Steve stands in the Avengers Tower lobby waiting for the elevator, and it is...something else. He’s never had reason to be here before, and can’t help but admire the architecture, all sleek lines, chrome and glass and stone. There’s also Stark’s name, like, everywhere, because most of Stark Industries still operates out of the Tower.
Tucking his portfolio and drawing kit more securely under his arm, Steve silently marvels that he’s actually here, about the meet the Avengers, and not in the middle of some mysterious dream that isn’t anywhere close to reality.
The last month feels like a blur, ever since Pepper Potts had approached him after his last show and asked if he was interested in some PR work crafting “a new look” for the Avengers. Pepper works fast, like a miracle worker and a whirlwind rolled into one, and a mere week after Steve said yes, she’d given him the contracts, explained the terms (some eighty percent of which was a shit-ton of NDAs), everything was signed, and now here he is…
Meeting the Avengers so he can design them new uniforms.
Frankly, he’s surprised they’re willing to let an outsider into the Tower; the disaster in D.C. was barely a year ago and though public opinion is climbing back up to favourable regarding the Avengers -- as the truth about Hydra became clear thanks to all the files leaked onto the internet, and the Avengers collectively defeating about a dozen minor villains -- the general public still doesn’t love the Avengers as much as they did pre-D.C. Steve figures they would be more concerned about security, in light of all that.
But to be fair, Pepper did say she’d had him thoroughly vetted (which was not concerning at all, nope) before approaching Steve with her offer. And in any case, realistically Steve knows that if it comes down to a fight there’s not much his five foot two inch frame can do against a tower full of superheroes. He probably doesn’t even cross their threat assessment threshold.
He’s studying his reflection in the mirrored surface of the elevator doors -- he opted for a casual, hipsterish look with skinny jeans, a silver-grey vest and suspenders over a blue button-down, and his blond hair with its burgundy red dyed lowlights looking artfully tousled -- when the metal door slides open and an electronic sounding British voice says, “ Welcome, Mister Rogers. ”
Steve looks around the interior of the elevator, but not only is the space empty, he can’t even identify anything that looks like a speaker. “Uh, just Steve is fine, thanks.”
“ Of course, Steve. The team and Miss Potts are waiting for you in the common room. ”
The doors close and the elevator starts moving, so smoothly and quietly that if it weren’t for the numbers changing on the wall display, Steve wouldn’t know it was moving at all.
It’s almost too sudden; the elevator doors slide open and Steve steps out directly into the large open space of the common room -- he’d been expecting a hallway or second door or something to give him time to brace himself-- and all eyes in the room turn to him when the elevator voice announces, “ Steve Rogers. ”
Pepper steps forward, smiling and holding out both hands to clasp Steve’s. “Steve, glad you made it. As you can see, everyone’s here ready for you.”
That’s not intimidating at all, Steve tries to convince himself. He straightens his shoulders as he walks farther into the room. “Hi, I’m Steve. Miss Potts hired me to do some uniform design, as well as advising on some other appearance-based topics related to the PR department’s efforts to smooth out the Avengers’ public image.”
The assembled Avengers meet his eyes with varying degrees of interest, from Stark’s laughter to the Black Widow’s intentional blandness. Hawkeye -- or rather, Clint Barton, Steve recalls from the briefing packet Pepper gave him -- gives him a grin and a little two-fingered salute from where he’s slouched in an armchair, and Banner simply nods and looks tired.
A handsome black guy with a charming smile stands up and comes to shake Steve’s hand. “Hey man, Sam Wilson. Since I’m apparently the only one with manners, let me say thanks for helping out.”
Steve grins back and returns the handshake. “Thanks. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
As he moves to take a seat on one of the couches, Steve catches sight of one more person leaning against the wall a bit separate from the group. It takes a minute to place him before Steve realizes that it’s the guy known all over the news after D.C., and from the Hydra files, as the Winter Soldier.
The guy doesn’t look much like the Soldier, though. No mask or black body armour today, just jeans and a big hoodie, and his long hair bundled into a messy man-bun. He has both hands stuffed into the hoodie’s pockets, hiding the metal arm Steve remembers catching sight of in some of the news footage.
Without all the superhero nonsense, though, Steve has to admit that the guy is incredibly handsome. His artist’s eye follows the lines of his jaw and cheekbones, the strong shoulders where he leans against the wall. He’s watching Steve intently, but when Steve meets his eyes and nods, waiting a bit to give the guy a chance to say something, all he gets is more of those intense gray eyes studying him.
With a mental shrug, Steve lets the guy keep his silence for now. It takes a bit of effort to drag his attention away, though, but Steve figures he can be forgiven in this case. The guy really is gorgeous, and Steve can already picture how the guy will look wearing some of Steve’s designs.
Setting his portfolio case down on the coffee table, he flips it open and starts to spread out some of the sketches he’d brought with him.
“I brought a few ideas I came up with to show you all, to at least get started,” Steve begins. “Obviously nothing is set in stone, and I’m not here to dress you all up like circus monkeys or make you wear something you’re not comfortable in. Miss Potts invited me here to design some new non-combat uniforms, for press conferences and events where you want or are requested to be dressed as Avengers but for obvious reasons don’t want to be wearing your whole battle gear. She’s also asked that I offer designs for both formal wear and some casual stuff, though again I’m not here to force anything on you.” He looks around at the group and is pleased to see they’re all nodding, or at least, not actively objecting. “Sounds good?”
“Looks like you’ve got things in hand, Steve,” Pepper says, patting him on the shoulder as she stands. “I’ll leave you all to it while I go run my company.” She adds a little wink, bends down to press a kiss to Stark’s head, and heads to the elevator.
As soon as Pepper is gone, however, Stark stands up and claps his hands. “Well, Rogers, I think we can both agree that I’m making out all right on my own in the fashion and uniform department. Everyone else agrees? Yes, we do, thanks, kids.”
Steve shrugs and refuses to let himself feel intimidated because, yeah, Stark doesn’t really need an appearance makeover as much as the others since he already wears clothes that probably cost more than Steve makes in three years. “I have a few designs for you, anyway, if you want to see them, but I’m not gonna force you.” And Steve doesn’t like to be underestimated, either, and he may have just met Tony Stark but Steve’s already sure he’s got a pretty good lead on the the guy. “Miss Potts might, though.”
Stark gives Steve a hard squint, but eventually nods. “Playing dirty, good for you. I like it. Fine, show me what you’ve got.”
Steve shuffles through the loose pages of sketches and passes a handful over to Tony, who flips through them quickly, drops four back to the table and shoves the other three at Steve. “I’ll be honest, I’m impressed. Good eye. Make me these and I know Pepper will love them.”
Steve glances at the pages and hides his satisfied smile; Stark had singled out the three designs that Steve had been certain would appeal the most since he’d deliberately designed them to complement Pepper’s usual style. “Sure thing,” Steve replies, and tucks the three pages into one of the folders inside his portfolio.
Stark claps his hands again. “Good, we’re done here, I’m going back to the lab. Ciao, kiddos.”
Steve can’t quite hold back his laugh, but Stark is gone in seconds and a sense of calm settles over the room.
“All right, then. Who’s next?”
The afternoon passes quickly as Steve shows sketches, draws up new designs as they all talk, and gets to know a bit more about the individual Avengers as he asks them what they like and don’t like in their style. As he firms up preliminary designs for each person, they drift off to do whatever Avengers do when they aren’t avenging or being held to the whims of the PR team, until it’s just Steve and the Soldier left in the common room.
Black Widow (“You can call me Natasha,” like being on a first-name basis with her was somehow no big deal) speaks quietly to the Soldier in Russian before leaving.
So far the guy hasn’t said a word, hasn’t moved from his spot off to the side, but Steve’s noticed that he’s been rapt with attention, hardly looking away from Steve as he speaks with the others. Not disinterested, then; maybe shy, Steve thinks.
Steve looks up at him now and smiles. “Guess it’s just you and me, now. Any of what I’ve been showing off catch your eye?”
Finally, he moves closer, coming to sit in one of the chairs next to the coffee table. He reaches out with his left hand to shift through the loose pages, and Steve sees the metal up close for the first time. He knows how it came about, of course, but he still thinks the interlocking plates that move so smoothly and naturally are beautiful in a strange way.
Without the buffer of the other Avengers talking, the common room feels too quiet, just the shuffling sound of paper.
“It’s James, right?” Steve says, to try and get the conversation going. “Your name.”
Gray eyes flick up to meet Steve’s. “So they tell me.”
And yeah... That was a bit dumb, Rogers. You read the files, you know what they did to his memories . Steve rolls his eyes at himself. “Sorry, that was awkward. Let’s try again.” He holds out his hand. “Nice to meet you, I’m Steve Rogers.”
Steve cheers internally when he catches the twitch of a smile as large, warm fingers wrap around his own slender ones.
“James Barnes,” he says, voice a smooth baritone with a noticeable Brooklyn accent. “But...you can call me Bucky. Please.” He looks a little shy when he says it, and Steve smiles.
“Sure thing, Bucky,” Steve says. Reaching out to fan some of the design pages, he asks, “So, you interested in any of these?” He shuffles a few pages out of the pile to slide them in front of Bucky. “These are the ones I originally designed with you in mind.”
Bucky takes the sketches and studies them quietly, but he looks pleased enough so Steve starts describing what he was thinking as he designed them.
“I like these ones,” Bucky says when Steve pauses in his descriptions. He passes over a few pages, but waves one of the armour designs in the air. “This one is okay, but can you add a few more things?”
Steve grins. “Yeah, I can. What are you looking for?”
They pass another hour going back and forth with Bucky asking for things like ways to hide weapons, or different styles, while Steve sketches quickly as they speak. By the time they’re done, Steve has a stack of designs to work on finalizing, and Bucky has relaxed considerably, to the point where he even makes a few jokes.
Steve also doesn’t miss the way Bucky keeps sneaking glances in his direction when he thinks Steve’s occupied with drawing, and Steve knows what I’m interested looks like when he sees it. Which is just perfect, because the more time Steve spends listening to Bucky’s wry sense of humour and studying his subtle expressions, the more he wants to learn about Bucky, to spend time with him.
He can think of at least one thing that will satisfy everything he’s hoping for right now, if Bucky agrees.
“This is great, Bucky, I’ve got a lot to work with here,” Steve says as he starts collecting all the sketch pages scattered across the table and putting them back into the portfolio. “Now I want to ask you a favour, and you’re free to say no, but I’m wondering if you would be willing to model in my next show. We had someone drop out and I think you’d be a great addition.”
When he gets nothing but silence in response, Steve looks up. Bucky looks stunned, eyes wide and staring straight at Steve. “You want me to...model for you?”
Steve grins and gives a little shrug. “Well, yeah. You’re gorgeous, and I think you’ll look even more stunning in some of my designs. But I also think this could be good for the whole PR thing, though we can run it by Pepper if you want to be sure.”
Bucky looks at Steve, a small shy smile tilting his lips. “You think I’m gorgeous?” He sounds like he almost doesn’t believe it, but also like he really wants to. Well, Steve can work with that.
“Of course you are, Bucky. Gorgeous and smart, but I don’t think the public gets to know or get to see that side of you. That’s also why I think having you model would be a good opportunity for you to share that side of yourself.” Steve sighs a little as he adds more seriously, “It isn’t really fair, that you have to put so much of yourself out there to try and change people’s minds, when they already know so much about you from the news and the internet. But hiding away won’t solve the problem, either.”
Bucky leaned back in his chair, running his metal hand through his hair. “Yeah, Pepper said pretty much the same thing. That the whole point of this public relations campaign is to try and get people to see the Avengers as people, not just...unattainable, indestructible… Different.”
“People need to see you’re still human,” Steve agrees quietly.
He gives Bucky a few minutes in thought, then leans forward and lets a grin spread across his face. “So, what do you say, Bucky Barnes? Ready to show the world something new?”
Despite nearly a month of fittings, and afternoons spent talking with Steve as he worked on designs or made adjustments to Bucky’s outfits, Bucky’s still feeling nervous when he arrives at the studio gallery. Walking into the scene of controlled chaos certainly doesn’t help, and for a minute he just leans against the wall near the entrance until the movement around him resolves itself into only a half dozen people rushing around setting up lights and racks of clothes.
He doesn’t see Steve, though, and doesn’t recognize anyone else. He’s also still mildly shocked, he thinks, surprised Steve not only wanted him to model clothes -- and what the hell, if only his mother could see him now -- but in every way Bucky can tell Steve seems to genuinely enjoy the time they’ve spent together the past few weeks while they worked to get things ready for the show.
“Bucky! You’re here!” Steve calls from across the room, waving with one hand as a broad smile brightens his face. Bucky feels himself smile helplessly in return. He pushes off the wall to meet Steve halfway.
“Hey, Steve,” Bucky replies. “I’m here. Not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing, though?” He looks around the room again, everything so unfamiliar. He can see racks of clothes with a few people shuffling through them; two others are setting up lights around the small stage.
Steve gestures for Bucky to follow him toward one of the clothing racks. “Your outfits are over here, everything is ready for you.”
Bucky reaches out to slide the first hanger from the rack; it holds the artfully ripped black jeans and slouchy, oversized dark red sweater. It was probably his favourite of the outfits he and Steve had put together; comfortable and soft, and very unlike the Soldier. “So I just...get dressed?”
“There’s a little more to it than that,” Steve chuckles. “But remember, this isn’t quite like a fashion show you might see on tv. It’s all photography and video, none of which is available live, so you don’t have to worry about making a mistake.”
It’s information Bucky already knew; obviously, he and Steve had been discussing this since Bucky first agreed to model in the show. Still, he feels his nerves calm down a bit at the reminder that he can’t really screw this up too badly.
He gets changed in the little side room that Steve points him to, taking a deep breath before stepping back out to the main room. Casting a shy look at Steve, Bucky holds his hands out in a little wave. “How’s it look?”
Steve grins, and Bucky can see something warm and approving in Steve’s eyes as he says, “You look gorgeous, Bucky.”
Rubbing his hand against the back of his neck, Bucky feels himself blush a little and looks away, but he also feels the pleased smile creep across his face. “Thanks.”
“Now for stage two,” Steve says, pointing Bucky in the direction of a stool set in front of a table with a mirror. As Bucky settles onto the seat, Steve starts sorting through the items littering the tabletop. Bucky identifies most of it as the makeup and hair stuff that he and Steve had discussed last week.
“Remember I’m not actually a professional at this, yeah?” Steve teases, and Bucky laughs a little.
“Maybe not, but I trust you to get close enough to do it,” Bucky replies. Steve’s employees seem nice, sure, but he doesn’t know them to be comfortable with any of them being so close to his personal space, but the past month spent with Steve had resulted in a comfortable familiarity that helped Bucky relax his usual alertness. “And I know you’ll do a good job with it.”
“Flatterer,” Steve laughs, but his voice is warm and his hands gentle as he starts to brush Bucky’s hair. Bucky relaxes into it as Steve puts his hair up into a nicer version of his usual messy bun. It looks subtly different in a way that makes it clear it’s messy on purpose, and not just out of laziness. Then a light touch with some of the makeup, eyeliner and powder highlighting Bucky’s features in a way that makes his eyes look brighter and the angles of his face somehow a little more defined. He looks relaxed, and modern, and nothing like the Soldier or like an Avenger.
Bucky likes it.
“You good?” Steve asks when Bucky takes a little too long studying himself in the mirror.
“Better than good.” Bucky smiles.
Steve grins. “Excellent. Then it’s time for the main event. Come on.” He leads the way to the corner of the studio by the window, where some furniture is arranged to look like an actual room. Couches and cushioned benches are framed by shelves and some stylized art on the walls, while across the open side of the space the cameras and spotlights are lined up. Bucky can see why they set up here; there’s lots of natural light, and the corner walls mean the photographer can move around to work from different angles.
Steve introduces the photographer and videographer, and the lighting tech who’s still flitting around adjusting the lights. Bucky greets them and introduces himself, and he’s secretly pleased to find that the crew people are entirely relaxed, not seeming worried or cautious in the least that they’re in the presence of the former Winter Soldier.
Directing Bucky into the little faux-room and onto one of the couches, Steve gently adjusts Bucky’s position and tugs at the sweater until he seems satisfied with everything.
“Perfect, stay like that,” Steve says, moving back to stand behind the cameras and lights, but where Bucky can still see him. Bucky hears the camera start clicking away and fights the instinct to look towards the sound. Instead, he tries to focus on the sound of Steve’s voice giving him quiet instructions. “Yeah, tilt your shoulder forward, just a little… Okay, now lean back and stretch out along the cushions. Yeah, like that.”
Bucky finds it easier than he expected to just drift a little, following Steve’s directions and moving around the small room space. He gets a little nervous again, after a change of outfit into a subtly patterned button-down open over his bare chest that reveals the edges of his shoulder scars. But Steve distracts him with funny stories of art school and the fashion industry, and as Bucky relaxes he feels himself smiling more naturally, and even outright laughing, the sound of the camera shutter barely catching his attention.
Instead, Bucky’s attention is held by Steve. Steve’s voice, his golden hair catching the sun through the windows, his blue eyes bright with mischief as he laughs. Whenever Bucky’s not looking directly away, his gaze finds Steve again; he can’t help it. Doesn’t particularly want to.
It’s been several hours and three more outfit changes by the time Steve calls a halt. Bucky goes to change back into his own clothes, listening to the quiet chatter of Steve’s voice mingled with those of the photographer and videographer. He has to admit this was actually sort of fun, but he thinks that has more to do with getting to know Steve than anything else.
When Bucky emerges from the changing room, the studio is empty save for Steve seated at the long computer desk along the far wall.
Steve spins around on his stool at the sound of the door. “Figured you’ve probably had enough of the crowd for now,” he says. Waving Bucky closer, Steve points to the computer monitor in front of him. “Come on, take a look.”
As he takes a seat on a neighbouring chair, Bucky sees that the screen is full of photos -- photos of himself, but a version of himself that he’s never seen before. Relaxed and smiling, looking happy and content.
Steve flips through the photos, pointing out the ones he likes, offering commentary on how good the clothes look on Bucky. They both laugh at a few photos that caught Bucky mid-expression looking extremely silly.
“I think this one’s my favourite, though,” Steve says, pulling up a photo of Bucky sprawled across the couch in a dark blue tank and jeans, his metal arm stretched out along the back of the cushions and shining in the light from the window. “You look happy.”
Bucky remembers the moment, that Steve had been laughing at something Bucky said, and Bucky hadn’t been able to hold back his own smile. It’s that expression on Bucky’s face in the photo, relaxed and smiling like he’s just finished laughing, looking off to the side of the camera, that prompts him to say, “It’s because I was looking at you.”
Because yeah, he was happy in that moment. He’s been happy ever since meeting Steve, and spending time getting to know him.
Steve blinks, then grins. “Why, Bucky Barnes, you flatterer,” he teases. Bucky just shrugs; it’s no more than the truth, after all.
Steve’s gaze goes warm, and he leans a bit closer. “So, Bucky. Since it seems like you can’t keep your eyes off me, and I for damn sure can’t keep mine off you, what would you think about me asking you out on a date?”
Bucky blushes, and it’s from excitement, because heck yes. Still, he smirks a little and says, “I think I’d like that.”
“Bucky Barnes, would you go on a date with me?” Steve asks, but he’s laughing as he says it.
And Bucky grins, because, “Hell, yes.”