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Single and Looking (edited version)

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Single and Looking

~*~

Bucky ducked. The air from the right hook thrown at his jaw rushed past him, tingling over his sweat-damp skin. He weaved right, dipped left and nearly dodged an uppercut that grazed his chin.

“You’re getting slow, old man,” Steve panted. He shuffled his feet and jabbed at Bucky’s jaw with his left hand

“I’m out of practice,” Bucky huffed. He took a step forward, faded with his left and landed a blow right to Steve’s gut that sent him reeling back into the ropes.

The sparring match in the gym at Tony’s Washington, DC Stark Industries location had been Steve’s idea. After Bucky had managed a couple of months without incident, the CIA decided he was a minimal threat to national security and allowed him to leave the house with appropriate supervision. Captain America was considered appropriate supervision, and they both needed a way to let off some steam.

Steve gripped the ropes with both gloved hands and coughed. The punch knocked the wind right out of him.

“You gonna make it? And I took it easy on you, punk.” Bucky tugged off his gloves and pushed back a lock of sweat-soaked hair that had tumbled out of his ponytail. It wasn’t often that he landed a clean punch on Steve, so he rested his hands on his hips and savored the moment.

“Lost concentration for a second,” Steve gasped.

“You can’t afford to do that. It’ll get you killed,” said Bucky, who had to grudgingly admit his own ability to concentrate currently hovered somewhere between slim and a toddler on a sugar high. Steve moved with a restrained elegance that fascinated Bucky. It hadn’t always been that way. When they were kids, Steve fought with more bluster than ability, all wild swings and flailing arms and haymaker punches that missed more often than they landed. But now he fought with a cool calculation and a calm confidence that Bucky admired. Every motion precise, each punch and parry made to maximize energy and hit as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Steve’s perfect blend of power and grace proved so distracting he could hardly focus on his own moves.

“Trust me, I know it could get me killed,” noted Steve with an ironic twist of his mouth. “Last time we fought, you were a man on a mission. Literally.”

Bucky grinned. He pulled up the hem of his tank top and wiped his brow with it, exposing a slick swath of rippled abs. “On the heli-carrier? I took it easy on you then, too.”

Steve’s eyes dropped to admire Bucky’s bare tummy, then snapped back up to Bucky’s face when he was caught blatantly ogling. A spark of rakishness flared behind his blue eyes. “Wanna go another round?” he asked, trying to cover his indiscretion with a boyish grin. His attempt at innocence failed spectacularly.

Bucky’s pulse quickened. “I don’t think you’re up to it,” he challenged, knowing Steve would take the bait because he always took the bait, especially if the bait was Bucky. It was a familiar game they played, one with which Bucky was intimately acquainted. The coy tease, the thrilling chase, the inevitable capture, the delicious surrender. He licked his lips in anticipation.

Steve’s eyes sparkled. “I’ll take you down faster than you can say ‘rogue assassin’.”

“Is that a threat or a promise?” Bucky tried hard to look serious, but it was difficult to maintain his composure when Steve kept grinning at him like a mischievous school kid with a loaded sling-shot and a dodgy plan.

“Oh, it’s a promise,” Steve countered. He pushed off the ropes in a quick, fluid motion and stood toe-to-toe with Bucky. “I’m a man of my word.” His lust-dark eyes dropped to Bucky’s lips as he spoke.

The creak of the gym door opening sounded behind them. Steve sprang backward, but Bucky grabbed a fistful of his shirt. “Where you going? I thought you wanted round two?” His gray eyes widened in confusion.

“Not now,” Steve said quietly. Bucky deflated and released his grip. He didn’t know who had just opened the door, but he categorically hated them.

“I hope I’m interrupting something.” Natasha’s voice lilted across the gym, her heeled boots clicking on the stained concrete as she walked toward them. “Because that would be awesome.”

“You kind of are,” muttered Bucky with bitter disappointment. Of course it was Natasha. He gave her a perfunctory glare and snatched his gloves off the mat. Her timing sucked as usual, which, along with irritating Bucky, was something she enjoyed. Hell, she gleefully pressed everyone’s buttons at some point just because she could, but to Bucky, it seemed like his personal buttons were larger and redder and more apt to being repeatedly fist-slammed than everyone else’s. She lived to wind him up and watch him spin in loud, blustery circles. Steve helpfully pointed out that if he ignored her teasing, she’d leave him alone, but Bucky never could manage to do that.

“No, you’re not interrupting anything. It’s fine.” Steve’s star-spangled smile popped into place. “Just getting in some sparring practice.”

“Barnes,” she said with an uptick in her tone. The edge of her mouth quirked upward in a half-smirk. “You’re looking…sweaty.” She flicked her eyes back to Steve and added, “I have a couple of things to discuss with you, if you’ve got a minute.”

“Sure, Nat,” Steve said. “You want to talk upstairs?”

“Definitely,” she said as she wrinkled her nose. “It smells like an explosion of testosterone down here.”

“I’ll hit the locker room and meet you upstairs in a few,” Bucky said to Steve, pointedly ignoring Natasha. He slung his gloves around his neck and turned on his heels. Whatever it was they had to discuss didn’t involve him and he was fine with that. Really. Right now, he felt more like leaving a frustrated, fist-sized dent in one of Stark’s new gym lockers.

“Need anyone to towel off your back?” Natasha put her hands on her hips and gave Bucky an indiscrete once-over.

“Is that an offer?” He certainly hoped not.

“Do you want it to be?” That stopped Bucky dead on the spot.

Bucky stole a glance over his shoulder at Steve, who still had his Big Damn Hero smile locked firmly into place, then tossed a sharp look at Natasha. “Nope,” he said as he started walking again. “I’m waiting on a better one.”

Natasha laughed throatily. “Thanks, Barnes. Just blow me off.”

“I’m sure it’s not the first time,” fired Bucky over his shoulder.

“Ooh, feisty.” She wiggled an eyebrow at Steve and grabbed his arm. “Come on. I have a proposition for you.”

~*~

Bucky changed out of his sweaty workout clothes into a clean t-shirt and shorts and then sank moodily onto the bench in front of his locker. What the hell had just happened? The instant Steve heard the click of the gym door, he’d leapt backward like a scalded cat. It was strange, like something out of an alternate universe where the hero has been kidnapped by an evil twin…only this time it was a weird, uptight twin. Steve might be conservative on some issues, but when it came to groping Bucky, he had no reservations. None whatsoever. Back at the cottage, any body part within hand’s reach would be fondled and fondled well, with enough enthusiasm to make a streetwalker blush. Despite his frequent and vocal complaints to the contrary, Bucky actually liked it when Steve got frisky. The attention Steve showered on him made him feel wanted and special, and he hadn’t felt like that in a very long time. Maybe that’s why this afternoon’s events left Bucky so disappointed. Who was that guy in the gym back there and what had he done with Handsy Steve?

~*~

The Stark Industries building in DC was a refurbished industrial warehouse just south of the city. The basement held the gym, lab and workshop, with offices on the main floor and a couple of lavish apartments on the top floor. According to Tony, they were each decorated with urban contemporary furnishings. According to Bucky, they were each decorated in glittering, over-the-top bullshit. Whoever said that you couldn’t polish a turd was wrong. He stepped off the elevator and into the apartment Natasha and Clint were using for the next few weeks. Everything was hard angles and dark wood and brushed metal and sparkling glass. Too extravagant for his tastes. The upside, however, was free wifi and unlimited use of the facilities for any of the Avengers. For free gym privileges, he figured he could put up with a little bit of gaudy.

Clint Barton sat on the sofa, his nose in a magazine. He looked up when Bucky entered before disappearing in the article once again.

“Latest issue of ‘Arms and Arrows’?” asked Bucky, nodding in Clint’s direction. He dropped his bag by the door and joined Clint on the sofa.

Clint glanced up as Bucky sat down. “No, it’s a gardening magazine. When Nat and I get back home, I want to plant some herbs. Thyme, rosemary. Maybe some mint. I haven’t decided.”

Bucky shrugged. He couldn’t imagine anything less appealing than being elbow-deep in potting soil, but everyone needed a hobby. And if Clint enjoyed being with someone as grating as Natasha, well, that spoke volumes about their dissimilar tastes. “Where’s Steve? I’m supposed to meet him up here.”

“Talking to Nat in the kitchen. She wants him to go with her to some formal charity event this weekend.”

“You don’t want to go?” Bucky shifted on the sofa to face Clint.

“Not my thing.” Clint tapped his ear with a forefinger. “I don’t hear so well in crowds, even with my hearing-aids in, and I dance like a white boy. Moves straight outta 1997.”

Bucky’s moves were straight out of 1943, so he kept his mouth shut.

The coffee table in front of them was littered with all sorts of magazines. Bucky started shuffling through a disorganized pile when Steve’s charming smile beamed up at him from the cover of a glossy women’s magazine. America’s most eligible bachelor, page 154!, screamed the headline. Bucky pulled it from the pile and turned to the article.

Technically, it was less of an article and more of an excuse to feature a five page spread of a shirtless Steve Rogers. Shirtless Steve lounging by a pool, shirtless Steve leaning against a tree, shirtless Steve in the kitchen wearing an apron. Bucky snorted. In the kitchen? If they only knew. On the last page was a list of facts and quotes. Birthday: July 4th. Height: 6’4”. Relationship status: Single and looking.

Bucky held his place with his index finger and turned the magazine over to check the date on the cover. It was brand new, just out this month. An unexpected cord of anxiety tightened in Bucky’s chest. Single and looking? Frantically, he flipped back to the article. What exactly was Steve looking for? According to the article, Steve’s dream girl should be intelligent, altruistic, well-versed in current events and have a wicked sense of humor. Oh, and he had a thing for high heels and red lipstick. Bucky’s stomach churned as he re-read the article. Was that really what Steve wanted? Make-up and stilettos? Carefully, he rolled the magazine, crept back to the door and slid it into his duffel bag.

From where he stood near the doorway, Bucky could see into the kitchen. Natasha found something Steve said hysterically funny, and she tossed her head back and laughed. Steve had rested his hand lightly on the small of her back, his own shoulders shaking with laughter, too. It was a gesture of familiarity, one reserved for close friends. Very close friends. If Bucky were honest with himself, he’d admit they looked good together, Steve with his boy-next-door good looks and Natasha with her languid beauty…and red lipstick…and high heels.

Steve turned his head and caught Bucky’s eye. “Hey! Are you ready to go?” He gave Nat’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze.

Bucky blinked. “Whenever you are.”

~*~
The ride back was uneventful, save the fact that Steve managed to drive home without pissing off anyone else on the road, which Bucky reckoned was an event unto itself. Steve bounded up the front steps of his little cottage, happily chattering away about how good the workout had been and how great it was that Bucky could leave the house now, and what they were having for dinner.

Bucky heard none of it. His mind buzzed with the fact that Steve was single and looking for someone who was clearly not him. Once the door was unlocked, Bucky brushed past Steve, heading for the bedroom to unpack his duffle.

Steve followed, still prattling on. “I thought we’d make chicken fajitas for dinner,” he said, leaning against the bedroom doorframe.

Bucky stopped his unpacking and flung Steve an annoyed look. Now that they were home, Handsy Steve was back. The whole I-thought-we’d-make-dinner crap was Steve Code for ‘You’re making dinner while I stand behind you and stare at your ass.’ Normally, that was fine with Bucky, even if he did spend more time swatting at Steve’s wandering hands than he did cooking, but tonight he wanted no part of it. “You do it. I need to unpack.”

Steve’s eyebrows arched upward, but he nodded and wandered off to the kitchen.

Bucky sighed, pulled the magazine out of his bag and flipped back to the article. There it was again in big black letters: Single and looking. It didn’t sting any less than it had the first time he’d read it.

The sound of chicken strips sizzling in the pan greeted him as he walked into the kitchen. Steve hummed a tune as he cut bell peppers and white onions into long slices.

“I knew it,” said Bucky. “You are capable of cooking something edible all by yourself.”

Steve glanced at him over his shoulder. “Of course I am. Did you think I only ate take-out before you came back?”

“Well, yeah, kind of.” Bucky propped himself against the counter behind him and watched Steve continue the food prep. His broad shoulders flexed with every scrape of the knife against the cutting board, and Bucky had to admit that admiring someone from behind had some distinctly appealing advantages. “Actually, I assumed someone else cooked for you.”

Steve laid the knife down and turned to face Bucky, puzzled. “Why would you assume that? I can boil water and fry eggs and make fajitas. The basic stuff. We can’t all cook as good as you can, Buck.”

“No, I mean…” Bucky exhaled slowly through his nose. “I thought maybe there was someone special. You know. Like a girl.” With red lipstick and high heels.

Steve shook his head and gave the sautéing chicken a quick stir. “No time for dating. SHIELD had me in a new location every week. It’s hard to get to know someone when you’re always gone. Not that Nat didn’t keep trying to set me up. She’s great at multi-tasking, by the way. Take down a rogue agent, set you up on a blind date, piece of cake for Nat.”

Bucky sure as hell didn’t buy Steve’s sparse dating history. He raised his chin defiantly. “You honestly expect me to believe that the last date you had was with Peggy Carter.”

“Nope, but she was my last real girlfriend. I dated a few girls. Nothing serious. It’s hard to relate to someone who’s 70 years younger than you are.” He scraped the veggies into the pan with the chicken.

“But you dated Sharon, right?”

“Once or twice. She’s great, but we’re better as friends. And now you’re sucking up all my free time,” said Steve with a wink. “What’s with all the questions?”

Bucky hesitated. “I dunno. Curious or something. I don’t know a lot about what happened to you after you woke up.”

“The Avengers and I blew up New York City.” Steve scooped up a couple of pepper slices on the spatula and held them out. “Taste this and see if it’s okay.”

Bucky blew on the steaming strips for a moment before popping one into his mouth. “Too bland,” he said, pulling a face. “What seasoning did you use?”

“Seasoning?” Steve gave Bucky a blank look.

“Move. I swear to God you pull this shit on purpose,” Bucky griped. He rummaged through the spice cabinet and pulled out several different shakers.

Steve leaned back against the opposite counter and grinned. “Now, why would I do a thing like that?” he asked, his eyes focused right on Bucky’s ass.

“I have no idea,” Bucky deadpanned. He liberally sprinkled the pan with various types of seasonings and gave it a good stir.

Steve eased up behind him and wrapped one arm round his waist while the other one slid down to cup his bottom. “Let me give you a hint,” he purred into Bucky’s ear.

Bucky responded with a sharp elbow to Steve’s ribs. “Stop it or dinner will burn.”

“We can get take-out,” replied Steve as he squeezed Bucky’s ass, undeterred. “I’d rather spend time with you.”

Bucky saw red. He turned in Steve’s arms and gave him a little shove backward. “Really? You didn’t want to spend time with me this afternoon. The instant the gym door opened, you fucking panicked.”

Steve’s lips pursed into a thin line. “It’s not like that, Bucky.”

“Then why don’t you tell me what it is like, Steve.” Bucky forced his face into a neutral expression, but he couldn’t hide the sharp edge of anger in his tone.

“I want my private life to stay private,” Steve said quietly. “Everything else about me is so public, splashed all over the internet, written up in articles. People don’t need to know all the intimate details about what I do and who I do it with, not even Nat, and I don’t want to put it on display. Does that make sense?”

Bucky chewed the inside of his cheek. Steve’s explanation sounded reasonable enough, but…but what? What did he want? To be courted like some dame? Dinner and a movie and a kiss on the front doorstep? To be Steve’s boyfriend? That sounded sappy and romantic. Bucky loathed sappy and romantic and all the ridiculous shit that went with it. “Yeah. It does make sense,” he admitted, but his stomach still twined into a knot of disappointment.

Steve’s default happy smile popped right back into place. “Good, cause I thought for a second we were gonna have round two of our sparring match right here in the kitchen.”

Bucky rolled his eyes and turned back to the skillet. “You don’t want that. There are knives in here and I fight dirty.”

“I know you do,” chuckled Steve. “I’ll get the plates out.”

“Okay,” said Bucky, but his appetite was gone.

~*~

Bucky woke up the next morning in the usual way, with an arm thrown round his waist and a nose buried in his long hair and a warm chest pressed against his back. He yawned loudly. Steve grunted and scooted closer. A tiny thrill shot down Bucky’s spine and settled contentedly in his groin.

“You awake?” mumbled Steve against the back of Bucky’s neck.

“Sort of.” Part of him was definitely awake.

Steve’s fingers slid down his hip and eased under the waistband of his boxer shorts. “Yep. Awake.”

Bucky wanted to complain. After the exchange they’d had last night, he told himself he wasn’t interested in being felt up. But when Steve’s large hand closed around him, he sucked in sharply and rocked his hips forward and all his arguments evaporated like warm breath on a cold morning.

“You wanna?” Steve mouthed up the curve of Bucky’s neck to nibble on his earlobe.

“What do you think?” Bucky ground out. The slow and easy slide of Steve’s hand against his cock made refusal impossible. A few more strokes and thinking would be impossible, too.

“I think you want me as badly as I want you. I think the neighbors will need earplugs. I think this bedframe had better be made of reinforced steel,” Steve purred into his ear.

Bucky closed his eyes and sank bonelessly into the bedcovers. God, when Steve spoke all low and dirty it did things to him. Desperate, yearning things that melted him into a puddle of aching need. Steve kept up a running commentary about how tight Bucky’s ass was, and how quickly Steve was going to make him come and how hot he looked when he begged for it. Bucky writhed in anticipation. Cool air kissed Bucky’s tummy as Steve pushed his t-shirt up over his chest. Satiny lips mouthed their way down, dipping into his bellybutton and mapping the sharp rise of his hipbones. Bucky fisted his hands tight in the pillow under his head until it was a lumpy wrinkle of cotton and down.

Steve tugged Bucky’s boxers off and tossed them on the floor behind him, forgotten. “Mmm…the things I wanna do to you,” breathed Steve against the base of Bucky’s thick cock. It twitched in response, and Steve nosed his way through the dark hairs beside it. He flicked out his tongue and ran a long, damp trail from the base to the head and back again before swallowing it whole.

A thread of yearning uncoiled in Bucky’s abdomen and stretched through him tightly from his swelling cock to his pounding heart. It wasn’t just sex, even though at first Bucky pretended it was. Their bodies formed a sweet connection, a place of honest emotional intimacy that he discovered he craved more than any physical pleasure, and each time they made love, Bucky’s yearning deepened. Was it really love? He’d been asking himself that for a while, but he strongly suspected he knew the answer. Bucky struggled with a true definition, and the word “love” came loaded with all sorts of romantic notions that he wanted to dismiss as inane, but his heart still thrummed wildly at the feel of Steve’s plush lips reverently worshipping his body. It wanted more.

Steve had said more early on. The first time they made love, it undid both of them and as they lay breathless and panting in each other’s arms, Steve whispered little I-love-yous over and over against Bucky’s damp skin. The depth and breadth of Steve’s feelings shocked him silent and he lay there unmoving, unable to respond, unwilling to believe that someone so amazing could love a broken man like him. After a few moments, Bucky rolled away from Steve’s embrace and stumbled out of bed for the shower, leaving Steve’s crumpled gaze to wordlessly follow his retreat. That was the last time Steve said it. Bucky was too miserably gutted to bring it up himself.

“Steve… I,” gasped Bucky. He raised his head to peer down the length of his naked body at Steve hovering between his thighs, kissing and lapping, haloed in the early morning light like a decadent angel. His vision swam. “Steve?”

Concerned, Steve raised his head and drug the back of his hand across his glistening lips. “What is it, Buck? Is everything okay?”

Tell me this will never end. Tell me I’m the one you’ve been looking for. Tell me you love me again. Bucky opened his mouth to say it out loud but, “please,” was all he could manage.

Steve’s knitted brow relaxed into a smile that was warm and sweet and full of sentiment. “Since you asked so nicely,” he said as he moved up to cover Bucky’s body with his own.

~*~

Natasha called Steve’s phone on Saturday afternoon and interrupted Bucky’s Walking Dead marathon with the melodic screeches of Lil Jon. Sam had downloaded the ringtone to Steve’s phone as a joke, but since it irritated the hell out of everyone else, Steve just left it on there.

“Grab that for me, will ya?” Steve called from the bedroom.

Bucky hit ‘pause’ on the remote and answered the call before Lil Jon could scream ‘turn down for what’ one more time. “Captain America’s phone. Retired asset speaking.”

“Tell Steve to hurry up and get over here,” barked Natasha. “I need an opinion on which dress to wear. Clint is no help whatsoever.”

“Hi to you, too, Natasha,” said Bucky. “Isn’t it bad luck to see the dress before the formal?”

“That’s before a wedding, you moron.”

“Whatever.” Bucky hung up on her, flung the phone to the other end of the sofa and yelled, “Hey, Romeo! Get a move on!”

“Coming!” Steve rushed breathless and harried into the den. “I can’t get the bowtie right. Help me?”

Bucky heaved an annoyed sigh and hauled himself to his feet. “After 70 years, you still can’t manage a bowtie, Stevie? C’mere.”

Steve grinned sheepishly and tilted his head back so Bucky could adjust the tie. “Nope. I’ve watched a million youtube videos and I still can’t get it.”

“Remind me tomorrow and I’ll teach you how. Again.” Bucky’s brow furrowed as he worked. “Stop fidgeting and hold still or I’ll never get it tied.”

“I don’t remember you being so demanding back in the day. You’d smile and pull the knot tight and tell me I was handsome.”

“And I remember you tugging the tie loose immediately afterward so I had to tie it again. And again.”

“It’s because you looked so cute when you were concentrating. Did you know you stick your tongue out when you really get serious?” Steve’s eyes danced merrily.

The furrow on Bucky’s brow deepened into a scowl and he sucked his tongue back into his mouth. “Yes, Steve, I know.” He finished the final loop of the tie and pulled it straight. “There.”

Steve took a step back and spun around. “How do I look?”

Bucky swept his gaze from Steve’s freshly shined black shoes to his perfectly fitted tuxedo to his charming grin, and his heart flipped painfully. Steve looked stunningly handsome and was about to spend the rest of the evening in the arms of a woman with red lipstick and high heels. Bucky hoped his expression didn’t look as strained as it felt. “Like a heartbreaker,” he said finally. “Every woman there is going to give you their number.”

Steve’s brilliant smile dampened. “I don’t want to break anyone’s heart, and I definitely don’t want any phone numbers.”

“Are you sure? Because I thought you were single and looking.” The words slipped out before Bucky could stop them and now floated between them like dandelion seeds blown by the wind.

Steve visibly flinched. “Oh. You read that stupid article.”

“Yeah.” Bucky looked down and traced a slat in the hardwood floor with his bare toe. “The last thing I want to do is keep you from finding your dream girl.”

“I did the interview before you came back, before we started…this,” said Steve gesturing between the two of them. His eyes moistened with earnest concern. “We’re still finding our way back to each other, Buck. I don’t want to mess it up. Forget the fundraiser. I’ll stay home tonight.”

Bucky swallowed and glanced over at the clock on the wall. “No. You told Nat you’d go. The last thing I want is a pissed-off redhead with a working knowledge of Krav Maga pounding on the door.”

Steve opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. “Yeah,” he said finally. “I guess I should go, but we’re going to talk about it when I get back.”

Bucky shrugged noncommittally. “If I’m still awake.”

~*~

Bucky sent Steve off with a promise not to do anything stupid until he got back home. When you couldn’t leave the house without an armed escort, there wasn’t a lot of stupid you could find to get into. He cooked frozen a pizza that burned the roof of his mouth. He sipped on a light beer that had zero chance of getting him drunk. He found a softcore skin flick on Netflix that was so ludicrous he had to turn it off. It turned out he couldn’t find stupid with two free hands and a compass.

The clock over the TV chimed seven times, and Bucky flipped to the local news channel. Two eager anchors exchanged lively banter about how excited they were to be covering the red carpet for the city’s largest fundraiser. Bucky felt slightly nauseated. Single and looking. He couldn’t bear to hear Steve say that out loud, so he turned off the TV and stretched out on the sofa to read.

~*~

Bucky snorted himself awake a couple of hours later, the book he’d been reading spread out across his chest. He rubbed his eyes and sat up. His phone bleated at him from the coffee table. Six missed text messages, five from Sam and one from Steve.

Sam: Hey, are you watching the news? Your boy looks good.

Sam: Wow, Nat’s dress is amazing. Clint’s gonna get some tonight.

Sam: Bucky! Are you hearing this?!

Sam: Dude, you’ve been holding out on me.

Sam: www.youtube.com/capbombshell

Steve: I just dropped off Nat. On my way home.

Curious, Bucky clicked on the youtube link in Sam’s text and watched as the video unfolded on his phone.

“Here comes our guest of honor,” cried a very blonde anchor wearing a sparkly silver dress and a healthy display of cleavage. She reached out for Natasha’s elbow and pulled her toward the camera. Steve hovered just over her left shoulder, tall and handsome and ever-so-slightly bored. The anchor’s questions followed the usual script about what the charity meant to them and how they got involved, until she locked eyes with Steve. “Did you two come together?”

“Yes, ma’am, we did,” Steve replied, working that boy-next-door charm for all he was worth.

“Does this mean you’re an item?” shrieked the anchor. “Hearts everywhere are breaking!”

Steve’s face flushed. “I-” he stammered before Natasha cut him off.

“I’m in a relationship with someone else who wasn’t able to join me, and Steve graciously agreed to come in his place,” Nat said quickly.

“A million women out there just heaved a sigh of relief,” said the anchor with visible glee. “You heard it, ladies! Captain America’s still on the market!”

Steve managed a tight lipped grin and started to follow Natasha on down the red carpet when something made him hesitate. He leaned into the anchor’s mic. “Actually, I’m not on the market. There’s someone I care about very much, and I can’t wait to get back and see them.” He looked directly into the camera and smiled. “I love you and I’ll see you soon.” The anchor gaped at him in stunned silence, just before the crowd of reporters behind her erupted with a howling frenzy of questions and the video clip ended.

Bucky sat frozen on the sofa, not quite sure how to process what had just happened. He’d been working himself up for a much different conversation when Steve arrived back home, but those three words he wondered if he’d ever hear again sent him tumbling off-kilter.

The key turned in the lock behind him and the front door swung open. “Buck? You still awake?” Steve stepped inside and shut the door behind him. He looked like he’d gone through a military interrogation, his bowtie dangling loose and his hair mussed and flopping low across his forehead.

“Yeah. Over here.” Bucky swiped his hand across his eyes and dropped his phone on the coffee table.

“Oh, good, because I may have said something impulsive on the red carpet tonight and…”

Bucky didn’t remember moving, had no idea how he’d crossed the room so quickly, but before Steve could finish his sentence, he was on him, hands gripping the lapels of his tuxedo and yanking him down, kissing him all fierce and desperate and sloppy and demanding until they were both breathless.

Steve thumbed over Bucky’s jaw and tangled his fingers in the hair at the base of Bucky’s neck. “Hi,” he said, beaming so brightly he could have lit up the entire block. “If this how you’re gonna greet me every time I come home, I’ll find more excuses to leave.”

“You’re such a jerk.” Bucky studied Steve’s lush lips as he spoke, reddened and moist and needing to be kissed again. He couldn’t resist. He closed the distance between them and captured those lips once more, rolling his tongue against Steve’s as the kiss deepened.

Steve smiled into the kiss. “Yeah, but I’m a jerk who loves you.”

Bucky pulled back just far enough to catch Steve’s eyes. “You do realize what you did, right? Admitted you’re taken on local TV. There’ll be a mad scramble to find out who the other person is.”

“I’m sure it’s gone national by now, but yeah, I know what I did. I didn’t want you to think for one second longer that I was looking for anyone but you.” Steve cupped Bucky’s cheek with his palm. “It’s always been you, Bucky. I should have told you sooner.”

“You did. I just wasn’t ready to hear it.” Bucky danced up the lapels of Steve’s tux, skirting over the satin edges until they brushed against the collar of his shirt and laced around the back of his neck. “But I am now.”

“Good, because I’m not going to stop saying it.” Steve practically glowed with joy. “I love you, James Buchanan Barnes. Always have.”

A huge part of Bucky wanted to duck his head and grimace with embarrassed discomfort, to hide and wallow in a quagmire of self-loathing, but Steve deserved better than that. Steve deserved a man brave enough to look him in the eye and accept the best part of him that he freely and eagerly offered. Bucky wasn’t quite there yet, but he would be, and every day spent with Steve was a day closer to becoming a man worthy of Captain America. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and met Steve’s gaze.

“I love you, too,” he confessed. The look of pure admiration that shone in Steve’s blue eyes made his heart flutter and he grinned in spite of himself. “But I’m not wearing red lipstick, no matter how much you beg.”

Steve’s smile spread wide. “No? Not even for me? It would really bring out the gray in your eyes.”

“Shut up and take me to bed before you really do end up single and looking,” Bucky growled playfully, leaning in to steal a kiss.