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even in the dark (we will find a way out)

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October, 2013

Steve is out the first night it happens.

It’s a Friday. Bucky is home in their apartment, the Brooklyn one that they’ve lived in for the last three months, already half-asleep on the couch with Penny curled up next to him, when he hears something; movement in the front area, pacing, the creak of a gate, too clear to just be the street. He thinks, at first, that Steve is home, so he shifts a little to smile at him when he comes in. It’s not until maybe ninety seconds later that he wonders if it could be something else.

Anxiety thrumming through him, Bucky gets up and looks out the window. Their front area is still and untouched, October chill making it look a little glasslike, but there’s no one there.

Bucky bites his lip, scanning it again. The gate is swinging a little, like it’s been pushed hastily open. Bucky’s breath catches, and he grinds his eyes shut. When he opens them, it’s stopped.

Don’t be stupid, Bucky tells himself, frustrated, hands curling into fists. It’s the wind. Someone walked by. Get it together. Then, softer, gentler with himself, the way Jennifer would tell him to, Calm down. It’s just anxiety talking. There’s no one out there looking for you, it’s just a reflexive reaction from bad experiences.

But it doesn’t stop panic from rising in his chest, cheeks flushed with it, and before he knows it he’s crossing the living room and the dining room to the kitchen and curls his fingers around the handle of a knife, and for a minute his home looks foreign and dangerous. Bucky squeezes it, bracing himself for something, the shrill cry of the doorbell or insistent banging or someone’s hands on him, but nothing comes.

Slowly, Bucky lets go of the knife and slumps back against the counter. He takes another few deep breaths, wrapping his arms around himself slowly. Penny comes up to him, sitting at his feet, lifting a paw to scratch his leg. Shakily, Bucky exhales and sinks to his knees so he can pet her; she nuzzles close to him, sniffing and licking his face, tail swinging back and forth. He takes another breath, more solid, coming back to himself.

“Good girl,” Bucky mumbles, and she licks him again, staying close, and he keeps scratching her behind the ears. “Thanks, Pen.”

Bucky picks up his phone and tries to convince himself not to call Steve, but before he knows it it’s pressed to his ear, hand shaking a little, the other one running through Penny’s fur. He bites his lip.

“Hey, baby.” Steve’s voice, muffled through movement. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, wincing when his voice comes out more fragile than he’d meant for it to. “Y—yeah, sorry, um…” He doesn’t want to say when are you coming home, but Steve hears the shudder in his voice and knows something isn’t right.

“Buck, I’m walking home now,” he says gently, and Bucky swallows his relief. “What’s going on?”

Bucky wants to tell him, but he imagines it, suddenly—I heard a noise outside and got fucking terrified and now I can’t stop panicking— and he bites it down, shame flushing him. He bites his nails; they’re painted, right now, pale purple; it’s a bit of a thing, started a few weeks ago, when he told Jennifer that he got a lot of comfort out of taking care of himself, pretty, soft, clean things that made him feel safe, and she asked if he’d ever done it before. He likes it, now.

“It’s stupid,” Bucky mumbles, scrubbing a hand over his face, “sorry, sorry, I’ll see you in a few—”

“You want me to stay on the phone?” Steve asks him.

“Do you—do you mind?”

“‘Course not.” Even through the phone, Steve’s voice is warm. “I’m about ten minutes away. Tell me about your night.”

He’s trying to make sure Bucky stays present, keep him talking and distracted, keep his head clear and focused on something definable. Jennifer has recommended that a lot. “It was alright. Wanda says hi. She’s still a little sad about the breakup.”

On the other end, a hum of resignation from Steve; he hadn’t liked Jarvis either. “Wanda deserves way better than him, talking to him was like watching paint dry,” Steve declares. Bucky laughs, a little shakily. “What’d you do after she left?”

“Um. I wrote a little. I baked us cookies. Watched some of The Bodyguard, it was playing on some channel—”

“Jesus, Buck,” Steve laughs, “no wonder you got nervous. I couldn’t sleep for days after I watched that.” Bucky swallows and nods, relaxing a little. He’s right, of course. It’s nothing, overworked nerves and exhaustion turning the wind into a threat. “What kind of cookies?”

“Pumpkin-chocolate.”

“Have I mentioned how in love with you I am?” Steve says.

Bucky pictures him grinning. It makes him smile, too. “How was Sam?” Bucky asks him. He’s breathing slowly, the way Jennifer has imprinted on his brain for when he feels like this, and it’s starting to help; the anxiety wanes, little by little by little.

“He’s good. Got a crush on some girl he’s friends with but he won’t tell me her name or ask her out. I told him he was being an idiot about it and I’m sure she’d say yes. He said he didn’t want relationship advice from someone who found their person when they were six.” He can hear Steve smiling, and Bucky laughs again. He likes that. His person. “Okay, baby. I’m coming up the block, I’ll see you in a sec.”

It’s been about five minutes, which means Steve walked faster than he had to. Warmth spreads through Bucky’s chest, unthawing him a little. “Okay. Thanks, Steve,” Bucky says softly.

“‘Course, baby. Be right there.” Steve hangs up. For a moment, the silence is so monumental and huge that Bucky feels it inside him, this eerie weight in his bones, until he hears the front door pull open.

“Buck?” Steve’s voice sends a wave of relief over him. He’s still kneeling on the kitchen floor, Penny’s head in his lap; she perks up at Steve’s voice, and Bucky pets her head.

“In here,” he calls weakly, and he hears footsteps and a moment later Steve appears and takes him in; pale, kneeling on the ground, Penny close against him, and worry washes over his face.

“Baby, baby, hey.” Steve sits next to him, wrapping his arms around him. “It’s okay, Buck, it’s alright.” He nods, leaning into Steve.

Penny nudges Steve’s hand until he gives her a pat. “What happened?” he asks gently, combing his fingers through Bucky’s hair.

Bucky swallows. “It’s nothing, it was just—it was so stupid—”

“Hey,” Steve says, pausing to kiss his forehead, “don’t say that. If it upset you, it’s not stupid.”

Bucky tells him, not looking up. Steve’s shirt is soft and warm, hands light on Bucky’s back, and he allows himself the feeling of being taken care of even though he knows how pathetic it sounds.

When he’s done, Steve holds him for another moment. “It’s not stupid, Buck. You just got scared. It’s okay. Everything’s okay, we’re safe, yeah? I’m sorry I wasn’t here, babe.”

Somehow now that Steve is here he can’t stop shaking. It hasn’t been this bad in a while; the nightmares and panic attacks and flashbacks are still there, and they’re still awful, but since moving and adopting Penny and seeing Jennifer twice a week, they’ve gotten tamer. Sometimes, Jennifer had said, a big part of recovery is just knowing how to manage the symptoms, not expecting them to vanish completely. He thought he’d been managing alright, all things considered, but now frustration slams him, blinding, nauseating fury at himself that still rears its head inside him sometimes.

A lot of Bucky feels just in-between right now. In between recovering and remaining debilitated with misery and trauma, in between accepting and being kind to himself and hating himself so vehemently that he can’t look in the mirror for days, in between days when he feels okay, when he’s even happy, and days when pulling himself out of bed is an olympic task and all he can do is replay bad, bad things, over and over, until he’s shivering and in tears and half-lucid. He ricochets between which Bucky he’s going to be when he wakes up until he can’t remember how to decide or if he has a decision and he ends up at some heavy, quivering combination of the two.

He feels sickeningly exhausted all of a sudden, the worst kind of exhaustion, the kind that drags itself through him, agonizingly slow, but that won’t let him sleep, the wired-up exhaustion that leaves his insides feeling buzzed and unsettled.

And Steve knows, because Steve knows all of him. “Hey,” he says gently, rubbing between Bucky’s shoulders, “how about I make us some hot chocolate and popcorn and we can watch Parks and Rec?”

“Okay,” Bucky mumbles, into his shirt. “Yeah. Yeah. Thanks, babe.”

So with gentle hands and soft, soothing words and a movie screen smile, Steve pulls him back to the Bucky he wants to be.

***

Bucky and Steve moved to Park Slope in late August. It was decided on in a thirty-second conversation in bed, Bucky’s head on Steve’s chest, half-asleep when Steve asked him, suddenly, if he wanted to leave the Upper West Side.

“What, now?” Bucky groaned.

“No, like, should we move?”

And that got Bucky to sit up. “Where’d you have in mind?” he asked, and Steve shifted himself up on the headboard and smiled tiredly.

“Brooklyn?”

It sent this fond, nostalgic, ache through Bucky that he couldn’t quite place. “Where in Brooklyn?”

“I mean, it doesn’t have to be Brooklyn,” Steve reasoned, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind Bucky’s ear. “But if it were, I thought Dumbo? Or Park Slope? Maybe Red Hook?”

Bucky thought about that for a moment, gaze fixed on Steve. “I could get behind any of those,” he told Steve, and then, with a small smile, “I could really get behind anywhere, as long as it’s with you,” and Steve had grinned and kissed him and they’d agreed to look at real estate the next day.

They chose Park Slope because they wanted a townhouse and Dumbo was all condos, and Bucky didn’t like Red Hook since he used to have a regular client who lived there and the thought of running into anyone from the past sent panic surging through him (he’d been anxious, explaining that to Steve, so much that his hands shook, but Steve just held him and kissed his forehead and reassured him they wouldn’t go there).

The new place is a redbrick, twelve rooms stretched out across three floors one block down from Prospect Park and one block up from Seventh Avenue and all of its cafes and shops and restaurants. It’s an old, pretty building: ivy stretches over half of it, grazing the huge arched windows that frame the living room and their bedroom, a staircase, curved left at the bottom, leads into a tall, dark oak front door. There’s a lantern in the front area, permanently flickering in the midst of their tiny garden.

The living room is this huge, bright front room. Three tall curved windows stretch from the polished wood floor to the ceiling, cushions arranged in all of the windowsills. It’s all exposed brick, wall to wall, and they’ve covered a lot of it with some of Steve’s art and some framed photos and plants that dangle from hooks that Bucky insisted on buying. Their TV is set discreetly in the corner on top of its table just beside the fireplace, in sight of the sofa and the four or five loveseats and chairs they’ve organized around the coffee table. They spend a lot of nights curled up on that couch, mugs of tea still steaming on top of the coffee table, trying to muster the energy to head upstairs to their room.

The bedroom is laid out exactly the same —three tall windows and exposed brick and warmth— but where the living room bleeds into their kitchen and dining room, the bedroom is closed off by a fourth wall. They’ve got their bed set in the center of the wall adjacent to the windows, flanked by their respective bedside tables On Bucky’s, right now, is a water bottle, a copy of The Body Keeps The Score that Jennifer told him he should read, a vanilla candle, and some lilies Steve bought him. On Steve’s is a miniature sketchbook full of drawings of Bucky, asleep and the view from their window; he sketches sometimes when he can’t sleep, a copy of The Road because Bucky suggested it, a photo of the two of them that Nat took a few weeks back, the moment just before a kiss where they were both laughing.

Across from the bed, they’ve set two tall bookshelves, packed with novels and trinkets and a couple of photographs they’ve stacked on one of the shelves. Penny’s bed is propped on the bench at the foot of theirs, but more nights than not she curls up at their feet and they wake up with their legs numb from her sleeping on top. These walls are punctuated with more art and photos and a full length mirror that they’ve hung, and two ivy colored armchairs sit under the windows, miniature table in between that they set trays of breakfast in bed on some days.

The kitchen is separated from the living room by the dining room, a long, dark table underneath a few hanging, bare light bulbs. That’s where Bucky is right now, leaning against the counter as he waits for the coffee to brew, pale morning light beaming in. It’s his favorite part of the house. The back wall is entirely glass, looking out over their deck and backyard, which right now is little more than dead leaves and patio furniture and an empty birdbath, but in the spring is, according to the overly enthused realtor, “as pretty as the Botanical gardens, but less full of tourists” (Bucky remembers, distinctly, forcing himself not to look at Steve so he didn’t burst out laughing, and having to swallow it when Steve squeezed his hand lightly). The kitchen island is dark oak, and right now has a big glass vase of sunflowers on top of it that Steve bought Bucky the other day, and they match the cupboards. They’ve painted the few feet of the wall that weren’t brick red (it was a good night, music streaming through the air, red staining their skin, kisses that smeared the paint all over their faces).

Upstairs, they’ve got the main bathroom, huge and bright white and (Steve’s favorite part) lit up by flickers of blue and red and green by a big stained glass window right above the tub. They’ve spent a lot of nights in that clawfoot, in clothes and with an inappropriate amount of bubbles for two adults, and Bucky loves it. The shower is a big glass box on the other wall, stacked with soaps and body wash and whatnot scented lavender and orange and every other sweet flavor because Bucky’s found comfort in that lately, in long warm showers and sweet, safe smells, and since he told Steve that Bucky keeps finding new ones left along the shelf for him (and soft sweaters, and various nail polish bottles, and flowers, because Steve is the eight wonder of the world). Steve’s studio is up there, too——theirs, Bucky corrects himself, because it’s split—painting supplies and graphic design tablet and pencils on one side, desk and laptop and half-filled notebooks on the other. They spend a lot of days in there, sun filtering in, filling the space between them with glowing warmth, quietly working, breaking the rhythm to cross the room and give the other a kiss on the cheek or grab lunch or take Penny out.

There’s a basement, too, but they spend the least time there. Steve works out there sometimes, punching bag and treadmill and weights having made the cut for moving, but other than that it’s just the guest space that their friends will occasionally crash at when they don’t wanna travel back to Manhattan.

The novelty of it hasn’t quite worn off. Bucky has to remind himself, often and firmly, that this is his life now; he’s got his name on a house deed, he’s here with Steve, in this beautiful home that they made together. They’re happier here. Bucky couldn’t believe the difference it made at first—living, sleeping somewhere where he wasn’t half-convinced Alexander Pierce would turn up in the lobby with a gun, signing a paper that told him even if Steve did decide he was done, he couldn’t legally kick Bucky back to the streets.

(Not that he ever, ever would, but the conviction was there, squeezing around his throat, not enough hissing through him. It’s still there, some days, but it’s easier to wrestle down.)

They combined finances (or, rather, Steve got Bucky’s name officially on his bank account after weeks and weeks and weeks of pushing him to accept it) just before purchasing it. They’d gone to Chase, talking to a woman who explained, a hint of judgement in her voice, that they should probably wait until after they’re married, until Steve retorted, “We’re gonna get married,” with such finality that she decided it wasn’t worth arguing.

Right now, Bucky pours himself a cup of coffee and goes to stand at the back wall, staring out into the garden. Steve is out on a run in Prospect Park with Penny; he’s been out about forty minutes, which means he should be back any second. It’s cloudy out; everything looks woven out of a silvery thread, delicate and still. Bucky blinks a couple of times, shaking his head, but it doesn’t clear the fog, so he has another sip of coffee. It’s a strange morning. He’s still lethargic from the panic last night, and more than that, he can tell it’s gonna be one of the worse days, the days where he can’t shake the heaviness clinging to his bones, where shadows are going to send terror pulsing momentarily through him. It’s different than how the bad days used to be; it isn’t usually the constant, unceasing panic twenty-four/seven that it had been before where he was too anxious to ask for anything and couldn’t be touched for a long time; that’s still there, sometimes, but it’s interspersed with calm or happiness or this strange, immovable sadness that’s more passive than anything else. It’s better, he supposes, but it isn’t good.

(Bucky, in frustrated tears, I think I’m broken, I think I’m just too fucked up to get over any of it, I still feel so fucking bad.

Jennifer’s voice, calm, understanding, firmYou aren’t broken, Bucky. What you’re feeling is so normal. This isn’t going to be an instant process.. It’s not the kind of thing that you can expect to vanish in a few months or a year. You were being hurt for years—it’s going to take time to heal and process and manage it all. That’s okay. If there are setbacks, and times when it feels counter-productive, that’s all part of it. You’re still making progress.)

He hears the turn of the lock and spins around; Penny bounds in, rolls around on the rug for a moment, shakes herself off, and pads over to him. Bucky smiles and gives her a rub. “Hey, babe!” he calls, so Steve knows he’s up.

“Hi, baby!” Steve shouts back, and appears a moment later, smiling.

He strides over and leans in to kiss him and Bucky ducks him, smirking. “No, you’re all gross, go take a shower—”

“Hey!” Steve pouts. “Penny, you don’t think I’m gross, right, you’ll give me kisses—” And he bends down and lets her lick his face, as Bucky laughs. “She loves me, Barnes.”

“Glad someone in this house does,” Bucky says dryly, and Steve fake-scowls, straightening up. “Now it’s all sweat and dog saliva, I’m definitely not kissing you.”

Steve scoffs, and, just a little too fast, steps towards Bucky and he flinches before he can catch himself, and Steve pulls away, eyes softening, and watches him.

“You okay?” he says gently. Steve knows him, can see the forcedness in Bucky’s reactions, can see how he’s working double time to appear okay.

Bucky shrugs, straightening up and leaning against the wall. His fingers tighten involuntarily around the mug. “Yeah,” he says, shrugging, “I don’t know. It’s just, um.” A pause. Steve reaches a hand out; Bucky takes it, weaving their fingers together. “It’s just—I don’t feel good, right now.”

And Steve gets it. He nods, squeezing Bucky’s hand. “Is there anything I can do for you, baby?”

Sometimes, the answer is hug me for a while or tell me about your newest painting or walk with me. Right now, though, Bucky doesn’t know what he needs. A lot of the time, when he feels like this, all he can do is wait for it to pass.

“Not really,” Bucky tells him, squeezing back. “Thanks, though.”

“You’re seeing Jennifer today, right?” Steve confirms with him, and runs his thumb up the length of Bucky’s index finger. Bucky nods, some of the anxiety ebbing; it will help, talking to her.

“At three,” Bucky tells him, and Steve smiles and nods. “And, uh, class with Wanda at one.”

For the last three weeks or so, Bucky and Wanda have been the only non-couple in a couple’s Italian cooking class in the West Village. It’s the third one they’ve done; they did Japanese first, and then a vegan one, and now this one. After Pierce, Bucky started baking and cooking a lot; it helps, clears his head, gives him something solid and palpable to focus on when he can’t get grounded otherwise. He got her the first set of classes as a birthday gift after she mentioned wanting to learn how to cook more food, and they liked it so much that they did another, and on and on. It’s been good, that time laughing with Wanda and whatever retired couple they were seated next to, having something to work at and get better at, something he can finish and be satisfied with himself after. It’s been good going home after and making whatever he’d learned with Steve, clumsy instructions and misshapen rolls of dough when they do it together, feeding each other little samples off of spoons, Steve, kissing him and laughing, god, baby, this is world-class.

“Nice,” Steve answers, and then, “Quiet night, you think? We can take our girl for a walk, order in, catch up on The Americans?”

Bucky smiles at him, a rush of gratitude filling him. “That sounds perfect,” he tells Steve. Steve smiles, lifting their clasped hands to kiss Bucky’s knuckles, and so Bucky lets a little of the heaviness go.

***

He asks Wanda, while they’re rolling dough into long strands of pasta, if she saw anyone when she was leaving the house. He knows by now it’s just paranoia, but he wants to hear it from her, for one more person he trusts to confirm he’s got nothing to worry about.

“I don’t think so.” Her hands are covered in flour, so she pushes her hair out of her eyes with the back of her hand. “No one I noticed, anyway.”

“Okay,” Bucky says, and takes a breath. He’s being so stupid to drag this out.

Think about the evidence you have to support the anxiety-driven thoughts, and the evidence you have against it, Jennifer will say, in forty-five minutes when he sits down in her office. So he does.

All is okay.

***

Steve’s getting groceries when a text from Tony comes in—hey kid, thanks again for agreeing to tmw. Looking forward to seeing you and b. He’s about to respond and ask what the hell he’s talking about, and then checks the date and remembers that months ago, he agreed to donate something to an auction for Tony’s foundation; he thinks it was a painting, or maybe a commission, but he can’t for the life of him remember. It comes back to him as he squints at the text; annual gala, charity fundraising, et cetera, et cetera.

He doesn’t want to go; that’s his knee-jerk reaction. He doesn’t need to be there while they auction off whatever it is he offered, doesn’t want to deal with the conversations he’s been having at every gala or opening or event since the trial and the catastrophic aftermath of it, really doesn’t want Bucky to have to deal with it. He thinks, vaguely, that he might have gone the year before, and once he remembers that, he gets flashes of the night; him, leaning against a wall by the bar, a few too many vodka tonics into the night, talking to a smaller guy with dark hair and blue eyes who looked like Bucky when he squinted and trying to decide whether or not to go home with him, people he didn’t know congratulating him on some exhibit he’d had, sitting next to—he remembers this with a start—Alexander Pierce and his wife and listening to him explain why universal health care was a bad idea, nodding blankly and trying to mask his disgust.

He can’t bail now, though. He gives Tony a response to let him know he’ll be there, as if he hadn’t let it drop off of his radar for four months, and heads home to break it to Bucky.

Bucky is already there, doing something at the oven, humming a little to whatever is playing in his headphones while Penny lies at his feet, working at a bone. He leans against the doorframe for a moment and watches him, adoration surging through him, the same, soft I love you you’re so perfect you make me so insanely happy rhythm repeating itself.

It’s just. Sometimes, almost a year out from when Bucky stumbled out of that alleyway and into Steve’s life, from when he whispered Steve’s name in a small, hollowed-out voice that unthawed and untangled Steve’s heart in half a second, Steve still has to step back and remember that he’s here. It was all he had wanted for four years, all of his eleven-eleven wishes and untouchable daydreams and now he’s here in their home, here in Steve’s arms, here because they found each other again, and when he thinks about this, about how a year ago, he hadn’t had Bucky and now, he does, emotion floods him, a hundred thousand pinpricks of color in his soul at Bucky’s sheer existence, at Bucky’s loveliness and at Bucky’s presence, right here in their home, right here next to Steve. Bucky, who a year ago, had flinched when Steve looked at him, who had whispered It’s twenty for a blowjob, fifty for sex, a hundred if you want me to stay over, who’d gone submissive and pliant when Steve pulled him home without thinking, is here in their kitchen, baking and listening to music and wearing a soft blue sweater that belongs to Steve, Bucky who kissed him awake this morning and giggled against his lips, Bucky who has all of him, every piece of his heart and soul that’s ever existed or ever will. Steve heard, once, that your body understood anniversaries, and he thinks it might be true as he stands there, watching the love of his life. He doesn’t believe in God, or anything, really, but Steve sends a silent thank you to the universe and smiles.

When Bucky sees him, he startles and flinches—Penny jumps up—and Steve immediately kicks himself. There are things he knows so well from this last almost-year with Buck they’ve become part of his everyday habits, same as waking up at seven and brushing his teeth; he doesn’t touch him below the waist, he doesn’t touch him without asking if he dissociates really badly, he doesn’t call him James even as a joke, he doesn’t sneak up on him. The slip-ups rarely happen anymore, but occasionally, Steve forgets that Bucky’s always reeling.

“Sorry, baby,” Steve says gently, wincing, “didn’t mean to startle you.”

Bucky braces himself against the counter, yanks his headphones out. “It’s okay,” he says, with a little smile. “Hey, Stevie.” Steve walks over to him, bending down to kiss Penny first, then Bucky, on the cheek. Bucky hugs him, leaning his cheek light against Steve’s shoulder, sighing a little.

“Okay?” Steve asks, combing his fingers gently through Bucky’s hair.

Bucky nods. “Yeah. Tired.” But he smiles up at Steve anyway.

“Good class?”

“Mhm. Gonna make you fresh pasta this week.”

“And I’m gonna somehow love you more than I already do,” Steve replies, and kisses his nose. Bucky giggles, this beautiful, clear sound that sends a thrum of warmth through Steve. “How was Jennifer?”

“Good,” Bucky says, leaning against him again. “I told her about last night and she talked about, like, why it maybe happened. It helped a little.”

Steve leans down to kiss him again, his forehead this time. “Good,” he says gently, and Bucky nods. “Guess what?” Steve says, grinning at him. Bucky raises an eyebrow. “Girl Scouts were hanging out at Union Market today. I stocked us up.” And he pulls out two boxes of Thin Mints and stacks them dramatically on the counter.

Bucky laughs. “If you didn’t get Samoas, Rogers…” And he trails off with a smirk as Steve pulls out another two boxes. “God, I love you.”

“What kind of boyfriend would I be to not get your favorite, Barnes?” He scoffs. Bucky rolls his eyes and pecks Steve on the lips, hands soft still against his arm, so Steve smiles and melts against him. Bucky breaks away, pushing on tiptoes to set it on the top shelf, straining his wrist, and Steve smirks. “Need some help there?”

Bucky snorts. “Nope. I’m great.”

Steve plucks it from his hand and reaches to highest shelf easily.

Bucky fake-scowls. “Show-off.”

“It’s not my fault, baby,” Steve says, and grins.

Bucky rolls his eyes. “I liked you better when I was taller, you know—”

Steve laughs. “Oh, so seventh grade?”

“Exactly.” Bucky grins, laying both arms over Steve’s shoulders slowly, tilting his head back to smirk up. “You’ve just been downhill since you hit your thirteen-year-old growth spurt. The amount I like you is directly opposite to how tall you are.”

Steve pouts, wrapping his arms around Bucky’s waist. “Have fun reaching those yourself when you want them, then,” he replies, and Bucky shrugs.

“I will.” Bucky kisses him quickly and smiles.

“What were you singing?” Steve asks him, pulling him closer.

Bucky blushes, glancing down. “None of your business, creep—” He trails off with a laugh as Steve glances at the album on his screen.

“Beach Boys, huh?” Steve laughs.

Bucky shoves him lightly. “Shut up, it’s a great song.”

But Steve laughs again, and pops in one of the headphones, then hands Bucky the other. “C’mere, then,” he says warmly, as Bucky pops the earbud in and presses play. Steve locks their fingers together, tilting his forehead down to touch Bucky’s, and sways with him, eyes closed, Bucky letting out a happy little breath and relaxing against him. “Hey, Buck?”

“Hm?”

“God only knows what I’d be without you.” It earns him a light kick on the shin.

“You’re actually crazy, you know that…”

“Crazy for you, baby.”

Bucky shakes his head, face glowing with love, softening Steve around all the edges. “Love you, idiot.”

Penny whines below them. “Aw, Pen, do you not like seeing your parents in love?” Steve says to her, and Bucky bursts out laughing.

The song has ended, so Bucky plucks out Steve’s headphone, then his. “Can we order sushi tonight?” Bucky asks, giving him a little smile.

“Yep.” Steve pulls out his phone to place the order. “Ah, shit,” he says, remembering, and Bucky looks up, worried. “Doesn’t matter right now but before I forget, I forgot that tomorrow is Tony’s gala thing and I said I’d be there” —Bucky grimaces sympathetically— “and you don’t have to go, obviously, if you don’t want, but—”

“Babe, of course I’m gonna go,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes. “Not leaving you alone there.”

Steve grins and leans against the counter. “God, I wanted you to say that.”

And Bucky laughs again, and winds his arms back around Steve’s neck, and contentment fills Steve to the brim.