay, I get it.”

“You’ll be fine,” she says. “Text me later, yeah?”

Bucky assures her that he will, takes a deep breath and heads out.

 


 

It takes two trains and a five minute walk to get to the outer entrance of the new SHIELD complex. It’s on the very edge of Brooklyn, overlooking the bay. Rumour has it that Commander Rogers - a born and bred Brooklynite - asked for the location as part of the deal he took when he became Commander. Some versions of the story go as far as to say that the exact words were ‘Brooklyn or fuck off,’ which may or may not be true, but has become a pretty epic meme in its own rights. Bucky may or may not ever admit to owning a t-shirt with it on.

It takes him twenty minutes to be cleared through the outer entrance, then he has to catch a shuttle down to the actual complex that appears to have been built on a purpose-made island out in the bay. It’s full of people in business suits and Bucky simultaneously feels like he blends in and stands out horribly. He catches a few people eyeing his hair and the metal fingers, and it’s only because he’s on best behaviour that he refrains from telling them to suck a dick.

Finally, after a thirty minute wait at the inner entrance, he’s admitted to the SHIELD complex. It’s relatively modern and new looking, but strangely spartan, with none of the decoration or frills that he’s used to seeing in big important buildings in Manhattan. It reminds him more of weird concrete architecture he’s seen in Europe and wonders if it’s for practical reasons, someone’s personal preference or because SHIELD 2.0 has no money.

“So you must keep your pass on you at all times,” says the person who’s been allocated to take Bucky from the reception desk to his interview. She’s small and blond and very efficient looking. “It has a tracker in, just so you’re aware. It’s so we can keep an eye on everyone in the building.” 

“Fancy,” Bucky says, looking warily at the concrete corridors he finds himself walking down. They branch off at irregular intervals and he feels a little like a rat in a maze. “What if I clip it onto someone else?”

“Then you’ll be identified as a thermal signature without an accompanying tracker and descended upon with extreme prejudice,” says small and blond and efficient. “We take security very seriously here.”

“Yeah, I know, I was kidding,” says Bucky, wishing he could kick himself. Who makes jokes about security while interviewing for SHIELD, honestly? An idiot, that’s who.

“Sure,” says small and blond and efficient, and uses a passcard to swipe them through a set of steel doors. Bucky is expecting more concrete corridors so is surprised to find a huge circular room that's full of desks and computers. There’s even carpet here, and a few potted plants. A huge screen, currently blank, wraps around almost a quarter of the room. Around the opposite edge of the room are offices, separated from the main room by thick glass walls. Through some of the offices he can see huge windows overlooking the bay.

“Wow,” Bucky says.

“This is the hub,” says small and blond, ignoring his awe. “Contains emergency response stations, inter-department communications,” she says, pointing to different desks and cubicles, “meeting rooms, Director Hill’s office and Commander Rogers' office and quarters.”

“Wow,” Bucky says again, and desperately wishes he hadn’t had to surrender his phone at reception. Commander Rogers' office. Steve Rogers. The original Captain America. He’d get at least ten thousand likes for just a photo of the glass door with the nametag on.

‘Now is not the time to get starstruck,’ he tells himself sternly. ‘You might be working with these guys.’

And then he spots two figures sitting at a desk inside Commander Rogers' office and he nearly forgets to breathe. Small and blond and efficient ushers him in, politely saying, “Your candidate for interview, Commander,” before ducking out and leaving Bucky to flounder.

He finds himself sitting across from two of the most intimidating people he has ever sat across a desk from, and he used to be in the goddamn army. He gets the same sort of vibe, a surreal emotional deja vu as he stares at Director Maria Hill and Commander Steve Rogers.

Director Maria fucking Hill and Commander Steve fucking Rogers.

She’s in a neat pencil skirt and blouse. He is in his Commander's tactical uniform - a navy blue kevlar piece with bold red stripes down the shoulders. It makes him look like he’s spoiling for a fight, and makes Bucky feel two parts awed and one part intimidated. It could be the suit or it could be the six foot of solid muscle, Bucky thinks, then mentally plays both.gif in his head before remembering his manners and holding out his hand, introducing himself as James Barnes. He thinks that Rogers might actually crush his hand with his fabled super-soldier strength, but thankfully he just receives a firm and short handshake that in no way indicates that it was given by someone with superhuman strength. Hill isn't even looking at him, so he assumes she doesn't want a handshake and sits down. Good. His palms are getting sweatier by the second. 

“So,” Rogers says, as Bucky sits down and tries not to fidget. He meets Bucky’s eyes and Bucky feels like he’s being pinned in place, X-rayed and judged all at the same time. “Stark seems to think I need a PA, and has sent me you to interview.”

“You do need a PA,” Hill says, flipping through paperwork on the desk. Bucky snatches a glance of a photo of himself, all shorn hair and sullen scowl. Ugh, his military ID does not a pretty picture make. “Stark was the one who decided to force your hand, so here we are.”

Bucky’s a little taken aback, and also a little annoyed. These guys invited him here, and now they’re acting like he’s bothering them. Rude.

“Have you got any experience working as a PA?”

Bucky blinks. “I assume you read my application?”

Maria looks at him sharply, but Steve Rogers does not. He sifts through the paperwork and Bucky notices the tiniest of smiles curving at the edge of the Commander’s mouth. His pulse picks up. Did he just make the Commander almost smile by being a cheeky fucker?

“Okay, let’s cut to the chase,” Rogers says bluntly, smile vanishing. “This is not going to be a typical interview because I got back into the country thirty two minutes ago and found out about this interview thirty one minutes ago.”

He sounds bored, impatient. Like he’s only here under duress and can’t wait to get this whole thing over and done with. It makes Bucky feel small, which in turn makes him bold and slightly defiant. He knows he’s short goddamnit, which means he hates anyone making him feel it.

“Well I’m sorry to be a burden to you and your busy schedule but I applied for a job and got offered an interview, so I’m here doing that,” Bucky says, crossing his arms over his chest. “Maybe if you weren’t serious you shouldn’t be the one wasting my time. If you don’t actually need or want a PA, I’ll be on my way.”

He resists adding 'bitch' to the end of his rant by the tiniest of margins.

Hill looks at him, if anything slightly impressed by his outburst. Rogers scrutinises him then after a pause that lasts a lifetime, he nods.

“You’re right. I guess I shouldn’t let my frustrations with other people impact on others. You’re here acting like a professional, so I should too.”

Bucky unfolds his arms, feeling slightly less catty. He maybe thinks that the inflection Rogers put on other people has less to do with him and a lot to do with Tony Stark. It’s not an apology, but Rogers looks contrite, and he’s waiting for Bucky to make his move.

“Is this interview for real? Or are you just humouring me? Or humouring other people?”

“It is for real,” Hill says firmly. Rogers twitches minutely, in the way someone might do when they’ve just received a stiletto to the shin.

“For real,” Rogers concedes, giving Hill a look out of the corner of his eye. Bucky sees it because of course he does, he was a trained sniper, and he doesn’t think it bodes well. “Though I meant it when I said this interview is probably not going to hold up as your most regular.”

“Well...I’ve only ever applied for the army so I got no frame of reference,” Bucky says with a shrug. Somewhere he thinks he shouldn’t be drawing attention to his lack of experience but it’s too late now. “It could be the strangest interview going and I probably wouldn’t know any different.”

“Good,” Steve Rogers says, and hands him a tablet. “This is my email inbox. You’ve got twenty minutes to action it, then you’ll explain your choices.”

“What?” Bucky says. “Are you kidding?”

“Nope,” says Steve Rogers, popping the P. “I’m going to go get a coffee. Go nuts.”

He nods at Bucky then gets up, walking out of a door inside the office into a room that has no glass walls and therefore immediately piques Bucky’s interest. Steve Rogers shuts the door behind him, leaving Bucky alone with Director Hill and the tablet.

“Is he serious?” Bucky asks Hill blankly. She smiles at him in the way someone might do before they tell you you’re fired, or that the good news is you only lost one arm.

“SHIELD is one hundred percent committed to providing job opportunities for locals and international applicants, including veterans,” she says, and then tones down the recruiter spiel a little. “Commander Rogers needs a PA. However, he is under the illusion that he can do without.”

“So you don’t think he’s actually going to hire me?”

Hill nudges the tablet closer to him. “I think you should do as he says.”

“Am I legally allowed to do this?”

“Yes,” she says. “Nineteen minutes.”

“Christ, alright,” Bucky mutters and sets the tablet flat on the desk, leaning over it. He props his metal elbow on the desk and rests his head on his fist, tapping away with one hand as quickly as he can. He knows he’s supposed to be getting used to the pressure needed for fine motor skills in his prosthetic, but he doesn’t think now is really the best time.

Rogers appears with a coffee eighteen minutes in. He doesn’t disturb Bucky deliberately, just does it by way of his sheer presence in the room, even doing something as mundane as sitting down.

“Sixty seconds, James,” Hill says, and Bucky nods but doesn’t look up, still tapping away. How is this even his life.

He has about twenty seconds left when he decides he’s done, sitting up and looking back at Rogers. Jesus fuck, he’s back at it again with the polite super-intense laser X-ray stare. “Done,” he says. “I think.”

Rogers nods, taps something on his desk and throws up a projection of the tablet screen so they can all see the mess that Bucky has made of his inbox in high-resolution detail. “Talk me through what you did.”

This is definitely not a regular interview, Bucky thinks, but he takes a deep breath and decides that he’s really got nothing to lose. Except the respect of a famed American icon, but whatever. Losing that can’t be as bad as losing an arm, in the grand scheme of things.

“Alright,” Bucky says. “So you had some flagged emails. That’s a tool that only works from within the inbox, so I assumed you’d flagged the senders. One I left as flagged because it’s got password locked attachments so I can’t do anything about them.”

“Good,” Rogers says. “What else?”

Surprised and bolstered by the praise, Bucky carries on. “The other one I opened, read the attachments, then resent it to you with a summary in the body. You’ll know if they’re important or not. And the one from the CIA, I deleted.”

Rogers leans back in his chair, drumming his fingers against the armrest. “You opened a confidential email from the CIA and then deleted it?”

“Well you gave me the tablet so if you didn’t want me to read anything…” Bucky trails off, leaving the ‘so it’s your own fault’ part unsaid. “And there were locked files on other emails, so I assumed you have privacy settings that are keeping me out of anything you really don’t want me to see. Anyway, all it said was ‘incoming call at 4pm NRR’ so I put it in your calendar and deleted it. If NRR means something other than no response required, oops, my bad. Anyway, you had two emails about scheduling Avengers training so I inputted that into your calendar too, and then eight emails about meetings with SHIELD personnel. I arranged four of them, rearranged one and I’m sitting on the rest because they sound like shit that the Commander of SHIELD shouldn't be bothering with, but I don’t yet know the delegation procedures. You also had an email from Natasha Romanov that I flagged because if that’s really the Black fuckin’ Widow I don’t think you want to be ignoring it. The eight emails from Tony Stark I deleted, because he just kept telling you shit like 'come over to Avengers Tower', and I’ve actually been there in person when he’s not really paying attention and says shit like ‘hey Jarvis email Steve and tell him he’s boring’ while he’s working on things so I figured you could do without.”

He falls silent, catches Maria and Rogers staring at him and then winces and tries to think how many times he just swore. Oh fuck it. In for a penny.

“Oh...and the one from the head of PR at GenCorp?...I didn’t do anything about it because I don’t know uh...the correct tone? Like how formal to be? But I would have told him to shove his sponsorship ideas, because it’s goddamn common knowledge the Avengers are not into political or corporate affiliation and if they were, they wouldn’t affiliate themselves with their greedy, less than minimum wage paying, no ethical or environmental considerations, piece of garbage company. But obviously, in a really polite way if that’s what you wanted me to do.”

Rogers turns and looks at Maria. She leans her elbows on the table, massaging her temples and looking like she regrets everything that led her to this point in her life.

“Steve, no.”

“He’s hired,” Rogers says, then looks at Bucky. “James, you’re hired.”

Hill gives Rogers a look that’s one part alarmed, two parts exasperated. “Commander, I think we should talk about this-”

“Nope,” Rogers says. “I’m hiring him.”

Bucky blinks. “Are you serious?”

“Wait,” Hill says, grimacing and doing that thing where someone tries to be bitchy about someone else right in front of their face. “Steve. Listen. You know why...you know why this candidate made it this far.”

Rogers nods. “I am sending Tony Stark a gift basket.”

“He’s not expecting a gift basket, he’s expecting you to have a tantrum.”

Rogers handwaves her, his attention back on Bucky. “Ignore everything she says. You’re hired. I want you to be my PA. On one condition.”

“Yes?”

Rogers turns around, yanks open a filing cabinet and pulls out a tablet. “Do all that for real. Sorry, the tablet you had was a dummy. Couldn’t exactly have interviewees sending emails back to the CIA.”

“Including the email to the GenCorp guys?”

Rogers grins and leans back in his chair, looking very pleased with himself. “Especially the email to the GenCorp guys.”

 


 

An hour later, Bucky leaves his interview, this time escorted by Commander Steve Rogers himself. He’d actioned the inbox for real, asked Rogers to call him Bucky instead of James, and been handed yet another tablet which contains the SHIELD personnel procedures he’s allowed to read off site. Rogers apologises for the fact Bucky’s not been given a manual specific to his job title, because as Rogers points out, he's never had a PA before and wasn't expecting to get one.

“I think to begin with the job will be one part making me coffee, one part dealing with my goddamn inbox and one part winging it?”

“I can deal with that,” Bucky nods. “I’m a little bit...I can't believe you’re trusting me to do those things.”

“You passed the security checks, you’ve got good military experience and I like you,” Rogers says. “And I have come around to the idea of paying someone to deal with the hell on earth that is my inbox. I’ve paid my dues. I fought Hitler. Someone else can fight the inbox.”

Bucky bites down a snigger. From the way Rogers glances at him, he definitely noticed. Bucky clears his throat, smooths down his tie. “You like me?”

“Well. You swore nine times and basically called the boss of GenCorp a fascist asshole in your interview,” Rogers shrugs, and glances at his watch. “Shit. I’m late for a thing. As of Monday, you’ll know all the shit I’m late for because you’ll be in charge of my calendar.”

“Sure,” Bucky says, while internally thinking ‘holy fuck I’m in charge of Commander Rogers’ calendar, I am not qualified for this, who the fuck decided this was a good idea.’

“I’m gonna find someone to walk you out,” Rogers says, clearly no longer paying attention to Bucky. “Where’s Anaya, oh hell. Oh! Clint! Perfect timing, I need a favour.”

Bucky looks up from his stack of paperwork and feels his jaw drop. Because standing right in front of him is Clint goddamn Barton. Hawkeye. And he’s tall and he’s got his bow in his hand and he’s wearing black and purple tactical gear and he’s tall and he’s scruffy and he’s blond and tall . He’s taller than Rogers. Bucky kind of wants to climb him like a goddamn tree.

And he’s looking right at Bucky, eyes scanning him from top to toe. They’re blue - not like Rogers' blue X-ray eyes, but more grey and stormy. Oh god, Bucky’s about to start quoting The Princess Bride in his head, he’s doomed.

Barton finally tears his eyes away from Bucky, grinning and mock saluting. “Whatup, Cap?”

Rogers pulls a face. “Stop calling me Cap. I’m not Cap anymore.”

“So sorry, Commander,” Clint Hawkeye Barton yawns, itching his eyebrow with the end of his bow. His eyes wander back to Bucky and he jerks his chin towards him. “Who’s the short kid?”

Bucky bristles. The urge to tackle Barton and mount him fades. Well, maybe not fades, but is joined by an urge to punch him. Maybe he’ll mount him then punch him. “Kid?

Barton grins. “But you didn’t contest short.”

“I’m five foot one, why would I argue that?”

“This,” Rogers says, talking over them, “is my new PA, Bucky Barnes.”

Barton looks delighted. “You hired a PA? You actually listened to Hill and got someone to help? Mark this day as a National Holiday, someone call the guys in charge of holidays.”

“Stark hired me a PA,” Rogers points out. Bucky’s starting to think that there’s more to this story than he’s current got security clearance for. He’s known about this job opportunity for weeks, which does not explain why Rogers has apparently only known about it for an hour and a half.

“Ohhhhh,” Barton says, now eyeing Bucky like he’s about to explode or something. Great. Now everyone suspicious of him just because he’s come by way of Tony Stark. Though, in fairness, they’re not so suspicious that they’ve not let him have the job, and he’d probably be pretty suspicious of Tony Stark’s motives too.

“Exactly,” Rogers says. “But turns out the joke’s on Tony.” Rogers is now gesturing to Barton. “Bucky, this is Clint Barton.”

“The tallest Avenger,” Barton says, and then he winks at Bucky. Bucky would swoon, if he were in a period romance. “What favour do you want, Commander?”

“I’m late for around five different things,” Rogers begins.

“This is why you need a PA,” Barton says.

“Yeah, I know,” Rogers says, and he’s already stepping backwards away from them. “Walk Bucky out? Get him signed out and make sure Hannes gives him his phone back. Bucky, I’ll see you Monday, okay? I’ll have someone collect you from the main desk and I’ll meet you at eight so we can get your official- Yeah, Maria, I’m coming. Yes, okay - Anaya, there you are-”

He walks away, still having around five different conversations. Bucky watches him go, feeling like he’s on the periphery of a hurricane.

“He’s less fun now he’s Commander,” Barton observes, watching him go. He’s got one end of his bow propped on his foot, spinning it around with his palm resting on the other end. “He’s all business and stress.”

“I guess that’s why he hired me.”

“Mmm,” Barton says, not sounding convinced. “Right, let’s get you out of here before your security pass expires and explodes.”

Bucky cocks his head. “No offense, but what are you doing here? Isn’t Avengers Tower in Manhattan?”

“Us Avengers have a weirdly incestuous relationship with SHIELD,” Barton says, and starts walking. “Even worse now Steve’s in charge of SHIELD. Like he’s technically still on the Avengers roster. If we were on Facebook, our status would be it’s complicated.”

Barton swipes them out of the hub and they walk back down the corridors. Bucky keeps fighting the urge to glance up at Barton because Barton is at least a foot taller than him and that makes it super hard to do casual glances. He gives in after about five steps and his stomach jolts because Barton is already looking at him.

“You’re the guy from the prosthetics trial, right? Stark’s wunderkind?”

“Well, the arm works, so I guess,” Bucky says. “He talk about me?”

“Only your arm,” Barton says, and his eyes track Bucky up and down again. “He’s not said a lot about the rest of you, which I think is a damn shame.”

Bucky feels his face go hot. Oh god. Is this flirting? Is Barton flirting?

“Good things come in small packages,” he says, then promptly wants to punch himself. How fucking lame.

“Clearly,” Barton says, amused. “Anyway, here we are. Reception. Please do your best to get Rogers to sign off on a coffee bar in here. The vending machine sucks.”

“I’m not sure that’s in my job description?”

“You listen here,” Barton says, and goes so far as to stop Bucky, putting his hands on his shoulders and looking him right in the eye. Bucky shivers because he has a thing for tall guys and competence and Barton is literally the tallest Avenger. “Steve has been refusing to get a PA since we built this place. So the fact that Stark wrangled you in is not a big deal, because he’s been trying to do it for months, but the fact Steve said yes? Big deal. And with great power comes great responsibility.”

“You’re an Avenger,” Bucky says, looking Barton square in the eye. “You should be able to manage without my help.”

“You’d be surprised,” Barton says. “I may look the part of a dashing hero, but I’m just a regular guy who would kill to get his hands on a decent cup of coffee.”

He slides his hands off of Bucky’s shoulders, lingering a little too long. Bucky is now 80% sure that this is flirting, that he and Barton have both laid eyes on each other for the first time and mentally gone ‘yes please.’ Maybe he needs to make a move before he actually signs a contract and stupid workplace ethics come into force on Monday morning.

Barton’s actually looking at him like he’s waiting. Bucky opens his mouth but he stalls; his cocky attitude and fearlessness are actually either a front or a byproduct of some serious insecurities that he likes to pretend he doesn’t have, so putting himself out there and hitting on a literal Avenger is massively out of his league.

Do it, a voice in his head tells him. Rogers hired you, ergo you’re not that bad. Ask the Avenger to go for coffee and then take him back to your place. Well. Maybe not your place because Becca. Maybe a hotel? His place? Does he live in Avengers tower? Oh fuck it just start with coffee!

Before he can articulate asking Barton to join him for a proper cup of coffee, Barton’s phone rings. He pulls it out of his pocket and Bucky is vaguely horrified because it’s an honest to god flip phone.

“Hi,” Barton says, and looks dismayed. “That was today? Okay, I’m on my way. No, I’m at SHIELD, I just got back and Steve wanted me to look at a thing - okay. Yeah.” He snaps the phone shut and gives Bucky a look that can only be described as deeply regretful. “I gotta go,” he says. “See you around, Bucky.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and then Barton is gone, walking out of the complex and tapping away on his sorry excuse for a phone with both thumbs. Oh no, if they’re gonna end up sleeping together then Bucky is gonna have to do something about that phone.  

 


 

 

"Fuck, fuck, shit, fuck.”

Bucky trips out of his apartment on his first official day of work, already running late. He’d gotten up so early too, wanting to eat a decent breakfast and get his stuff together. What has actually happened was that he spent way too long deliberating over which outfit to wear, then spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to get his hair to look perfect, and now he’s running late. He’s not even had time to take a decent selfie of his new look, which was going to be his way of showing his Instagram followers that he’d got a job. It’s not like you can just announce that shit; you need to do it in a more subtle, tactical way.

“Good luck!” Becca shouts from inside the apartment. “Don’t sleep with any superheroes on your first day!”

“I’ll do my best,” Bucky yells back. He hauls his satchel onto his shoulder and tries to juggle his keys and jacket with minimal success, dropping both. He bites back more cursing and kneels down to pick them up-

“On your knees again?” comes a familiar voice, and Bucky steels himself, shoulders going tense. He grabs his stuff and stand up, ignoring his neighbor.

“Hey, I said hello.”

Bucky straightens up and narrows his eyes at his neighbor, who is standing there and leaning against the doorframe of the next apartment. He’s barefoot and in sweats, and has he really come out here just to give Bucky a hard time?

“You didn’t, you made a joke about me being queer because you think you’re hilarious.”

“Well, if the shoe fits,” the guy says.

Bucky hasn’t been through ridiculous amounts of therapy to land himself in trouble by punching his neighbor, so he walks away. The guy knows he’s a veteran and knows he’s disabled, which Bucky thinks should make him more goddamn respectful. Seems like for some people, the queer thing overrides anything and everything else about a person.

“Hey, since when did you get a new arm?” the guy shouts.

Bucky flips him the bird over his shoulder and walks away. He’s got bigger problems, namely that he’s late, and he’s late for his work at SHIELD 2.0 which involves working for Commander Steve Rogers. It’s still not sunk in yet.

He arrives at the reception desk at four minutes past eight. The moment he steps through the outer doors he’s wincing and trying not to show it because Rogers is already there. He’s leaning back against the reception desk chatting to Hannes, all tall and imposing and making everyone in the vicinity look nervous.

“You’re late,” he says to Bucky. “Hand in your phone. You’ll get a work phone later. Induction and security first.”

“Okay,” Bucky says, and surrenders his phone without complaining even a little bit, which is his way of apologising for being late. “I’ve got that paperwork. I didn’t sign it though because it wasn’t specific to us. You. This position. Job.”

“Good,” Rogers says. “Here. Official pass. Do not take it off while you’re in the building.”

“Yeah, I know, heat trackers, extreme prejudice,” Bucky says, taking the pass and running the attached lanyard through his fingers. “I got it.”

“If anyone asks to see your pass, show them but do not let it leave your hand. No-one is allowed to handle anyone else’s pass.”

“Wow,” Bucky mutters. “This is intense.”

“One of the most secure facilities in the States,” Rogers says unapologetically. “In the world, if I get my way. Come on. You’ve got about thirty seconds of freedom before you sign your life away.”

Bucky laughs, but it fades quickly. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Mostly,” says Rogers, and starts walking. Bucky hastens to follow, looping his lanyard around his neck and wondering what the hell he’s got himself into.

 


 

Bucky’s first day passes by in a whirlwind of paperwork, coffee runs and feeling pretty out of his goddamn depth. He sits through meetings with HR, meetings with PR, meetings with Rogers and then spends the last thirty minutes of the day actually being vaguely useful by looking over Rogers’ calendar and scheduling Avengers training sessions.

By the time he gets home he’s over-caffeinated, has a headache and his back is aching. He’s been mostly using his right hand for everything, trying to keep his left in a vaguely natural position, still terrified of breaking things.

And he had been kind of hoping to run into Barton again but the universe hates him and had kept his day completely Hawkeye free. Though maybe that’s a good thing. He can’t be flirting; he’s too busy trying to work out how the fuck he can do this job that he probably doesn’t deserve.

Becca takes one look at him when he stumbles through the door and immediately goes into look-after-Bucky mode; she sits him down on the couch, throws a blanket at him and orders pizza.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” he says, staring at a spot about five inches right of the TV. “I had to sign NDAs and insurance forms and someone mentioned a 401k and I didn’t even know what that was so I just nodded. You're my emergency contact, by the way.”

Becca hums in sympathy and lets him go on.

“And it’s not just the fact I have a job and I don’t know how it works. I’m working for superheroes. Everyone in the building is super competent and gorgeous and I’m basically hipster trash and some of the agents keep giving me the side eye.”

“Who cares?” Becca says. “You don’t work for any other agents. You work for Rogers. Is he giving you side eye?”

“No,” Bucky admits. “I just. I get in my head that they’ll say something to him. Like, I’ve been working there for all of a day but his opinion really matters. I want to do well. I don’t want to let him down.”

“Well, they say he can inspire a rock to fly,” Becca shrugs. “Makes sense that he’s inspiring you to be the best PA you can be.”  

“I broke a teaspoon,” Bucky blurts out. “I made him coffee, and thought I’d try the left hand, and I bent it clean in half.”

Becca’s mouth twitches. “You just need more practice.”

Bucky’s not sure on that. “He said he’s gonna get me my own desk,” he says. “A desk, Becca. My own desk.”

“You work for Captain America and it’s the desk that blows your mind,” she laughs. “Wow.”

“And the sheer hotness of the Avengers when you see them in person,” he says sagely, and raises his mug. “To Hawkeye’s biceps.”

“Hawkeye’s biceps,” she echoes seriously, and they clink mugs in a very grown-up toast of hot chocolate.

Chapter Text

Bucky’s second day goes slightly better than his first. When he gets to work - on time and with his hair styled perfectly; he’s kind of proud even though that’s a pretty low bar - he finds that his new desk is already there. And it’s not outside Rogers’ office like he assumed it would be, somewhere in the hub. It’s inside the room. And more than that, Rogers has rearranged his whole office to accommodate Bucky’s new desk. Bucky is now right next to the door so anyone who comes in has to get past him before they get anywhere near Rogers, who has put his own desk right in the far corner.

Bucky feels a weird combination of overwhelmed and smug. It’s a hard one to wrap his head around.

“So you’re the first port of call when anyone comes into the office, and you’ve got your back to the wall and can face the door straight on,” Rogers says, not looking up from his computer.  “Coat hook is over there, and you can use the mini fridge to put your lunch in if you bring your own. From now on, I will be officially ignoring anyone that comes through that door unless you direct them to me.”

Bucky shrugs awkwardly out of his jacket, still too mindful of the plates of his new hand catching on the fabric. The damn thing is the direct cause of the demise of most of his favourite possessions, he’ll be damned if his leather jacket meets the same fate. “Why didn’t you put me outside the door?”

“You’re not a receptionist. You’re my PA. I need you in here to assist.”

There’s a little voice in Bucky’s head that thinks ‘you want an one armed baby of a veteran to assist you, are you high?’ but he tries to ignore it. “Okay, now how can I assist?”

Steve finally looks up, gesturing to a set of boxes on the floor beside Bucky’s desk. “You can unpack your new computer, set it up, sync all my calendar stuff to your stuff and then go over a briefing from the UN for me, I want bullet point notes.”

Bucky feels alarmed. “I can’t unpack a computer,” he says, holding up his left hand.

Steve stares back, nonplussed, “Go slow,” he says like it’s obvious. “You’ll be fine.” And then he goes back to frowning at his own computer screen.

Bucky blows out a breath, looks at the boxes. The war in his head is still raging: one part ‘absolutely not, don’t be an idiot, why did you think you could do this’ versus ‘ but Commander Rogers hired you and maybe even likes you and you want him to like you back so do the job and make him proud.’

“You’ll be fine, he says,” he mutters, and then sets about unpacking.

 


 

Turns out, he is fine. The only casualties are a pair of scissors and one crushed plug. Steve just shrugs and tells him to work it out, so he goes down to the tech centre who actually look vaguely offended that he wants something as basic as a replacement plug. Maybe he should have asked for a photonic shield or rocket powered jet boots or something. 

Regardless, he gets his new plug and a loaner screwdriver, which he had to literally sign out as both a tool and a weapon. He’s not sure how he’s gonna manage one handed, but figures he’ll think more like Steve and say “I’ll be fine,” rather than freaking out. He gets back to his desk and the issue of how to use a screwdriver is derailed as he finds that in his absence, someone has wandered in.

“Hey!” Clint Hawkeye Barton says. He's sprawled on the aesthetics-only-leather couch and it draws attention to his thighs in a way that’s most unfair. His bow is propped up against the arm of the chair too, oh god it’s Hawkeye’s actual bow. Bucky wants to touch it. “You’re still here!”

Bucky smiles. “Obviously.”

Barton laughs, but Rogers does not. “This is why you need to learn to stop breaking things,” he says flatly. “Because every time you go to find replacements, people get in and start talking to me.”

“I left the room...once,” Bucky says, wondering if he should have apologized.

“You left once, someone got in once, that’s hundred percent fail rate,” Rogers says.

Hawkeye waves. “Hundred percent success rate from where I’m sitting.”

“You’re sitting in my office, your opinion is invalid,” Rogers says, but he doesn’t sound that mad. Not at Bucky anyway. “Seriously Clint, I’m busy.”

“Awe, you’re no fun,” Barton pouts. “I’ve got an hour before I need to be in a meeting with Hill and I’m not leaving the building. Your security measures are insane, it’d take me over an hour to get out and in again.”

Bucky privately agrees, but this is a conversation that’s out of league on so many levels. He slides back behind his desk, laying out the screwdriver, new plug and the mangled remains of the old one. He contemplates them with narrowed eyes.

“You want to lower security? That's how you get Nazis,” Rogers says and Barton snort-laughs in a way that Bucky finds equal parts cute and gross. Steve waves him off, like it's Barton's fault that he’s actually hilarious in a weird deadpan way. “I’m trying to read this report from Echo Alpha unit and somehow they’ve made a simple weapons retrieval op last thirty-six pages.”

“That’s because the last time they handed one in you yelled at them for it not being detailed enough.”

“I did not yell at anyone,” Rogers says, and slumps back in his chair. “Bucky, can you either throw him out or go get me a coffee so I’m caffeinated enough to deal with him.”

“Black, no sugar,” Bucky says, standing up. “Yes, boss.”

“You have a cybernetic arm, why did you not even try to throw him out?” Rogers grumbles.

“My motor skills aren’t good enough yet,” Bucky says.

“Black three sugars!” Hawkeye shouts after him, and Bucky resigns himself to the position of beverage bitch for the time being.

When he returns with two mugs of coffee held in his right hand, metal fingers touching just enough to help balance them, Rogers is back to reading his report.  More importantly, Barton is sat at Bucky’s desk and is fixing his plug.

“Um,” Bucky says after he’s dropped off Rogers’ coffee, because usually he don’t tolerate people gettin’ all up in his stuff and sitting in his goddamn chair, but he’s outranked here and it does look like Hawkeye is trying to help.

“Oh my god you bought me coffee,” he says, genuinely surprised.

“It’s his job,” Steve calls over. “Get out of his chair, he’s got a computer to set up and UN briefings to read.”

Barton looks suitably impressed, shifting out of Bucky’s seat. “He’s got clearance to read UN briefings?”

“He’s my PA, he’s got higher clearance than you,” Steve says, then makes an irritated noise. “Bucky, call the lead handler for Echo Alpha unit and schedule a meeting.”

“You haven’t given me a phone yet, I’ll email them,” Bucky says. “Have I really got higher clearance than the Avengers?”

“I’m ignoring you both. Do some work.”

Bucky grins and gets cracking on sending the email that’s undoubtedly going to make the handler of Alpha Echo shit themselves. It takes him forever, because he’s typing one handed on a tablet and more importantly, Hawkeye is now sitting on his desk and doing something very deft with wires and screwdrivers and Bucky is trying not to be fixated by his fingers.

“Done,” Barton says, holding the plug out to Bucky. “You’re welcome.”

“Thanks,” Bucky says and he smiles, feeling his cheeks go warm as Barton winks at him. Actually winks. Oh god, he's going to die. Someone call Becca and tell her to give the eighteen dollars in his savings to the nearest LGBT shelter.

“Anything else I can do for you?” Barton says, and then shifts around so he’s facing Bucky in a move that would have been pretty smooth, if he hadn’t knocked his mug of coffee all over the desk.

Including over Bucky’s work tablet and his brand new computer.

Bucky’s torn between shocked and pissed, but before he can even say anything, the bellow of rage that erupts from Commander Rogers’ desk is enough to send Hawkeye packing. Bucky just about jumps out of his goddamn skin, managing not to yelp or drop and cover by the barest of margins. When his heart has dropped out of his mouth back into his chest, he has to take a second to stop and process when he realizes his brain has connected Rogers yelling with his old army CO handing him his discharge papers. Rogers may be leading a spy organisation, but it's clear that he’s still a soldier.

“Bye!” Hawkeye shouts as he hightails it out of the room, almost tripping as he clips his shoulder on the frame.

“Asshole,” Rogers bites out, and then silence falls as he comes to stand beside at Bucky’s side, both of them just staring at the coffee that’s now drip-drip-dripping off the edge of the desk and onto the carpet.

“Classic Hawkeye,” Rogers finally says, rubbing at his brow.

“What, the spilling coffee or the running away so he doesn’t have to deal with it?” Bucky asks, kind of disappointed that Hawkeye’s gone. Okay, who is he kidding, he’s super disappointed. If he was allowed his phone, he’d be posting an Instagram story covered in sad emojis right now.

“Both,” Rogers says. “Okay. Scrap the UN briefing, that’s not gonna get done today. Go and ask one of the tech support to come and fix this mess. While they’re doing that, you might as well go and get your work phone.”

Bucky brightens up at that. “I get a work phone?”

“Yes, but it’s pretty heavily encrypted and,” Rogers waves his hand, presumably to encompass security stuff. “So you can make calls, send emails and use the internal messaging system, but its monitored. So no personal calls or social media.”

Bucky resists the urge to groan, just because Steve is his boss and he wants to keep his job. Steve must notice something though, because his mouth twitches.

“I’m paranoid about security for a reason,” he says. “If it’s too much to deal with-”

“No, no, don’t fire me, I don’t mind.”

Rogers’ brows go up. He considers Bucky for a moment and then nods. “I’m not going to fire you,” he says simply. “Now go sort this shit out.”

“Yes, Sir.” Bucky says before he can stop himself. He sort of cringes, waiting for Rogers to react. He slowly turns his head sideways and up and finds Rogers waiting for him to make eye-contact, the sadist.

“If it works for you,” he shrugs. “I technically outrank you if we consider our old military ranks and I guess it’s better than Cap.”

Bucky nods, grateful. “As long as it doesn’t bother you.”

“What bothers me is that I’m buried in paperwork and you are still not up and running,” Rogers says, and Bucky takes the hint and goes to find tech support and someone to clean up the coffee.  

 


 

Five hours and four trips to tech support later, and Bucky is finally in business. He has his work phone and his computer all set up and in theory he can start being a kickass PA. The only hitch in the system is the human element, AKA him. He’s so slow with only one hand, and he feels so hyper aware of everything because Commander Rogers is like six feet away, frowning and occasionally making calls in clipped, businesslike tones. 

His worth as a PA - which honestly at this moment feels like his entire universal worth as a human being - is tested literally five minutes after he gets sat down at his now coffee-free desk. There’s a knock at the door, which Commander Rogers ignores, just like he said he would. Bucky wonders what the hell he should do but then the door opens and a woman in a SHIELD field-uniform comes in.

She stops short and frowns, glancing at Bucky and then over at Steve.

“Can I help?” Bucky says.

“I need a word with the Commander,” she says, eyes raking over Bucky and clearly finding him lacking.

Bucky glances at his computer screen, then opens Rogers’ calendar. The next two hours are blocked out in red, which they have decided is code for ‘make everyone leave Commander Rogers the fuck alone unless the world is ending.’

“He’s busy,” Bucky says. “Can I-”

The woman’s mouth falls open and her brows shoot up to her hairline. “He’s right there,” she says, like Bucky’s a particularly stupid child.

“Yes, and he’s right there being busy,” Bucky says, glancing at her ID badge and taking note of her name. Agent D. Melton. “Tell me what you want and I’ll get him to get back to you.”

“Look. I don’t know who you are-”

“No, you look,” Bucky says, leaning back in his chair. He’d stand up but he knows that that move never ends well for him; it's hard to square up to someone when he's only five one and they’re decidedly taller. “I’m at a desk in Commander Rogers' office. He clearly knows I’m here. He’s clearly ignoring this conversation, or trying to, because he’s busy. Considering that, you should be able to work out that I’m here for a reason. You want his time, you go through me.”

She shuts her mouth, jaw clenched. Bucky stares her out, heart hammering wildly. He can't believe he’s basically just told a senior-ranking field agent to do one, but Rogers said to keep everyone out and the calendar is red, dammit.  

“I’m the unit leader for Delta Alpha. We need to discuss restructuring teams Charlie Alpha through Foxtrot Beta,” she finally bites out. “Commander Rogers has made it very clear that we do not adjust squad sizes without his permission.”

Bucky nods, makes a note on his tablet, checks the calendar. “You do know you and all the other unit leaders have a meeting with him tomorrow morning, right? Can it not wait until then?”

It’s in that exact moment that Bucky realizes that it’s been four long years since he was discharged from the army, and he’s just come back around to being in a position where someone would quite like to shoot him. She narrows her eyes at him, looks across at Rogers like she expects him to weigh in, then turns around and walks out, her face red with anger and quite possibly embarrassment. Bucky gets it, he really does. Being told no by a new guy, who on the surface looks like nothing more than a typical hipster in a suit, has gotta sting.

The door won’t slam because it’s a fire door, so just swishes shut with a soft click.

“Attaboy,” Rogers says from his corner, and Bucky grins, feeling giddy with relief.

“That okay?”

“Perfect,” Rogers says. “They’re all going to hate you, you realize.”

“Whatever, you shouldn’t have to deal with them waltzing in whenever they like,” Bucky says. “How do you ever get anything done?”

“I sleep two hours a night?”

Bucky looks over. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Mostly,” Rogers says. “I have a bed here.”

“You are not serious.”

“Totally serious,” Rogers says and stretches, cracking his back as he does. “Now I just got an email from Tony Stark demanding that I - and I’m quoting here - release you from hell for your physio and maintenance appointments.”

“That gonna be a problem?”

“No, I was going to suggest you go on Friday afternoons anyway,” Steve says. “Then you’ve got the weekend to recover.”

And wow, okay. Bucky’s a little speechless because he has mentally accepted that Commander Rogers is his boss, but he really didn't expect to be treated as anything more than a generic employee.

“Just do me one favor,” Rogers says. “I need lunch.”

Bucky gets up. “Is it really a favor when it's literally my job to get you shit?”

“Hang on, I think I ordered lunch without a side serving of attitude.”

Oops. Bucky tries his best to look like an indispensable employee, pasting a winning smile on his face. “You hired me because I run my mouth and have no filter, right?”

“I hired you because I like the fact you didn't bullshit me in your interview,” Rogers concedes, attention going back to his computer. “So yes, I suppose I did. Get me anything from the cafeteria except the spaghetti.”

“Want a drink?”

“Water or whiskey, whichever they’re serving,” Rogers says. “If you wanna get your lunch while you’re down there feel free, I’m not in a rush.”

Bucky nods and heads out, following the twisting maze of corridors until he gets to the cafeteria. Several people turn to look at him speculatively and he wonders how on earth a government level spy organisation can be this goddamn gossipy. Maybe it’s just office culture. He only knows army culture and even though this place is weirdly like an army run via an office, he doesn’t think squad-specific dick jokes and daring the new guy to goose the lieutenant are going to fly here.

It’s a bit lonely, really. He sits alone at a table to eat his lunch, wishing desperately for his phone so he could complain to his few hundred instagram followers about how lonely he is. They probably wouldn’t care anyway. He’s pretty sure they follow him for the aesthetic, not his personal problems.

He spends an unreasonable amount of time poking at his new work-phone, which is top of the range but very limited because of the damn security on it. Well, limited for him, as a hipster who thrives on social media and pinboarding apps. Though maybe limited is the wrong word, considering he can access his emails and the emails and calendar of one of the most important men in the country. He checks his watch, realizes he’s been sat here dicking around for way too long, then wonders if he can get away with cutting the queue. Eh, fuck it. Most of the agents he’s met hate him already, what’s a few more?

He walks right up to the servers, catching one of their eyes. He holds up his pass. “I’ve gotta collect lunch for Commander Rogers,” he says. The agent next to him does a double take and then steps back, gesturing for Bucky to cut in. Score, he thinks, nodding in thanks.

“You Rogers’ new PA?” the guy asks.

“Yep,” Bucky says.

“Rumor mill says you won’t let anyone in his office.”

“I won’t if he’s busy ,” Bucky says, exasperated. “Look, I’m just doing my job.”

“Whoa, easy,” the guy says, holding up his hands in a gesture like he’s trying to calm an angry dog. “I know you are, meant nothing by it.”

“Well, thanks,” Bucky says, and takes the tray the server passes him. “Do I gotta pay for this?”

“No,” the server says, like Bucky’s an idiot. “Comes out of the Commander’s account, just tell the staff on register.”

Another agent leans in, clearly wanting in on the conversation. “Does this mean he’s not coming down to collect his own lunch today?”

“No,” Bucky says, and stifles a laugh at the sheer disappointment on the guy’s face. “Anyway, I gotta take this. See you around.”

He feels eyes follow him out of the cafeteria and smiles to himself, humming as he goes. Even though it’s only the equivalent of office gossip, and even though it’s because of his proximity to Steve Rogers, he has to admit that it sure feels nice to be a bit of a somebody.

 


 

 

“Hey! Bucky!”

Bucky’s just about the get into the elevator that takes him back up to the hub level when he hears a shout of his name. He turns and his heart skips as he sees Hawkeye walking towards him, waving and grinning sheepishly.

“So, how mad is he?”

“Not too mad,” Bucky says, glancing at the elevator numbers and then back at Barton. “Though I think he’d be less mad if you’d stayed to help clean it up.”

“I think it’s instinctive, you know? Cap starts yelling, you get out the way.”

“Commander.”

“Whatever. You getting lunch? I mean, for you. Not just for Rogers. Wanna food together? I mean, wanna get lunch together?”

Bucky feels his eyes go wide and he mentally curses himself, the cafeteria and congress for the fact he’s already fucking eaten. “I already ate,” he explains. Even though he feels like shit and is thinking that maybe he should just have lied and had two lunches, his ego is definitely soothed by the way Hawkeye’s shoulders droop.

“Aw, lunch, no,” he says sadly.

“Tomorrow?” Bucky blurts out.

Hawkeye shakes his head. “I’m not in the building tomorrow,” he says. “Designated Avenger day.”

“Oh,” Bucky says, and then the elevator arrives, spilling out a gaggle of lower-ranking field agents who are all laughing and joking. They feel more like army than office.

“Ah well. See you around, Bucky,” Barton says, and then throws out a hand to touch Bucky’s elbow. “Hey, maybe I can have your number?”

Bucky does his very best not to appear too eager. “Sure,” he says, very carefully balancing Rogers’ lunch on his metal palm and sticking his hand into his pocket for his phone. “It’s…” he trails off, pulling his work phone out of his pocket. “It’s not on my work phone yet. And I don’t know it.” He stares at the phone, feeling hatred like he’s not felt towards an inanimate object since the IED that took his arm. Well, maybe that'd a tad dramatic but still. “I don’t know my own fucking phone number,” he says in mild disbelief. “Fuck.”

Barton huffs out a laugh. “Even I know my own number.”

“Well of course you do, you’re old enough to remember the days when you had to remember it so you could use payphones.”

“Old? I’m thirty-two.”

“Old,” Bucky says and hastily sticks his foot out as the elevator doors start to slide closed. “I gotta go, boss is expecting lunch-”

“Sure,” Barton says. “See you around.”

He’s gone by the time the elevator doors close and thankfully there’s no-one else in the carriage so Bucky can curse and hit his head against the smooth metal wall without anyone looking at him like he’s crazy.

 


 

That afternoon he turns away four more people from Rogers’ office. He thinks the problem is a combination of a) Rogers being all famous and shit so some people want an excuse to come in and see him, b) hierarchy not yet being properly established and c) Rogers being too nice for his own damn good. 

One of the people who comes in - from maintenance! Why is maintenance even thinking that coming to the hub and into the actual real literal Commander’s office is appropriate?! - is so adamant that Bucky can't tell them what to do that Rogers does step in and tell them that in fact, Bucky can. Said representative from maintenance apologizes to Rogers and Bucky then goes away with their tail tucked firmly between their legs.

Bucky spends the next hour or so looking at lists of personnel in the building, working out who exactly he can tell maintenance to go and bug if there’s an issue. It’s one part helping Steve and one part helping out the maintenance team, because it seems they do have genuine issues but no clear idea of where to take them.

Midway through maybe casually checking where Agent D. Melton falls in the hierarchy, and Rogers chips in to tell him that the lists are highly classified, like, so highly classified that only Rogers and Bucky have access to the full set. Bucky considers hyperventilating because oh dear god the responsibility, but Rogers is adamant that Bucky can have them if it means he’s more efficient at keeping people out of his goddamn office while he’s working.

Bucky suggests installing a lock and intercom on the door. Rogers looks pained, like he’s actually contemplating it but doesn’t want to come across as rude.

“Thing is, I got a job to do and I need a certain amount of authority and privacy to get it done,” he says. “But I don’t want anyone here getting the impression that I think I’m better than them, you know? It’s hard to get trust going in an agency like this, but I think that’s what we need. I want people to feel they can come to me with issues. ”

“Just not every five minutes and just not about shit that’s really not your problem,” Bucky fills in. “I get it. They’ll get it too. They’ll just be frustrated because they’re used to the door being open twenty-four-seven and they've gotta learn that that’s not appropriate. Hey, we should do an open forum. Once a month or something, give over an hour to letting anyone and everyone come in to say their piece.”

Rogers hums thoughtfully. “Kid, you’re smarter than you look,” he says. “I’ll think about it. Hey, go get me something from the vending machines?”

And so Bucky does, and if he’s strutting slightly because Commander Rogers thinks he’s smart, then that’s nobody’s business but his own.

 


 

He’s still on a high when he gets home, and drags Becca out to get their nails done in celebration. The woman doing his asks him if he wants the tips of his metal hand painted to match but he declines, stuffing it into the pocket of his jacket to hide it from the curious stares of the nail technicians. He talks a mile a minute, telling Becca all about Hawkeye and the coffee and Rogers yelling and the cafeteria and lunch and how amazing his desk is. 

“And I told a field agent to fuck off,” he says. “Well, not in that many words. I told her she wasn’t allowed to walk in without my say so. And Rogers said I did good.”

“Well this is certainly a different you to yesterday,” Becca says. “I thought yesterday you were gonna quit.”

“I was freaked out,” Bucky admits. “But today I did things. Like, keeping the agents out of the office helps Rogers because it’s not eating into his time.”

“You just need time to get used to it,” Becca says, watching him as he tries to carefully angle his phone to get a good picture of the technician applying deep navy paint to his nails. “And you need to call your old therapist.”

Bucky turns to look at her. “What? Why?”

“Because I know it’s like an office job, but you’re working for an organisation that sounds pretty close to military,” she says. “It took long enough to get you settled after your last discharge. I just want you to be properly looked after.”

“Mmm,” he says, not entirely willing to admit she’s right. He holds up his phone again and very carefully taps the photo button with his metal thumb, capturing an image of his hand cradled in the nail technician’s.

“You know I’m right, Bucket.”

“Whatever,” he says. “Look, I just took a picture without cracking my screen.”

“Well done,” she says. “Now tell me more about Hawkeye. Are his biceps still amazing? What about his abs, have you seen them yet? I’m going to bet that he’s got good abs too. You need to find out, Bucky. For science.”

“Oh man,” he says, lowering his phone. “I think...I think he was flirting with me.”

Her jaw drops, eyes going round. “No way!”

“Yes way,” he says. “He asked me to get lunch with him but I couldn’t because I’d already had my hour and I was taking lunch back up to Rogers. But I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to sleep with him.”

“When have you ever done as you’re told before?”

“Uh, loads of times when I was in the army.”

“Okay, since then.”

“I abide by most rules of law and society,” he says indignantly. “Just not the dumb ones.”

“You’re dumb,” she says. “Call your therapist.”

“You call your therapist,” he replies, and lifts his phone to take a photo of her clearly unimpressed face, but then posts it to Instagram with the caption ‘I love this bitch ’ hashtag ‘bestsister’ and when it makes her grudgingly relent and smile, he smiles too.

 


 

 

 The rest of Bucky’s first week passes with a lot of time spent fighting the inbox, and less time fighting intruders into the office, though he figures he probably shouldn’t really call them that seeing as the word intruders probably means something around here. He goes to more meetings with HR - including one about fire alarms that lasts waaay too long, and plays solitaire on his computer when things are slow. 

On Friday, he packs up his things at midday, ready to head out for his appointment with Tony Stark. Steve hasn’t been in the office all morning but makes a point to catch him on his way out, handing him a tablet.

“Give this to Tony, please? If anything happens to you or it on the way, call me and I’ll remotely wipe it. If it’s not there by three, I’ll remotely wipe it anyway.”

“Sure,” Bucky says. It’s only been a week but he thinks he’s becoming pretty desensitized to the whole super-security thing. “What’s on it?”

“Photos of me modelling underwear for Calvin Klein,” Rogers says without missing a beat, and Bucky cackles. “No, I can’t tell you.”

“I figured,” Bucky says, slipping the tablet into his satchel. “You want me to do anything over the weekend?”

“Relax, enjoy yourself and get some rest,” Steve says and Bucky ducks his head, feeling his cheeks go warm. Okay, he’s used to the insane security and the fact he handles super classified material like all the time, but he’s still not used to Rogers being nice and looking out for him. “You’ve been great this week, kid. Couldn’t have done it without you.”

“You could have, it would have just taken you longer and you’d be more stressed.”

“True,” Rogers says. “I was just trying to be nice.”

“You don’t need to try, you are nice,” Bucky says, and then promptly wishes the ground would open up and swallow him. What the hell is he doing, talking to Rogers like that?

But Rogers just looks genuinely gratified, like Bucky’s opinion counts. “Thanks,” he says. “See you Monday.”

“See you Monday,” Bucky says, popping off a lazy salute. Rogers just looks exasperated and literally turns him around by his shoulders, pushing him towards the door.

“Go. Don’t be late, and try not to be too insubordinate on your way out.”

“I’ll do my best,” Bucky grins. “If anyone complains I’ll direct them to my line manager, which is you, by the way.”

Steve just rolls his eyes, shaking his head at him before waving him away.

 


 

 

When he arrives at Stark Industries, Bucky not only refuses to change into scrubs, but he also refuses to hand over his phone to the nurses in the medlabs. He’s gone from having it in his hand literally every waking moment to having to surrender it for eight hours every day so he will not being giving it up now. Honestly, he’s surprised he’s not in withdrawal. As such, he’s busy taking artistic photos of his new nails when Tony Stark wanders in.  

“No,” he says sternly, sucking a sludge-green smoothie through a straw. “At least pretend you don’t have your phone.”

“No,” Bucky counters, but does lower it. “I can take selfies using my new hand now.”

Tony immediately perks up. “You can?!”

“Yeah, as long as I’m using my thumb.”

“Show me,” Stark demands, sitting on the bed next to Bucky and leaning in, throwing up two fingers in a peace sign and staring at the camera. “Selfie. Go.”

Bucky gently - so gently - taps his thumb to the screen and the photo takes. He eyes it with satisfaction. “I’m putting us on Instagram and you can’t stop me.”

He expects Stark to say no, to threaten to wipe his phone. What he gets is Stark saying, “Sure,” jumping off the bed and reaching for Bucky’s hand, taking it carefully in his own and bending the fingers. “So, how’s the arm, how’s the new job, has Rogers had an aneurysm over your haircut yet? How about the nail polish?”

Bucky frowns. Okay, some shitfuckery is happening here, he's sure of it, and he immediately feels his hackles rising. It’s a pretty standard automatic response to anyone saying shit about his life choices, but this time it’s actually worse because Steve has been nothing but great to Bucky since he actually hired him. He’s not said shit about Bucky’s haircut and when Bucky turned up with acrylic overlays he just asked if he could still type with them on, and when Bucky said yes he nodded and said, “nice color,” before getting the fuck on with their day.

“No…” he says slowly.

Tony shrugs, walking to a trolley and pulling it close, picking up the usual array of patches and sensors. “Is he totally over it yet? Like, does he look totally out of his depth whenever you talk? I bet he understands like twelve percent of the things that come out of your mouth.”

The pieces are slowly adding up. It’s like a jigsaw that he was never bothered about before because he was too busy having a new arm and a new job.

“Okay, stop,” he says, holding out his metal hand before Tony can reach in and stick sensors to his head. “What the fuck is going on here? I feel like I’m caught in the middle of something I didn’t sign up for.”

“No, no you’re not,” Stark says evasively, waving the sensors. “Come on, I need to scan your brain.”

“I’m not an idiot. You’re - you were expecting Rogers to hate my guts weren’t you? That’s why you sent me for that interview?”   

Tony Stark sighs. “I sent you for that interview because I thought it would be good for you.”

Bucky narrows his eyes, glaring for all he’s worth.

Stark blows out a breath. “And because I thought you would irritate Rogers endlessly and that would amuse me.”

“You are unreal,” Bucky snaps, standing up and jabbing his metal finger into Stark’s shoulder. He’s pissed enough that he considers jabbing him right in the arc reactor but he’s not cruel, so he manages to refrain. “Why the fuck would you do that to another person? Put them in a situation because you thought it’d be funny to make them uncomfortable?”

“Well I was going to wind Rogers up and then suggest you work for Maria instead,” Stark says. “Come on, it was a joke.”

“You can’t make jokes out of people!” Bucky yells, and pushes past Tony.

“Barnes, come on-”

“No, fuck you, you’re not funny.”

“Okay maybe I misjudged on this occasion-”

“Yeah you did, because Rogers thinks I’m great,” Bucky yells. “He likes me and thinks I do a good job and he lets me have my own desk.”

He gets to the door, stops and turns around. “Bitch,” he adds for emphasis and then shows his fine motor skills by presenting Stark with his shiny, metal middle finger before finishing his epic storm out.

He gets to the elevator and then realizes that he’s still got that stupid tablet that Steve gave him in his satchel. He storms back to the lab and bumps into Tony who is coming out of the door, shoving the tablet at him.

“Here, this is from Commander Rogers and I’m giving it to you because it’s my job even though you’re a dick. Sign in before three or it’ll wipe itself.”

And Tony Stark raises an eyebrow at him like he's saying ‘do you even know who I am,’ so Bucky just lets go of the tablet, letting it fall to the floor with a thud as he tries the whole storming out thing again. He gets out of the building and all the way onto the F train before it all really catches up with him. He’s breathing shallowly and his eyes are too hot and warm, and he’s clutching the pole so tightly that it’s bending.

He hates this. Years ago he would have taken this hot, prickly humiliation and forced it down, turning it into anger that would seethe in his chest until it burst out somehow, probably against someone who didn’t deserve it. Knowing that he can’t do that is possibly why he’s currently got a subway car support pole locked in a death grip.

He doesn’t really think about where he’s going and his autopilot doesn’t take him home, which is probably where he should go. Instead, he hops onto a different subway line, catches a bus, walks for ten minutes then checks through outer security, ending up on a secure shuttle that’s only for use by SHIELD personnel. He checks back into work at the main desk, avoiding eye contact with Hannes and clenching his jaw so tight that his teeth hurt. By the time he gets back to his desk he’s literally shaking but he tries to ignore it, opening up Rogers’ inbox and trying to focus on the thirty-two new emails that have come in since he left.

The door opens. “Barnes?” says a voice, and he looks up to see Maria Hill leaning in, looking concerned. “Aren’t you meant to be over at Stark Industries?”

Bucky opens his mouth to tell her that he’s rescheduled his appointment because of a conflict of interest with Tony Stark that he may very well take up with HR. What actually happens is he manages to say, “Tony Stark is a bitch,” before his voice cracks and he feels the tears brimming up in his eyes. He shuts his mouth so hard that it clacks, and spins his chair around so she can’t see his face.  

He is not going to cry in front of the Director. He is not. He can barely breathe because it feels like if he does, something in his chest will snap and come tumbling free. He knows he should just give it up, that his therapist would be telling him to let himself cry but he’s at motherfucking work and he can’t.

He hears the door swish as it closes and wonders if he should just get his coat and leave. What a fucking idiot. He’s only got this job because someone has used him as a pawn in some stupid game, and he’s just called Tony Stark a bitch in front of the Director which is off the charts in terms of unprofessional. Christ, he can feel his chin wobbling and if he blinks then it’s game over-

The door swishes open again and he tries to pull himself the fuck together so he can apologize to Hill and make his excuses-

“Bucky? Oh, hell.”

Oh god, that’s Rogers. This day could not get any worse.

“Hey,” Rogers says, firm and very close. “Hey, kid. Look at me. Hawkeye, close the damn door.”

Oh okay. Maybe this day could get worse.

“Bucky,” Rogers says again, as two sets of footsteps come closer. “I’m gonna need you to turn the chair around and tell me what’s going on.”

“No, you’ll fire me.”

“Now why would I do that,” Rogers says easily, and Bucky barely has time to brace himself before Rogers is walking around to face him, crouching down in front of him. Bucky refuses to look at him, instead staring past Rogers’ shoulder and out the window

“Hey,” Rogers says, trying to get his attention but Bucky grew up with Becca so he’s got straight A grades in ignoring and being a brat. “Kid. Come on. Tell me why you’re here and not getting your arm checked out.”

Bucky hears Hawkeye moving. “I’m gonna get him a drink. Cap, can I get something out your-”

“Yeah, sure. Coke in my fridge. Thanks, Clint.”

Bucky blinks and goddammit he feels the tears fall fast and hot, barely brushing his cheeks as they drop into his lap. He shudders, holding his breath in his chest and trying to keep it all in because he is not going to fucking cry in front of Commander fucking Rogers and Hawkeye.

But then strong fingers are taking hold of his chin and tipping his head down, forcing him to meet concerned blue eyes.

“Bucky,” Rogers says firmly. “Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s as bad as you think it is.”

And even though Bucky is having the worst day of his life, he feels himself calming down. It might be the words, the laser eyes, or the weirdly comforting grip Rogers has on his chin. Whatever it is, its enough for him to let out a slow, shuddery breath. The nasty snarl in his chest releases its grip on his lungs and heart.  

He exhales heavily. “Stark,” Bucky manages to bite out, and Rogers lets go of his face.

Hawkeye comes into view, standing behind Rogers and offering Bucky both a can of coke and a softly hitched smile. It’s sort of a ‘oops, what we gonna do,’ type of smile, free of judgement and unaccountably kind.

“Thanks,” Bucky says roughly, taking the can of coke. He goes to open it but his metal hand is shaking so much it rattles against the can. Rogers holds his hand out expectantly and Bucky decides that his humiliation might as well be complete so he hands the can over for Rogers to open.

Rogers snaps the tab and passes it back to Bucky. “Stark, huh? Maria did say something about Tony being a bitch?”     

“He put me forwards for this job because he wanted to piss you off.”

Rogers and Hawkeye exchange a glance. “Yeah,” Rogers sighs. “He did. I thought you’d worked that out-”

“No, I’m such a dumbass,” Bucky interrupts, which he probably shouldn't do but fuck it, he's angry. “I thought I had something good going for me for once. And it turned out to be a fucking joke.”

“This is probably on me,” Rogers says, full of regret. “I thought you knew that's what Tony's game was, and you'd tell him that actually it was working out pretty well so…”

“Ha ha in his face?” Hawkeye supplies.

“Yeah, that,” Steve says.

Bucky takes a deep gulp of his drink. The caffeine and sugar go a long way in making him feel more human, and the fact Hawkeye got it for him makes him feel better too. “Stark is a jerk,” he says, mentally wincing when he hears just how childish he sounds.

“Yeah,” Rogers says, standing up and perching on the edge of Bucky’s desk. “He can be. He spends so much time with computers and code that he forgets that humans aren't fixed variables. And he gets in his head ideas about things and people and he's not always right. I mean, I don't know where he got the idea that you'd irritate me. I'm a raging socialist who grew up in the depression. I'm like, millennial adjacent.”

“Just with less pop culture knowledge,” Hawkeye says, shooting Bucky a wink.

Bucky smiles tiredly. “We can fix that.”

“Look,” Steve says, so earnest it’s kind of making Bucky feel a little uncomfortable. “What Tony did was shitty and I should have been more professional seeing as I know full well what he was trying to do. I should have been more upfront with you. You want to - I don’t know, you want to quit or transfer, I’ll give you a recommendation. Maria’s in the market for a new PA, you could work for her-”

And suddenly, Bucky doesn't need to hear it. “No,” he says, looking up at them both. “I like it here. I want to stay.”  He wipes his eyes on his sleeve. “God, I’m so sorry. Who the fuck cries in front of their boss.”

“And Hawkeye,” Rogers points out, and laughs when Bucky gives him a withering look. “Did you at least give Tony a piece of your mind?”

“I yelled and called him a dick. And a bitch. And I swore at him. Then I stormed out and remembered I was supposed to give him that tablet so went back and basically threw it at him.”

Hawkeye snort-laughs and Rogers looks weirdly proud. “Attaboy,” he says, though his smile still looks a little sideways. “Bucky, I’m sorry for the part I played in this. But honestly, all I can think is that the joke is on Tony because me and you came out pretty good in this situation.”

“Whoa,” Hawkeye says, looking impressed. “He never says sorry. Mark the calendar-”  He dances back out of range as Rogers goes to elbow him in the kneecaps. “What, I’m just pointing out that you must be sincere because you said the S word!”

“The depths of your helpfulness astounds me,” Rogers says. “Right, it’s Friday afternoon and you shouldn’t even be here right now. I think you should call it a day. Hawkeye, take him home?”

Barton salutes. “Sir, yes, sir.”

“I don’t need taking home, I’m not a child,” Bucky protests.

“Sorry, you’re not allowed to argue with me, I’m your boss,” Rogers says, clapping Bucky on the shoulder. “Go. I’ll see you Monday.”

Bucky looks at Hawkeye who shrugs and gives him a thumbs up. Feeling oddly like the universe has taken his life firmly out of the realms of his own control and placed him more in the ‘at the whims of the Avengers’ category, Bucky gets up and picks up his satchel again. He starts heading towards the door, kind of expecting that Hawkeye will walk him out of the building and then ditch him.

“Wait, hang on,” Rogers says, and Bucky stops quick enough that Hawkeye walks into his back and nearly knocks him over. “Bucky, have you put anything on your expenses account yet?”

Bucky blinks back at him. “Uh, a coffee and a bagel?”

Steve points at Hawkeye. “Take him shopping and make him put it on expenses. He’s been wearing the same two shirts all week.”

Bucky feels himself flushing. “I washed them,” he mutters.

“You do not strike me as the sort of guy who likes wearing the same outfit two days in a row-” Steve begins.

“They were not the same, I had different belts!”

Steve opens his mouth and then very deliberately closes it. “This is a rabbit hole I have no interest in going down. Clint, mark the calendar again, I walked away from an argument.” He wanders over to his desk and picks up the phone. “And take him shopping, for fucks sake,” he adds, before turning his back on them and lifting the receiver. “Hey, Maria. I need you to come look at something.”

Bucky leans towards Hawkeye slightly, whispering even though Rogers has super hearing. “He said fuck.”

“Yeah, he does that,” Barton says. “People just don’t expect him to. Now come on, we’ve been given orders.”

“You don’t have to just because he told you to,” Bucky grouches.

“Well he’s my Avengers boss and my SHIELD boss, so I kinda do,” Barton grins, pushing the door open and ushering Bucky out. He waits until the door clicks closed and adds, “And maybe I think shopping with you will be kind of fun?”

Bucky feels his cheeks going warm. “Well, if you want?”

“I want,” Barton confirms. “I just gotta get changed, I’m not going into Manhattan dressed in SHIELD gear, I scare people.”

“Sure,” Bucky says, and bites down on the urge to say ‘want a hand with getting changed?’ because he is an adult with self restraint. Instead, he bites his lip and looks up at Barton, tucking his hands into his pockets, pulling the fabric taut across his thighs. Hawkeye’s eyes flick down and then back again. “Meet you out front?”

“Front desk,” Barton confirms and steps backwards, almost bumping into one of the tech agents. “See you in fifteen.”

And Bucky watches him go, trying not to smile or do a little dance. From humiliation at the hands of Tony Stark to a shopping date with Hawkeye, paid for by his work? Becca is not going to fucking believe it.

Chapter Text

Bucky can’t really believe his own two eyes when Barton finally meets him in the lobby. He’s not sure what he was expecting, but he knows how he feels about the mess that’s currently standing in front of him.

“You’re wearing combat boots with sweatpants,” he says blankly, staring at Barton’s feet.

“My jeans are in the wash,” Barton shrugs. “Well. They’re in the laundry basket. Well, they’re in a pile near my laundry basket.”

“Sneakers?” Bucky says, still staring at Barton’s steel toecaps.

“Somewhere?” Barton says.

Bucky shuts his eyes for a long moment, hoping that when he opens them, the sweatpants and boots and the hoodie with the thumb holes in the sleeves will have gone.

They’re not. And when his eyes make the long journey up from Barton’s feet to his face, he finds that Barton is frowning.

“You’re making me self conscious,” he says. “Actually, no you’re not, I’m too old for that shit. You’re making me wonder about why you’re so into appearances.”

“I’m not,” Bucky says, then re-evaluates and thinks maybe he is coming across a little shallow. “Okay, I am. But just because I spent a long time with depression and PTSD and feeling shit about myself, and dressing nice makes me feel good and I like it. I kinda think it’s important to look your best even when you’re feeling your worst, or even when you’ve not got anything else in your life. You kinda owe it to yourself.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of honesty right there,” Barton says, looking a little alarmed. He glances across at Hannes who is nothing but a consummate professional, clicking away on his computer and doing an excellent job of pretending he can’t hear them.

“Yeah, because real men talk about their feelings,” Bucky says. “Look, maybe this is a bad idea.”

“No, no,” Barton says, putting his hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “Look, I won’t judge you for your self-centered, millennial therapy outlook on life, and you don’t judge me for my boots. Deal?”

Bucky thinks about it. Crosses his arms over his chest. “I am not self-centered.”

“Okay. Self-care millennial therapy outlook on life,” Barton says. “Am I using those words right?”

“God you’re old,” Bucky huffs. “Come on. Let’s go.”

Barton grins, hitching his backpack up. “We’re not gonna be shopping in like, the Prada store are we?”

“Me and my bank balance wishes,” Bucky says. “No, we’re going to TJ Maxx, Target and maybe Zara, if we’re feeling brave.”

“They’re all in Brooklyn, right? You’re not gonna make me go shopping in Manhattan wearing sweats and combat boots are you?”

“I thought you weren't self conscious?” Bucky says, and hooks his arm through Barton’s, ignoring the speculative look that Hannes gives them. “Come on loser, we’re going shopping.”

 


 

 

Turns out that shopping with Hawkeye is fun. Well, it is once they get past the initial awkwardness. Bucky’s hyperaware that he’s basically been ordered to hang out with the man who is currently a starring and recurring role in all of his fantasies, and he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. Before Iraq, it would have been easy. Now, his brain is fried from PTSD and he’s too awkward in real life without the social media filter to help. They ride the first minute or so of the SHIELD shuttle in silence until Barton tentatively says, “So, do you like dogs?”

Bucky responds with a startled, “Are you kidding me, dogs are the best." He digs his phone out of his bag and proceeds to show Barton all the dogs he follows on Instagram. Barton tells him all about his one-eyed dog that he adopted, and after that it’s easy.

They chat, stop for coffee more times than is possibly advisable, and stand just that bit too close on the subway. Bucky’s not tall enough to reach the overhead bars so he holds onto Barton’s hoodie, swaying with the car and letting himself occasionally bump right into him. Barton seems to know what he’s doing, smiling and looking at him with amusement and what Bucky sincerely hopes is approval. Either way, he’s not told Bucky to stop, so Bucky’s gonna carry on getting right on up in his personal space.

And an added bonus is that Barton is totally game to be dragged around different shops while Bucky is in his element, though his patience appears to hit its limit while Bucky spends ten minutes debating between a blue-shirt and a slightly-different-blue-shirt in TJ Maxx.

“They’re both blue,” he says like he’s confused, leaning on a rail and sipping his coffee. Bucky’s is held safely in his other hand and will probably be cold by the time Bucky decides which shirt he likes better.

“I like this one,” he says. “But I like that one, too.”

“Buy both,” Barton says, shrugging. “You know you’re allowed three hundred dollars initial expenditure, right? Steve made it a thing when he realised a lot of people weren't applying for jobs because they didn’t have the right wardrobe.”

“He’s just so nice,” Bucky says. “I still don’t get why he hired me.”

“Because you’re nice too,” Barton says, rolling his eyes. “Even though you can’t decide between blue and blue. Come on, Bucky, pull yourself together.”

Bucky starts to laugh. “Stop,” he insists. “Stop this is serious.”

“No it’s not, it’s blue or blue,” Barton says, but he’s laughing as well. “What’s with the blue obsession anyway? Pick something else.”

“Oh if you’re so good at this, you pick me a shirt,” Bucky challenges, leaning over to take his coffee. They’ve already had a few looks from an employee that's lurking by the shoe section; they seem both terrified that they’re going to spill, and terrified of asking them to stop having coffee near the clothes. Whatever, they’ve got lids on and Barton seems mostly at risk of spilling shit on himself, if the strange mark on the front of his hoodie is anything to go by.

“Fine,” Barton says, and leans back to rifle through the rail. There’s a yellow-orange monstrosity that Bucky thinks he might pick, and a bright purple one that he also takes a moment to consider. Bucky’s gearing up for some spectacularly disparaging comments about Barton’s fashion sense when he goes, “Aha,” and pulls out a slimfit grey shirt with double cuffs and black buttons. “This is definitely you.”

Speechless, Bucky takes the shirt. It is him. It’s gorgeous. The blue shirts are forgotten.

“How,” he begins, holding the shirt to his chest.

“I’ve got the best eyes in the world,” Barton says, smugly taking a sip of his coffee. “You think I can’t pick out an outfit for you?”

“You’re wearing sweatpants and combat boots,” Bucky says, because it bears repeating. “And your favourite colour is purple.”

“Just because I don’t care about fashion doesn’t mean I’m completely hopeless,” Barton says, rolling his eyes. “And stop trash talking my clothes. They may be garbage but they’re my garbage.”

“Okay, I’m sorry. Just pick me another one,” Bucky demands, carefully draping the shirt over his metal arm, even though his leather jacket will protect it from any pinching or snagging. “One more.”

“Christ, for someone so short you’re very demanding,” Barton says, already rifling back through the rail. “Is it like overcompensation?”

Bucky bumps Barton with his shoulder. Well, he tries: it ends up less of a friendly shoulder nudge and more a strange lean into his side, seeing as his shoulder only comes halfway up Barton’s goddamn arm.

Barton grins down at him. “I like you being short,” he says. “I could like just pick you up at any time.”

“Don’t you dare,” Bucky says, though his mouth has gone a little dry as he imagines Barton picking him up, his legs wrapping around Barton’s waist.

“I don’t think you’d be complaining if I did,” Barton says and winks at him like he knows exactly what Bucky is thinking.

“You’re all talk,” he says, drifting after Barton as he moves onto a new rail, still diligently searching.

“We’ll see about that,” Barton says over his shoulder. Bucky waits until his attention is back on the shirts before he silently mouths ‘oh my god’ at Barton’s back, pinching himself just to make sure that he’s not dreaming.

Ow, ow, ow. Metal fingers are not good for pinching yet. He ruefully rubs his arm with the back of his metal hand to try and soothe the sting. Well, definitely real, he thinks. I’m shopping with Hawkeye and he’s flirting. This is not a daydream.

Anticipation is curling hot and heady in his stomach. He’s moving ‘hooking up with Hawkeye’ from impossible to probable and now that it’s there, there’s probably very little he won’t try in order to make it definite.

Game on, he tells himself, quickly texting Becca to tell her ‘shopping with Hawkeye nbd, totally gonna sleep with him’ before shoving his phone away and hurrying to catch up with Barton.

 


 

 

By the time they're done, Bucky has four new shirts, a new belt and one new pair of pants which are technically skinny jeans but they're black so he can probably get away with wearing them for work as long as he wears a proper shirt. It's getting dark as they stroll along together, peering into storefronts even though Bucky's hit his expenses limit. Bucky's got his arm hooked through Barton's and Barton is carrying his bags, still apparently content to let Bucky window shop.

“Oooh, look,” he says, grinding to a halt in front of H&M. “Oh man, look at that jacket.”

Barton wheels on one foot for a moment, caught off guard by Bucky’s abrupt halt. He regains his balance and bumps into Bucky’s side, peering through the window. “The denim one?”

“No, the suede one,” Bucky says. “The long dark one with the big hood and the diagonal zip.”

“I can see you in that,” Barton says. “Go get it.”

“Can’t,” Bucky says ruefully. “Money is not a thing I currently possess.”

“Put in on expenses.”

“No! I already spent my dollars,” Bucky says a little mournfully. “So I can’t get the jacket. Guess I’ll just die.”

Barton gives him a look. “Really?”

“No, not really. It’s a joke. A meme. You know what memes are, right?”

“I find it hard to keep up with memes on a flip phone,” Barton says. “Come on, get walking. It’s cold.”

Bucky lets Barton drag him away from the window, giving the jacket one last look. “Goodbye my love,” he calls, then cackles as Barton rolls his eyes. “Okay, I’m all spent up, back to being my regular broke self.”

“But at least you’ll be a well-dressed regular broke self,” Barton says.

“Amen to that,” Bucky grins. “I told you, it’s the little things in life that make us feel good.”

“I guess. Like pizza and bad TV.”

“Exactly!” Bucky says. He looks up as they get to the intersection, looking left and right. “My apartment’s in Bed-Stuy, I should probably-”

“Mine too!” Barton says. “Hey, we’re neighbors!”

“Brooklyn or fuck off,” Bucky grins. “Hey, what about Rogers? He still lives in Brooklyn right?”

“Yeah but he’s over in Red Hook, when he ever actually goes home,” Barton says. “Hey, you wanna go get dinner maybe? Have a beer to celebrate your new shirts or something?”

“I feel that’s worth celebrating,” Bucky says seriously, his heart skipping. “That...that would be nice.”

“Great,” Barton says, “Mind if I pick the place?”

Bucky manages to say “Sure,” without it coming out a garbled mess and he thinks there’s more that deserves celebrating, because not only has Barton just literally asked him on an actual non-work related date, but Barton has just slid his arm down so he can link his fingers with Bucky’s.

I’m holding hands with an Avenger, Bucky thinks a little hysterically. He’s sure his face is going pink. Scrap that - he’s holding hands with someone for the first time since before he was deployed. A someone who might be an Avenger but is more importantly kind and funny and super hot.

“This okay?” Barton asks casually.

“More than okay,” Bucky says.

“Good,” Barton says. “This is a date, by the way.”

“Thanks for the clarification,” Bucky says. “What’s your opinion on people who put out on the first date?”

Barton’s eyes go a little wide. “Those people...are the best.

Bucky tries to hide his grin. “Yeah we are,” he says, and gives Barton’s hand a squeeze.

 


 

Barton finds them a small bar that straddles a nebulous area between ‘hipster space’ and ‘sports bar.’ It’s all soft panelled wood and there are lanterns hanging above the bar and in the booths, but there’s a huge widescreen TV that’s playing football highlights. There’s standard beer on tap but also a fridge full of local craft beer, which Bucky does no more than glance at before focussing on the cocktails menu.

“Busy,” Barton comments, like he’s surprised that a hipster-sports bar is lively on a Friday night. “How about I order us some drinks and you go find us a table? I don’t want to sit at the bar, knowing my luck I’ll get recognised.”

“Sure,” Bucky says. He goes to pull his wallet out but Barton pushes his hand down. “I got this,” he says. “Not that I’m trying to take away your agency or imply that you’re like the girl here or anything. Not that I think like that, I’m just saying some people think like that. You’re short but you’re definitely a guy, and girls can pay for shit too.”

Bucky blinks. “Wow, you’re bad at this.”

Barton shrugs, reaching up to rub at the back of his head. “Yeah, I know. I heard the word ‘date’ come out of my mouth and now I’m panicking.”

“We can call it quits if you want,” Bucky says cautiously, his stomach already sinking.

“No, no,” Barton says quickly. “I uh, I’m just bad at this.”

Bucky looks up at him, thoughtful. Barton shrugs again, dropping his hand to the bar and looking away. The tips of his ears are going pink.

“Hey,” Bucky says, and reaches up to put his hand on Barton’s shoulder. When Barton looks back at him, he shifts up onto his tiptoes and gently kisses Barton’s cheek. His heart is pounding and he feels utterly giddy. “You’re not as bad at this as you think you are. Thought you said you weren’t all talk and no action?”

“I hope I’m not,” Barton says, looking a little dazedly at Bucky’s mouth.

Bucky licks his bottom lip, gratified by the way Barton’s eyes are glued to his mouth. “Drinks,” he says. “I’ll have a daiquiri. No straw.”

“Sure,” Barton says.

“Thank you, Barton.”

Barton swallows, his throat bobbing. Christ, Bucky wants to lick it. “Call me Clint,” he says.

Bucky nods. “Thank you, Clint.”

He walks away, resisting the urge to pinch himself again. He can’t believe he’s managing to pull this off. That cheek kiss at the bar was almost fuckin’ smooth. His phone is in his hand before he’s even sat down in a booth, frantically texting Becca.

I just told Hawkeye that I put out on the first date and now he’s buying me a drink, what do I do

The Whatsapp ticks go blue and then the most amazing words known to man appear: Beccabiatch is typing

“Come on, come on,” he mutters, glancing towards the bar where Clint is still waiting and then jumping slightly when his phone buzzes against his fingertips.

You put out, obviously.

Unless you don’t want to.

But if I were you, I would.

I’m going to work, keep me updated and I’ll check at break.

USE PROTECTION

He’s about to text back when a shadow falls over their table; he turns the screen off and sets his phone face down, trying to act casual and not like he was just texting someone about the etiquette surrounding first date dicking.

“So, no straw,” Clint says, setting their drinks down and sliding into the both opposite Bucky. “What, you trying to save the planet?”

“Yeah, but I’m not a superhero, so I have to stick with straws and trying to buy things without packaging.”

“Well you’re superhero adjacent now,” Clint says. “You know I’ve seen Steve smile more this week than he has in years.”

Bucky’s not quite sure what to say to that. “That paperwork must have been really fuckin’ stressing him out.”

“Everything is really stressing him out,” Clint starts to laugh. “He’s so tense that I’m surprised he’s not pulled something.”

“You think I’m helping though? By being there?”

“Oh yeah,” Clint says. “And I kinda like having you around too.”

“I’m clearly peak eye candy,” Bucky says flatly and Clint snort-laughs.

“How can you be so confident and cocky in one moment and then like this the next?”

“It’s a talent,” Bucky says lifting his glass. Clint obliges and clinks his beer bottle against Bucky’s glass. “So here’s to my new job, my new outfit and crying at work in front of my boss.”

“Eh, we’ve all done it,” Clint shrugs.

Bucky hums as he sips his cocktail, not entirely happy. “Did you know Stark was screwing me around?”

“I didn’t,” Clint says. “I think Steve and Maria did.”

“What an asshole.”

“He can be,” Clint says, tilting his hand in a seesaw motion. “He never means to hurt anyone though. And he’s kind of obsessed with Steve? Like he pretends he doesn’t but he lives for attention from people like Steve, and Pepper Potts. The thing with Steve though, he gets him all wrong sometimes. Convinces himself that Steve’s just old and fuddy duddy.”

Bucky stares at Clint. “But he’s not.”

“No, but when he first met him he was really uptight.”

“Might be the massive PTSD from spending seventy years encased in ice?”

“Well yeah, but not everyone immediately considers other people’s mental health in the way you do. Tony thinks he’s helping, by winding Steve up and keeping him on his toes. It doesn’t always work out.”

“But that still doesn’t excuse him dragging me into his games.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Clint concedes. “Oh, and don’t forget that Stark’s dad knew Steve too. Kind of held him up like a poster-child, from what Tony’s told me.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “God, if having a dad gives you issues like that then I’m glad I don’t have one.”

“You don’t?”

“No, my parents died when I was like ten,” Bucky shrugs. “It’s been me and my sister Becca since then.”

Clint studies him for a moment then holds his hand up. “Orphan high five,” he says, and Bucky smacks his palm to Clint’s.

“I kinda knew that about you anyway,” he says. “Some of the Avengers stuff is public record. Like everyone in America knows about you.”

“Alright, tell me what you think you know about me,” Clint says. “Let's see if my fame is accurate.”

“You sure?”

“Bring it on,” Clint grins.

“Alright, you asked for it,” Bucky says, a slow grin spreading across his face. This is going to be fun.

 


 

 

An hour later and two cocktails down, and Bucky is laughing so hard he can’t breathe. Clint is demolishing Bucky’s leftover fries, indignantly insisting that no, he never got beaten up by an old lady with a cane, thank you very much.

“I know that one’s true,” Bucky insists. “It was all over Buzzfeed. Ten times the Avengers tried to help and made it worse. There’s photo evidence.”

“There is not,” Clint says, looking alarmed, and Bucky collapses back into fits of laughter. Clint’s eyes narrow as Bucky carries on cackling. “You little shit, you’re winding me up.”

“Guilty,” Bucky admits, wiping his eyes. “Oh man, that was too easy.”

“Hey, I’m an Avenger, what I have gotta do to get some respect around here?”

“Steve tells me off for being cheeky like all the time,” Bucky tells him. “I don’t think he really means it, but every so often I kinda catch myself saying something and I think oh man, shouldn’t have said that.”

“Well, Stark may sometimes think Steve is a fuddy duddy but in reality he’s a fucker,” Clint grins. “You two are bound to get on.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” Clint says, sipping his beer. “Steve definitely likes having you and your cheeky self around,” he says. “And so do I.”

As he says it, he slips his free hand under the table and casually reaches for Bucky’s, pulling it towards him. He threads their fingers together while glancing over at the screen behind the bar, super fuckin’ casual apart from the fact his ears are going red again. Bucky loses all train of thought. He’s holding hands with someone. Someone nice and funny and super fucking hot and now they’re holding hands. The only issue is now he’s only got his metal arm free and his cocktail glass suddenly looks mighty delicate.

‘You’ll be fine,’ he tells himself, and reaches for the glass, trying to focus. He gingerly picks it up and tries to exhale slowly without drawing attention to it, bringing the glass up to his face and taking a cautious sip. Swallowing, he sets the glass back down on the table and stares at it.

“You okay?” Clint asks.

Bucky’s too amazed at himself to even be embarrassed that Clint has noticed.

“Picked up a glass,” he says, holding up his left hand. “Without breaking it.”

Clint looks from the glass to Bucky’s hand to the hand that he’s holding under the table. “Oh, shit,” he says, and lets go of Bucky’s hand. “Sorry, I completely didn’t think - I took your good hand hostage.”

Bucky shakes his head. “Starting to think that this one could be pretty good too,” he says, and seeing as he’s hopped up on giddy adrenaline because of Clint holding his hand and the fact he picked up a glass with his metal hand, he does something reckless and impulsive.

Namely, as Clint tries to awkwardly apologize again, he decides ‘fuck it,’ and leans in to kiss him.

Clint kisses him back, soft and gentle, his hand coming up to cup Bucky’s cheek. It lasts a single glorious moment, and Bucky thinks maybe he’s died and transcended the mortal realm, and then his actual rational brain kicks in and he pulls back, breaking the kiss. “Sorry,” Bucky breathes. “Shoulda asked.”

Clint huffs out a laugh. “What part of all this made you think I wouldn’t be up for kissing you?”

“Consent is sexy,” Bucky tells him, and Clint starts to laugh.

Bucky’s about to fuck it for a second time and lean in again when he catches the sound of displeased grumblings from the table next to their booth. There’s two women who are looking super uncomfortable, a guy whose eyes are glued to the TV, then a guy who is giving Clint and Bucky looks and clearly bitching.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” Bucky calls. Clint twists around to look at who he’s speaking to just as the guy pulls a face.

“You’re the ones making a scene,” he says, all smug like he’s won an argument.

“How the fuck am I making a scene?” Bucky demands. Clint’s eyebrows are slowly climbing up towards his hairline, but he’s not stopping Bucky. “Go on, think of an answer that won’t make you sound really bigoted or homophobic.”

The guy shakes his head. “I’m not a homophobe, I just think you should keep it behind closed doors. There’s people you might offend, so why push it?”

“Well there are gay people in this world and I think your girlfriend should keep her fuckin’ cleavage behind closed doors, because her fake tits might offend them.”

The guy’s eyes go wide, then he looks down at the table and laughs low and mean, before slowly standing up. Clint grabs hold of Bucky’s arm as Bucky makes to shove past him out of the booth. “Move,” Bucky hisses.

“No, this is a dumb idea,” Clint hisses back. “Just leave it, I’m not up for throwing down in the middle of a sports bar.”

“Well you can stay back here,” Bucky snaps. “ Move.

“You wanna say sorry to my girlfriend?” the guy repeats loudly.

“Bucky, just drop it,” Clint urges.

“I will drop it in hell,” Bucky snaps and stands up, climbing over the table to stand in front of the guy.

The guy literally looks down at Bucky, expression condescending. “Think it’s past your bedtime kid,” he says. “Apologise, or go home.”

“You’re the one who started this,” Bucky snaps. People are starting to stare. Behind him, Clint is still trying to get him to back down which is actually making his opinion of Clint drop quite dramatically.

“Apologise,” the guy says, and reaches out to shove Bucky in the shoulder. Bucky hears a sharp movement behind him but he’s quicker than Clint, grabbing the guy’s wrist in his metal hand and yanking.

The guy gasps and drops to his knees like a stone. Bucky has a moment of internal ‘holy fucking shit’ but he know what his hand can do and he’s pretty sure he’s not broken anything. He can feel the guy’s bones, that’s how hard he’s gripping, but nothing’s broken.

He thinks.

“I’m a fuckin’ veteran and I’m queer and you should show some goddamn respect,” Bucky says, shoving the guy away. The two women grab hold of him as he staggers into the table, plates and glasses all clinking. “You didn’t need to say shit to us, you could have just carried on with your own business.”

Bucky feels a hand on his arm; it’s Clint, pulling him away. One of the women is yelling after him, threatening to call the cops. The guy has dropped back into his seat, expression torn between angry and mortified. The second guy has deigned to look away from the TV and looks surprised by what’s just happened in his absence.

Clint shoves Bucky outside into the cold night air, grabbing his collar and steering him away from the bar. “What the hell are you playing at? You trying to get our asses kicked?”

“No, I’m standing up for myself,” Bucky snaps, knocking Clint’s hand away.

“You could have ignored them.”

“They could have ignored us,” Bucky shouts. “I am not in the wrong here.”

“There’s a time and a place for picking a fight.”

“That was the perfect time and place for picking a fight,” Bucky says. “And if you have a problem with me standing up for myself then you can fuck off too.”

He stalks away. He’s so angry he’s shaking with it. As he goes he hears an exasperated sigh and then hears Clint jogging after him.

“Bucky. Bucky, don’t ignore me, come on.”

“Go away,” Bucky says. “You did what you were told, you escorted me home. You can punch out now.”

“You can’t walk away from me, I’ve got your bags.”

“Fuck off.”

“Bucky,” Clint says, and reaches out to stop him, a hand on his shoulder. “I get it, alright?”

“No you don’t, or you wouldn’t be getting all pissed about me standing up for myself!”

“There’s a difference between standing up for yourself and going from zero to starting a fight in literally three seconds,” Clint says, rubbing at his face. “Christ, it’s like having a shorter, more reckless Steve.”

Bucky folds his arms across his chest. “Steve’d back me up.”

“Steve would kick your ass for that stunt,” Clint says sharply. “You have every right to stand up for yourself but that was some half-cocked bullshit and you know it.”

“But-”

“But nothing,” Clint says. “I was all up for you talking down that guy and putting him in his place but you went off - there was no need to drag his fucking girlfriend into that. You turned it into a fight about who had to say sorry first and made yourself look like an asshole.”

Bucky looks away, feeling his eyes going hot. Fuck. He’s still not willing to admit he’s wrong but maybe Clint is a little bit right.

“Well,” he says, voice thick. “That escalated quickly.”

Clint huffs out a laugh. “Yeah it did, you maniac,” he says, and then he steps forwards, takes Bucky’s face in his hands and leans down to kiss him.

Bucky makes a surprised sound, surging up onto his tiptoes so he can kiss Clint back. It turns pretty hot pretty quickly; Bucky opens his mouth under Clint’s and Clint makes a low, pleased groan, biting down on Bucky’s bottom lip.

“Now will you please stop trying to pick a fight for five seconds and take me back to your apartment,” Clint says into his mouth. “Christ, you drive me crazy.”

“In a good way, I hope?”

“Yeah, mostly,” Clint says. “Now are you taking me home or was putting out on the first date all talk?”

“Definitely not talk,” Bucky says, and cranes his neck up for another kiss. “Follow me.”

 


 

By the time they get back to Bucky’s apartment, he’s gone from ‘holy shit I’m about to hook up with Hawkeye’ to ‘holy shit I’ve agreed to be naked and vulnerable with another human being.’ The nerves have overtaken the excitement but he’s not about to let it show, not when he’s already made an ass of himself once today - twice if he includes the fight in the bar.

He led them in and silently thanks Becca for tidying up, immediately feeling both inadequate and fiercely proud of the apartment. It’s nothing special, not like an apartment in Avengers Tower must be, but it’s theirs. The bookshelf that’s literally held up by books, the prints on the wall, the lopsided plants on the windowsill. Becca has worked damn hard for all of it and Bucky has done his part to look after it too.

Clint seems perfectly at home, wandering in and toeing off his boots before looking around curiously. He pauses in front of the photos on the wall, the ones of Becca and her friends, cocking his head to the side in a way that Bucky can only describe as adorable as fuck.

“Why are there no photos of you? You love taking photos of you.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’ve seen your Instagram,” Clint shrugs. “You’re a vain motherfucker, so why no photos?”

Bucky doesn’t argue, because it’s pretty true. “This is Becca’s apartment really,” he says. “I’m a freeloader, until I get my first pay check.”

“Then you can put a life size photo of yourself up?”

“Absolutely,” Bucky grins. “You want a drink? Beer? Coffee?”

“A beer,” Clint says and sits down on the couch, idly watching Bucky as he moves around the apartment, getting beers out of the fridge and trying to find the bottle opener. Christ, how does this work again? He used to be so good at this, like smooth as shit and all confident. And now he’s got a fake arm that only applies the right amount of pressure 50% of the time and he’s got scars, and shit when did he last shower?

“Bucky?”

He hears movement behind him and draws in a sharp breath. Clint’s hands settle on his shoulders and he shivers as Clint leans in to mouth at his ear.

“I showered this morning,” he says and promptly wants to go throw himself out of the window.

“Good to know,” Clint murmurs. “You wanna take another one?”

“No, I’m good,” Bucky says hoarsely. He tilts his head, inviting Clint to slowly kiss along his neck, mouth open and hot. “I’m very good.”

“You sure? I don’t wanna offend, but you looked like you were freaking out back there.”

Bucky turns around to face Clint, who braces his hands on the counter either side of Bucky’s hips, penning him in. “Okay, you ready for me to talk about feelings?”

“Go for it. I can get used to this sharing stuff for you, I guess.” Clint’s smile is soft and crooked and Bucky wants to kiss it, so he does.

“Okay,” he says, settling back down on his heels. “I like sex. I like getting fucked. I am possibly what some people may call a bossy bitch in bed. But,” he says over Clint’s snort of laughter. “It’s been a long time since I had the chance, and I haven’t tried sex with this.”

He holds up his left hand. Clint’s eyes focus on it, then return to lock on Bucky’s as he reaches up to take hold of Bucky’s wrist, leaning in to kiss his metal fingertips.

“Challenge accepted.”

“Guh,” Bucky manages.

Clint smiles. “Just maybe don’t touch my dick with it? Oh, and don't kiss my ears. I've got hearing aids in and I don't like anyone being too close.”

Bucky cocks his head, desperately wanting to ask more but knowing that being nosey about someone's disabilities is a dick move. So instead he just nods and says, “Deal,” swaying into Clint’s space so their chests bump together, winding his arms around Clint’s neck. “Now, are you going to fuck me or what?”

“Yes, mister bossy bitch,” Clint says, and leans down to kiss him, hard. Bucky makes a surprised noise but kisses back, opening his mouth under Clint’s and unable to suppress the soft moan as Clint licks his way inside. Clint’s can’t seem to keep his hands off Bucky; they start at his waist, under his leather jacket and atop his shirt but soon enough he slips them underneath, palms hot on Bucky’s skin.

Clint breaks away, chest heaving. Bucky tries to chase his mouth but Clint leans back, pushing Bucky’s jacket off his shoulders and wrestling it down his arms. It falls to the floor with a soft thump and then he’s kissing Bucky again, taking his breath away as he presses him back into the counter. His hands slide under Bucky’s shirt again, smoothing over his back, nails digging in and scratching just enough to make Bucky gasp into his mouth.

He makes a pleased, smug noise and Bucky has to laugh. It’s breathless and turns even more so when Clint pushes his head to the side so he can mouth at his neck, gently biting as he goes.

“Fuck,” he swallows hard. His hands skitter uselessly over Clint’s shoulders, wanting to get the hoodie off him but not sure where to start. “Barton - Clint -”

“Shhh, just relax,” Clint says.

“Not an option,” Bucky says hoarsely, catching Clint’s mouth in another kiss. “Come on, Clint.”

“Okay, I got you,” Clint says, and his hands go down to the back of Bucky’s thighs, pulling him roughly up against him. He’s strong enough that it pulls Bucky up onto his tiptoes, Clint’s fingers digging into the meat of his ass. “Where do you wanna do this?”

Bucky wants to say right here thank you please, but he’s mindful of the fact that it’s a shared apartment and it’s the first time he’s had sex in months. “Bedroom.”

“Lead the way.”

Trembling, Bucky steps back and laces his fingers through Clint’s. His heart is thudding against his ribcage as he pulls Clint along, leading him the short distance from the kitchen to his bedroom. He leaves the light off as he shuts the door behind them, anticipation curling hot in his belly.

Clint turns to sit on the edge of Bucky’s bed and pulls his hoodie off, leaving his hair ruffled. Bucky feels his mouth go dry. God, he’s fucking gorgeous, even in the dim orange glow that slides through the slats of the blinds. It’s like the first time seeing him all over again, a suckerpunch of lust that has Bucky walking across and climbing onto Clint’s lap, his knees either side of his hips and hands on his shoulders. Clint pulls him in hungrily, hands going back to Bucky’s ass.

“God you’re fucking amazing,” Clint says in-between kisses. “Been thinking about this since the first day I saw you.”

“Yeah?” Bucky pants, rolling his hips forwards and feeling a thrill go through him as Clint groans and grabs hold of his hips, encouraging him to do it again. “What did you think?”

“You and your fucking ego,” Clint snorts.

“Tell me,” Bucky coaxes, leaning back so he can pull at the knot in the string of Clint's sweatpants. “Tell me what you thought.”

Clint lets go of him, leaning back and dropping down onto his elbows. He watches Bucky’s fingers, eyes dark and wanting. “Your eyes,” he says. “The way you looked. Your thighs, Jesus. If I die, I want it to be because you’ve suffocated me with your thighs.”  

Bucky slowly pulls the knot loose, toys with the waistband of Clint's sweats. Clint’s getting hard; Bucky keeps brushing against the bulge, mouth watering and asshole clenching up tight as he thinks about it. He wants it in him like yesterday.

“Thought about fucking you on your desk,” Clint says. “Kicking Rogers out of his office and just bending you over and going to town.”

“Probably would have let you,” Bucky admits, and Clint groans, a desperate, punched out sound. He reaches for Bucky, sliding his hands onto Bucky’s neck and pulling him forwards and down to meet his frantic kisses. Bucky ends up braced up over Clint, metal arm taking his weight as he uses his real hand to fumble at Clint’s pants, now desperate to get them out of the fucking way. He’s torn; he feels like if he doesn’t get some clothes off soon he just might die, but kissing Clint is proving to be highly addictive and he’s not sure he can stop.  

Eventually, Clint makes the decision for him. He pushes Bucky back, sitting up and pulling his shirt over his head, throwing it aside. Bucky is about to follow suit and pull his own shirt off but is temporarily derailed because Clint is now naked from the waist up and it’s as glorious as he ever imagined.

“Would it be weird if I took a photo of your abs?” he asks, eyes glued to Clint’s glorious six-pack. “You know, for science.”

Clint laughs, preening slightly. He leans back so Bucky can trail a fingertip down his chest and stomach. “Sex first, photoshoot later?”

“Deal,” Bucky says. “Now strip.”

“You are bossy,” Clint comments.

Bucky climbs off of him to go root through his top drawer - also known as the drawer that sibling housemates are never to go in, for the sake of everyone’s sanity. He hopes Clint doesn't peer over his shoulder because he thinks it might be a little soon to introduce him to the array of sex toys that he's got stashed in here. “I did warn you,” Bucky says, listening to sounds of clothing rustling behind him as he digs out condoms and lube, tossing them onto the bed. “It’s not my fault that I know what I want.”

He hears another laugh, and then there’s a hand sliding around his waist, pulling him back onto the bed. “Lucky for you, I think what you want is pretty close to what I want,” Clint murmurs. “And I want you naked.”

“Can’t say no to an Avenger, really, can I?”

“Probably wouldn’t risk it,” Clint says gravely, and kisses his shoulder. 

Bucky turns to kiss Clint properly and feels his heart jump as he finds Clint is only in his underwear, erection straining against the fabric. Bucky hastens to get his shirt off, only barely conscious of his left arm. If his shirt gets ripped, then he’ll consider it a necessary sacrifice. It gets thrown god-knows-where and is quickly followed by his jeans and socks, then he finds himself on his back with Hawkeye ontop of him, kissing him breathless and rocking against him. He groans, hooking his legs up around Clint’s waist, which Clint really likes judging by the way he shudders and thrusts against him. He reaches down to palm at Bucky’s thigh, evidently wanting to have a moment or two even though Bucky is trying to push Clint’s boxers down and is clearly desperate.

“Can you obsess over my legs later,” Bucky complains. “I was promised a good fucking.”

“You will be the death of me,” Clint informs him, sitting back on his heels.

“Come on,” Bucky says. He bites his bottom lip, slides a hand down his stomach to cup his dick, writhing slightly atop the covers. “You promised.”

“I did,” Clint says. He leans down to press a wet kiss to Bucky’s stomach, and Bucky feels his dick flex in his boxers, shamelessly begging for attention. He slides his good hand into Clint’s hair, breath going unsteady as Clint sucks wet marks lower and lower, before closing his mouth around the head of Bucky’s dick, still trapped in the fabric of his underwear.

“Fuck,” Bucky gasps, even as Clint pulls back and licks the fucking fabric, leaving it cool and damp. He can feel how wet his dick is getting and feels his hips do another dirty grind, an involuntary reaction as he gets increasingly needy. If he doesn’t get dicked in the next minute and a half, he’s going to call the fucking police, and he tells Clint as such.

“Can you just shut your trap for five minutes, I know what I’m doing here,” Clint replies. “Look, if I’m gonna get in trouble for fucking my boss’s PA, I’m gonna make it worth it.”

Bucky is about to make a smart-ass remark but Clint finally decides to get with the program, lifting the waistband of Bucky’s boxers and pulling them down. “Nice,” he breathes, and takes a moment to tongue at the head of Bucky’s dick, pushing the foreskin back and gently sucking. Bucky’s hips jerk and his spine bows, pressing his head and shoulders back into the mattress. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he pants, trying to remember how to breathe. He manages to lift his head, looking down the length of his own body to where Clint is sucking at the head of his dick. He keeps clenching down, an ache starting deep in the pit of his belly as he thinks about getting Clint up in him.

Clint lifts up again, kneeling up so Bucky’s legs fall away from him, spread wide on either side of him. Clint meets his eyes as he slowly pulls his own boxers down and off, tossing them aside and giving Bucky a look like he’s waiting for an opinion.

“Wow,” Bucky breathes, fumbling back and grabbing the lube, tossing it to Clint who catches it one handed. “Nice to know you’re proportional.”

“Sure there’s plenty more time for me to disappoint,” Clint says, and pushes Bucky’s knees up and apart.

Bucky swallows hard, looks at the ceiling. “You’re not gonna disappoint me,” he says, and then gasps out a soft little ‘ah’ as Clint goes back to sucking him. He keeps his eyes on the ceiling as he feels fingers drift up the back of his thigh, nudging at his balls and drifting towards his ass. This is happening, he thinks dazedly. This is actually happening. I’m officially the luckiest fuck in New York. Maybe even the world.

He settles his real hand on the back of Clint’s head, closing his eyes as Clint slips lubed fingers into him. God, he’s missed this, the strange feeling of fullness, the pressure that makes his dick ache. He focuses on the way Clint pushes his fingers in and out, the slick sounds his body makes, his own panting breaths that are loud in the quiet. Fuck, he should have put some music on or something, there’s gotta be some good about-to-get-fucked playlists on Spotify-

The thought is derailed as Clint shifts, climbing back up Bucky’s body, lowering his head to kiss him. Bucky kisses back, flexing his metal fingers in the sheets as he listens to the crinkle of a condom wrapper.

“You good?” Clint asks, nudging at Bucky’s jaw with his nose.

“Mmhm,” Bucky says. “I’m good. You can fuck me now, please.”

“God you’re such a little shit,” Clint says, but he does as Bucky asks, pushing into Bucky. Bucky cries out, arching into it. Clint's moan rumbles deep in his chest as he pulls his hips back slightly before shoving in even deeper than before. Fuck, there’s taking a dick and there’s taking a dick and this experience is definitely the latter. Bucky feels like his entire spine is being pushed out of alignment, but in the best way possible.

“Stop, stop, give me a moment,” he gasps.

“You kidding me?” Clint pants, but he does still in place, thighs shaking with the effort of not moving. Bucky's not got much experience topping but he's been assured that having to pause mid-fuck is not the easiest thing in the world. Well, tough shit. He's not got any time for whiny tops when he's trying to relax enough to take what feels like a fucking baseball bat. 

“Not my fault you have a fucking giant dick,” Bucky manages to say.

Clint shifts slightly and Bucky does his utmost not to whine. “I can go back to fingering you if you want-”

“Don’t you dare,” Bucky says, thumping his heel against Clint’s tailbone. “I am going to come on this dick or die trying.”

Clint looks pained. “Please don’t. I already spend far too much time dealing with the cops while I’m naked.”

Bucky laughs and it turns into a gasp as Clint rocks forwards slightly. He nods vigorously and Clint does it again, building up from gentle rocking into something much deeper and harder. Bucky can feel sweat beading along his hairline and in the small of his back, can feel Clint mouthing sloppy kisses into his neck, can feel his metal arm shuddering with sensory overload. None of that compares to the way he can feel Clint’s dick shoving deeper with every thrust.

“Come on,” Clint mutters, and he reaches down to hook his arm under Bucky’s leg, pulling it up and opening him wide for the relentless pounding of his dick. Bucky cries out and throws his hand out to try and grab hold of something, and succeeds only in putting his fist through the drywall.

They both freeze, panting and staring at where Bucky’s metal hand is now embedded in the wall. “Oops,” Bucky says hoarsely, pulling it free and shaking off the loose bits of plasterboard and dust. “Can we pretend that didn’t happen?”

“I’m gonna take it as a compliment,” Clint’s says, a slow grin spreading over his face. “Fucked you so good you put your hand through the wall.”

“I think it’s more the fact my hand's made of vibranium than a commentary on your dick-wielding skills.”

“At least let me pretend it’s me, my fragile masculinity needs the boost,” Clint says, and he ruins Bucky’s whole night and possibly even his life by pulling out and sitting back. Bucky manages to make exactly one indignant sound before Clint is manhandling him into his lap, guiding Bucky to sit on his dick.

“Oh holy fuuuuuh,” Bucky gasps, holding onto Clint’s shoulders as he sinks down. Clint barely gives him any time to adjust before he’s gripping hold of Bucky’s hips and encouraging him to move. Bucky’s barely got a decent rhythm going before Clint‘s dropping back onto his elbows, just lying back and letting Bucky ride him.

“You lazy fuck,” Bucky pants but he doesn’t even care because there’s a tingle starting at the base of his spine, a glorious wave of pleasure rolling through him. He chases the feeling, slamming his hips down and throwing his head back, feeling Clint’s hands grabbing at his thighs again. He reaches down with his real hand, wrapping his fingers around his dick

“That’s it,” Clint groans. “Get yourself off, come on, make yourself come.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says mindlessly. “Oh god, uh, oh fuck -”

Clint wraps his fingers around Bucky’s and that’s it, Bucky’s done for. His breath catches in his chest and his eyes close involuntarily as his dick shoots, his ass clenching down and his whole body thrumming as he rides the crest of his orgasm. He’s barely able to catch a breath before Clint’s tipping him back onto his back, hammering his dick into Bucky’s hole as he chases his own release. Bucky bites weakly at Clint’s shoulder, revelling in the way Clint lets out a long, low moan, his hips jerking and stuttering as he comes.

“Holy shit,” Clint says, going utterly deadweight on top of Bucky as they lie there panting and trying to collect themselves. “That was worth getting fired for.”

Bucky tries to scramble his last remaining brain cells into a response. “Whu?” he manages. He can’t feel his legs. “You’re not gonna get fired for sleeping with me, are you?”

Clint shakes his head as much as he can with it mashed into the blankets above Bucky’s shoulder.

“You sure?” Bucky asks, turning his head to press a clumsy kiss against the side of Clint’s face. As he does, he spots what looks like a tiny antenna nestled inside Clint's ear, which must be part of the hearing aids he mentioned. Since when has Hawkeye been deaf? Does everyone know he's deaf and Bucky somehow missed that bit of superhero gossip? 

“I’m sure,” Clint says. “I was kidding.” He groans and then pushes himself up off Bucky, sitting on the edge of the bed to deal with the condom. He throws it across the room to land directly into the bin that’s by the door and Bucky starts cackling.

“Good aim,” he says, and Clint just rolls his eyes, rubbing a hand over the back of his head, making his hair stick out in sweat-damp spikes.

“Did that meet your requirements?” he asks, standing up and stretching. “You weren’t actually as bossy as I thought you’d be.”

“Too busy trying to remember my own name,” Bucky says, curling up on his side and watching Clint through half-open eyes. “And putting holes in the wall, shit. Becca is gonna kill me.”

He rolls over to inspect the damage and then decides he doesn’t care. Clint leaves the room and Bucky listens to him puttering around the bathroom and then the kitchen - Bucky can still not believe there’s an Avenger walking naked around his apartment - and then he comes back with a glass of water in hand that he passes to Bucky.

Bucky downs half of it in big, grateful gulps. “You gonna stay?” he asks Clint, passing him the glass back.

“Sure,” Clint says, setting the water on the nightstand. “Do hipsters do breakfast?”

“We do,” Bucky confirms. “Now get back in the bed and rub my back please.”

“Bossy bitch,” Clint says but it’s fond, and he does what Bucky asks, climbing back onto the bed and ghosting a gentle kiss onto Bucky’s shoulder before commencing with a massage that has Bucky wriggling and stretching like a contented cat.

“I’m gonna post you a hell of a review on Tripadvisor,” he mumbles. “Clint Barton. Great service. Good stamina. Top quality dick. 10/10 would visit again.”

“Sweet. Make sure you add that thing you said about me being proportional,” Clint says and Bucky can’t help but smile as Clint leans down to press a kiss between his shoulder blades. He’s got no idea why he ever told himself that he shouldn’t sleep with Hawkeye; this has clearly been his best idea ever.

Chapter Text

Bucky doesn't really sleep that night; he drifts, too aware of the body sharing his bed to properly drop off. He wakes up fully once in the early hours, when Clint is nuzzling at his shoulder, kisses going from sleepy to hungry in what seems like no time at all. He lets Clint roll him onto his stomach, kissing across his shoulders as he straddles Bucky’s legs and pushes inside him again, fucking him slow and steady until Bucky comes with a bitten off gasp, trying to push up and back against him.

After that, he's so exhausted that he does pass right out, sleeping right through until someone rudely wakes him up by kicking him in the knee as he's trying to climb out of the bed.

“No,” Bucky hisses, slapping at Clint's legs. “Saturday.”

“Calm your tits, I'm going for a piss,” Clint mumbles, voice thick with sleep. “Then stay in bed til lunch.”

“Correct,” Bucky mumbles.

“If you're talking I can't hear you,” Clint says. Bucky lifts his head but Clint's already gone, bare ass vanishing around the edge of the door. He listens to Clint padding across the apartment to the bathroom and when he hears the door click shut, he lets himself start laughing into his pillow. God, he can't believe it. Something good is happening to him for once, something amazing and good and-

An ear splitting scream jolts him out of bed in a panic. He scrambles for his underwear, heart in his mouth. “Apartment, New York,” he keeps repeating to try and keep himself focused as he dives for the door. “Apartment, New York, apartment - Becca?!”

“YES, I LIVE HERE!” she shrieks, standing between the bathroom door and the kitchen counter. “Why is there a naked man in my bathroom?!”

“Oh, shit,” Bucky says, running across to plant himself between Becca and the door. “Stop screaming!”

“There's unexpected dick hanging around and I've just finished a sixteen hour shift, I can scream all I like!” Becca yells. “What the shit, Bucky?!“

“Stop yelling! It's Clint - it's Clint Barton. Hawkeye. You knew this - I text you saying I was gonna hook up with him!’

She gapes at him. “You weren't actually meant to sleep with any Avengers, dickface!”

“You told me to put out!”

“I cannot believe we are having this conversation,” she hisses back. “Oh my god, Bucky. You don’t hook up with anyone for years and then the first one you bang is an Avenger?”

“Why are you yelling, you should be congratulating me!”

“I'd congratulate you if you did it somewhere else, not in our apartment!”

“Well this way you got to see his abs too, you're welcome.”

Becca blinks at him and then bursts out laughing. She claps her hands over her mouth, trying to stifle her giggles. Bucky can’t help it; he starts to laugh too, shoulders shaking as he slumps back against the bathroom door with a thump.

“Oh my god, Bucky,” she manages to choke out, literal tears in her eyes from laughing.

“I know,” he says. “Shhh, stop laughing.”

“You stop laughing.”

She pushes at him and he pushes back, and it's on its way to becoming a proper slap fight when there’s a tentative knocking on the bathroom door.

“Uh, can I come out now?”

“Oh, shit,” Bucky says, pushing himself upright. “Go make coffee or be useful or something,” he whispers at Becca, then pulls open the bathroom door. Clint is standing there with a towel wrapped around his waist, looking bemused.

“Hi,” he says to Becca, scratching the back of his head sheepishly. “Sorry I scared you. I'm Clint.”

“Becca,” she says, holding her hand out for Clint to shake. “Sorry I screamed at you. You'd think with the amount of one-night-stands Bucky brings to the apartment I'd be used to it by now.”

Bucky's mouth drops open. “That's such a lie!” he splutters. Clint turns to look at him with an eyebrow raised so Bucky repeats it. “She's lying. She's the worst sister ever and she's a dirty liar. Can you hear me?”

“Lipreading, or trying to,” Clint says. “You talk fast.”

“Sorry,” Bucky says and gives Becca a dirty look. She's grinning ear to ear, the asshole.

“I'm gonna,” Clint says and gestures towards the bedroom. He slinks off, leaving Bucky to slap at Becca's shoulder again.

“You're the worst.”

“That's payback,” she says sternly. “I don't care how hot he is, I don't want to be stumbling across naked men as soon as I get home.”

Bucky grins. “He's super hot though, right?”

Becca rolls her eyes indulgently. “Yes, he's super hot, well done you.”

“Yes, well done me,” Bucky says, preening a little. “I’m gonna go check- can you like, seriously either go away or make coffee or something?”

“I am not going away, I’m about to have breakfast with a literal Avenger.”

“Stop, you can’t be all weird.”

“I won’t be.” She actually has the nerve to roll her eyes. “You’re the one who gets all weird and asks celebrities for selfies.”

“I’m leaving,” Bucky announces. “I’m gonna go get laid again and you can have breakfast on your own.”

Nose in the air, he marches back over to his bedroom, slipping in and shutting the door behind him. To his utter dejection, Clint is back in his underwear and is in the process of pulling his jeans up with one hand and fiddling with something in his ear with the other.

“So, that’s a no on morning sex?”

Clint gives him a look. “Your sister is in the literal next room.”

“I could make her go away?”

Clint laughs at that. He swaggers over to Bucky - there’s really no other word for it, the way he saunters on over with that smirk on his face, pinning Bucky in place with nothing more than eye contact. Bucky nearly fuckin’ swoons. Clint comes right up to him so they’re chest to chest, looks down at Bucky, gently takes his face in his hands then kisses the hell out of him.

“To be young,” he teases, nudging Bucky’s nose with his own. “Clothes. Coffee. Awkward chit chat with your sister who has just seen my dick. We can have more sex another day.”

Bucky feels his stomach jump like he’s in an elevator with cut cables. The idea of another day is both exhilarating and terrifying. The young millennial part of his brain perks up at the concept, but the bitter veteran part of his brain says a virulent hell no.

He’s had enough therapy to be able to understand when different parts of his brain are talking shit, so in that moment he tells the bitter veteran part to take a hike and surges up on his tiptoes to kiss Clint. If it’s possibly a dirtier kiss than is warranted seeing as they’re not imminently about to fuck, well Bucky finds he doesn’t really care.

Bucky drops back onto his feet, leaning in to kiss Clint’s collarbone, exhaling warm breath that makes Clint shiver. “Kinda freaked out that you want to do it again.”

Clint grins, kisses the top of his head, quickly like he just can’t help himself. “You’re not the only one who’s gonna be posting a ten out of ten Tripadvisor rating. That’s some quality ass right there.”

“Thanks?”

“Add it to your resume,” Clint says. “Please tell me you have coffee.”

Bucky takes pity on him, handing him a clean t-shirt before steering him into the kitchen area. He sits him down at the counter and mouths a thank you to Becca as she slides a mug of coffee over.

“After you,” Bucky says flatly as Clint makes grabby hands for the mug.

“I’m a guest,” Clint says. “And I need it to live.”

Becca snorts into her own mug of coffee. “I should take it away from you for that dick stunt you pulled earlier.”

Bucky leans forwards so his head hits the counter with a thunk. “Becca!” he muffle-yells, mortified.

“I didn’t actually mean to,” Clint says. “It was an accidental dick stunt.”

“Can we please stop talking about this?” Bucky implores, still face down on the counter. “You’re ruining this for me.”

“Alright, drama queen,” Becca says. “Fine, let’s talk about the guy who got admitted last night because he’d ruptured an eyeball after his friend hit him in the face with a Wii remote.”

Clint gags over his coffee. Bucky is more used to Becca’s gross stories so just lifts his head up so he can frown quizzically at her. “How hard did he hit him? Who even plays with a Wii anymore?”

“We banned MarioKart in Avengers Tower,” Clint says.

“Why, did someone rupture an eyeball?”

“No, but Bruce hulked out and Steve and Tony argued so much that Steve put the controller through the screen,” Clint says. “Natasha banned the game after that.”

Bucky starts to laugh, pressing his palm over his mouth. “I love how angry Rogers gets. No-one ever expects it.”

“I don’t know why, he’s never really tried very hard to hide it,” Clint shrugs and then drains his coffee in several large gulps. “Alright, I better go.”

Bucky can’t help the disappointment that rolls through him. He shares a brief glance with Becca before trying to keep his voice as neutral as possible. “Oh? You gotta go?”

“Mmmhm, I got a dog,” Clint says, getting up off his stool. “Well, he’ll be with my neighbor but I gotta check on him. And I got Avengering stuff to do. Hey, can I give you this shirt back later?”

“Sure,” Bucky says, shrugging. He stares down at his coffee, suddenly feeling like he could maybe try drowning himself in the murky depths. Ugh, Barton has got him all fucked up, having feelings and emotions and shit all over the place.

Stop being a melodramatic moron , he tells himself, giving himself a mental slap. Barton has said he wants to do it again. They actually went on a date. He’s got more reasons to be feeling good rather than bad about this right now, but no-one ever said his brain was rational.

“Alright bitch, let’s get your stuff,” he says, setting the rest of his coffee aside and heading back to his room. He’s scooping up Clint’s wallet and resisting the urge to crush the flip phone in his metal hand when he hears footsteps behind him. He turns to hand over Clint’s stuff and can’t help but smile as Clint grins crookedly at him.

“All Tripadvisor jokes aside-” Clint begins.

“They’re great jokes.”

“They’re awful.”

“You made one too, so that means you’re awful.”

Clint screws up his face at that. “Fine. We’re both awful. But the point I’m trying to make is that this was great we should sex again sometime.”

Bucky bursts out laughing. “We should sex again sometime?”

“Hey, I may struggle with the words but remember, I banged you so good you put your hand through the wall.”

“True,” Bucky concedes. “Maybe I will consider putting out again in the near future.”

“Score,” Clint says happily, actually doing a little fistpump before he pockets his wallet. “Right, I gotta go.”

“Kiss me first,” Bucky says.

Clint rolls his eyes. “You’re such a demanding little shit.”

“You knew this before you got your dick involved.” Bucky shrugs, gently fisting his hand in the T-shirt that Clint’s wearing so he can pull him in and kiss him. He tastes of coffee and it’s perfect and over too soon.

“See you, kid,” Clint says, laughing as he dances out of the way of Bucky’s pinching metal fingers. Bucky fake scowls at him, pushing him out towards the door. He reels him in for one last kiss before Clint sloppily salutes him and leaves, the door clicking shut behind him.

“Wow,” Bucky says, and then turns to sag back against the door. Becca is still sitting there, sipping her coffee as she stares at him.

“I’m gonna get a jar,” she says. “Every time I have to see your tongue you put a dollar in.”

“Oh ha ha,” Bucky says. “You could have looked somewhere else, you know.”

Becca sniffs. “Hawkeye is hot, I was just appreciating the view. Pity there was some fuckin’ goober attached to his face. He should see about getting it removed.”

“You are not funny,” Bucky tells her. He pushes himself off the door and goes to sit at the counter again but Becca makes a loud indignant negative noise around her mouthful of coffee.

“No,” she manages to say. “You reek. Go shower. Disinfect yourself. Disinfect anything you touched while naked.”

Bucky narrows his eyes. “We had sex on the counter,” he says and revels in the way Becca shrieks and pitches herself off her stool.

 


 

Bucky spends the rest of the weekend daydreaming about Clint and limping around the apartment when his muscles all collectively decide to torture him for putting them through the rigours of moderately athletic sex. Christ, he had less thigh-cramp after running twelve miles through the desert in Iraq.

But even being in mild discomfort from the waist down can’t seem to dampen his mood. The insecurity he’d first felt thankfully doesn’t reappear, leaving him free to bask in smug satisfaction. By Sunday evening Becca is sick of him, grouching about his dumb smiling face and the fact he’s not even watching the latest episode of RuPaul properly because he’s too busy daydreaming.

By Monday he’s mostly back to reality - though he’s still pretty chipper seeing as his reality consists of actually having two working hands (mostly), a surge in Instagram followers thanks to his selfie with Pepper Potts, an actual real job working with Steve Rogers and the possibility of seeing Clint again.

The good mood lasts until he walks through the door of Rogers' office to find him literally sitting on the floor, surrounded by towering stacks of paperwork. It looks like every inch of the floor is covered, as well as a few slumped over piles on the couch.

“What, the, fuck,” he slowly says, reaching up to pull his headphones from his ears.

“Finally, the cavalry has arrived,” Maria says from where she’s sitting on Bucky’s desk. She swings her legs around and knocks a stack over; it goes slithering to the ground and almost pitches over another four stacks as it goes. “See you later, Rogers.”

She bumps over another stack as she goes and Steve makes a wounded noise. “Goddamnit Maria! Be helpful or go away!”

“Going away, boss,” Maria calls back cheerfully. “Have fun!”

“What the fuck,” Bucky repeats, gesturing to the ocean of paper that Rogers seems to be drowning in.

“In my defence, I only asked for one file,” Rogers says, glaring at the paperwork.

“And they sent it in...triplibillioncate?” Bucky asks. He slips his jacket off and yeets it across the room onto his desk. “Where is all this from?! I thought Stark Industries was paperless?”

“It’s from the CIA,” Rogers says, frustrated. “I called them and requested a file.”

“So they sent you every file that has ever existed?!”

Steve huffs. “Go get me a coffee and some breakfast and I’ll explain.”

“Explain and I’ll go get you coffee and breakfast.”

Rogers makes a show of looking around, then fake surprise when he looks at Bucky. “Oh yes it is you, I’m pretty sure you work for me.”

“Please?”

Steve looks heavenward. “Fine. I asked for a file. The CIA said it could wait. I said it couldn’t. They said that the file was buried in some archives that hadn’t been sorted through since Old Shield went under. I said they were obviously incompetent if they can’t get someone to find a single file. My ex-girlfriend works for the CIA and I was stupid enough to call her, because then we argued and I may have suggested that she was withholding my file out of spite.”

Bucky can’t help it. He claps his hand over his mouth but too late, he’s started laughing. “So let me guess, they sent you all the files…?”

“And told me to find it myself,” Rogers finishes. “That’s exactly what they did.”

“Oh man,” Bucky says, and then it dawns on him. “Oh man , I’m gonna have to deal with this aren’t I?!”

“We,” Rogers says firmly. “But yes. Consider the next twenty-four hours paperwork hell.”

“Can I at least get coffee before I join you in hell?”

“Go to the break room and bring the whole machine,” Rogers says. “If anyone tries to stop you, tell them that Commander Rogers is requisitioning it as a mission critical piece of equipment.”

Bucky nods, dropping his bag by the door. “Sir, yes Sir,” he says, and goes to steal the coffee machine.

 


 

An hour later, and they have managed to clear a gap on the floor big enough for them both to sit down in. They’ve requisitioned not only the coffee machine but managed to get several filing cabinets delivered into an empty office. Bucky has helpfully printed off a sign for the door that says, ‘Shit From Old SHIELD’ and it’s a mark of just how stressed Rogers is that he doesn’t tell him to take it down.

“So this is all shit I probably shouldn’t be looking at, right?” Bucky says through a mouthful of muffin.

Steve at least swallows before he replies, brushing crumbs off his chin. “Right,” he says. “But seeing as I’ve got no idea what any of these files are, I can’t just let anyone sort them.”

“You’re paranoid,” Bucky says, scribbling a X-24d on the front of the file and tossing it onto a pile near the door. When the pile gets too unstable he’ll shift them all down to the Shit From Old SHIELD room.

“Yes, yes I am,” Steve says, and then under his breath adds, “Which is why I’m still alive.”

Bucky chokes on air. “Princess Bride!” he wheezes. “That’s from the-”

“I know,” Rogers says, flicking through a file and wrinkling his nose in mild distaste. “Ugh, how many files on me have they sent? I bet you they’ve done it on purpose.”

“Wait, wait, wait - you do quotes now?”

“I always do quotes,” Rogers says, vaguely, scribbling A1 and R65 on the front of the file.  “Though I’ll admit, my references aren’t exactly up to date. It’s either films from the forties or obscure cult classics.”

“It’s easy to catch up, you just gotta commit some time.”

Steve snorts. “You think I’ve got time for binging Netflix or googling memes?”

“I think you should,” Bucky says. “Because I know you’re like a hundred but you’re actually like thirty so you should really be better at millennial culture. And besides, you want to save the world, you should probably understand how it’s changing and evolving.”

Rogers has stopped looking through the files and is instead scrutinising Bucky, looking intrigued. “Go on.”

Bucky shrugs. “Well, it's like, when I was in the army, our lieutenant always said to know the locals. The civilians and the enemy. Said then it was easier to protect people if you understand them. And easier to fight them too.”

“Smart man,” Rogers says.

“Yeah. Not smart enough to not get blown up,” Bucky shrugs. “But the point is, understanding meme culture is probably a good way for you to know the younger generations, and they're the ones who are gonna be in charge next. And it’s also hilarious.”

“You’re smarter than you look,” Rogers says. “But aren’t memes sort of clique specific? Culturally specific?”

“Oh yeah but knowing some is better than knowing none,” Bucky says. “And I know Stark will hate it.”

“Well I don’t actively seek to annoy Tony but if it just so happens as collateral, then I suppose it can’t be helped.”

“I’m gonna start scheduling you breaks so you can waste time on the internet like a real millennial.”

“Sure, as soon as we get this disaster sorted.”

“Fine,” Bucky says, and heaves himself up. “I’m gonna move some more down, you want snacks picking up on the way back?”

“Got some in the fridge.”

“No you don’t, you ate them already.”

Rogers looks mildly surprised, like he can't remember eating three apples, a banana and an entire box of Snickers minis. “Oh. Okay then yeah, please.”

Bucky edges his way out of the room, hefting up the stack of files as he goes. One thing about his metal arm is the weight it can carry; he hasn’t really tested it out but he can tell from simple tasks like this that it’s probably a hell of a lot stronger than his real one.

He’s gone barely ten minutes but by the time he gets back, he finds someone else has sauntered in and is leaning against his desk. He’s not gonna lie - he’s been desperately hoping that he’d bump into Clint or that Clint would wander up to Rogers’ office to see him, but he’s not that lucky. In fact, as he stops dead in the doorway, he realises the universe must hate him because it’s Tony Stark who’s standing there, not even noticing Bucky as he chatters to Rogers.

Rogers spots Bucky first and just holds out his hand. Even though he doesn’t want to be in the same room as Tony Stark right now, Bucky knows already that Rogers' temperament is closely linked to how hungry he is, so he steps past Tony and drops his vending machine haul into Rogers’ lap.

“Thanks,” says Rogers, tearing into a Twix.

Bucky kneels back down beside Rogers, picking his sharpie up and leaning over to grab another file. He knows Stark is watching him do it and he’s trying not to let it annoy him. He got away with calling him a bitch once, but he’s not sure it’d fly again and not actually in front of Rogers. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if Rogers ever seriously reprimands him. Cry probably. Or start a fight that he has no hope of winning and get himself fired.

Though he probably should have realised that ignoring Stark is not actually possible.

“So you didn’t quit then, I had money on you quitting,” Stark says, then pauses. “Not even going to say hello, Barnes?”

Bucky ignores Tony, looking down at the file.

“Barnes? Earth to Barnes?”

Bucky pointedly lifts up the file so it’s blocking Tony from view.

“Tony, we’re busy,” Rogers says. “You have told me on several occasions that you’re allergic to paperwork and as your genius brain can clearly work out, here is a shit load of paperwork that needs dealing with.”

“Yeah, this is actually giving me hives. Itching. Tongue swelling, you know the deal.” Tony inches out a finger, threatening to nudge one of the towering stacks of paperwork.

“If you knock that over,” Rogers says easily, not looking up from his file, “I’ll make you pick it up.” Tony opens his mouth but Steve just raises his voice slightly, not even pausing. “Even if I have to hold your wrists and control you like a puppet, you will be picking it up.”

“Okay Captain Cranky,” Tony says. “Hey, on a less boring note, you know that software that Romanov copied over from that terminal in Marrakesh, well it turns out it’s got back doors like the Hammer-tech we-”

“One,” Rogers says loudly. “Stop talking about covert ops when the door is open. Two, we are fucking busy . Three, you are down here pretending that you didn’t spend Friday afternoon tormenting Bucky. Now apologise to him and go away.”

“No, see, I didn’t torment him, that’s a gross misrepresentation of what happened, and I’m not here to apologise, the thing is-”

“Apologise to Bucky and go away.”

“I think you’re mishearing me.”

“Apologise to Bucky and go away.”

“Fine,” Stark says with an eye roll so epic that he probably strains something. “I’m sorry I misjudged your sense of humour and I don’t even know why you’re complaining really because you two look snug as bugs in paperwork. Really, I want credit for finding you your very own sidekick.”

“Sidekick?” Bucky interrupts indignantly.

“You’re short,” Stark shrugs, like that settles it.

Bucky opens his mouth but Rogers quells his retort with a meaningfully arched eyebrow. He shuts his mouth obediently but a little resentfully.

“All jokes aside,” Stark says. “Steve, come on, you’ve been in here since Saturday night. You can’t survive on vending machine snacks.”

Rogers makes an amused noise. “I can’t believe you even got those words past your teeth. How many times have I dragged you out of your damn workshop?”

“Many times, at least twelve, maybe closer to twenty if you count assists with Pepper,” Tony says, supremely unconcerned. “I’m returning the favour. Seriously, you look like you’re about to sprain something with stress. Let me take you out.”

“Fine, you can take me out.” Rogers flips the file over. “As long as it’s with a sniper rifle.”

Bucky can’t help it. He chokes out a laugh, grinning as Rogers meets his eye and winks.

Tony looks from Bucky to Rogers and back again. “I have made a terrible mistake.”

“I thought you just said you wanted the credit for getting me a sidekick.”

“A sidekick that brings out the worst in you,” Tony grouches.

“From where I’m standing it’s the best,” Bucky says, pointing between him and Rogers. “You combined big dick energy with chaotic bitch energy, that's a great combination.”

Stark actually looks speechless. “Did he just call you a big dick? And you didn’t fire him?”

“It’s a metaphor, Tony,” Rogers says, somehow riding a very fine line between affectionate and condescending. “You’re just jealous that you don’t know what he's talking about.”

“And you do?” Tony huffs and steps back. “I need Parker to translate. Whatever, I’m leaving you here to drown in paperwork.  I can admit when I’m out of my depth.”

“Bye Tony,” Rogers calls cheerfully. There’s an indistinct shout in return and Rogers snorts with laughter, dropping his file and stretching. “I’m so bored I might die,” he says. “I’m actually wishing for an alien invasion.”

“Just a little one,” Bucky agrees.

“No civilian casualties, obviously, but I’ll take structural damage.”

“I’ll take them blocking the road or mildly upsetting children,” Bucky says. “I feel like we’re not getting anywhere.”

“We are,” Steve says, and Bucky notes the mildly triumphant gleam in his eyes. “I don’t think the CIA actually realises just how much useful intel there is in these things.”

“But they’re all old.”

“So am I.”

Bucky laughs. “Point taken.”

“And don’t you forget it,” Rogers says, mock sternly. “Right, we sort a hundred more files and then we’re going for extended lunch.”

“We?”

“Yes, we,” Rogers says. “Unless you’d rather-”

“No, that’s cool,” Bucky says quickly, like he’s not like getting all over excited at the thought of actually going for lunch with Rogers, rather than just fetching it for him. Ha, he’d like to see that cashier give him the evil-eye when he’s got Commander Rogers with him.

“Good,” Rogers says quietly, and if Bucky didn’t know better he’d think it sounded like Rogers was happy to have lunch with him too.




 

Lunch with Rogers is surprisingly chill. As they walk in, there’s an uptick in the amount of noise - it’s not quite a ruckus but they definitely cause a stir. A few people politely nod at Rogers - probably the seasoned veterans that have worked with him before or for some reason aren’t starstruck. Others visibly freak out, which does leave Bucky a little concerned about the mental fortitude about some of the hires. At least he did his starstruck freak out in private, and he got over it quick enough to not make an idiot of himself in the canteen.

“People are staring at you,” he tells Rogers as they get in line. Ugh, he never waits in line when he’s collecting lunch. Trust Rogers to be so goddamn polite.

“Well, Captain America is a big deal.”

“Well you’re not Captain America and I don’t see Sam Wilson anywhere,” Bucky grouches. “We have got to get you down here more. Desensitisation training.”

“You gonna put it on my schedule? Is that before or after wasting time on the internet?”

“You’re smart, you can multitask. If you let me have a real phone I could get you started now.”

“I’ve told you, security against an underground Nazi cult takes precedence over memes.”

Bucky rolls his eyes, nodding to the servers. Emilia catches his eye and winks. Bucky’s not entirely sure what the winking is all about but it’s nice to have someone here who doesn’t hate his guts.

They get lunch and a table, and Bucky thinks that Rogers might use it as an opportunity to talk about paperwork but what Rogers actually says as he sits down is, “The best thing about not being frozen in the Arctic is definitely curly fries.”

Bucky chokes on his mouthful of coke. His eyes are watering, there’s bubbles in his goddamn nose and he’s still laughing even though he can’t breathe properly-

“Hey, curly fries!”

And out of nowhere appears Clint , sliding onto the bench next to him, elbow knocking Bucky’s. The shock of finding Clint all up in his personal space makes him automatically inhale, and then his mild sputtering from having coke up his nose turns into serious unable-to-breathe coughing. There’s a moment of panic, and he doesn’t clearly see what happens next, but somehow Rogers manages to simultaneously grab Clint’s wrist and yank it away from his fries, and also lean across the table to take Bucky’s jaw in hand, pulling him upright and forcing his chin up so he can draw in a proper breath. He automatically grabs at Rogers wrist with his metal hand and manages to resists clamping down by the barest of margins.

He draws in a few rattling breaths and when he gets ahold of himself he realises that the cafeteria has gone quiet. A few braver - or stupider - agents have pulled weapons, standing near their table, poised and ready.

“You good?” Rogers asks.

“You’re hurting my arm,” Clint complains, trying to tug his hand free.

“I’m asking Bucky,” Rogers says.

Bucky can’t nod, because Rogers still has his face in his hand. “Yhhh,” he croaks. “I can breathe. I’m okay.”

Rogers puts him back down. “At ease,” he calls to the rest of the room, shoving Clint’s hand away before going back to his curly fries. There’s a silence and then someone laughs and then it’s back to normal, the chatter and bustle returning, just like Bucky’s ability to breathe.

“Just one?” Clint wheedles.

“No,” Steve says. “Get your own.”

Clint pulls a face and reaches over to take a handful of Bucky’s fries. As he does, he knocks his knee against Bucky’s, leaning closer than strictly necessary. It sends a thrill down Bucky’s spine, makes him want to turn into him, to press a kiss to his jaw. The memories of Friday night come flooding back and it’s all he can do to not squirm in his seat.

“What’re you doing here?” he asks hoarsely, rubbing at his chest.

“Meeting with Maria,” Clint says, and then looks to Steve. “Sam is already here, Nat says she’s not coming because it takes her longer to get through security than the meeting lasts, Thor sends his apologies because he didn’t want to come, and Bruce and Tony will be late. Bruce did tell me to tell you that he doesn’t want to be late, but Tony.”

Steve rubs at his head. “Tony was in the building not forty minutes ago, how is he going to be late?”

“Uh, I saw him leaving as I came in,” Clint says, and leans over to take Bucky’s drink.

Steve sighs. “I’m going to start scheduling Avengers meetings at Avengers Tower.”

“You can talk, Maria said you weren't going to show up anyway because you were busy with paperwork.” The way he says paperwork makes it sound like a dirty word. After the morning he’s had, Bucky thinks it’s fitting.

“I’m in charge, I can do what I want,” Steve says.

“Sounds like something you would say,” Clint agrees, nudging Bucky. “You dealing with paperwork too?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says glumly. “It’s hell.”

“I’ll rescue you,” Clint says with a wink. “Smash in through the window and whisk you away.”

“Like I’m a damsel in distress?” Bucky asks, trying not to think about how he would potentially thank Clint for rescuing him. If he does he’ll start blushing and there’s next to no chance that Rogers wouldn't spot it, the overly observant asshole.

“Oh yeah, prettiest damsel I ever saw,” Clint teases and whelp, there he goes. He can literally feel how red his face is going.

“I’ve got a hunch that this is something that falls under the category of sexism or harassment in the workplace,” Steve says. “I’m not quite sure yet.”

Clint actually rolls his eyes. “Jesus Cap, lighten up. Can’t a man tell another man he’s pretty without it being a thing?”

“Not really, not while he’s at work and technically an inferior.”

“I wouldn’t call him inferior.”

“I am here,” Bucky says, holding his metal hand up and waving.

Luckily, the conversation is derailed as Clint’s phone rings. He flips it open and winces as he spots who is calling him. “Maria is mad at me,” he says, eying the phone like it’s about to attack him.

“You probably deserved it,” Rogers says, supremely unconcerned.

“Yeah,” Clint sighs. “See you later, Cap. I’ll be around to rescue you about three, Buck.”

And then he’s answering the call and walking away, taking Bucky’s drink with him.

“And I completely believe he’s going to zipline down the side of the building at three PM and cause a massive security ruckus,” Steve says. “I may give security a heads up.”

“He wouldn’t,” Bucky says dismissively.

Then Steve looks him dead in the eye and says without an ounce of irony or sarcasm, “I think he might, if he could make you smile for doing it.”

And Bucky has heard the expression deer-in-the-headlights but has never felt it so viscerally. Rogers’ stupid blue X-ray eyes are fixed on him, and he knows something, Bucky can feel it in his soul. He’s fighting the urge to blurt out ‘sorry for banging Hawkeye, please don’t fire me, I won’t do it again apart from the fact I really want to do it again.’

“I’m not an idiot, I only don’t notice when people are flirting with me,” Rogers says with a smile. “He’s got a crush on you.”

I sensed he had a crush on me when he fucked me on Friday night is what Bucky doesn’t say. He’s biting his tongue so hard that he can only manage, “What?” It makes him sound confused as fuck but hell, he’ll take it.

“Considering what happened with Tony, I’m gonna get involved,” Steve says, wiping a curly fry through the last of his ketchup, evidently considering what he’s going to say. “I should have told you right off the bat, but Clint can be very… forward. Charming. Don't let his flirting get in the way.”

“In the way?”

“Yes,” Rogers says.

“So, is like…” Bucky tries. “Would people who work here - are they allowed to - to be involved with each other?”

“Depends on the circumstances,” Steve says. “It’s usually to do with chain of command. If the chain of command isn’t crossed, then it’s fine. Though really, this isn’t an office. It’s an extremely specialised anti-terrorism agency and relationships can just get in the way, and that puts people at risk. I learned that the hard way.”

“Your ex-CIA girlfriend?”

Steve nods. “She used to work for SHIELD. I made some pretty drastic fuck-ups while distracted by her. She found it less of a problem, but still. Mistakes were made.”

Fuck. Fucksticks, fuckhole, fuckbadger. Bucky cycles through every variant of fuck he knows while trying to rationalise that sleeping with Hawkeye was completely fine and not something he’ll get fired for.

“I’ve had a few agents here put personal relationships ahead of their duty,” Steve says with a sigh. “A couple were fired. A few left. I just can’t have people’s personal bullshit compromising what we’re trying to do here. It’s worth too much.” He grimaces and shoves his last fries into his mouth. “And Clint is a terrible flirt. We lost Maria’s last PA because of it.”

Bucky’s mind screeches to a halt. “What?” he asks, probably too loudly.

“Not really my story to tell,” Rogers says. “I’m just...warning you. Don’t let him fool you into thinking there’s something there when he’s flirting. And don’t let his flirting get in the way of your work.”

The first part is delivered like friendly advice, like Rogers is a big brother looking out for him, not wanting him to get hurt. The second part is delivered like steel, and even though Bucky knows that Rogers likes him, he understands in that moment that SHIELD comes first.

“But... you sent me shopping with him.”

“Yeah, he’s a good guy,” Rogers says. “He’s one of my best friends. But seeing how he was with you just now, I think I misjudged. I thought you two would get along but I didn’t know he’d take a shine to you like that.”

Bucky nods, staring down at his fries. “Message received,” he says, trying to sound casual and not like he’s just had his heart ripped out through his chest.

“You okay?” Rogers ventures.

Bucky laughs. “Yeah,” he lies, “Just trying to work out how I didn't notice that he was flirting.”

“I wouldn’t have noticed either,” Rogers says with a lopsided smile, then claps his palms to the tabletop before getting up. “Come on, we’ve got hell to file and organise, and the staring in here is starting to creep me out.”

“Sir yes sir,” Bucky says, and follows him out of the cafeteria, from one hell into another.

 


 

It is five to five and Bucky has not been rescued, has just agreed to do two hours of overtime and is ready to kill. The only reason he’s not killed himself is that he likes the fact Rogers has specifically asked for his help and also the overtime rates are gold. He stomps down to the Shit From Old SHIELD room with armful of files all about Iron Man - code IM32, he’s going to be fucking dreaming about codes, he just knows it - keying in the code to the door and shouldering through.

Since he was last down here, more filing cabinets have been delivered; they now cover every wall and they’re going to have to stack them atop each other if they need any more. Bucky can barely reach the top drawers as it is, so if they do have to double up he’s gonna need a ladder or repulsor boots or some shit.

He yanks open the half-filled IM32 drawer, thankful that at least it doesn’t need any cross referencing. If it were an IM45 or an IM21, he’d be in here for days, putting linked file cards in other cabinets around the room. Ugh, he might be secretly annoyed at Rogers for pointing out that he can’t just go around banging his boss’s coworkers, but he can’t deny that the man can pull an extremely efficient filing system out of his ass with next to no warning.

“Bucky?”

The call of his name makes him jump and he’s tired enough for it to translate into a wobbling moment of ‘adrenaline, danger, war,’ before his rational brain kicks in and he can remind himself that not every moment of mild shock instantly equates to war and death. He’s going to eat so much fucking ice-cream when he gets home, the freezer won’t know what’s hit it.

“What?!” he snaps, and then turns to see Clint in the doorway, smiling at him.

“What’s a fella like you doing in a place like this?”

“Waiting for someone to rescue me,” Bucky grouches. “What happened to that?”

“Well I did think about zip-lining down to wave through the window, but there was loads of extra security on the doors up to the roof,” Clint says. “And I couldn't really smash through them, they're like ten inches thick. I'd try though, if you seriously needed rescuing.”

Oh and Bucky wants nothing more than to drop the files in his hands, pull Clint into the room and kiss the daylights out of him. He feels like he might hate filing cabinets less if he got fucked up against one.

But he can’t. He values his job and that means he can’t.

“You gotta stop flirting with me,” he says bluntly.

Clint’s expression goes startled. “What? Why?”

“Rogers told me about the policy on - on relationships and shit in SHIELD,” Bucky says shortly. “And I never thought anyone would give me a job again and I can’t screw it up.”

“We can! We’ll just be secret about it!”

“You’re saying you’ll be able to keep your mouth shut and not flirt with me in front of Rogers?”

“Yes!” Clint says, and then thinks for a second and seesaws his hand. “Probably not.”

“Rogers told me about the fact you flirt with everyone,” Bucky says and hates the way it comes out too accusing. “It’s okay, I don’t think I’m special or anything.”

“Wow, rude,” Clint says, and steps closer, kicking the door shut with his heel.

“But true, right?” Bucky challenges.

“Maybe,” Clint concedes, and that’s enough for Bucky.

“There you go,” he says, and a nasty bitter part of him adds, “Find someone else to flirt with.”

“But Friday was amazing,” Clint says forlornly. “It was so amazing that I made a note of how you like your coffee, so next time I can make you coffee in bed.”

Bucky feels a flicker of something, a little bit like his entire fucking chest is caving in. “I know,” he says around a lump in his throat. This is hard - yes he values his job but he also values the fact he had a good time with someone, he actually got intimate with someone and didn’t freak out or descend into loathing and shame.

But only one of those is gonna help Becca pay the rent.

“I can't lose this job,” he says. “I can't.”

Clint is silent for a moment. “I can get myself fired super quick, I’ve been on my last warning for like ten years.”

Bucky laughs thickly. “I’m not worth that,” he says. “Besides, this is new SHIELD. I bet Rogers wiped your disciplinary record and gave you a fresh start.”

“Oh yeah. Fuck. Sounds like something he’d do,” Clint agrees. “I’ll go shoot Adam in accounting a little. I never liked him anyway.”

Bucky smiles, though it feels tired. “No shooting,” he says. “We had a good night that we’re not going to tell anyone about, and that’s it. Rogers isn’t stupid, one of us lets something slip and he’ll know, and then I’ll get fired and be back to being a freeloading bum.”

Clint looks down at the floor, dejected enough that Bucky considers just saying ‘fuck it’ and kissing him. But he knows down that path lies madness; his life isn’t a romcom so he’s not going to kiss Clint goodbye, or give him his number for ‘later.’ Mostly because he thinks that waiting around for someone is dumb but also because he still doesn’t know his own fucking phone number.

He heads for the door, unlatching it and pulling it open. “I’ll see you around, Clint.”

“Yeah, whatever,” he hears Clint say.

He lets the door close, wonders where there is a universe in which he doesn’t fuck everything up, and goes back to work.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky goes home, puts on Queer Eye season six, wraps himself up in a blanket and eats not only an entire tub of chocolate ice cream, but also a bag of popcorn and a bag of Doritos. He goes to get a beer too, determined to try and drown his not-allowed-to-fuck-Hawkeye-sorrows, but he’s so in his head that he’s not concentrating and smashes the bottle as he pulls it out of the fridge.

All the joy he’d felt at holding the cocktail glass on Friday is wiped out, like it never happened. He just stares at the shards of glass decorating the floor and the inside of the fridge and tries not to scream.

By the time Becca gets home, he’s managed to clean it up but has since returned to the couch and is pillbugged into a tight little ball, trying not to think about the bottle, trying not to think about Clint, trying not to think about anything .

“Oh, Bucky,” she says as she pushes the door shut, dropping her backpack down. “What happened?”

“Nothing happened,” he says into his arm.

“We did not put you through months of therapy for you to behave like this,” she says sternly. He hears her come closer, and then there are gentle fingers on the back of his head.

“Get off,” he grouches.

“No, no little bug,” she says, and then her hands are sliding under his head and gently but firmly lifting, making him raise his head to meet her eyes. He can tell that she doesn’t like what she sees; her smile fades and is replaced by something more uncertain.

Bucky’s throat goes tight. “Bec,” he tries to say. He blinks hard, clears his throat. Suddenly, the thought of her hands pulling away from him seems like the worst thing in the world.

“I’m gonna need a sitrep,” she says carefully, like she’s tiptoeing through a minefield.

“Brooklyn, home, twenty nineteen,” he says. “Just came home from work. Bec, I’m okay.”

She shakes her head. Her fingers go to his jaw. “You’re doing the clenchy thing,” she says. “You look rattled.”

“I have had a shit day,” he manages to say. “Not PTSD shit. Just regular shit.”

She nods, looking like she’s getting her footing again. “Then maybe I’m gonna need you to deal with it like a regular person,” she says. “You need to unclench.”

“I’ll cry,” he bites out, shaking his head.

“Big fucking deal,” she says. “Stop being such an asshole and deal with your feelings.”

Her voice is shaking as she says it, and he realises that there’s an element of genuine fear underneath the flippancy. He can’t say he blames her; he knows how volatile he was when he first got back, knows how he used to explode at the drop of a hat. It’s the memory of that which makes him force himself upright. He tries to unclench his jaw, shake himself loose. He feels his throat going tighter, his eyes burning, all tell-tale signs that he's about to start sobbing like a little bitch.

“Gonna shower,” he mutters, fleeing. It’s only when he’s in the shower that he feels himself crack. He lashes out without thinking, his metal fist shattering the shower tile. The noise sends a huge spike of adrenaline coursing through him, and as he stares at the shards of tile in the bottom of the shower tray, he can feel his heart pounding sickly.

“Fuck,” he says. “Fucking fuck .”

He looks from the broken pieces of tile to the gap on the wall, the pink of the plaster beneath, the lines of grout that had done such a good job of sticking the tile to the wall until Bucky happened.

He punches another.

He smashes five tiles in an odd, fascinated kind of destruction, before a banging on the bathroom door interrupts. He hears Becca yelling his name and it’s only at this point that he realises that he was wrong; his regular shit day has somehow morphed into a PTSD shit day and now he’s wrecked his sister’s bathroom.

He stops the shower, climbs out, wrestles himself into sweats and a T-shirt. The banging on the door only stops when he pulls the door open, says, “I’m such a fucking idiot.”

Her eyes slide over his shoulder and her mouth drops open. “What the fuck have you done?!

“I’m so sorry,” he despairs. “I think I’m having more than just a shit day.”

“Of course you are, normal people don’t just smash up the bathroom because they’ve had a bad day!” she yells. Bucky flinches and she balks, her hand coming up to cover her mouth. “I didn’t mean that,” she says. “Bucky I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that-”

“No you’re right,” he says, reaching clumsily for her hand. “Smashing up the bathroom is not a normal thing.”

She squeezes his hand tight. “What do you want to do?”

“I think I want to talk about it,” he says. “I think I want to go for a walk and talk about it.”

And his sister has just finished a fourteen hour shift and he’s destroyed the bathroom but she’s the best person in the whole entire world because she nods and smiles. “Sure thing, Bucket.”

 


 

They walk. They get coffee. Bucky tells her what happened at work today. She is gutted for him and says she simultaneously wants to punch Rogers ‘in his magnificent dumb mouth’ for telling Bucky he can’t bang Clint, and also hug him ‘in his magnificent pecs’ for looking out for Bucky, even if it is somewhat misguided.  

They talk about how his work is going, aside from the Clint complication. She laughs when he tells her about the paperwork and the curly fries. She wants to know every little detail when Bucky mentions Rogers’ CIA agent ex-girlfriend.

And then, as they’re sat at a booth in McDonalds, drinking milkshakes, she says, “so now we’ve got to talk about what triggered you.”

He screws up his face when she uses that word because he hates it, hates how it implies - however rightly - that there’s something that pushes him out of control, something that flips a switch and makes him unmanageable and uncontrollable.

“I was not triggered.”

She gives him pretty epic bitch-face for that. “Something upset you enough that you wrecked the bathroom.”

Bucky stares down at his milkshake. He doesn’t dare pick it up with the metal hand; he’s got a horrid feeling he’ll end up putting his fingers through the flimsy cardboard cup. “I was frustrated...and I knew I should just have given in and cried but I didn’t and then I lashed out and the noise-”

He stops abruptly, back of his neck prickling as he remembers not the sound of shattering tile, but the sound of glass as it smashes in the too-tight grip of his metal hand. He looks up at the windows, over on the far side of the room, noticing for the first time how they’re sat in a booth as far away from the windows as he can get.

“Mother fucker,” he says, pressing the heel of his hand to his forehead as the pieces all clunk into place. “I broke a beer bottle.”

Glass on the kitchen floor. Glass on the sand. Lying there in a puddle of his own blood and looking at the shards that used to be the windshield of the humvee.

“Bucky?” Becca reaches over to take his metal hand in hers, holding it tightly.

“The window. The window of the humvee. It broke,” he says, feeling like he’s being throttled, trying to force the words out.

“So the broken bottle reminded you of the accident?”

“Not like properly,” Bucky says, dropping his real hand to hold onto hers. “But I think my brain connected the two without me noticing. Fuck. And Clint was making jokes about smashing the goddamn window-”

“Shhh, you’re okay,” she says. “You’re okay. A broken beer bottle doesn’t mean anything bad is gonna happen.”

“I should know that,” he despairs. “I’m such a fucking idiot.”

“No, your PTSD is a fucking idiot,” she says. “It should be more goddamn considerate. Giving the guy with a metal hand issues with shit breaking, that’s just unfair.”

He makes a noise that might have been a laugh, once upon a time. He tugs his hands free and pulls the hood of his sweatshirt up, hiding his face as best he can because he’s dangerously close to crying again and he doesn’t want people to see. Aside from the fact he’s got some broken feedback loop in his brain which equates crying to weakness, he knows he ugly cries and that shit is embarrassing.

“So, it’s not the Clint thing?” Becca says carefully.

He swallows hard. “I dunno,” he says. “I don’t...I don’t think so. It felt shit, but it was a different shit. Like. You know how a bruise hurts? Like that.”

“And how did you feel about the bottle and the - thinking about the accident?”

“Sharp. Like I’m being flayed,” he admits, tugging at the front of his hood, seeing how far down his face it can go. “Okay yeah, it’s not the Clint thing. I mean, that made me sad as shit but I didn’t get all weird until I’d broken the bottle.”

“You got really weird,” Becca confirms. “Like, dead behind the eyes.”

“Sorry,” he mutters.

“You can make it up to me by calling your therapist.”

Bucky screws up his face again. “Becca, no.”

She reaches out and takes his milkshake. “You will call your therapist,” she says. “You will take tomorrow off, and you will tell Rogers why.”

“No,” he says, leaning across for his milkshake. She holds it out of his reach, looking defiant. He glares at her but he knows he must be back to normal because she’s not phased in the slightest. “Becca,” he says, tired and cranky. “I’m not bothering everyone over-”

“If you say it’s nothing I’m going to call Rogers myself,” she snaps. “You scared me, Bucky. I am not having you going backwards again over some stupid job.”

“It wasn’t the job, it was the bottle-”

“I know what it was, dickhead,” she says. “But you’re now refusing to take what you need to get better because of your job. It is not more important than your health.”

“I’m not refusing, I’m just don’t want to bother people,” he says.

“Okay,” she says, digging in her pockets. “Okay. Fine. I’m going to call the hospital and tell them I can work overtime on every shift next week.”

Bucky grits his teeth. “Becca.”

“What?” she says. “My big brother is the only example I have to look up to and he’s showing me that it’s fine to put work ahead of personal wellbeing.”

“You make that call and I will smash your phone,” he says. “I get it. Okay, I get it.”

She narrows her eyes at him. “Do better.”

“I get the point you’re making, which is that I’ve had a pretty epic PTSD episode and I need time to recover from it,” he says. “Can I have my milkshake back now?”

“Nu-uh. Call in sick. You need to take adequate steps to look out for your own wellbeing.”

“I don’t want to,” he says. “Listen - the thought of not going in makes me literally start sweating. I don’t want to feel useless again. I will call Rogers and explain, but I need to go to work, Bec.”

“Go on then,” she says. “Call.”

“I can’t, it’s like eleven at night.”

“Leave a message,” she says. “It’s not like you’re calling his personal phone, right? Imagine if you were like puking, you’d call as soon as you got sick to let him know.”

And Bucky knows she’s right and really wants his milkshake back so he gives in. He pulls his personal phone and his work phone out of his pocket and unlocks the work one, wishing for the millionth time he was allowed to set his own background or add Pinterest or anything to make it less boring. He finds Rogers’ contact and then before he can second guess himself, hits dial.

It rings once. It rings twice. Bucky starts thinking about how the hell he can phrase ‘I need to come to work tomorrow but my brain is short-circuiting so I’m not entirely sure how useful I’ll be’ when he hears, “Hello?”

“What,” he replies, utterly thrown by the fact that Rogers has picked up. “This isn’t a voicemail.”

“I am aware?” Rogers says, confused. “Bucky?”

Bucky wants to drown himself in milkshake but he can't because his damn sister still hasn't given it back. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry, it’s so late and I didnt think - wait, why are you answering your work phone this late?”

“Because I’m still at work?”

“You are kidding me,” Bucky says flatly. “Go home!”

“You can’t tell me what to do,” Rogers counters easily. “Wait, why are you calling from your work phone this late?”

“Because I’m not allowed to call you on my personal phone,” Bucky says. “And uh. Okay. Something happened, and I kind of need to explain.”

The humour vanishes from Rogers’ tone in an instant, replaced with something more business-like. “Go ahead.”

“So I - you know I’m a veteran,” Bucky rushes out. “Well I broke a beer bottle and it freaked me the fuck out and I had an episode, but I can’t have a day off or I’ll feel worse but my brain is kind of short-circuited and I’m only calling because my sister won’t give me back my milkshake if I don’t make adequate steps to look out for my own wellbeing.”

There’s a silence. Becca is looking at him like she’s watching a person fall down in slow-motion, clearly thinking ‘I got what I wanted, but oh dear, at what cost?’

“That’s a lot to unpack there,” Rogers finally says. “You with your sister?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

“Not good, she’s stolen my milkshake.”

“I sense that’s not really what you called me about,” Rogers says, and it’s weird how fond he sounds, even to Bucky’s ears. “Okay. So, I’m gonna connect some dots and say that whatever is going on is linked to PTSD?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, voice small. “I don’t want to make a fuss.”

“This is not a fuss, this is taking adequate steps to look out for your wellbeing,” Rogers says. “Okay, so you want to come to work tomorrow because you want to keep your routine and not feel like a waste of space, I’m guessing.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Please don’t make me have a day off.”

“You know yourself best,” Rogers says. “You wanna come in, you come in. We can put some shit in place to make the day easier on you if that’s what you need.”

“That’d be good,” Bucky says.

“I just wanna ask,” Rogers says, sounding hesitant. “Is it anything I’ve done?”

“No!” Bucky says. “No, it was the broken glass and Clint joking about smashing the windows, that’s it, I swear.”

“Okay,” Rogers says, and he sounds relieved. “Okay, how about you come in at ten tomorrow so you’ve got time to get a decent amount of sleep? And I’ll plan a closed-door day so you don’t have to face anyone. We can take it from there.”

“Yeah, okay,” Bucky says, so relieved he might cry. “Thanks, Commander Rogers.”

“Call me Steve,” Rogers says. “We survived the invasion of the CIA files, we’re friends now.”

And Bucky can't help but huff out a laugh. “Okay,” he says. “Thanks, Steve.”

“No problem,” Rogers - Steve - says. “See you at ten, Buck.”

“Bye,” Bucky says and hangs up.

“So?” Becca asks.

“He wants me to call him Steve and says I can go in at ten,” Bucky says. Becca smiles properly for the first time all evening and hands him his milkshake back.

 


 

Bucky gets about two hours of sleep. In the end, he tosses and turns so much that he thinks ‘fuck it’ and gets up. He’s a millennial, he doesn't need sleep. He can pretty much power himself along on caffeine and spite.

He sneaks out of the apartment in the morning because he knows Becca will yell at him for not going in at ten like Steve suggested. He’s pretty sure Steve will yell at him too, but honestly he’s more scared of his sister. In his defense, he does feel better now the morning has arrived, just tired. He maybe is going to not handle anything with his metal hand today, and he knows he’s gonna have to call his therapist, but he feels okay. He puts on his ‘dealing with shit like a boss’ playlist and buys a can on Monster on the way to work, which he thinks is actually pretty good as far as self care goes.

He’s so early that the shuttle is pretty much empty. There’s only a couple of people in the atrium as well, and he hands over his phone without saying anything, like speaking will shatter the strange calm that covers the building. It feels like being in school after hours, or going back to barracks when everyone is out - sort of wrong but novel and exciting in a weird kind of way.

Security don’t seem remotely phased to see him wandering in at the ass end of the morning. Maybe it’s because Steve works crazy hours so now everyone assumes that Bucky's being dragged into his world of bad choices and non-existent social life. Either way, no-one questions him as he wanders throughout the concretes corridors and up into the hub, humming along to the new Nicki Minaj tune that he’s got stuck in his head-

-and he stops dead halfway across the hub because it’s barely five but Steve is already in the office and Steve is sitting at his desk with headphones in, his boots on the desk and a cigarette in his hand.

Bucky can not believe.

He can’t actually believe the things he is seeing. Even as he stands there in shocked delight, Steve absently lifts the cigarette to his mouth, taking a deep drag and blowing the smoke out of the corner of his mouth.

Okay, never mind everything that has happened up until this point in his life, this is clearly the best moment ever, maybe excepting that time he slept with Hawkeye. Still grinning, he sneaks up to the glass wall and then bangs on it as hard as he can without breaking it.

The technical term for Steve’s reaction is that he absolutely shits himself. He jerks back, ripping his earbuds out and yanking his feet off the desk while trying to lunge for the top drawer of his desk. Within half a second he’s got a gun in hand and is pointing at right at Bucky, half in and half out of his chair in an untidy sprawl. He’s still got the cigarette in his other hand and is staring at Bucky like he’s a ghost.

And even though it’s only five AM and someone is pointing a gun at him, Bucky bursts into laughter. Cackling madly, he walks around to the office door and pushes it open.

“You’re smoking!”

“No,” Steve says, hiding the cigarette below the edge of the desk.

“You totally are!”

“No I’m not,” Rogers says, grimacing and pushing himself back into his chair, reaching over to stash the gun back in his drawer.

“Captain America isn’t allowed to lie.”

“I’m not Captain America,” Steve says. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t sleep so I just thought I’d get up,” Bucky says.

“Well that makes a pair of us,” Steve says, and he gets up and stretches, his back popping audibly. He pops the cigarette into his mouth and wanders over to Bucky, setting his hands on his shoulders and looking him up and down. “You okay?” he asks, the words muffled by the cigarette still clamped in his mouth.

Bucky nods. “Feeling better,” he says. “Just couldn’t sleep. Think I need to tire myself out.”

“And your sister okayed this plan?”

Bucky tries to look like someone who has never told a lie, ever. “Yes.”

Steve stares at him, waiting. Damn his stupid X-ray eyes. Bucky deflates, looking down. “No,” he says. “But she doesn’t get it. Not completely.”

Steve gives him a gentle shake before lifting one hand to take the cigarette from his mouth. “Right, no jokes about me saying this, but work can wait,” he says. “Let’s get breakfast and go sit on the roof.”

Bucky rears back sightly. “What? We don’t have to do paperwork? We’re allowed on the roof?”

And Steve grins, slinging an arm around Bucky’s shoulder and steering him towards the door. “Did you not hear? I’m in charge. I can do whatever the hell I want.”

 


 

Brooklyn actually looks beautiful from here. The bay is glittering with early morning sun and the sky is clear and blue. It’s cold as balls but Bucky doesn’t mind, bundled up in a spare SHIELD jacket with a coffee cradled in his hands. Steve doesn’t seem to be feeling the cold as much; he’s simply thrown a leather jacket over his usual about-the-office attire of stupidly tight T-shirt and pants that look like a tragic mix between cargoes and the bottom half of his tactical suit. Bucky does not approve. Well, he approves of the tight t-shirt because he’s only human, but the pants would give the entire cast of Queer Eye a heart attack.

Though Steve has managed to hustle bacon and egg paninis from the cafeteria so Bucky thinks he’ll let him off.

“So what’re we doing today then? More filing?”

“Yeah,” Steve says with the enthusiasm of a man who has been told to write a thirty-two page report on the most efficient way to write a report. “This afternoon we’re going to go meet with the Commissioner of the NYPD.”

“We?”

“Yeah, figured we could get out of the office for a while before we go crazy,” Steve says. He shoves the last half of his panini into his mouth in a move both disgusting and awe-inducing. He chews, frowning thoughtfully. “Unless you’d rather just hole up in the office?”

“No, I wanna meet the Commissioner. I’m gonna tell him to officially ban stop-and-frisk.”

“Okay, good issue to be aware of, but I’m actually meeting him about communications between SHIELD and the NYPD, we can’t piss him off too much,” Steve says. “Let me get him to sign off on the communication policy and then you can say what you like.”

Bucky narrows his eyes. “You’ve got enough influence to actually do shit about issues like this. Especially because you’re a influential white guy. You can bring this up with people without being hassled for it.”

“I know,” Steve says. “And I can’t actually believe I’m saying this, but I can’t pick every fight all of the time.”

“It’s important.”

“I know,” Steve repeats. “But that’s a bridge I really can’t afford to burn, as much as I sometimes want to put a boot up the man’s ass.”

Bucky cocks his head, taking in Steve’s pained expression. “You really hate this, don’t you. Having to play by their rules.”

“So, so much,” Steve confirms with a weary sigh. “But apparently being in charge of SHIELD means I have to, at least a little. Just let me get official meeting business out of the way and then you can bring it up. I’ll back you up, as long as you don’t get too obnoxious with him.”

“Deal,” Bucky says, licking ketchup off his metal fingers.

“I’m glad you understand the importance of at least pretending to behave,” Steve says. “I took Clint with me once and it was a PR nightmare. It could only have been worse if I’d taken Tony.”

Bucky literally feels his body twitch, like his brain is going !!! at the mention of Clint’s name. Ugh, he doesn’t want to talk about Clint but he can’t just change the subject or Steve’s get suspicious. He takes a bite of his panini to give himself some thinking time, because he knows people with parents would have spent their early years being told not to speak with their mouths full.

“Clint says I’m like a more reckless you.”

Steve actually looks alarmed at that. “What did you do to deserve that?”

“Uhhhhh…” Ah shit, he walked right into that one, and as much as he wants to, he can’t lie to Steve. “I may have...triedtostartafightinabaronFriday.”

Steve heard him, Bucky knows he did, which doesn’t explain why he very deliberately looks at Bucky and says, “Say that again?”

Bucky winces. “Some guy was being a homophobic asshat to a couple in a bar,” he says. “I objected.”

Steve’s eyes narrow slightly. “Why were you and Clint in a bar?”

“We went for a beer after shopping,” Bucky admits, then hurriedly adds, “Outside of work hours.”

Steve nods though he doesn’t look happy. “I told him to take you home.”

“I needed a beer after dealing with Stark,” Bucky says, which at least makes Steve snort with laughter. “It was fine. Apart from, you know. The fight.”

“Sounds like you were standing up for someone,” Steve shrugs. “I’d have done the same.”

Bucky feels himself go all warm and fuzzy inside and decided to not tell Steve a) that the couple was actually him and Clint, and b) what he said about the guy’s girlfriend. He does feel shitty about it now he’s had time to cool off and he thinks if Steve looks at him with Disappointed Face he might keel over and die.

And then, out of nowhere Steve says, “I punched Thor once because there was ice in my drink and it freaked me out.”

Bucky blinks. “What?”

Steve looks down, picking at a thread on the hem of his t-shirt. “I’d not been out of the ice long,” he says. “The team were having a meal together and I freaked out about some goddamn ice cubes. Like I didn’t look, just went to chug a glass of whiskey and the ice hit my mouth. Game over.” His mouth twists ruefully. “I still have nightmares thinking what would have happened if I’d punched someone else. Clint or Tony or Nat.”

Bucky feels what Steve is saying so hard that it makes his chest hurt. “Well, could have been worse?” he ventures. “I mean, you could have tried to punch the Hulk.”

Steve laughs. “Good point,” he says, and goes back to pulling at that loose thread on his shirt. “You know I haven’t ever talked about that to anyone.”

Bucky mentally excuses himself because he’s about to throw himself into the bay. That’s the best worst thing he’s ever heard because it makes him special, but good god at what cost? “Why not?!”

Steve shrugs. “I am not historically good at taking adequate steps to ensure my own wellbeing.”

“What about presently?”

“Better,” Steve says, but doesn’t offer anything more. He shoves his hands into his pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. Bucky’s immediately hit with sense-memory: sand, heat, the laughter of his squad. He remembers sitting on the hood of a jeep, cigarette in his mouth, squinting in the glare of the sun. He remembers sharing smokes with his friends, listening to the rattle of the backboard as they screwed around playing basketball.

“Can I have one?”

“Sure,” Steve says. He pulls two from the packet, puts them both in his mouth to light them then hands one over to Bucky. Bucky’s about to take it when Steve whips it out of reach, holding it up above his head. “Just don’t tell your sister. I don’t think she’d approve.”

“Deal,” Bucky says, making grabby hands. “Gimme.”

Steve rolls his eyes but hands it over and they both sit there, quietly smoking. Bucky is tempted to start talking again; he’s got a million questions about what it was like for Steve coming out of the ice - he kind of really wants to know if Steve’s coming home was anything like it was for him.

However, he’s aware that it might not be something Steve wants to talk about. Hell, from what he’s learned about PTSD and brains, it might not be something Steve can talk about. For now, he’ll guard the story of the ice-cubes like a dragon protecting treasure, fiercely aware of the importance of what he’s been given.

“Hey, Steve,” he says absently, crushing the cigarette out on the concrete of the roof.

“Yeah?”

“I’m glad I work for you,” Bucky says because it’s not cool to say ‘omg I think you’re the best we’re going to be BFFs and there’s nothing you can do about it’ to your boss who happens to be ex-Captain America.

“I’m glad you work for me too,” Steve says, with a small smile like he knows what Bucky is actually trying to say.

 


 

Four hours later, and Bucky thinks Steve might be ready to throttle him. They’ve gone back to sorting files and Bucky’s got the worst ear-worm in the world, so it’s not his fault he keeps singing.

“If you like pina coladas,” he sings, humming the next line because no matter what he tries, the words have escaped him. He trails off, and it takes about three seconds for his brain to reset and try again. “If you like pina coladas, do do do do do rain.”

He scribbles T2 on a Thor file, double checking inside before adding JF6 and a little love heart, because come on. Thor and his astrophysicist girlfriend are goals.

“If you like pina coladas, and pina colada in the rain...”

“I get you breakfast and this is how you repay me,” Steve says darkly. “I wouldn’t mind if you knew more than that one line.”

“Well, if you let me have Spotify on my phone…”

“I’m tempted, just to stop you singing that line.”

“You would be the best boss ever if you did,” Bucky tells him earnestly.

“You’d be the best PA ever if you can sort the rest of these by the time I get back.”

“Depends how long you’re gonna be,” Bucky says, voice muffled around the lid of the sharpie that he’s got clamped between his teeth.

“Only an hour or so, I’m gonna go see the Avengers off then I’ll come get you so we can go the Commissioners meeting.”

Bucky’s brain hones in on one word, because the word is Clint-Adjacent. “Avengers?”

“Yeah, they’re going,” Steve says, waving a vague hand to indicate somewhere in the world that I can’t really tell you about.

“How long for?”

Okay, Bucky may have asked that a little to quickly or a little to forcefully because Steve frowns at him before asking, “Why d’you need to know?”

“Uh, just, what if something attacks New York? We need them.”

“They’re Earth's Mightiest Heroes, you know, not New York’s mightiest heroes.”

“Then Captain Britain and the rest of the world population of superheroes better be doing their fucking share.”

“Captain Britain definitely is, he’s meeting them there,” Steve says in that way which means it could be a lie, could be true. “New York will be fine, stop pulling that face.”

“New York gets attacked by aliens every other Tuesday.”

“Well if they attack today, there’s an armory downstairs, go sign something out.”

“You can’t leave me in charge, I’m just a PA.”

Steve snorts, gets to his feet and has the goddamn nerve to ruffle Bucky’s hair. “Sure. And I’m just a guy in tights.”

Bucky yelps and shoves his hand away but too late; Steve is backing away with a shit-eating grin on his face and Bucky’s hair is ruined. He glares at Steve even as Steve gives him a sharp salute before shouldering out through the door.

“You’re not meant to salute me, I’m only a sergeant!” Bucky yells as the door swishes shut, and the only reply he gets is Steve pulling a fake shocked-face through the glass wall before giving Bucky the finger, mouthing ‘I do what I want’.

Bucky’s jaw drops and he looks around wildly, hoping someone else is there to witness Steve being an utter shit, but Steve’s already tucked his hands back in his pockets and is wearing his earnest-aw-shucks Captain America face as he walks away, calling out to someone in the Hub.

“You’re so full of shit,” Bucky mutters, but he’s smiling and can’t help but admit that he feels like 90% better than he did a few hours ago. And even though Steve is his boss, it’s nice, he thinks, to have a friend.

 


 

Bucky finishes the filing in fifty-three minutes. He scribbles A1 on the last file and stands up in triumph, holding the file above his head like he’s auditioning for a role in the Lion King.

Then he remembers that the walls of the office are glass and it’s the middle of the working day and people can see him. He sheepishly lowers the folder and waves at Maria Hill and the group of baby-faced new operatives that are standing in the Hub and staring at him. One of them waves back, staring at Bucky with clear interest on her face until a squadmate reaches up to smack her hand down.

Not wanting to have to walk past them, he sits at his desk and fucks around with his emails, hoping he’s conveying I am a big deal around here, look, I work in Commander Rogers office ergo I outrank you all. Only when they’re gone does he leave, sneaking down to put the rest of the files away. He slams the cabinet closed on the last one, feeling immense satisfaction combined with a burning hatred for CIA files.

And then when he looks towards the door, it’s all overridden by a stab of dejection that knifes between his ribs, because last time he was in here, he was telling Clint that they couldn’t fuck around anymore.

If that new flirty trainee operative waves at Clint, Bucky’s going to throw a stapler at her face.

Slightly ashamed of his unexpected and apparently violently jealous streak, Bucky goes back to Steve’s office and sits on the couch, feeling a little off-centre. He fidgets for a while then helps himself to a Snickers out of the snack fridge, figuring Steve won’t mind. He does some breathing exercises and makes a mental list of ten good things he’s achieved so far this week, and by the time Steve returns he’s feeling better. Good thing too, because Rogers tosses him a prepackaged sandwich and tells him to walk and eat.

They take the subway over to the Commissioner’s office, even though Bucky brazenly begs for Steve’s motorcycle to be an option. Steve looks hella tempted but ultimately says no seeing as he only has one helmet, and also drops the bomb that he technically doesn’t have a driver's licence and he doesn’t want to advertise the fact to the police. Bucky laughs for about twenty minutes at that. Everyone on the SHIELD shuttle keeps giving him odd looks because he just keeps cracking up every time he looks at Steve. Steve just keeps rolling his eyes, pointing out that no-one was giving out licences while he was learning to drive in Nazi Germany. That just makes Bucky laugh more because Steve uses ‘I was busy fighting Nazis’ as an excuse for something around ten times a day.

He’s still sniggering about it when they arrive at the Headquarters of the NYPD. Then he sobers up pretty quickly because they’re going through the actual real business entrance, not the touristy visitors’ entrance that Bucky’s never been through because he lives here and isn’t about to be sucked in by tourist traps. It’s pretty cool actually; security are falling over themselves to accommodate Commander Rogers, which just shows that they don’t know what he’s really like in the slightest.

“So,” Bucky says as they finally sit down on a couch outside the Commissioners Office, being eyed curiously by a woman who he presumes is the Commissioner’s PA. “You outrank this guy, right?”

“Bucky,” Steve admonishes quietly. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“If you gave him an order, would he have to follow it?”

Steve doesn’t answer, so Bucky pokes him in the ribs. When he still doesn’t answer, Bucky pokes him again but this time with the metal fingers.

This time Steve jerks away, grabbing Bucky’s hand. “Ow, jeez, will you behave?”

“Will you answer my question?”

Steve huffs. “Fine, yes. If it came down to it, he would have to follow my orders. But that does not mean I outrank him, it means I have authority in certain situations.”

“Who gave you the authority?”

“The President,” Steve says.

“Your boss is the President ?”

“No, my boss is a guy at the World Security Council, but the President can tell me what to do if I’m on US soil. Though, I can ask the WSC for permission to ignore her if I really need to.”

“Whoa,” Bucky says. “I can’t believe you’re allowed to do that.”

“I think I spent so much time doing whatever I wanted that they kind of just gave in and made it official,” Steve says in an undertone. “At least now they can pretend I’m doing as I’m told.”

Bucky starts to laugh. “They didn’t think that through.”

“No they didn’t,” Steve says with a certain amount of satisfaction, leaning sideways to pull his phone from his pocket. He checks something and then rolls his eyes, showing Bucky a message on Whatsapp. Bucky’s stomach clenches hard as he sees the message is from Clint; a photo sent to a group chat that’s labelled ‘A-Team’.

“Is this actually an Avengers group chat?” he asks, snatching Steve’s phone from him and staring at the photo. Clint’s taken it selfie-style from the pilot’s seat of what looks like a quinjet; behind him are Tony Stark and Sam Wilson, clearly mid-argument. Even as Bucky stares, another message comes in from Clint saying  ‘Iron Man arguing with Captain America is a universal constant’ and then one comes in from Natasha Fucking Romanoff which says ‘see, you’re not special Steve,’ and then a chain of red white and blue hearts.

“See, I’m not as out of touch as you think,” Steve says dryly, and reaches over to try and take the phone back. “Buck, give me my phone.”

Bucky leans away from him, scrolling up and reading the messages. It’s all pictures of food, selfies of Clint, talk about organizing a meal out together, and the Black Widow using a frightening amount of emojis. “Thor has a phone?!”

Steve leans over and yanks his phone out of Bucky’s grip. “Reading other people’s messages is rude.”

“You started it,” Bucky says, trying to lean over and keep looking. “Does Thor really have a phone?”

“Oh yeah, who do you think set the world high score on Candy Crush?” Steve says, then utterly blows Bucky’s mind by holding up the phone, flipping the camera around to selfie-mode and taking a selfie of him and Bucky. Bucky gapes as Steve sends it to the group chat saying ‘we’re about to go and piss off the commissioner.’

“They shouldn’t have their phones with them on missions,” Steve tells Bucky. “But I’ve given up arguing about it.”

A message comes in almost immediately from Natasha: 'is that the infamous sidekick?’ followed by an emoji of a goddamn baby.

Steve grins, texting back ‘he’d be a better sidekick if he did as he was told’ and Bucky makes an indignant noise, a fraction of a second before Clint sends, ‘Steve you never do as you’re told you fucking hypocrite,’ and then adds ‘hi Bucky.’

Steve gives Bucky a pointed look and texts back saying ‘Bucky is working, leave him alone,’ and sends it just as Natasha sends a message saying ‘His name is Bucky?????’ accompanied by several cry-laughing emojis.

At the top of the screen, the words ‘Tony Stark is typing’ appear and Steve hastily shoves his phone back in his pocket. Bucky makes a wounded noise. “You can’t hide it now, they’re all talking about me!”

“You really want to read Tony’s input to this conversation?”

“Yes!” Bucky exclaims. “Gimme the phone!”

“Excuse me?” A slightly bewildered voice says; it’s the Commissioners PA who is still sitting at her desk, her phone in hand. “Commander Rogers, Commissioner Jones is ready to meet you.”

“Ha,” Steve says to Bucky, standing up. “Come on, meeting time.”

“You’re the worst,” Bucky tells Steve.

“You’re ridiculous,” Steve replies, reaching for the doorhandle. “I’m sure you’re not actually that desperate to hear what Stark has to say.”

“Good point,” Bucky says, straightening his tie and trying to look sensible, his mind still vaguely hung up on the tiny gesture of Clint saying hello to him in the middle of an Avengers’ group chat. “You sure you want me in here?”

“I’m sure as hell not taking my own minutes,” Steve says. “Get ready to type fast, kid.”

“Typing fast with a metal hand, sure,” Bucky says, and for a moment he feels a real sense of panic, but Steve stops him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey,” he says, gentle. “You got this.”

Bucky exhales heavily, flexing his metal fingers. He knows his tablet has a reinforced screen and he knows he’s been able to type on it before, but he’s still nervous.

Fuck it. All he can do is try, and if it comes to the worst, he’s got a pen and a notepad. He nods and follows Steve into the office without another hesitation.

 


 

They finish the meeting and Steve is a consummate professional, even when Bucky jumps in and asks the Commissioner when he plans to stop Stop-and-Frisk like he said he’d do when campaigning to be Commissioner. The guy just gives Steve an appraising look, like he suspects Steve is somehow involved, then politely tells Steve he’ll look into it. Unfortunately, Steve hustles Bucky from the room before he can demand to know when.

Bucky’s fuming, but Steve tells him not to worry, because if the Commissioner thinks Steve is somehow behind the query, he’ll actually haul ass to do something about it just to preemptively stop Steve bugging him about it. Mollified, Bucky turns his attention to bugging Steve about the Avengers’ group chat, and Steve decides that the easiest way to deal with it is to simply hand over his phone as he turns his attention to all the police officers who want to shake his hand or say hello.

There are two new messages from Natasha and eighteen from Tony Stark which start with ‘Rogers you’re the designated lurker in this chat group who gave you permission to type’ through ‘you think you’re cool now you’ve got a hipster friend’ and ‘Bucky is a hipster and he’s bitter about life, Nat you’ll love him,’ all the way to ‘Rogers, tell Buckaroo I’m sorry and I’ll see him Friday.’ It’s a typical Stark stream-of-consciousness but it makes Bucky smile nonetheless.

They escape NYPD Headquarters at just gone two in the afternoon, which is when Steve tells Bucky to call it a day and go home. Bucky’s actually starting to feel the sort of anger at inanimate objects that only comes with a good dose of sleep-deprivation so accepts gratefully. Steve makes him promise to text him when he’s home and tells him he’ll see him in the morning at usual time before literally putting Bucky onto the subway and waving him off. Bucky waves back as the train pulls away, wondering if this is how it feels to be a younger sibling, wondering if Becca has ever felt like he’s looking after her in the same way that he feels Steve is looking after him. Probably not, he thinks kind of sadly. He takes more looking after than she does. Really, she’s the big sister and he’s the baby brother.

He shakes the thought off and takes a deep breath, slipping his hand into his pocket to hold onto his phone. When he’s off the subway and back on street level he does something that he knows both Steve and Becca will be proud of him for doing: he finds a number in his contact book, dials, and when it connects, he immediately says “Hi, it’s Bucky Barnes. Can I book an appointment to come and see you?”

And when his therapist says, “Sure thing, Bucky, when are you available?” he feels like he’s won at something important.

 

Chapter Text

His therapist manages to book him an emergency appointment and of course Steve gives him the go-ahead to attend (more like he informs Bucky that security have been told not to let Bucky back in the building until eleven, which feels a bit like coercion but whatever), so Bucky spends the better part of the next morning ranting at his therapist about how he’s a dumbass. She endures it patiently enough for around ten minutes and then cuts him off, telling him that he's a dumbass for thinking he's a dumbass and that they’re going to talk about his arm. He’s a little thrown off because he was about to tell her about what Becca said about his new job being military adjacent, which is turning out to be slightly problematic. She nods and says they’ll definitely need time to talk about that, but she has a hunch that they’ll need to start with the biggest change first: namely Bucky’s brand new limb.

He cries a bit. He gets mad at himself for it and for a moment wonders if she’s going to get mad at him because they’ve been over the crying thing ten bazillion times, but she doesn’t. Just goes over it again, reminding him that it takes a lot of work to reroute unhealthy thoughts. The important thing, apparently, is that he’s committed to trying to change the thought. Even if it takes ten bazillion and one times.  

When he leaves, he feels wrung out and tired in a good way. He knows his eyes are a little blotchy but his hair is good and he’s wearing the sexy shirt that Clint picked out for him, so it’s like ninety percent good. With confidence levels at around sixty percent, which is like the minimum he needs to function in public, he detours via Starbucks and then heads into work.

Steve isn’t there when he gets in but he doesn’t mind. He just takes a deep breath, hangs up his jacket, sets his coffee carefully on his desk and then gets to work. He sorts out Steve’s calendar for the next week and finally tackles the annual vision statement sent by the UN. He debates doing the photocopying that Steve left on his desk but doesn’t think he can handle interacting with other human beings, so shoves that into his Wednesday tray and instead sits and googles statistics about Stop and Frisk, emailing what he finds to Steve with a passive aggressive I think this is important subject line.

It feels too quiet without Steve, and he knows there’s no chance of Clint dropping by. Which isn’t something he even cares about because there’s no reason for him to see Clint. Clint is strictly off limits and Bucky is sticking to that so he doesn’t need to be looking up at the glass walls every ten minutes, hoping to see a flash of purple.

At five on the dot he decides to say fuck it, leaving Steve a note saying ‘no idea where you are, going home, see you tomorrow PS check your calendar I moved everything around.’

After tackling the shuttle and rush hour on the subway, he feels back to exhausted, like he’s got a tap on his feet that’s been left open, draining all his energy away. He falls into bed the minute he gets home, napping hard until he’s woken up by Becca slamming the apartment door as she comes in. He scrambles up, clipping his shoulder on his doorframe as he rushes to stick his head out of the room and yell at her.

“Guess who went to therapy today?”

“You did?!” she exclaims, dropping her backpack beaming at him. “Bucky, that’s great!”

“No, it sucked and I cried but it’ll get you and Steve off my back.”

She gives him a look , turning to start digging through the cupboards. “You better be going back again,” she says. “I’m going to make celebration lasagna.”

“I love you,” he says. “Lasagna with double cheese?”

“Of course double cheese, I’m not an animal.”

He smiles, leaning over the counter and watching as she starts pulling ingredients out. “Hey, can I chop an onion?”

She turns to look at him, surprised. “You want to help?”

“Therapist says I gotta use the hand more, get used to it,” he says. “So yeah, I want to tackle an onion.”

Ten minutes later and he’s crying again, but this time he’s got vegetables to blame so it’s all good.  Becca laughs at his streaming eyes but he manages to chop the onion without crushing it or bending the knife, so he wins.  

“So you’re doing really well,” Becca says as she shoves the assembled lasagna into the oven. “Apparently the other two people from the Stark trial have had their arms removed completely.”

“What?” Bucky asks, looking up from his phone. He’s scrolling through Channing Tatum’s Instagram account to try and distract himself from thinking about Clint, yet while Channing Tatum is has the abs of a greek god and the temperament of a labrador puppy, he never took Bucky out for dinner and drinks and fucked him stupid.

“Yeah,” says Becca, peering over at Bucky’s phone and making an appreciative noise. “One guy had it taken it off pretty much straight away and the other girl had hers taken off last week. It was in the news.”

“Shit,” Bucky says, momentarily distracted from the magic that is Mike. “I knew about the first guy but what happened to her?”

“Maybe her arm malfunctioned and she punched a hole in the wall so her sister pulled it off and beat her to death with it?”

Bucky frowns, attention on his phone again. This time it’s photos of Chanel Iman modelling for Vogue and he honestly doesn’t know if he would prefer that she pushed him into bed and used him in a way that would make him feel as if he’s been done over like a cheap rentboy, or if she wrapped him up in a blanket, fed him grapes and told him he was pretty.  “No, I think that’s -” His brain catches up and he abruptly stops, going faintly pink. “Oh, okay, I see what you’re doing there,” he says. “That wasn’t a malfunction by the way, that was over-enthusiastic sex.”

Becca gives him a truly disgusted look at that, picking up her coffee and stalking away to flop down on the couch. Bucky snorts with tired laughter and is about to message her to say ‘sorry tmi’ but his phone buzzes before he can open WhatsApp. He’s confused for a moment at the lack of notifications on WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram, and is double checking Facebook is properly deactivated when he realized that the buzz was a text message, an actual real text message that’s not linked to any social media.

‘Stole your number from Shield im not even sorry. try not to miss me while im gone.’

Bucky’s heart starts going double-time. His thumbs move quicker than his brain and he’s texting back before his rational brain can tell him it’s a stupid idea.

‘If this is my pizza delivery guy you better have a good reason for being gone’

‘Its clint, dumbass’

‘I know. You’re the dumbass for not knowing I was joking’

‘I only play dumb when it gets me out of things Or into things’

“What’re you grinning at?” Becca asks, throwing a pillow embroidered with a pineapple at him. “Why has your face gone all weird?”

“You’re weird,” he calls back, throwing the pillow back without looking. It misses her by a mile, knocking a stack of medical journals off of the coffee table.

‘You can’t steal my number just to send flirt texts.’

‘im not flirting im just texting you to see how boring shield is without me.’

‘You’ve been gone half a day, I didn’t even notice’

‘:(‘

Bucky goes to text back but as he starts typing ‘ I bet I can make you smile again ’ he checks himself because that’s definitely text flirting. It’s so tempting that he has to get up and go give his phone to Becca - locked obviously, he’s not a maniac.

“Why have I got this?” she asks, holding it by the corner like it’s dirty.

“Because Clint got my number from SHIELD and is texting and I’m resisting the urge to flirt.”

She looks suitably impressed. “I think you should flirt.”

“I don’t want to lose my job,” he reminds her. “Christ, what was he thinking, stealing my number?”

“Yeah he sounds like trouble,” Becca says, and drops Bucky’s phone down the front of her shirt. “What? I’m helping you resist temptation.”

“Ugh,” he says, throwing himself into the armchair and shoving his face into a cushion, debating the merits of smothering himself with it. “Wake me up when lasagna is ready.”

 


 

 

Temptation momentarily resisted, and things go back to normal for Bucky. The next few days at work are pretty slow, which suits him fine because it gives him enough time to get back to his usual sociable self, and he has time to practice his fine motor skills. He gets through an entire block of post-its as he tries writing his name with his left hand and does manage to get from illegible scrawl to a block lettered B-U-C-K-Y that looks like a preschooler did it. Steve takes the best attempt and writes the date on it, sticking it to the wall. Bucky rolls his eyes like he thinks it’s a lame idea, rather than giving away just how much he wants to hug Steve for the gesture.

He gets a couple more messages from Clint, and he’s a weak bitch who can’t resist texting back, his resolve crumbling with every smiley-face emoji that Clint sends his way. He can only be thankful that it’s on his personal phone and not his work phone because Steve would just take one look at Bucky’s dumb grinning face and know something was up.

Ugh. Bucky doesn’t know what to do. He wants to make Steve proud and he desperately wants to be good at his job...but he can’t deny how much he wants Clint too if he’s getting all excited by a text message which says ‘what you up to’ without even being properly punctuated. Man, one good dicking and Bucky’s standards appear to have gone out the window.

 


 

Friday afternoon rolls around and Bucky is busy politely declining invitations to galas and other charity events on Steve’s behalf, when Steve himself shoves the door open and says, “Get your coat and let’s go.”

He’s fully in his tactical suit, the navy one with the white star and red stripes which usually means he’s got business kicking ass somewhere. “I can’t,” Bucky says, confused. “I’m busy trying to let down the Association for Ecological Reforestation, you know, gently. Without making it sound like you don't give a fuck about trees.”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Nevermind the trees, it's Friday and it’s midday. Think again.”

Ah, shit. He skived last week and no-one said shit about it but it looks like he’s been caught out this time. Bucky throws himself backwards in his chair with a dramatic whine. “Fine, I’m going to Stark Industries to get my arm checked.”

“Nearly,” Steve says. “We're going to Stark Industries. I’m coming with you.”

Bucky freezes, mid-slither out of his chair. “Oh, no, you don’t need to.”

“I’m coming, deal with it. I can outstubborn you, Barnes, you might as well just accept it.”

Bucky claws his way vertical again, knowing it’s true. “I will accept on one condition.”

Steve folds his arms, looking suspicious. “Name your terms.”

“We take the motorcycle.”

He’s expecting laughter, or an eye-roll, or Steve to lecture him on safety and how they should use the subway like other New Yorkers. What he doesn’t expect is for Steve to go, “Fine, go sign out a helmet, I’ll meet you in the lower deck in five.”

He literally scrambles for the door like a kid that’s been told he can go and start opening Christmas presents. He fucking loves the lower deck - it’s full of cars and motorbikes and armored vehicles and once a black corvette stingray that someone said belonged to the Black Widow. It’s not that Bucky is obsessed with driving - he lives in Brooklyn, why the fuck would he need to drive - but he does appreciate good engineering and sexy tech. He wouldn’t have signed up to be part of Stark’s robot-arm-project if he didn’t.

The corvette isn’t here today, which is a shame, but Steve is standing by his Harley Davidson which makes Bucky want to act like a 2004 meme and squee. He manages to behave mostly, but Steve gives him an amused and fond look like he wants to reach out and ruffle his hair. Bucky takes a large step out of his way just so he can't, even though he knows the helmet is gonna ruin his do anyway.

“Okay,” says Steve, slinging a leg over his bike and starting the engine. “It’s been a while since I had a passenger.”

“How long’s a while?” Bucky asks, pulling on his helmet but keeping the visor up. To his surprise, Steve has a helmet in hand too. Huh, maybe he’s actually listened to one of his own lectures about safety.

“Nineteen forty-four,” Steve says. “And we were hauling ass through the Ardennes trying to avoid German artillery, so.”

“Cool,” Bucky says. “Don’t think there’s much of that in Brooklyn.”

“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Steve says, perfectly straight-faced. “Now, mind her tailpipe when you get off again, it’ll get hot. Just hold onto my waist, lean when I lean, relax when I move off so you don’t clock your helmet on mine.”

“Gotcha,” Bucky says, clambering onto the the bike and settling behind Steve, feeling the bike rumbling beneath him. Excitement bubbles in his chest because come on, he’s on a fucking motorcycle with the original Captain America, it doesn’t get much cooler than this.

“Ready?” Steve asks.

“Ready,” Bucky shouts back, clapping down his visor and holding onto Steve’s waist, barely resisting the urge to whoop as Steve rocks the bike forwards and guns it, streaking through the garage and out into the tunnel that runs alongside the shuttle. It takes them barely a minute - whipping past a shuttle as they go, ha, look at those suckers having to take the shuttle - and then they’re bursting out into sunlight. Steve actually slows down for the security, flicking his visor up and waving at the guys on the barrier. They salute him and let him through without any fuss and Bucky grins so hard that his face hurts. Being friends with Steve Rogers is awesome, and the Commander perks ain’t half bad either.

 


 

 

The SI nurses check Bucky in with a palpable amount of relief and he briefly feels like a dick for not turning up for appointments considering what’s happened to the rest of the project. The upside is that they don’t even try to make him get changed to scrubs or surrender his phone, just ask him to take off his jacket and shirt. Bucky does, feeling more self-conscious than he ever has done because Steve is there, sitting on a shitty metal chair and watching curiously.

“Does it hurt?” he asks, then, “Sorry, you don’t have to answer that.”

“No, it’s okay,” Bucky says, rubbing consciously at the join where metal meets flesh. “You’re my friend, you can ask.”

Steve smiles at that, easy and happy. “It just looks like it might hurt,” he offers, still sounding a little apologetic.

“No, it’s fine,” Bucky says. “It was weird to begin with though. Heavy. And there was a huge lag. Like it’s taken a while for it to - uh, I don’t know. Its electrical signals mimic nerve signals? But to begin with my brain was kind of slow on figuring it out.”

“Is it better than not having it?”

“Hell yes,” Bucky says. “Having one arm - I got used to it but it sucked,” he looks down at his hand, turning it over and and watching the way the plates gleam in the light. “I just - I think I feel bad that I got it, and other people didn’t.”

“I hear you,” Steve says quietly, and Bucky gives him a small, grateful smile just before the door wooshes open and Tony Stark waltzes in.

“Barnes, you finally decide to grace us with your presence,” he says.

“You can’t be mean to me, I bought backup,” Bucky says, and points. Stark’s head snaps around and Steve waves from where he’s rocking the chair back on two legs.

“Really?” Stark asks flatly. “You’re checking in on me now?”

“Yep,” Steve says without an ounce of shame. “I’m allowed to be worried about the kid, Tony.”

“As long as it’s worry about him and not mistrust of me,” Tony says, and walks over to Bucky, holding his hand out. “Hand.”

Bucky sticks out his right hand. Steve snorts with laughter and Stark’s eyes narrow but he’s fighting a grin. “You are such a little asshole,” he says fondly, and reaches for Bucky’s left hand. “Sorry, am I allowed to say that?”

“Seeing as he is an asshole, I’ll let it pass,” Steve says, putting his booted feet up on the end of the hospital-gurney bed and pulling his phone out.

“Insert gracious and heartfelt thanks here,” says Tony. “Okay, Buckaroo, can I please put sensors on your head now?”

Bucky looks across at Steve who meets his eyes and winks. He seems relaxed enough, and that goes a long way in helping Bucky put some of his trust back in Stark. “Sure,” he says, and then, “You’re not gonna take it away, are you?”

Stark must understand his worry because he doesn’t make any flippant comments. “I don’t think so,” he says. “You’re not in pain and it's functioning as it should. You’re my Golden Goose now kid, I’m gonna look after you.”

“Sounds like you like Bucky just for his robot arm,” Steve butts in, eyes still on his phone.

“Hey, I liked the kid before you did, and before I gave him a robot arm,” Stark says, carefully attaching sensors to Bucky's temples. “Okay, I’ll rephrase. He is going to be looked after because I like him and because if his arm is functional, that means I did something right which means a positive outlook for anyone else who needs robot body parts.”

“As long as you remember he’s a person in his own right,” Steve shoots back. “He’s not just a stepping stone for other people in the future.”

Tony rolls his eyes, muttering under his breath about old people who have no respect for the future. Bucky kind of gets it, but that doesn’t mean he’s not grateful for Steve having his back. Steve deals with people, the here and now. Stark is a futurist, through and through, always looking for the next step. And while he likes Steve treating him as a person who is valid and important, knowing that he can potentially help other veterans or people in need does a lot to assuage his feelings of guilt.

Steve mostly keeps out of the way while Bucky goes through all his scans, even vanishing for twenty minutes and returning with a tray of four coffees. Bucky’s confused and wonders if Steve has forgotten how to count, or is maybe just being super nice and is getting coffee for the nurse who met them when they arrived, until Stark leans over and takes two without missing a beat. It speaks of well-worn friendship, something deeper than the bickering and arguing that most people see. It’s comforting in a weird way, to know Steve does have people that he can sort of call friends.

Stark seems satisfied with all of Bucky’s scans and they’re done within a couple of hours. Just as Bucky’s about to leave, Stark stops him, looking uncharacteristically hesitant.

“Okay, you can say no if it feels like I’m not treating you as a person or whatever,” he says, dismissive in that way he is when he actually cares about something. “But...could we take a picture? The news is latching on to the two failed projects and people are getting nervous. I don’t want to lose investment in this project and I don’t want to put off any doctors who are willing to-”

“Your PR image is not Bucky’s problem,” Steve says from where he’s stopped, hand on the doorhandle.

“Steve, it’s okay,” Bucky says quickly before Stark can snap back at him. “What will it be, like an interview or something?”

“No, just put it on your Instagram and I’ll make sure the right people find it,” Tony says. “If you’re cool with that, obviously.”

“Sounds like a really easy way to get a few more followers,” Bucky shrugs and pulls his phone out.

“Rogers, come and take a picture, you’ve got a good eye for this kind of thing,” Stark says, waving impatiently at him. Steve huffs but capitulates, directing Bucky to take his shirt off again and sit back on the gurney. Bucky does as he’s told, feeling strangely nervous as Steve takes more pleasure than strictly necessary in bossing Tony around for ‘the right angle’. When he’s finished fucking around, Bucky looks at the picture and feels himself well up a little. He looks relaxed and comfortable, with Tony sitting on a chair in front of him, holding Bucky’s metal hand in his own like they’re about to shake hands. Bucky is looking at his hand but Stark is looking at his face, clearly asking a question. The internet will think he’s asking a question about the arm, when in reality he was actually asking, "Is Rogers always this much of a pedantic shit?" Whatever the truth is, it’s a clever move. Steve has captured a moment where Bucky looks pleased with his arm and Stark looks like he’s checking in with Bucky.

“That’s...awesome,” Bucky says. “What shall I caption it?”

“Whatever you want,” Stark shrugs. “Tony Stark is the best most selfless benevolent genius slash philanthropist of them all?

Bucky makes the executive decision to ignore the suggestion, typing a simple and to the point, ‘ Everything going well with the new arm #veteran #prosthetic #starkindustries #thankstony.’ He hits post and then something occurs to him. “Hey, what about my NDA?”

Stark freezes for a moment and then leans back to grab his phone. “Hi, Greg,” he says cheerfully as a video feed of his exhausted looking PA springs into existence above the phonesceen. “You know you’re my favorite PA? Okay, yeah, no, I’ll stop. What do you mean, what did I do? Nothing, why do you assume - okay, yeah. I kinda drove a metaphorical truck through an NDA, will you call HR?”

Bucky looks at Steve, pulling his shirt back on and grabbing his jacket, leaving Tony to the mercy of his PA, who they can hear yelling through the phone. “I’m so glad I work for you and not him.”

“I want that in writing,” Steve says with a grin as he waves goodbye to Tony who has his attention fixed on his holoscreens, with the phone abandoned and still yelling on the desk next to him. “Come on kid, let’s roll.”

 


 

 

Bucky pouts as Steve climbs back onto his bike, because he’s technically done for the day which means he can go back to his stupid apartment on the stupid subway.

“Stop pouting,” Steve says. “It’s payday, you can go and buy yourself sparkly shit or that new jacket you wanted-”

“It’s payday?!” Bucky yelps, scrambling for his phone and logging in to his banking app. “Did I get paid??”

“Well, yes,” Steve says. “You have been working for me, so you get paid. It won’t be a full paycheck yet because you didn’t clock in a full month-”

His voice is lost under Bucky’s screech of delight as he sees actual real dollars have been deposited into his account. He has money, real money that he earned.

“I’m still ten thousand dollars in debt but this makes me so happy,” he says, clutching his phone to his chest. “I can pay Becca some rent - quick, google, where’s the nearest hardware store.”

Steve pauses, about to put his helmet on. “Why are you googling hardware stores?”

“Because I smashed up the bathroom the other day and I need to fix it and now I’ve been paid I can buy stuff to fix it,” he says.

“Do you know how to fix a bathroom?” Steve asks dubiously. “What even did you break?”

“The tiles,” Bucky says. “How hard can it be, there’s like ten million how-to videos on Youtube.”

Steve nods, lowering his helmet. He fiddles with the buckle on the strap for a moment. “Hey, you want a hand?”

Bucky pauses mid-google. “What?”

“I could help?” Steve says. “I mean, between us we should have enough brains and hands to work it out?”

“But, what about SHIELD?”

“I’ve worked seventy-two hours already this week,” Steve shrugs. “I could have a break to help. You know. Help a friend out.”

Bucky feels himself smiling. “You know what, that would be great,” he says. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, people keep telling me I need a life outside of work,” Steve says. “Gotta start somewhere.”

“Alright,” Bucky grins, pulling his helmet back on and clambering back aboard the bike. “To the hardware store.”

 


 

 

They get back to the apartment an hour later after working out what they need and the logistics of carrying tiles and tiling equipment back to Bed-Stuy while on a motorbike. Eventually, Steve just tips Bucky off the bike, gives him money for a cab and tells him he’ll meet him there. Bucky concedes, mainly because there’s literally no way of winning that argument unless he gets super-soldier serum of his own or grows extra arms to carry shit with. He gets back to the apartment first which gives him eight whole minutes to run around and tidy up. He spends four of those minutes propping cushions up along the side of his bed to hide the hole he punched in the wall, because while Steve is usually nothing but chill about Bucky's life choices, he doesn’t trust his own capacity to lie.

He’s so preoccupied with hiding the accidental-sex-hole that he doesn’t consider how weird it is gonna be to have Steve fucking Rogers in his apartment, so when Steve knocks on the door he panics for a full twenty seconds. When he finally calms down enough to open the door, Steve gets an instant pass because he has a boxed pizza and a six pack of beer in his hands. And is still wearing his Commander Rogers uniform, oh my god, he’s been wandering around Bed-Stuy buying pizza in his goddamn uniform, what a mess.

Bucky hauls him inside, ranting about being discreet and how the hell Steve manages clandestine missions in the slightest, but then is distracted by his phone blowing up with notifications. Looks like the word got out about his Stark-picture; he’s got 4k likes and a hundred and one new followers, and it’s only been a couple of hours.

Steve seems to genuinely like the apartment, interested in all the books and pictures and making delighted noises over the art prints that Becca put up. They sit and eat pizza and drink beer, chatting about work.

Until Bucky makes an offhand comment about how he feels he deserves more medals for dealing with Steve’s inbox than he ever got in the army, and Steve just - changes. His shoulders go tense and he hunches down, like he’s trying to make himself small.

“Steve? You okay?”

Steve nods, drains his beer. “Yeah.”

Bucky’s not convinced. “Do you...do you not want me to talk about the army?”

“No, no, it’s fine.”

“Steve. You’ve gone weird.”

Steve stares at his beer bottle. “Thinking of before,” he says, mouth twisting contemplatively. “It’s not easy.”

“Before?”

“Anything that happened before I went under,” Steve clarifies.

“You know it gets easier the more you talk about it?” Bucky says cautiously. “Like...you have to find a way of processing. Like you can choose to not talk about it once you’ve processed, but you hafta find a way of doing that.”

“You sound like Sam,” Steve says with a huff of not quite laughter. “He’s been trying to wrangle me into the VA for years.”

“Someone should,” Bucky says mock-sternly. He watches as Steve thumbs at the label on his beer bottle, then takes a metaphorical deep breath before he plunges in. “I have to remember the shit that makes me laugh,” he says in a rush. “Like, when we tried to brew coffee on the hood of the jeep while stuck in the desert in bumfuck nowhere. Motherfucker was too hot to touch so we figured why the hell not.”

“Did it work?”

“No, it was terrible, worst thing I’ve ever tasted. Worse than the five PM coffee in the break room.”

Steve screws up his face. “Gross.”

“Yeah but hilarious when you start handing it out and every single idiot who trusts you ends up spitting it out everywhere,” Bucky says, starting to laugh. “It was funny until the new lieutenant comes over and asks for a brew. What was I meant to do, say no to my CO?”

Steve’s shoulders are slowly releasing, like a coiled spring being relaxed. “Your unit sounds like a bunch of characters,” he says, and then out of nowhere he just bursts into laughter.

“What?” Bucky asks, laughing himself like it’s contagious. “What?”

“Dernier and his obsession with dynamite,” Steve says, laughing through his hands. “Dernier was our demo expert, crazy-ass Frenchman we picked up in Azzano. Howard Stark gave him some - I don’t even know what the fuck he called it, but it was basically his own version of C4. Told him it was twice as potent as dynamite and Dernier didn’t believe him, blew his own goddamn eyebrows off.” Steve’s laughing helplessly now, the sort of laughter than holds you in its grip and doesn’t let you draw breath or calm down. “He was so shocked, like he was outraged that half his hair had gone but at the same time was super impressed at the blast he got.”

“What was he trying to blow up?” Bucky asks, laughing right along with Steve.

“A tunnel blockade,” Steve manages to get out, leaning forwards over the counter with his head in his hands. “He measured it out, took like thirty paces back, then the whole thing went up and threw him an extra twenty feet. God, we thought he’d bitten it but he landed in a snowbank, singed to hell and torn between cursing and asking Stark to marry him.”

He tips his head back, taking big gulps of air. “God, I’m sorry. I haven’t laughed like that in years.”

“The kinda laughing where you’re not sure if you’re gonna cry or not?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, wiping his eyes on his sleeve and hiccoughing slightly. “Fuck, I miss those guys.”

“I bet you do,” Bucky says, and leans forwards, propping his elbow on the counter. “What else did he try and blow up?”

“I think the quicker question would be what he didn’t try and blow up,” Steve says, and to Bucky’s surprise and immense satisfaction, he takes a deep breath and keeps talking.

 


 

 

They keep talking as they turn their attention to the bathroom, though it’s less reminiscing about their respective army days and more ‘how the fuck do tiles work.’ Steve’s adamant that they don’t need no Youtube tutorial, but Bucky can’t afford to fuck this up and have to pay for a second round of fixing, so insists they do. After a brief round of bickering they get to work and find it’s not all that hard, just messy if they’re not careful. Steve's already pulled the top half of his Commander Tactical Suit off so he's in the navy pants and a white tee. Both already have sticky marks on from a tile adhesive accident that was definitely not Bucky's fault for squeezing the tube too hard.

“Ugh, I don’t wanna get this shit in my hand,” Bucky says trying to wipe the adhesive off his hand and onto a towel. Oops, that’s Becca’s towel, he better hide the mess or take it down to the machines before she gets back and yells at him.

“Don’t stick your fingers in it then,” Steve says. “Or wear a glove?”

“Check you out being all logical.”

“Oh yeah, they gave me the job as Commander of SHIELD because I had such amazing knowledge of not sticking my hand in glue.”

“You’re like a hundred years old, you should at least have gotten better knowledge than that by now.”

Steve snorts. “You would think.”

Bucky picks up the towel with his clean hand, holding it between two fingers. “I’m gonna take this down to the laundry.”

“Sure, I’m gonna stay here and steal your stuff,” Steve says.

“Whatever,” Bucky says. “I’d say if you can lift it you can take it, but you can probably lift the whole building so you’re disqualified.”

“Damn. Honor among thieves, huh?”

“Something like that,” Bucky says, slinging the towel into the laundry basket and picking the whole thing up, careful not to press the handle too hand with his metal hand. He pushes out of the apartment and his stomach drops as he nearly runs into his neighbor. The guy is just coming in, keys in hand, surprise written all over his face at the sight of Bucky. Surprise that quickly morphs to casual contempt.

“Watch it,” the guys says, turning away from his door and making a show of brushing something off his sleeve. “I don’t want you touching me.”

“Grow up,” Bucky groans. “Oh, I get it, the queer is catching, that’s hilarious.”

“I mean it,” the guy says and takes a step towards Bucky, towering over him, clearly in a bad mood today if he’s actually picking a fight with Bucky rather than just making snide comments. Bucky clenches his jaw and looks up defiantly, all five-one of his frame bristling as they guy says, “I don’t want to catch any queer germs from you.”

“Hey, you wanna say that again?!”

Bucky jumps a mile at the shout from behind him, and the guy looks up, does a double take, looks up more so he’s glaring at Steve’s face rather than his chest.

“The fuck are you?” the neighbor asks, looking Steve up and down.

“Steve, I can handle this,” Bucky says, turning to put a hand on Steve’s chest, trying to push him back into the apartment.  

“No, I just want to chat to your neighbor here about what the hell he meant by all that,” Steve says, and takes a step forwards. Bucky’s feet literally skid on the floor. “I wanna know why this guy has a problem with my friend, just because of his sexuality.”

“Uhhh,” the guy says, going pale as Steve takes another step forwards. Steve is bigger than him and is Commander fucking Rogers and even if the guy hasn’t recognized him, he’s obviously recognized that in a fight Steve would kick his ass. “You - you his boyfriend or something?”

“What if I was?” Steve asks, low and dangerous. “What fucking business is that of yours, huh?”

“I just-”

“You’re just a homophobe who needs to grow up and get a grip,” Steve says. “It’s twenty-nineteen, there is literally no place for your backward ass thinking in our society. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

The guy replies by backing up into his apartment and slamming the door. Steve moves like he’s going to fucking knock but Bucky grabs his arm. “Steve, stop! I didn’t ask you to do that.”

“Like I need your permission to call out shit like that when I see it,” Steve says scornfully, and Bucky immediately lets him go, feeling wrong-footed and about two feet tall. The goddamn President can’t tell Steve what to do, and here is Bucky thinking he’s got a hope in hell.

“Okay thank you for sticking up for me,” he says, voice gone small and weird in the face of Steve’s scorn. “But please let it go now.”

Steve makes an annoyed sound, but the contemptuous expression on his face relaxes and he sets his hands on Bucky’s shoulders. “But I’m the best hired muscle you could ask for.”

Bucky laughs weakly. “Yeah, you are,” he says. “I think the guy got the message though,” he says, thinking back to the last fight he picked in defense of his sexuality. “No need to make it a fight about who has to say sorry.”

“Well yeah,” Steve says, visibly deflated. “But my way will be more fun.”

“Must be nice always knowing that you’ll win,” Bucky says. "Jeez, you’re just spoiling for a fight.”

Steve grins at him. “Part of my charm,” he says, then folds his arms and glares at the door. “I went under when the world wasn’t so tolerant. I wake up and it’s seventy years later and people are still being intolerant. It really just…”

“Grinds your gears?” Bucky suggests.

Steve nods solemnly. “It really just salts my apples.”

“Gets your goat.”

“Burns my biscuits.”

“Just really gets on your dick,” Bucky says and that’s it, they both crack up, snorting with laughter.

“Okay,” Steve says. “Go deal with your laundry and I’ll carry on tiling.”

Bucky points two fingers at his eyes and then back at Steve. “No picking fights with the neighbor.”

Steve grins. “Scouts honor,” he says and retreats back into the apartment.  

 


 

 

“So I want to swap Agent Melton with Agent Nguyen from Beta, but I have a feeling she won’t be happy about it,” Steve is saying as he presses a tile to the gap in the wall. “But I don’t want anyone leading Alpha teams who has less than a five point four on their initiative testing-”

“Just fire her, she’s mean,” Bucky says vaguely. He’s perched on the closed toilet seat, scrolling through his Instagram because because that shot Steve took now has 49k likes and he’s got six hundred and twelve new followers. He’s tempted to take a photo of Steve and tag it #CommanderRogersHelpsOut but he’s not about to take advantage of Steve’s friendship like that. Not even when Steve has taken his shirt off because he got it wet when he accidentally leaned on the tap. Steve Rogers shirtless and covered in streaks of grout would definitely earn Bucky at least 20k likes. He doesn’t even think of Steve like that, but Bucky can objectively and mentally hot damn at the man all he likes.

“I can’t just fire her,” Steve says, wiping his forehead against his bicep. Christ, at least if SHIELD 2.0 goes under, Steve will still be able to learn a living as a stripper. Magic Mike 2.0. “She’s good, just not the strongest person to be leading Alpha Charlie.”

“Check the policy but I’m pretty sure you have it in writing about the scores expected of Alpha Team leaders,” Bucky says, doing a happy little wiggle as his follower count upticks again. “If she’s not meeting those then there’s nothing she can say about being demoted. Maybe give her a written warning and a chance to resit the aptitude tests?”

“That’s very fair of you,” Steve remarks, frowning as he looks at the tile. “Buck, these new tiles don’t match the old ones.”

“They’re both grey,” Bucky says, nonplussed.

“Not the same grey.”

“As if you care about that,” Bucky snorts, feeling his phone buzzing against his fingertips. He glances down and his stomach flips because that’s not a new followers notification, that’s a text from Clint.

Its friday night would much rather be out drinking with you than on mission.’

Bucky quickly tilts his phone up even though Steve is busy with another tile and is paying him and his ‘goddamn Instagram bullshit’ no attention whatsoever. Can Bucky get away with texting back? Will Steve sense that his tapping has gone from Instagram-tapping to texting-tapping?

Fuck it. Worth the risk. He slowly types back ‘just because it’s Friday night doesn’t mean you can start flirting.’

‘we could be drinking as friends. yourre the one who keeps bringing up flirting. I think you want me to flirt.’

Well, duh, Bucky thinks but he can’t say that because he’s definitely not allowed to sleep with Hawkeye. Probably not allowed to sleep with Hawkeye. Ugh, Steve never said it wasn’t allowed, just that he kind of disapproved. Though, if the boss disapproves is that the same as it being not allowed?

He side-glances at Steve to check he’s still busy, then he carefully texts back. ‘I would flirt if we were allowed but we’re not so this is strictly friendly chatter.’

‘im gonna send you a photo of my abs. Thatll change your mind.’

Bucky fights the urge to bang his head against the wall. Goddamnit, Clint knows he’s weak; one reminder of the abs and he will definitely cave.

“Okay, tiles are in, now we need to do the grout,” Steve says. “Hey, it sounds like I actually know what I’m doing.”

“You’re doing great,” Bucky says, and gets up to find the tub they need. “I do really appreciate it, I wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own, my motor skills are not good enough.”

“Yet,” Steve says somewhat ominously.

“Yet,” Bucky agrees, and hands over the tub of grout, whatever the fuck that is. He’s about to google what the fuck grout is for when his phone starts buzzing violently, loud enough to draw Steve’s attention.

Clint. Call. Clint is calling him. His phone is buzzing because Clint is calling him.

“You need to get that?” Steve asks, nodding at the phone.

“Uhhhhh,” Bucky says, and does the polite thing of scrambling up, running out of the bathroom and into his bedroom, slamming the door shut as he answers the call.

“You can’t just call me!”

“Uh, hello to you too,” Clint says, confused. “This is a friendly call, not a booty call, that’s allowed.”

“No it’s not, Steve is here,” Bucky hissed.

“What? Why is Steve there?”

“He came over to help me fix the bathroom, he’s doing tiling,” Bucky says. “God, if he saw that you were calling me-”

“Just tell him we’re friends,” Clint says. His voice sounds tinny and far away even through Bucky’s state-of-the-art StarkPhone speakers. “No big deal.”

“It is a big deal,” Bucky says. “You’ve never called me before.”

“Well it’s two in the morning here and the mission is nearly done but I’ve drank too much coffee to sleep,” Clint says. “Thought I’d see if you wanted to chat, maybe? Like I don’t know. Tell me how your week was.”

Oh, Clint, Bucky thinks, feeling a fierce rush of fondness. “That’s...that’s really nice of you.”

“As a friend, though,” Clint adds hurriedly. “I know I flirt but I respect your boundaries.”

“Thank you,” Bucky says, and sighs. “I’m sorry it worked out like this.”

There’s a long silence on the end of the line. “Me too,” Clint says. “I really like you, Bucky.”

“Oh god,” Bucky says, and sits down heavily on his bed. “Please don’t. I don’t have enough willpower to ignore shit like that.”

“I honestly did just call to chat,” Clint says. “How about you tell me how the hell you managed to get Rogers out of work at four PM on a Friday?”

“He escorted me to my arm appointment,” Bucky says. “Was my backup against Stark.”

“Sounds like-”

What Clint thinks it sounds like goes unheard because outside his bedroom, Bucky hears the slam of the front door and his sister yelling his name before she abruptly cuts off, going silent. The silence lasts a few seconds and then there’s a perfunctory knock on Bucky’s bedroom door before she walks in without waiting for an answer.

“Why is there another half-naked Avenger in my bathroom?” she hisses. 

"Clint, I’ll call you back,” Bucky says and hangs up.

Becca’s eyes go wide. “Oh, you weak bitch,” she says, shaking her head in disappointment. “Give me the phone.”

Bucky hangs his head and holds out the phone, knowing she’s right. She takes it from him and shoves it in her pocket.

“Steve offered to help me fix the bathroom,” Bucky says, getting up and staring forlornly at the phone-shaped bump in her pocket. “I got paid today so I sent you some rent money and bought stuff to fix the bathroom.”

She replies by stepping forwards and wrapping him in a hug. “Thank you,” she says simply, squeezing him. “Now, please properly introduce me to Steve.”

“Sure,” Bucky says. “Be nice to him.”

She pats his cheek. “I will be nice as long as he remains shirtless,” she says, and ignores the way he splutters out a strangled ‘Becca!’ before scrambling after her.

 


 

 

Bucky goes to bed that night after Steve has left, wondering two things: firstly, how on earth he’s ever going to pay Steve back for doing such an amazing job of fixing the bathroom, even though Steve himself is really dissatisfied with the way the grey tiles don’t quite match. Secondly, if he should call Clint back or just leave it, try and get some distance from Clint and his abs and the feels he gets whenever they talk.

He stares at his phone, for the first time ever not immediately concerned with how many Instagram followers he has. What he is concerned with is staring at Clint’s name and number, trying to at least kid himself that he’s not going to call.

He presses the button, sets the phone on speaker and rests it on his chest, staring at the ceiling. It rings, and rings, and then it connects.

“Hey, Bucky.”

“Hey,” Bucky says, staring at his ceiling. “Sorry, Steve hung around for a while after we’d fixed the bathroom. He and my sister talked about art and made fun of me, it was terrible.”

“Not a problem,” Clint says, sounding rough and sleepy.

“Shit, did I wake you up? I don’t even know what timezone you’re in.”

“Not a problem,” Clint repeats. “I’m glad you called.”

Bucky shifts, resting his real arm behind his head and idly drawing patterns on his sternum with his metal fingers. “Still wanna hear about my week?”

“Absolutely,” Clint says happily. “Tell me everything.”

Bucky smiles, and he does.

 


 

 

After a weekend of relaxing, texting Clint on the sly, and having to officially his verify his Instagram account because of the thousands of new followers he has, Bucky goes back to work on Monday morning feeling refreshed and positive. He’s actually shocked at how quickly he’s acclimated considering when he first started he literally had no idea what he was doing. But now, he’s proficient at most things: wrangling Steve’s calendar, as long as a few people don’t mind being cancelled on whenever Steve has to dash off to last minute superheroing because he’s a control freak who can’t just stay idle while shit is going down; taking notes in meetings where everyone talks too fast and inevitably ends up arguing, before said meeting ends with Steve getting his own way; getting coffee the exact way Steve likes it without breaking any spoons or mugs, apart from that one time that Agent Melton made him jump by banging the door to the break room.

However, the one thing he is still not proficient with is the copier. Luckily, seeing as they’re a SI company, most of their work can be done online, though every now and again something comes up that needs to be in hard copy and Bucky has to wage war against the printers and copy machine.

“Come on,” he pleads as the copier makes a sad beeping noise at him, flashing up a dozen or so error warnings. “What do you want from me? Money? My first born child?”

He jabs at a few buttons and the copier beeps again before throwing up another warning sign.

“You have paper,” Bucky shouts. “Don’t you lie to me you bastard, I know you have paper-” The copier beeps again and threatens to remotely call an engineer. “No, no, no, I just need you to copy six of these, that’s it, that’s literally it, it’s not double-sided or anything, you fucking waste of space-”

The screen goes dark and Bucky may or may not raise a fist, ready to punch the copier.

“I hear punching it doesn’t actually help,” a voice from the doorway says, and Bucky whips round, lowering his hand and putting it behind his back.

“I wasn’t actually going to punch it,” he says, talking in the newcomer. She’s wearing a navy, fitted pantsuit and has her hair pulled back in a simple ponytail but there’s something about her that’s giving off seriously intimidating vibes. She looks completely at ease and ready to tackle anything without breaking a sweat and Bucky hates her a little, just because she’s the opposite of his currently flustered state.

“Want me to have a look?” she says. “I’m Camille by the way. Maria’s new assistant.”

“Oh, uh, hey,” Bucky says, though he’s unsure if being Maria’s assistant makes her more or less terrifying. “I’m Bucky. Commander Rogers' assistant. PA. Thing.”

She raises an eyebrow at him and Bucky resists the urge to hide behind the copier, instead stepping out of the way so she can deal with the million and one error messages. She sighs and Bucky bites down on the urge to say sorry, and then presses a sequence of buttons on the copier which hums, clicks, and then starts smoothly ejecting perfect copies of Bucky’s documents.

His jaw drops. “How the fuck did you manage that?”

“Skills,” she says, perfectly straight-faced. Bucky thinks that actually the copier is scared of her too and just decided to behave. “I’m not sure what you did to it, but I think it should be sorted.”

“Thanks,” he says, reaching for his documents and holding them to his chest.

“We need to get together at some point anyway,” she says. “At the moment the Commander and the Deputy Director don’t have their calendars synced and I feel like we can save some serious time by considering their schedules alongside each other.”

“Sure,” Bucky says, pretty much ready to agree to anything to stop her staring at him like that. “So, have...how long have you been here? Working here?”

She opens her mouth to reply but there’s a soft chiming noise that comes from Bucky’s work phone. He grimaces apologetically when he sees it’s Steve calling. “Yo,” he answers, ignoring the way Camille’s eyebrows slide up towards her bangs.

“Avengers are inbound, cancel my next meeting, I’m going to meet them.”

Bucky groans. “Noooo, you can’t, this is like the fourth time you’ve cancelled this meeting. You have to meet with squad leaders before they draw up-”

“I’m going to meet the team-”

“Meet with the squad leaders first, I am begging you,” Bucky says. “It’s an hour, tops. Come on, don’t make me be honest about how they’ve starting bitching that you give the Avengers preferential treatment.”

“They say that?”

“Maybe,” Bucky says. “How far out are the Avengers? You don’t need to be there when they land. In fact, they’ll probably hate you for being there when they land. Meet the squad leaders, give the Avengers time to get a coffee and sit down for a bit before you start grilling them.”

“Bucky-”

“Please,” Bucky says. “Pretty please. Pretty please with a cherry on top.”

“Fine,” Rogers interrupts, sounding pained. “See if you can get the squad leaders to my office in the next ten minutes, we’ll bring that meeting forwards.”

“Deal,” Bucky says immediately, because wrangling twelve squad leaders is actually easier than wrangling one Commander Rogers.  The line goes dead and Bucky sighs, eyes glued on his phone as he sends out a multi-personnel message to the squad leaders. He’s tempted to leave Agent D. Melton off, but he’s a professional so he doesn’t.

“Sorry,” he says to Camille. “Duty calls.”

“Same,” she says, eyes fixed on her own phone. “Shit, now I’m gonna have to reschedule Maria. Goddamn Avengers.”

Bucky snorts. “They do kind of like to swoop in and upsettle everything, right?”

“Yes well I suppose I can’t be too mad,” Camille says. “Without them swooping in and unsettling things I wouldn’t have a job.”

Bucky frowns, wondering if Maria got a new assistant because the Avengers are taking up too much of her time, or driving her crazy or something. “What do you mean?”

“You haven’t heard? It’s the hot gossip in the cafeteria,” she says with a roll of her eyes, and the moment she says it, Bucky remembers with a thrill of dread: Steve told him that Maria’s last PA left because of Clint’s flirting. Camille obviously doesn’t notice Bucky having a mild freak out because she carries on and says, “I’m a replacement because Maria’s old assistant slept with Hawkeye and got fired.”

Bucky’s freak out turns into his brain utterly flatlining. “What?”

“Yeah, everyone knows,” Camille says. “Apparently they were sleeping together, Hill and Rogers hit the roof about it and she was marched out without a severance package or anything.”

Bucky just stands there, ears ringing. He doesn’t give a fuck about the old assistant in the slightest; what he does give a few very large fucks about is that it seems screwing assistants is apparently Clint’s thing. He thought he was the only one and that Steve was looking out for him because he cared about Bucky, not that it's because Steve doesn’t want it happening again.

“I mean, if you’re going to get fired for sleeping with an Avenger, might as well make it worth it,” Camille says, mouth curving in a slight smile. “Sam Wilson or nothing.”

“Hawkeye might be worth it,” Bucky blurts out, and Camille pulls a face.

“Sure,” she says in a way that politely translates as, ‘thanks but no thanks .’ “I'll stick with Wilson. Or Thor.”

And with that she leans over to quickly scan a document through the copier, nodding at Bucky as she snatches up the copy and leaves.

Bucky can only stand there, feeling like a fucking idiot, and it’s not because he can’t work the damn copier.



 

 

He goes back to Steve’s office, feeling blindsided in the worst way. When he gets there he’s momentarily confused at the group of SHIELD agents all hanging about inside and then remembers that he summoned them.

“What’s this about, Barnes?” asks Booker, the squad leader for Foxtrot Alpha. He’s a cool guy, always polite and professional. Though Emilia in the cafeteria says he killed a man with a block of cheese once, so Bucky’s not gonna relax around him.

“Commander wants to meet with you all before he goes to check in with the Avengers,” Bucky says. “He didn’t want to cancel on you all again.”

There’s some murmuring at that but Bucky barely hears. He drops into his chair and opens up a document ready to take notes. His hand is shaking so much that he accidentally quits the doc twice before he can maximize it, like he’s a senior citizen learning to use Word for the first time.

The rest of the agents arrive in twos and threes; Agent Sanders from Charlie Beta literally sprints in and everyone laughs as he manages to sit down just before Steve comes into view in the hub. He strides in and nods, standing against his desk.

“We want to do this here or move to the meeting room?” he says as his way of greeting.

Bucky starts to type. He barely listens to anything that’s being said, just hears words and types them down, hoping it’ll be useful later. His brain is stuck in a loop of ‘ Clint slept with Maria’s PA, you’re the second PA he’s screwed, you’re not special, Maria’s PA got fired for the same thing you did.’

The meeting ends; the squad leaders file out. He saves the document but carries on just staring at his computer screen.

“Buck?”

He looks up over his monitor to see Steve’s concerned face. “You okay? You looked pretty zoned out there.”

“I’m a millennial, I can multitask,” Bucky says, trying to regain his equilibrium. “I can minute your meeting and dream about not having stupid amounts of debt.”

“Sure,” Steve says, but he doesn’t look convinced. “Hey, you want to come with me and meet the Avengers? You can minute, I’m sure-”

“No,” Bucky blurts out, because if he has to see Clint right now he’ll keel over and die. “I mean, that would be awesome but I have to go and fight the copier,” he says. “And you’ll be quicker getting there without me.”

Steve’s still frowning, but he does nod and pick up his keys. “Alright,” he says. “Ask Maria’s assistant if you need a hand, she’s like the copier whisperer.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, not actually saying what he thinks which is ‘all of Maria’s assistants can burn in hell.’

Steve leaves without another word and Bucky just sits there, staring at his computer screen.

Until his work phone buzzes. He picks it up mechanically, expecting a message from Steve or maybe one of the squad leaders, asking for the minutes from the meeting.

[Message C Barton 14:15] Hey were back. you coming with steve to meet us?

Bucky stares at the message, feeling something horrid and sharp twisting in his chest. He goes to text back ‘FUCK OFF’ but then remembers that the work comms are monitored, so he better not

[Message C Barton 14:16] ill get coffee in, what do you like ill even get you something with foam n sprinkles n shit

“Fuck off,” Bucky shouts at his phone, and shoves it off the edge of his desk onto the floor. He puts his head in his hands and grips his hair tightly, and all he can think is ‘fuck my life.’

Chapter Text

‘hey why didnt you come earlier? I got you coffee’

‘you okay’

‘whats with the lack of texting i thought you millennials were addicted to it’

‘did i do something wrong’

‘:(‘

 


 

 

It’s actually a relief for Bucky to hand over his phone to Hannes the next morning, just so he can stop driving himself crazy over Clint’s texts, still ignored and unanswered. He knows he should just talk to him but what the fuck would he say? How can he tell Clint that he feels like he’s had his fucking heart broken after just one night together?

He gets into the office to find Steve already there. He springs up out of his chair the moment Bucky walks in, like he’s been waiting for him.

“Hi, Buck! I got you something,” he says, pulling open his desk drawer and fishing something out.

“Erm, good morning?” Bucky says, hanging his jacket up.

“Here,” Steve says without preamble, and holds out a white box with a telltale logo on the side.

Bucky walks over, transfixed by the box. “Are those airpods?!”

Steve shrugs. “Wireless headphones,” he says. “They’re compatible with your workphone, and your personal Starkphone. I checked with Tony, though he did tell me to tell you not to advertise that fact because its not standard on all models, just the initial batch of prototypes. And if you check your work phone, Spotify is now available as an app, though the techs are recording all activity, the usual deal.”

“You got me airpods,” Bucky says blankly. “Steve, no. You gave up work on Friday to fix my bathroom and now-” He blows out a breath, feeling all wrong-footed and frustrated. “I’m not a charity case.”

“I know,” Steve says. “If it makes you feel better, you can say these are work only? Leave them here and don’t take them for personal use. I just thought, maybe the music helps your concentration or something.” When Bucky doesn’t immediately make grabby hands towards the box, Steve frowns. “Are you okay? I thought - shit. Sorry. I made an assumption.”

“No,” Bucky says quickly. “Well, you did, and it was really kind and thoughtful. Thank you.”

Steve’s smile goes hopeful. “So you’ll take them?”

Bucky tips his head back, taking a steadying breath. “Yes, I will accept your crazy, overpriced gift,” he says. “As long as you take a proper lunch so I can set you up with your own Spotify account.”

“Deal,” Steve says, doing that dumb grin he does when he’s gotten his own way, pressing the box into Bucky’s hand. “Now you can ignore people all day while you compile all training stats for the squad agents.”

“Oh man, that’ll take hours,” Bucky complains, tugging open the box containing his new headphones, which he most certainly is going to use on his way to and from work because hello, airpods.  

“Oh no,” Steve deadpans, going back to his desk. “It’s almost like it’s your job.”

 


 

 

Steve leaves the office to go yell at a driver who apparently managed to crash the new armoured vehicle on its first official test run. Bucky cranks the heating up the moment Steve vanishes out of sight, huddling down in his chair with his new airpods in and his favourite ‘ladies who rock’ playlist on. It actually helps him get into the zone, enabling him to focus around fifty percent of his brain power on the agent-stats job.

The other fifty percent is firmly hung up on Clint, wondering if he’s going to see him come striding into the hub, looking for Bucky. Maybe be will; maybe he’ll storm in and demand that Bucky give him a second chance, telling him that he didn’t sleep with Maria’s assistant, that it’s all just a lie. Maybe he’d sweep Bucky off his feet and kiss him stupid, holding onto his tie and pressing him back onto his desk-

Okay, stop , Bucky tells himself. What will actually happen in the real world is that Clint did fuck that assistant, will get the hint that Bucky doesn’t want to talk to him and won’t turn up at SHIELD at all.

The real world fucking sucks and Bucky will not be recommending it to anyone.

Steve dips in and out of the office all day, sometimes making phone calls, sometimes typing out angry emails if the way he’s jabbing at his keys is any indication. Bucky does spare a moment to wonder if he actually killed the guy who crashed the truck, because Steve seems in a hell of a mood. When he checks Steve's email and sees a message from the lower deck manager he winces because it looks like the truck is a write-off. He’s actually kind of impressed; who the fuck manages to write off an armored truck while taking it on a test run?

The double mystery of how the truck got totalled and if the driver has survived the wrath of Commander Rogers is pretty much the only distraction in an otherwise mind-numbing morning. Compiling stats is boring work, even by Bucky’s regular paperwork standards.

By twelve he’s all but given up, slumped in his chair and flicking through Spotify, wanting to listen to something but not wanting to listen to anything he’s currently got saved.

A just-about-audible knock on the office door makes him look up; it’s an intern, the one who waved at him during her induction. He lifts his head from his fist with a slightly puzzled frown; what the hell does an intern want with the Commander? He takes his airpods out, beckons her in.

“Hey, James,” she says, waving like she did before. “It’s James, right?”

“It’s Bucky, actually,” he says. “Commander Rogers isn’t in. He’s busy holding a memorial service for his armored truck.”

The girl opens her mouth but no words come out, her expression a perfect picture of bewilderment as she clearly struggles with what an appropriate response should be.

“I’m joking,” Bucky adds and she sags in relief, laughing a little giddily.

“Oh, I couldn’t tell,” she says. “I’m nervous, sorry. It’s actually not Commander Rogers I’m after.”

“Which department are you in?” Bucky asks, grabbing a post-it and mentally groaning about something he’s going to have to get up and deal with. If she says she’s anything to do with maintenance, Bucky is going to throw himself out of the window.

“I’m from cyber security but I’m not here on behalf of the department,” she says in a rush. “Do you want to come with us for lunch? We sit together in the cafeteria and we sometimes see you on your own. Rumor has it that you’re the one that got the Commander to relax the Spotify rule so we just wanted to say thank you. And by we, I mean me. I would like to ask you to have lunch. Sitting with me.”

Bucky’s pen slips. “You’re asking me to lunch?” he asks, and of course that’s exactly when Steve fucking reappears, barging in and making the intern jump out of his way as he storms back over to his desk.

“Calendar is red, if anyone talks to me I’m going to shoot them,” he snarls. “Send out a memo.”

“Sure but I'll probably leave off the threats,” Bucky says as the intern makes a strange squeaking noise.

“Why is there an intern in my office?” Steve asks, sounding a lot ruder than he probably intended. Or maybe exactly as rude as he intended, Bucky’s not quite sure. Ugh, today is a shitshow, through and through.

“She’s just leaving,” Bucky says, and then looks pained. “Aren’t you…”

He trails off, intending for her to get the hint and fill in the blank but but she’s too busy trying not to look at Steve, eyes wide as they fix on Bucky’s face. “What’s your name?” he prompts her.

“Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“Oh. I’m Jade.”

“Okay, Jade, I’ll see you for lunch at one, if I were you I'd run now before he starts throwing shit.”

She laughs. “You’re joking again, right?”

Bucky shoots Steve a look. “Jury’s out.”

Jade takes the hint and backs up, banging into the door before turning around to open it. “See you at one!” she says a little breathlessly and then manages to pull the door open and get out, waving at Bucky through the glass wall.

“You’re right, I was about to throw my keyboard at her,” Steve says. “Did she just ask you to go to lunch?”

“Yeah, to say thank you for getting you to allow Spotify access,” Bucky says, and then clocks the way Steve is looking at him expectantly. “It’s not a date.”

“I think she thinks it’s a date.”

“Well she’s a fucking coworker and that’s not allowed,” Bucky says, probably a little sharper than he was intending.

Steve grimaces. “It’s not not allowed…”

“Steve, I have no interest in her,” Bucky says, feeling harried and defensive and annoyed at himself for letting this whole damn situation get to him. “I will go and eat lunch while sitting at the same table as her and that will be all.”

“If you like, I will order to you eat lunch somewhere she’s not. Like, on the roof.”

“I can manage, thank you,” Bucky says primly. “I don’t need you to protect me from a flappy intern.”

“Alright,” Steve says. “Take your phone and text me if you need rescuing.”

“How bad is your dating history if you think I’m going to need rescuing from lunch?”

Steve sighs. “Kid, you have no idea.”

 


 

 

Halfway through lunch and Bucky is considering texting Steve to come and get him. Jade is lovely, but she’s so ditzy and she’s just a tad too awed by the fact Bucky works for Commander Rogers. Besides, he’s still got fifty percent of his brain thinking about Clint and how he got Bucky a coffee and how he looked in Bucky’s bed.

Christ, Bucky wants him so bad that he’s tempted to knock himself out with his metal hand just to make it stop.

“And we see him like once a week when he passes by,” Jade is saying. “I think it’s super nice that he checks in with every department, even when he doesn’t exactly know what we do.”

“He does know, he runs the place,” Bucky says. Fuck it, he picks up his phone and messages Steve, simply saying HELP. He doesn’t let Jade see that the message says help of course, because that would be mean, but he doesn’t hide the fact he’s texting.

“Oh I know, I just mean he doesn’t understand the details of cyber-sec,” Jade says. “He’s not great with technology, is he?”

“I dunno, he knows what airpods are,” Bucky says, and fakes surprise as his phone starts ringing, the name COMM. S ROGERS clearly visible. “Speak of the devil,” he says and picks up the phone. “Yes, boss?”

“Whatever you’re fucking doing, drop it and get back to the fucking office,” Steve all but yells. Bucky winces and yanks the phone away from his ear. Across the table, Jade claps a shocked hand over her mouth.

“I’m having lunch-” Bucky begins.

“Did I fucking stutter?” Steve snaps. “Get your ass back here.”

He hangs up. Bucky and Jade stare at the phone.

“You better go,” she says, hushed. “He sounds really mad. Are you gonna be okay?”

“Oh yeah,” Bucky says. “He’s mad because someone crashed his new armored truck before he got to have a drive.”

“Oh,” Jade says as Bucky picks up his phone and his tray. “I’ll see you later?”

“Sure,” Bucky says and turns away, pulling a face that roughly translates as ‘Bucky you fucking idiot,’ because he should have said no, not anything that implies there’ll be a yes in future. Despairing a little at himself, he drops off his tray and then hotfoots it back to the office, only to find Steve sitting on the couch, tapping away on his phone and looking really calm for someone who was screaming at Bucky literally two minutes ago.

“Did it work?” he asks, craning his head around as Bucky comes in.

“You’re a good actor,” Bucky says. “I nearly shit my pants when you started yelling.”

“You don’t become the top war-bond salesman of all time by not knowing how to put on an act,” Steve says, and then drops his head back onto the couch. “Fuck me. Today is shit, right? It’s not just me?”

Bucky goes over to flop onto the couch next to him. “You’re right. Today is shit.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“No.”

“Good,” Steve says. “Neither do I. Wanna go sit on the roof and smoke?”

“Oh, god yes,” Bucky groans.  “That’s the best idea you’ve had all day.”

“Come on then,” Steve says, heaving himself up and then pulling Bucky up by his wrists. “Let’s go break the rules.”

 


 

By the end of the day, Steve’s ‘did I fucking stutter’ explosion has superseded office gossip and is well on its way to becoming office legend. Bucky even hears a few brave slash stupid agents wondering how they can wind him up enough to get him to say it again. Bucky has to admire the balls on them for that.

Steve has caved and asked Tony to come and look at the truck, to see if it’s salvageable. Tony had told him that he wasn’t actually a mechanic, and hung up, then called back to see if he could bypass security by Iron-Manning over and landing on the roof.

Bucky leaves Steve arguing with Tony about security, collecting his things at half past five and slipping out of the office. When he gets his phone back his insides all shrivel up like a slug that’s had salt poured on it, because there are no new messages.

Clint got the hint.

Too tired and headachey to cry, Bucky just goes home. When he gets there, he finds a note from Becca saying she’s gone out with friends and resigns himself to a long, lonely night of watching reruns of Brooklyn 99 and lying down.

He supposes, clinging to his last shred of positivity like it’s a life raft in an ocean of misery, that he should be grateful that he’s got enough emotions left to feel like this. When he was first discharged from the military, he didn't think he’d ever feel anything again.

 


 

Bucky jerks awake as he hears a knock on the door. Rubbing his eyes with his metal fingers and wincing as the plates catch on his skin, he gropes for his phone to check the time. Nearly midnight. Shit, he’s fallen asleep on the couch and now his back hurts and he’s all groggy and his headache is worse than before.

The knocking continues, louder this time. Ugh, it’s probably Becca, lost her keys while out with her friends, because despite what she thinks, Bucky is not the only disaster living in the apartment. She just hides it better.

“Coming,” he mutters, and extricates himself from his blanket nest to stagger over and open the door-

“Hi,” says Clint.

Bucky stares up at him. Oh god, he’s still tall and he’s so fucking gorgeous and he’s standing there within arms reach, face somehow concerned and sheepish and hopeful all at the same time. Bucky rubs his eyes again, trying to force himself to wake up and achieve higher brain functions again. “What are you doing here?”

Clint shrugs. “You weren’t texting me back.”

Bucky presses his hands to his head, like it will somehow stop all his coherent thoughts from leaking out of his ears. Maybe Clint did not get the hint after all.

“Because I didn’t want to talk to you,” he says, and it's so unfair the way he feels bad at the hurt on Clint’s face.

Next to them, there’s a click and the fucking neighbor’s door opens, because of course Bucky needs a homophobic audience for this conversation. The guy sticks his head out, tousle-haired and sleepy, obviously searching for the cause of the knocking.

“Oh my god,” Bucky bursts out before the guy can even say anything. “I am not in the mood, will you just fuck off?!

The guy takes one look at Clint, one look at Bucky and hastily nods. “Sure pal, yeah, sure, was just checking, sorry,” he rambles and retreats swiftly back into his apartment. Bucky feels a stab of vindictive satisfaction mingled with surprise but isn't going to question it; he's got bigger issues to worry about.

“Who was that?” Clint asks.

“Some asshole,” Bucky says shortly. “What are you doing here?”

“Steve said you both had had a shit day and you weren’t texting back so-”

“That’s not an invitation for you to turn up where I live!”

Clint’s brows furrow. “What’s going on? Don’t tell me Steve is in your apartment. I bet he is, isn’t he? You two have got real close while I’ve been gone-”

Bucky’s jaw drops. “Are you listening to yourself? You’re accusing me of sleeping with Steve? He's my boss!”

“Well you slept with me and I outrank you.”

Bucky feels a flare of anger and he reaches out to shove Clint hard in the chest. “You’re the one who has been fucking his way through the assistant pool, so don’t you dare make this about me!”

A ringing silence falls. Bucky feels like crying, like shutting the door in Clint’s face and hiding himself away in his bedroom for a period of time estimated at somewhere between eternity and forever.

“You know about that?”

“Everyone knows about that,” Bucky shouts. “I had to hear it over the fucking copy machine from Maria’s new assistant, who is super happy that you fucked the old one out of a job, by the way-”

“It wasn’t like that!”

“Then do tell, Clint, what the fuck was it like? Tell me you didn’t fuck Maria’s assistant.”

Clint looks down at his feet. “No, I did,” he admits.

“Great,” Bucky says bitterly. “What was that, a week before I turned up? Less?”

“I didn’t know I was going to meet you, I’m not psychic,” Clint says, which is enough of a non-answer to make Bucky feel like shit.

Bucky shakes his head, not wanting to hear it. “Steve warned me about you,” he says.

“Steve had no fucking right.”

“Looks like he did.”

“Will you just give me a break?” Clint snaps at him. “Yes, I slept with Maria’s old assistant. Yes, it happened more than once. But I never asked her for her number and I never got her coffee and I never turned up at her place because I wanted to see her so bad that it was driving me crazy.”

“Clint-”

“Since you showed up I haven’t looked at anyone but you,” he says. “Fuck, I got a warning from the fucking Avengers for making private calls while on mission and you know what, I didn’t give a damn.”

Bucky can’t think of a single rebuttal. Clint has somehow got closer, close enough so that with one step, Bucky could step forwards and bury his head in his chest, have Clint wrap his arms around him and make him feel like everything is okay again.

But that’s not what happens in the real world. The real world is cruel and mean and takes your stuff, like your arm and your job and your potential future boyfriend.

Clint is still staring at him. “Bucky?”

“Oh, fuck it,” Bucky says, and reaches out to fist his hand in Clint’s shirt, pulling him down and kissing him hard. Clint makes a startled sound but gets with the program quick enough, slipping his hands down to cup Bucky’s ass, walking him backwards into the apartment. He kicks it closed behind him and they keep moving, kissing frantically until Bucky’s back hits the counter.

“You sure?” Clint asks, sounding wrecked. “Don’t do this then ghost me again, I can’t handle it-”

“Just shut up,” Bucky says, curling his hand around the back of Clint’s neck and pulling him down, kissing him again. He bites at Clint’s lower lip and Clint groans, the sound going right to Bucky’s dick.

“We doing this?” Clint asks, pressing his hips hard against Bucky’s abs. Fuck, he hates this being short bullshit because he’s missing out on some quality dick on dick action right about now.

“You are doing me,” Bucky says. “Yes, yes, yes, consent is sexy, I get it.”

He shoves Clint forwards a little so he’s got enough wiggle room to hop up onto the counter. He pulls Clint back in and kisses him hard, stifling a moan because now he can wrap his legs around Clint’s hips and that’s getting everything lined up nice.

“I am not fucking you on the counter,” Clint says, even as one hand slides under Bucky’s shirt, the other tugging it up his back.

“Sure you’re not,” Bucky says, lifting his arms so Clint can pull his shirt off.

“I’m not.”

“Sure,” Bucky says, fingers already working at Clint’s belt. “Hey, you’re wearing your jeans!”

Clint pulls his own shirt off, tossing it aside. “You wanna talk about my fashion choices or do you wanna get fucked?”

“Both,” Bucky grins.

“I’m no good at multitasking,” Clint says, and he leans in to nose at Bucky’s skin, kissing at his ear before biting gently down his neck. Bucky shivers, sliding his hands onto Clint’s shoulders and tilting his head to the side, silent encouragement. He closes his eyes, focusses on Clint mouthing across his shoulder, the way his hand slides around his side and onto his back, palm hot on his skin.

Clint’s mouth brushes Bucky’s. “Hold on,” he says, and he slides his hands under Bucky’s thighs and lifts. Bucky gasps, legs going tight around Clint’s waist.

“Wow,” Bucky breathes. “Do you even lift, bro?”

Clint groans, and not in the sexy way. “Can you stop memeing for like ten seconds?”

“You’ll have to find a way to shut me up.”

“You need to stop watching cheesy porn,” Clint advises, taking a step away from the counter and carrying Bucky with him. Bucky swears he nearly goes off right then and there, stupidly turned on by the show of strength. He’s going to have Clint’s arms branded as a national treasure, he fuckin’ swears.

Well, a national treasure that only he gets to see, touch, appreciate and otherwise drool over.

“Well, you must have watched cheesy porn to know that’s a line from cheesy porn,” he counters. He’s laughing breathlessly, giddy with it. “Shall I hide in the closet and catch you sniffing my underwear?

“You’re gross,” Clint says, carrying Bucky across to his bedroom, maneuvering round so Bucky can lean over and turn the handle before kicking it open. “Why am I having sex with you again?”

“Because you like me and I have a good ass?” Bucky hedges.

“True,” Clint concedes, and Bucky is half expecting it but he still yelps when Clint unceremoniously drops him onto the bed. He bounces on the mattress, glaring up as Clint stands there, unbuckling his belt and pulling his jeans open.  “What’s your view on sucking dick?”

“I’m great at it,” Bucky says. “I presume you want me to be the sucker, not the suckee?”

“I’m asking your opinion, stop presuming,” Clint says, pushing his jeans down and off. Bucky literally feels his mouth watering, which is probably a better indicator on his feelings towards fellatio than anything he’s saying.

“I like receiving and I like giving,” Bucky says. “Though I’m not a fan of swallowing, not gonna lie.”

“No problem,” Clint says, holding out a hand. His eyes have gone dark and wanting, hungry as he looks Bucky over. “Come here.”

Bucky slips his metal hand into Clint’s, knee walks over to him as Clint pulls. He swallows hard, reaching out to drag his fingers over Clint’s abs. His own dick throbs as Clint uses his free hand to pull his boxers off, kicking them away. Without saying anything, he reaches up to slide his fingers into Bucky’s hair, threading into the longer hair on top. Bucky feels it in the pit of his belly, an electric thrill down his spine as Clint just holds him there for a moment, then slowly pushes him down.

Bucky goes willingly. He’s trembling, literally shaking with want. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knows that this is dumb, that they need to fucking talk, but right now he just doesn’t care. This is what he wants. Consequences are future-Bucky's problem.

He slides his hand over Clint’s hip, taking his dick in his real hand before leaning in to press a kiss right to the tip. Clint gasps, a punched out sound that does wonders for Bucky’s ego. He licks his lips and leans in, taking the head into his mouth and sucking gently, groaning in the back of his throat as Clint’s hand clenches in his hair.

“Fuck,” Clint grits out. “Oh, fuck-”

You ain’t seen nothing yet, Bucky thinks distractedly. He pushes down further, sucking harder, and is rewarded by Clint’s hips jolting forwards. His other hand comes up to rest on the back of Bucky’s head and he pushes, just enough. Bucky gets takes the hint, taking Clint as deep as he can before pulling back and tonguing at the head of his dick, wet and messy. He shuts his eyes as he feels Clint’s unsteady fingers combing through his hair, pushing it away from his face. It’s so gentle and almost too much, a gesture that makes him think when all he wants is to feel-

“Oh, god,” Clint gasps, bending forwards so Bucky is pushed back. Clint pulls him up roughly, his spit-wet dick pressing against Bucky’s stomach as he leans down and kisses him hard, all tongue and filth.

“What, too much for you?” Bucky asks, voice hoarse.

“Shut up, dick-breath,” Clint retorts, kissing over Bucky’s cheek. “You’d just bitch at me if I didn’t last long enough to fuck you.”

“Correct,” Bucky says, but when Clint leans in to kiss him he stops him, metal fingers on his chin. “Hey, did you mean all that? What you said earlier about wanting to see me so much?”

Clint wraps his arms around Bucky and kisses him on his nose like a fucking loser. “Yes,” he says. “I’m a lot of things but I’m not a liar.”

“Alright, I’m choosing to believe you,” Bucky says, putting his hands on Clint’s ribs. “Please don’t make me regret it.”

“Deal,” Clint says.

Bucky smiles, leaning up to kiss along Clint’s jaw. “Okay you get condoms and lube. I’m gonna put some music on, because fucking in silence is weird.”

“We did alright last time,” Clint says, but does push gently away from Bucky to go dig around in the top drawer. “Whoa, there’s a lot of fake dick in here.”

Bucky freezes and considers hiding under his bed. “Uh, yeah,” he says. “I told you last time, I’ve not exactly been slut of the year, considering the PTSD and the missing arm thing.”

“Not judging,” Clint says, sounding far too happy. “Is that a cock ring?”

“Please get out of the shame drawer,” Bucky says, going over to plug his phone into the speakers.

“It’s only a shame drawer if you let it become a shame drawer,” Clint says, still digging. “Does the purple one vibrate?”

“Clint!” Bucky yelps. “Get out of my drawer, we are not ready for that!”

“Drawer of awesome, more like,” Clint says, finally sitting back against the headboard with a condom in one hand and lube in the other.

“Jeez,” Bucky huffs. His face is bright red, he can feel it. “Please can we stop talking about the drawer.”

“Fine,” Clint says, and then literally crooks his finger at Bucky, beckoning him over. “Get your ass over here.”

Bucky hits play on his ‘if i went to the gym this would be what i listened to’ playlist, shucks his jeans and boxers, climbs back onto the bed. He crawls over to sit himself on Clint’s lap, kissing him for a bit to try and distract from the nerves and the embarrassment of having his shame drawer raided. Clint makes a pleased noise, seemingly happy just to sit there and neck for a while, until he slaps Bucky’s hip and murmurs “turn around.”

Bucky does, lets Clint push him onto his hands and knees. His heart is thudding against his ribcage and he can’t help but groan, biting his lip as Clint presses up close behind him. “Yeah?” Clint asks.

“Yeah,” Bucky replies thickly, letting his head fall down as he feels slick fingers trace over his tailbone. Oh god. This is happening, this is really happening. He realizes he’s been holding his breath as Clint pushes a finger into him and he drags in a lungful of air, trying to keep himself relaxed. One finger becomes more and Bucky would like to say he doesn’t end up whining and begging for Clint just to get his dick in him already, but he can’t without being a lying liar who lies.

“Hold your horses, I’m getting there,” Clint says, leaning over and pressing a kiss to Bucky’s spine. His fingers crook down hard and Bucky chokes on nothing, dropping down onto his elbows. “Alright, you ready?”

“Mmmm, yeah,” Bucky says, trying to sway his ass backwards. He feels Clint’s dick brush against him and groans.

“Impatient brat,” Clint says, fond, but then his hands are on Bucky’s hips and he’s pushing in, in, in. Bucky’s mouth falls open and his eyes screw shut because he had somehow forgotten what an experience taking this dick was, but before he can even really register any discomfort, Clint is pulling back then sliding home again, building up a rhythm that has Bucky aching for more.

“You okay?” Clint asks, breathless. He leans over, curling his body around Bucky’s and biting at the back of his neck.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, laughing and trying to shove at Clint with his shoulder. “Get off, stop biting me and fuck me properly.”

“Yes boss,” Clint says, and to Bucky’s immense satisfaction, he does.

Chapter Text

Bucky wakes up sweaty and gross with Clint curled up close behind him, knees bumping the back of Bucky’s. Fuck, he thinks, staring at the wall in front of him. This was possibly a very dumb idea. He slowly rolls over and as he does Clint shifts, rolling onto his back and yawning widely. Bleary blue eyes find Bucky and when he smiles sleepily, Bucky promptly decides that he doesn’t even care if was a dumb idea or not.

“Morning,” he whispers.

“Mrrfn,” Clint says, smacking his lips sleepily and reaching for Bucky. “C’mere.”

Bucky allows himself to be manhandled across the mattress - eh, who is he kidding, he loves it and wants Clint to throw him around some more the minute he’s not quite as sore as he currently is - so he ends up all tucked into Clint’s side, his head on his shoulder and one leg thrown over Clint’s thigh. It’s warm and comfortable and he thinks he could get addicted to the way Clint wraps an arm around him, palm sliding down his back.

“So, that happened,” Bucky says, nosing at Clint’s collarbone. Clint doesn’t reply and Bucky nudges at him harder; Clint just lifts his head with a tired and questioning look. Bucky’s sleep and sex-addled brain takes a moment but then connects the dots. He lifts a hand to gently touch Clint’s ear. Clint grunts in understanding then rolls over to pick up his hearing aids off the nightstand.

“I’mma teach you ASL,” he says as he slips them in.

“Sign language?” Bucky asks. “Might not be the easiest thing to do with a robot hand.”

“You’ll be fine,” Clint says. “What was so important that you made me put those in?”

“We had sex again,” Bucky says.

“Yeah we did,” Clint says, sounding very pleased with himself. “Though I have something to confess.”

Bucky’s stomach drops, like he’s in an elevator which has had its cables cut. “What?”

“I put my foot through the wall.”

Bucky lifts his head to look up and around; sure enough, down by the foot of the bed is an indent in the plaster. It’s not quite a full hole like Bucky managed, but it’s still a pretty good attempt.

“When did that happen?”

“Not sure,” Clint says. “Round two, maybe?”

“Sounds legit,” Bucky says, dropping his head back onto Clint’s chest. “Oh well.”

“You not worried your sister is gonna kill you?”

“I’m not worried about that, I’m worried that I’m gonna get fired.”

“You won’t get fired.”

“What, like Maria’s old assistant didn’t get fired?”

Clint winces. “Okay, that story isn’t as simple as you think,” he says. “She didn’t just get fired for sleeping with me.”

Ugh, talking about it is like pressing on a bruise, but Bucky can’t just let it go. “What is the story then?”

“Okay, so we hooked up-”

“You are too old to be saying hooked up.”

“I’m young at heart,”  Clint says, yawning again. “You wanna hear the story or not?”

“Not really,” Bucky admits. “But I guess I better.”

“I’ll spare you the details and tell you that I like you like fifty-eight times more than her?”

“Correct,” Bucky says, the worry and faint jealousy fading away to be replaced by feels of the warm and squishy variety.

“Okay, so we slept together a couple of times, on a strictly casual basis. Well, I was sure it was casual, and at the start she was like, yeah, we’ll be casual, but then she got a bit intense,” Clint says. “She tried to get my number off the systems at SHIELD but my only contact at SHIELD is my work cell and that’s on a need to know basis. So basically, she tried to access an Avenger file.”

“Oh, shit,” Bucky says. “Hang on, those aren’t on the main server-”

“No, she went on Maria’s computer to do it,” Clint says. “Which is why Steve went through the roof. It wasn’t me that got her fired, it was her breaching security protocols.”

Bucky exhales heavily, twisting to look up at Clint’s face, wriggling even closer as Clint slides a hand over his shoulder. “So she was crazy.”

“Yeah, looks like I have a habit of sleeping with crazy people,” Clint says and laughs as Bucky makes an indignant noise, jabbing his metal fingers into his side. Clint grabs hold of his fingers, folding his own around them, holding Bucky’s hand to his chest.

“So,” Bucky says, settling down again. “What do we do now?”

“Um,” Clint says. “Well, I gotta pee at some point.”

“You know what I mean,” Bucky insists, rolling over so he’s draped half over Clint. “Brace yourself, we’re gonna talk about feelings.”

“Aw, feelings, no,” Clint protests, but does give in in the face of Bucky’s raised eyebrows. “Fine.”

“Steve did tell me to watch out for you,” Bucky says. “And he basically implied he didn’t approve of work relationships.”

“Yeah, and he’s bound to not trust me seeing as the last time I got involved with someone at SHIELD, there was a massive attempted security breach.”

“That’s not my fault,” Bucky says, and gropes for his phone. He blinks at it then yelps, scrambling up and nearly kneeing Clint in the dick as he does. “Oh my fucking god I am so late for work!”

“What?” Clint says, and squints at the phone as Bucky holds it out. “Oh, yeah. We’re in trouble.”

“Well get up then!” Bucky says, scrambling out of bed and pulling clean clothes out of his dresser. Fuck, shit, fuck where is his blue tie? “Why are you not rushing?!”

“I’m so late that there’s really no point rushing,” Clint yawns. “I’ll just go in after lunch and claim I forgot about the morning training session.”

Bucky finds his tie and drapes it around his neck, wrestling himself into his boxers because of the no-naked-dashes-across-the-apartment rule. “Will they not be mad?”

“I put in a lot of effort making myself seem forgetful and flaky,” Clint says, rolling back over and nuzzling down into Bucky’s pillow. “It’s time to reap the rewards.”

Bucky leaves Clint dozing and dashes through the shower, gritting his teeth as he blow dries his hair in two minutes instead of his usual fifteen. He wrestles himself into his work-clothes, ignoring the fact he’s still slightly damp and under-moisturised and runs to turn the coffee maker on.

He’s hopping from foot to foot saying, “Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,” when Becca stumbles out of her room, yawning widely and wearing her ‘this is my day off leave me alone’ unicorn onesie. She’s got massive mascara rings round her eyes, so she looks like a grumpy panda. “Morning fart-face,” he says, grabbing three mugs and pouring out coffee. “Here, coffee.”

“Mmmnf,” she says, and takes two attempts to get herself onto a stool at the counter. “I am so hungover.”

“What time did you get in?”

“Half two?” she says, reaching for the sugar. “Oh god, my head, get me - why have you got two coffees?”

Bucky freezes. “Uhhhh….”

“Who is in your bedroom?”

“No-one.”

“Bucky.”

“No-one, I’m just thirsty!”

“I’m gonna look.”

“No, no, no,” Bucky says, and hangs his head in pre-emptive shame. “Fine. It’s Clint. Cint turned up last night and we argued and then we had sex and in the spirit of full disclosure, we made another hole in the wall.”

“Oh my god, you two need to get a grip,” Becca says, sounding beyond exasperated. “I thought you weren’t going there?”

“I’m a weak bitch,” Bucky sighs. “And I really like him.”

They both turn around as there’s a bang from inside Bucky’s bedroom and then the door opens and Clint stumbles out, wearing a pair of Bucky’s boxers and with bed-head so epic that it’s probably terminal. “That coffee better be for me,” he says, shuffling over. “Hey Becca.”

“Hi Avenger who keeps screwing my brother around,” she says.

“Okay I’m not gonna lie, I panicked until you added the around,” Bucky says. “Bec, lay off, it wasn’t his fault.”  

Becca utterly ignores him, narrowing her eyes at Clint. “I catch him crying on the couch one more time and I’m gonna kill you.”

“What if he’s crying about something else?” Clint asks, sitting on the stool next to her. “Like baby seals, or the economy?”

“Then you live,” Becca says. “God you two look like shit. I’m hungover, what’s your excuse?”

“Only slept for two hours because I was busy banging your brother,” Clint says, dumping what looks like half the jar of sugar into his coffee. Becca chokes and Clint just shrugs. “What, you started it with all the big talk and threats. I grew up with an asshole of a big brother, I will win at this game, girly-girl.”

Bucky covers his eyes with his hands. “I’m just gonna go throw myself off the fire escape.”

Becca looks impressed. “I like him,” she says in a mock-whisper to Bucky. “Can you keep him?”

“Might not be my decision,” Bucky says, downing his coffee. “Okay, I gotta go. Becca, will you just let Clint out at some point?”

“Sure,” Becca says.

“Okay, I’m-” Bucky says but doesn’t get much further as Clint snags his fingers into Bucky’s belt and yanks him over. He stumbles right into him, catching himself with a hand on Clint’s shoulder.

“It is our decision,” Clint says, and kisses him.

“Okay,” Bucky says a little breathlessly, ready to agree to anything Clint suggests as long as there is more kissing in the near future.

“Don’t try and hack into the Avengers files at work and you’ll be fine,” Clint says, his hands sliding over Bucky’s waist. “We will be fine.”

“But we’re not telling Steve, right?”

“God no, are you crazy?” Clint says. “Do not tell Steve.”

Buck leans in and kisses Clint again, and keeps on kissing him until Becca loudly clears her throat and says, “That’s five bucks in the tongue jar! Jeez, get off his face and go to work!”

Bucky does, not because she told him to but because he knows he has to get going to avoid being any later than he already is. “Okay, bye,” he says, and presses one quick kiss to Clint’s mouth before running to the door. He stops in the doorway, grinning at Clint. “Bye.”

Clint is smiling like an idiot too. “Bye.”

“Bye.”

“For god’s sake, go to work!” Becca yells, and Bucky does.

 


 

 

Bucky hopes that he can get away with sneaking in to the office without being caught, and he holds out hope until he gets into the Hub and looks into the office. At that point, hope withers and dies because not only is Steve in the office, he’s sat at his desk and looking pointedly at Bucky, before making a show of looking at his watch.

“Aw, shit,” Bucky mutters. He waves half-heartedly and sidles into the office, trying to appear very sorry indeed.

“You’re an hour late.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Bucky says. “My sister went out last night and lost her keys and I had to wait for her to get back so I could let her in.”

Steve frowns. “Couldn’t you have left her a key?”

“It’s the twenty-first century, no-one leaves keys anymore,” Bucky says, feelings his pulse picking up as he lies through his teeth. He’s so bad at lying, he’s going to break out in a sweat at any moment. “And my neighbor is an asshole, remember?”

“Fair point,” Steve says. “Right, can you finish those training stats and also email the mayor and tell him to fuck off, but in a really polite way please?”

Bucky sags in relief. “Sure,” he says, pulling his scarf and jacket off and dropping into his chair. He supressess a wince as he does and really hopes that Steve doesn't notice because he’s managed to get away with lying about why he was late, but he’s not sure he’ll get away with much more.

Luckily, Steve is engrossed in a stack of paperwork and has no time for harassing Bucky any more. Relieved, Bucky slips in his airpods, queues up his ‘get shit done’ playlist and gets to work.

 


 

 

Bucky’s munching through a double serving of fries in the cafeteria, flicking through Spotify and making a ‘come on i know you’ve only had an hour of sleep but you need to stay awake and get shit done,’ playlist when someone slams a tray onto the table in front of him, making him a jump a mile.

“You know, I didn’t give you those airpods so you could turn into a complete anti-social hermit,” Steve says, sitting down opposite him and cracking open a can of coke. The agents on the next table over both abruptly stop talking, looking flustered at Steve’s very presence.

Bucky scowls, taking out his airpods and stashing them in his pocket. “Sorry, I didn’t know that they came with a contract. Which I never signed, by the way, so screw you.”

“You can’t say that, I’m your boss,” Steve says. “Eat up, we’ve got places to be.”

Bucky whines. “I am so tired I think I might die,” he says. “Do I have to be at this place?”

“Yes,” Steve says. “We’re going to Avengers Tower. It’s about time that you got to know the team. Then maybe you’ll get better at getting them to attend meetings. I’m not saying you bat your eyelashes or use blackmail, but I am suggesting you make them all feel really bad about missing the meetings and harass them endlessly until they start turning up.”

Bucky goes very, very still at that, struggling to process for a moment.


“What, I’m not asking you to do anything unethical,” Steve says. “But they clearly don’t listen to me anymore and I know Tony will probably listen to you-”

“No, wait, we’re going to Avengers Tower? Where the Avengers are?”

Steve stares at him. “I can see how that might be confusing.”

“I’ll stay here,” Bucky says. “I’ve got to finish the training stats.”

“You emailed them to me already,” Steve says. “Come on, I thought you liked our roadtrips out.”

“Uh,” Bucky struggles. “Um. But Tony’s a bitch.”

“You made up with him, you can’t turn around and say you don’t like him again,” Steve says. “What is going on? Hang on, why am I even trying to persuade you? You have to do what I say, it’s your job. Eat up, then we’re going to Avengers Tower.”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Bucky says, because what else can he do?

 


 

 

They get a ride over to Avengers Tower in a nondescript black SUV that Bucky bets is probably steel plated and bullet-proof and has hidden wings in it or some shit, driven by a man named Jorge who Steve greets like an old friend. Even though it takes them four million years to get into Manhattan, Bucky is secretly grateful because the idea of sitting on a motorbike only twelve hours after vigorous sex makes him want to a die a little inside. He does offer some token bitchiness about not going on the bike just to keep up appearances, and tries not to look too relieved when he sinks into the plush leather of the SUV seats.  

After Jorge drops them off with a cheery wave, pulling back out into traffic at speeds that would make lesser men shit their pants, Bucky follows Steve to Avengers Tower. Bucky stalls just outside the front doors, looking up at the bazillion floors of shiny metal and glass, feeling a dizzying swoop of vertigo. The giant A glints in the sun like a beacon, which they probably should reconsider, seeing how the bad guys always beeline for the tower the moment the Avengers annoy them.

Steve pauses, hand on the door. “Come on,” he says. “We’ve got two hours here then we’ve got to get back because someone booked me a late meeting with the head of cyber-sec.”

“You never go home anyway, why are you bothered about the meeting being late?” Bucky grumbles, but he does make his feet move, trudging up the steps and into the building. It’s exactly as he expected, all sleek chrome and glass, expensive art dotted tastefully around, and a fishtank bigger than Bucky’s apartment behind the reception desk. It’s a stark contrast to the concrete walls and somewhat spartan decor of SHIELD.

“I don’t feel like I’m rich enough to be in here,” Bucky says, following in Steve’s wake as he strides across the atrium, bypassing the reception desk entirely. “They’re going to check my bank account and turn me away.”

“I know the feeling,” Steve says somewhat ruefully. “But the amount of money someone has is no indicator of their true value, remember that.”

“I’m a millennial, I knew that already,” Bucky says. “My entire generation has no money.”

“That’s a gross over simplification,” Steve says, pulling his passcard out of his pocket and swiping it over a glowing patch next to an elevator that has a stylised A embossed into the door.

“No it’s true, we’re all broke,” Bucky says. “Every single one of us.”

Steve snorts as the elevator arrives, doors opening silently to reveal a completely mirrored interior. He gestures for Bucky to step in and Bucky does, grateful for a chance to check his hair. Oh god, it’s so fluffy and not sitting right, this is why he should never rush blow-drying.

“Hi, Jarvis,” Steve says. “The cockatoo currently fixated with his own reflection is James Buchanan Barnes, he should have clearance to come up.”

“Yes, you are correct,” says a soft British voice from fucking nowhere. Now that’s a feature that the Stark Industries complex doesn’t have. “Welcome to Avengers Tower, James Buchanan Barnes.”

“Hi, disembodied robot voice,” Bucky says, looking up and around, because it feels weird to not be looking at someone when you’re talking to them. “Can you call me Bucky?”

“As long as you call me Jarvis,” the robot says. “Would you like me to increase the lighting so you can see better?”

“Yes please, Jarvis,” Bucky says, delighted.

“Increasing light by ten percent,” Jarvis says. “Commander Rogers, the team are waiting for you in the communal lounge.”

“They’re actually all here?” Steve says. “Praise the day.”

“I can infer that they are waiting to meet Bucky,” Jarvis says. “They have been talking about him for the last thirty minutes.”

Bucky blanches at that. Oh god, he’s about to meet the Avengers. Working with Commander Rogers, being a thing with Hawkeye and being a science project for Iron Man has kind of dulled his reaction to celebrity somewhat, but now it hits him. He’s about to meet the Avengers. Captain America will be there. Thor will be there. Oh holy shit, the Black Widow is going to be there. He really hopes the rumours about her being able to read minds are unfounded because there’s too much shit up there he doesn’t want her to see.

“You’ll be fine,” Steve says, nudging Bucky’s shoulder with his elbow. “Sam is literally the best human ever, so don’t worry about him. Thor will probably try and scare you by summoning Mjolnir. Oh, and Nat does this thing where she just stares.”

“I’m just going to sit quietly and do as I’m told.”

“You have never done that in your life,” Steve says. “Don’t start now.”

If only he meant that, Bucky mentally despairs. He doesn’t think Steve will be quite as fond of Bucky and his slightly rebellious streak if he finds out about the whole sleeping-with-Clint thing.

Oh man, never mind Thor and the Black Widow; Clint is going to be here and Bucky has no idea how he’s going to be able to act normal around him. He kind of hopes that Clint is still in his apartment, because leaving him with Becca is definitely the lesser of two evils here.

His thoughts are derailed as the elevator doors open and Steve puts his hand on Bucky’s shoulder, steering him out of the elevator. Bucky’s eyes go wide because goddamn, he wants to live here, and holy fuck the Avengers are all looking at him. He spots Clint first, sprawled on a couch in a lowered seating area next to Thor and Captain America II. The couches they’re occupying sit on the thickest, fluffiest carpet Bucky has ever seen, and are arranged artfully around a central free-standing fireplace type thing. Personally, Bucky thinks that’s dumb because the only acceptable thing for couches to face is a TV.

On the other side of the room, Natasha Romanov is perched on a stool in the kitchen slash bar area, looking perfectly at home among the marble countertops and matching chrome stools and the lack of handles on all the sleek cupboards. Standing behind the counter is a man who looks decidedly less in tune with the opulence; he’s got scruffy, curly hair and is cleaning his glasses on a creased beige button-down. Banner, Bucky thinks, resisting the urge to facepalm. Of course he won’t just be chilling out in Hulk form, which is admittedly the only form the TV ever shows.

And walking towards them wearing a Darth Vader T-shirt, one arm completely cased in Iron-Man armour, is Stark.

“Hey, catch,” Tony says and stops about two paces away and throws something at Bucky. Bucky’s brain just about registers the thing as an egg in time for him to catch it in his real hand, cradling it to his chest.

“What the hell?!”

“With the other hand, come on, what even is the point,” Tony says, holding out his armoured hand to take the egg back.

“Throwing eggs is not how normal people say hello,” Steve says, and then the bastard traitor leaves Bucky there with the egg-throwing manic, going over to high-five Sam and do a weird bro-handshake with Thor.

Bucky catches Clint’s eye over Tony’s shoulder and immediately regrets it because all he can think about is last night and now he’s going pink and wants nothing more than to go over and sit on his knee. Clint waves, mouth curling in a smile that Bucky has to fight not to return. Oh god, Clint is wearing the same goddamn clothes he was wearing yesterday, the same outfit that was on Bucky’s bedroom floor just over twelve hours ago. Christ, he’s probably still wearing Bucky’s underwear. Bucky is going to die.

“No but seriously, hold this,” Tony says, and takes Bucky’s metal hand and drops the egg into his cupped palm.

“Is this a test?” Bucky asks. “I’m pretty sure I’m not here to be a guinea pig, don’t make me sue you.”

“I'm not testing you, I'm just asking a friend to take care of my egg,” Tony says.

“I don't want to,” Bucky says, but Tony is already walking away towards Steve. “Stark! Stark, come and get your damn egg! If it breaks I'm gonna get egg gunk in my fingers!”

“Here,” a voice says and Bucky freezes as Natasha Romanov walks up and gently plucks the egg from his hand. “Want me to throw it at him?”

“Uhhhh, thanks but no thanks,” Bucky says. “I feel that down that path lies madness.”

Natasha looks at him for a moment. “Interesting,” she says, walking away, rolling the egg over and over in her palm.

“No, its not,” Bucky calls after her, feeling slightly panicked for no reason whatsoever. “I'm not interesting at all, nothing I have ever done or said is interesting.”

“Calm down, she's just messing with you.”

Oh thank god, it's Clint. Bucky latches onto him like an anchor in a sea of superpowered insanity, turning towards him and resisting the urge to grab hold of him.

“She's terrifying,” Bucky says in an undertone.

“Nah, she's all bark,” Clint says but Bucky is barely listening because Thor has wandered over and he's nearly as tall as Clint and Bucky's starting to feel like he's about to be stepped on.

“Not true, she's a maniac,” Thor says, digging his hand into a bag of chips and then offering them to Clint and Bucky. He nods at Bucky. “I like your jacket. The leather one. Where did you get it?”

Bucky takes a step back from him, because he's not wearing his leather jacket today, he's wearing his parka because it's cold as balls outside.

“How the hell do you know he's got a leather jacket?” Clint asks, perplexed.

“I follow his Instagram,” Thor says like it's obvious. “JBB underscore one nine nine two? I'm Lord of Thunder one eight two.”

“How, what?” Bucky says. “But you're not - is your account verified? How - why are you not the first Lord of Thunder?”

Thor points at him. “Exactly,” he says, then claps Bucky on the shoulder, hard enough to nearly buckle his knees. “I like you,” he says, then turns around to bellow across the room. “Rogers! I like this one, can he be my assistant?”

“Nope,” Steve shouts back. “Get your own.”

“Stark, Rogers says that I need my own assistant, hire me one.”

Tony wanders back over, thumbs tapping away at his phone. “One, that is not what he said, two, why would you even need an assistant? To carry your hammer that no-one else can lift?”

“No,” Thor says, clearly momentarily stymied. “They could...make sure my cape was always hanging straight. Pick my armour up from the blacksmith, that sort of thing.”

“Yeah just make sure you specify which one, there's loads of blacksmiths in Manhattan,” Bucky says.

Thor points at him again. “The joke is actually on you, tiny human, my armour is magic and therefore needs no blacksmith to tend to it. Check and mate.”

“I'm ordering pizza,” Tony says, apropos of nothing. “What do you want, Bucky?”

“No you are not,” Steve says, appearing from nowhere and attempting to smack Tony's phone out of his hand. It's only the fact one hand is armoured that stops him succeeding. “This is not a social call, this is serious business. Tony, we’re using the conference suite. Everyone, hop to it.”

Everyone groans, looking like Steve has just asked them to single-handedly refile the ‘shit from old shield’ room.

“Pass,” Sam says. “On the grounds that you didn’t turn up for team dinner last week, so why should we come to your team meeting.”

“Pass,” says Thor. “On the grounds that I don’t want to.”

“Tony said pizza,” Clint says. “That’s a verbal contract.”

“I can’t,” says Natasha. “I’m busy looking after this egg.”

“I’m banned from the conference suite,” Tony says. “Pepper says so.”

“If no-one else is going, do you need me there?” asks Banner.

Steve just rolls his eyes. “Come on Bucky, let’s go.”

Bucky obediently follows Steve as he heads across the lounge and round to a spiral staircase. They head up to a floor that seems entirely built of glass; the walls and even big sections of the floor are completely transparent. Bucky feels like he’s on a goddamn spaceship.

“In here,” Steve says, pressing his palm to a piece of glass that is indistinguishable from the rest of the glass; blue lights shine around his palm and then around the edge of a door, which Bucky pushes open.

“Uh, they’re not following,” Bucky says as Steve drops a memory stick onto the polished black surface of the table.

“They will,” Steve says. “Sam will appear first, still giving me shit about not turning up for dinner, then Natasha will come in and look at me like she’s daring me to say shit about it. Then Tony and Bruce will come in as a pair, then probably Thor and then Clint will appear after we’ve started the meeting. Actually,” Steve says, giving Bucky an unreadable look. “Today, I think the order might be a little different.”

“Uhhhh,” Bucky says, frozen like a deer in headlights. God fucking damnit, he’s not an idiot, he knows what Steve is hinting at but he can’t read the tone. Is Steve doing a sort of indulgent eye-roll, like a ‘oh how amusing, Clint still has a crush on Bucky’ or is it a ‘If Barton appears first I am going to throw him through the window.’ Bucky just slips his coat off and puts it on the back of one of the chairs, deciding to pretend that Steve didn’t say anything. “You want me to minute this as normal?”

“Stripped down version,” Steve says, waving his hand across a blank wall which somehow turns into a ten foot computer screen. “I don’t need you to write down-”

“Tony calling you old or Sam making comments about you not going to team dinner, gottit,” Bucky says. “You sure you want me here?”

“Yes,” Steve says, turning his attention back to the screen. “Swipe over the table and put your memory stick on it, get used to using the interface.”

Bucky does, and takes ten seconds just to play, amazed at the blue swirls of light that appear under his fingertips on a table that feels like it’s made of solid stone. He just about manages to open up a folder and worked out that he can fling files across the surface to individual seats. It’s super cool and he wants one installed at SHIELD like yesterday.

His fascination with the tech is derailed as he spots a figure ascending the spiral staircase, and his stomach twists into a knot of panic because fuck, fuck, fuck of fucking course it’s Clint. Shit, he should have text him or something, told him to be cool and act like normal otherwise Steve will throw you out of a window.

“Fine, pizza after the meeting,” he says as he wanders in, carrying three mugs in his hands. He sets one down in front of Steve and then passes one over to Bucky before sitting in the chair opposite him. Bucky stares down at his station, trying to remember how to act normal, agonising over if it would be more incriminating to drink the coffee or ignore it.

“That's supposed to be Bucky's job,” Steve says. Is that his normal voice or is that his disappointed voice? Is it even his 'you’ve got five seconds to run before I throw down' voice? Oh god, Bucky can’t tell.

“Well he doesn't know his way around the kitchen yet,” Clint replies. Bucky risks a look up and Clint winks at him. He looks back down straight away, warm fuzzy feelings clashing horribly with panic and fear because yes that’s cute but Steve is right there, you dumbass.

The rest of the Avengers file in in short order: Sam Wilson comes in and tells Steve he’s only staying if Steve agrees to come back for a social call at least once in the next week. Natasha comes in next and sits next to Clint, leaning on the arm of her chair and turning bored eyes on Steve. Banner and Stark come in ten seconds later and then finally Thor, who sets his hammer down in a chair, patting it affectionately before sitting down in the seat next to it.

“Alright, the main part of this meeting is-” Steve begins.

“Wait, we can’t start until Barton is here,” Thor says.

Clint looks offended to his very core. “I am here.”

“Oh,” Thor says, genuinely surprised. “You’re normally late. Why are you already here?”

“Yeah Clint,” Natasha says, turning to stare at him. “Why are you already here?”

Clint stares back at her and pauses for maybe a second before saying, “Because Stark said he’d order pizza after the meeting and if I turn up late that’s longer to pizza.”

“Checks out,” Bruce says.

“Yeah, seems legit,” Tony adds.  

“I feel like I should cut you off from pizza considering how late you were this morning,” Sam says.

Bucky thinks he's having a heart attack. Luckily, Clint seems a tad more unflappable than Bucky. “I wasn't late, I didn't show up. That's different.”

“That's enough,” Steve interrupts sharply. “Discussing why Clint is suddenly so interested in being on time can wait until later.”

There's a longer pause in which Steve visibly counts to ten to keep himself calm and then says in a voice forced level, “Now if we can get down to business, I have two full SHIELD squads trying to take down a megalomaniac with a matter-conversion machine in Texas, a suspicious meteor that's landed in Maine, and an issue in Laos that the World Security Council have asked me to look at. All my agents are on mission or about to be, and for some reason people are not queueing up to join new SHIELD.”

“Because you dropped the old one in the Potomac,” Bucky mutters.

Steve ignores him, even as Clint and Tony both start to snigger. “The point is I am stretched to breaking point and if anything else goes down, my guys aren’t gonna be able to get there without splitting themselves in half or pulling dangerous amounts of back to back missions.”

“We used to back to back SHIELD missions all the time,” Clint says.

“Yeah and if you were in new SHIELD you’d be fucking benched, but as it stands your hide is covered by Avenger privileges,” Steve says, folding his arms across his chest and staring Clint down, clearly unimpressed. Bucky doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t even dare look up, instead going for shifting uncomfortably in his seat because of his aching muscles and the awkwardness that’s threatening to eat him alive.

“What’s going on in Laos?” Natasha asks. “This is the first time you’re mentioning it.”

Steve finally looks away from Clint, nostrils flaring. “Bucky, give out the report from Echo Alpha.”

Bucky nods, wipes sweaty palms on his knees. He has to stand up so he can reach properly, quickly opening files and sliding them over the table to each person. He still doesn’t quite dare look at Clint, but Thor nods at him and Natasha gives him a small encouraging smile, which he really, really needs right now.

He gingerly sits back down, wondering if he’s allowed to look at a copy of the file. He trusts that Steve would say something if he wasn’t allowed to see it, but at the same time he doesn’t want to step a toe out of line right now.

“What is this?” Bruce asks.

“A raid that my Echo unit did,” Steve says flatly. “They found someone they weren’t expecting.”

On the screen behind him appears a photo of a man in black tactical gear, wearing what looks like a hockey mask. Across his chest are two white streaks in the shape of an X.

“Oh and now there’s this guy,” Clint says, sounding disgusted.

“Who is he?” Thor asks.

“Crossbones A.K.A Brock Rumlow A.K.A my old buddy from SHIELD,” Steve says. “He was part of STRIKE, turned out to be working with Hydra. From what Echo alpha say, he’s gone rogue and is no longer connected to Hydra, but he’s still causing trouble.”

“He used to be your friend?” Thor asks.

“Yeah, and then Steve dropped a building on his face,” Sam says. “You know, in-between taking down the Director and blowing up the helicarriers?”

“I think me and Barton actually get the credit for blowing up the helicarriers,” Tony says. “Well, two out of three. Banner took care of the third. Though dropping the building on Rumlow was definitely Rogers, he can have that one.”

“Yeah and technically I shot the director,” Natasha says, reaching over to pat Steve’s elbow. “But Steve did mastermind the plan, so he gets at least a little of the credit.”

“Oh, yeah, the ‘seven of us versus the whole of SHIELD which is actually Hydra’ plan?” Sam says. “You think masterminding is the right word?”

“First, there were eight of us, because Maria Hill was there,” Steve says, sounding annoyed. “And it worked, didn’t it? Can we focus, because intel says that Rumlow is on his way to the Centre for Disease Control and Research in Laos.”

“Whoa, whoa, the Saechao centre?” Bruce says. “That’s where they’ve been researching WhiteHand, they have samples of the bacteria that cause it stored there.”

“WhiteHand? What, is that a Lord of the Rings reference?” Tony asks.

“No, it’s an airborne bacterial disease that slowly dissolves the walls of your veins and arteries, staring with your extremities which go white as the blood drains away,” Natasha says. “Then they start to rot and die, and the rest of your body shuts down and dies as your blood drains into your muscle tissue.”

“That's disgusting,” Thor says, shoving more chips into his mouth.

“Very,” Bruce confirms. “Some places called it Dracula’s Curse. Easy to catch, hard to cure.”

“Hydra developed it and released it in a shopping centre in Hanoi,” Steve says. “You weren’t there, Tony, you were busy trying to stop Advanced Idea Mechanics from stealing your company.”

“You mean I missed the vampire disease party?” Tony demands. “You guys just get all the fun.”

Steve ignores him. “I am sending three units to try and head him off.”

“Wait, wait, you’re not going yourself?”

“Only if I have to,” Steve says. “You know Crossbones. He sees me he’ll set the whole city on fire if there’s even the slightest chance it’ll cause me inconvenience. And I have to trust my guys to handle it.”

Natasha nods. “Yeah, he is pretty fond of shooting you.”

“He shot you?” Bucky blurts out, feeling horrified. Steve’s eyes flick to him and then away, but he doesn’t say anything.

“He’s a nasty son of a bitch,” Sam says. “We’ve bumped into him twice since old SHIELD went under and he wasn’t too pleased to see Steve.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be too pleased if someone dropped a building on me,” Thor says. “Though on the other hand, I can see that dropping a building on a traitorous son of a bitch would be immensely satisfying. Rogers, do you mind if I borrow that move? It's not your thing is it, like Barton with his arrows or Natasha with her thighs?”

“Knock yourself out,” Steve says.  “Though I wouldn't recommend it if you do actually want to kill anyone, it clearly didn't kill Crossbones.”

“Can we help?” Bruce says. “Steve, is there anything we can do if SHIELD is stretched thin?”

“Depends on how busy you are,” Steve says. “I know you all have current assignments.”

“I’m just researching, that can be put on hold if you need,” Bruce says.

“I’m just running a multinational Fortune 500 company and trying to save a groundbreaking prosthetics trial from being written off,” Tony says. “Sure, I can help.”

“No can do, I'm going back to Asgard,” Thor says. “There’s an issue with some rogue mercenaries threatening to put Vanaheim to the sword. You know how it goes.”

“I’m heading into deep cover,” Natasha says apologetically. “I’ll be off the grid unless the world actually is ending.”

“I’m running checkpoint ops for your Stealth Squad and avoiding the tracksuit mafia,” Clint says. “The usual.”

“Okay, Bruce, would you be okay if I organised you a trip to the Saechao centre? Just popping in to do some science?

“Sure, a completely impromptu visit which won’t at all coordinate with your SHIELD teams arriving,” Bruce says dryly. “I’ll make sure I pack my stretchy pants.”

“Buck, find me a contact for the Saechao centre,” Steve says.

“No need, I have a friend over there,” Bruce says.

“You have friends who aren’t us?” Thor asks.

“Yeah, I do,” Bruce says. “Though most of them are scientists, so maybe they’re more like acquaintances.”

“Tony, can I give you eyes on the Texas case?” Steve asks. “Just in case. And would you be able to get enough filtration unit masks sorted for three alpha squads by next Friday?”

Tony yawns. “One of these days you'll actually give me a challenge.”

Steve nods tightly. “Bucky, get a message to the squad leaders and tell them to put in orders for enough filtered respirators to cover the whole squad.”

Bucky clears his throat. “Ten percent spares?”

“Go for whatever percentage that gives them four spare respirators per squad,” Steve says and then raises his voice as Tony makes an indignant noise. “Because I trust the respirators to work but I don’t trust people not to shoot at them.”

“Seems fair,” Tony concedes. “Continue.”

Steve rubs at his temples. “And if anyone knows of anyone with an ounce of skill, for fucks sake, tell them to apply for SHIELD.”

Bucky feels like he’s got emotional whiplash. From his high of waking up with Clint to the panic of thinking Steve will find out to the horror of hearing about flesh-eating-diseases and Steve getting shot, it’s just too much. He sits there dumbly as Steve wraps up and dismisses the meeting, wondering how the Avengers can just shake off what they’ve just heard, already back to their usual selves and bickering about pizza as they head for the stairs.

“Hey, you okay?”

It’s Clint, still standing by the table, looking at Bucky.

“He’s fine,” Steve cuts in before Bucky can answer. “Go get your damn pizza.”

Clint looks from Steve to Bucky, then slowly backs out of the room. He waves through the glass before vanishing down the spiral stairs.

“Get your stuff,” Steve says. “Let’s go.”

Bucky doesn’t argue. He just follows Steve and tries his best to a) look innocent and b) convince himself that Steve’s bad mood has been bought on by the whole Crossbones thing. He doesn’t say anything as they ride back to SHIELD, slinking into the office as Steve goes to meet with the cyber-sec team, putting his airpods in and trying to block out the rest of the world.

It works, until Steve walks back into the office a half hour later, and holds out his hand. “Airpods,” he says, and Bucky fumbles them out and hands them over. “Roof. Now.”

He walks off without even looking to see if Bucky is following. Bucky closes down his workstation and follows, feeling like he might throw up. When he gets there, he finds Steve sitting on the edge of the roof with his feet dangling off the edge, just like he usually does. Swallowing hard, Bucky sidles over and sits next to him. He twists his fingers together nervously, pulling at his metal thumb.

“So,” Steve says, pulling his cigarettes out and lighting one. He doesn’t offer Bucky one. “So. You turn up late and Hawkeye turns up late. Coincidence?”

Bucky doesn’t say anything.

Steve exhales smoke out of the corner of his mouth, scratching his eyebrow with his thumb. “Then I notice Clint gets you coffee, without asking you how you take it.”

“We’re friends,” Bucky tries feebly.

“Then I notice you squirming in your goddamn seat and that you’ve got a hickey on the back of your neck,” Steve talks over him, louder than before. “And Clint keeps looking at you like a cat that got that goddamn cream. Do you think I’m a fucking idiot?”

Oh, shit.

“No,” Bucky says, his voice thick. “No, that’s not what-”

“You’re denying it?” Steve asks, harsh.

Bucky can’t find words. He feels his resolve crumbling, folding like a bad poker hand in the face of Steve’s anger.

“No,” he says, the word sticking in his throat. He closes his eyes.

“No what?”

“No, I’m not denying it,” Bucky manages. “I - I didn’t want you to find out-”

“And how long did you manage to keep it a secret, exactly?

Bucky clenches his fists, feels his left arm shifting and ticking as it struggles to process his turbulent emotions. “Last night,” he says, digging his nails into his palm as Steve stays silent, obviously waiting for him to continue. “And. And before. We went home together after you sent us shopping together. And then we didn’t see each other again until last night, he came over because he thought I was upset-”

“The first time you hang out with him and you sleep together,” Steve repeats flatly. “And then again, even after we sat and had a conversation where I explicitly told you that work relationships were not allowed-”

“You didn’t, you said that as long as the chain of command wasn’t crossed,” Bucky bursts out. “And you were all up for me going to lunch with that intern-”

“Yes, but you chose to get involved with Hawkeye, when I told you not to! I told you that he had a habit of getting involved with people and causing problems, and don’t give me any shit about it not causing a problem because you sleep with him and then turn up late for work! It’s already getting in the way of your work!”

“I-”

“You had one job,” Steve says. “Well, two. Being my PA and not sleeping with Hawkeye.”

“I didn’t do it to annoy you!”

Steve gives him a warning look, and it makes Bucky want to curl up like a pillbug. “You really think yelling at me is your best bet right now? Go back to the office, get some fucking work done.”

“But-”

“Go,” Steve snaps. He’s not even looking at Bucky, he’s staring out over the bay like he’s contemplating throwing Bucky into it.

Bucky doesn’t even feel the build up that normally precedes tears; he just feels them falling as he nods jerkily and gets up, walking away and heading back to the office.

 


 

 

Steve doesn’t come back, leaving Bucky to sit and quietly cry in the office before he pulls himself back together enough to do some work. He sends some emails and starts putting together a timetable for the squad leaders to redo their aptitude tests.

He’s managed to make a list of which squad leaders need to resist which tests when he’s disturbed by someone he wasn’t expecting: Maria. She pushes open the office door, sticking her head in, impatient.

“Where’s Rogers?”

Bucky shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says, taking out his headphones.

She stares at him. “What’s wrong with your face?”

He has to look up at the ceiling, trying not to start crying all over again. “Nothing is wrong with my face, you can go now.”

“Barnes,” she says firmly. “What’s going on?

“Uhhh,” Bucky says, still staring at the ceiling. He half-heartedly considers lying some more but really, that's not working out too well for him. “I slept with Hawkeye and Steve found out and he’s real mad about it.”

There’s a long silence. “I think you might need to explain that a little better,” she finally says, coming to perch on the edge of his desk. “Pull yourself together and start talking.”

Bucky nods, getting a tissue and wiping his nose before starting. “I slept with Clint,” he says, quick like he’s ripping off a band-aid. “We went on a date and slept together and then I tried to break it off because I knew work wouldn’t approve, but we kind of really liked each other so we slept together again. Though it was not in work hours or on work premises and the only impact it has had on my work was that I overslept this morning and came in late. Which I wouldn’t let happen again, though I don’t know why I’m even fucking saying it because Steve is gonna fire me anyway.”

“So, you haven’t done anything that could be considered a breach of your contract?”

“I don’t know, I don’t think so, apart from the being late thing,” Bucky says. “I didn’t even try and access any Avenger files and I don’t touch Steve’s computer, ever.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re not meant to know about that but I’ll let it slide,” she says. “Sounds like you’re not in the wrong, but we’ll have to check with HR.” She pulls her work phone out of her pocket and dials, swinging her foot and looking incredibly calm seeing as Bucky is about to get his ass fired. “Hi, Toby? Yeah, it’s me. Yeah, she sent her paperwork over this afternoon, but that’s not why I called you. Let’s say, hypothetically, an assistant to the Commander slept with one of the Avengers on his own time, and the worst that came of it was he was late one morning. No, I don’t think we can directly link the lateness to the relationship with the Avenger, it happened once. No. No. No.” She pauses, looks over at Bucky for a moment. “Bucky, have you messaged him using your work phone, emailed him using your work account, anything like that?”

“No,” Bucky says. “He messaged me once on the work systems. He said the Avengers were back and asked if I was coming with Steve to meet them. He said uh, some shit about getting coffee in. For the meeting! Coffee for the meeting.”

“Okay, Toby, did you hear that? Yeah, he’s Rogers’ assistant, he’s got gold level clearance. Yeah, that’s what I thought, he’s allowed to contact the Avengers, because Rogers gave him gold level - exactly. Okay, great. Thanks Toby. I’ll have him fill it in straight away.”

She hangs up, looks at Bucky. “You did nothing wrong, but HR do suggest you fill in a form stating that you’re in a relationship, just to cover your ass. Work relationships are not against the rules, as long as it’s not a direct chain of command issue. The only person you are technically not allowed to sleep with is Rogers.”

“I’ll pass on that, thanks,” Bucky says, wrinkling up his nose. He slumps over the table, resting on his elbows with his head in his hand. “But he - he freaked the fuck out, he yelled at me and told me that was the one thing he’d asked me not to do, because of what happened with your old assistant.”

“Oh did he now?” Maria says, getting up. “Look, Barnes, it would have been better for us if Hawkeye could keep his dick in his pants for once, but I’m guessing you’re not sat here crying over some casual fling.”

“I’m crying because Steve is going to fire me.”

“He can’t,” Maria says simply. “Not over this. But what he will do is turn into a passive aggressive hunk of muscle and make working with him unbearable.”

Bucky’s stomach sinks. “I know,” he says miserably. “I hate that I’ve let him down.”

“Oh, christ, he does not deserve you,” Maria says and heads towards the door. “Actually, neither of them deserve you. You’re too nice and should probably try and be friends with people who aren’t complete assholes.”

“Probably,” Bucky says. “Thanks Maria.”

“Don’t mention it,” she says. “Though you should probably make more of an effort to conceal that mark on your neck, it doesn’t look very professional. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

She leaves the room with her chin held high and an unmistakable aura of meaning business. Bucky doesn’t really care where she’s marching to but he is contemplating ordering her flowers or a new gun or something because she didn’t have to stop and talk to him and she certainly didn’t have to call HR on his behalf.

He would give anything to go back to this morning, when nobody knew about him and Clint and nobody knew that he was a terrible assistant.

He’s so preoccupied with trying to focus on his stupid fucking timetable that he doesn’t see anyone coming, and jumps a mile when the office door bangs open. It’s Steve, followed closely by Maria. It’s hard to tell which one of them looks more annoyed.

Steve marches over to his desk and sits down, staring at his computer screen. “I have been informed that my employees’ relationships are none of my business as long as they don’t break any clauses of their contract,” he says stiffly. “Even though they did the one thing I told them not to.”

“Steve,” Maria says, warning.

“Whatever,” Steve says. “Maria, go check on the mission reports for Charlie Beta. Oh no wait, apparently everyone does the opposite of what I say. Maria, don’t check on the mission reports for Charlie Beta.”

“Petty and sarcastic is not a good look on you,” she says. “Bucky. Do you want to come and work in my office?”

Bucky shakes his head, even though his chin is doing that weird trembly thing where he might cry again. “No,” he says, and clears his throat. “No. I still have a job to do so I’m going to do it.”

Steve’s eyes flick up to him when he says that and oh god that is going to make him cry so Bucky hastily fixes his gaze on his computer screen, wiping his eyes on his sleeve.

“Call me if you need me, or if this asshole gives you a hard time,” Maria says. “He is not allowed to give you a hard time over this, no matter how butthurt he feels.”

Bucky nods but doesn’t dare look up. He hears her moving away and the door swishing softly shut.

He doesn’t speak for the rest of the day, and neither does Steve.

Chapter Text

“He just looked at me like I was dirt, Bec,” Bucky says, staring at his hand where it’s sitting in a bowl of industrial strength nail-polish remover. “He hates me.”

“So you’ve said,” she says, sat cross-legged on the floor on the opposite side of the coffee table, tearing into a family-sized bag of M&M’s. She offers Bucky the bag first, which probably shows just how tragic he looks right now. “I don’t think he hates you.”

“He does,” Bucky says, the ever-present lump in his throat tightening.

“Well if he does, then fuck him,” Becca says, shoving M&M’s into her mouth at a rate which is both awe-inducing and disturbing. “He’s the one who blurred work and friend lines. He can't just ditch you as a friend for a work thing.”

“I dunno if he ever really was my friend,” Bucky says, pulling his hand out of the polish remover and wiping at the now-smudgy polish with the corner of his shirt. Fuck, should probably get a kitchen towel or something, though he’s still somewhat convinced he’s gonna get fired so might as well trash all of his work shirts. He’ll have to go shopping again, for a new ‘recently unemployed, please help’ Fall look.

“He didn’t come here and hang out and fix the bathroom because he’s your boss,” Becca says, like Bucky’s dumb. “He’s probably just annoyed that you did what he told you not to. Then lied about it. If I were him, I’d be mad that you didn’t come clean earlier. Because he probably feels like you made him look stupid.”

Bucky rubs at his eyes. “Why can I not do anything without making a mess of it?”

“I dunno,” Becca says. “You have plus five dumbassery stats? Or like, negative three common sense?”

“Negative three luck, more like it,” Bucky says, using a tissue to wipe off the remainder of his nail polish.

“You lucked out pretty well with Clint,” Becca says. “Have you heard from him yet?”

“No,” Bucky says, throat going tight again. He’d text Clint earlier saying ‘Steve knows and he’s really angry,’ and Clint text back saying ‘fuck,’ and that was that.

“Ask him to come over,” Becca says.

“No,” Bucky says. “I ugly cry and I don’t want him to see it. Besides, it’s not like that.”

Becca doesn’t make a crack about him being ugly 24/7 like she normally would. She just heaves herself off the floor and plops down on the couch next to Bucky, burrowing into his side like she used to do when they were little. He wraps his arm around her, propping his chin on top of her head.

“You’ll be okay, Bucket,” she says, patting at his metal bicep. “It’s shit right now, but we always bounce back from shit, right?”

“I guess,” he says, feeling his eyes go warm again. He’s like a damn leaky tap, ready to spill at the slightest jostle or pressure.

“You’ll feel better when I order us pizza,” she says, and pushes up off of him with a hand right in his stomach. “Go get nail polish, we need to pick colors.”

He does as she says, slouching around the apartment and collecting up the various bottles of nail-polish that they co-own, taking some time to line them up perfectly on the coffee table from least to most sparkly. He feels like he needs something bright, something a little bit audacious, just to try and make himself feel normal again, rather than this soggy sack of mushed up feels.

Becca puts Man of Steel on Netflix and Bucky mutes it because really, all he needs from the film is Henry Cavill’s abs, then he puts on Spotify, obnoxious pop-punk music filling the apartment. It reminds him of being fourteen, of climbing out of the window of their foster-family’s lovely house in the suburbs, dropping his skateboard down onto the neatly manicured lawn before following without even stopping to think that people would worry if they found him gone. God, he used to be such a brat. Well, he still is, but he doesn’t think he’s as bad as he was.

The doorbell rings as he’s humming along to My Chemical Romance, trying to paint his thumbnail in lotus rouge , still feeling sorry for himself because on top of everything else, he can’t hold the brush properly in his dumb metal fingers, no matter how hard he tries. “Not it,” he says, giving up on the nail polish and slumping down into the couch and pulling his hood down over his eyes.

“You’re such a dick,” Becca complains, but she gets up anyway, gathering their money off the table. She grumbles all the way across the apartment and opens the door-

“You’re not the pizza guy.”

Bucky lifts his head just as a voice says, “You sound disappointed?”

Clint,” Bucky breathes, the rocks in his stomach instantly vanishing as he scrambles up off the sofa. He practically trips over as he tries to run to the door, shouldering past Becca and reaching for Clint. Clint pulls him in without a hesitation, folding Bucky into a hug, wrapping him up perfectly in his glorious arms, biceps pressing against his ears. Becca shows a surprising amount of tact and sidles away.

“What are you doing here?” Bucky breathes, squeezing Clint harder than probably necessary. He can hear Clint’s heart under his ear, a steady and comforting thump of sound.

“Came to see you,” Clint says. “Maria text me, told me you were upset. And Tony text me that Steve was at like STANCON 2 so I thought I better check on you.”

“STANCON?”

“Oh. The Steve Anger Condition,” Clint says. “Tony invented it after the whole thing when he borrowed Steve’s shield without asking. It’s like DEFCON, but for Steve instead of Nuclear Warheads.”

Bucky laughs thickly and steps back, allowing Clint to step into the apartment so he can close the door behind him. “It needs a system?”

“Oh yeah, he’s got the worst temper,” Clint says, heading over to the couch to sit down, toeing his battered sneakers off and putting his feet on the coffee table like he’s right at home. There’s a hole in his sock and Bucky likes him so desperately that he feels like he’s about to shake apart at the seams. Clint seems oblivious to the fact that Bucky’s considering tackling him as an outlet for all the like, picking up the bottle of lotus rouge and looking at it as he carries on talking about Steve. “It’s not just me and you that have caused this. Well, we did, but he gets angry a lot. We’re not that special.”

Bucky pauses, clambering on the couch next to Clint. “I don’t know if that’s comforting?”

“Me neither,” Clint admits. “I hate him being angry at me. It makes me feel like I’ve disappointed America, man.”

“Oh man, mood,” Bucky says. “It’s the worst.”

“I’ve been working with him since I was like twenty-five,” Clint says. “And it still feels like shit when he gets mad at you.” He drops a hand onto Bucky’s knee even as he looks back at Becca, who is standing in the kitchen and texting. “Hey, Becca.”

“Hey,” she says. “You staying for pizza? We probably ordered enough. And there’s beer in the fridge.”

“I knew there was a reason I came over,” Clint says, grinning as Bucky makes an indignant noise. “Quit it, brat, you know I came for you.”

“That’s the title of your sextape,” Bucky says without missing a beat and Clint throws his head back and laughs. Bucky grins and flops down into Clint’s side, resting his head on his chest again so he can carry on listening to his heart. He looks over at Becca who gives him a smile and a small thumbs up, going to the fridge to pull three beers out.

He smiles back, already feeling a thousand times better. The urge to shake Clint until he knows how much Bucky likes him has faded, replaced with a soft percolating warmth that Bucky wants to bask in, like a cat in the sun.

“Hey, Clint?”

“Mmm?”

Bucky looks up at him. “Would you have come over if I’d text you and asked?”

Clint looks confused. “I turn up here even when you don’t ask,” he points out, then seems to realize what Bucky’s asking. “Yeah,” he says quietly, reaching up to gently touch Bucky’s chin before leaning down to kiss him. “If you have to ask, I think I’ve been doing this all wrong.”

“It’s okay,” Bucky says. “You can get a do-over.”

“Good,” Clint says, and leans down to kiss him again, until Becca clears her throat really loudly and threatens to pour beer on them if they don’t stop.

 


 

A couple of hours later and they’ve eaten all the pizza and the ice-cream that Becca went to the store to get, and have built a beeramid that’s a pretty decent four layers tall. Obviously Bucky has left the actual construction of the beeramid to Becca and Clint as hes still kind of leery about handling beer bottles, but he's comfortable enough to drink as long as he holds the bottle in his real hand, the metal one tucked up inside his sleeve. They’ve ditched Bucky’s emo playlist in favor of binge-watching Brooklyn 99, though they’re not really watching: Becca is half-heartedly flicking through a medical journal, and Clint is painting Bucky’s toenails, brow furrowed and mouth hanging open as he concentrates. They’ve been chatting about not-Steve-things too, and Bucky finds himself a little surprised at just how little he actually knew about Clint up until this point. Damn, they’ve been so distracted by each others dicks that they’ve not really even sat down and talked, not really.

Not until now, anyway. Bucky’s finding he quite likes it.

“So you haven’t seen your brother in how long?” Bucky asks, sipping at his beer and fighting the urge to wriggle, to test the gentle hold Clint has on his ankle.

“Um, like two years?” Clint says. “We don’t get on. Well, we’re brothers, but we’re not really friends.”

Bucky glances at Becca, startled. Not being friends with his sister is utterly unfathomable. Judging by the highly skeptical look Becca is giving him in return, he thinks she feels the same way.

“How do you not be friends?” she says, frowning. “After our parents died me and Bucky just stuck together. I can’t imagine going through that shit with us not getting on. And after he got discharged, I can’t imagine not being there for him, you know?”

“Well, our house was pretty fucked-up even before the accident,” Clint says. He takes aim at Bucky’s little toenail and then curses as Bucky twitches, bright red paint missing the nail and smearing all along his toe. He wipes the rogue polish off with his thumb then wipes that on the knee of his jeans. “Sit still, asshole!”

“Clint!” Bucky exclaims, yanking his foot back. “You can’t just wipe nail polish on your jeans!” 

“They’re my jeans,” Clint says. “Whatever, they’ve got a red mark on now, big deal. They’ll wash.”

“No they won’t, that’s gonna stain,” Becca chips in.

“You’re such a mess,” Bucky huffs.

Clint looks at him indignantly, capping the nail polish and setting it precariously on the arm of the couch. “Me? You’re the mess in this relationship, pal.”

“It’s clearly you,” Bucky scoffs, holding his hand out for the polish. “Gimme, I’ll do it.”

“Okay, I might be an outside mess, but you’re an inside mess.”

Bucky gives him a look. “You’re clearly both.”

Clint gives him the finger, hauling his ass off the couch to go get more beer. “At least I don’t think I can insulate my mess with leather jackets.”

Becca snorts half her beer out of her nose, choking on laughter. Bucky starts to laugh too, kicking his legs out along the couch. “I’m gonna use that to justify buying more jackets. I need them to insulate the crazy.”

Clint comes back over with a beer in each hand. He kicks at Bucky’s feet until Bucky huffs and lifts them up, letting Clint sit down. “You are crazy,” Clint says, surprisingly fond seeing as they’re literally calling each other names and bickering about who is the bigger mess. He passes the beer over. “You drive me crazy.”

“Gross,” Becca says, yawning widely.

“No, that was gross. I can see your fucking tonsils,” Bucky tells her.

Becca replies by opening her mouth as wide as it can go, sticking her tongue out like she’s been asked to by a doctor. Ugh, so childish. “Whatever, I’m going to bed,” she says. “No fucking on the couch.”

Bucky makes a wounded noise but Clint just snort-laughs. “What about aggressive cuddling?”

“As long as you’re clothed,” she yawns, clambering to her feet. “See you tomorrow Bucket. See you whenever, Clint.”

They both murmur goodnights to her, and the moment Bucky hears her door click shut, he sets his beer aside and makes grabby hands towards Clint. Clint just stares at him, utterly deadpan for so long that Bucky has a moment of mild alarm, but then Clint cracks up, laughing as he shifts over to be closer to Bucky. He sits at his side, throwing an arm over his shoulders and nudging in for a kiss.

“Mm,” Bucky says, eyes drifting shut. “I’m glad you came over.”

“Me too,” Clint says, brushing his fingers over the short hair by Bucky’s ear, scritching at it like Bucky’s a cat. Bucky leans into it, smiling as Clint kisses the corner of his mouth.

“Are you gonna stay? Do you have to go?”

“I can stay.”

“What about your dog?”

“He’s with my neighbor, he’s fine,” Clint says. “I want to stay, I just have to make sure I get in on time tomorrow. I miss anything else this week and Sam and Steve will actually kill me.”

The leaden weight returns to settle in Bucky’s stomach. “Oh god, I don’t want to go to work,” he says, feeling sick. “Fuck, I don’t want to go to work.”

Clint sighs. He pulls Bucky closer, resting his nose against the side of Bucky’s head. “I know,” he says. “Steve is the absolute worst when he’s mad at you. Ugh, he needs to stop being such an asshole.”

“Why do I feel like shit though when he’s being an asshole?” Bucky grouches.

“Because he’s Steve, and he has this dumb thing where he somehow makes you want to be good,” Clint says. “And he’s - he’s like what I always wanted in a big brother. When I think about how my actual brother let me down, it’s like Steve filled those gaps.” He huffs, a little deprecating. “He’s always been there for me. My ass would be in jail if it wasn’t for him.”

Bucky leans back, surprised. “ Jail? Really?”

“I’m not proud of it,” Clint says. “I didn’t have the best start in life and we did a lot of shit to survive.”

They fall silent, just taking a moment. Clint heaves out a sigh, leaning down to press his face into Bucky’s neck. It would be cute apart from the fact it fucking tickles; Bucky yelps and tries to clamp his ear to his shoulder, forcing Clint away.

“Hey, I was getting comfy!”

“Tickles,” Bucky says, covering his neck with his hand. “Yes, I’m ticklish, if you try and use against me I will kill you. I was a sniper, I know how.”

“A sniper, huh?” Clint says, sounding interested. “We should have a shoot off!”  

Bucky goes quiet. “I’ve...I’ve not touched a rifle since I was discharged,” he says. “I...I get fucked up with PTSD some days. I don’t know if that would…”

“You should try,” Clint says. “One day.”

“Maybe,” Bucky says, knowing he’s being evasive but not quite willing to go there. Not today, not when he’s already had a fucking day already. He heaves out a sigh, tipping his head onto Clint’s shoulder. “You think I should call in sick?”

“I dunno, depends what kind of person you are,” Clint says.

“What would you do?”

“Eh, I dunno. Probably just wouldn’t turn up. Hide out in my apartment for a week. Or go and pick a fight with Steve. Fifty-fifty really.”

“That’s terrible advice.”

“Hey, you asked what I would do, what I would do is not to be taken as advice.”

Bucky sighs. “I’ll go in. I’ll go in and just pretend everything is normal. He’s got back to back meetings tomorrow anyway, I probably won’t even see him. Oh, and Maria said I could go work in her office. You think a bouquet of guns is a thing? Like I feel like I should get her something to say thank you.”

“I cannot believe you are Steve and Maria’s favorite,” Clint grumbles. “Next thing Nat’ll be trying to adopt you.”

Okay, that sounds terrifying but Bucky doesn’t press because as much as he wants to know about why the Black Widow would adopt him, there’s more important people for him to worry about. “I’m not Steve’s favorite anymore, he hates me.”

“If he hated you he would have had Maria fire you,” Clint says. “Or transferred you to actually work for Thor or something.”

“You think I should text him? Say sorry?”

“Up to you,” Clint says, he jostles Bucky slightly as he leans over to get his beer. Bucky rests a hand on his chest, suddenly struck with how much he is enjoying being here like this, with Clint real and solid beneath his hands. It’s the soft touch of his t-shirt, the shift of muscle underneath, the drag of stubble under Bucky’s lips when he kisses his cheek. He lets his fingers tug at Clint’s shirt, lets his mouth trail along his jaw and down his neck. Clint makes a contended, satisfied noise in the back of his throat and turns to catch Bucky’s mouth in a kiss.

The kiss turns into more kissing, which turns into a pretty epic make-out session, one that has Bucky feeling like he’s a dumb teenager all over again. It’s nice, different to their usual frantic lust-fuelled style but Bucky’s not complaining.

“God, you’re just the best,” Clint murmurs.  

Bucky smiles against Clint’s mouth, wide and happy. “Tell me more?”

“You,” Clint says, kissing across his cheekbone, “are worth dealing with STANCON 1 for.”

Bucky laughs, trying to kiss Clint back. “That’s a high bar.”

“The highest.”

Clint slumps forwards, his head on Bucky’s sternum. Bucky wraps his arms around Clint’s shoulders, smoothing his metal palm up and down his back, perfectly content to sit with a lapful of Hawkeye.

“Tired,” he yawns, leaning forwards and burying his face in Clint’s hair. He feels butterflies in his stomach as he considers how he’s going to proceed, how to be super casual about asking Clint to share his bed for the night. “So...want to go to bed?”

“Sure,” Clint says, easy as anything. “I might need to borrow a toothbrush. And more underwear. And a clean tee for tomorrow. And a phone charger.”

“Wow, you did not think this through,” Bucky says, pushing Clint off him so he can get up. He makes a cursory effort to tidy up, stacking up empty pizza boxes and putting the cushions back on the couch, then decides that the rest is future-Bucky’s problem. Present Bucky is caught in a weird moment of unexpected domesticity, finding Clint a toothbrush and spare towels and clothes for the morning. He gets them both a glass of water and sets them on his nightstand, sitting on his bed and waiting for Clint to be done in the bathroom. Should he get undressed? He doesn’t think they’re going to end up having sex, so he should probably just take his own clothes off. Though if he gets naked, is that going to give off ‘fuck me now’ vibes?  Not that he’d necessarily object to that, because sex with Clint still scores a well-earned 11/10, but he’s tired and while he’s not exactly sore from last night, there’s only so much one ass can take in twenty-four hours.

Fuck it, he thinks, turning the light off and clicking the small side lamp on, bathing the bed in a soft warm glow. He strips down to his boxers and climbs into bed, shoving his spare pillow to the side and sprawling out on his back, phone in hand. He checks in with his six thousand followers and has a moment of panic when he realizes he hasn’t posted anything in days. His followers deserve better. He’s debating if he can get away with an artful sleepy selfie when the door opens and Clint walks in, mostly-naked except for Bucky’s underwear, clipping his shoulder on the doorframe as he does. “Ow,” he says. “Move up." 

Bucky wriggles his ass over like an inch. Clint flops down onto the bed, smacking Bucky’s shoulder with his own as he does. “Hey,” Bucky says, indignant. “I’m tryna take a selfie here.”

“Do not put me on Instagram,” Clint says into the pillow.

“What makes you think I was gonna?” Bucky scoffs. “My followers want quality.”

Clint moves quicker than Bucky’s expecting him to, rolling into his side and smacking Bucky’s phone out of his hand. “I am quality.”

“Oh, bitch ,” Bucky gasps, scrabbling for his phone. “Did I just hit a nerve?”

“No,” Clint grouches, pulling at the pillow. “I know I’m no Steve Rogers but I’m still worth a like.”

Bucky lowers his phone. “Clint,” he says, caught between exasperated and fond. He wriggles over so his head is pillowed on Clint’s shoulder, resting his hand on Clint’s chest. “Do not compare yourself to Steve. I like you and I would gladly put you on my Instagram. Hashtag definite ten.”

Clint lifts his head, clearly suspicious. “You make fun of my clothes like every day.”

“You’re a ten when you’re naked,” Bucky offers, and Clint huffs out a laugh. Bucky settles back down onto his back, lifting his phone and his chin so he doesn’t get a triple-chin when he takes the picture, wondering if he should take the photo with his metal hand to show off his nails, or with his real hand to show off his arm.

Show off his robot arm. That's something he never thought he'd be doing.

Then he forgets all about it because Clint rolls over and takes the phone from him. Bucky just has time to press both hands over his mouth to try and hold back his dumb smile before Clint is sleepily kissing his cheek and snapping a picture.

“There,” he says. “Now quit fucking about and go to sleep.”

Bucky takes the phone back and stares at the photo, feeling so warm inside that he’s practically glowing.

“Just post it,” Clint says.

“Oh so now I’m allowed to put you on Instagram?” Bucky says, but he doesn’t. He’s so used to posting everything about his life on social media that it’s second nature by now, and with his uptick in followers he should probably give them something to look at...but this picture? No. Bucky wants that just for himself for a while.

He shoves his phone beneath his pillow, reaches over Clint to actually plug Clint’s phone in to the charger, then turns the light off. He kisses Clint between his shoulder blades and then settles down next to him, his real hand resting on the bottom of Clint’s spine, just above his ass.

“This okay?”

“Mmm,” Clint replies, already halfway to sleep. He shifts contentedly, then remembers to take his hearing aids out, dropping them to the nightstand.

“Deaf now, can’t hear you, going to sleep.”

Bucky smiles faintly, shifting over so his nose presses to Clint’s arm. He can still feel the worry, the vague implication of threat and disturbance, a feeling that winds tighter if he thinks about Steve or the impending morning. So he refuses to think about it, tells himself that he doesn’t have to go to work in the morning and tries his best to pretend that all he has to do is go to sleep tucked into Clint’s side, one hundred percent warm and happy.

Who are you kidding, you're at about fifty percent and you know it, a small part of his brain says, but Bucky tells it to shut the fuck up, closing his eyes and going to sleep.

 


 

It doesn’t work very well. He sleeps on and off, constantly woken by the swollen and displaced sense of worry in his stomach, a feeling that gets stronger the closer it is to morning. When he does finally manage to actually fall asleep in the early hours, he’s brought back to reality by the screaming of his alarm. 

“Nnnf,” he manages, scrabbling for his phone. He looks blearily across the mattress at where Clint is curled up on his side, still fast asleep. “Hey,” he says, reaching out to shove at Clint’s shoulder. “Hey, get up.”

Clint jerks his head up off the mattress and has about four seconds of blinking like a very confused owl then just gets up, shoving the covers away and staggering to his feet in a completely unprecedented move. Honestly, Bucky expected to have to drag him out of the bed by his ankles. “Work,” Clint mumbles, picking up his phone, dropping it on his feet, cursing, picking it back up again and squinting at the screen. “Okay, work.”

He shuffles out of the bedroom, leaving Bucky caught between, ‘what the fuck,’ and ‘come back and spoon me, I need you to stop me worrying about going to face Steve.’

Bucky gets up and heads into the kitchenette, realizing that Clint has beelined for the shower which is just rude, because now Bucky’s morning routine is all out of whack. Okay, if Bucky does coffee and breakfast first, and Clint takes less than fifteen minutes in the shower, he’ll still have enough time to properly blow-dry his hair.

Luckily, Clint appears around six minutes later, a towel wrapped around his waist as he staggers, still half-asleep, back to Bucky’s bedroom. Bucky follows him, knocking perfunctorily before opening the door and holding out a mug of coffee. Clint damn near snatches his hand off as he grabs it, and Bucky retreats, sensing he shouldn’t try to get any conversation out of Clint untill he’s less naked and more caffeinated.

It’s weird. Bucky’s not done this in years, had another human being occupying his space while he goes through his daily routine. It’s not a date, it’s not time given over to them being together, it’s something else. Working out how two people can fit functioning lives together, like awkward shaped puzzle pieces.

Puzzle pieces who spend ten minutes making out after breakfast and then realize that they’re going to be late, running out of the apartment with coffee in travel mugs, juggling toast and keys as they go and squabbling about whose fault it is that they had to run. 

 


 

 

They make the train by the skin of their teeth, packing in with the rest of the commuters, still bickering. Now they've moved on to arguing about personal hygiene, which is not an argument Bucky ever thought he'd be having with someone whose junk he's had in his mouth. 

“I’m just saying,” Clint says, holding onto the bar with one hand and his coffee with the other. “You have nineteen different products in your shower. I spent four minutes trying to work out which one was just soap.”

Bucky steps close, holding onto Clint’s jacket. “The cream-colored one,” he says. “Duh.”

Nineteen different things, Bucky.”

“Yeah between two people,” Bucky insists. “That’s a perfectly reasonable amount.”

“I have one bar of soap,” Clint says. “For everything.”

Bucky stares at him. “Please tell me you are kidding.”

“Nope,” Clint says. “I think it’s one of those free soaps that you get from hotels. Like the little packet ones with Ibis stamped on-”

“Oh god, stop talking,” Bucky groans. “Why do you hate yourself, Clint. Why. What did your skin ever do to deserve this.”

"I don't have time for that crap."

"It's not crap, it's self care," Bucky says with a huff. "I'm going to nominate you for Queer Eye."

Clint drains the last of his coffee. "You keep Jonathan Van Ness away from me," he says bluntly, and Bucky laughs so hard that people look over, clearly disgruntled that Bucky's being so loud before eight AM.

Clint smiles, glances around before discreetly slipping his hand into Bucky's coat, setting it on Bucky's waist. "Nice to have you smiling again."

Bucky sways into him, wishing he could just bury his face in Clint's chest. "Mmm," he says. "What stop are you getting off at? Don't you need to-"

"Nope, I'm at SHIELD today," Clint says. "Sorting out some stuff and practicing tactical evasion."

Bucky feels himself go very still. "But what if Steve sees us arrive together?" he says a little wildly. "Hang on, I'll get off at the next station and wait for the next train and then I'll arrive like fifteen minutes after you-"

"Steve can go fuck himself," Clint says, scowling. "Seriously, are you that scared of him?"

"I'm not scared of him," Bucky says hotly.

"Sure," Clint says in a way which shows he’s not convinced in the slightest.

“I’m not.”

“You shouldn’t be, we aren't doing anything wrong," Clint insists.

“Okay, so is tactical evasion actually what you’re working on or is it code for hiding from Steve?” Bucky asks, eyes narrowed.

Clint opens his mouth to argue but no words come out. He looks down at their feet and then back up, trying again and giving up. “Fine,” he says. “Fine, I am fucking scared of how he’s gonna be,” he says, combative in a really unnecessary way because Bucky’s on his goddamn side here. “But you know what? We’re gonna go in, we’re gonna go to HR and fill in their goddamn forms saying that we’re in a relationship and then Steve is going to have to deal with it. And if he doesn’t, we’ll tell Maria.”

Bucky blinks at him, the fight temporarily knocked out of him. “Relationship?”

Clint blinks back. “Uh,” he says, like he’s rerunning the last twenty seconds in his head. He looks a little deer in headlights but then something just seems to give way, and he laughs. “Yes, fine, if you insist. I suppose commitment isn’t the worst thing in the whole entire world, you maniac.”

Bucky rears back, affronted. “Oh, well that makes me feel great-”

“I’m saying you can be my goddamn boyfriend,” Clint interrupts, probably too loudly for the fact they’re on the fucking subway. He pauses, clears his throat. “I mean. If you want.”

Bucky can’t help the slow smile that spreads over his face. “Hashtag disaster boyfriend,” he says, and he stretches up onto his tiptoes to kiss Clint, right there in the early-morning crowd of commuters and not giving a damn.

 


 

They catch the SHIELD shuttle together, Bucky standing close to Clint even though it’s notably quiet this morning, the absence of the SHIELD teams obvious in the unoccupied seats, the lack of chatter. Bucky’s relieved; even with a grand total of five people on the shuttle, he still keeps looking around, trying to gauge people’s reactions, trying to see if people are looking at them with that speculative gleam that Bucky knows means ‘office gossip inbound.’ Everyone just seems normal, though one guy - an intern, most likely - keeps looking at Clint with the typical ‘oh my golly gosh that’s a real Avenger I want his autograph’ face. 

If that guy comes anywhere near them, Bucky is going to hiss at him.

Luckily, either a sense of professionalism or Bucky’s murder-scowl seems to keep the guy at bay, and they remain unbothered as they sign in through inner security. No one even looks twice at them, and Clint is a welcome support at his side. In fact, it’s all going so smoothly and Clint is so chill that Bucky’s starting to think that maybe it’s not all so bad.

Then they arrive at the atrium and he stops dead in the middle of the automatic doors because Steve is right there , standing next to the reception desk and deep in conversation with Maria’s stupid PA. Even as he tries to step backwards, succeeding only in backing up into Clint, Steve looks up and his laser eyes lock right on them both.

“Oh fuck,” Bucky says at the exact same moment Clint says, “Oh shit.”

Steve just stares at them, nostrils flaring slightly, then very deliberately turns his back on them. Bucky feels his insides shrivel up and die but Clint just makes a noise that’s somewhere between indignant and enraged.

“Give me a pen,” he says, patting Bucky’s shoulder. “Give me anything I can throw at him.”

“No,” Bucky says, grabbing Clint’s wrist and wrestling it down. “Don’t.”

“I will be ignored on a cold day in hell,” Clint says, digging through his pockets with his free hand.

“You’re a spy, your job is to get people to ignore you,” Bucky says, trying to discreetly grapple with him. Goddamnit, he needs to be like a foot and a half taller to win this one.

“Not Steve ,” Clint says like it’s obvious, and makes a noise of triumph as he comes up with a quarter. Across the atrium, Steve is settling his hand on Camille’s elbow, steering her towards the security doors.

“Clint, no!” Bucky hisses but he’s too late. With a snap of his wrist, Clint whips the quarter across the atrium; it sails twenty feet and nails Steve right in the back of his ear. He jerks around instantly, one hand coming up clap over his ear and the other grabbing his gun from his thigh.

Bucky steps behind Clint, torn between hysterically laughing and covering his face. Clint just looks at Steve with the most belligerent expression Bucky has ever seen him wear. “Hi, Steve,” Clint calls loudly, waving. “It’s us, the friends you are trying to ignore.”

Steve jams his gun back into the holster on his thigh, looking furious. “Keep walking, Clint,” he snaps, turning away and gesturing for Camille to move. She’s looking at Bucky and Clint, mouth slightly open and gaze speculative.

“I can do this all day,” Clint yells. “It's laundry day and I got a pocket full of quarters, asshole!”

Steve just walks away. Bucky watches him go, feeling less worried and more just sad. He blows out a breath, rubbing at his forehead.

“Yeah, you better run,” Clint grouches, then leans over to talk to Bucky. “I’m actually glad he’s gone because that was the only quarter I had. I was saving it to put in a pinball machine. I got all five high scores until someone knocked me off, I think it was Natasha.”

“Where the fuck did you find a quarter-operated pinball machine?”

“A dive bar near my apartment,” Clint says. “I figure I’ve got six months before it becomes a hipster bar, so I’m making the most of it.”

“You should take me there,” Bucky says, and Clint grins until Bucky scowls and carries on, adding, “Like, now. Because I don’t want to have to deal with Steve not only after we’ve pissed him off by getting together but after you’ve thrown a quarter at him, what were you thinking, ” he finishes on a hiss, smacking Clint’s arm.

“Ouch, stop it!” Clint says, twisting away.

“You just made everything worse!”

“He started it!”

“You just can’t handle being ignored,” Bucky bitches, marching over to the desk to hand in his phone. “Morning, Hannes.”

“Morning,” Hannes says, taking Bucky’s phone. “How are you today?”

“Peachy,” Bucky grunts.

“Barton, phone,” Hannes says sternly.

“Aw, man, I’m an Avenger,” Clint says. “Surely I can keep my phone?”

Hannes just holds his hands out, and Clint slaps his dumb flip-phone into it. “Fine. Come on, Buck, we’ve gotta get to HR.” He slings his arm around Bucky’s shoulders and Bucky feels his cheeks go warm at that, and the way Hannes is clearly watching out of the corner of his eye.

“You sure?”

“Yep,” Clint says. “Hey, paperwork to say we're in a relationship, it’s like getting married.”

Bucky nearly chokes. “It is not.”

“Do millennials not believe in marriage?”

“I believe in actually going on dates before people start fucking proposing, technically we’ve been on one,” Bucky says.

“Is that it?” Clint asks, perplexed. “Feels like more.”

"No, just one date and an ill-advised booty-call."

Clint's jaw drops. "Ill-advised? Proposal redacted."

"You can't just retract a proposal, that's rude."

"You're rude, you called me ill-advised," Clint says, and he sounds so pissy that Bucky can't help but laugh.

"Clint," he says, snagging Clint's hand and pulling him to a stop. "Clint," he says again when Clint finally deigns to look at him. "Will you...go to HR and fill in unnecessary paperwork with me?"

And the pissy look cracks, replaced with a reluctant grin. "Fine," Clint laughs. "Yes, I accept your paperwork proposal. Now get moving before I kiss you in front of everyone."

"I wouldn't say no," Bucky says, but Clint rolls his eyes at him before walking away, leaving Bucky scrambling to follow.

 


 

They arrive at HR and Bucky lets Clint take point; he stands behind as Clint slides into the empty chair and leans his elbow on the desk, fixing the long-suffering HR manager with a winning smile. “Morning, Toby.”

Toby goes pale. “What did you shoot? Who did you shoot?” He starts tapping frantically at his tablet computer. “Where is your bow? You need to hand it in if you've shot someone on SHIELD premises again, where is the form, oh god, why are the Avengers even in our HR jurisdiction, whose idea was that-”

Bucky and Clint exchange an alarmed look. “Uh, Toby, you might need to breathe?”

“How many arrows were fired?” Toby asks, now picking up his phone. “I need to call Stark Industries PR-”

“Toby!” Clint almost shouts over him. “I haven’t shot anyone or anything. I slept with Steve’s assistant.” He gestures over his shoulder at Bucky, who gives an awkward little wave when Toby stops flapping and stares at him.

“You’re the one Maria called me about,” he says.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, wincing. “Sorry about that.”

“Did you do something since she called? Did you use work communications in an improper way? Did you use the break room in an improper way?”

“God, no!” Bucky exclaims, even as Clint cocks his head, clearly intrigued by the suggestion. Bucky resists the urge to smack him upside the head. “No, we just need to fill in some forms. We, uh, have been advised to declare it?”

“That you slept together? I don’t have a form for that.”

“No, that we’re in a relationship,” Clint says. “Come on, a little respect please, Toby.”

Bucky does reach out and poke Clint in the back of the head for that. Toby doesn’t seem to notice, just looks relieved. “I have a form for that,” he says, turning to pull open a filing cabinet. “You have to read the appendices surrounding relationships within the workplace, and then sign a declaration saying that you understand certain advisory terms, things like that you shouldn’t discuss work things while out of work and vice versa.”

“Can do,” Clint says brightly, but his winning smile quickly turns to dismay as Toby turns around with a stack of paperwork that looks frighteningly thick. “Aw, Toby, no.”

“Read it properly before you sign it,” he says, handing a set to Bucky and a set to Clint.

Clint eyes the paperwork likes it’s got some sort of contagious disease. “How will you be able to tell if I’ve read it?”

“I’ll make sure he reads it,” Bucky hastily adds, as Toby just stares at Clint, mouth opening and closing like the world's most mournful goldfish. “Thanks Toby, See you later.”

Bucky shoves his half of the paperwork in his messenger bag, pulls Clint up and steers him away from Toby’s desk before Toby drowns himself in the cup of lukewarm coffee that’s on his desk in a ‘world’s best uncle’ mug.

“Stop tormenting Toby, he’s the one that said Steve wasn’t allowed to fire me.” 

“Toby’s the worst,” Clint says. “He banned me from heaving sticky arrows in the training room.”

“Toby does not have the power to ban anything.”

“He does, he and his paperwork are the real villains here.”

Bucky rolls his eyes, checks the time on his workphone. “Shit, I gotta go,” he says. “Here goes nothing.”

“You’ll be fine,” Clint says, and stops Bucky with a hand on his shoulder. “You are worth reading Toby’s boring paperwork for,” he says, more serious than Bucky thinks he’s ever seen him, then he’s smiling crookedly at Bucky and sloppily saluting him before turning on his heel and walking away.

 


 

With Clint no longer at his side, Bucky contemplates saying fuck it and going home, but talks himself out of it. He spends his minute in the elevator steeling himself, doing some deep breathing exercises before pulling on his mental ‘I’m-a-millennial-and-I-don’t-give-a-fuck’ pants. He might be dying on the inside but he’s not going to show it. Today is a no crying day. 

He strides along the corridor into the hub, rounds the corner of the GPS tracking centre -

And stops dead because he can see into Steve’s office and in Steve’s office is Steve, and also in Steve’s office is Camille and she is sitting at Bucky’s desk. Steve is leaning over, pointing at something on Bucky’s computer screen. Bucky feels anger like he’s not felt in months - years - rise up inside him. He’s not been this angry since that day that doctor looked at him with pity in his eyes and said ‘I'm sorry, we couldn’t save your arm.’

He storms across the hub and shoves the door open.

“What the fuck is going on?!”

Steve straightens up, folding his arms across his chest. Camille just gives him an arched eyebrow that normally would have had him cringing, but not today, bitch.

“I figured you wouldn’t be in today,” Steve says stiffly.

“Well you thought wrong,” Bucky snaps. “And you’re clearly not thinking at all because while you’re screwing around with your passive aggressive bullshit, you’ve not checked her security clearance, because unless you’ve taken her on as your second assistant she does not have clearance to be on that goddamn computer because believe it or not, I’ve got the third highest clearance in this whole fucking building and you have just shit all over your own security protocols.” He stops, breathing heavily. “So either tell me that you’ve promoted her and the proper paperwork has gone through HR or get her away from my goddamn computer, or I will go and fetch Maria and Toby from HR and I will cry in front of everyone and I will fucking sue you.”

Camille looks appalled. “You can’t talk to him like that-”     

“Bitch please, I got this job by talking to him like this,” Bucky snaps. “And you know what, get out of my goddamn chair. Even if you have been promoted, he’s not allowed to fire me and you’re fucking with my goddamn lumbar support.”

Steve stares at Bucky for a while. “Camille, you better go.”

“And you better hope you didn’t touch shit on my computer, because I checked and you only have bronze-three clearance,” Bucky adds. “Assistant to the director.”

Camille gives him a dirty look, grabbing her jacket and walking out. Bucky watches her go, full of vindictive satisfaction.

“Bucky-”

“So, getting me fired wasn’t enough?” Bucky snaps, knocking Steve’s hand aside as Steve goes to set it on Bucky’s shoulder. “She could be tossed out on her ass for that, what were you thinking?”

“I was thinking you weren’t going to show up,” Steve replies hotly. “And I had shit that needed doing-”

“You saw me in the lobby a half hour ago!”

“With Hawkeye,” Steve snaps.

“Who I am allowed to date if I fucking well choose!” Bucky yells back. He turns away in disgust. “You know what, no job is worth this.”

Steve goes very still. “What?”

“I’m done,” Bucky says. “I want a reference, and I’m out of here.”

Steve might as well have been turned to stone, like Bucky has somehow Medusa’d his ass. “You’re quitting?

Bucky gapes at Steve, utterly perplexed. “What, like you haven’t been pushing me to quit?”

“No!” Steve says.

“Well then why have you been such an ass?!” Bucky yells, and before he knows it, he’s taking a leaf out of Clint’s book and throwing the first thing he can get his hands on at Steve’s dumb head. Unfortunately, he’s too angry to do a methodical search of his pockets for a projectile and instead just hurls his work phone at him. Steve ducks and the phone sails over his shoulder, hitting the wall behind him.

“What the hell?!”

“I don’t even know anymore!” Bucky yells. “Everyone told me you were being peak asshole yesterday but you just fuckin’ outdid yourself because now you’re dragging Maria’s fucking assistant into things!”

“You can’t just throw shit at me!”

“You can’t just turn into a bully because something doesn’t go your way!”

And out of all the things that have been said - and out of all the things that have been thrown at Steve’s head - that is inexplicably the hit that lands. Steve jerks back like he’s been punched, his face going pale.

“I’m not-” he begins, and then his whole body just seems to slump, his shoulders falling loose and his back bowing. “Oh my god,” he says, pressing a hand over his mouth. “Oh my god.”

And then he looks Bucky right in the eye and says, “Bucky, I’m so fucking sorry.”

Bucky’s thrown off-guard; he was honestly gearing up for throwing more shit. Maybe his computer. Maybe he’d go get the coffee machine or the toaster from the break-room, they’d be good for yeeting purposes.

“You’re what now?”

“I’m sorry,” Steve says, and he’s taking a step and sinking down into Bucky’s chair. “I - I think I may have handled this all badly.”

“You think?”

Steve rubs his face. “I have been acting like a bully, haven’t I?” he asks quietly, staring at the floor. “Christ, I didn’t mean to-”

And Bucky can’t really stay mad at him. He probably should stay mad but Steve is looking somewhere between horrified and miserable and it's making Bucky's anger rush away like water down a storm drain.

He doesn't know what to say.

A knock on the door breaks the discomfort that's stretching out between them. It's agent Sanders, stepping in and looking to Steve. "Hey boss," he says. "All teams in Texas are accounted for. Obs are starting in three minutes, you want a feed in the hub or in the Carter room?"

Steve doesn't answer right away. It's out of character enough that Sanders glances to Bucky, like he's some sort of Steve barometer that will explain why he's all off kilter.

"You know what, why don't you take point?" Steve finally says.

Sanders does a double take. "Me?"

"Yes you. You up for it?"

Sanders nods eagerly. "Hell yes. You just said you were going to lead on obs so I didn't-"

"Something's come up," Steve says. "I'll send word round that you're acting as CO for this."

Sanders nods, salutes and turns on his heel, practically bouncing from the room.  He turns left and right, visibly looking for someone to tell, though seeing as most of his Agent-colleagues are out of the building he’ll have to either go find the two that are left or resort to bragging to site staff and interns.

“Are you really going to quit?”

Bucky watches Sanders leave, folding his arms across his chest. “I probably should.”

“You probably should,” Steve echoes quietly. “But I don’t want you to. I am sorry.”

Bucky opens his mouth but almost immediately shuts it again as Taylor from Cyber-Sec appears, waving through the window at them. Bucky makes a frustrated noise and turns away, going to retrieve his phone before standing with his back to them, staring out of the windows at the bay. It’s a miserable fucking day out there, cloudy and dull.

The door swishes open. There’s a pause, probably because Steve is in Bucky’s chair and Bucky isn’t doing his usual meet-and-greet job.

“Agent Taylor, how can I help?” Steve asks, sounding tired.

“There’s been a low-level attempted breach, we think it’s some kid playing around,” Taylor says. “You want us to send a team or shall we just track the IP and try and pin him down electronically?”

“It’ll have to be electronic, we don’t have any teams available,” Steve says.

There’s a thump and then a third voice joins the conversation. Bucky turns around to see one of the Cyber-Sec assistants half in and half out the open door.

“Can we get a go-ahead on using the SI trackers?”

“Why the hell are you asking me?” Steve snaps. Bucky can’t help himself; he slowly wheels around to watch because seeing Steve lose his temper over inane questions will never get old.

“Uhhh,” the guy scrabbles, “we tried to patch through to Stark but he’s unavailable-”

“Just do it,” Steve says. “Get out of my office, I don’t want another person-”

Even as he says it, another person comes into view in the hub, walking over towards the office. They knock - even though there’s no point because everyone is looking right at them - and then step in. “Sorry to bother you, Commander, but is Sanders really being given point on obs for the Texas mission?"

Steve goes very still. Then he stands up. "Are you questioning my orders?"

The agent freezes, blinking. "Uhhhhh-"

'Say no quicker,' Bucky thinks, staring like he's watching a car crash in slow motion. 'Say no at some point in the next two seconds.'

The agent swallows. "I just-"

“Get out!” Steve bellows, and everyone hastily beats a retreat. Steve just stands there, looking like he’s one step away from losing his shit, full Tyra Banks style.

He turns to Bucky, looking at the floor near his feet rather than at Bucky himself. “Are you actually serious about quitting?” he asks, voice low. “Because if you are, I understand and I won’t stop you. But if there’s even a tiny part of you that might want to stay and hear me out…”

Bucky knows he should walk away. Steve has been unprofessional and rude, and Bucky has betrayed the trust of his boss and put them both in an awkward position.

But he likes Steve. He likes his job. And Steve has said sorry, which is apparently something he rarely does.

“If there is a tiny part…?” Bucky says, floating it out there for Steve to catch.

Steve is moving before the words have even left Bucky’s mouth properly. “Then come with me.”

Bucky follows without a second thought. Steve is tapping away on his work phone as he strides through the hub and through the double doors down onto the strangely empty Lower Deck. For a moment Bucky thinks he’s going to get on his motorcycle but then he walks past it, all the way across the deck and to the double doors that lead out to the hangar. He stops to punch in a security code and Bucky can't deny the frisson of excitement that runs down his spine as the heavy doors begin to grind open.

“Where are we going?”

“Away from here,” Steve says. “One more person asks me a question and I’m liable to punch them, and they don’t deserve that.”

“Oh, so now you’re worried about hurting people when they don’t deserve it,” Bucky says, and Steve winces.

“Well I definitely deserved that,” he says, and steps through the hangar door before it’s even properly open.

The hangar is also conspicuously empty; Bucky’s never been in here but he knows they have six quinjets and one helijet, and all of them are gone. There’s only two microjets and an out-of-place helicopter left. It’s towards the helicopter that Steve walks, nodding at the deckhands as the door grinds shut behind them.

“Why do you have a helicopter when you’ve got quinjet technology?” Bucky says, eyeing the matte-black paint of the helicopter with some trepidation.

“Because Tony Stark gives the best birthday presents,” Steve says, popping the door and indicating for Bucky to get in. “What, I can’t exactly keep it at home.”

He signals to some of the deck-crew, who sprint over immediately. Bucky settles in one of the chairs, looking around at all the sleek yet very complicated looking control panels, feeling completely blindsided again. Ten minutes ago he was trying to quit and now apparently they’re going out for a ride in Steve’s fucking personal helicopter just because Steve doesn’t want to have to talk to anyone at work.

See, this is the sort of thing that forces Bucky to admit that he loves him really, despite him being a monumental dickface.

Steve hops in behind him and shuts the door as the ground crew busy themselves around the helicopter. “Strap in,” he says to Bucky. “This thing can haul ass.”

“Why would I expect anything less,” Bucky says, tugging at the seatbelt straps. He looks up at the headset that’s clipped to a bar in the roof and bites his cheek in annoyance because there’s no way he’s gonna be able to reach-

Steve reaches up to unclip both headsets without so much as a joke about Bucky's teeny-tiny arms, handing one to Bucky before putting his own on. He flicks a switch on the console and then Bucky hears his voice coming through the bulky headset. Seriously, they weigh more than he does and they’re on an actually attached by wires, long lengths of springy-coiled cable. If Tony Stark is so smart, he should be able to fit the damn helicopter with airpods.

“Okay? Ready to go?”

Bucky feels slightly alarmed. “Are you allowed to just take a helicopter and fly around?”

“Is the President here?” Steve says as the chopper fires up, vibrating steadily beneath them as the rotors start to thud. “Then there’s no-one who’s gonna say no.”

He touches a finger to the side of his headset. “Ground team, door two when you’re ready.”

“Affirmative, door two opening,” comes a tinny voice through the headset, and then the fucking roof just splits in two, a huge circular door opening up above them.

“Awaiting your signal,” Steve says, then looks at Bucky. It’s a deep, assessing look like he’s about to say something really profound and Bucky braces himself, but then Steve seems to second guess himself, turning his attention back to the control panel.

Bucky’s disappointed. He looks away, pulling his work phone out of his pocket. He debates only for a second before opening up a message and sending it to Clint.

[Message JBBarnes 09:29]  Leaving the building with the Commander. Don’t know how long I’ll be. Everything is okay.

It looks work-ish enough that he doesn’t worry about giving Toby an aneurysm by sending it. He’s just managed to tuck it back in his pocket when a voice says “Commander Rogers you are clear for liftoff. Door two is good. I repeat, door two is good.”

“Roger,” says Steve, then shoots Bucky a look like he’s daring him to laugh about it. Bucky is not going to laugh about it, mostly because he’s never been in a helicopter before and if Steve’s flying is anything like his driving then they’re gonna die. The noise of the rotors is shockingly loud and the whole thing is juddering like it’s impatient to get off the ground.

“Hey, do you have a licence to fly this thing?” He yelps as the chopper lifts up suddenly, leaving the ground. Oh god, he’s flying. He’s officially flying again for the first time since they shipped him home.

“Don’t be dumb, I don’t need a licence to fly a helicopter,” Steve says dismissively, and with that they’re lifting up, up, up, out through the roof and into the fucking sky.

Bucky’s struck dumb for what could possibly be the first time ever as the helicopter takes them up over New York. It’s not like being in a plane; the whole front of the goddamn chopper is glass and it makes him feel like he’s in a mechanical bubble, drifting over the city. It’s amazing. He wants superpowers and he wants all of them to be related to being able to fly because this is the coolest shit he’s ever seen. He can see the whole of Brooklyn, sprawled out indolently beneath them. Beyond that, he can just make out Manhattan, skyscrapers jostling for space. Fuck, he can literally see Avengers Tower from here.

A voice comes over the headsets, asking them to identify themselves. Steve replies with a calm, “Commander Rogers with SHIELD flying Commander one. Today's code is Yankee eight-two-nine-four-eight, heading out past Sandy Hook. Giving JFK a wide berth, thanks guys,” and that’s that, they’re not bothered again.

“I can’t believe you’re allowed to just do this shit,” Bucky says, leaning sideways to get a better look at Coney Island, the Cyclone looking like a tangle of string from this height. “I want to be a bird.”

“I can't just do what I want, I have to fly in a certain range, make sure I’m not gonna cause trouble for any of the commercial craft,” Steve says. “I shouldn’t really do this for personal reasons. But I guess this is important.”

A soft beeping from the panel has Bucky whipping around and panicking, thinking they’re about to be sideswiped by goddamn American Airlines or some shit, but it’s not an emergency kind of beeping. It’s a ‘Maria is calling’ beeping, which might count as an emergency, depending on what she's calling about.

Steve accepts the call. "Maria."

Maria sounds somewhere between confused and wary when she replies. “Why has your helicopter just left the hangar? Are you in it or has someone stolen it?”

“I’m in it,” Steve says.

“Do you realise the amount of paperwork you’ve just made for yourself,” Maria says. “Unscheduled lift off? Unapproved flight paths? The flight deck are having kittens.”

“I’ll deal with the paperwork,” Steve says. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I am worried. You try to shanghai my assistant and then vanish, leaving Sanders in charge? And I can’t find Barnes anywhere, if you’ve upset him again-”

“He’s with me,” Steve says.

“Have you kidnapped him?”

“No, he’s here of his own free will,” Steve says indignantly. “We’ve got some shit to talk about and people kept asking me questions about cyber security, so I made the executive decision to get the hell out of there.”

“Why do you always have to be so dramatic?!”

“I am not.”

“You could have gone for a coffee, or sat on the roof-”

“Maria, with how pissed off I am feeling right now, the roof wasn’t far enough,” Steve says flatly. “Anyway, I have to go, I’m in a meeting with my PA. Check in later, Rogers out,” Steve says, and he cuts the call.

Bucky looks at him. “A meeting? Really?”

“Depends,” Steve says, “if you want this to go down as friends or colleagues.”

“You can’t just separate the two,” Bucky says, frustration kicking right back into gear. “Yes, at work our priority is work, but you can’t just draw a line and say here we are colleagues, here we are friends. If you’re friends with someone, that doesn’t switch off. Yeah, we might not be talking about personal shit or drinking beers while we’re at work but that doesn’t mean we’re not friends.”

Steve doesn’t reply to that, but Bucky doesn’t think he’s being ignored. He knows it takes Steve a while to get going, to loosen up enough to talk on a more personal level. So instead of trying to force it out of him, Bucky just sits quietly and watches out the window as the East Coast slides away beneath them, taking it as time to admire the scenery and take stock of how he feels. He’s definitely not as angry as he was an hour ago, but they’ve still got a long way to go to get them back on even footing.

At least he and Clint are on the same page now. God, Bucky has a boyfriend. An official boyfriend. In the chaos surrounding Steve he’s not even had a chance to really think about it. He wants to text Becca like now, wants to put it on his Instagram and Twitter. If someone had told him six months ago that he would find himself in a relationship, he probably would have cried and refused to believe it.

He can hardly believe it now. He's found someone who likes him, all five foot one of obnoxious humour and issues. Someone who likes body and his metal arm to boot. Someone who thinks he's willing to fight for.

It feels...well. It feel a little bit like flying does, actually.

 


 

They set down a couple of hours later. Bucky’s been keeping an eye out for helipads or small airports but of course Steve throws him off by simply setting his goddamn helicopter down on the beach. It’s abandoned except for one lone man with a metal detector, who just stands there and gapes as they land. Bucky waves and he waves dumbly back, watching as the rotors slow down, whining as they come to a stop like they’re sad they’re no longer flying.

“Wait here,” Steve says, and climbs out. The cold air rushes in and Bucky shivers, huddling down into his parka and wishing he had some handwarmers stashed in the pockets. Steve goes to the side doors of the helicopter, climbing up into the back and rummaging in a locker that’s set into the wall. “Here,” Steve says, passing gloves and a hat through to Bucky. “You’ll need them.”

Bucky takes them wordlessly, bundling up before climbing out of the helicopter. He pats it on the side as he climbs out, a little ‘ thank you for making me feel magical’ that he hopes it understands.

They’re on a tiny spit of land, the beach a narrow divide between the rolling Atlantic in front and the shallow estuary behind. There are no houses, no buildings of any kind, just a narrow track that barely qualifies as a road.

“Where the hell are we?”

“Atlantic coast, North Carolina,” Steve says, and he sits down right there next to the helicopter, staring out over the ocean. It’s like a rippling sheet of metal, grey even where the sun manages to peek through.

“I’m already having city-withdrawal,” Bucky says, and hesitates for a moment before sitting down next to him. He holds his metal arm close to his chest because even though he’s wearing three layers and gloves, he’s pretty worried about getting sand in it.

Steve notices him squirming, of course he does. “Here,” he says, and reaches for Bucky’s hand. Bucky sticks it out and Steve carefully tugs and pulls at his cuffs, getting his shirtsleeve tucked into the glove and then pulling his coat back over them both. “Better?”

Bucky nods. He pulls his legs up and wraps his arms around them, resting his chin on his knees. “I don’t like the ocean,” he says. “It’s too big and scary and there are things in there with tentacles that might try and touch me.”

“Blatant shark erasure,” Steve says, and then out of nowhere, “I should fire myself.”

Bucky looks at him sharply, unable to judge the tone. He’s kidding right? His voice says yes but his face says no. His face says, ‘I have let people down and I no longer deserve to be Commander.’

“You can’t, because then who's in charge?”

“Maria,” Steve shrugs.

“Oh yeah,” Bucky says, because duh. “But then who does Maria's job?”

“Agent Booker,” Steve says, easy enough that it’s clear that he’s thought about this already. God, Bucky hopes it’s an actual real contingency plan and not just because of this mess.   

“No way bitch, the man killed someone with a block of cheese,” Bucky says. “Can you imagine what he'd do with some serious power?”

Steve makes an irritated noise, shoving his hand into his pocket to get his phone. He looks at it, scowls, then gets his cigarettes out instead. “It was a cheese wire, not a block of cheese, where does this shit even come from?”

“Sorry Commander, but your elite interplanetary anti-terrorism task force is super fucking gossipy.”

He expects Steve to jab back in their familiar back and forth banter but he doesn't. He goes quiet as he lights his cigarette, then passes it to Bucky before lighting another. He seems tired all of a sudden, like this whole argument is draining him as much as it’s draining Bucky.

“You do know I am sorry,” he says quietly, back to staring at the ocean. “I never meant to - well. I was angry and upset so I wanted to make you feel bad, but I didn’t mean for it to go this far.”

“I think you really fucking underestimated your ability to upset me,” Bucky says. “I thought we were friends. You came to my apartment and had dinner with me and my sister, and then suddenly you’re treating me like shit.”

Steve doesn’t even blink. It’s like he’s a statue, carved from stone and sadness.

“Why were you upset?” Bucky asks suddenly. “It can’t just be because I slept with Clint when you told me not to.”

“I…” Steve begins, and Bucky sees him swallow, his throat bobbing. Jesus, how is he not fucking cold. Someone get the man a goddamn scarf. “I was angry that you’d done it when I’d told you not to,” he says. “But I think I was upset that you hadn't told me. I thought we were friends and you hadn't told me.”

Well, shit , Bucky thinks. Five points to Becca.

“And so then I pretty much convinced myself we weren’t actually friends, which upset me even more, and so I got shitty with you because I didn’t think you’d care.”

“Oh, Steve,” Bucky says, wanting to hug him or smack him upside the head. Both. Both would be good. “You’re really good at making assumptions, huh?”

“I’m a bad friend,” Steve says, light and far too self-deprecating. “There’s a reason I’m at an arm's length with the Avengers. I’ve not been good at this shit since I came out of the ice.”

“That’s because of the massive PTSD you’ve probably got, you lunatic,” Bucky huffs. He shoulders at Steve, shoving at his arm until Steve gets the hint and lifts it, letting Bucky wriggle into the space right at his side. Steve looks surprised and hopeful all at once, letting his arm settle over Bucky’s shoulders. “Look,” Bucky says. “No arm’s length here.”

Steve squeezes him, his gratitude evident. Bucky feels his eyes go warm and for a moment he thinks he might cry just from relief. What he's got with Steve isn't like what he has with Clint, but it weirdly feels just as important.

“Hey, you know Clint thinks of you like a brother, right?” Bucky says suddenly. “You better not be arm’s lengthing him, you literally mean the world to him.”

“I didn’t realize…” Steve says, scratching at his eyebrow with his thumb, cigarette nestled between his fingers. He trails off, goes back to staring out at the ocean. Bucky wonders if it scares him, the sight of all that frigid water.

“Steve,” Bucky prompts.

“Hmm?”

“You need to talk to Clint too.”

“I will,” Steve says, then turns to look at Bucky properly, a dumb little hopeful smile on his face. "I will if you accept my apology?"

“I dunno," Bucky says honestly. "Are you gonna be cool with…”

“What? Go on, I’m not gonna get mad,” Steve says.

“Me and Clint being together,” Bucky says in a rush. “Like...boyfriends. He asked me this morning. Asked if I wanted to be with him. Like, not just casual.”

Steve nods slowly, absently, like he’s considering how he feels about it. He takes  deep drag on his cigarette. “That’ll be a lot of paperwork.”

“We already got it,” Bucky says. “We went to see Toby this morning.”

“Serious enough for HR? Wow.”

Steve,” Bucky says, close to whining. “I want you to be happy for me.”

“Okay, okay,” Steve says, putting his cigarette out in the sand then carefully stashing the stub in one of his pockets. “I’ll try, okay? If it helps...I think you’ll be good together. Just-” he stops, laughing a little. “I was about to give you advice, how fucking dumb is that?”

“Go on, what were you gonna say? If it’s dumb advice I will slow clap you appropriately.”

“Just - Clint kind of has two modes. One is so casual he seems like he doesn’t care, and one is super intense,” Steve says. “You’re not gonna get twitchy if he does get real intense on you, are you?”

“He’s already there,” Bucky says a little ruefully. “He turned up at my apartment because I didn’t text him back. And he made a joke about us being married when we went to HR for paperwork.”

“That’s Clint,” Steve says. “Is that a problem for you?”

“No,” Bucky says. “He respects my boundaries when I spell them out. And besides, he’s great in bed, makes up for a lot.”

“Gah,” Steve shoves him sideways so he ends up sprawled on the sand. “I don’t want to know.”

“That’s homophobic, I’m telling Toby you’re being homophobic,” Bucky says as he pushes himself back up again. “Wait - I didn’t tell you! My neighbor is totally being so fucking nice and polite to me since you tore him a new one-”

“And you didn’t want me to,” Steve scoffs, then gives Bucky a gentle shake. “I care about you. Wasn’t gonna let some bigot make you feel bad about being you. I think you do that enough on your own.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Bucky says. “Like you can talk.”

Steve scrunches up his face, a classic ‘yeah, you’re right but I don’t want to admit it ,’ expression. He sighs, arm going tight around Bucky’s shoulders for a moment. “Yeah, about that….can I ask you to do something for me?”

“A work thing?”

“No, a friend thing.”

“Shoot.”

“Help me find a therapist,” Steve says. He won’t look at Bucky as he says it. “Someone to talk to, maybe. But do not tell anyone.”

“I can't promise that,” Bucky says cautiously. “I mean...Becca. And I’d probably tell Clint. I’m not gonna start a relationship with him and keep shit from him.”

“Wow,” Steve says, brows going up and something suspiciously close to hurt crossing his face.

“Look, if you really didn’t want me to tell Clint, I wouldn’t,” Bucky reassesses. “I get how it’d be weird because you’re technically his boss and you might not want him knowing personal shit.”

“Whatever,” Steve shrugs. “I mean, you would obviously side with Clint…”

“Steve,” Bucky says reproachfully, nudging at his ribs with his elbow. He’s starting to sense that maybe it’s not just about the therapy thing. “You know even if Clint is my boyfriend...that doesn’t change anything about the fact me and you are friends.”

Steve exhales hard, breath visible on the air. “I think I needed to hear that,” he says. “Thank you. I know everyone jokes about it all the time but I’m - I’m a fucking mess. My last girlfriend couldn’t handle it-”

“You CIA girlfriend?”

“Yeah,” Steve says sadly. “I’m like...I’ve got so much experience in some things and none in others but everyone expects me to be all wise about everything-”

“You’ve got plus eight tactical and military stats, negative five social skills,” Bucky says. “I get it. Making friends in the army is different to making friends in the real world. It’s hard to switch between the two. Why do you think my only friend is my sister?”

Steve nods again. “When they gave me the serum, they said it’d amplify everything inside as well as outside. Which meant my good qualities, but kind of also meant how fucking stubborn I can be.”

“You? Stubborn? No,” Bucky deadpans and Steve shoves him over again. He laughs, sitting back up and muscling back under Steve’s arm.

“Thanks for this, Steve,” he says quietly. “I know it’s hard for you to talk. So I appreciate it.”

He doesn’t say out loud that there’s a small part of him that’s ridiculously puffing out its chest and preening at the fact that Steve goddamn Rogers trusts him more than anyone else.

“So, friends again?”

“Bitch please, we always were friends. We just had a temporary breakdown in communication.”

Steve throws back his head and laughs at that, and even Bucky can't help but grin. It’s like a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders, leaving him feeling so light that he could probably fly home without the damn helicopter.

“Breakdown in communication, sure,” Steve snickers, and Bucky’s about to bite back when Steve’s phone starts beeping. He pulls it out with a sigh but then goes very still as he looks at the screen.

“I don’t know that number.”

Bucky abandons his retaliatory plans of trying to push Steve into the sand. “Answer it.”

Steve does, hitting the speaker button and holding the phone in front of him. “Commander Rogers speaking.”

“Oh good,” rasps a voice and Bucky literally feels how Steve goes tense, his hand clenching tight around the phone. “Been trying to call you all morning, buddy.”

“Rumlow,” Steve replies evenly, and Bucky chokes on air. Rumlow? The Crossbones guy? The guy that’s trying to steal bioweapons? The guy that shot Steve?

“So I hear you’re trying to intercept me in Laos,” Rumlow says. “You’re really making it hard for my guys to get their payday, you know.”

“You know me,” Steve says slowly. “Can’t just hand over the goods without a fight.”

Rumlow laughs. “That’s good, that’s good,” he says. “Ironic though.”

“Ironic?”

“Yeah, I’m not in Laos,” Rumlow says. “Banner’s friend told me the moment he called, wanting to come for a quick visit. You really think I’m that dumb?”

“Most of the time, yeah,” Steve replies, slowly standing up and opening the door to the helicopter, urgently waving Bucky in. “Where are you, Rumlow?”

“Normally I’d go tell you to fuck yourself,” Rumlow rasps. “But I’m kind of banking on you coming to me. You’ve got a great view here, Commander. I like the windows.”

“He’s at SHIELD,” Bucky mouths, horrified. He clambers across into his seat, heart beating hard enough to make him feel sick. Clint is at SHIELD. Maria is at SHIELD. Along with nothing more than a skeleton crew because everyone else is out on mission.

“You better not be sitting in my chair,” Steve says lightly, looking at Bucky. “Call Maria,” he mouths, and Bucky nods, pulling his phone out with shaking hands. He tries but it doesn’t even connect. All he gets is a dull, flat tone, telling him the phone is off or unavailable.

“Yeah, but who the fuck has a bedroom attached to their office? You need to get a fucking life, Commander,” Rumlow says. “Or get better at your job. You know we practically walked in here, right? You handed over your whole facility without a fight.”

Bucky tries calling Clint and he feels his heart rend in two as it refuses to connect, just like Maria’s line. Feeling like he might puke, he shows Steve his phone screen and shakes his head.

Steve goes pale, his jaw going tight. That’s almost scarier than anything Bucky’s ever seen - if Steve is rattled then it’s serious. “I’ll just bring the fight to you,” Steve says, voice low and dark. “You’re gonna pay, you know that?”

“Sure,” Rumlow says, sounding gleeful in a horribly vindictive way. “After I make you pay by burning this place to the fucking ground. Maybe drop some buildings on some of your friends, you know what I mean?”

The call cuts out, and Steve’s phonescreen goes dark.

Chapter Text

They’re airborne again in thirty seconds flat. They take off so hard that several alarms in the helicopter shriek at them and Bucky suspects that he’s left his stomach back on the beach, but he doesn’t care. Hell, he barely even notices. A fucking mercenary assassin has hijacked the building where his brand new boyfriend is - he doesn’t care if Steve breaks all the laws while getting them back.

“Try and call Clint again,” Steve says as he flicks switches on the console, silencing the alarms. They accelerate forwards fast enough that the whole chopper tilts, nose down towards the ocean and tail in the air as it picks up speed.

“Yes, Sir,” Bucky says. He’s having to hold his phone in his real hand because the metal one keeps clenching convulsively, obviously not suited to the sensory overload.

Steve picks up his own phone, holding it to his ear. “Goddamnit Nat, pick up your fucking phone,” he says tersely. “Fuck. Is Clint picking up?”

“No, it’s still not connecting,” Bucky says. Steve makes an angry sound and passes over his phone. “Call Sam.”

Bucky takes the phone and does as he’s told. He’s so frantic that he barely even notices the helicopter being buffeted around in the wind, the way it sways and dips like a plaything in the hands of a giant. He throws out a hand to hold onto the arm of his seat, listening as the phone rings and rings and rings-

“Commander, I’m a little busy here!”

“It’s Bucky - Cap, it’s Bucky,” Bucky says. “Rumlow has taken SHIELD.”

“What?!” Sam says. Bucky can hear shouting and screaming in the background, a dull roar and a strange wooden creaking. It sounds like he’s on a boat, like a big old pirate type thing, but Bucky knows that the Avengers have access to Stark technology that makes NASA look like it’s working with duplo, so why the fuck would Cap be on a boat?

“Put him on speaker,” Steve says, and Bucky does. “Sam, it’s Steve. Rumlow has taken SHIELD. Maria and Clint are there, and a skeleton crew. I need you here-”

“I can’t! Steve, I’m in London with Brian - with Captain Britain.”

“Why the hell are you in London?!”

“Sailing the Thames, taking in the sights, and saving the goddamn world, like you taught me to do!”

“Can you get away?” Steve asks. “Honest answer.”

“No,” Sam says without a pause. “No, I can’t. If this goes sideways then we’re looking at an interdimensional rift-”

“Understood,” Steve says. “Be safe. Bucky, call Tony.”

Bucky hangs up on Sam and dials Tony, leaving the phone on speaker even though every unanswered ring is making Steve’s jaw clench tighter and tighter. He literally jumps when the phone makes a series of strange beeps but then it just goes back to ringing again, sour disappointment churning in Bucky’s stomach.

“Come on, come on,” he whispers, and he has never been so desperate to hear Tony Stark’s voice-

“Commander Rogers, how nice of you to call.”

Bucky lets out a strangled yell, holding the phone out towards Steve.

“Please tell me you’re in Manhattan,” Steve says immediately. “Rumlow has taken SHIELD.”

“What?” Tony asks. “How did he take SHIELD?”

“Because no-one was there and Bruce’s goddamn friend tipped him off!” Steve says. “I’m two hours out and Clint and Maria are caught up in it, we can’t get in contact with either of them.”

“Oh boy,” Tony says. “Cap - Steve, I really hate to tell you this but I’m on the moon.”

There’s a long pause.

“What did you just say?” Steve half-whispers, sounding strangled.

“I’m on the moon.”

“Why the fuck are you on the moon?!”

“Research!” Tony replies, indignant. “Elon Musk said he was gonna be the first person to build a house on the moon. I decided he wasn’t.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?! I told you yesterday that I was stretched thin and so you go to the fucking moon?!”

“In my defense,” Tony begins. “No, I got nothing. I can be there in ten hours, give or take-”

“You are unbelievable,” Steve snarls.

“Steve, I’m sorry,” Tony says, sounding more stressed than Bucky has ever heard him. “Hang on I'll call the intern, he'll come and help."

"How the fuck is a Stark Industries intern going to help me?!" Steve bellows but the phone just lets out a cheery triple beep, the sound of a disconnected call.

“Sure, makes perfect sense,” Steve rants, jabbing viciously at control buttons. He’s gonna put his fingers through the console if he’s not careful. “So it’s me versus Rumlow and however many guys he has, trying to break into a place I’ve spent five years turning into the most secure facility in the United States.”

“And me,” Bucky says.

Steve shakes his head. “This is not in your job description.”

“Fuck my job description,” Bucky snaps. “Clint is in trouble and you need help, I’m not just gonna sit here, am I?”

“I can't ask you to do that,” Steve says. “I have to keep you safe.”

Bucky reaches out to grab Steve’s arm. “I was in the army, Steve. I know how this goes.”

“Your sister will kill me if I drag you back into a fight,” Steve says. “You got out for a reason, Buck.”

“I got out because my arm got blown off, it wasn’t my choice,” Bucky says. “This is my choice, Steve. Respect that it’s my choice.”

And Steve is looking right at him with his goddamn X-ray eyes, and Bucky is holding his ground because this is fucking important, he is not just going to sit by and play with his dick while people are getting hurt, while people need his help. He’s doesn’t dare look away, doesn’t dare blink. He knows how big this decision is. He knows how much it could fuck him up. He’s going to do it anyway.

And something he’s said or yelled over the last few hours must have sunk in, because Steve is actually listening to him and he’s relenting, nodding. He reaches over to clasp Bucky’s hand, squeezing it once before letting go.

“Alright,” he says. “Let’s go save the fucking day.”

 


 

 

They approach New York from the West, keeping low to try and avoid being detected, though Steve points out that if Rumlow has managed to hack their surveillance array, it’s a lost cause. Regardless, they touch down in Red Hook, in the middle of the Gowanus freight terminal, scaring the crap out of the dockers and freight handlers. Steve simply jumps down from the helicopter, nodding at them with a polite, “Afternoon,” before hauling open the back door of the chopper.

Bucky scrambles down after him, impatient. “Come on,” he says to Steve. “What’re we waiting for?”

“You want to run in there half-cocked, really?” Steve says, rummaging through a locker. “You want to fight, you gotta wear a uniform.”

“You are a foot taller than me, nothing is gonna fit,” Bucky says and then yelps as he’s hit in the face by something that’s somehow simultaneously soft and hard - he drags it down and holds it up; it’s some sort of long-sleeved top with reinforced panels on the front and back, like it’s a running top with a kevlar jacket embedded in it.

“Bulletproof to a point,” Steve says. “A ricochet won’t get through but don’t stand in the way of anything.” Bucky nods and pulls his tie off, throwing it into the pilot’s seat before stripping off his shirt and pulling the top on.

“Hey, it fits!”

“It’s Nat’s,” Steve says. “I doubt you’re gonna fit in her pants, though.”

“Lemme try, I don’t wanna go in there with my junk unprotected,” Bucky says, and Steve passes over a pair of similar pants; tight fitting stretchy fabric with reinforced panels and seams. He doesn’t think twice about dropping his pants to change into them; he’s got more to worry about than his bare ass being ogled by some random dock-workers in Gowanus. They do fit, though he has to roll the hems up on his ankles, a fact he hopes no-one fucking notices. At least it’s hidden by the boots Steve gives him; they’re a pinch on the small side but they’re better than the goddamn sneakers he was wearing before. Dropped paperclips have hurt his toes in those canvas things - at least now his toes are scrunched under steel toe-caps.

“I’m dressed as the Black Widow, this is…” Bucky trails off, sliding on a utility belt. “I don’t know if it’s awesome or horrifying.”

“Whatever keeps you safe,” Steve says tersely. “You want a gun?”

Bucky doesn’t even have time to process the word gun and how he feels about it before Steve is turning around and holding out a fucking beautiful Dragunov sniper rifle. “I did try and convince her to buy American but she wasn’t having it,” Steve says shortly, pressing it into Bucky’s hands. “I’m pretty sure it’s never been used.”

“This is mine now,” Bucky says, and almost wants to bite the words back. It’s been too long since he’s held a rifle and it feels better than he was anticipating. It feels good . He slowly adjusts his grip so his metal fingers are secure on the hand guard, testing how it feels. It will be one of his real fingers on the trigger, which makes him feel more in control.

More like he can do this.

“Yeah?” Steve asks. “You good?”

“I’m good,” Bucky confirms. “For now.”

Steve nods like he understands. “Let’s hold it together to get this shit done, then we’ll pick up the pieces afterwards.”

“Deal,” Bucky says. “I want a knife. A big one.”

“Knock yourself out,” Steve says, and jumps down out of the helicopter. “I’m going to go borrow a car. You get all the ammo and knives you want, I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Yes, Sir,” Bucky says, and he finds that the words come easier than he thought they would.

 


 

Bucky gets his knife, and a thigh holster to put it in. He gets enough rounds for his rifle to take down Rumlow two hundred times over. He takes a deep breath, testing his own foundations.

They waver, but hold. With that in mind, he pulls out his phone and sends a message to the number he’s had programmed in since Becca and Steve both strong-armed him back into therapy.

Hey Cynthia it’s Bucky Barnes, texting from my work phone. About to go do something really dangerous, will probably need a shit load of appointments when I’m done.

He hits send, then sends a second message to his sister.

love you becs.

He puts his phone away, and straightens up, rifle in hand and ready.

 


 

Steve pulls up eight minutes later in a motherfucking Prius. He’s also apparently paid the guys at the docks a few hundred bucks to keep an eye on his helicopter, which he locks and secures before leaving it with three burly men, two of whom salute him as he leaves.

“You really trust the integrity of strangers in Brooklyn, huh?”

“Someone’s gotta,” Steve says. “Ready?”

Bucky nods and ducks into the car, keeping a tight grip on his rifle. “Punch it,” he says, and Steve does as much as he is able to in a fucking Prius. Steve waves goodbye to the helicopter guys as he pulls away. Dear god, one has a crowbar. He’s either super serious about protecting Steve’s property or he’s about to rob them and sell all the weapons and tactical gear on the black market.

“I’m getting that weird adrenaline focus zoom feeling,” Bucky says as they tear through the traffic. “Everything’s in HD.”

“Good,” Steve says. “Use it. You doing okay?”

“I’d like to not lose any more limbs,” Bucky says. “If we can get SHIELD back and keep all our limbs, I’m taking it as a win.”

Steve nods and undercuts a cab which blares its horn at them. “You know SHIELD has a kill order on Rumlow, right?”

“Good,” Bucky says. “If he’s hurt Clint, I’m going to kill him myself.”

“You gonna be okay with that?”

Bucky shrugs. “Killshots don’t keep me up at night,” he says. “Thinking about getting blown up does.”

“Good to know,” Steve says. “You should talk to Agent Booker some day. I think you’d get on.”

“Yeah? Reckon he’d show me how to kill someone with cheese?”

“Probably,” Steve says, switching lanes twice in quick succession. Christ, nevermind working as a stripper, if SHIELD 2.0 ever goes under Steve could easily get a job as a stunt driver, or a cabbie. “Okay, ETA twenty minutes. We can either somehow sneak in and somehow try and get the upper hand with the security systems, or we can knock on the front door and go for it.”

“I know you’re not a fan of sneaking, but I vote sneaking,” Bucky says. “We need to get more intel. We need to find out where Clint and Maria are.”

“I’m actually inclined to agree,” Steve says. “Let’s get to outer security and see where we’re at. Now, get your phone and call this number.”

Bucky does as bid, phone on speaker as he dials the number that Steve rattles off. It rings, it rings, then a voice filled with dread answers.

“Rogers, you know it makes me nervous when you call this number.”

“Afternoon, Commissioner,” Steve says. “Got a situation at SHIELD, could turn nasty. Requesting six response teams to form a civilian perimeter at three hundred yards, eyes on all exits from the facility.”

“You are a pain in my ass, Rogers, you know that? Where the hell are your goddamn SHIELD teams?”

“Busy saving the world,” Steve says. “Thank you, Sir.”

He makes a slashing motion across his throat and so Bucky hangs up. Hangs up on the goddamn Commissioner.

“They’d take hours to mobilise for actual support, which is hours we don’t have,” Steve says. “But they’ll do in a pinch. At least they’ll keep the civilians back, hopefully limit any potential collateral.”

“Oh good,” Bucky says. “Anyone else we can call for backup?”

“Nope,” Steve says. “From here on it’s just you and me, pal.”

 


 

They pull up at the outer checkpoint to be met with eerie silence. The barriers are down and there is no one in the huts. The bulletproof glass on the left hut is fractured, hit by something with a serious amount of force. Ahead, Bucky can see a shuttle, stationary on the rails.

“Keep low, stay this side of the huts,” Steve instructs. “If they’ve got access to security cameras they’ll see us.”

"Where is everyone?" Bucky asks. He feels on edge, too vulnerable on his left side, worrying his arm isn’t going to react properly when he needs it to.

Steve edges forwards, peering into the huts and scanning the floor. "I don't know," he says slowly. "And I don't like that I don't know."

“How much security was here?”

“Four guys,” Steve says. “Four here and four on the inner door. There’s no way they could have got in through the front door, it’s on a rotating code, changes every twelve hours. Not unless one of the security guys let them in.”

“You trust your security guys?”

“Yes,” Steve says, jaw clenching tight.

“Well then where else are the vulnerable spots?”

“The most obvious one?” Steve says. “The lower deck. The outer doors stay open and with enough men and boats someone could get across the bay and storm the deck. Then they’ve just got to get the code for the inner doors because they’re not biometric or on rolling codes.”

Bucky goes to reply with something serious about accessing the lower deck and instead just screams, because a goddamn figure drops out of the motherfucking sky. It does a backflip and lands next to him, straightening up and waving, with a cheery, “Hey guys!”

Bucky leaps away from the figure because his instinct knows that he’s better at a distance when he’s got a rifle of this caliber in hand. Steve lunges towards the figure because obviously he was born without a flight reflex. The visitor yelps like he’s the offended party here, and dives away from the gun in Steve’s right hand. As quick as he moves, he isn’t quick enough to dodge his left fist; there’s a dull thud and a strangled cry, and the visitor goes flying. Heart in his throat, Bucky wheels around with his rifle aimed at the figure. Steve is almost as quick, leaning forwards and pinning the figure to the ground, knee in his back and arms twisted up behind him.

“Ow, ow, ow, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

Bucky takes a step forwards in disbelief because a) the voice sounds like the person who just scared the life outta them is 12 years old, and b) they’re wearing a form-fitting red and blue outfit and Bucky has seen that outfit on both the news and Instagram.

“Spider-man?!”

“Yeah, I’m him, that’s me,” the figure says breathlessly. “I’m a good guy, I swear.”

“You’re a vigilante,” Steve says, he lets go of the kids wrists and stands up, one hand drifting to the gun on his thigh.

The kid notices. Somehow the white eye-holes of the mask shrink slightly. “No, no, don’t shoot! I’m here to help, Mister Stark said you needed help!”

“Mister Stark?” Steve replies in disbelief. “How do you - take the mask off.”

“I’d like to keep in on please.”

“Take it off,” Bucky echoes, pointing the barrel of his rifle at the kid’s face. His metal fingers are steady, the perfect amount of pressure on the grip.

“Okay okay, don’t shoot,” the kid jabbers and pulls it off, revealing messy brown hair, wide brown eyes and an absolutely-shitting-his-pants expression.

“Parker?!” Steve says.

Bucky stares, nonplussed. “Who?”

“Peter Parker. Tony’s goddamn Stark Industries intern,” Steve says. Bucky lowers his rifle, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers to try and compose himself.

“He said he was out of town and you needed help?” Parker says. “So...I’m help?”

“You’re telling me that we’ve been looking for Spider-Man for months and Tony’s been hiding him in plain sight all this time?”

“Steve!” Bucky protests. “Can we be mad at Stark later?!”

“Just Mr. Stark, right?” Parker asks quickly. “Because I really haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Don’t even start,” Steve bites out, and Parker clacks his mouth shut and gives him a thumbs up. “Okay,” Steve exhales heavily through his nose. “Parker. Can you climb up the walls?”

Parker nods, gestures at his costume. “Yeah. I mean, I’m Spider-man.”

“If I tell you where the security cameras cover, can you climb up and over the roof, look into the lower deck and see if that’s how Crossbones got in?”

“Yes,” Parker says, then pauses. “Just before I go, can I ask, what’s a lower deck and what’s a Crossbones?”

“Crossbones is the bad guy,” Bucky chips in. “Wears a hockey mask because Steve dropped a building on his face. He’s here for revenge.”

“Ohhhhh sure, makes sense,” Parker nods. “Lower deck?”

Steve gestures for them to follow and he crouches down, back to the hut. He starts scratching out a rough plan of the facility in the dirt.

“Here,” he says. “It’s where the quinjets take off and land from. It has a big open door in the side of the facility, like an aircraft hangar built into the side of the island.”

“Very evil genius,” Parker says, and hastily tries to backtrack as Steve gives him a withering look. “Sorry Mister Commander, Sir. Continue.”

The look on Steve’s face clearly says ‘rogue mercenaries and generation Z will be the death of me ,’ but he settles for just giving Bucky a ‘give me strength,’ glance before carrying on. “Cameras on the roof cover this area and this area, if you can stick to the upper walls, you should be fine.”

“Okay got it,” Parker says, and then he’s gone, webbing appearing from his goddamn wrists and whipping him away faster than Bucky can blink.

“So it’s me, you and a Spider-kid,” Steve says, scrubbing at his face. “Though he is gonna be helpful if he follows orders.”

“He’s a vigilante,” Bucky points out.

“So was I, a few years ago,” Steve says, and then they both jump as Bucky’s phone starts to ring. He fumbles it out of his pocket and they both look at the unrecognised number before Steve gives him the go-ahead to answer it.

“Hello?”

“Bucky?”

“Yes, who’s this?”

“It’s Jade!”

Bucky does a double take. “Holy shit, are you okay? Are you in the building?”

“Yeah, I didn’t know what to do or who to call, but I got your number after we had lunch and I was going to call you and ask you out but then remembered that we’re not allowed to use the work phones for that and I tried to get your real number but no-one has it-”

“Jade! Get to the point!”

“Jade, are you in the building?” Steve asks, Commander voice fully turned on.

“Yes, yes I am, I hid in the bathroom and they missed me, and I’ve managed to get into one of the saferooms with Kevin, you know Kevin?”

“Kevin the cyber-sec wunderkind?” Steve says. “The one who created the enigma codes for the front doors?”

“Yeah, him! We’ve locked ourselves in saferoom three and we’re basically pretending we're an AI in the system as they try to break into surveillance and the armoury. We keep giving bits and cutting off others, laying down false trails. They’re trying to break the encryption on the cafeteria accounts app at the minute because they think it’s the GPS systems-”

Jade’s voice is lost as Parker reappears with a thump, breathless and excited.

“Jade, hang on,” Bucky says, turning his attention to Parker.

“Yeah they have dinghys. Is that the word? A little boat thing. And the outside doors and inside doors of the deck are open, you can see right in. Shall we follow them in that way?”

“No,” Steve says. “If he’s left the doors open then he’s expecting me to follow him in that way. We need to be smarter. Jade, who has control of they cameras?”

“We do, but they think they do,” Jade says. “We’ve managed to put a loop over one where Agent Hill and Agent Sanders are being held so if they manage to get out, they’ll never know.”

“You are my new favourite intern,” Steve says. “So the armoury is secure? What about the actual file server?”

“Both holding for now.”

“What about Clint?” Bucky asks, urgent. “Where’s Hawkeye?”

“The bad guy has him,” Jade says. “Crossbones? He’s in the Commander's office with Hawkeye and a bunch of other guys, they’re waiting for Commander Rogers to come in through the lower deck and rescue him.”

“Is he okay?”

“I think he’s got a broken nose,” Jade says. “But he keeps singing - well, you know that video of those two guys singing ‘go suck a dick’ to Pachelbel's canon in D? Yeah, he’s singing that.”

Parker chokes on a laugh and even Bucky has to close his eyes to compose himself. Steve just looks baffled.

“He’s singing what?”

Parker takes a deep breath but Bucky throws out a hand, pointing at him with a metal finger. “Do not start singing,” he threatens. “Steve, forget it.”

Steve shakes his head. “Okay Jade, what else can you give us?”

“Not much,” she says, sounding disappointed in herself. “I don’t know what to do.”

“You’re gonna turn the alarms off the basement and ventilation systems,” Steve says. “Turn ‘em all off.”

“Gottit,” says an unfamiliar voice, presumably Kevin. “Yeah, they’re off. We should really make it harder for people to do that.”

“That can be your project when this is done,” Steve says. “Alright, sit tight and keep them busy, kid. I might need to you loop some more camera feeds in a bit.”

“Yes, sir,” Jade says, and ends the call.

“Put that on silent,” Steve says, and Bucky does. “I have a plan.”

Parker raises his hand. “Uh, me too. You ever seen Shawshank Redemption?”

Steve grins. “I have. You ever seen Die Hard?”

Parker laughs and then they both turn to look expectantly at Bucky, who feels a thrill of trepidation run down his spine.

“Oh no,” he says. “I’m not gonna like this, am I?”

 


 

 

Bucky fucking hates Steve and he hates his stupid plan. Mostly because it’s dangerous, but also because he’s sitting in a sling made of spiderweb and he’s being lowered into a storm drain around twenty feet back from the security huts.  

“I hate this plan,” he says, just in case anyone missed it the first time around.

“Could be worse, at least it’s not a sewer pipe,” Steve calls down. “I’m not asking you to crawl through shit.”

“You’re not like full Dufresne, only like mild Dufresne,” Parker adds, not even sounding remotely under strain even though he’s the one holding all of Bucky’s weight. “You at the bottom yet?”

“Couple more feet,” Bucky says, and feels himself slither down until his boots land with a splash in freezing cold, knee-deep water. “Son of a mother dick, that’s cold!”

“Comms on,” Steve’s voice suddenly crackles to life in his ear. “Rogers here.”

“Parker here.”

“Barnes here,”  Bucky says touching his finger to his comm unit and looking back up the pipe. He feels a slight sense of vertigo and unease as Parker crawls down the concrete shaft on his fingers and toes, head first. He doesn’t care how useful Spider-man is, that shit is just unnatural.

“Okay, I’m going to call Jade, get phase one set up,” Steve says. “You both okay?”

“Yes, Sir,” Bucky says, Parker echoing the sentiments a moment later.

“Stay safe, kids,” Steve says, which Bucky feels is grossly unfair because he’s at got at least seven or eight years on the literal child that he’s babysitting, but Steve’s gone before he can voice his objections. Bucky climbs out of his spiderweb harness just as there’s a scraping sound from above and the small circle of light vanishes, the drain cover shoved back into place by super-soldier strength. Bucky nods and he and Parker both look at the small opening to their left, a circle in the smooth concrete wall that’s got an inch or so of water trickling through it.

“You first,” Bucky says.

“Oh no, I couldn’t, after you.”

“After you.”

“No, you’ve been here longer than me.”

“You get to crawl along the roof, I’m gonna either get my ass or my dick wet, and not in a good way.”

“Fine,” Parker says, and swings himself into the hole. “Oh man, it smells like something died in here!”

Bucky sighs and follows Parker in, sliding along on his back so he can keep his rifle on his chest, biting back all manner of curses as the cold water soaks into his tactical gear.

“So are you an Avenger?” Parker asks, the soles of his feet just visible a couple of feet ahead. “I'm not an Avenger because I've not graduated and Mister Stark says I have to at least graduate first, but he lets me do my thing as long as I don't get in the way of the real Avengers, you know? But I didn't know you were an Avenger, I know you’ve been in the prosthetics trial and your arm is super cool by the way, but I didn’t know you were an Avenger too.”

“I’m not,” Bucky grits out. “I’m Commander Rogers’ PA.”

“A PA? A personal assistant? A personal assistant with a sniper rifle?”

“I used to be in the army, did Stark not tell you about me losing my original arm in Iraq?” Bucky snaps. “An IED by the way, blew me and all my friends up. Which is fine though, because I got a super cool robot arm.”

“Uhhh, no, he didn’t tell me that,” Parker says after a pause. “I’m sorry, man.”

“It’s fine, but can we do chitchat later?” Bucky says. “I’m kind of super fucking stressed out right now and there’s a strong chance this whole mission will give me some massive fucking PTSD issues.”

There’s a telling silence from in front. Bucky considers banging his head against the concrete. Ugh. He hasn’t been in the army for a long time but he remembers how hard it always got when people in the squad were fighting.  “Hey, Parker, I’m sorry for snapping.”

“No, I get it-”

“My boyfriend is in the building,” Bucky blurts out. “Rumlow has him.”

“Oh man, that blows,” Parker says, and Bucky hears a scuffle and a splash. “No wonder you’re stressed. Good news though, here’s your stop!”

Bucky wriggles a little further on and finds Parker has pulled a grill free from a side-tunnel, one that is slightly narrower than the one they’re in, and slopes slightly upwards.

“I hate this plan,” Bucky says, just in case anyone missed it, and then twists ninety degrees and continues shuffling.

“See you later John McClane!” Parker calls, “I’ve got a diversion to go and make!” And then he’s gone, leaving Bucky to carry on crawling and bitching all on his own.

 


 

 

Bucky still hates this plan. He’d finished crawling through the drains and climbed out into a maintenance shaft in the basement, and got to stand up for a whole ten seconds before commencing stage two of his infiltration by crawling into a fucking vent. A vent. He’s crawled through what feels like ten miles of stinking drain water and is now crawling through a motherfucking vent.

“I fucking hate this plan,” he hisses. “I want ten thousand dollars in hazard pay. These vents are claustrophobic as shit.”

“It’s a good job you’re small,” Steve replies. “Stop bitching.”

“I’ll fucking give you small,” Bucky mutters mutinously, sliding another foot, hauling his rifle with him.

“Stop talking,” Steve’s voice repeats, the warning in his tone audible even through the comm unit. “This won’t work if they find you.”

“This won’t work,” Bucky hisses back.

“It will,” Steve says. “Trust me.”

Bucky stops bitching, not because Steve told him to but because he’s managed to crawl, climb and slide his way from the basement all the way into the the section of vents that’s above the hub and he doesn’t want to be overheard. Heart in his mouth, he pushes further and further, hardly daring to breathe, making sure that his rifle doesn’t catch on the metal. There’s a junction between two vents up ahead but he’s not interested in the intersection but the grill that’s next to it, positioned perfectly so he’ll be able to see straight across the hub and into Steve’s office.

“Nearly there,” he breathes, inching along. He shifts so his rifle is in front of him. Braces his knee on the edge of the vent and gives one last push, pressing his face to the grill. His heart promptly tries to give out, jumping up into his throat.

Clint is there.

He’s in Bucky’s goddamn chair, tied up and shirtless with blood all over his face and chest. But he’s alive, eyes bright and blue, fixed on one of the bad guys with a look of pure loathing.

“Clint is alive,” Bucky murmurs. “He’s in your office. Two hostiles with him. Door closed. Nine hostiles in the hub, watching security feeds.”

“You see Rumlow?”

“I see a guy who looks like he’s had a building dropped on his face, yeah,” Bucky whispers, eyeing the man in question with distaste. He’s got the body armour with the X on but not his hockey mask, and the extent of the scarring on his face makes Bucky wonder how the guy survived what happened to him. “He’s sitting in your fucking chair.”

“Bastard,” Steve says. “Okay, can you see their video feeds?”

“Mmhm,” Bucky whispers. “They’ve put them on the big screen.”

“Nice of them,” Steve says. “Okay. Keep watching.”

“Three against eleven is not good odds,” Bucky whispers. “What if their other guys come back up from the lower deck?”

“I don't believe in odds,” Steve says, and he’s firm enough that Bucky kind of has no choice but to believe him.

Bucky manoeuvres round so his legs are lying along the junction opposite the vent, enabling him and his rifle to be face on. He manages to get positioned so he can peer into his sight and through one of the gaps in the grill. It takes seconds for him to slide back in his sniper role, watching the world through a lense apparently just like riding a bike. He finds the screen he needs to watch, the feed of the abandoned tunnel, the shuttle rails dull in the gloom-

“Hey!”

A voice shouts at the exact moment Bucky sees it; Steve sprinting down the goddamn shuttle tunnel, visible for around three seconds before he vanishes into thin air, the feed back to showing nothing but the tunnel.

“What?”

“Get Rumlow!”

One of the goons heads to the office, banging on the window. Rumlow gets up out of Steve’s chair, and the bastard has the fucking audacity to take a moment to fucking punch Clint in the jaw as he walks by. Bucky feels his hands shake with hatred and takes a long, deep breath to calm himself. Rumlow will get his. Steve won’t let it end any other way.

“What?”

“We just saw Rogers on the feed,” one goon says. “He’s coming down the main tunnel, but we saw him for like a second then he vanished.”

“They’re fucking looping the video feeds!” Rumlow snarls. “You, you, you - go and find whoever is still at a fucking computer terminal! Go!”

“You go suck a dick, Rumlow!” Clint yells from inside the office.

“Will someone shut him up,” Rumlow spits. “Christ, I thought you said he was Rogers’ favourite?”

“I never said that, I said that Rogers would definitely come to rescue him,” one of the goons says.

“I don’t need rescuing!” Clint yells. “I’m gonna die historic on the Fury Road!”

One of the goons shuts Steve’s office door which is probably a smart move because it’s hard to decipher expressions on Rumlow’s scarred face but even Bucky can tell that he’s about ready to strangle Clint with his bare hands.

“Okay STRIKE, gather up,” Rumlow rasps. “Rogers is doing his hero act and is probably gonna try and rush us through the front door. You - get on the system and unlock this door. Let Rogers come in. You four, be his welcome party. You, on the flank. Shoot him on sight but do not kill him. ”

Over his comms, Bucky hears a crackle. “Uh, Mister Commander Rogers, sir? I’m in a position. I’m in position. Shall I do it?”

“Go for it,” Steve says and Bucky hears the screech of metal even over the comms. In front of him, the doors slide open and there’s the cacophony of bullets as Rumlow's STRIKE team opens fire-

“Hold your fire! Hold your fire!” Rumlow bellows. “What the fuck is this?!”

This is a hastily webbed together diversion, consisting of a cafeteria trolley with a training mannequin perched on top, the whole thing being pushed forwards by the facility’s bomb disposal robot. The STRIKE crew barely have time to be confused before Bucky hears a ‘now!’ over his comm; he twists and shoots three times in quick succession - the glass wall of the office shatters and the outer window spiderwebs in cracks as the bullets hit. They don’t make it through but it’s enough - before the bad guys can work out where the fucking bullets are coming from, Steve appears feet first and smashes through the window, having zip-lined down the side of the goddamn building using a rope made of spiderweb.

Chaos ensues. A bullet pierces the vent a foot away from Bucky’s knee but he doesn’t even flinch. Steve rolls to his feet, gun in one hand and knife in the other; he tosses the knife to Clint as he ducks behind Bucky’s desk, firing at the Rumlow’s team. Parker leaps through the front doors, over the trolley-mannequin-bomb-robot and kicks another goon right in the face, firing webbing indiscriminately and doing his damnest to avoiding the hailstorm of bullets.

Another bullet punches through the vent near Bucky’s elbow. Hiding place compromised, Bucky simply punches out the grate with his left hand, and swings his rifle around to find a decent target: Rumlow.

The bastard isn’t paying Bucky any attention; he’s taken cover behind the GPS centre and is firing at Steve. Even as Bucky watches, one of Rumlow’s hands is going down to grab a grenade from his belt.

Bucky lines up the shot on the back of Rumlow’s skull.

He has a split second to decide.

He pulls the trigger and Rumlow gasps as the bullet punches through his shoulder. He tries to stay upright but another bullet slams into his back, just above his hip. Then a third, in his calf.

“Take that, Nazis!” Parker yells cheerfully, firing web to wrap up two bad guys, forcefully enough that their faces smack together. He webs up a printer and flings it across the room, right into the back of someone’s head.

Bucky swings down out of the vent intending to pick off some more agents, but Rumlow moves in a frighteningly quick twist, lurching to his feet and pointing a gun at Bucky-

Bucky lifts his rifle but he’s not fast enough. Fear lances through him but before he can even process it, there’s a howl and Rumlow drops his gun, an arrow pierced straight through the centre of his hand. Bucky remembers how to breathe just as Steve reaches Rumlow, kicking him in his sternum hard enough to break ribs. Rumlow keels over and Steve follows him, pressing a boot to his chest.

Gasping, Bucky looks over to see Clint standing there, cut free from the chair and with his bow in hand, firing arrow after arrow into the melee. He looks grim and determined, like nothing’s gonna stop him, not even when he’s battered and bruised. Chest heaving, Bucky looks back to where Steve is pinning Rumlow down, then rushes over to kick the gun way out of Rumlow’s reach before crouching down and tugging his utility belt off.

Around them, the fight is all but over. There’s a lot of pained groaning and one thug is threatening to disembowel Clint but the guy is webbed to the ceiling so his threats are pretty useless.

Rumlow stinks of blood and his breathing is wet. He’s staring up at Steve, eyes glassy. They blink and then slide to Bucky, face contorting with malice. “The fuck did he come from?”

“That’s my assistant,” Steve says. “People keep underestimating him, they should stop doing that.”

Rumlow swallows, wincing as he does. “Should have killed me,” he croaks.

“You're not worth the paperwork,” Steve says, dismissive. “Guess we’re both lucky that Sergeant Barnes is feeling merciful.”

“Maybe I went for non-lethal shots because torturing a dead body isn’t exactly satisfying,” Bucky says.

“Whoa,” Parker says, appearing next to them. “That’s dark, dude.”

“He deserves it,” Bucky says coldly, but then all the hate and anger slides away as he hears an indignant voice shouting across the wreckage of the hub.

“So no-one’s gonna come and check on me? Jeez, it’s not like I got kidnapped and taken hostage or anything-”

“You get kidnapped every other Tuesday,” Steve says, without looking away from Rumlow, bending down to cuff his hands together.

Bucky thrusts Rumlow’s grenade-heavy belt at Parker then takes off across the Hub, running to where Clint is now trying to pick his way through the glass, barefoot like some sort of idiot. “Hey,” he says brightly, just before Bucky barrels into him, literally flinging himself into Clint’s arms. Clint staggers back a step, lifting Bucky’s feet from the floor as he squeezes him tight.

“I’m okay,” Clint whispers in his ear. “I’m okay.”

“You got kidnapped,” Bucky says, smacking Clint on his shoulder and wriggling, trying to get his feet back on the floor. “I could kill you.”

“Hey, be nice,” Clint says, looking mortally offended, before cupping Bucky’s face in his blood-stained hands and leaning down to kiss him hard.

“I thought,” Bucky chokes against Clint’s mouth, and then bursts into tears. Clint wraps him up in his arms, pressing Bucky’s temple to his chest so he can hear his heartbeat.

“You thought wrong,” Clint says. “If I die, it’s gonna be from eating things without checking the expiry date.”

Bucky can only sob, slapping his hand to Clint’s collarbone just to show him how stupid he currently finds that joke. Behind them, he can hear Steve ordering Parker to drag the goons down to the holding cells.

“Bucky? Clint?”

Bucky pushes away from Clint, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. Steve’s expression is apologetic. “We’re not done. There’s more of them in the lower deck, and some in the server room. Can one of you start a sweep the building? And someone needs to go find Maria.”

“You okay? You up for this?” Clint asks. “No judgement if you say no.”

Bucky takes a steadying breath, gulping in air. “I’ll go find Maria,” he says. “I’m her favourite.”

“Okay, let's move,” Steve says, and then gives Rumlow a look. “Suppose we should find a medic too. Don’t want any prisoners dying on our watch.”

“Let him die,” Bucky says.

“No can do, Buck,” Steve says, pulling his phone from his pocket and holding it to his ear, “We’re the good guys, after all.”

Chapter Text

Bucky doesn’t have to look far to find the Director and when he does, he has to fight down the impulse to throw himself into her arms. She's with Agent Sanders and they’re sweeping a corridor outside the server room, guns in hand and expressions grim. 

“Barnes,” she says, clipped. “Sitrep, now.”

“We took back the hub, Rumlow is down,” he says quickly. “Me, Commander Rogers and Spider-man.”

“Spider-Man?” she echoes, looking unimpressed for a moment. Her eyes narrow and she looks Bucky up and down, like she’s noticing him for the first time. “Never mind Spider-Man, why are you carrying a rifle? What are you wearing? Did he sidekick you?”

“I volunteered?” Bucky says, his voice lilting like a question. 

“Of course you did,” she says, like Bucky should have known better. “Alright, define down. Just how down is Rumlow?”

“I shot him. Theee times. Um, non-lethal though. He’s alive. I didn’t know if Steve - If Commander Rogers wanted me to kill him. Like he said ‘oh I’m gonna kill Rumlow,’ a lot but I didn’t know if he meant it. Like killing is pretty final right? So I just...”

”Filled him with sniper rounds accurately enough to incapacitate him but not kill, leaving the decision up to the Commander,” Hill finishes, the tiny lift of her brows impressed enough that Bucky’s stomach is doing happy little cartwheels. “And with a fairly new prosthetic to boot.”

Bucky flexes his metal fingers, looking at them like he’s only just remembered they’re there. “Uh, I guess.”

”Yeah, you’re getting a medal of merit. Probably a pay rise too,” Hill says, and Bucky doesn’t like to think he’s shallow but boy he knows which one he’s happier about. Hill holds her hand out. “You have your phone?”

Bucky nods and hands it over. “How did you get out?”

She gives him a bitch-please look, which he probably deserves, and calls Steve. “Rogers. Where the hell have you been? Sure. Of course I’m fine. Four hostiles apprehended in the server room, all neutralised. The lower deck, acknowledged. I’m sending all non-combat-ready staff to the cafeteria. Yes, good idea, triage too. Okay. Can I borrow Barnes? Why? Because he’s upright, has a rifle in hand and by all accounts is a damn good shot. Oh, okay.”

She hands Bucky the phone and turns on heel, presumably to go kick ass and take names on the lower deck. “Hi,” he says into the phone. “Am I going to shoot more bad guys?”

“No, Hawkeye is heading to lower deck to shoot bad guys,” Steve says. “You and Sanders are going to go to saferoom three to get Jade and Kevin. I need them and any members of cyber-sec who are functional to get our systems up and running again.”

“Like that bit in Jurassic Park where the velociraptors are trying to get in and she has to bring the Park back online?”

“I have literally no idea what you’re talking about,” Steve says. “Get them up here, pronto.”

“Pronto, sure thing,” Bucky says and Steve hangs up on him. Bucky looks left and right, realising that for as high his security clearance is, he has no idea where the saferooms are. “Uh, saferoom three?” He says to Sanders, who nods and leads the way. Saferoom three turns out to be hidden behind a practically invisible door on the corner of a corridor. Sanders raps his knuckles on the door and they wait, but nothing happens.

Bucky bangs in the door. “Jade. It’s me, let us in.”

Still no answer. Exasperated, Bucky pulls his phone out and calls Jade.

“Hello?”

“Can you not hear us knocking? Let us in.”

“No, you might be being coerced,” Jade says. “I can’t.”

“Jade, it’s over. I shot Rumlow myself.”

“That’s exactly what someone who hadn’t just shot Rumlow would say!”

“Oh for - get Kevin to access the security cameras. You’ll see me and Sanders standing in the corridor. Want me to get Steve to drag Rumlow’s bullet-ridden body down here?”

“Hang on, Kevin, can you - Oh okay. We can see you, and we can see the hub - Oh god, that’s a lot a blood, that’s a lot of-”

There’s a muffled thump. “Jade?!” Bucky says, alarmed. “Jade, are you okay?!”

Another voice comes to the phone, a deep slow voice that sounds super relaxed, not remotely like a person who has been on lock-down during a siege. “Yeah she’s fainted,” Kevin says with a chuckle. “I’ll let you in, bro.”

 


 

Kevin turns out to be as far away from a stereotypical computer geek as someone can get. He looks more like a guy who would be found wearing a cap backwards in a gym, but Bucky keeps his opinions to himself seeing as Kevin and Jade pretty much just saved the day. He tells them as such and Kevin just waves him off.

“No big deal, bro. My job, right?”

Jade is sitting on the floor, propped up against a desk. She looks pale, but is smiling weakly at Bucky. “You saved us,” she says, blinking rapidly. Jeez, Bucky hopes she’s not going into shock or trying to flirt or something. 

“Well, not really,” he says, feeling awkward. “You guys did the heavy lifting. We wouldn’t have been able to get in without you two.”

“No, you’re like a hero,” Jade says, and she reaches for Bucky’s hand, holding it tight between hers before blurting out, “Do you want to go on a date with me?”

Bucky winces because yep, that was her trying to flirt. He decides to be honest, band-aid style. “I have a boyfriend.” 

Kevin hums in vague agreement. “He’s dating Hawkeye.”

Jade makes a noise like a mouse that’s just been trodden on. Her mouth falls open and she just stares at him, unable to form words. 

Bucky turns to frown at Kevin. “Wait, how do you know?”

“Gossip from HR,” Kevin says. 

“Of course,” Bucky sighs. He squeezes Jade’s hand. “Jade, you’re lovely and I hope we can be friends, but I’m with someone, and I really like him.”

“Sure,” she says, voice back online but way higher-pitched than it should be. 

Bucky offers her an apologetic smile then climbs to his feet. “Come on, up you get. Commander wants everything back online as it was.”

“Sure thing,” Kevin says, and he hauls Jade to her feet so they can start working, probably thinking that the sooner he gets done, the sooner he can get to the keg-party that he’s probably got lined up.

Whatever, Bucky’s not judging. He’s fully on board with anything to get Kevin motivated, because then he can go home and sleep for eight days straight.




 

Six hours later, and they’re done. Most of the SHIELD staff have been sent home, except for Clint, Sanders and the handful of squad agents who are helping transfer Rumlow and his thugs to a secure facility or the hospital wing of said facility. Parker vanished an hour ago, claiming he had homework to do. All security systems are back up and running, and a construction crew are already on site, starting the various repair jobs that need doing. Firstly, the large gap where the bulletproof windows used to be.

“Really?” Maria is saying, arms folded across her chest as she stares at the suspiciously Commander-sized gap where the window once lived. “You came through the window?”

“To be fair, Clint gave me the idea a while back,” Steve says, not looking remotely sorry. “And I’m too big to fit in the vents. Speaking of, we need to get some grills put in the vents and the storm drains. Apparently they’re completely accessible to a sniper, as long as they’re only five foot tall.”

“Five foot one,” Bucky say, because it’s important. He rubs at his face, blinks tiredly. “Can I go home now? We’re done for the day, right?”

“Yeah, you can go,” Steve says. “I need to go and get my helicopter back anyway, can’t really leave it overnight.” He reaches over, squeezes Bucky’s shoulder. “You did great today, kid. I’m proud of you.”

And Steve is his boss and it’s probably completely inappropriate seeing as they’re technically still at work, but fuck it. Bucky pushes in for a hug, slotting himself under Steve’s arm and pressing in to his side, arms tight around Steve’s ribcage. 

Steve gives him a gentle squeeze. “Go,” he says. “Take tomorrow off. I’ll call you and let you know what’s going on after that.”

Bucky nods. He picks up his rifle and hands it to Steve to deal with, because he’s pretty sure he’ll get stopped for having it on the subway. He’s not sure if the combat get up and blood on his face will be enough to get him stopped; he’s a skinny white kid with a hipster haircut travelling through Brooklyn towards Manhattan, so might just fit under the ‘typical New York weirdo’ category.

“Bye,” he says. “Bye Maria.”

He gets as far as inner security - Hannes is there at the desk, looking almost as if nothing ever happened apart from the fact he’s got a clearly broken nose and a rapidly swelling black eye.

“Your phone,” he says to Bucky, who is so exhausted that he nearly forgot. He takes it with a grateful grunt and then almost immediately considers giving it back; he has four missed calls and twelve messages from his sister.

???

Why are you being weird

WHY ARE YOU BEING NICE IM SUSPICIOUS

Why are you text8ng off your work phone

Bucky text me back 

Seriously stop being an asshole and get me back

You know I’m not allowed to contact your work phone why are you texting from your work phone 

Bucky you’re freaking me out

I’m in the ED I don’t have time for this

Httfv

James Buchanan Barnes if I find out you’re being dumb I’m gonna rip your head off

I WILL CALL THE FUCKING POLICE

“Oh shit,” Bucky mutters. He dismisses the idea of giving the phone back to Hannes, and instead considers stealing himself a new identity and moving to Panama. Eventually he just goes with texting Becca, ‘ I’m fine something went down at work entirely Steve’s fault but we’re all okay I love you don’t be mad.’ He follows it up with ‘ I will buy pizza for us if you’re not mad at me.’

He considers crying because he’s forgotten his AirPods for the journey back, then does cry a little when he gets to security and they tell him that the shuttle isn’t running because that means that he’s got to walk, and he’s tired and cold and bruised from crawling through fucking drains and vents all day. The two security guys look awkward and then one blurts out that Derek the security guy was killed when Rumlow and his men stormed the facility. Bucky cries even harder. One security guy awkwardly pats him on the shoulder and the other one mumbles something about calling Steve.

“God, I just - I’m crying about the goddamn shuttle and then you tell me about Derek and I’m super fucking embarrassed,” Bucky takes a shuddering breath. “And I shot Crossbones, it’s been a long fucking day.”

“You shot Crossbones? Nice one,” one of them says, and the other guy shoots him a reproachful look. “Anyone we can call for you? Want us to call Commander Rogers?”

“Hey, Bucky!”

Bucky looks up and almost collapses in relief because it’s Clint, wandering towards him with his bow in his hand and a backpack slung over his shoulder. Bucky stumbles towards him and Clint catches him, concerned.

“Hey, hey,” he says, tilting Bucky’s face up. “What’s wrong?”

“Derek the security guy,” Bucky says. “And everything. Today’s been…”

“Yeah, I know,” Clint says, rubbing his hands up and down Bucky’s arms, big hands warm and soothing. “You wanna come back to mine, get some sleep? Or back to yours?”

“Mine,” Bucky says, wanting the security of familiar surroundings. “You can come if you like.”

“Yeah,” Clint says, looking relieved. “Yeah, I wanna come with you. No pressure, I just...”

“I know,” Bucky says, smiling weakly. He turns his face up and Clint obliges, leaning down and pressing a kiss to his mouth. “Come on then, Hawkeye. Take me home.”

“Bossy bitch,” Clint says with a smile, and he does.


 

They sit side by side on the subway, Clint with his head resting against Bucky’s, snoring softly as he dozes. Bucky’s too wired to sleep so just sits there, arms folded across his chest as the train rumbles on towards home. They’re almost at their station when Bucky pulls his phone out, holding it out in front of him to snap a photo of them both; bruised and battered and, in Clint’s case, a little bit blood-stained. That’s not important. What is important is that they’re safe and well and together. 

“Putting me on Instagram again?” Clint mumbles, obviously not as asleep as Bucky first thought.

“Nah,” Bucky says quietly, turning his face so his nose presses against the bottom of Clint’s chin. “Keepin’ these just for me.”

Clint yawns and pushes himself upright. “I gotta go get some stuff from my apartment,” he says. “You okay if I meet you at yours or you want me to take you home first?”

“I’ll be fine,” Bucky says honestly. “I’m a big boy, I’ll be okay.”

“You’re a small boy but whatever,” Clint says, grinning as Bucky kicks at his ankles. “You sure? Alright, I’ll see you in a bit then,” Clint says, standing up and stumbling slightly with the motion of the carriage as it slows down. He grabs his bow, almost forgets his backpack and then leans down to kiss Bucky before jumping off, vanishing into the crowds. 

Bucky smiles faintly as he watches him go, wishing he had his airpods on him for the whole two extra stations he’s gonna go-

“Hey, was that Hawkeye?”

Bucky looks up to see a guy in a business suit looking at him, bewildered. 

“What?”

“The guy with the bow and arrow, who just kissed you?” the guy says. “That was Hawkeye, wasn’t it?”

“No,” Bucky lies. He can tell the guy isn’t convinced but really it’s none of his fucking business anyway, so Bucky just goes back to looking at the pictures of him and Clint on his phone. 

 


 

Becca’s not there when he gets in, so Bucky drops all of his things onto the coffee table and strips out his tactical gear right there in the kitchen before staggering to the bathroom. He showers himself in a daze, then drags a pair of sweatpants on before bagging up the gear and shoving it in a corner so he doesn’t have to think about it. He knows he needs to wash it but funnily enough the Black Widow’s combat gear doesn't come with washing instructions on the label and he really doesn’t want to wreck it. Fuck it, he’ll work it out later. 

He calls his therapist, leaves her two rambling voicemails explaining what happened, then collapses onto the couch. He’s just about awake enough to drag a blanket over himself and then he’s asleep.

He’s jarred awake again by knocking at the door. Sleep-fogged and sluggish, he stumbles over, ready to let Clint in then go back to sleep on the couch. What happens is that he throws the door open and feels his insides do a weird happy shimmy because Clint is standing there, still bruised and dirty and blood-stained, but he has a bouquet of slightly battered looking roses in one hand and a dog leash in the other, and sitting by his feet is the best dog Bucky has ever seen.

“I bought Lucky with me?” Clint says with an apologetic shrug. “He’s pretty good at making people feel better.”

Bucky backs up to let them into the apartment then drops to his knees to fuss over Lucky, who is thumping his tail against the floorboards and cocking his head to look at Bucky with his one eye. He’s some indiscriminate Labrador-retriever-hound mix and Bucky loves him already. 

“Can I put him on Instagram?” Bucky asks, obliging Lucky with belly skritches as he rolls onto his back, tongue lolling out.

“Sure,” Clint says. “Here. These are for you.” He thrusts the bouquet of flowers at Bucky who slowly stands up to take them.  

“No-one ever bought me flowers,” he says. “I love them. Nearly as much as I love Lucky.”

“Score,” Clint says happily. “I didn’t know if you’d like them but hey, I wanted to be romantic.”

“You did great,” Bucky says, blanking for a moment because he doesn’t own a vase, then just putting his flowers in one of Becca’s empty smoothie containers. He turns to see Clint digging through his backpack at the kitchen counter and Lucky making himself comfortable on the couch.

“Mind if I shower?” Clint asks and Bucky wants to squeak with happiness because Clint has obviously rushed to get back to Bucky and that makes Bucky feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

“I like you stupid amounts,” Bucky blurts out and promptly wants to punch himself in the mouth but luckily Clint just grins and swaggers over, taking Bucky in his arms and kissing him like they’re in a V-J Day photograph. “I like you too,” he murmurs, then sets Bucky back upright and heads to the bathroom, pulling his shirt over his head as he goes. “Hey, we should go away for a weekend,” he calls back, leaving the door open. “A proper romantic getaway. Somewhere with like, a heart-shaped hot tub.” The sound of the shower starting up covers Bucky’s soft laughter. He doesn’t think Clint was really looking for a serious conversation there, so just opts for flopping down on the couch next to Lucky, who just looks at him, tail wagging.

“Yeah he’s pretty great,” Bucky whispers, digging his fingers into Lucky’s fur and getting a happy huff in return. Bucky busies himself with petting the best dog in the world, focussing entirely on the task. He’s starting to feel...unsettled. Like if he stops petting Lucky or thinks about things too much, he’s going to lose it. He probably needs to cry some more, probably needs to talk to Steve for some reassurance, probably needs to take some time to really think about what he did today, but for now he just fixes his attention on Lucky, reminding himself of everything he knows in this moment.

I’m safe. I am at home. My boyfriend is here. I helped today. I chose to help. I am not hurt. I’m safe.

His therapist will be proud.

Clint comes out of the shower a while later in nothing but his boxers, shoving Bucky up until there’s space for him on the couch. Lucky wriggles until he’s lying over Bucky’s legs, a warm reassuring weight on his thighs. 

“So, Netflix?” Clint says, reaching for the remote. 

“What, and chill?”

“If it makes you feel better, I’m sure I could oblige,” Clint says. “Though I am down for just semi-naked blanket cuddling and ordering pizza if that suits you better?”

“Yeah,” Bucky admits, looking away. “Sorry.”

“What for?” Clint asks, surprised. “You know I’m here for more than sex, right? We filled in HR paperwork, remember?”

Bucky laughs. He wants to be closer to Clint - like feels like if he doesn’t get skin on skin he might just die -so he shifts around, nearly knocking Lucky from the couch as he does. It takes some maneuvering but eventually they settle with Bucky sitting between Clint’s legs, leaning back against his chest. Lucky has given up with them, choosing instead to spread out on the floor on his side.

“So what we watching?” Clint asks, already sniggering. “Die Hard?”

“You are not funny,” Bucky says flatly. “I am cooler than John McClane.”

“Debatable,” Clint says, and yelps as Bucky pinches him with his metal fingers. 

They settle on the old-school Disney Robin Hood because Bucky thinks he’s hilarious, which they half watch, half doze through. Bucky doesn’t know what the usual drill is for the Avengers, if they just do shit like this and never talk about it, like it’s just a regular day at the office. It’s pretty much a moot point though because he’s too tired to think, nevermind talk. The film’s just about finishing when there’s a knock at the door; Bucky lifts his head with a frown. Clint is already here, the pizza has been both delivered and devoured, and Becca wouldn’t knock, not unless she’s lost her keys again.

“Gotta get the door,” he mumbles, trying to wriggle out of Clint’s arms.

Clint grunts and refuses to budge, arms still wrapped around Bucky’s middle. Bucky has to struggle free, managing an undignified slither out of Clint’s grip and glaring at him as he lands on the floor on his knees. “Asshole,” he mutters, kneewalking across the floor and staggering to his feet as he reaches the door. Rubbing his eyes and really hoping it’s not his neighbor, he pulls open the door and his heart leaps as he comes face to chest with a familiar figure.

“Steve!” He exclaims. “What’re you doing here?” He looks over his shoulder just in time to see Clint scramble up and roll over the back of the couch, vanishing in a flailing of arms and legs, hitting the floor with a thud. 

There’s a pause. Clint doesn’t re-emerge, and Bucky has no idea how to explain. 

“Smooth,” Steve finally remarks, and to Bucky’s relief, he breaks into a tired smile.  “You’ve not told him we talked, have you?”

“Kind of had other things going on today,” Bucky says. He steps back, gesturing Steve into the apartment.

Steve shrugs his jacket off. He’s clean and showered at least, wearing a white tee and jeans rather than his damn Commander tactical suit pants. Bucky’d give the outfit a 9/10 for the classic James Dean vibes, apart from the fact the tee is clearly two sizes too small. He’s genuinely not sure if Steve is showing off or just incompetent when it comes to buying clothes for himself. 

Steve folds his arms over his chest, giving the couch an unimpressed look.  “Clint, I know you’re here,” he calls. “Even if I can’t see you now, I saw you literally jump over the back of the couch. I’m not a baby, I do have some knowledge of object permanence.”

There’s a moment in which Bucky thinks Clint is just going to carry on pretending he’s not there, and then Clint appears over the back of the couch, looking wary. “Okay, I’m not wearing pants because I spilled coffee and a racoon stole my shirt-”

“Clint it’s okay,” Bucky says. “He’s cool with it.”

The wary look turns outright suspicious. “But you were such a dick about it.”

Steve grimaces. “I know, not my finest moment.” He looks down as Lucky trots over, nails clicking on the floor. “Hey, buddy,” he says, and crouches down to pet him. 

“Lucky, you traitor,” Clint scowls, standing up. 

“Hey,” Bucky says, mediating because that’s an actual flicker of hurt crossing Steve’s face. “You two need to talk. I’m not having you ruin my Disney marathon with passive-aggressive aggression.”

“Passive-aggressive aggression,” Steve repeats flatly.

“I’ve had a very long day,” Bucky scowls at him, grabbing his phone, a blanket and shuffling across to his bedroom. “You. Talk. Half an hour. Come get me if I’ve fallen asleep.”

“Hey, leave the blanket, I’m not having this conversation in my underwear!” Clint shouts after him. Bucky just drops the blanket behind him and carries right on, stumbling into his bedroom and kicking the door shut behind him. He feels exhausted, but the kind of exhausted where he’s not sure he’s actually going to be able to sleep, so just slumps onto his bed and starts watching vine compilations on YouTube. 

He falls asleep somewhere between 'I don't have enough money for chicken nuggets' and 'stop, I could've dropped my croissant,' and is only aware of it when he's being gently shaken awake. 

"Muh?" 

"Hey, hey, just me," Clint says. “Food just arrived.”

Bucky blinks owlishly. Clint is dressed again, which is a shame. “We already ate.”

“Steve didn’t. He’s ordered enough Thai food to feed an army. Or, himself and maybe we get a few snacks if we’re quick about it.”

Bucky struggles upright, rubbing at his eyes and wincing when he catches his skin between the plates of his fingers. He swaps hands and tries again. “You two talked it out?”

Clint nods slowly. “Yeah. It was horrible and if you ever make me do it again I will be leaving through the fire-escape.”

Bucky gives him a withering look. “Maybe you two should just learn to grow up and communicate like adults,” he says.

“Hey, I am an adult, I pay taxes and everything,” Clint says. “But jokes aside...it was good. Talking it out with Steve. Yeah. I’m glad we did it.”

“Good,” Bucky says. “See, I am always right.” He goes to push past Clint but he’s stopped by a hand on his chest, Clint gently pushing him back.

“What?”

Clint heaves out a sigh, like he doesn’t want to have to say what he’s about to say. He settles his hands on Bucky’s shoulders, thumbs stroking at his collarbones. “I can’t promise this won’t ever happen again,” he says bluntly. “It’s not every other Tuesday, but I’ve been kidnapped a lot. I’ve been shot, I’ve been stabbed, hit by cars, fallen off of buildings, been sent into alternative dimensions, fought genetically modified sharks. My job is dangerous.”

Bucky nods slowly, understanding what Clint is getting it.

Clint’s mouth twists. “If you want...if you’d rather walk away now, I won’t hold it against you. Today was fucking awful...but it could have been worse. Maybe one day it will be worse.”

Bucky swallows hard, looks down. Neither of them are wearing socks and their bare toes are almost touching. 

“I think I’ll need to start therapy again,” he says to the carpet. “Regular sessions. Just - you’re right. I get it. I know it’s dangerous.”

“Buck-”

“No,” Bucky interrupts. “I like my job and I like-” he falters, summons up some courage from places he never thought he’d get back again, not after everything. He reaches up to press his metal hand to Clint’s chest, blinking at it for a moment before looking up at Clint’s face. “I love you. You’re worth it.”

Clint’s jaw drops. He stares at Bucky and then he’s kissing him, leaning down with such haste that he nearly knocks Bucky over backwards. Bucky kisses him back, winding his arms around Clint’s neck and laughing as Clint lifts him up onto his tiptoes.

“You’re the best,” Clint says fervently, mouth still brushing Bucky’s. “Let’s go fill in more paperwork together.”

Bucky laughs again, smacks Clint’s arm to get him to put him down. He feels like he could cry again, but in a good way this time. A great way. An awesome way.

“Let’s just relax for tonight,” he says. “Come on, before Steve eats everything.”

Clint presses one last quick kiss to his mouth before letting him go, turning to grab Bucky’s blanket and wrapping it around his shoulders before nodding in satisfaction and steering him towards the door. Smiling, Bucky hitches his blanket up around his shoulders and shuffles towards Steve, who is sitting at the counter and shovelling pad thai into his mouth at a frankly awe-inspiring rate. Bucky leans against his shoulder, nudging at him with his elbow.

“All friends now?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, wiping his mouth with his fingers. “Thanks, Buck.”

“Welcome,” Bucky yawns. “Hey, wanna watch a film?”

“As long as you don’t mind me...” Steve begins, making some handwavey gesture between Bucky and Clint. 

“Stay,” Clint says, before Bucky can answer, flopping back down onto the couch and petting Lucky. “We’re all friends here, right?”

“Right,” Steve agrees, and the smile he shoots at Bucky is small but genuine, and it makes Bucky incredibly relieved to see it. 

Bucky takes control of the remote and puts Jurassic Park on, intending to point out the reference Steve missed during the mission earlier. What he doesn’t expect is Steve to be utterly entranced with it, staring at the screen open-mouthed and barely blinking, not even when Bucky keeps playing the vine of the guy playing the theme music on the harmonica. Steve’s so distracted that he keeps reaching for his beer and missing it, hand groping in mid-air until Bucky takes pity on him and nudges it closer. He also announces he wants a T-Rex of his own, which Bucky wouldn’t be worried about if they didn’t know Tony Stark. He makes a mental note to look into the ethics of dinosaur creation, to preemptively guilt-trip Steve out of any schemes that could end up with too many teeth in the office. 

They move on to the Lost World and are just trying to talk Steve out of watching the third film when Bucky hears a sound more terrifying than the footsteps of a T-Rex; a key in the apartment door. His one boyfriend and one friend are here, so unless his therapist has started doing unannounced housecalls, there’s really only one person it could be.

Bucky gulps as the door swings open. “Hi Becs.”

“Hi Becs,” she echoes in disbelief, like that is somehow the worst thing Bucky could have said. “Hi Becs?! Hi Becs?!

“Okay I can explain-”

“You!” she shrieks, ignoring Bucky’s attempts to placate and pointing at Steve. “What did you do?!”

Steve looks very much like a deer caught in headlights. “Uhhh,” he tries.

I have been worried sick, ” she screeches, almost at a register that only bats can hear. Bucky scrambles off the couch and goes to pull her into the apartment, pushing the door shut. She uses it as an opportunity to hit him with her backpack, still yelling at Steve. “He texts me and then I hear nothing and he says it’s your fault and the news is saying SHIELD was attacked by terrorists and no-one even thought to call me, I am going to kill you-”

“Becca-”

“DON’T EVEN MAKE NOISES!” she shouts, hitting Bucky with her backpack again. Christ, the thing is full of fucking books and she’s gonna take his eye out or give him a concussion at the rate she’s going. Bucky looks around for help because he’s outgunned here and he knows it: Clint is sitting on the couch with one eye screwed shut, looking like he’s bracing for an impact. Steve sits motionless for a moment and then stands up, walking towards Becca, which in Bucky’s opinion is the dumbest thing anyone could be doing right now.

“They said people died and you didn’t call me you just sent me one lousy text letting me know you were alive, I cannot handle you getting blown up again, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t-”

Steve reaches Becca and in one smooth move manages to grab the backpack, halting it’s trajectory towards Bucky’s face. He tugs it out of Becca’s grip and then pulls her in with his other arm, folding her up in a hug just as she bursts into tears. 

“You are such a fucker,” she sobs, hitting at Steve’s chest ineffectually with a balled up fist.

“Yeah, no cure for that I’m afraid,” Steve says ruefully. “We’re okay Becca. Everyone here is safe and we’re okay.”

And Steve must be like the Becca-whisperer or something because she just nods into his chest and cries a little more, then allows herself to be bundled up in the armchair, accepting the cocoa that Clint presses into her hands.

“What happened?” she asks once she’s calm enough to talk without shrieking. The three of them somehow manage to cobble together a semi-coherent narrative of what happened and they must do a decent job because by the end she’s stopped threatening them and is instead threatening to go and treat Rumlow.

“Why did you not shoot him in the head?!” Becca demands, glaring at Bucky for all she’s worth.

Bucky huffs out a laugh, sinking into Clint’s side and smiling weakly as Clint squeezes him and presses a kiss to his temple. “Didn’t you hear? We’re the good guys.”

“Bitch, please,” Becca says, nose wrinkled in disgust.

Because he has pretty shit social skills - or either doesn’t care that it probably isn’t considered polite conversation by most - Steve starts explaining the difference in the amount of paperwork he has to do when he kills someone or allows SHIELD to kill someone. Becca seems weirdly interested so Bucky leaves them to it, tuning out as Becca starts asking “but what if you can make it look like it wasn’t deliberate?” He twists around to get comfy, shoving at Clint until he’s in optimum pillow-position.

“You okay?”

Bucky forces his tired eyes open, chin propped on Clint’s chest. Clint is smiling crookedly at him and is so handsome it hurts, even with a black eye and a split lip.

“Yeah,” Bucky says quietly. He lets his eyes close again, settling his head down to listen to the thump of Clint’s heartbeat, and it’s not a lie when he says, “I’m good.”