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Casual Encounters

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“Ooh, ‘huge rods only’!”

As far as sentences that Bucky expects to hear Natasha saying when he walks into her house, that ranks pretty low. He’s barely halfway through the door and he already can’t seem to close his mouth.

Natasha is on the couch between Sam and Steve, her face lit by the glow from her laptop. She’s got a glass of wine in one hand and she’s grinning as she scrolls through whatever she’s reading. Judging from Sam’s expression and the way Steve is curled in on himself so he’s even smaller than usual, Bucky really doesn’t want to know.

“Bucky,” Steve says, looking up at him. “Thank fuck.”

Bucky realizes, while staring at this strange little tableau of his friends and whatever huge rods they’re reading about, that he has not yet closed his mouth. Jesus. Every week, these Wednesday night get-togethers get weirder. “Hi?”

“You need a beer,” Steve says, and no one has ever been in such a rush to provide hospitality. He starts to leap up off the couch, but Natasha’s arm snaps out and holds him in place. She doesn’t spill a drop of wine.

“Hey, this one wants to suck off a stranger in the kitchen—described as ‘cinnamon and cum-scented,’ very poetic,” Natasha says. “That’s ‘come’ spelled c-u-m, by the way. I think Steve should go for this one. Sounds like a real catch, don’t you think, Sam?”

“I want no part of this,” Sam says. “Why’d you have to go and ruin cinnamon like that, Nat?”

“Frankly, I’m afraid to ask,” Bucky says. He takes the opportunity to shrug out of his coat and fold it over the back of a chair. It’s a testament to how engaged Natasha is in her reading that she doesn’t tease him about the grey wool peacoat even a little bit. Between her and Sam, there’s usually at least one “look at this male-model motherfucker” comment. But Natasha dresses like a sullen teenager when she’s not at her mysterious job, and Sam has a closet full of dad jeans, so they can’t be expected to recognize style when they see it. So what if Bucky owns a closet full of tailored outerwear? Fall and winter are a relief. He can wear long sleeves and fewer people stare at his arm.

“Natasha’s trying to set Steve up,” Sam offers. He looks glad to have an excuse to look at Bucky’s face instead of the laptop screen. “You know, Craigslist ‘casual encounters’ type of thing.”

“So she’s given up on the dating front and skipped right to the creepy shit, huh?” Natasha has been trying to set Steve up on dates for as long as Bucky can remember. For awhile, it was sort of a hobby of Bucky’s, too, but he’d given up after the eleventh disastrous double date. He told himself it was for Steve’s sake, but it was for his own sake too. It broke his heart to see all those girls who couldn’t see a good thing right in front of them. So Steve was smaller than your average guy, and deaf in one ear and asthmatic and stubborn as all hell. He was also whip-smart and dry-witted and ferociously loyal. He cared about justice and politics and doing the right thing more than any one person ought to be capable of.

He was also goddamn beautiful. And tragically strai—wait a fucking second.

“You’re looking at the men-for-men section,” Bucky says. Why that wasn’t the first thing that occurred to him, he can’t say. It was a long day at work. It’s been a long week. He’s spent so much of his life chanting ‘straight best friend, straight best friend,’ in his head and resolutely not staring at Steve’s lips and eyelashes

“What gave it away, the huge rods or the cinnamon-and-cum-scented kitchen?” Natasha says.

Steve has his eyes closed and one hand touching his forehead like he’s trying to stave off a headache.

“I think I’ll take that beer now,” Bucky says.

Steve darts off the couch before Natasha can hold him back, so they end up in the kitchen together. Bucky takes a long gulp of beer before he can look at Steve.

“You never told me,” he says. He’s not hurt, he’s not. It’s just—Steve was the first person he told. One of the only people he’s ever told, the first of a short list that includes Sam, Natasha, and the four guys he’s hooked up with. Three of those guys had been slender and blond, but who’s counting? Definitely not Steve, since Bucky never introduced any of them to him.

“Yeah,” Steve says. He frowns, makes this little moue of uncertainty, then says, “I wasn’t sure it was real. I mean, not that I’m very experienced, but so far the evidence suggests I like women a lot.”

Bucky smiles. “Me too,” he says, because he does. He’s dated dozens of them, slept with more, and had a grand old time with all of them. It just never seemed to go anywhere. More than one of them accused him of being afraid of commitment. He never argued the point. One of his exes had claimed that Bucky had already committed to someone, and it wasn’t her. He did argue with that, but she still walked out and slammed the door, so by any reasonable metric, he lost.

Steve, on the other hand, has a much shorter romantic history. One Margaret Carter, a gorgeous brunette exchange student who went back to London after her year abroad. They still keep in touch, as far as he knows. Peggy was brilliant and funny and kind and she loved Steve for exactly who he was and Bucky had desperately wanted to be happy for the two of them.

“How did you know, then?”

“I don’t know, I just did,” Bucky says. It’s an awful answer, but he’s sure as hell not telling Steve the truth. “Saw a guy or two that turned my head, I guess. I get it, though. The whole world tells you that you should like women, and you do, so you can put off thinking about the rest of it.”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “I guess that’s it. Sorry for not telling you. I wasn’t planning to tell Nat and Sam tonight, it just sort of—came out.”

“That is what they call it.”

“Shut up.”

They walk back out into the living room, where the streetlights are shining through the bay window and glinting off the wood floor, because Nat lives by herself in this enormous creaky old brownstone even though she travels all the time for work. She’s barely even bothered to furnish the place. She owns half of Steve’s MFA exhibition and all the paintings are just leaning up against the walls where she plans to hang them, at some unspecified future date when she’s not jetting off to some undisclosed location. Bucky lives in a roach-infested studio, but if he owned those paintings, they would be displayed and lit like they were in the goddamn Louvre.

Natasha and Sam are still on the couch laughing at the internet when Steve and Bucky sit back down. Bucky sits in the armchair where he left his coat. He always lets the three of them sit on the couch together, like keeping his distance allows him to keep his dignity somehow, like the three of them haven’t seen him screaming at everyone to hit the ground after he heard a car backfiring, or crying and shaking in the middle of the night.

“I don’t suppose either of you losers ordered a pizza while you were up,” Natasha says.

“You’re on the internet right now,” Bucky points out.

“I have to do everything around here,” she says. “Find Steve a fuckbuddy, order a pizza…”

“We feel for you,” Sam says. “If you ever need to talk to someone, you know I’m here.”

Natasha probably does have things she could talk to Sam about, but as far as Bucky knows, she doesn’t talk to anyone. Not even Sam, and Sam works down at the VA listening to people professionally. Bucky would know; it’s how they met. Really Steve met Sam first, because Sam is cultured as all hell and goes to art exhibits for fun, and then Steve put the two of them in touch. Bucky talks to someone else about his mental health now, because he’d rather have Sam as a friend and he doesn’t shit where he eats.

Steve is the one who met Natasha, too, and they all just kind of came together around him. It’s not like they’ve never tried to set him up before. It’s just never been quite like this.

“How do you feel about bondage, Steve?” Natasha says, like that’s a totally normal thing to ask someone.

Bucky expects Steve to duck his head and keep quiet, the way he always does if something—anything from a ‘you look nice today’ to a ‘you’re the most brilliant student of my career’—embarrasses him. He nearly chokes on his beer when Steve says, “I’d try it, I guess.”

“How about spanking?”

“Yeah, I guess, I mean—,”

“Jesus,” Bucky interrupts. “Is this really happening?”

“Our little Stevie is growing up and finding himself,” Natasha says. “Don’t judge.”

“How did we even get here?” Bucky says. He tries to keep his tone of voice even.

Sam looks sheepish. “I, uh, might have mentioned something.”

“A vibrator,” Natasha says. “Let’s not get shy now.”

Bucky is staring, but Sam shrugs and tilts his head to the side. “Yeah, you know, Riley and I tried this thing, and it was fucking heavenly, like I ascended to a higher plane of existence, and so I was, y’know, humble-bragging—,”

“Bragging,” Natasha interrupts.

“And I said I wish I had somebody to try it with,” Steve finally says. “It’s, y’know, been awhile. And I never really explored all that much and—,”

“And that turned into casual encounters with freaks on the internet,” Bucky says. He’s talking too loudly. He needs to calm down.

“They’re not freaks,” Natasha says, at the same time Sam says, “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

“You don’t know that!” he says to Natasha. “They could be anyone. It could be a total scam. It could be worse than a scam. You could get hurt! People get kidnapped and murdered like this. Jesus fucking Christ!”

“Buck,” Steve says.

Bucky stands up and paces over to one of Natasha’s empty white walls. He forces himself to follow the length of it, into the dining room and then around the corner into the kitchen. He shouldn’t have blown up like that. Steve is a grown man. A bullheaded, reckless one who’s spent his life getting into fights with guys twice his size, but still. He gets to make his own decisions. He can suck all the huge rods in town if he wants to. It’s none of Bucky’s business.

But Christ, Steve acts like he’s fucking invincible all the time and if anything ever happened to him—

“Hey,” Steve says, and suddenly they’re alone together in the too-bright light of Natasha’s empty chrome kitchen again. “You okay?”

Bucky exhales and rubs his forehead. “Yeah, I’m,” he says. “I’m sorry about that. It’s none of my business. I shouldn’t have—I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I know,” Steve says. “I’ll be careful.”

“You have never once been careful in your entire life.” Bucky huffs out a laugh. He looks away. “Maybe I’m offended you didn’t think to ask me.” He says it like a joke, but he can’t bring himself to laugh again.

“Bucky,” Steve says, scandalized. “You’re my friend. I’m not gonna use you to experiment sexually.”

“But all those people on the internet, you’re willing to use them?”

“That’s different. They know up front that it’s just sex.”

“And maybe a little torture and murder on the side,” Bucky mutters.

“So you think I should just be a monk for the rest of my life? What the fuck do you want from me? I’m not like you, girls aren’t falling all over themselves to date me.”

Girls haven’t been falling all over themselves to date Bucky since he came back from his last tour minus one arm and plus a fuckload of nightmares, but he decides not to mention it.

“You’ll find somebody,” Bucky says. The response is almost automatic at this point. He opens his mouth to start listing all of Steve’s good qualities, but Steve holds up a hand.

“Save it. I don’t even know if I want a relationship. I don’t want to get into anything serious without having tried a few things, I guess. No-strings-attached sex sounds pretty good right now.”

And then they’re right back where they started, and Bucky’s lost a lot of arguments to Steve over the years, so he knows that look. His usual stubbornness, plus a totally understandable desire to have sex, all told it means that Steve is not going to give up on this. Bucky doesn’t stand a chance.

That’s really his only explanation for why the next thing he says is “So fuck me.”

It’s a terrible idea, even worse than spending the last fifteen years squeezing his eyes shut and thinking straight best friend, because Steve just said he didn’t want anything serious. But it might be worth it for the look on Steve’s face.

“You’re serious.”

If you’re gonna be Icarus, you might as well get as close to the sun as possible before it’s all over, right?

“Yeah, why not?” Bucky says, because now that he’s said it, he’s got to follow through. He can’t let Steve get lured into some weirdo’s sex dungeon and then killed. He’s practically a hero. “I’ve never had any complaints,” he says, and smiles at Steve in a way that feels totally unnatural. “Not about that, anyway,” he amends. “I’m not so great at the whole serious, emotionally open, mature adult relationship thing. But you don’t care about that. And I won’t murder you. What could go wrong?”

“Famous last words,” Steve says, shaking his head. “But yeah, you make a good point. I’ll think about it. Is that okay? Can you give me a day or two?”

Christ. What the hell should he say to that? “Yeah,” he manages, his throat constricted.

Steve smiles at him. It should be reassuring, but mostly it makes him think about how fucking much he loves Steve. He’s fucked six ways from Sunday, and they haven’t even started yet.