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Step Up, Win A Prize

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It’s just for a day. One very long day Bucky told himself, trying to squeeze past people at the outdoor festival. He hated crowds, always had, but he kept on a brave face, a smirk of confidence, because he wasn’t going to let anyone see just how nervous he was.

“Come on, Bucket!” Bucky caught Becca a few feet away, waving him on with a gleeful smile. He nodded his head and picked up the pace, trying to stay closer to the young woman. 

Right. The only reason I’m here he thought. There were only two people in the world that could talk Bucky into doing anything despite his reservations- his sister Becca and his best friend Steve. They were his world. So when Becca had called a few weeks back, crying because her boyfriend had cheated on her, Bucky offered to fly out to see her and take her out for Valentine’s Day.

 Their hometown always held a cheesy festival around the holiday season, lights strung along the main street, vendors set up, carnival games. There were even a few rides, not that Bucky was going to get on then. First, he was already freezing his ass off outside walking around with Becca. Second- those rides got put up and torn down way too quickly for comfort, and the thought made Bucky’s skin crawl. The city center was oozing with reds and pinks and cupids and hearts. It was enough to make Bucky want to gag, and he hoped most normal people would gag at the overdone display as well.

Bucky supposed there was a time he liked these festivals, but he was much younger when he had. It was before he came out, before he became the only outed gay kid in a small town. Who was he supposed to enjoy the season with if no one else admitted to being queer? Every year it was mostly just pity parties with his single friends, and even then most of them would hook up with someone at those parties while Bucky mostly just sat around, feeling even worse about the situation than before.

At least in New York he knew he wasn’t alone. He had moved out there as soon as he could, gotten a job at a cafe as he put himself through college. And while he couldn’t say that he came out of his shell any more than he had at home, at least he knew there were options.

“Buck! Look,” Becca said, stopping in front of a stall. Bucky walked over, smiling at the absolute heart eyes she had as she pointed. Following her finger, Bucky saw what she was currently gushing over; it was a giant stuffed panda, holding onto a red heart that read ‘I love you beary much.’ “Think you can win it for me?” she asked.

“Can I burn it?” Bucky teased. Becca scowled at him as he dug out his wallet. “Yeah, let’s try.”

How hard can it be? It’s knocking down milk bottles. That was the flawed logic Bucky had going into the challenge. Those milk bottles didn’t topple over as easily as he thought they would and he felt the heat creeping up his neck as he tried three times. He would get one or two down but never enough for a prize. He scowled, knowing there had to be a trick, he just wasn’t sure what it was.

“It’s alright,” Becca said. “Why don’t we move on?”

“But you said you wanted-”

“No, really, it’s fine,” she assured him. Bucky scrunched up his nose. “We all know these things are rigged anyway.”

Just as Becca was trying to get Bucky to leave, a man walked up to the stall and Bucky was more focused on him than Becca at the moment. He was tall, very tall, over six foot from the looks of it. His hair was a disaster, windswept and looking like all the styling gel in the world wasn’t going to ever tame it, and Bucky was pretty sure no amount of makeup was ever going to fully cover the bruises on his face, but he tried. But it was his eyes that had Bucky fixated. They sparkled with mischief as he walked up to the vendor and asked for a round. He got his hands on the balls, tossing them in the air and thinking before he launched them in a quick session, his tongue poking out a little in concentration. And if that wasn’t enough to make Bucky want to melt, just a little at the end he had almost a smug smile on his lips before he let out a soft ‘heh’ and leaned back.

“ ‘cuse me, miss,” he said, looking over at Becca and Bucky now. Becca turned but Bucky’s eyes were still fixed on the man who gave her a confident smile. “Which bear was it you wanted?” he asked.

Oh for fucks sake Bucky thought, groaning internally. It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy for his sister; she deserved to be flirted with a little after her breakup, and she was definitely pretty enough that Bucky was used to people hitting on her. But the sting of it happening on their sibling date was a little annoying.

“Oh, uh, the panda with the red heart,” Becca said, and Bucky didn’t have to see her face to know she was blushing.

“That’ll be three more hits for that one,” the vendor said.

“Oh, uh- no, that’s-”

“Three more?” the man asked, grabbing three more dollars out of his wallet and handing it over. “Piece of cake.” He winked, winked , before he tossed one of the balls in his hand again, looking at the remaining milk cans and started pitching them off again. Three perfect crashing sounds, three more cans gone. Becca gasped and the worker reluctantly got the bear down and handed it to the blond, who handed it to Becca. “Didn’t mean to show your date up,” he added.

“Oh… oh no… he’s my brother,” Becca said, taking the bear, laughing.

“Guess you got lucky, huh?” Bucky asked, surprised the words actually came out of his mouth.

“Buck!” Becca said with a gasp.

The blond man, however, only grinned. “Luck’s got nothing to do with it. Pure skill.”

“Or knowing the tricks to carnival games,” Bucky challenged. “Isn’t that cheating?”

Nothing he said seemed to phase the man despite Becca’s uneasy look. Instead, he grinned and shrugged. “You pick the next game and I’ll prove to ya luck has nothing to do with it.” He held up a hand. “In fact… I bet you a pizza at Val’s that I can pass whatever test you have. Darts are my best though, don’t pick that. Too easy.”

“You’re on,” Bucky said. 

It wasn’t that he was competitive or argumentative- he left that bullshit game to Stevie. But he hated that smirk on the guy’s face, even if it made him a little weak in his knees. He hated how Becca seemed to linger a little closer to the guy. And not to be a complete snob, but the guy’s jacket was dirty, and his jeans were ripped, and not in the fashionable way. He wasn’t good enough for Becca, even if it was Bucky’s biases coming into play.

So he picked a few more of the games, including the darts, which, as it turns out, were too easy for the guy. He even picked the stupid pingpong ball into the fish bowl game, and each time the guy landed it in without the ball bouncing around or swirling around the lip. It was a clean toss every time, done with what looked to be practice easy. That was until Becca started demanding more trickshots, telling the man to play fair. So it became shots from over his back, or from a few more feet away.

Bucky had to hand it to the guy- he was charming as hell. He split his attention between Becca and Bucky with ease, and Bucky was shoving the idea that maybe every time they would catch each other’s eyes, the guy smiled just a little brighter for him. For the first time that night, Bucky didn’t really focus on the crowded street packed with lovesick people- he was focused on a guy who both intrigued him and pissed him off all at once.

“You are running out of time to prove me wrong,” the man sang boldly, that smirk still on his face. “And, honestly, I am running out of cash, and I think your little sister here is running out of arm space for all the prizes.” Becca hated being called the little sister, but around this guy she just melted it seemed. She did the thing Bucky wished he could do but knew better. Taped up knuckles, bruised hands and face- Bucky wasn’t looking to get his ass kicked at a Valentine’s Day festival for maybe, possibly, slightly hitting on the wrong guy.

“The basketball game. But ten shots in a row. I’ll even buy,” Bucky challenged. The blond looked over at the game and scoffed at it and how easy it was. “From half court.”

“Ooo, now that is a challenge,” the man said. Becca had spotted a friend and wandered over, sharing her spoils, her eyes animated. The group of girls all seemed to look over, giggling.

“And! Since you bet this one pizza. If you don’t win,” Bucky said as they approached the basketball game, “I want you to not hit on my sister.”

That seemed to wipe the smile off of the guy’s face. He looked stunned for a second before he seemingly shrugged it off. Bucky coughed up the money for the game, and tossed the blond the balls. He spun it between his fingertips. “The name is Clint by the way. Just figured you should know who you are buying pizza for.”

“Glad to know who isn’t going to be trying to date my sister.”

Clint tipped his head to the side before he took a few breaths and started up. Bucky hated to admit that maybe even this challenge wasn’t really a challenge for him. Sure, some of the baskets were made by the ball spinning in, but most of them were clean shots. The worst part was, Clint made everything look so effortless as he did it. He didn’t cheer for himself at the baskets, nor brag about his skills. He stayed focused on what he was doing, only taking the time between shots to wipe off his hands or adjust his stance a little.

It was the last shot and a small crowd had gathered. Bucky tried to tune them out, which wasn’t too hard when he could watch Clint. His eyes were focused on the basket it seemed, and narrowed for a moment as he was making some sort of decision. With the same lazy ease, He raised his hands and launched the ball, only this time it missed. It barely grazed the rim of the hoop. The crowd let out a collective sigh of disappointment.

Bucky smiled smugly as he watched Clint jog up to the person running the carnival game. Bucky knew he still won a prize, but it wasn’t the grand prize. Clint came back, his arm filled with a dragon stuffed animal half the size of Bucky.

“Guess you do lose, huh?” Bucky asked.

“Guess so,” Clint replied before he held out the dragon, shoving it into Bucky’s arms. “But I kinda won anyway,” he commented. Bucky frowned a little as Clint stuffed his hands in his coat pocket. “It was never really about dating your sister,” he said before he turned and walked, disappearing into the crowd.

Bucky stood there stunned for a moment, holding onto the stuffed animal and staring off into the space Clint was before he had disappeared. It was never really about dating your sister. His heart picked up it’s pace for a moment. If it wasn’t about Becca then it had to be about- No. There is no way he was trying to flirt with me. Not in this hell hole of a city. He just wanted bragging rights. That’s all there is to it.  

“Bucket! Where did he go?” Becca asked, finally joining Bucky again.

“What? Oh, he left,” Bucky explained. “He lost and disappeared and-”

“You have to go find him, like, right now,” Becca declared, shoving at him, moving his forward.

“Hey! The hell are you doin’?” Bucky asked, stumbling a few of the steps, nearly dropping the dragon stuffed animal.

“Do you have any idea who that was?” Becca asked quietly. Bucky frowned and shook his head. Becca set her stuffed animal down, the original one that Clint had won her, the others now likely with her friends. She played with her phone for a moment before she turned it around.

Bucky’s eyes widened at the Instagram page. Clint was standing there, throwing a peace sign and sticking his tongue out on the page. Out in Chesterton, IN for their Love Is In The Air festival. Adding this to my Hallmark movies are my life bingo fill. #smalltowns #singlesawarenessday #itlookslikeVDaythrewup #imlivingforthis #hallmarkmoviescometolife #avengersatplay Bucky took Becca’s phone and scrolled up, looking at the main photo to the account, he glanced and saw the blue verified button and….

“No. Not that has to be-” Bucky began to say.

So he had a MCM, a man crush Monday, and that person was the Avenger Hawkeye. He had a soft spot for every random picture that got posted on his official Instagram page, like the times he was playing with Lucky on the ground, or the times they were at a dog park in New York. He lived for the pictures of the guy doing yoga, zoned out from what was around him it seemed, and all the photos post-mission, forcing the Black Widow into selfies. He might have been one of the lesser talked about Avengers but that’s what made Bucky swoon over him a little bit more; he didn’t seem to do any of this for the money and the fame, but because he genuinely wanted to. 

“There is no way that was-” Bucky tried to say.

“Go. Find. Him. Now.” Becca demanded. 

“But I’m supposed to take you out-”

“I’m fine. Carly and I are going back to her place to watch some horror films,” Becca promised. “Hurry up before he leaves and you never get the chance. Because I saw that last throw and there was no way he missed it without wanting to miss it.”

Bucky nodded then smiled, moving forward to kiss Becca’s forehead. “Call me. Or text me. Alright?”

“Go,” Becca said, drawing it out, shoving him.

Bucky turned and ran in the direction Clint had headed off in, the stupid stuffed animal dragon getting in his way half the time. He tried to peer through the crowd, tried to spot that beat up jacket, but he wasn’t having any luck. He tried to remember anything Clint had said, what he might do after that ridiculous challenge, if there were any rides he could think of. But everything was coming up short until, finally, Bucky gave up.

Val’s Bucky’s brain finally said. One of the few pizza places in Chesterton. Of course. Hawkeye is a pizza fan. It didn’t take much snooping to figure that out- there were multiple pictures of the archer eating pizza on his Instagram page, usually taken by his friends, mid-bite and grinning despite it. So Bucky made a beeline for his car with determination.

Down the street, back in a parking lot, Bucky slowed down from his mission. Sitting on the tailgate of a beat down truck was the guy from the festival, Clint, his face and hair illuminated by the glow of his phone, his other hand on a coffee cup. His legs were swinging and as Bucky got closer, he heard music pouring out from the speaker, though he wasn’t one hundred percent sure who was singing.

“Hey cheater,” Bucky said as he got closer.

Clint looked up from his phone, that grin coming back as the music died down. “Hey. Back for round two?” he asked.

“You purposely missed that shot,” Bucky said, setting the dragon plushie down.

“I really didn’t,” Clint replied.

“You don’t miss.”

Clint paused a moment, his mouth hanging open before he smiled, his shoulders pulling up. “Someone follows me on Instagram. Look if you want an autograph you might have to give me a pen or something. Not an arrow I’ve made yet. I thought about it, but then Tony said that-”

“I’m kind of here to buy you that pizza,” Bucky said, cutting in before the blond could ramble off. Clint blinked and leaned to the side, setting his coffee cup down. “You purposely missed that shot. That’s cheating, so I’m not counting it. So… you technically won the bet, which means I owe you a pizza.”

Clint looked surprised again, and Bucky watched as he seemed to struggle with a response, his fingers picking at the skin around them. “And if today doesn’t work, I can always buy later. I live in Brooklyn. I’ve been meaning to try Grimaldi’s.”

Clint’s face transformed from reluctance to absolute excitement. “You’re a Brooklyn guy? Bed-Stuy!” he exclaimed, getting down from his tailgate. “I am hungry. I could go for some pizza,” he admitted, grabbing his coffee cup and closing the tailgate to the truck. “Need a lift?” he asked.

The honest answer was no, Bucky’s car wasn’t too far away from Clint’s. But he shrugged and picked his dragon back up. “If you don’t mind.”

“Nah, not a problem,” Clint said, digging his keys out. “You might have to listen to some Gremlins 47 though.”

“I don’t know who that is,” Bucky admitted, walking to his side of the truck.

Clint paused just outside of the truck. “Well then, Bucket. I suppose you are in for a treat.”

Bucky couldn’t agree more.