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the Steve Rogers problem

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“Here,” Becca said, dropping a pile of DVDs on the couch next to him. They landed on his half-finished sandwich, and she wrinkled her nose at him like he was a huge slob for eating on his own couch.  “This is what I do when I need a pick-me-up.”  She was wearing a knitted sweater, fingerless gloves over her hands, and Bucky resisted the urge to squint suspiciously out the window.  He’d been under the impression it was still summer, but that was Brooklyn for you.  It was summer up to the point where it wasn’t.  He didn’t want to admit that maybe the seasons got away from him a bit.   According to his phone it was now… oh, October.  That explained the sweater.

 

“Watch television?” Bucky questioned, because that’s what he had been doing, thanks Rebecca.  He nodded, rather sarcastically, towards his paused TV.  Kim Kardashian was in the middle of blinking and it had stopped at a really unflattering moment, and Bucky hated his life.  This wasn’t who he was.  He wasn’t someone who watched television all day, every day.

 

Except, it turned out, he was, and he hated himself for a lot of things, but the fact that Becca thought a new television show would cheer him up was in the top three things he hated about this month.

 

Becca huffed.  “Not this crap, I watch Steve Rogers’ TV show and think that if he could get the hell out of Brooklyn, I can too.”

 

“I already got the hell out of Brooklyn,” Bucky muttered pointedly, gesturing around him with his right hand.  “Now look where I am.  Brooklyn.”

 

“Boohoo,” Becca answered him sarcastically, arms crossed over her chest.  She looked done with his shit, which was a marked improvement over sympathy and smothering pity. Bucky guessed that she was probably at the end of her patience level.  She’d lasted longer than he would have expected. “I don’t want to leave Brooklyn, I like it here.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to stare at Steve Rogers's face and think of the possibilities.  It’s way better than sitting on this butt ugly couch and sulking about the fact you're back home and living in the parents’ basement like huge sad depressed lump.”

 

Bucky threw a pillow at her.  “You used to be nice.”

 

“I still am,” she told him with a grin that reminded him of a shark’s, too many teeth and with the intent of bite.  “I’m letting you near my DVD collection.  You used to smell like someone who bathed, because you used to know how to use a shower.”

 

“People don’t even use DVDs anymore,” he muttered as she left the room to putter around his fridge.  Ostensibly, she was looking for a drink, but he knew she was checking to see that he had food.  His mom did the same thing to him every second day.  Either checking to see if he had food, or checking to see that he was eating it.  Mother hens, the lot of them.

 

Subtly, he sniffed at his shirt.  Yeah, alright.  Point to Becca.  His physical therapy regime pushed him hard enough to break into a sweat, and he was able to do most of it from the comfort of his own living room these days.  There weren’t many reasons in Bucky’s life to take a shower afterwards, certainly not his nosy sister poking through his stuff like it was her right.

 

If Bucky had known what would happen when he picked up that first The Howling Commandos DVD and put it into the DVD player, he might not have done it.   He might have stuck to being slightly bored and a little resentful towards the addictive quality of the Kardashians and then got on with his life. 

 

But that was a fallacy, wasn’t it?  Getting on with his life?

 

Before his accident Bucky had three main loves: his body, his job, and his condo.  His sister liked to joke that he was one origin story away from being Patrick Bateman.  Before his accident, Bucky hadn’t understood that reference.

 

After the accident, he was slowly rehabilitating his left arm, but it would never get back to the same kind of fine motor skills he had before.  He could no longer do his job, and he sold the condo before his disability checks ran out and he’d have to figure out how to continue making payments on his mortgage.  He thought that would make it easier to move on, but without any sense of normalcy, he was having a difficult time adjusting.  He ended up watching a lot of Netflix, and when he got too stir-crazy he went for long, rambling walks around Brooklyn.

 

After the accident, Bucky unintentionally fell head first into the Howling Commandos fandom.  He hadn’t even known what the word fandom meant; the first time he saw it, he googled an episode in season two as he was lying in bed, attempting to convince himself that sleep was more important than watching just one more episode, and he accidentally read through half a fanfic before realizing it wasn’t an episode summary.

 

It was way better. 

 

It helped that Steve Rogers was the epitome of everything Bucky looked for in a man. He’d watched the first episode skeptical of the plot, but went on to episode two because he could definitely spend hours waiting for Captain America’s shirt to come off again.  The fanfic he read certainly seemed to agree with him on that level, and Bucky didn’t know it at the time, but he was already hooked.

 

The next morning the episode turned out to be boring in comparison.  It was difficult to come back from the kind of hot porn Bucky had accidentally read without being slightly disappointed, and he ended up going back to read the fic twice before he realized there were more out there, that they author had done a series of porny stories for each episode.  Bucky read them in bed at night, his phone in front of his face with the episodes fresh in his mind.  It didn’t take him long to realize how hot it made him, how his mind would go over the fic as he touched himself and his brain would edit in his own likes until the story carried less similarities to the fic or the original episode. 

 

He didn’t really give it much thought when he moved on from those fics and started reading everything he could get his hands on, developing a pairing he liked above all the others, and figuring out there were certain types of stories he gravitated towards.

 

For instance: Peggy/Captain America?  Didn’t really do it for him.  Howard/Captain America?  Really, really did.

 

Once he finished all the fic available on the internet he realized there wasn’t enough being produced to satiate his need.

 

That bothered him for about thirteen days.  Thirteen days where he incessantly refreshed AO3, reread his favorites, and stared at dismay at the lack of new fics or updates.  He ended up reading an author whose works he avoided because they never seemed to spellcheck their fics, and by day nine he didn’t even care anymore.

 

He was going insane for new stuff to read.

 

Bucky could do better than half of the things he’d read in his dire state of impatient anticipation for someone, anyone, to post something new.

 

Bucky could do so much better.  He knew he could.

 

He was lying in bed, scowling at the screen of his phone, when he thought that if he wanted new fic, he’d just have to write them himself.

 

It was like an epiphany and like he’d been hit over the head with Becca’s DVD collection all at once.  He could write his own fanfic!

 

It felt like the first original thought he’d had for ages, something he was doing just for himself, something slightly illicit.  It was like having a secret, and it felt surprisingly good after spending months with his life as an open book to anyone who looked at him with his arm brace, sitting on the ugly couch in his parents’ basement, scowling back at them for the pity or judgment or compassion in their eyes.  He sat at his computer, nervous and excited and feeling so alive with the idea.

 

Then came the hard part.  He had no idea what to write, or how to write it.

 

His first fic was mostly meta and got 200 hits and 3 comments.  Comparatively, the most popular fic in fandom had just over 900 comments and 120k hits.  Bucky was competitive.  It mattered.  Bucky was also someone who didn’t know how to fail at something, so he threw himself into studying the fics he read rather than passively enjoying them.  He looked at what was most common about the popular fics, which themes ran through them, and what he personally enjoyed.  He took a look at how the authors promoted themselves outside of their writing skills, at how much came down to friendship and loyalty, how much to talent, and what was done through gimmicks. 

 

He took notes.  Actual notes.   He forced himself to reread that one fic in fandom that everyone seemed to love but that Bucky felt ambivalent towards, and he took more notes filled with observations and question marks.  Bucky was trained to be observant.  He knew how to recognize patterns and to translate them into a call for action.

 

One of the things it came down to was sex.  Sex was important.

 

His next attempt at a first story wasn't clever in its originality, but he thought that might be part of the point. It was almost cheap and dirty the way he used the tropes and clichés he noted worked for fellow writers, but he threw himself into writing until he was 4 chapters and 30k in, had almost 300 comments, and realized it would be easier to keep people updated on his progress if he had a blog.

 

Most of his constituents had something called a Tumblr.

 

Picture Alice falling down that rabbit hole.

 

Bucky was already in Wonderland. 

 

He made sure to match his blog name to the pseudonym he already picked because he’d observed how well branding oneself worked.  The email came through a few moments later.

 

Welcome to Tumblr inforawildridey.

 

And that was the end of Bucky’s ability to deny that he hadn’t fallen in too deep already.  He was too far into fandom, and too far into his extreme attraction for Steve Rogers.  His sister had said she looked to his face for inspiration, but Bucky was far more inspired by the man’s butt.

 

(and what he could put in it)

 

(he would not apologize for that)

 

(yet)

 

*

 

[Interview with Steve Rogers, 2013. Spain.]

 

“What do you look for in a date?”

 

“I don’t know!” Steve said with a laugh, eyes directly on the camera. Bucky felt a little warm at his laugh, and even though Steve wasn’t looking directly at him, personally, he liked that he could see Steve’s personality shining through.  Steve’s, not Captain America’s. “I haven’t been very successful with dating lately.  I haven’t gone out with anyone in a really long time.  I think the last successful date I had was just me and my motorcycle driving across New York State.  At least I was aroused.  That counts, right?”

 

Wow.

 

Mind. Melting.

 

The interviewer answered Steve in Spanish, but Bucky was able to follow the gist without subtitles.  She wanted to know what aroused Steve besides motorcycle engines.  Bucky was outright goggling at his computer screen.  He was going to fic this.  There was no way he couldn’t.  Captain America and his motorcycle would be his secondary OTP.

 

“Bravery,” Steve decided.  “Uh… Loyalty.  Intelligence, maybe, but not necessarily book-smarts.  The ability to take a stand against things they see as wrong,” he shrugged, and smiled uncertainly.   He was incredibly charming in his inability to answer.  Bucky was in love.  “I don’t know.  It depends on the person.  A person is more important than a checklist, and with the right person, that checklist becomes a list of their traits.  That’s how it should work, isn’t it?”

 

[end interview]

 

*

 

Bucky had been a talented kid, one of those people who could pick up new skills with enviable ease.  He took up art one summer when he had a broken ankle and continued to dabble with it enough that he wasn’t terrible.  He wasn’t necessarily good, but he could get by whenever he found himself in a position to use his skills.

 

Those occasions usually coincided with doodling in the margins of nearby paper while attending staff debriefs and HR seminars. He didn't consider himself an artist by any means, but his friend Sam could always guess what his drawings were. He was also good enough to serve as an emergency FBI sketch artist, thanks a lot for voluntelling him to do that one, Sam

 

He didn’t really practice his drawing skills, but he didn’t not practice either.  It just happened sometimes.

 

Bucky decided around the age of 8 that he wanted to be right handed like his sister, so he taught himself to be ambidextrous.  It was a useful skill, one he took for granted a lot of the time.  He may or may not attribute it to his sexual competence - Bucky could rub his tummy and pat his head.  Easy peasy.  It also made him an incredibly effective member of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team if he could draw a weapon with either hand.  This he did practice because there was always the possibility it would come down to life or death.

 

In high school, sports were his bitch and he made any team he tried out for, whether he'd played the game before or not.   As an adult with a job in a field like his, being able to move with athletic ease was important, as was adapting quickly.

 

Bucky was talented, and he was skilled, and he just understood how his body moved and needed to move.

 

The catch with spending a life where things came easily was that he wasn't used to a situation that took more than a little effort and sheer willpower for almost instantaneous results.  Physical therapy took far more.

 

Physical therapy took everything he had to give, and some days it felt like it wasn't giving anything back.

 

*

 

For Bucky's second story, he looked at what holes there were in fandom that he could fill.  He thought, 'why isn't there a story that deals with this?' and then he wrote it.  It was easy enough to come up with a story about Captain America being leader of a highly specialized modern day task force and Howard Stark as the crazy bomb expert they occasionally worked with.  It was something Bucky was familiar with, but it hit a little too close to home for his comfort and ended up only being a 10,000 word one-shot. He hated it with an intense, burning passion that rivalled the passion he was trying to write between Captain America and Howard Stark.

 

It did solidify him as being the author to watch in fandom.  One successful story was a fluke, but two within a one-month period gave other fans a reason to recall his pen name.  He might hate the story, but everyone else seemed to think it was amazing.

 

He knew almost immediately after posting it that his next story needed to be better, it needed to be bigger if it was going to cleanse the palate readers seemed to have developed for the plot of the second story.

 

Go big or go home.

 

(and Bucky was already stuck in Brooklyn – there was nowhere else to go)

 

*

 

Once in a debrief that seemed to be dragging on for hours, Sam had suggested Bucky draw the Iron Throne or Khaleesi, and Bucky was only able to shrug in that hopeless way people who didn't understand a popular culture reference seemed to have. 

 

"Oh man, watch more TV, you loser!" Sam had griped, leaning sideways in his seat so the Special Agent in Charge couldn’t hear him.  His shoulder brushed up against Bucky’s as he tapped his finger on the blank margins of Bucky’s page.  "You're making yourself look bad."

 

Game of Thrones hadn’t held much interest to Bucky when he did get around to watching it somewhere in month two of his recovery, but that might have been his mindset at the time.  Very little held Bucky’s interest in month two of his recovery. Christmas was coming up so he found himself spending hours on a picture of Khaleesi on the Iron Throne with the blood of her enemies below her.  At the last moment, he added Sam as a guard standing sentry by her side.  He had it professionally printed and mounted, and shipped it off with time to spare.

 

Who looks bad now, Sam! there was a certain smugness that came with the gift, like Bucky was thumbing his nose at Sam for not having his art skills and like he was bragging that he’d seen the show, now he could draw anything he wanted to if he so chose.

 

And he chose to make Sam a present.

 

Sam was the only one from the unit that still regularly texted him, and Bucky couldn’t express how much he appreciated that in words, despite the fact he was apparently very good at getting fictional characters to express their feelings (according to some of the comments he received).  He hadn’t really thought of it as fanart until gave into the itch to sit down again to do a companion piece for Sam’s birthday before the first had even arrived at its destination, knowing Sam would shit himself if Bucky made a battle image of him with the dragons.

 

"What the fuck, man!" Sam exclaimed once Bucky answered his phone, Sam’s incredulousness echoing down the phone line along with his delighted laughter.  "What the actual fuck?  Did you do this?"

 

"I've watched Game of Thrones," Bucky answered.  A month ago he might have added something like 'I have nothing better to do with my time' but he wasn't viewing his new hobbies as negative headspace anymore.  Bucky might not have the same things to do with his time as he had before the accident, but he was learning that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing.  "It was good, but it's not my favorite."

 

"It's not your..." Sam sputtered.  "What is? Lemme guess, Breaking Bad?  You seem like a Breaking Bad type."

 

"Nope," Bucky grinned.  "Happy Holidays."

 

*

 

It had been years since Bucky made it home for Christmas.  The holidays were a busy time for Hostage Rescue, and Bucky had always felt it was right to stay on call so the people with children or devout Christian beliefs could take the time off.  Bucky had neither, and it had always seemed wrong to do something as selfish as booking the time off to see his parents.  Take that Patrick Bateman.

 

Sitting on the floor of his parents’ living room, his father’s favorite holiday album playing in the background and the aroma of his mother’s baking scenting the air with cinnamon and apple, Bucky felt time pause for just a moment. 

 

He felt content.  Home didn’t feel like an albatross around his neck that he had to fight to escape.  It felt, in that moment, like home.

 

He looked down at the gift in his hands, up at his family, and realized how much he missed this.  Maybe he was recovering, and maybe his therapy sessions were finally getting through to him, but he thought there was also the possibility that he was really beginning to reclaim his ability to enjoy the little things, the things that got lost and shuffled beneath the huge mounds of crap he’d been dealing with.

 

“I knew this guy named Justin, and a tablet seemed to help him draw,” Becca shrugged.  “Thought you might like to try it.”  She’d watched him struggle with his art supplies while he’d made Sam his gift, teasing him that she had a lot of characters she’d like to see herself with too, if he was looking for a gift.

 

Bucky tried not to think too hard about the fact he could picture exactly what kind of image she meant, and there was no way he was drawing his sister with Cap.

 

“Did you just reference Queer as Folk to me?” Bucky asked incredulously.  There might be huge holes in his popular culture knowledge due to a lack of interest before his accident, but he’d been watching Queer as Folk back in High School when shows about his sexual identity were rare and precious, even though it hadn’t been kind to bisexuality.  Bucky had been secure enough in who he was back then that the show had hardly made him blink.  What did make him blink was the fact that it was more than a decade later and he still hadn’t seen something with decent bi-representation.

 

Possibly he was just watching the wrong kind of television.  He hadn’t realized it was something that could even bother him until… well, it bothered him.

 

“Absolutely not.”  She winked.  “Merry Christmas, loser.”

 

*

 

His third story?

 

Bucky finally got it right on his third story.  He found something he acutely wanted to write, and not just because he knew it.  If anything, a romantic comedy was not something that came naturally to him.  Fandom was a funny thing that he had quickly learned to enjoy, because if there was one thing he needed in his life, it was the ability to lose himself in different realities but with the stability of characters he was familiar with.  His interest was based in the fact that he was attracted like hell to Captain America, and identified well with Howard Stark, but it was more than that.  He liked the idea that in alternate universes, the same people could fall in love in coffee shops and bakeries, meet in clubs or during different points in history.  They could be anyone and still be themselves, and for someone who didn't know his identity anymore, that wasn't a small thing.

 

For his third story, Bucky made them into superheroes who met as normal people outside of their superheroing.  He found himself sketching out Captain America's superhero costume and just kept going until he had a series of images to go with the plot.

 

There wasn’t really a reason not to post them.

 

His Tumblr follow count jumped from 47 people to 184 overnight.

 

*

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

The Wire?

 

*

 

"Are you in love?" Becca asked, a teasing lilt to her tone after Bucky had grinned at the waiter, had been friendly, but hadn't responded to clear openings for flirtation.  Bucky had two default settings: flirty with intent or ignore completely to the point of being abrupt.  He looked at her questioningly before realizing that she was commenting on the fact that he’d delicately touched the petals of the flowers on the table in front of them, smiling as he thought that he’d have to find out what kind they were so Cap could give them to Howard.  

 

Valentine’s Day was coming up and romance and sex seemed to be the topics of the day.  He wasn’t completely immune, but that didn’t mean he was interested either.  So of course Becca would look at his behavior, look at the red candle on their table, and put two and two together to get five.

 

"No," Bucky answered, but smiled.

 

"Oh come on Buck, something has changed recently.  You're happier now, and I'm glad for it, but you can tell me."

 

"I am happier now," Bucky answered, flexing his left hand around his fork.  He was able to bring his food to his mouth without his hand shaking, and it made him smile outwardly at his success.  Becca sat back in her chair, watching him take another bite of food.

 

"Good," she answered with a nod, looking profoundly relieved.  "Good."

 

He knew how worried his family was for him, not just his physical recovery but also his mental health, but it didn't strike home until something like this happened, where they reacted to something small, such as Bucky smiling, as though they were overwhelmed by him.  The other day Bucky had laughed at one of his father's jokes with a belly laugh that had him clutching at the kitchen counter, and his mother had started crying.  Becca wasn't in tears, but it looked like some tension was eking out of her shoulders.  Bucky smirked, thinking of what her expression would be if he told her that he was in love with a fictional couple, and that she was the one who introduced them.  It made him mentally chuckle a bit and grin at her again.

 

He still had a third of his food to eat when his hand started to shake and he had to switch the fork to his right hand.  It felt more like an accomplishment than a failure.  "I just needed a change of perspective," he told Becca.  “Someone to be inspired by.”

 

“That sounds like love to me,” she pointed out, but didn’t ask.

 

That was good, because Bucky didn’t know how to explain to her that Captain America was his inspiration.  He thought that out of everyone he knew, she’d be the one to understand, but he still didn’t know how to say the words.  What he felt towards The Howling Commandos show wasn’t love, not in the romantic sense she’d been quizzing him about, but he wasn’t sure he could say the same about Steve Rogers.  He’d watched every interview, deleted scene, and shaky camera recording of the man that he could find on YouTube, and there was something about his demeanor, the way he answered questions fairly but never took shit off anyone, that really, really, really appealed to Bucky.  It wasn’t just his abs or face or ass that Bucky paid attention to anymore.

 

There was someone out there who refused to put up with his coworkers being asked misogynistic questions, who called people out on ableist bullshit, and who once walked out on a studio interview that took a sudden homophobic turn.

 

Becca was right.  It sounded a bit like love to Bucky as well.

 

*

 

(the thing was, the thing even Bucky hadn't foreseen was this: typing thousands of words a day helped those fine motor skills he hadn't been seeing improvement in.  It was a slow process, he hadn't sat down at his keyboard and immediately noticed a change, but eventually typing didn't seem so insurmountable and he started practicing using the pen for his Wacom tablet for short periods at a time until ten minutes without a tremor or cramping became twenty and twenty turned into half an hour.

 

What he hadn’t foreseen was that when he was doing something for the enjoyment of it and not with the focus of rehabilitation, the rehabilitation seemed easier.

 

Seemed easier, he understood, didn’t mean it was easier.  It just felt that way.)

 

*

 

Bucky's most popular story wasn't the superhero one.  It wasn't the 5+1 pornfic, though that came in as a close second.  His most popular story was the one he wrote about Captain America's past, exploring what his known disabilities and canonical-based truths would have meant to a kid from Brooklyn.  Bucky wrote a 60,000 word fic that rang true to so many people, a celebration of overcoming obstacles, exploring sexuality, and tearing down barriers with sheer fortitude.  It wasn't a story about coping, it was a story about pushing back, about claiming life with both hands and pulling.

 

When he finished it, Bucky sat on the floor of his basement apartment, his back pressed against the ugly patterned couch, and cried for the first time in years.

 

He hadn't given it much thought until it was done, but it was the therapy he needed and the answers only he could find for himself.

 

*

 

When his Tumblr hit 5,000 followers, Bucky started to get an ego.

 

No, Bucky always had an ego.

 

When his Tumblr hit the 5,000 follower mark, Bucky realized that he could apply his ego to his new online life.

 

In short, Bucky was the shit.

 

*

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Dude, it's Sons of Anarchy.

 

Bucky texted back: Not my fandom.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

No srsly!! WTFfffffffffff

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Where did you learn that word?

 

Bucky grinned and answered: Tumblr.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

I think you just out-nerded me.

 

That was kind of big, because Sam had a Dalek desk defender he liked to make patrol his desk when he couldn’t think.  It used to drive Bucky nuts.

 

Now, Bucky kind of wanted one for himself.  Doctor Who had been what he watched during month 3, and now that he was familiar enough with the mindset, he understood his affinity towards Nine, his favoritism towards Ten, and the way Twelve grated like a sore tooth across his consciousness.  Maybe he’d ask Sam to list his favorite companions sometime.  That would really freak him out.

 

*

 

Rebecca insisted that they watch the mid-season premiere of The Howling Commandos together. 

 

Bucky insisted that if she was going to sit on his couch, drink his beer, and watch his television, she was going to sit there with the cheap cardboard Captain America cowl masks he'd found at a party store a few blocks from the house.  Becca thought he was punking her, but did it anyway.

 

Bucky insisted on getting a selfie that he then posted on Facebook so that all their friends could see it.

 

Becca never watched The Howling Commandos with him again, which suited Bucky just fine.  Bucky had habits for watching The Howling Commandos that were not safe for company, including teasing himself into hardness over the span of the hour and making notes if something came up that was relevant to any of his plots.  It was a very personal hour for him.

 

No sisters allowed.

 

*

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

HOWLING COMMANDOS?

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

that show handwaves all military procedures, time-appropriate technology, and common sense!

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Never woulda guessed, dude.

 

And it was true, those were a lot of the same criticisms he had when the two of them saw Pacific Rim.  Sam hadn't talked to him for a week for sucking the joy out of the movie for him. 

 

Bucky texted Sam back a pic of half-naked Steve Rogers.

 

Sam called him back immediately and just laughed in his ear for 50 seconds before gasping and hanging up.

 

Bucky hadn't been sure Sam even knew he was bi because it wasn't something he went around telling his coworkers, but not something he actively hid either.  Obviously he didn't have to worry.  Sam didn't care if Bucky liked guys, he just thought it was hilarious that Bucky was so into a guy that he was willing to watch a television show that went against everything Sam remembered Bucky enjoying.

 

Sam was an asshole.

 

(but not the biphobic kind of asshole)

 

Hey! Don’t laugh at our love! Bucky texted back, knowing that it would probably send Sam over the edge again and hoping the jackass received it while in a meeting.  Steve Rogers is my boyfriend.

 

*

 

One of the things Bucky had always been terrified of was that Rebecca was somewhere in THC fandom with him.  He imagined that she was reading all the Captain Carter fics she could get her hands on, but he wouldn’t be surprised if Captain Stark also appealed to her.  His own sister might be reading his fic, judging his porn, and leaving comments about how hot it was.

 

It probably should bother him more.  He had no illusions that Becca could figure out it was him if she did happen to come across them.  There were far too many moments of his life in his writing, stories she would remember as happening to Bucky, and even worse, stories she would remember because they happened to her.

 

Maybe Bucky included some of them as a test, to see if Becca really was reading his fic.  If she was, she never said anything, even after he blatantly stole all the ridiculous drama that happened to her on prom night for his high school au gift-fic.

 

Bucky started to really draw on life the more he wrote, seeing new situations for the potential to be worked into a plot.  He wrote about the couple he witnessed falling on ice in the park, about the way the baker in the store that made his mom’s favorite pie crust gave away cookies to small children, and even drew influence from his doctor’s waiting room.

 

Some situations?  Some situations he just couldn’t fic.

 

Like the awkward experience of going along with Becca for lunch with old friends of theirs from the neighborhood.  Bucky had been hoping he could write a 10-years-later meet cute, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to look directly at the experience for the next month.  He hadn’t even reached the table yet and he knew how awkward this was going to be. “This might be my Patrick Bateman origin story,” he hissed at Becca.  They were about ten minutes late and there were only two people waiting at a table for eight, and those extra spaces were obvious to Bucky. Becca reached over and grabbed Bucky’s arm the moment he noticed that the only people who had shown up were Becca’s BFF Brianna and Brianna’s long term boyfriend.  The hand on his arm effectively cut off his strategy to just turn around and leave and Bucky looked towards the entrance mournfully.

 

Damn. He knew better than to telegraph his intentions like that.

 

“Please, Bateman didn’t have an origin story. He just was,” Becca hissed at him.  “Now sit down and don’t insult my friend like a total douchetool.”

 

Alcohol.  Bucky needed alcohol.  He thought he was doing really well by accepting Becca’s invitation to get him out of the house and instead he was regretting the fact that he’d showered that morning.

 

Or any morning.

 

He’d been lured by false promises that everyone from the old gang wanted to see him, Becca pointing out that he was doing so well and everyone wanted to know how he was doing.  Well, Bucky was never letting Becca guilt him into anything again.

 

Ten minutes later, and Bucky was considering all the ways he could use the accident as an excuse to bail on this misery.  He flexed his shoulder and winced, bringing his hand up to rub at the area with a pained expression on his face.  Becca narrowed her eyes at him.

 

“I once dislocated my shoulder,” Dude told him, looking like he was trying to commiserate with Bucky.  Bucky could not remember Dude’s name, but he looked like the archetype from their corner of Brooklyn, so Bucky was going with Frank.  Almost everyone and their dog were named Frank where Bucky was from.

 

It took him about thirty seconds to realize Frank was drawing parallels between his dislocated shoulder and Bucky’s injury, the injury that had taken so much from him and left the consolation prize of still having an arm that would eventually have almost full mobility.  It had taken Bucky a while to even see that as a consolation prize.

 

Wow there was not enough alcohol in the bar for this.  Bucky shot Becca a look to express that, and she mimed that he was a big baby.

 

“I’m sure that was very traumatic,” Bucky answered in a dry tone, not even flinching as Becca’s heel came down on his foot.  He rolled his eyes, and stared down at his drink, knowing that no beer was worth this kind of annoyance and wondering if appetizers would give him something to look forward to.  He didn't really care if none of his high school friends wanted to spend time with him.  Bucky didn't exactly want to socialize with most of them either.  For a long time, he'd considered himself better than most of the people who hadn't gotten out of the old neighborhood, and it was one of the reasons it had bothered him so much when he returned home.  He still thought he was better than most of those people, but it wasn't because they were still living in Brooklyn, it was just because Bucky was awesome and still an egomaniac.

 

None of them had 10,000 followers on their blog or a fic with over 1,500 comments.  The only good thing about this entire lunch was that he had an amazing view, and it wasn't Becca's best friend. 

 

It was the giant billboard of Captain America right outside the window.  Bucky ended up wondering if maybe he could make that into a fic.

 

"Can you believe cousin Stevie grew up to look like that?" Brianna casually mentioned, stirring her drink with a straw.  Her chin pointed towards the large billboard for the season finale of The Howling Commandos.  Bucky was already staring at it, his mind numbed to a point of only half-listening to what was happening around him.  He was on the verge of coming up with a plot, and it was going to be a good one if he could just slot those last pieces of the puzzle together.  "I still think of him as that scrawny asthmatic kid chasing after Frank for stealing that girl's lunch container at the park.  What was her name?” she asked her boyfriend, rubbing his thigh absently.  “Frank had this total crush on her and kept making her cry, and Stevie always got so indignant.  Remember how his face would turn so red?"

 

A younger Steve with a red face was…

 

Wait. 

 

Wait.

 

WAIT.

 

Bucky’s head lifted so quickly that Becca looked like she got whiplash jerking her head towards him, her drink half-spilling across the table.

 

SERIOUSLY BRIANNA STOP TALKING.  Bucky couldn’t process this and take in new information at the same time.  It was overloading his brain. WHY HADN’T HE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION?

 

Stevie as in Steve Rogers?  Steve Rogers as in the boy from Brooklyn?  The same Steve Rogers Bucky had convinced himself had never been in the same circles he was, or else someone would have said something about it to him sooner?

 

The same Steve Rogers that Bucky had a radar for, his attention immediately snapping in the direction of anyone talking about (or even thinking about) that killer (sweet) smile and even more devastating body?  Bucky had almost yelled as a group of teenagers in the library for saying that they were his biggest fans.  Bucky was their god.  They had probably read his fic and wept.

 

Holy shit fucking fuck.

 

What the hell?  Bucky tried his best not too show too much interest in what Brianna was saying, but he felt like he was probably giving her a fake smile and incredibly creepy intent eyes.  This was his worst nightmare, he realized, starting to panic.  He knew someone who was related to Steve Rogers, the same Steve Rogers he had mentally pictured while writing two thousand words of underwater anal porn just that morning.

 

"I never met him," Becca answered, but she was smiling at the story.  If Bucky's thing was that he was good at everything he tried, Becca's was a steel trap of a memory.  She played it off all the time, pretending she didn't know what her first grade teacher's name was like most normal 20-somethings, but Bucky knew the truth.  If Becca said she never met Steve Rogers, then she never met Steve Rogers.

 

He relaxed a little. 

 

"Yeah, you did!" Brianna laughed.  "He was always around back then."

 

"The first time you and I played together was because you were sad that he moved away.  I never met Steve Rogers," his sister said.  “The only one who met him was Bucky.  Mom’s got a picture of Buck’s birthday party in first grade, and Steve’s sitting across from him.  It’s totally cute.”

 

What?  His head was doing a full exorcist turn to look at his sister. 

 

“What?” Bucky questioned out loud.  He wasn’t sure he was breathing anymore.  He didn’t need air.  He was surviving entirely off the growing realization that this just kept getting worse for his sanity.  He was having the PTSD breakdown like the one his therapist warned him was possible, wasn’t he?

 

Becca’s eyes cut to him and Bucky refrained from vocalizing his confusion out loud again.   "God, Buck, sometimes I'd swear you have brain damage too, but you were like this before the accident.  You can't even blame it on amnesia. I told you about the picture… are you ok?  You’ve gone really pale and kind of sweaty."

 

It was the first time she'd joked about the car crash, and Bucky couldn't even appreciate the dark humor of it.  "You really didn't," he told her, stumbling to his feet.  "I'm sorry, I need to... it was nice seeing you again, Brianna."

 

*

 

New text from Beck:

I’m sorry I joked about the crash.

 

New text from Beck:

Txt me if you end up somewhere you need a drive. Or txt mom if you’re mad at me.

 

*

 

Bucky didn’t need a drive home, he knew how to navigate the subway well enough, and it wasn’t like the accident had damaged his legs.  The way he was feeling, he probably could have run the fifteen blocks or so home fueled entirely by his horror at the situation.  In fact, he might have.  He was operating entirely on autopilot and wasn’t sure what happened between him standing up in the restaurant and sitting down in front of the bookcase his mother kept the family photo albums in.

 

He grabbed the appropriate year, thinking that Becca had to be wrong.  There was a weird buzzing in his head, and he thought he might throw up.

 

Becca wasn’t wrong.

 

Bucky’s mother did have a picture of Bucky sitting across from a very small version of Steve Rogers.

 

He was so tiny, smaller than Bucky was, but there was no mistaking his face, nose overshadowing the jawline he hadn’t quite developed yet.  Bucky would still recognize him anywhere.

 

Except in his memories, apparently.

 

He still couldn’t breathe.

 

Bucky had the album open on his lap, staring down at the picture of himself.  Across from him was a small blond kid, blue eyes staring at him while everyone else turned to look at the camera.

 

Steve Rogers, not a small blond kid, a little voice in his head pointed out in a horrified tone.

 

The more he looked at the picture, the more freaked out he felt.

 

(Steve Rogers). 

 

There was a buzzing in his ears and he regretted not finding a way to bring his drink back with him.  He really needed alcohol to cope with Steve Roger's familiar features so close to Bucky's own face.

 

He might throw up.

 

Well, fuck.  That was indisputably…

 

STEVE ROGERS.

 

There was a 75% chance Bucky was about to pass out.

 

*

 

It happened in a second. 

 

Count. One.

 

Almost everyone brought up time – Bucky had taken enough witness reports during his career and talked with enough survivors to know that.  It happened so fast, they’d say in shock.  It felt like time slowed down.  There wasn’t time to react.

 

For Bucky, it happened in a second.  There was a flash of lights on his left, too bright and too close, and he’d reacted.  He’d reacted the way his training told him to react, but a second was not enough time to change enough, to have any kind of impact besides the impending one with the truck.

 

Then the collision happened and Bucky awoke to his car upside down in a busy intersection, smoke heavy in his lungs and the taste of blood in the back of his throat. His memory got vague about what happened next.  He had been going in and out of awareness long enough to pull himself to safety through the passenger side of his car.  The motions had been an accumulation of years of training and sheer stubbornness.  Somehow, he’d made it with his arm still tenuously attached, though he couldn’t feel much more than a white shocky numbness settling over his entire body.  The fact that he made it out alive on his own had been a surprise enough to witnesses and professionals who had seen the scene.

 

The point was that Bucky was experiencing a lot of the same symptoms staring down at the face of young Steve Rogers.  He felt cold, numb like he couldn’t feel his limbs, shaky with shock and losing time as his vision went in and out of focusing on the image. 

 

This, he didn't know how to pull himself out of.

 

It was a total nightmare, the kind he didn’t even want to face the possibility of it being real.  Bucky had done a field dressing on his arm before the medics could reach him.  He’d probably lost more than a pint of blood at the time, maybe two.

 

All Bucky was losing now was his sanity, he reflected, laughing sharply as he fell sideways on the carpet with the picture still clutched in his fingers.  He couldn’t stop the hysterical laughter any more than he could put the picture back and forget about it.

 

HE KNEW STEVE ROGERS!

 

THE SAME STEVE ROGERS HE HAD A FIFTEEN THOUSAND NOTE POST FOR TENTACLE PORN FANART.

 

HE knew Steve Rogers.

 

He KNEW Steve Rogers.

 

He knew STEVE ROGERS.

 

WHERE THE HELL DID HE EVEN PUT THE EMPHASIS IN THAT SENTENCE?

 

He was freaking out so much that he couldn’t even breathe.  Couldn’t think.

 

All he could think of was that he had to hide the evidence somehow.  No one, besides him, could know about this.

 

He should eat it.

 

No. Wow. Bucky was a highly trained FBI agent with fantastic instincts and skills. He pulled himself out of his own burning vehicle with only one arm. He wasn’t going to eat the picture! Those instincts were bad.

 

He had a lot more sympathy for criminals who reacted stupidly at the scene of a crime.  Not much, but slightly more sympathy.

 

Eat it.  Christ.  There wasn’t even anyone around who could potentially see it.  The thought was enough to prompt him into getting to his feet.  He didn’t want to even imagine explaining this to his mother if she happened to come home and find him on the floor crying.  He didn’t even mean to cry, but there was definitely water on his face and he was pretty sure there was also snot.

 

Bucky laughed at the thought, curling over on himself and thinking about the fact that there was a half-drawn image on his computer of Captain America completely naked and prepped, looking back over his shoulder at the viewer with a smirk on his face, and his brain immediately conjured the very trusting smile on Steve Roger’s little baby face as he looked at Bucky.

 

This must be what going mad feels like, his brain quoted at him, and then also brought up the small factoid it was a Firefly quote, because obviously the right reaction for him to have to Steve Rogers’ tiny face was to sob in a ball and then be a total nerd about it.

 

In a horrified fugue Bucky brought the picture with him down to his apartment.  He set it down next to his computer.

 

He stared at it.

 

And stared.  Fuck.

 

Ten minutes went by.

 

Count. Six hundred.

 

He got up and went into his kitchen and retrieved a carton of ice cream from the freezer and a bottle of whiskey, bringing them back to his computer with him. 

 

Fifteen minutes later, he’d eaten the last of the ice cream and he was still no closer to digesting the fact that he was writing and drawing porn about someone who sang happy birthday to him when he turned seven. 

 

What the fuck?

 

*

 

No, seriously! Bucky reflected as he tried to sleep, staring at the ceiling for hours and feeling way too horrified for his customary masturbatory fantasy.

 

What the fuck?

 

*

 

NO SERIOUSLY. He didn’t even have sex fantasies that didn’t have Captain America’s familiar face in them anymore.  He didn’t know how.

 

He might cry again.

 

*

 

The worst thing was that he couldn’t even tell anyone.  The only people who would care were people he met online, and there was no way in hell any of them could know this.

 

Eventually he ended up texting the picture to Sam.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Cute.

 

Great, even Sam didn't realize the gravity of it.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Wait is this real?

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Hahahahahahahahahahaha

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Dude this is a cruel punishment. I'm in a debrief about a human trafficking ring.  People are looking at me like I think kidnapped children are funny.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Your life. 

 

 *

 

The only valid reaction was for Bucky quit fandom and his blog cold turkey.

 

That’s what he told himself, anyway.

 

Who needed a show that never bothered giving their main character a real name?  Codename: Captain America. Real name: ?????????

 

But these things had a way of dragging you back in, and Bucky hated receiving questions about where the next chapter of his WIP was.

 

HE COULDN’T WRITE PORN ABOUT A SEVEN YEAR OLD OKAY howlling4you!!  It was too weird.

 

But then the season finale happened and Bucky was weak.

 

Steve wasn’t that seven year old in the picture anymore, Bucky told himself.  It was probably ok.

 

It wasn’t like he’d ever meet Steve Rogers in person.

 

*

 

Bucky was an idiot and his life was shit irony.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky did not want to go out, even though Becca wasn't promising a large group of people this time - she was just promising a barbeque with Brianna and some friends and family.  He wasn't sure if he could face his sister's best friend without staring at her and trying to steer the conversation towards Steve Rogers.  It was way too tempting to use Brianna to find out everything he could about his crush, and Bucky wasn’t sure he wanted to be that guy.  Just the idea of the possibility of Steve Rogers coming up in conversation made Bucky feel like a huge jerk, like he was using the people around him for his own gain.  He liked Brianna enough, had respect for someone who could put up with his sister for almost as long as he had to, without the blood tie.  He didn't want to think of her as his one degree of separation from the actor Bucky was head over heels with (and trying not to be because of the awkward). 

 

In the last month, Bucky had tried to quit the Captain Stark fandom completely, but it ended up dragging him back in.  In the season finale, Captain America had crashed a jet somewhere in the Arctic Circle and the final scene was Howard searching for him with a tireless dedication, ostensibly for Peggy, the woman they both loved, but Bucky knew differently.

 

He knew differently.

 

He couldn't resist after that.  The whole scenario just lent itself to sharing body heat tropes, for one thing.  Amnesia fics? Yes please.  Fanart of naked cuddling? He’d done one months ago and now it had a possibility of being canon.

 

So what was a little weirdness over the fact that mini!Bucky knew mini!Steve Rogers?

 

Easily put behind him, that’s what.

 

Bucky wanted to say no to going out, but it wasn’t Becca guilting him that had him wiping charcoal off his fingers and putting on a nice shirt.  Bucky wasn’t a very good person, because he knew the reason he hadn’t turned down the invite was because he didn’t want to miss any mention of Steve Rogers.  It made him feel like an asshole when his sister looked surprised and pleased when he promised to be social, like the invite was extended without the expectation that he’d accept.

 

And he shouldn’t have.  She knew these people, he didn’t.

 

But...  Well.  Bucky wasn’t a very good person.

 

Luckily, when they arrived everything was very low key but far less awkward than the last time Becca dragged him out of his apartment, and Bucky managed to slip away from the game on TV to sit out by the pool.  He wasn't the only person outside enjoying the sunny afternoon after a typical New York winter and a spring that seemed to drag on with inclement weather. Bucky was starting to get used to jogging in the rain, sick of the same view on the treadmill every day.  His physical fitness was something he was working towards reclaiming, not that he'd entirely lost it.  There was a difference in his mind between exercising as an extension of physical therapy and out of enjoyment.  Maybe that was what he was reclaiming: enjoyment of the activities he'd liked before.

 

It felt very relaxing to be sunning himself like a large cat, legs spread out in front of him on the lounge chair and a deep-seated contentment making him drift in and out of wakefulness. The sun on his face felt like he was waking up for the first time in months.

 

"Do you mind if I join you?" a voice asked above him, and Bucky squinted into the sun, groping for the sunglasses he'd tugged off to avoid tan lines.  He knew that deep tone, the words falling over his skin, potent and as sharp as a kick to the gut.  The man straddled the chair next to him, sitting as he looked over at Bucky, still waiting for an answer. 

 

Shit.

 

Irony.

 

Somehow, Bucky refrained from making a squeaking sound.  Now that he was out of Bucky's line of sight with the sun, there wasn't any doubt who it was.  Bucky hadn’t even considered this as a possibility, and he kind of hated himself a bit for not even considering it.  His life wasn’t just shit irony, it was beyond shit irony. 

 

He didn’t just know Steve by extension now, Bucky Barnes was lounging beside an above ground pool with Steve Rogers.

 

He was lounging beside an above ground pool with Steve Rogers.

 

Play it cool, he told himself.

 

You can do this, he attempted to bolster his confidence.

 

"Looks like you're gonna sit there anyway," Bucky offered in return, wincing at the complete lack of charm in that sentence.  Not that cool, he mentally screamed at himself.  Bucky had game, it was what he was known for.  Everyone knew he had two settings: flirtatious and cold. Everyone knew that.  Why was it that he couldn't manage something in the middle when he really needed to?  He was probably going to make an ass of himself and go home to sob over Ben, Jerry and Jack again. 

 

Bucky tried to smile to soften his words, waving his hand in an approximation of ‘sit, please’ and trying to not make it look like a desperate plea for his new seatmate not to leave him because Bucky would probably never forgive himself for wasting the opportunity.  Bucky would be 99 years old and he still wouldn’t forgive himself for alienating Steve Rogers when he had the chance to talk with him.

 

If he made it to 99.  It was also possible his heart was about to give out on him.  He’d eaten a lot of bags of Cheetos in the last year. 

 

Steve took Bucky’s waving at face value though, relaxing into his chair after observing Bucky for a moment.

 

"Steve," Steve offered, extending his hand to Bucky.  Bucky reached over with his right hand, telling himself that he'd shaken tons of hands in his career.  He'd had to shake the president's hand once.  Steve Rogers was just a guy, and his hand was just a hand, even if there were other parts of him Bucky's imagination was well versed in getting his hands on.  It wasn't like Steve needed to introduce himself anyway.  Even if they didn’t watch the show, most people from the neighborhood knew who Steve Rogers was.

 

"Bucky," he said in return. 

 

"Still?" Steve asked with a grin, the corners of his mouth turning up like he was genuinely pleased to hear that, like he thought Bucky was adorable for keeping his childhood nickname and not converting to a James or a James derivative at some point in his life.

 

"You," Bucky frowned at him, words formulating in his brain before he could really understand the implication.  "... remember me?" 

 

Then:

 

Fuck.

 

Fuck.

 

Fuck.

 

Fucking.

 

Shit.

 

Irony.

 

Fuck.

 

Steve Rogers knew who he was.  Bucky didn't know how to handle this information.  In fifty years he might break out of the stupor this caused, but it wouldn't be happening any time soon. 

 

"We went to first grade together."  Steve sounded like awkwardness and uncertainty were affecting his speech patterns, like he wasn't sure that Bucky actually remembered him or not.

 

"You came to my birthday party," Bucky answered, and it felt hollow because he hadn't remembered Steve, and still couldn't entirely place him.  Bucky never had that kind of recall.  Sometimes he wondered if he had acute muscle memory skills as a trade for actual memory.

 

"You remember that?" Steve questioned with a pleased smile, leaning forward so he could peel off his shirt.

 

That sound?

 

That was Bucky dying a little inside over the extreme attractiveness in front of him.  Hopefully the wheezing, whine of a groan was all in his head.  He thought it probably was?  Steve didn’t look at him strangely, which was a good sign.  The only thing Bucky’d taken off were his shoes.  Christ.

 

Bucky was regretting all casual conditioning he'd done over the last year that equated Steve Rogers without a shirt with Bucky with his hand on his dick.  Shit.

 

There was a bad-instinct part of his brain that wanted to inform Steve that he had abs too, maybe pull off his own shirt.

 

Wow.

 

This was way too enlightening in ways Bucky did not want to examine.

 

"No." Bucky answered tersely, too much effort going into not staring at Steve strip to pay attention to his tone until the words were out of his mouth.  Then there was no way to take them back, just pile more words on top of them.  "Rebecca did, though. There are pictures.  She has a fantastic memory, whereas I don't remember the name of our teacher in first grade or even the name of my best friend back then, though I do remember he had red hair.  And that we stopped being friends long before he moved away, and I don't recall why.  I was angry at him for a while before, I mean.  My point is there are a lot of important things I don’t remember very well from – oh, let’s say yesterday backwards." 

 

Aaaaand he was rambling.

 

Someone needed to stop him.  Seriously, there were times in Bucky’s life when he was on the dangerous end of a gun and he’d been calmer than he was now.  He was a trained negotiator, but right now he felt like he couldn’t talk his way out of a wet paper bag.

 

"He was a bully," Steve answered simply, quietly.  Bucky's memory immediately went to the interview Steve had done talking about how he was bullied as a child and he felt his stomach drop because that shook something loose.  He felt like he could remember standing on the playground across from someone on the ground, furious and with a hard, hot anger in his belly that he hadn't experienced before at his tender age.  His hands were tight fists held up in front of him.  Bucky's memory was in movements, and he could remember the feel of striking forward, of hitting something.

 

He couldn’t breathe again.

 

"Oh." Oh fucking Christ.  He'd been one of the people Steve was talking about.  Bucky hated bullies, but he knew enough to know that it was because of a very formative experience as a child, one that had left him feeling guilty until the edges of it fell away, leaving a deep-rooted facet of his personality.  He'd based his career on it.  "Was I... did I… he and I were friends, so was I…too?"  He couldn’t take his eyes off Steve, and he knew his eyes were wide and maybe a bit wild with desperation and a need for reassurance.

 

"No! You weren't," Steve told him, staring at Bucky's face in disbelief, his expression falling a little in what Bucky thought was crumbling disappointment.  He understood that face, and being on the other side of it was terrible.  "You didn't stand for that, even when we 6 years old.  You don't remember at all?"

 

"I'm sorry," Bucky answered, genuinely apologetic.  He did wish more than anything that he remembered Steve. He wished he remembered Steve last September, before everything started.  Captain America was his touchstone, and Steve Rogers was his sex fantasy, and that left the real Steve sitting across from him as the most awkward Bucky had ever felt in front of a person. Possibly ever. "Maybe I do have amnesia from the accident because I'm sure I wouldn't willingly forget you."

 

Smooth as fuck.

 

But Steve was frowning at him now.

 

Wait, not smooth. Fuck.

 

"I was sorry to hear about that," Steve told him with an earnest expression. He looked thoughtful, like there was something more to say than that. "I’m just an actor who plays a heroic character, but you made a career out of being a real hero.  When Brianna told me about it, I was... well.  You were my hero once, and no one was less surprised than I was that you joined the FBI."  Steve ruefully rubbed the back of his neck, staring at the pool instead of looking at Bucky.  "You never did like bullies."

 

"I..." Bucky had no idea what to say.  Steve didn't know him, shouldn't know him, but he'd hit closer than anyone else had at understanding what Bucky felt at his core.  Steve hadn't come right out and said it, but Bucky had felt the loss of his job more acutely than he had the loss of mobility.  He'd mourned it.  Steve's words didn't claim to understand that, but Bucky could read between the lines.   “No,” he finally answered, giving Steve one of his rare, genuine smiles.  He knew that it made him look boyish, and he typically didn’t smile like that while flirting (or not-flirting with someone he was attracted to), but then Steve was the exception.  “And now I think I remember why.”

 

Steve stared at him, and Bucky could see that his skin was pebbling with goosebumps as the late May afternoon gave way to a spring evening chill.  Bucky wasn’t sure why Steve didn’t just put his shirt back on, and maybe it was his own conceit showing, but he hoped it was because Steve was showing off a little for him.  It didn’t just make him feel the warmth of potential there, stripping away a bit of Bucky’s horror at having a conversation with actual human being Steve Rogers, but it also really reinforced the fact that Steve was a regular guy.  This wasn’t a magazine feature or a scene from the show, which was what Bucky’s gaze used when he thought of Steve shirtless. 

 

Steve was touchable now, and as a person, Bucky didn’t feel like Steve’s body was something he had the right to touch or stare at. 

 

Steve was real and in front of him, and he was cold.

 

And Bucky wanted him to just put his goddamn shirt back on.

 

They ended up looking at each other, Bucky’s eyes taking in Steve’s face and expressions, for what seemed like minutes.  There was a heavy silence between them that Bucky could feel, laden with the weight of their silent observations. 

 

“You talk to Brianna about me?” Bucky questioned with a slow smile, charmed and amazed by the way Steve seemed to get flustered in return.  He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Captain America get flustered, and it made Bucky even more delighted to watch it occur with Steve.

 

Humanized.  That was the word for it.  Steve was humanized to him now.

 

“No.  I mean, not all the time.  I don’t ask her how you’re doing, or anything.  She just mentioned that her BFF’s brother was back in town, and I…” Steve broke off as his phone rang.  He reached for it on the table next to him, looking at the display. 

 

Saved by the bell, Steve, Bucky thought with a bit of irony. 

 

“Steve Rogers,” he said, answering the phone. “I’ll call you back, I need to get somewhere private.”  Then he looked over at Bucky and seemed to just… come to a decision, a stubborn tilt to his jaw that looked familiar to Bucky in ways that he wasn’t sure was based on exposure to Steve Rogers as an adult.  “Yes.  I talk to Brianna about you.  I know the bare facts about your life, but I would like to know more. So maybe we can talk sometime. Excuse me,” Steve finished, getting to his feet.  “I believe this is an important phone call.”

 

What?  What was that?

 

No, but…

 

What?

 

Bucky’s head turned to watch him, and he didn’t want to know what kind of incredulous expression was on his face.  He couldn’t even appreciate Steve in a pair of jeans, his shirt in his hand and the skin of his broad back looking devastating in the sunlight.

 

The moment Steve was out of sight, going back through the patio doors and into the kitchen, Bucky practiced deep breaths for a while, trying to reconcile what just happened with his world-view.  He didn't think he'd be able to.

 

Steve wanted to know more about Bucky?

 

He was so screwed because there was nothing he wouldn’t give Steve.

 

*

 

[Interview with Steve Rogers, 2012. New York City]

 

"Is it true that you were a bit of a rabble-rouser in your youth?  We've heard stories of you picking fights before your growth spurt."

 

"I've never liked bullies,” Steve answered the interviewer.  “I was bullied for being so small and sickly, and I could usually handle it when it was directed at me.  The thing about bullies is they're rarely appeased by one victim, and I had a hero complex.  I got beat up in an alleyway a few blocks from here, in fact."

 

"Would you say your take on Captain America comes from that?"

 

"Sure. Obviously, and yet it can't all be attributed to that.  There are a lot of factors that go into Captain America."

 

"What one stands out?"

 

"Just one?" Steve asked with a self-effacing chuckle.  "There was this kid once.  Stuck up for me even though he wasn't much bigger than I was and he had far more reasons to join in or just turn a blind eye.  I never really understood why he took my side, it would have been easier not to, except maybe he’s the kind of person we all aspire to be.  After that, every time I needed the bravado to stick up for someone else, I thought about him taking a stand when no one expected him to, standing as a protective buffer in front of me. I never wanted to be that weak, but it shaped me.  Still, any time I need to be brave or any time I need to stand up for what's right, I mimic him," Steve grinned. "He was mouthy and cocky and my playground hero.  I can only hope that I had as much of an impact paying it forward throughout the years as he had on me.  If I had to boil Captain America down to one inspiration, it would be that moment as a kid where I was the one who needed protection and it came from the person who had the most to lose by speaking up.  I think about it often."

 

“Where’s this kid now?  What does he think about Captain America?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know.  Probably off saving people somewhere.  I doubt a television show would have much impact on him when he’s already everything I try to embody with the character.”

 

[end interview]

 

 

*

 

It didn’t truly get awkward until they all sat down for supper and Bucky was the noticeable one out.  Becca had promised that Brianna asked for him to come by name, but he wasn’t sure why she would do that when he was intruding on a family gathering. A family gathering where Steve Rogers sat casually at the table as someone they all knew and not as a celebrity spotting, and Bucky kind of wanted to crawl under the tablecloth when Brianna caught him staring. She smiled at him, though, like he wasn’t being an obvious gawker.

 

"You remember my cousin Steve," Brianna question in what was a faux-casual tone, grinning over the large dinner table at Bucky. It was obvious that she was proud of Steve to the point of wanting to show him off to the one stranger in the room, but Bucky didn’t think that was the reason she looked directly in Bucky’s direction, taking in the way he acknowledged Steve with a slight smile.  "The rest of you, this is my friend Becca and her brother Bucky.  Both nicknames, their parents aren't sadists." 

 

His sister had promised him this would be less awkward, but sitting around the family supper table, Bucky felt acutely aware that he was the outsider.  Things like that hadn’t bothered him, still didn’t on a large scale, truth be told, but it did bother him to be sitting at a table with the guy he ran at least one blog about (that he would admit to, under duress) and family members.  He was about to eat incredibly messy barbeque food with the sensation that he was being judged.

 

Becca was a lying liar who lied.  She was the worst

 

"No, but someone in the family is," Bucky muttered darkly, because if anyone could be called a sadist, it was his sister.  Becca kicked him under the table, like the brat she was, while Steve stared at him from across it with his dumb blue eyes that Bucky had done multiple detailed studies of.   If Bucky had known that supper was going to have him sitting across from Steve, he would have made a bit more effort with his appearance.  He wanted to give Steve something to appreciate if he was forced to stare at Bucky all night.

 

For some reason he thought that Steve might already see plenty, and it was freaking him out a little bit.

 

(a lot).

 

“I enjoy your work,” Rebecca said, grinning.  It was very smooth of her, but then Rebecca wasn’t the one in too deep.  Rebecca wasn't the one who jerked off every night thinking of Captain America getting fucked by Howard Stark (and maybe occasionally gang-banged by the Howling Commandos).

 

Fuck his life. 

 

Was he blushing?  He might be blushing, and Bucky did not blush, ok?

 

WHY HAD HE THOUGHT ABOUT JERKING OFF?

 

Bucky was his own worst enemy.

 

Becca also wasn't the one who had just learned that Steve Rogers knew her in ways that a stranger shouldn't.

 

No, seriously.  Fuck his life.

 

Bucky smiled wanly, but didn’t say anything to Steve, even though Becca was glancing at her from the corner of her eye like she expected him to jump in.

 

There weren't even words for the type of enjoyment he took from Steve's work.  Not ones that should be said out loud, anyway.

 

"How about you, Bucky?  Have you watched The Howling Commandos?" Brianna asked.

 

“Bree,” Steve nudged.  “Not everyone has seen the show.  The rest of you are obligated because you’re family.  Leave him alone.”

 

Steve gave Bucky an adorably shy glance, curious and tempered with uncertainty.  It was obvious that Brianna had asked because she knew it was something Steve wanted to know.  Bucky felt like an asshole.  Steve was looking at Bucky like someone he knew from his childhood who might give him an honest review of his show, and Bucky was probably the most biased person in the room.

 

"I have, actually," Bucky answered, not really sure what to say.  His heart was beating rapidly, not because Steve Rogers was the star of his favorite television show, but because Steve was really earnest and adorable, and hella dateable.

 

Hella dateable?  What had his life become?

 

And Steve knew him.  It was a potent combination.

 

Becca kicked him again, probably because he was staring back at Steve and they were having a blinking contest across the table, except that when two people who were (possibly) into one another stared at each other across the table for an extended period, it wasn’t considered a blinking contest.

 

It was something else entirely.

 

"He kept my DVDs," Becca grumbled in an annoyed tone.  “There’s a picture on Facebook of us watching the mid-season premiere and acting like kids.  Yes, Bucky has seen The Howling Commandos.”

 

"I enjoyed the show," Bucky inserted quickly, suddenly getting his wits back.  "I watched it while doing PT and it... it kept my mind blank."

 

Steve's expression fell slightly, but he rallied back into a friendly grin.  "That's good.  I'm glad you got something out of it."

 

Bucky wasn't sure what he'd said, but he'd definitely done something.  Steve wasn’t looking at him anymore, focusing his attention to the opposite end of the table, and it just reinforced how much attention Steve had been giving him when Bucky could tell that Steve was studiously avoiding eye contact now.

 

"So how's that model with the tattoo you were seeing? Leyla?" Brianna inserted, reading her cousin better than Bucky could. 

 

"Oh?  You’re seeing someone?" Becca asked curiously, her eyes cutting to Bucky with a look that said 'look at that, bro'.  Becca knew something was up with him.  Definitely knew.

 

Just like Bucky knew exactly who Leyla was.  He also knew why that was a terrible question to ask Steve.

 

"We're not together anymore,” Steve answered in a forthright tone like he was stating a simple fact.

 

Bucky knew that too.  Bucky knew far too much about Steve Rogers for being the person at the table that Steve only just met.  Awkward.

 

So, so awkward.

 

“But I thought you liked her.”  Brianna's face crumbled a bit.   Bucky felt kind of terrible for it, since she’d changed the subject specifically because Steve seemed to be put off by something Bucky said and now everything was so much worse. "You deserve to be happy."

 

“I feel happier with my motorcycle than I did with her.  Maybe that's all I need right now,” Steve answered with a shrug just as Bucky was taking another swig of his beer to cope with the fact he was sitting across from someone whose ass he had been lovingly rendering in charcoal all morning.  There was a certain measure of guilt that his nailbeds were cloudy and there was a smear of grey on his jeans from where he wiped his fingers.

 

Someone he'd managed to insult.

 

Jesus.

 

Bucky processed ‘I feel happier with my motorcycle than I did with her’ and immediately knew what Steve was saying.  He remembered the interview where Steve hinted that his motorcycle turned him on; it had been all he could think of for weeks.  It hadn’t been a mainstream interview, not something that got featured on any number of talk shows with millions of viewers.  It existed solely on the internet, known only to Steve’s fans.

 

Bucky choked on his beer.  It frothed into his sinuses painfully and he made a sound of displeasure, clutching at his face.  Steve had been carefully weighing Rebecca for a reaction, so when Bucky choked, Steve’s head jerked towards him in surprise.  Their eyes met for one painfully uncomfortable moment before Bucky looked away, a violent and dismissive turn of his head that did nothing to temper his embarrassment.

 

Oh god.

 

Shit irony, Barnes.  Shit irony.

 

Not looking at Steve for the duration of supper, even though he was sitting right across from him, was one of the most difficult things Bucky had ever done.

 

He failed more than once, but luckily Steve didn’t seem interested in drawing Bucky back into the conversation, and that made everything a million times worse.  As soon as the table began to break up to get back to the television, Bucky bailed to go find a place to hide until his sister wanted to leave.

 

Some people might think that the best way to handle what just happened was to stick it out. 

 

Some people would be wrong.  He wasn’t sure he even had any pride left, so why subject himself to more of this painful situation than he had to?

 

Of course, hiding only worked when there was no one looking for him.  Bucky considered himself safe because Becca was the only person who would care where he was, and only because she’d never leave him behind when she was his ride.

 

He never counted on Steve coming to find him.

 

Who could have anticipated that?

 

Bucky was sitting in the guest bedroom, head bowed so low it felt like it was hanging between his knees, trying his best not to freak out.   Every moment he thought about it, the harsher reality seemed.  There was no way Steve missed the implication that Bucky knew about Steve’s situation with his motorcycle because he watched the interview.

 

Bucky had blown everything.  Steve would hate him now, and their afternoon together sat like a heavy weight on Bucky’s conscience.  They didn't exactly have an easy camaraderie, Steve and Bucky, and it wasn't like there was anything between them for Bucky to ruin, but for some insane reason Steve seemed to think a lot of him, and Bucky knew that would end now.

 

Steve thought a lot of him.

 

Before Bucky had accidentally revealed he was a stalker fan.

 

And, like, could he even deny that status when he was sitting in the same house as Steve Rogers?  Sure he hadn’t known Steve would actually be there, but Bucky had hoped he’d at least hear the name once or twice from family who knew him, so really…

 

Bucky was the worst.

 

Steve would hate him now.

 

He looked up when Steve knocked on the door and felt all the blood drain from his face.  

 

“Can I come in?”  Steve seemed to be respecting Bucky’s boundaries, and it made Bucky feel like even more of an asshole.

 

Bucky shrugged.  It felt a lot more casual than Bucky thought he was capable of right now.  Good. That was good.  Steve paused before entering, taking him in with a probing gaze and Bucky looked away.  He couldn’t look Steve in the eye.

 

“You recognized the reference to the interview I did in Spain," Steve said, observing him.  His hands were in his pockets and he was leaning against the entranceway, as nonthreatening as possible.  Bucky understood the kind of deliberation that went into a pose like that, and it made something burn beneath his chest to see Steve doing it to him.

 

"Yeah," Bucky said, head snapping up.  He figured he might as well come clean and put all his cards on the table.  At least then it would be over and Steve would stop being nice to him in ways Bucky didn’t deserve.  "I did recognize it.  I recognize it because I've seen all of your interviews, and I've seen all of your interviews because I'm not just a fan of your work, I'm the type of fan you should be avoiding on the street."

 

Steve laughed and took another step in the room, closing the door behind him with his foot.  That was the opposite of what Bucky expected to happen.  "I wouldn't avoid someone who looked like you."

 

It was the same kind of line Bucky had given him earlier, and Bucky accepted it for what it was.  Flirting? Sure, but the kind that came from a place of kindness and not intent.  It was saying ‘I don’t mind’ or ‘don’t think this really changes anything, or at least I’m trying not to make it weird’.  Bucky snorted and shook his head.  "If only you knew, buddy."

 

“If you’ve seen the obscure ones in another language, I think I can guess.  I don’t think my mom has seen that one and she thinks herself my biggest fan.”

 

Bucky laughed harshly, a biting sound that had Steve raising an eyebrow at him.  “She couldn’t even imagine.”

 

“No,” Steve smirked, but it had a teasing edge to it, including Bucky in the joke as he casually sat on the edge of the bed, progressively moving closer to Bucky like Bucky was the frightened woodland creature in this scenario and Steve had to approach carefully.  It was well-done, but if Steve thought it was going over Bucky’s head then he’d forgotten what Bucky’s job used to be.

 

Hostage Negotiator, Steve.

 

Steve continued talking about his mother’s reaction to fandom as though Bucky wasn’t giving him an unimpressed stare where his butt met the corner of the bed.  “She really couldn’t.  We both know there are people out there who would force my own mother to step down from claiming the right to be my number one fan.”  Steve said this in a matter-of-fact tone, not allowing any bitterness to creep in.  Bucky wasn’t sure how he managed it, since if his life was on a pedestal like that, he’d be constantly cantankerous about it.  In a small way his life had been like that in the neighborhood since he got back after his accident, and Bucky hated the attention.

 

Yeah –  Bucky knew the type of person Steve was talking about.  Bucky feared that person might be him, though he would certainly never try to out-trivia Steve’s mom.  “There are people out there who would try to challenge you on knowledge about yourself.”  Again, as much as he was joking, Bucky feared he might be one of those people.  If Steve ever tried to tell him that something wasn’t true that a huge section of THC fandom hinged on, Bucky might have to fight him for it.

 

Oh god, he could never see Steve Roger’s dick.

 

That was a huge bubble to burst.

 

No pun.

 

Really no pun.

 

Huuuge bubble.

 

Humongous, really.

 

THIS WASN’T GOING TO BE THE THING HE WAS WRONG ABOUT, OKAY?

 

Oh god, and now he was thinking about Steve’s dick to the point where his eyes were trailing down Steve’s body with the intent of looking for himself.  Bucky bit his lip and allowed it to happen, inhaling in soft surprise as Steve’s knees parted a little more on either side of the mattress corner as Bucky’s gaze lingered.

 

Unconscious or not, it was a huge confidence booster.

 

(maybe, actually THC fandom wasn’t wrong on this one.  Maybe, if Steve continued to respond to him like he was, Bucky didn’t give a shit if they were.)

 

“So, you’d rather ride your motorcycle than your girlfriend?” Bucky questioned with a smirk and in a conspiratorial tone, leaning forward and challenging Steve to respond.  He wasn’t sure that was any less inappropriate or awkward, but at least the topic of sex was there between them now, so if Bucky happened to stare at Steve’s dick, it was more flirty and less objectifying.

 

Maybe.

 

God, he wanted Steve to respond to him again, and Bucky didn’t want to know the lengths he’d go to bring out a reaction from this man.

 

Bucky would be the first to admit he had zero clues about how to conduct himself right now.

 

Steve opened his mouth, probably to deny that was his meaning, and closed it again.  “I guess I did say that.”

 

“That’s some motorcycle,” Bucky observed.  He could feel himself unfurling, the tenseness of his muscles dissipating the longer he was in Steve’s presence.  Steve didn’t seem very judgemental about Bucky’s favourite pastime.  It wasn’t like he thought Steve was encouraging it, but at least he wasn’t openly condemning it in Bucky’s presence.  He was defensive of his fandom habits in the way someone felt defensive of their own children.

 

Steve had managed to bypass that, and he made it look easy though it probably was anything but.

 

“I’ll give you a ride sometime,” Steve offered.

 

Bucky’s mouth opened, not sure what he was going to say.  His heart was pounding so quickly with nerves that the fact he was almost instantly aroused was secondary.  He was staring with his mouth open as Steve winked at him before getting up and heading for the door.  It was a fantastic exit with a fantastic parting line, and immediately Bucky wanted him to come back, itching for more contact.

 

Bucky stayed in the room for a long time, thinking.

 

Ok, not thinking so much as recovering from ‘I’ll give you a ride sometime’ because WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?

 

Flirting.

 

Actual flirting.  That’s what it was.

 

Help.

 

 

By the time he emerged, there weren’t many people left in the living room, just the ones he (unfortunately) knew.  Brianna and her boyfriend were staring at an iPad and whispering, before handing it over to Steve.  Becca noticed him come in and rolled her eyes at him, getting up off the couch to go grab her jacket.  She understood him, and was slowly learning that Bucky had a far lower tolerance for human interaction these days than he had before.

 

"It's fucking weird," Frank was saying as Bucky stood uncertainly to the side, wondering if he should say goodbye to Steve diectly.  "Right, Steve?"

 

"The artist is very talented," Steve answered in a noncommittal tone, passing the iPad back.  It was at just the right angle that Bucky could see what was on it, and his heart seized in his chest.  "And I think that there's more to fanart than you understand."

 

"The artist should be forced into therapy and institutionalized," Brianna snapped, tilting the iPad towards Becca.   "Even I understand that.  This is a sign of a sick mind."

 

Becca took one look at the screen and she took a step backwards, her eyes immediately snapping to his face. "Bucky, we need to leave," Becca said, crossing the room and dragging him out of the doorway of the living room. 

 

Bucky would never be more grateful for his sister than he was in that moment, stricken and completely unable to move for himself.  There was white, staticy noise in his head as he stared at the tablet, even though he couldn’t see the screen anymore.  This was it, he thought as Becca grabbed him.  This was his worst fear.

 

She got halfway towards the front entrance, her fingers tight in the sleeve of his shirt before she whirled back on her friend, finger raised to make a point.  "And you know what, I don't think you have a leg to stand on for judging what other people enjoy doing.  Any of you.  Or mental health, for that matter."

 

"God, Becca, if I didn't know how terrible you are at drawing stick figures, I'd think you were the artist," Brianna drawled with the kind of casual cruelty found in people who didn’t realize exactly how impactful their words were to the people around them.  Steve was frowning, a line appearing on between his eyebrows that was both stubborn and fueled by his sense of righteousness.  Bucky recognised it as Steve’s eyes looked up towards him, the line becoming more pronounced as he took in Bucky’s countenance.

 

Bucky opened his mouth to speak first.  He didn’t want to hear whatever it was that Steve had to say, because there were some things he wouldn’t be able to unhear and so far he’d been very lucky with Steve.  Brianna’s words didn’t have as much impact on him – he’d thought similar things about fanart across the years from his ivory tower of thoughtlessness and a lack of understanding.

 

Steve?  Steve’s stance on the subject had the power to break him. 

 

Decision made, Bucky realized, his body language already moving from defensive to offensive.

 

"Becca's not the only one standing in front of you," Bucky drawled with a smirk and a wink, throwing his arms out wide to make himself a larger target.  He knew that they probably wouldn’t take him seriously, but he didn’t care.  "Later, Steve."

 

He left with Becca on his heels, her keys jangling between her fingers.

 

*

 

It wasn’t until they were a block away that what happened really hit him.  Becca had taken one look at the image they were mocking and jumped to his defense with her best friend, someone she’d giggled over things in a judgmental manner almost every day of her life since grade school.  There was only one reason for that, really.

 

"So. You know." Bucky finally said, slouched in the passenger seat of Becca’s car.  Driving still made him a bit tense, but he was starting to think it was because he wasn't the one driving anymore.  He felt miserable, humiliated and exposed.  Too many people had found out about something he considered a secret, and Bucky wasn’t even sure why he was keeping it as one.  Stigma, probably.  He’d never really thought about it until suddenly it was out in the open.

 

"Yeah," she answered, fingers tightening on the steering wheel. Then she snorted, "you've always been too fucking good at everything you do, you know that, right?"

 

Bucky shrugged.  "Not at keeping privacy, apparently."  He slouched a bit more in the seat, hampered by the seatbelt.  He wanted to avoid looking directly at his sister, but his other option was looking out the window and all he could really see was his reflection.

 

"I understand fandom.  You know I do.  I even understand tentacle porn," Becca started laughing.  "Oh god, Buck, I follow someone who loves everything you do and I was seeing all these hot pieces of fanart on my dash,” she started snickering.  “I started paying attention because there was just something… familiar, I guess.  In the way that nags at you but you can’t place.  But then one looked really familiar, too familiar, like somewhere I've sat my ass on."

 

Bucky barked out laughter.  "The couch."

 

"You drew your own fucking couch!" Becca exclaimed.  "There are no two couches that ugly.  That’s how I figured it out.  I actually shrieked and threw my phone away from me.  It was a terrible experience."

 

Bucky smirked at her.  "You liked it," he said, feeling something settle in his chest.

 

"I fucking loved it before I realized the artist was my brother, you weirdo. You almost got me into fandom based on your art alone."

 

It was weird, but the thought cheered him up.  He didn’t need affirmation from people who were close enough to being strangers, but his sister?  "Thanks Becks."

 

"You're my brother," she told him gravely.  "And you'll always be the best at that too."

 

He wanted to snort and gently rib her about getting mushy, but they were words he needed to hear, so he let the atmosphere around them go quiet, her sentiment resting between them and filling Bucky’s headspace with the fact that at least his sister liked him, that at least he had one person in his corner.  “I’m glad I was able to traumatize you a bit,” Bucky told her, because he was her older brother.  “Because that’s how I felt learning that I knew Steve Rogers as a kid in public.  Completely traumatized.  You know how I feel now, a little.”

 

Becca started to laugh.  “So that’s what happened that night with Brianna and Frank.  You ass, I thought you were upset at what I said about the accident.”

 

“No, it takes more than that to upset me.  Like the fact I’m heavily involved in creating things revolving around Steve Rogers naked with another man.  The tentacle porn is just the tip of the iceberg.  Christ,” Bucky moaned, putting his head in his hands and squeezing his fingers against his eyeballs.  “He definitely knows now.  He knows everything.”

 

"He didn't say anything against it, you know,” she pointed out in a reassuring, rational tone.

 

"He didn’t say anything for it, either.  Did you know?" he asked, staring out the window as they drove down the block their childhood home was located on.  He could remember times when this was reversed, when he was driving his sister home after picking her up from a failed date or a party that got out of hand.  He wasn’t sure that he’d been nearly as good at talking to her as she was at talking to him.  Even now, he wasn’t sure how to ask her what he wanted to know.  "That Steve --"

 

"What about Steve?"

 

Bucky just shrugged.  He didn't know how to put it into words, and he didn't feel like sharing.  Someday, maybe, he’d be able to ask his sister about Steve’s possible interest in him.  Bucky wasn’t sure it even mattered anymore.  There was a huge difference between discussing Bucky’s fan status in theory and seeing the evidence of it in front of him.

 

Becca gave him a suspicious look, and he knew she wouldn’t leave it alone.  "What did the two of you talk about?"  She asked, pulling up in front of the house.

 

Bucky shrugged again.  "Besides the fact I’m practically his stalker fan?  He remembers my birthday party… he remembers more than my birthday party."

 

Becca jerked her head towards him, eyes wide.  "Oh.”  She looked genuinely surprised, but the thing Bucky focused on was how she seemed to give weight to what he said.  “No. I didn’t know."

 

Buck had no idea how she’d gotten anything out of that one sentence, but her surprise seemed to echo the way he felt, so he wouldn’t be entirely shocked if she’d pieced something together.  Becca, with her fantastic memory, could sometimes draw together observations based on years’ worth of incidents. It was one of the frightening things about his sister, but at least she didn’t have perfect recall like some kind of television show character.  It took a lot for her to connect the pieces, but once she did she could back up her arguments with truths. 

 

It was terrible trying to get away with being a troublemaker in the Barnes household growing up.

 

“Thanks,” he said as he got out of her car, and it wasn’t for the drive.  It wasn’t even really for sticking up for him.  “I know I’ve been an ungrateful shit these past few months,” he said, leaning through the open doorway to talk to her.  Becca snorted and gave him a sarcastic look, like she was casting shade on whether he ever wasn’t an ungrateful shit.  Granted, she was probably right.  “But I want you to know that I appreciate everything you’ve done.  Since you know now… giving me those DVDs helped more than either of us expected them to.  There’s no way to say thanks for that.”

 

“They were a loan!” she yelled after him, leaning across the passenger seat as he slammed the door in her face.  “OH MY GOD BUCK I DIDN’T GIVE THEM TO YOU.”

 

Bucky smiled and waved, pointing to his ear and pretending he couldn’t hear her.  He could see her debating whether she wanted to get out of the car to continue the conversation, and she settled for rolling down her window.

 

“You’re a shit,” her voice echoed clearly through all the busy-noise on the street before she pulled away from the curb with her middle finger held in the air.

 

Bucky grinned.

 

*

 

I wonder if Steve Rogers likes cock, Bucky texted to Sam.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Even if he does, he’s not getting close to yours.

 

Hey! I’ll have you know that Steve adores me.  He’s seen my fanart!  There’s no way he can resist me.  Don’t be a downer.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Just so long as you don’t kidnap him and hold him hostage.  Then I’ll have to step in along with a team of my constituents.

 

Yeah if I kidnap him you have my permission to be a downer. Bucky thought that was fair.  If he resorted to kidnapping, it was Sam’s job to be a downer.

 

Outside of doing his job, Sam was raining all over Bucky’s enjoyment like some kind of huge funsuck.  When your friend has delusions of getting with their favorite celeb, you pretend it’s possible, Sam!  Wasn’t that fan-101? Next time he texted Bucky about Beyoncé, Bucky was gonna shit all over him in return.

 

Sam hadn’t even met Beyoncé.  There shouldn’t be a comparison.

 

Maybe Bucky should have led with that.  I’ve actually met Steve, ya know.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Now that’s just sad.

Chapter Text

It didn’t take Bucky very long to rebound and decide that he didn’t care what Steve Rogers and his family thought of Bucky’s hobbies.  There were a lot of people who appreciated them and he wasn’t going to allow things that happened away from fandom to impact his enjoyment of it for a second time.

 

In theory.

 

Out of theory, the reality was that he was stuck on the piece he was trying to finish, cleaning up the edges and discoloration on the image scan of watercolors he was trying out.  It sat on his computer for two weeks, taunting him with the fact he couldn’t seem to do anything with it.  For someone who tried to post at least one new thing every few days, the lack of progress felt noticeable to him. 

 

It was… well, it was bad.

 

The art piece.  Watercolors might not be his thing and he thought he might need a second opinion because he couldn’t figure out why.

 

Finally, his brain just decided to kick into gear, letting go of whatever hang-ups he was holding on to.  There was a dispassionate professionalism to the way he worked on Steve’s ass once he got into the zone.  It had taken him so long to get there he wanted to ignore his phone when it rang, but some habits died hard, like the habit of having to answer the phone because an emergency in his field of work was an actual emergency.

 

Besides, even if he took a moment to think about it, he was getting a call from within the house.  That was strange enough for Bucky to answer the phone without any ingrained habits.

 

“Hello?” he questioned in a brusque tone, connecting the call with one finger as he continued to move the stylus with his free hand.

 

“Bucky?”

 

“Mom? What’s wrong?” Bucky questioned. While the timing could be better, his mother never called him, especially when she was home.  He didn’t even know why they still had a landline anymore when both his parents had cell phones, but he thought everyone had habits that were difficult to break.

 

Like bundle packages.

 

“Bucky,” his mother said, her urgency carrying down the phone line.  “There’s someone out front.”

 

Bucky frowned, tablet stylus paused in his hand.  He felt reluctant to put it down because he’d just lost it for four days.  It had a habit of rolling yards at a time and settling into the one place that made it easy to overlook.  Once, it had landed against the white moulding at the foot of the wall, and he hadn’t seen it until the next time he moved the table to vacuum.  This time, it had somehow gotten lost in all his pens.

 

He was cursed.

 

“For me?” he asked.

 

“No,” she whispered, cloth rustling over the line.  “Standing outside the house.”  There was something about her tone that broke through his focus on the image he was working on.

 

“Mom, step back from the window,” he said, and it felt like his brain was sparking online as he tossed his stylus on top of his keyboard, grabbed his phone, and moved across the room so he could retrieve his gun from the safe it was locked in.  He’d made his share of enemies, and it hadn’t been a worry he’d really focused on, but suddenly he felt foolish for not considering the possibility.  For almost every person he saved (or failed to), every situation his team defused with either words or a well-placed shot from a sniper rifle (or failed to), there was someone out there who had the potential to blame the Hostage Rescue Team for their problems, and Bucky looked like the weakest link.  “I want you to stand in the hallway away from the windows and doors while I check it out.”

 

“It’s probably nothing,” she forced a laugh, but he could hear her moving.  “Probably a teenager loitering.”

 

“You’re probably right,” he responded in a soothing tone as he moved up the stairs, keeping away from the angles that would show his shadow moving behind the frosted glass panes in the door.  “I’ll check it out anyway.  I’ll let you know if it’s clear.”

 

His mother was right, there was someone lurking outside the townhouse.  It felt good to know that she trusted him to be able to take care of something like this.  Bucky was definitely more trained to defuse someone casing the house than his father was, weak arm or not.  He didn’t want to imagine his father trying to do this with a paperweight from his study or a fireplace poker.  God, how cliché was that?

 

Bucky took in the scene outside from where he was crouched inside the door, considering his options and went for confrontation.  Before opening the door, he took a picture with his cell phone, hoping to record something that might help if this escalated.

 

It turned out not to be necessary, or else Bucky got the incompetent thug.

 

He opened his front door, and if Bucky didn’t know any better he would swear the guy looked at him and smiled – in a friendly manner, not a sinister ‘I will kill you and then your family’ way.

 

This was bullshit, Bucky fucking hated his life.  He wanted shout ‘whhhhhhy’ to the sky or draw his gun as a scare tactic.  The guy had zero clues about what he was doing – when Bucky opened his front door, it should have been to see the man bolting down the street (or pulling a weapon – any reaction other than standing there with body language like he was happy to see Bucky).  Anyone who was the least bit observant would have noticed his mother at the curtains.  If someone was in Brooklyn for him, the least they could do was give him the courtesy of hiring a professional instead of total amateur hour.

 

He knew there was a scowl on his face even as he was beginning to draw the conclusion that this was someone just innocently loitering on the sidewalk.  Bucky inhaled, preparing to give the man a piece of his mind for scaring his mother and pulling Bucky away from Captain America’s ass.

 

Absolute bullshit. 

 

Bucky paused half-way down the front stairs, recognising the shoulder breadth of the guy in the hoodie in front of him.  Wow.  He could always be wrong, but he was almost certain he was staring down at Steve Rogers, even more certain as Steve turned and looked up at him, his hood failing to hide his up-tilted face, especially that stubborn jaw-line.

 

Somehow, knowing it was Steve Rogers waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs made the scenario even more bullshit, and Bucky was stuck between his scowl and the desire to break out into a goofy grin.  His adrenalin was still pumping at the possibility of danger, and he had no idea how that would translate into a conversation with Steve.

 

Probably with gibberish.  There was a very real possibility that Bucky would open his mouth and say something that translated into the spoken equivalent of a keysmash.

 

"You look like you're about to rob us," Bucky finally found his voice, relaxing his stance so he was no longer a moment away from pulling his gun.  "You're lucky mom called me before she called the cops."

 

"You are the cops," Steve pointed out, grinning like he was completely unconcerned with the police.  Bucky could picture the headline now: Housewife calls police on Steve Rogers standing outside a house in his old neighborhood.

 

Well, at least he’d have company in his ‘whoops I didn’t know’ embarrassment.  Bucky and his mom could go hide somewhere Steve wasn’t very likely to follow.  Maybe New Jersey.

 

"Not anymore," Bucky answered, though he was sure he'd still have enough pull if he needed it. Well.  He wouldn’t, but he knew people.  People other than Sam who would actually help and not just laugh at him.  "And I'm not sure I'd help you get out of being a dumbass."

 

Steve held his hands out, palms up, appealing to Bucky and being just damn appealing with his innocent expression and cute ‘who me’ shrug.   “I was being a dumbass,” Steve agreed.  “I was worried you might not want to talk to me.  I don’t know how to approach you and I was trying to convince myself the best way would be to just walk right up and knock.”

 

Bucky couldn't help but smile, and it was difficult to hold on to any residual animosity in the face of that.  Steve didn’t know how to approach him? Well that was mutual.  It was charming enough to think that maybe Steve was trying to talk himself into knocking on the front door as though Bucky was intimidating.  Looking at Steve’s expression was enough for Bucky to shake off the remaining undercurrent of the ‘defend and engage’ mindset he’d slipped into.  Steve Rogers, adorable dork and incompetent at stealth.  Now that Bucky was looking, he had no idea how he hadn’t taken one look at the man and known who he was.  "Come on in before your legion of fans spot you.  You've got a very distinctive look."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about," Steve answered, following Bucky up the stairs.  "I'm in disguise."  He plucked at his hoodie like it was some kind of great concession and not the exact same one he’d been photographed in a few weeks before while coming out of a gym.

 

Bucky snorted.  "Buddy, I hate to tell you this, but if you want to remain hidden you need to do a better job of hiding your... well, your whole physique for starters."  He opened the front door and stuck his head in the main part of the house.  “Ma, it’s fine.  It’s just Steve.”

 

“Steve?” his mother’s voice called from inside the house.  “Steve who?”

 

“There’s no danger, just an old friend,” he said instead of answering.

 

Bucky quickly shut the door before she could start asking twenty questions and directed Steve through his entrance.  When he was growing up, his parents had rented the basement apartment out to people they trusted.  It had become a starter apartment for a lot of the neighbours’ kids, and later it was where Bucky lived while going to school, the extra space allowing him slightly more freedom: an illusion of it, really.  He hated it then, and he hated it now.  It always felt like he could never get any privacy while living under his parents’ roof, but now he was seeing that as much as it grated on him to have his mom and dad keeping a watchful eye on him, he was in the position to do the same for them.

 

Not that he’d live there forever, but maybe it wasn’t all bad.

 

"How would you recommend I hide it?" Steve asked, grinning at Bucky as he followed him down the stairs.  "You seem to be an expert in my anatomy, so I’d love to hear recommendations."

 

Bucky stopped dead in the entrance to his living room, Steve bumping into his back.  That sense of danger was back, like Bucky’s only two options were fight or flight, but there wasn’t really a point to either.  He couldn’t really think beyond the rush of sound in his ears, as though he could hear how quickly his blood was circulating through his body, his heart pumping at the knowledge that Steve Rogers knew.

 

“Bucky?” Steve questioned in concern, his fingers closing around Bucky’s shoulder and then withdrawing almost immediately.

 

Steve knew. 

 

You seem to be an expert in my anatomy.

 

Fuck.  That was both true and a horrifying thing to hear spoken out loud by the person in question.  Bucky would have to forgive Steve for hovering creepily outside his door, because Bucky was the creepiest of all.

 

"So you figured it out?" he questioned, managing to get the words out, turning his head over his shoulder to look back at Steve. 

 

Either that, or Steve was flirting with him.

 

Weirdly, Bucky thought it might be both.  What was his life(??!) where Steve was in his apartment, smirking at him with his hands shoved casually into the pockets of his hoodie like he was attempting to stop from reaching out and touching Bucky? 

 

Bucky might be projecting that last bit, because Steve's face was right there, and he was close enough that Bucky could lean back against him if he wanted to.  If he wanted to. Ha. Bucky wasn’t even considering it, it would be way too weird. Right?  Damn, he was definitely tempted.

 

"It wasn’t too hard to figure.  You told us," Steve answered, voice in Bucky’s ear.

 

That he had.  "Yeah, but no one actually took it seriously."  He took a step away from Steve and gestured towards his couch.  “Take a seat.  Do you want anything?  A drink?” He looked around his living room to make sure he hadn’t left out anything too incriminating.  The computer screensaver was on, so at least Steve wouldn’t see the messy painting of his uniform that Bucky was desperately trying to find a way to fix.

 

Steve shook his head and dropped to the couch, pushing back his hoodie as he stared at Bucky.  "I'm an artist, did you know that?"

 

Bucky did his best not to look towards his computer to check on the status of his screensaver. 

 

Bucky failed.

 

(the screen was still black)

 

Bucky knew almost everything about Steve that Steve was willing to say out loud, so yes, he did know that.

 

Steve looked amused, like he knew exactly what Bucky was thinking.  Bucky’s face was probably doing something, he realized, taking a seat because he felt he’d need it.  Steve continued looking at him, amused but soft, without any sort of sense of recrimination.  "I mentioned it at ComicCon last year, so of course you know that.  You were covered in charcoal dust.  It was easy enough to trace the picture Frank showed me on the iPad back to your blog, and when your next post turned out to be a charcoal, well..."

 

Part of him felt like he should never have posted that picture, even if his followers had been expecting to see the finished product.  Another part of him was glad that he did, if it led to Steve sitting across from him.  "Ok, Detective America," Bucky smirked back.  "Does this conversation have a purpose, or are we talking about artwork?"  Bucky allowed his eyes to trail over Steve, making it obvious that he considered Steve a form of art, pleased when Steve cast his eyes to the side in a downward sweep, like Bucky was making him bashful.

 

If Bucky thought that deliberately flirting would deter Steve from anything, he should have known better.

 

"You haven’t posted in a while,” Steve shrugged, leaning forward so his elbows were braced on his spread knees.  Steve’s body language was open and friendly, but also slightly uncertain.  That was the part Bucky responded to.  “Just so you know, what you’re doing? - it doesn't bother me, it's art, and artistic expression comes in many forms, even if that form is something that seems designed to make me blush.”

 

Bucky squinted across the room at Steve, turning his head to the side slightly as though changing the angle of his view would make the picture clearer.  He could see Steve just fine - that was the problem.  There was no version of reality where it made sense that someone like Bucky would have someone like Steve in his living room.  It made even less sense for Steve to be commenting on Bucky’s blog posting habits like it was a serious conversation.

 

"I wanted to apologize," Steve continued, uneasily, swiping a hand over his forehead and hairline in a nervous gesture.  "I don't like people making fun of the fans, and I always shut it down, but I didn't start strong enough, I didn't see Brianna's stance coming until it was too late to take it back.  I was too comfortable around family - usually I'm more aware around strangers. And you got hurt in the process."

 

"I'm not some wilting flower," Bucky answered with a sneer at the idea, leaning forward.  He didn’t want to analyse his own body language, but he was self-aware enough to know that advancing rather than shying away was a deliberate choice to punctuate his words.  "Sticks and stones."

 

"That saying is bullshit and we both know it," Steve retorted sharply. "This matters to you, you wouldn't do it if it didn't, and you don't deserve to hear someone pass criticism on that.  No one deserves it, but you most of all, especially from me."

 

"I know how to separate what you said from what she said.”  Bucky shrugged, and then turned the knife, “you didn't say anything."

 

"That's the problem." Steve looked incredibly earnest as he said that, giving Bucky these entreating eyes, like he wouldn’t leave until Bucky understood his apology.  For some reason, all Steve’s words were doing was making Bucky aware that there was a seed of anger inside him at what happened, and Steve was cultivating it.

 

"You're right," Bucky answered in a sardonic tone.  "That is a problem."

 

"So I don't want you to lose faith in Captain America - I don't want what I did, or didn't do, to colour your…” Steve hesitated, looking for the right word, “passion.  I made a mistake, but you make a lot of people happy with your art and I don't want them to lose that because of me, and I certainly don't want YOU to lose something that makes you happy."

 

Bucky started to laugh, he couldn't help himself.  Steve was Captain America, definitely, down to his core.  It was something that he'd always thought based on the interviews he’d watched, but there Steve sat in front of him, in the middle of Brooklyn, apologizing for something he only tangentially had a hand in.  "You think that's why I haven’t posted in a while?" Bucky asked, staring at Steve.  It was getting less difficult to reconcile the man in front of him with being a real person with every moment Bucky spent in his presence.  That's why he had trouble continuing with his art, and this conversation. Was. Not. Helping.  "Maybe it is because of you, but not for the reason you seem to think.  I’m having trouble because I've met you now.  We've had a few conversations and to me you're more solid than the guy I've seen in those interviews.  The Steve Rogers on the internet is just another character, and it's easy enough to draw porn and write about Captain America getting fucked when I haven't looked you in the eye,” Bucky said, making direct and unflinching eye contact, daring Steve to be the one to look away first.  “That's what I'm trying to reconcile, and so far my brain is trying to resist."

 

"You write, too?" Steve answered in surprise.   If Bucky thought he was going to shock Steve with his words, it looked like he’d have to reassess his game plan.

 

"That's what you got out of this?" Bucky turned his head slightly in confusion, feeling the need to sigh heavily.  He didn’t want Steve exploring his writing as well as his art.  That was too much.

 

"How good is it?" Steve asked, picking up his phone with the intent focus of someone looking up information.

 

"Don't!  Don’t read them," Bucky snapped in horror, reaching forward like his arm was long enough to slap Steve’s phone out of his hand.  Steve looked up at him over the screen of his phone, eyebrows clearly indicating that he was at least considering listening to Bucky.  "Promise me you WILL NOT go looking for my writing."

 

"I bet you're good at it," Steve answered, and Bucky noticed that the words were in no way a promise.  "I hear you're good at everything you do."

 

Ok, that was flirting.

 

Maybe.

 

No?

 

"Steve," Bucky said in a pointed tone.  The last time he'd lived in Brooklyn he'd earned a bit of a reputation, but there was no way that Steve had heard about that.  Becca had probably made some comment, that was all.  There was no way Steve meant that to sound as flirty as he did, because that meant that Steve was flirting with him, and while Bucky could admit that it wasn’t impossible, it was also a bit too… tropey for something like this to happen in his life.  "You swear to me."

 

"Hmmm?" Steve hummed in question, distracted by his phone.  "Cocksucker."

 

"What?" He couldn't quite figure out how this conversation had gotten away from him, and Bucky was having a difficult time following the thread that led to Steve Rogers saying ‘cocksucker’ to him like it was an acceptable response, not when his voice seemed to caress the word, amusement evident beneath the deliberate pronunciation.   Bucky… well, Steve wasn’t insulting him, and he wasn’t giving Bucky an invitation, so he was a bit lost.

 

"I swore to you," Steve said, a smirk on his lips like he was reading Bucky’s mind again, but Steve was wrong this time.

 

Blowjobs.

 

Bucky was thinking about blowjobs.  It was impossible not to with the way Steve wet his mouth, his terrible lush mouth that Bucky had focused on far too often not to notice now that Steve was running his tongue over his lips and staring at Bucky as he did it.

 

Steve Rogers was a flirt.

 

"Ha," Bucky managed, because fucking Christ.  "Better stick with acting, I'm not sure you could make it as a comedian."

 

"I've never had any desire to be a comedian."  Steve was grinning, wide and open, showing Bucky a picture on his phone.  Bucky didn’t have to squint across the room to recognise the colours and shapes of it.  He’d spent something like 12 hours sitting in front of his computer finishing the colouring, of course he recognised it.  And Steve had it pulled up on his phone.  Awkward.  “The first time I saw your art was at a convention in Denver three months ago.  Someone wanted it signed, and I asked her if she was the artist.”

 

“Yeah?” Bucky asked, not sure how he felt about someone asking an actor to sign his work.  “Which one?” he nodded at the picture on Steve’s phone.  “That?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve answered, looking down at the picture and smiling, a soft, warm-hearted smile as though he, too, had a personal attachment to the piece.  Steve smiled like it was a fond memory. “She said it was her favourite piece of fanart and that the artist was incredibly talented.  I looked it up when I got back to my hotel.”

 

“What?” Bucky questioned, his voice rising in surprise.  He’d been paying attention to Steve, it was impossible not to stare at him, somehow looking both relaxed and tense on Bucky’s couch.  Steve still appeared like he was sitting in a casual, comfortable position, his elbows braced on his knees as he looked at Bucky.  There was just something about his pose, his expression, that told Bucky that Steve was feeling a lot less casual than he let on.  Steve might be an actor, but Bucky had been trained in reading body language for tells.

 

Steve shrugged.  “I can appreciate skill in other artists.  You’re ok.  There’s room for improvement, of course.”  There was a small smile on Steve’s lips, like he enjoyed giving Bucky shit about the fact he was a novice when it came to art, and it eased something in him to hear Steve treat him without any formality.  Steve wasn’t treating Bucky like he had to censor himself, and it felt obvious to Bucky.  “I really didn’t see it coming that you’re the artist, though.  Wouldn’t have called that.”

 

“Why would you?” Bucky gave a half-hearted grin, waving his hand in agreement.  “I’m not known for my… creative pursuits.  I went to college on a partial sports scholarship, I joined the FBI.  No one looks… looked at me and considered that I might be able to paint, too.   It’s been twenty years since we’ve been in the same room, but I’m sure that if you were given a line-up of possibilities and I was one of them, you still wouldn’t have picked me.”

 

“That depends on what the line-up was for,” Steve answered smoothly, looking at Bucky intently with a smirk growing on his lips, like he liked what he saw.

 

“Are you flirting with me, Mr. Rogers?” Bucky asked, his tone taking on a sibilant quality as he purred the sentence, infusing it with as much flirtation as he could.  They both paused for a moment, observing each other.  “Oh god,” Bucky exclaimed, putting his hand over his eyes.  “Oh my god, I have too much childhood conditioning for that to actually sound anything but wrong.  Are you flirting with me, Mr. Rogers. Gross!” he scrubbed his hands over his face and stared at Steve. “The mental image.  I feel so dirty.”

 

“Uh.” Steve answered eloquently.  “Well.  I had been, but you just poured cold water all over the conversation.  I’m not sure I want to anymore.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Bucky said with as much sincerity as he could manage.  “It’s just.  Mr. Rogers.”

 

“You have an incredibly dirty mind, Mr. Barnes,” Steve decided with a smirk, getting to his feet.  “Debasing a childhood icon like that.  Are you going to be inappropriate about My Little Pony, too?  And on that note,” he gestured towards the door.  “I’m not running from you, I promise.”

 

“That’s funny,” Bucky answered, following Steve towards the stairs.  He didn’t know what to think about Steve leaving, because the conversation they were in the middle of would indicate that maybe he should be worried, but there was something about Steve’s teasing that eased the reaction in his mind.  Plus, it was something to hear Steve say he had a dirty mind but not in a way that addressed the elephant in the room – like he wasn’t even thinking of it in terms of the real reason he should be pointing out Bucky’s dirty mind. “Shouldn’t you be thinking that about the fact I unrepentantly ship Captain Stark?”

 

Steve shrugged both of his shoulders, leaning casually against the front door with his hand braced against the knob.  “You’ve got your reasons.  Can’t really fault you for them, or your taste.”

 

Bucky observed him for a moment, wondering if that was a platitude or not.  Either way, he thought that maybe he could say his thoughts out loud to Steve – somehow, despite the strange turns to their conversation, Steve had established himself as safe. 

 

It was really weird.  Steve Rogers, Bucky’s confidant.   If he was going to be vulnerable to one person, he’d like it to be Steve.  There was symmetry to it, and if Steve was going to be kind without knowing the full story, then Bucky felt like maybe he should know the rest of it.

 

“Yeah, I got reasons.  You know what my job was,” Bucky said, flexing the fingers of his left hand.  They curled inwards, the solid fist a marked improvement over what he could do even a few months before, but if he threw a punch, there wouldn’t be much power behind it.  “I don’t have the mobility in my left hand for that kind of delicate work.  I can’t play the piano like I used to.  Typing.  Typing these stories has helped, some.  Not just my hand,” Bucky admitted, looking up at Steve on the stair above him, surprised when Steve’s hand curled around his in support.  Bucky took a deep breath and continued.  “Coming up with the ideas, plotting them out and getting involved in the community, it… it took me out of myself when I needed to stop being so alone with my thoughts.  When I said your show made it so I didn't have to think, I didn't mean it was mindless.  I meant that some days it was my only reason to get out of bed.  It doesn't matter to me what Brianna thinks, or what Frank thinks, but what you think does matter.  You've put so much life into the character, he's as much you as he is what the script writers put into him.  Your opinion has the weight to destroy everything.  Please," Bucky wasn’t sure what his appeal was for, maybe just for Steve not to take the knowledge he just gave him and use it against him, or maybe it was for Steve to realize, to be more understanding than he already was.  Steve had a never ending capacity for compassion, and Bucky craved some of that directed towards him.

 

"You know," Steve said quietly, accidentally repeating Bucky’s words.  He had listened intently to every word Bucky said, his face reacting in small ways, but at no point did he look judgmental or pitying as Bucky poured out his heart, and Bucky appreciated that more than he could really say.  He looked surprised now, like what Bucky said was having a huge impact on his worldview.  Steve squeezed Bucky’s fingers, biting his lip and leaning closer.  The top landing of the stairs felt like an intimately close location to be having this conversation. "I understand what you mean about one person’s opinion having the ability to destroy what you’ve built,” he hesitated, his eyes somewhere over Bucky’s head as he reminisced with a soft tone before Steve’s eyes jerked back to meet Bucky’s.  “It's ironic that out of all the characters on television, it's Captain America that spoke to you, and yet at the same time it makes perfect sense.  Because really, I based the core of Captain America on you.”

 

Bucky frowned at him.

 

“The boy on the playground,” Steve said, reaching out and touching Bucky.  His hand fell lightly on Bucky’s shoulder for a moment, but the weight of it was a heady and solid sensation that grounded Bucky with Steve’s sincerity.  “You have just as much power over me as I do over you.”

 

“Me?” Bucky wished he could say that he sounded suspicious, or at least confident, but instead the question came out with a soft uncertainty, as though he didn’t dare believe it. 

 

He didn’t dare believe it, but it would have been nice to hide that.

 

“It’s you,” Steve assured him, removing his hand and opening the front door.  They observed each other for a moment, their mutual revelations creating a tension of honesty that Bucky wasn’t sure he’d ever experienced the like of before.  He was sure that kind of vulnerability was a bonding experience. “I need to get going,” Steve said, unnecessarily, but he looked regretful about it.

 

Bucky nodded, but he felt completely off center.  There were different tiers of revelations, and finding out that he knew Steve as a kid felt like nothing compared to the fact that their meeting held so much meaning. Bucky could barely even remember it, and it seemed worse, now, to know that it affected everything.

 

His first reaction was denial.  Bucky wasn’t the kind of person to inspire decades of altruism and kindness.  That kid on the playground spoke best through the threat of violence.  That wasn’t Captain America.


Steve was full of shit.  Bucky hoped that Steve knew that Bucky was aware how bullshit that was.  “A likely story!” he yelled after Steve, watching as Steve moved down the front steps and onto the sidewalk like he was a normal person, and not a minor celebrity. 

 

“Is it?” Steve called back.  No one even seemed to notice there was an actor yelling on the street.  Steve might as well be invisible, and it probably shouldn’t be something Bucky focused on after the conversation they just had, but the weirdness of it struck him.  Steve should be celebrated and fawned over, not completely ignored.

 

Bucky seemed to be the only one watching Steve as he walked away.

 

The moment Steve was out of sight, Bucky ducked back inside and ran to his laptop, typing a search string into google and hoping it would bring up the video he was looking for.

 

Somewhere out there, there existed an interview where Steve talked about the exact thing he’d just attributed to Bucky.  Part of Bucky wanted to watch it to prove Steve wrong, because Steve had to be playing some kind of game.  Maybe that was his game, as in the thing he used to seduce people into sleeping with him.

 

That didn’t seem to fit Steve’s personality and Bucky immediately rejected the idea.  He still felt like he was on uneven ground, not really sure what just happened, but somehow it felt like Steve had just inserted himself into Bucky’s life and Bucky would be an absolute fool to have a problem with that.

 

He watched the video three times before he had to close his laptop.  Bucky continued to stare at the closed lid for half an hour, not really sure how to react.

 

Was there really an easy way to process information like that?

 

It was easy for Bucky to admit that Captain America had saved him in a time when he needed it most.  He could also admit that maybe he was the boy on the playground Steve spoke about.  What Bucky had trouble processing was the correlation: if the show and character of Captain America had dragged Bucky back to life when he needed it the most, and if Steve had based the character off Bucky stepping in and helping him as a child, did Bucky effectively save himself?

 

Or was it more complicated than that?

 

Bucky took a shuddering breath and watched the video again.  He thought maybe Steve had already figured out how undeniably interconnected their lives were, and some days Bucky still felt surprise at the fact he knew Steve Rogers.

 

It was a problem he didn’t know how to solve.

 

*

 

New text from Becca:

Y did mom just txt me asking if I could remember u hving a frnd named Steve?

 

New text from Becca:

omg is Steve over?

 

New text from Becca:

Did u make him sit on ugly couch

 

New text from Becca:

Did it give u a weird boner?

 

New text from Becca:

Did you draw him like 1 of ur French girls?

 

New text from Becca:

omg if u 2 bcome friends itll be 1 of the mst awkwrd starts 2 a frndship evr.

 

New text from Becca:

Wht should I tell mom?

 

New text from Becca:

WOW STEVE’S BEEN OVER FOR A WHILE BUCKY ARE YOU BANGING STEVE ROGERS?????

 

New text from Becca:

I told mom it was Steve Rogers.

 

Bucky scowled at the line of texts.  Couldn’t his sister allow him to process his emotions like an emotionally stunted person and ignore the world?  That would explain why she just knocked on my door with a plate of warm cookies and looked disappointed when I was alone.

 

New text from Becca:

That’s what u get 4 ignoring me asshole.

 

New text from Becca:

Also mom made cookies? I’m coming over and ur telling me EVRYTHNG!

 

Bucky looked at the half-empty plate and shrugged over the fact he ate his feelings again, texting a picture back to his sister.

 

New text from Becca:

STOP STRESS EATING THE COOKIES AND SAVE ME SOME. I’LL BRING BOOZE.

 

It was entirely possible his sister was now his best friend.  God.  He needed the alcohol. Bring more cookies too, he answered her.

 

*

 

Check out this video, Bucky texted Sam.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Let me guess. You think it’s about you.

 

It was about him, Bucky realized.  He was convinced of that much.  He couldn’t quite remember that day on the playground, but there were enough details that he didn’t think it was a lie.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

I bet you think this song is about you, don’t you don’t you.

 

*

 

Bucky sat down with the bluray copies of The Howling Commandos he’d bought himself and never bothered to tell his sister about.  Some day he might return the DVDs to her, but he was kind of attached to the physical copies of them in a way that made him feel kind of pathetic – or had before he learned what it was like to be truly thrown for a tailspin by the show.

 

He watched the show over again, thinking it might be different knowing what he now knew.  As worried as he was about what that could mean, it was a curiosity he couldn’t deny himself.

 

The show didn’t feel any different even if Bucky was part of Captain America.

 

And yet…

 

And YET…

 

He’d once thought that Howard Stark was the character he identified with the most, but viewing Captain America through a new lens made him think that maybe the truth was that he’d been so drawn to the characters because he was similar to both of them.

 

Maybe.

 

(maybe)

 

Bucky was ready to admit that he was a hero, not in the television definition of the word.  He was just a guy who felt the most solid when he felt like he was doing good, and that was something else that he’d be able to take back, because he didn’t need to be in SWAT gear rescuing hostages in order to be a hero.  Captain America was still Captain America, even when he was a scrawny brawler in Brooklyn.  Bucky had written that truth for his character a long time ago,

 

So.

 

So why was it so hard to write it for himself?

 

*

 

New text from Becca:

!!!! GUESS WHT I JST DID???? Unless ur flirting w Brianna, thn ur an asshole.

 

New text from Becca:

BUCKY SRSLY ANSW ME. THIS IS HUUUUUUUUUGE.

 

Becca texted like she only got a certain number of vowels per text and she had to save them up to use to dramatically draw out a word for emphasis.

 

Bucky was just about to answer her when he received another text.

 

New text from Unknown Number:

I got your number from Brianna.  Hope you don’t mind.

 

Oh.

 

OH. That was why Becca was freaking out.

 

Why would I mind?  Bucky didn’t know what else to text.  What should he say to Steve?  It was far easier to talk to him in person.  Even then, he was acutely aware of the uneven footing they were on.  Steve had done a lot to equalize them, but Bucky still felt like Steve might not be someone he should be having conversations with.   Steve seemed to be intent on dispelling Bucky of that notion.

 

New text from Steve:

You know who this is?  Presumptuous, aren’t you?

 

Frank, right? Bucky texted back with a smirk.  I have to tell you, you’re a jerk.

 

New text from Steve:

I know, but you know who’s great? Steve.

 

Nah, he might be overrated.  He moved away from Brooklyn. Let Steve answer that one.

 

New text from Steve:

So did you, jerk. 

 

Ohhh, Bucky liked someone who could bring it.  It made him grin at his phone, a little goofily.  Because of people like you, Frank. Because of people like you.

 

*

 

Thank you, Bucky texted Steve.  It was late at night, and he just finished rewatching the entirety of The Howling Commandos

 

New text from Steve:

You’re welcome.

 

You don’t even know what I’m thanking you for.

 

New text from Steve:

I could guess any number of things, and all of them deserve that response.  What are you thanking me for?

 

Being you, Bucky decided.  And for being Captain America.

 

New text from Steve:

Thank you for being Bucky Barnes.  You’re important to that too.

 

I don’t think you give yourself enough credit, Bucky told him.  Steve Rogers inspires more than Bucky Barnes ever did.  You have thousands of people looking up to you.  That wasn’t exactly what he wanted to say, and it was so late at night that it was amazing Steve was even answering him.  Figuring out his own thoughts was difficult, but he felt the need to share them with Steve because Steve had to know.

 

New text from Steve:

You’re the most important.

 

That was categorically untrue.  Look, maybe I inspire you and I’m glad there was someone there to do it, but if it wasn’t me someone else would have.  You can’t say that everything after was because of one person, because each choice was yours.  YOU DID IT ALL and comparing yourself to some kid on some playground isn’t fair to you because not everyone would make the choices you have.  Your life and your accomplishments aren’t mine, they’re yours.  I won’t take credit for them.

 

It took so long for Steve to respond that Bucky wasn’t sure if he’d completely overstepped or if Steve had fallen asleep in the five minutes it took him to compose the text.  He put his phone down beside him, telling himself that he’d sleep, but instead he kept checking to see if Steve responded.

 

Finally, Bucky was drifting off when Steve responded.

 

New text from Steve:

Thank you.

 

*

 

Fuck, he totally had a crush on Steve.

 

It shouldn’t be surprising, considering his massive love for actor: Steve Rogers and character: Captain America.

 

And yet, Bucky was staring at the ceiling of his bedroom in shock for at least fifteen minutes before he started laughing.

 

His life.

 

*

I might go back to work, Bucky texted.  He’d already told Sam and his family, but he was riding on the high of the decision, feeling a sense of purpose for the first time in a while.

 

New text from Steve:

Yeah?

 

Back to the FBI.  It’s just a desk job.

 

New text from Steve:

It’s not JUST anything.  It’s good, if it’s what you want.

 

It was what he wanted, Bucky thought, it was what he needed.  There were a lot of things that changed in his life since the accident, but his loyalty to the Bureau wasn’t one of them.  What I want is to get back to where I was. I don’t know if it’ll ever pass the required physical and psych evals tho.

 

New text from Steve:

Captain America believes in you.

 

You fucking dork, Bucky answered, biting off a laugh.

 

New text from Steve:

Maybe I’ll get down to DC sometime.

 

Nah don’t bother, Bucky answered, tapping his finger as he waited the required amount of time for Steve to read the text and react to it.  Then he sent: I don’t think I’m leaving Brooklyn this time. But you’re welcome to visit me here.

 

New text from Steve:

Who said anything about visiting you? Maybe I like the architecture of the US Capital Building.

 

Tell me the truth. You really are Captain America amirite?

 

New text from Steve:

I deny everything.

 

Everything? Bucky teased.  The moon landing?

 

New text from Steve:

Yes.

 

That Brooklyn is better than Queens?

 

New text from Steve:

Yes.

 

That your family still secretly cheers the Dodgers?

 

New text from Steve:

Willingly! Yes.

 

Bucky snorted.  Ok, he’d have to figure out a better one, something that would Steve would grit his teeth to deny.  Your love for your motorcycle?

 

New text from Steve:

Oh you went THERE. Fine. Yes.

 

Captain America’s bisexuality, Bucky sent, and then immediately wished he could take it back and reword it.  He didn’t want to see Steve’s response to that, because he didn’t want it denied, even for carrying on a gag.  He was such an idiot.  Way to go for shooting himself in the foot like he was inexperienced with the loaded gun that was the word ‘bisexual.’  Bucky pressed the screen of his phone against his forehead and screwed up his eyes before looking at the response.

 

New text from Steve:

I don’t know about Captain America, but if we’re the same person then I can’t deny that.  Would never, not even for a joke.

 

But then, Bucky also knew a thing or two about testing people and what it felt like when they passed.  Because holy shit, that was amazing confirmation.  That’s why you’re a hero to many, Bucky sent back, glib as always, but really fucking pleased with himself, with Steve, and just with the world in general.

 

He just confirmed that Steve Rogers liked cock.  He should tell Sam, but like Sam said, even if Steve did like cock, that didn’t mean he was getting close to Bucky’s.

 

Bucky couldn’t stop smiling anyway.

 

*

 

“Hello?”  Bucky answered his phone, knowing what his caller ID said but not believing it until he confirmed it with his own ears.  Why would Steve be calling him?  Steve was under the age of 40. He knew how to text. 

 

’Do you know what a synonym for Howling Commando is?” Stark asked, a glint in his eye.  “Naked Shrieker.  Will you do that for me?’” Steve started off with.  “I’m so sorry, but I was bored and curious.”

 

“Oh my god,” Bucky said, feeling like the ground beneath him was opening up and swallowing him whole, fingers clasped around his phone.  He wasn’t sure if his skin felt like it was burning more from embarrassment or a hot kind of fury at his request being ignored.  “I asked you not to read my fic!”

 

’Why do you think I’m the one who will shriek?’ the Captain questioned in a low tone.’” Steve continued, in his smooth, deep tone.  There was a third reason for the heat burning up his neck now, a crawl that was slower to start but that was far more potent.  Arousal.  It was doing things to Bucky that Steve was reading to him in the exact way he imagined Captain America talking to Howard Stark.  “I know, I’m not actually sorry.  This is amazing.”

 

“Don’t laugh at me,” Bucky said. Damn.  He probably wasn’t going to hold on to his anger for very long.  In fact, the only thing he would probably be able to get a good grasp on was very inappropriate for him to put his hand around right now.  He knew what was coming next, what Steve was about to read, and as horrifying and embarrassing as it was, if Steve read the words out loud, Bucky didn’t think he’d ever recover.

 

“I’m not laughing at you,” Steve insisted.  “I’m actually.  God, I don’t know what I’m doing.  I meant to just check it out, maybe give myself something to use as gentle ribbing, but these stories are…”

 

This was it.  Steve was going to say something mean, something he didn’t even realize would crush Bucky’s entire world, and the fantasy would be gone for him.  Not the fantasy where Steve and Bucky could ever be a thing, but the vision where Captain America and Howard Stark had a chance in the landscape of Bucky’s mind.

 

“They’re really good, Bucky,” Steve continued in a gentle tone.

 

“But,” Bucky hedged, pulling up the story on his phone.  He might be the author, but that didn’t mean he had the piece memorized word for word.  With his memory, it was lucky he recognized it as something he wrote at all.  

 

“But nothing.  I think I have an intellectual boner for your storytelling abilities."

 

“Bullshit,” Bucky laughed because Steve wasn’t saying the words Bucky didn’t need to hear, and it relaxed a bit of the turmoil inside of him.  He knew it was still possible that Steve might say something damaging, but Bucky also thought a lot of Steve Rogers outside of the Captain America suit, and even though he was being an absolute shit by calling Bucky up and reading the fic out loud to him, there was something honest about it, something that made it feel like Steve was handling this with care, maybe on purpose or maybe just out of respect.

 

“Won’t you?” Stark asked, his hand moving up the Captain’s thigh.  “I might not be a military man, but believe me I’m giving you a full salute.”

 

“Not yet, but you will give it to me,” the Captain responded, getting to his knees.

 

Jesus.

 

Jesus fuck, if Bucky thought Steve’s voice was devastating on TV or in person, it was even worse to hear it over the phone line, caressing the words Bucky had written, the smoothness of it falling away to reveal a gritty, almost breathless undertone.

 

And Bucky finally figured out what this was and why Steve was calling him.

 

Holy shit.

 

"You should know that you can't talk dirty with that voice of yours without it leading to sex," Bucky answered, not sure what his own voice was doing.  He meant for indignant, but there was enough of a rasp that it came out sounding more turned-on than anything.  Well.  It wasn't like he'd ever successfully hidden anything from Steve Rogers, so that was about right.

 

"Is that so?" Steve asked, with a very deliberate smoothness.  "Is that what this conversation is leading to?  Your hand on your cock while I read your own porn to you."

 

Fuck. Yeah.

 

Steve definitely had an agenda.

 

"Jesus fucking Christ.  Steve, you can't fucking say things like that.”  Bucky closed his eyes and inhaled hard, trying to find some equilibrium.  He’d been aroused listening to Steve talk.  Steve directing the conversation towards phone sex was not something Bucky thought he could handle.  He’d probably end up coming in his pants within fifteen seconds.  “Yes,” he answered through gritted teeth, because if Steve was daring to go in that direction, then Bucky wasn’t going to get left behind.  “That’s where this conversation is heading unless you change the subject.”

 

“Unbutton your pants.”

 

Steve wasn’t changing the subject.  Steve was chasing after the subject.

 

Bucky shouldn’t be surprised, but somehow the frankness of it still managed to make his eyebrows wing up as he stared down at his pants. 

 

Pants he was supposed to unbutton.

 

Ok, he could do that.

 

Bucky was wearing sweatpants, but whatever.  He wasn’t going to nitpick on something Steve couldn’t see anyway, he thought, hooking his thumb beneath the elastic band and shimmying until they were down over his thighs.  Once he decided that this was something he was going to get involved in, Bucky took a deep breath and brought his best a-game. “It feels amazing to have my hand on my dick and your voice in my ear.  Are you hard?”  He waited a beat, listening to Steve inhale in his ear.  “Are you thinking about me?”

 

“Oh fuck. Yes,” Steve said, making a reedy, needy sound instead of reading the next line of the story.  “Bucky, please, you need to…”

 

“Fuck you?” Bucky questioned, his eyes skimming the page.  Stark was telling the Captain that he wanted to bend him over the debrief table while fucking his mouth.  Something had prompted Steve into calling him, and Bucky suspected that the answer rested in the text.  “Is that what you like?  Or do you like being on your knees with a cock fucking your mouth.”

 

Steve laughed, a desperate snort of mirth he didn’t seem to be able to help.  “Both.”

 

“Yeah?” Bucky couldn’t seem to be able to catch his breath.  He wasn’t joking about Steve’s voice in his ear being a devastating addition to his night-time routine of jerking off.   He was painfully hard and it felt like he was on a hair trigger, like dragging his thumb over the sensitive spot on the head of his dick threatened to set him off, and at the same time he was sure that he wasn’t even close to coming, not enough actual stimulus.  He sped up the drag of his hand, tilting his phone against his ear to make sure Steve could hear the movement and the rasp of his breath.  “I’d be so good at doing that for you,” he promised, not entirely sure what he was saying anymore. There wasn’t a filter, there was just Bucky and his filthy mind and dirty mouth. “I’d open you up until you were sobbing for it, lick you out.   Take my time fucking you. You wouldn’t know where you were anymore except on my cock.”

 

“Bucky,” Steve rasped, sounding completely destroyed.

 

"I'd draw it out," Bucky found himself saying.  "Savor it.  Is your hand on your cock, Steve?  Tell me."

 

"Yes," Steve's voice was thick, like he was talking through syrup.  Like his tongue wasn’t quite working. "How could it not be?  I can hear you, and I want to touch you so badly.  I want your hands all over me."

 

"Tell me," Bucky urged him on. 

 

“I don’t know how.  I don’t have the way with words that you have,” Steve bit off the end of that sentence with a groan. 

 

“That’s it, isn’t it?”  Bucky questioned, a low sigh emerging from his mouth as he dragged his thumb over the head of his dick, reveling in the feel of it.  It was one of his patent moved he used on himself.  “My way with words.  Did you call me already hard?  Are you turned on by my writing?  At the idea of me consistently getting off to your character?”

 

Steve snorted, but it sounded semi-pained, like he couldn’t believe the truth either.  “I don’t know why.  I shouldn’t, right?”

 

“You can feel whatever you want to.”

 

“I don’t know what I want to feel.  When I first saw you by the pool,” Steve said, his tone soft in Bucky’s ear.  “I knew who you were immediately.  I don’t know why I didn’t realize before I approached you that I’d be attracted to you, but it was like a punch to the gut.  You were gorgeous and I felt… inadequate.  Like I was fifteen years old and I didn’t know what to say to you or how to talk to you.”

 

“Steve,” Bucky appealed, his voice emerging like a breathless whimper.  Steve didn’t even have to make his tone seductive or use words designed to take Bucky apart.  His earnestness did it anyway.

 

“I do know what I want to feel,” Steve amended.  “I want to feel exactly like this about you.  I want to feel the way my heart stutters when you smile at me and the way I want to protect you when you’re sardonic and assume I’ll think the worst about your hobbies, even as you stare at me with defiance.  I want to feel your hands on my skin and the weight of you on top of me.  I want to feel the way you write Captain America feeling.  I want you to press me down as you fuck me and make me come so hard I don’t know my own name.”

 

“Christ,” Bucky bit off, Steve’s words making him arch off his bed, hips moving in a hard thrust against his hand.  It only took tightening his grip as he turned his wrist around the head of his cock for Bucky to come with a gasp, Steve’s words and breath in his ear.  “Yeah,” he murmured back, swallowing as his voice came out sounding completely wrecked, like he’d just spent five minutes with Steve’s cock hitting against the back of his throat.  “Yeah,” he said again.  “I can do that.”

 

He was vaguely aware of Steve’s breathing, the way it had been getting faster, harsher, with each sentence he spoke.  His voice had dipped towards the end, like each word was difficult to get out.  He was breathing in rapid inhales, the exhale cutting off on what could sound like a pained whine in any other context. 

 

Bucky could do something about that.  “I’ll finger you open until you’re wet and desperate to come, but I won’t let you until you’re underneath me, riding my dick you need it so bad.”

 

And yeah, that was exactly what Steve liked if the startled, strangled sound was any indication.

 

Afterwards, they were silent, the only sound the rapidness of their breath and the minute shifting of their bodies as they settled into more comfortable positions, muscles lax and brains still unable to fully form thoughts.

 

Bucky listened to Steve’s breath evening out, and through it Bucky was wondering if what just happened was something that changed the context of their relationship or if it was a natural addition to it. 

 

He’d just… phone sex.  With Steve. 

 

They remained silently breathing into each other’s ears as the possibility of panic eased into comfort and a drowsy sleepiness that had Bucky smiling as Steve grumbled about clean-up in his ear.

 

“And you said you didn’t have a way with words,” Bucky teased lightly.  He was trying not to think too hard about the fact that most of what Steve had said in his ear was emotion-based, and how well he’d responded to it. 

 

“Not the way you do,” Steve answered.  Repeated.

 

“No, but your style works for me anyway.”

 

“I could tell,” Steve answered, the smirk evident even though Bucky couldn’t see him.

 

“You’re attracted to me?” Bucky questioned with a grin.

 

“You’re gorgeous.”

 

“You’re surrounded by gorgeous people all the time.”

 

“Sure,” Steve said, and his tone indicated he was about to be a sarcastic shit.  “But if you’re searching for a compliment, maybe I think you have an inner beauty instead of an outer one.  I mean, have you seen your face?  It would have to be.”

 

“Hey, now,” Bucky protested with a laugh. 

 

“You brought it on yourself,” Steve teased.  “Do you remember what I say in interviews when I get asked what my ideal person is?”

 

“That with the right person, what you like becomes a list of their traits.”

 

Steve hummed.  “I say a lot of shit, but you should watch it again, maybe.”

 

And, well, there wasn’t really anything to say to that.

 

“I start work tomorrow,” Bucky found himself opening up in the ensuing silence.  His mind and body felt floaty, like he was about to drift back to sleep, and he felt the need to fill the stillness with sound, hoping it would keep Steve there with him for as long as possible.  

 

Steve made a soft sound in the back of his throat.  “That’s good, Buck.  I’m glad.”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky answered with a smile, drifting a bit.  Good.  That was how he felt.  So good.  “It’s good.”

 

*

 

He woke up an hour later to the sound of his phone battery warning him it was dying, obnoxiously reminding him the call had ended.  He scowled at it, plugging it in to the cord he kept beside his bed and taking a second to check that his alarm was on.

 

*

 

HOLY SHIT HE HAD PHONE SEX WITH STEVE!

 

*

 

No, but actually, the timing was the worst.  How was he supposed to concentrate on his first day when he just kept smiling goofily and having flashbacks to Steve saying ‘I want to feel the way you write Captain America feeling’?  His brain was melting a bit because shit.

 

The things he’d written about Captain America.

 

#NSFW.

Chapter Text

Working a desk job wasn’t something Bucky had ever seen himself doing, but it gave him the routine and stability that he felt like he’d been craving.  He quickly found that his job was just a job, it wasn’t something that he loved anymore. Once, his life had revolved around what he did; it was his passion, and getting out of bed in the morning to get to work was an effortless endeavor.  He didn’t feel that anymore, instead he felt an overwhelming and pressuring sense of all the work he’d have to do just to get out from behind the desk. There were a bunch of tests he’d have to re-take, most importantly physical ones, to get back to a Special Agent level.  He didn’t know if he’d ever make it back to the job he had before the accident, but trying was at least a positive step forward that he hadn’t felt possible even a few months before.

 

He thought it was something that he still wanted, but part of him also thought it was a shame he couldn’t make a living off fanfiction.  He knew that was something he enjoyed now.

 

“Write a novel,” Becca pointed out over mozza sticks after he finished explaining to her that he was having difficulties balancing a 9 to 5 job with fic writing, and had gotten so used to having the freedom of going to bed when he wanted to when inspiration struck late at night, that he didn’t know how to wake up at the same time every day anymore.  He’d spent his second week on the job going through the motions, so exhausted that critical thinking was difficult.  Luckily, being a paperwork drone didn’t need many critical thinking skills, but unluckily he hadn’t been there long enough to rely on muscle memory to take him through the day.

 

9 to 5? 9 to 5 sucked.

 

What he didn’t tell Becca was that only two of the five nights that left him running on little sleep had to do with story inspiration.  The other three were because he was on the phone with Steve for far later than either of them could really spare.  Steve had to be awake earlier than Bucky did.

 

“A novel isn’t the same.” Bucky contemplated it as he chewed on his appetizer. He was writing out of passion, out of a need to explore the possibilities between Captain America and Howard Stark that the show would never explore.  He wasn’t writing for the sake of writing itself, he was writing to assuage an itch, a desperation that didn’t leave until he put words to paper, and some of that drive didn’t come from what was or wasn’t on the show, but instead with things he needed to get out of himself.  There was a whole community of support already in place for him, in a way people who read novels never interacted with the author. 

 

In that context, why would he want to write a novel?

 

“No it’s not,” she answered in a straightforward tone.  Becca had always been one of his greatest allies in the role of his sister, but now she understood him.  She wagged a mozza stick in his direction. “But you have the potential to make money if you sell a novel.”

 

There was that.

 

*

 

New text from Steve:

Peggy just kicked me in the balls.

 

Oh damn. No phone sex tonight? Bucky answered, smirking down at his phone.  He was in the middle of writing a scene where Captain America temporarily lost his hearing due to an explosion and managed to hide it from the team.  Later, Stark would discover it and ask how, and Captain America would point out that he grew up partially deaf.  Not much could drag him away from his writing now that he was in the zone, but Steve was definitely an exception.

 

New text from Steve:

Maybe not for a while.  Kiss it better?

 

You’ve got a dirty mind.  Bucky was outright smiling now.

 

New text from Steve:

You’ve got a dirty mouth.

 

You’re damn right.  And this dirty mouth is craving Korean food.  New place just opened where Boyle’s candy store was.  Remember that?   This was definitely flirting and Bucky felt on top of the world for a second, imagining Steve thinking about his mouth.  Maybe he’d invite Steve out on a date, test the waters to see if Steve was looking for something in person, or if Bucky would be the guy Steve called up when he was horny and needed a voice in his ear to help with that.

 

Bucky was ok with that for now, when it was new and felt a bit like illicit fun, but he’d never be someone’s dirty little secret.  He wouldn’t even do that for Steve.

 

New text from Steve:

Yeah. The humidity from the Laundromat next door always made the gummies stick togthr. Gtg

 

Bucky wasn’t worried about the abrupt end to the conversation.  When Steve texted him on filming days, he tended to be a sporadic texter when he could find a few seconds to grab his phone.  Now Bucky was imagining him icing his balls with one hand and texting him with the other, and it made him laugh.  Maybe we can go sometime? he answered back, knowing Steve wouldn’t receive it until later.

 

Then he went back to writing because the day only had so many hours, and if he wasn’t actually talking to Steve, then he had other important things to do, namely Howard Stark doing Captain America. 

 

*

 

He didn’t hear from Steve until the next day, the warmth of summer making his shirt stick to his back as he walked the few blocks between the FBI office he worked at and the subway station that would take him home.  He felt an itching on the back of his neck like he was being watched, and it left him paranoid even though he knew it was probably the other people from the Bureau also leaving work for the day.  He spotted three of them walking down to the platform around him, and Bucky marvelled at the normalcy of working a desk job, even for something like the FBI. 

 

New text from Steve:

What are you up to?

 

Bucky grinned at his phone, unable to stop himself from being delighted that Steve was texting him, even if he had never gotten a response to his invitation for supper. It was another constant to his routine: Steve texted, Bucky smiled at his phone. Heading home from work, he answered, thumb moving quickly across the screen.  As he was waiting, impatiently looking down the line waiting for the train’s late arrival, Bucky kept glancing at his phone and hoping for an answer from Steve.  He felt restless with impatience when neither appeared.

 

He supposed that was what he got for texting a guy who spent his day on a set where a cell phone would be an anachronism: sporadic contact, at best.

 

Once the train arrived, he tried to shove his cell phone back in his pocket and not think about it, but that never worked well when avoiding eye contact in a closed space was an art-form that should go down as an Olympic sport.  Bucky couldn’t even remember what people did before cell phones.  Either they brought a book or they stared at their feet a lot.  New Yorkers weren’t typically the most friendly group towards strangers, but there were certain social expectations when he was heading back to Brooklyn with a few faces he’d seen regularly at work.  Bucky didn’t exactly want to make small talk with his coworkers.  They’d finally figured out that Bucky was (formerly) part of a legendary team based out of the headquarters in DC and had taken to smiling at him with cloying sympathy every time they asked how he was adjusting. 

 

If meeting Becca’s friends wasn’t his villainous origin story, hearing ‘hang in there, champ! It’ll get easier’ from people he could out-shoot even without full mobility in one arm might be.

 

He was just digging his cell back out of his pocket when something caught his attention.

 

Bucky felt like sighing and rolling his eyes when the guy hiding his face slipped into the car at the last moment, head down but eyes taking in his surroundings in a less than subtle manner.  Someone needed to teach this guy how to be stealthy, and Bucky was starting to think it might be a hopeless task.  How did you hide a man who looked like Steve Rogers?

 

Seriously, though, Steve! 

 

He was aware that he was staring, but it was less the stare of someone checking out the complete hottie approaching him on the train and more the stare of someone completely unimpressed by the hottie’s ability for surreptitiously blending in with normal, not-famous people.

 

Bucky would give him points for hunching his shoulders and shoving his hands into his pockets.  As an actor, Steve should be a bit better at changing his walk so that he didn’t look like Captain America, because as much as hunching his shoulders helped hide his height, there was an almost proud length to his legs that didn’t fit the image he was trying to portray.  It was just sad, Bucky decided as Steve slid into the seat next to him.

 

“What are you doing here?” Bucky murmured, trying his best to glance around himself covertly, only to be marginally surprised that no one was looking up at Steve from beneath their eyelashes or pointing their phone in his direction.  As always, it was blatantly obvious to him that the guy in the cap and the hoodie was Steve Rogers, and as always, he seemed to be one of the only people not fooled by the disguise.  Steve always drew appreciative glances, but none that spoke of instant recognition. 

 

“Is that any way to treat a friend?” Steve asked, the corner of his mouth tilting up.  “I enjoyed our conversation the other night.”

 

Fuck. In all the phone sex they’d been having, the other night had been. Well.  It had been when Steve let go enough to reveal how loud and filthy his mouth could get.  Bucky felt himself go hot at the memory of it as Steve sat there with an expression on his face that was far too innocent not to be deliberate.

 

“Jesus Christ,” Bucky decided, tilting his head back to rest against the window for a second.  He considered banging it with more force, but figured that would just be a wasted effort.  Steve started strong.  Bucky might not survive.

 

“Do you want to get dinner with me?” he asked, knee knocking into Bucky’s and not giving him enough time to regroup after remembering the way Steve had groaned Bucky’s name in his ear after a litany of swear words.  “I drove by that small Korean place you mentioned last night and want to try it.  Seems wrong not to go with you.”

 

“So you just got on the train with me instead of answering my text?” Bucky asked, feeling a bit incredulous.  This type of thing didn’t happen in real life.  Normal guys didn’t look up and find they had an actor groupie following them around.  There was an irony there.

 

Ok, that was extremely unfair.  He and Steve were in some kind of limbo between dating and not dating, it wasn’t like Steve was a complete stranger.  He knew enough about Bucky to be sitting beside him.

 

“I was trying to stop by your office when I got your text about heading home,” Steve shrugged.  “Did I overstep?”

 

“What if I’m not actually heading home?” Bucky smirked at Steve from the corner of his eyes. That was ridiculous.  Overstep?  Bucky was trying his best not to be inordinately pleased by this turn of events.  Steve didn’t seem to want to keep Bucky hidden away.  “Maybe I’m not getting off at my usual stop.”

 

Steve liiiiked him.

 

“Then I guess I’m with you til the end of the line,” Steve answered smoothly, settling closer in his seat. 

 

Bucky sighed, doing his best to seem put-upon as he choked back a laugh.  “No need to be so dramatic about the F line. At best we end up at Coney Island, at worst Queens. No, what if I have plans? What if I’m heading out for a date?” he raised his eyebrows at Steve expectantly.

 

Steve looked thoughtful, his mouth not even quirking up in response to the way Bucky was biting his lip.  Steve was definitely better at this acting thing than he was, even if he was shit at blending in with a crowd.  “I realize it’s possible.  You’re decently attractive and semi-intelligent—“

 

“Gee, thanks,” Bucky drawled, leaning closer to Steve so he could see that Steve’s already ridiculous eyelashes had hints of mascara on them and he was still wearing traces of makeup from the set.  Bucky hadn’t thought of things like ridiculous eyelashes before he joined fandom, but he was noticing the hell out of them now.  Christ, someone should either stop Steve’s makeup artist or give them a raise.

 

“No problem,” Steve grinned, focusing on Bucky’s mouth.  “See, I doubt you’re heading out for a date because you’re kind of curious about what’s going on with me. So tell me,” Steve questioned with a raised eyebrow and a challenging expression, “are you dating anyone else?”

 

Anyone else, Steve said. Else.

 

“Asshole,” Bucky muttered, but he couldn’t deny it.  He had trouble not grinning at Steve like an idiot.  “No.  No one else.”

 

“Dinner, then?” Steve questioned, the corners of his eyes crinkled with mirth.  God, he was such a little shit, and Bucky was totally into it. Totally, totally dating-it-into-it. “I really want to try to make us work, and I’ll keep asking you if now isn’t a good time, but I’d really like it if you said yes.  Unless, you really don’t want to?”  Steve’s expression crumbled a bit, showing uncertainty but also the sincerity that Bucky expected from him.  He had no doubt that if he told Steve to back off, he would, just like he had no doubt that Steve would wait for him to get his head on straight if he said he needed it.

 

“I do,” Bucky promised, sliding his fingers beneath Steve’s hand braced on his own thigh.  Steve moved his fingers so that they were holding hands, and Bucky felt like he was new to this whole dating thing, heart thrumming in his chest because he was nervous and a little awestruck, hand sweating at the idea that someone actually wanted to date him.  There was nothing about Steve Rogers that felt familiar in the way dating did once one reached their twenties.  Bucky was always one step away from pulling away from him out of fear and over-exhilaration, and he loved it.

 

Steve grinned at him and held his hand.  Bucky knocked his head against Steve’s shoulder in response, holding on until his body’s response evened out into something that didn’t make him wonder if his legs would give out on him if he tried to stand.  They wouldn’t, of course, but the idea of Steve holding his hand was far more potent than some one-night stands Bucky had had in recent years.

 

He was so far gone on this guy.

 

*

 

There wasn’t really anything about the food that would stick in Bucky’s memory. 

 

There was a lot about the company that he was sure he wouldn’t forget.  Steve was really funny and sarcastic, but then Bucky already knew that about him.  What Bucky would always remember was how it felt to sit across from Steve, understanding that the romantic atmosphere meant something more than just a date.  From someone like Steve, it meant a kind of commitment. 

 

“You’re not worried about people seeing us together and starting a rumour that we’re dating?” Bucky questioned, because it was one thing for Steve to agree to go out with him, but it was quite another thing if he hadn’t considered the larger implications.  Bucky would guess with 98% certainty that Steve had thought it out in detail, had started even before Bucky had sent the text asking him to get supper.

 

It was the other 2% that had him feeling the itching, pressing need to double check, and most of that was based on Bucky’s own insecurities and the experience of being out and open about his sexuality for most of his life, but occasionally dating people who weren’t.  That got old very quickly.

 

“No.”  The words and tone were direct as Steve’s eyes met his, his gaze unfettered by a cap or a hood.  The man sitting across from Bucky was very obviously Steve Rogers to anyone who took a moment to look.  “I want to date you. If that means everyone knows that we’re dating, then I want that too.  You know,” Steve paused, tilting his head to the side as he smiled at Bucky.  “I had this hero-worship crush on you in first grade.  It’s two decades later and I haven’t been carrying a torch this entire time, but you already mean a lot to me, so I’m curious to see if this will go where I think it will.”

 

“Where’s that?”

 

“There aren’t really any limits,” Steve shrugged, taking a bite of his food.  “I’m not worried about people talking about the truth.  I’ll announce it to the world without hesitation.  I’m prepared for what that means.  Are you?  It won’t be easy for you either.”  Steve looked concerned, like maybe Bucky wasn’t prepared for what it meant to date him.

 

As if Bucky didn’t know what he was in for.

 

“You know,” Bucky reflected, taking a sip of water.  “I am.  I’m actually very aware of what people will be saying about me, even on the corner of the internet I frequent – or maybe especially there.  I think that I can make that promise too – that I’m with you on this no matter how difficult it is.  I know what I’m getting into.”  If there was one thing Bucky knew, it was the amount of hatred he’d be opening himself up to for dating Steve.  He wasn’t even sure if Steve understood the extent of it.  Steve would have to take the brunt of the homophobic questions and comments, possibly even loss of income if he was out and open about his relationship with Bucky – but Bucky would have to deal with asinine judgement of his looks and sweeping acknowledgement of how he wasn’t good enough for Steve in the same space he considered to be a safe place.

 

Steve snorted, putting his hand over his eyes like he couldn’t believe he was about to say something.  Bucky thought it was endearing, but he’d experienced enough of Steve’s dirty mind that he was slightly worried about what was about to come out of Steve’s mouth.  “End of the line, right?”

 

“Hopefully not,” Bucky answered, cheeks full of food.  “I’d like to think it won’t be over so soon.”

 

“I don’t think it will be.”  Steve’s tone was soft as he ducked his head, adorably shy now that he wasn’t reassuring Bucky of his intentions and asking for similar commitment in return. 

 

“No,” Bucky teased.  “You described me as your ideal person long before you met me as an adult.”

 

“Oh.”  Steve’s gaze was direct, even if his cheekbones were flushed.  Steve had been the one to bring up the interview, and Bucky had watched it, making his own checklist.  Loyalty.  Bravery. Intelligence.  He might not consider himself any of those things, but he’d forced Becca to give him a list of his best traits, and after she stopped laughing at him, that list had sounded very similar.  “That’s presumptuous of you.”

 

“Steve.”  Bucky allowed his voice to drop, caressing Steve’s name as a precursor to flirtation.  “Are you sure you haven’t wanted me this entire time?  I get it, I’m a catch.”

 

Steve’s mouth twisted as his chin came up, suddenly confident as he realized how to answer Bucky.  It was beautiful to watch Steve’s brain in motion like that.  “If you think I could pine after someone I met as a child for twenty years, then you’re lacking one of the key traits I prioritized.  That’s ok, we can work the list around your lack of intelligence.  No one’s perfect.”

 

“Wow,” Bucky answered in a flat tone, fluttering his free hand around his breastbone.  “I’m so wounded, you asshole.”

 

“I want you anyway,” Steve promised and there was something serious about his tone now.  Bucky thought it was interesting that he could tell the difference between Steve being mock!serious and actually meaning what he was saying. 

 

“I know.”  Bucky wasn’t sure why that was his answer, but he did know that Steve had repeatedly pursued Bucky in a way that left no doubt in his mind that Steve was interested, no doubts beyond his own insecurities, and even those were limited.  Bucky had always been a confident guy, he was just still emerging out of a situation that made him vulnerable and it changed his outlook on life.  “I do too.”

 

Steve grinned at him, shoving his empty plate away from him and folding his arms across the table.  “Do you want to do this again tomorrow night?  I’ve heard the key to this dating thing is repetition.”

 

*

 

Dating Steve was frustrating.  Not that there was anything wrong with dating Steve, or that Steve was doing anything that put Bucky off, except for the fact that they no longer had late-night phone calls.  Bucky had tried, starting the call with ‘so I went out with this attractive guy who left me thinking about getting on my knees beneath the table for him.’  Steve had laughed in response, said ‘no’ and then ended the call.

 

So, Bucky was frustrated.  He was frustrated that Steve hadn’t even kissed him after their date.  He’d gotten a hug and Steve’s nose rubbing along his neck as he pulled away.  That wasn’t nothing.  It was actually very nice.

 

He just wanted more and he wanted it immediately, like someone who had been denied something all of their life and wanted to bathe in it once they found it, gorge themselves until it was no longer novel or new.  Put that way, maybe it was better for them to take this slowly.  Bucky couldn’t say for certainty that he was ready for a relationship, though everything about it felt right, he felt like he was in a good place, and he knew himself well enough that he was aware he wasn’t mixing Steve Rogers up with Captain America. But he felt delicate in his new skin, the Bucky Barnes he was after his accident didn’t want the same things as the Bucky Barnes before his accident.  That in itself was reason enough to keep going on dates with Steve instead of dragging him into bed.

 

Bucky was perfectly capable of getting himself off, had been doing it for over a year to certain blond hair, blue eyes, and ridiculous body proportions, but he was spoiled now to it being because of the real Steve, and not some fantasy about the character Steve played on television.  Thinking about Captain America was like suddenly going back to a world of black and white after seeing things in colour.  Bucky knew what Steve’s skin felt like against his fingertips, and he knew what Steve’s voice sounded like urging him on.  He found that he wasn’t thinking about Captain America at all anymore, that he was now picturing Steve and the hands touching Steve were his own.

 

As much as he wanted to get his hands all over Steve immediately, there was something to be said for how it felt to see Steve waiting for him at the restaurant he picked out, looking casual in a tight blue t-shirt that made him look his age. Captain America had an ageless seriousness about him, but Steve Rogers was still in his 20s and looked it. He brightened when he saw Bucky, so endearingly youthful and happy, that Bucky found himself grinning in response.  Steve’s look was innocent happiness for a moment, until he dragged his eyes down Bucky’s body in a heated glance that told Bucky that Steve was enjoying the casual white shirt he was wearing with the indecently tight skinny jeans he practically needed to yank and shimmy himself into.   It made Bucky’s grin turn into a knowing, intense thing, because Bucky had dressed deliberately, enjoying how he looked.

 

What he enjoyed more was knowing how much Steve appreciated it.

 

Very, very much.

 

“Hi,” he said as he reached the table, sliding in across from Steve.  “Have you been here long?”  Bucky was only a few minutes late, a negligible amount of time unless you were the one waiting.  He didn’t even feel guilty about it, still thrumming with the thrill of the way Steve looked at him.  This.  This was what it felt like to date someone you wanted to keep.  Bucky knew how to look good, but his reaction to it was typically a smug pride in his own appearance and very rarely arousal because of the other person’s interest.

 

Steve shrugged a shoulder.  “I knew you’d be here,” he answered with confidence, which told Bucky all he needed to know.  Steve had arrived early.  “I don’t mind waiting.”

 

Bucky paused for a moment to see if Steve was about to say something cheesy like ‘I’d wait forever for you’ or sassy like ‘I know how long it takes to get into pants like that and I wouldn’t want to deny anyone the view.’  Steve didn’t say anything, he just looked at Bucky like he was pleased Bucky was had arrived.  “What’s good here?” Bucky asked.  “I looked up the menu online,” he admitted, because hell.  It was 2015.  Everyone did that.  “But you mentioned that you like the food, so I’d like to get to know your tastes.”  Bucky could already tell a lot about Steve’s tastes that his favourite comfort food was an American styled diner.  Steve had enjoyed the restaurant they’d eaten at the night before, had mentioned that he appreciated living in a place that offered enough choices to always keep him trying something new, but when it came down to it, he brought Bucky to a good-‘ol burgers and milkshakes establishment for their second date.

 

Steve looked delighted at Bucky’s question, grabbing the menu from the holder on the table and spreading it out before him.  “Um,” he said, looking up and meeting Bucky’s eyes with a sheepish expression.  “Usually I get the chili burger, or the patty melt. But, uh… I think I’ll just get a plain burger today.”

 

“I defy anyone to eat half the things on this menu without making a mess of themselves,” Bucky agreed, sharing a half-smile with Steve that was close enough to being a smirk, but was simpler, shared and soft.  Steve looked grateful that Bucky seemed to get his hesitancy.  “I’m just glad you’re not recommending something to me that I’ll feel obligated to eat, knowing damn well I’ll enjoy it but end up wearing half of it.  I’m trying to impress you here, Rogers.  In the right lighting this shirt is indecently thin.”

 

Steve licked his lips, eyes tracking down Bucky’s torso.  “Maybe making a mess is best left for next time,” he answered in that smooth, seductive tone that Bucky was half-convinced was deliberate, and half-fearful that it wasn’t.  Steve’s mouth skewed, lips pressed together in thoughtful amusement.  “How cliché do we want to be?  Do you want to share a milkshake?”

 

“No,” Bucky decided, looking at the options. Bucky was pretty unrepentant about his ice cream addiction. “Let’s share two.  I want something strange and new, and something so cliché it’s painful.  Strawberry and vanilla, maybe?  Chocolate?  How do you feel?”

 

“I feel like plain vanilla is the most cliché thing we could get if that’s what you’re aiming for.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with vanilla,” Bucky answered cheekily.  “I think it’s overlooked and gets a bad rap, but it’s a base ingredient in a lot of tasty things and sometimes we just need some simplicity in our lives.”

 

Steve looked amused.  “That wasn’t the conversation I was trying to have, but I’m deeply invested in hearing more about your defense.”

 

“It might be easier to show you,” Bucky answered, raising his eyebrows and giving Steve a significant glance. 

 

Steve opened his mouth to answer him when he was interrupted by a young girl staring down at him from beside the booth.  “You’re Steve Rogers, aren’t you?” she giggled, staring at Steve with stars in her eyes.  Bucky knew that awestruck look.  Damn.

 

Bucky probably would have done that awestruck look when he met Steve if his baseline personality didn’t veer more towards caustic sarcasm and New Yorker apathy.

 

“Yes,” Steve answered with a charming smile.

 

“I’m, like, a huge fan.  The biggest.  I run a blog dedicated to your show.  Can I get a selfie?”

 

“Sure.  Let me, I have longer arms,” Steve offered, taking her phone carefully to her obvious delight.  Bucky smirked, because everyone knew the story of Steve accidentally dropping a fan’s phone and then buying her a new one.  He wouldn’t be surprised if people tried to get him to drop their phones after that for a free upgrade and a great story.  “I like your background,” he told her.

 

Bucky watched as her face went completely red.

 

“Oh no,” she said, putting her hands over her face.

 

“Hey now, it’s not a big deal,” Steve assured her, grinning at Bucky.  “I know the artist.”

 

Oh no.

 

“Like know know her?” she asked, eyes wide.  Bucky could see her already mentally wording her tweet and gave Steve the sternest warning eyes he knew how to make.  It wasn’t uncommon for people to assume his gender, though that was one thing he was always open about to his followers.

 

“I uh… met him once?” Steve answered.  Steve was such a shit liar.  It made Bucky feel better about their every conversation ever, but it also made him want to facepalm.  “Or twice,” Steve finished, looking at Bucky for approval. 

 

Wow.

 

*

 

Bucky considered getting their diner food to go, but by the time it arrived the girl had left and there didn’t seem to be anyone around who looked like they cared who Steve Rogers was.  Bucky couldn’t promise he’d be diligent with any kind of consistency for forever, but he was decently confident he’d notice in such a small space whether someone was subtly (or not so subtly) aiming their phone in Steve’s direction.

 

In their direction.

 

Sharing the milkshakes made him tense in concern and look around the room.  “I don’t care,” Steve told him, placing a straw on Bucky’s side of the glass as he wrapped his lips around his own.  “Be cliché with me and stop worrying about it.”

 

“Fine,” Bucky answered, leaning forward so that their foreheads knocked together awkwardly.  The shake was delicious, but there was something sweeter about the taste of it when he was staring far to closely at Steve’s ridiculous eyelashes from the corner of his eye, their faces adjusting so that their cheeks were pressed together.  It was early to mid-century American courtship at its finest, and Bucky’s fingers itched to draw it out.

 

“Your stubble is scratchy,” Steve griped. 

 

“Your shoulders are so broad I have to crane my neck to reach the glass,” Bucky retorted.  “But you don’t see me complaining.”

 

“When you said your shirt was translucent in some lights, I think you meant all of them,” Steve sniped back.  “Not complaining either.”

 

“You better not be,” Bucky answered, leaning forward and hoping that the neck of his shirt was gaping in an attractive fashion that would show off more skin than the shirt itself did.  He thought he might be successful because he was able to steal the last of the milkshake right out from under Steve’s nose, and it he did it with a gleeful smugness.

 

Bucky was never repentant about ice cream.

 

It was interesting to him, though, that when he thought to draw the scene, he was thinking of drawing himself and Steve.  Neither Stark nor Captain America were anywhere near it.

 

*

 

Dating Steve Rogers, Bucky texted to Sam.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

I know buddy.  I’m dating Jessica Alba.

 

Homewrecker, she’s married.  Bucky didn’t bother correcting Sam’s assumption.  It was still surprising to him that he was saying the words with seriousness.  He didn’t really expect people to believe him.

 

*

 

He tried again with Becca.  Dating Steve Rogers.

 

New text from Beck:

I knw, asshole. why do u thnk i snt you !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! last wk?

 

Everyone sucked.

 

*

 

Another aspect of his routine that Bucky was careful to keep up now that he worked most of the day were his morning jogs.  He’d continue doing his PT diligently, but the jogging wasn’t to improve and maintain muscle movement on a damaged limb and therefore something he saw as necessary at all times.  Jogging was for his overall health and he hated dragging himself out of bed for it, but by the time he finished he was usually grateful that he did.

 

He was going through his warm-up and searching through his playlists for one that spoke to him before 8 am on a Saturday morning, when a loud motorcycle engine cut off right beside him, startling him with the closeness of it.


Bucky looked up from his phone to find that the rider on the back of the bike was a familiar face.  "What are you doing here?" he questioned, looking around to see if anyone else spotted the way Steve took off his helmet and shook his hair back into some semblance of style.  Bucky was slowly learning that while people did recognise Steve occasionally, he wasn't as famous of a face as Brad Pitt or Matt Damon.  It just felt that way to Bucky because he held Steve to a higher esteem than he did almost all other actors.  



"Looking for you," Steve answered, storing his helmet and stepping towards Bucky on the path.   “Are we going for a run?”

 

That was absurd.  Steve was wearing jeans, and Bucky was not going to be the reason for chafing in uncomfortable places.



"What about your bike?" Bucky asked, poking at the jacket Steve was wearing over a tight t-shirt, as if to say ‘running would kill you in this getup’. It was still cool enough in the morning that Steve didn’t look like he was dying of the humidity, but soon the sun would burn off any semblance of coolness that had moved into the city overnight.  “Not that I’m not delighted to see you.”

 

Steve had been filming off site for the last few days and they hadn’t seen each other in what felt like forever given the newness of their relationship.  Bucky wanted to drink the sight of him in for hours, and felt a bit goofy for even thinking about it.  Christ, though, Steve was gorgeous, and he was standing in front of Bucky like seeing Bucky was the most important thing he could be doing.



Steve shrugged.  "I can park it here for a while.  I'd rather be able to see you and talk to you."



Bucky stared at him.  Steve couldn't realize what he just said.  "I can make you feel better than it does," Bucky murmured, looping his fingers through Steve's belt hoops and dragging him forward.


 
"You do," Steve promised, his hand sliding along Bucky's jaw before his fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of Bucky's neck.   His mouth was warm against Bucky's, but the heat it produced inside him made the kiss feel overwhelmingly hot.  Steve's mouth felt far better in reality than Bucky had ever imagined, his lips brushing against Bucky's in a slow, temperate dance that made all of Bucky's nerves jump to attention. 

 

He sighed into Steve's mouth, licking his lips so Steve could feel the drag of his tongue.  "What a line," Bucky answered with a grin. 

 

Steve gave him a challenging quirk of his eyebrows.  It was the ‘let’s see you do better’ of expressions.  “I happen to know that lines are a language you’re adept at.”

 

Bucky paused for a second, thoughtful.  He could tell that Steve knew what he was in for from the expression on Bucky’s face when he finally came up with an answer.  Bucky knew he was staring at Steve like he’d like to get on his knees in public, and he made sure to pitch his voice with molten undertones, dragging a finger down Steve’s chest.  "I can make you forget how good it feels to be riding with a powerful engine between your thighs."

 

Bucky couldn’t resist a challenge.



"If you're so confident, I might just have to try riding you instead."  Steve ran his hand down Bucky's back, his fingers exerting just enough pressure that Bucky could feel them through his t-shirt.  "If you think you're up for it."



Bucky laughed, burying his face in the crook of Steve's neck.  He could feel the soft leather of Steve's jacket against his chin, and he brushed his mouth over the rough scruff on Steve's neck.  Steve was going to kill him one of these days.  He'd just say something and Bucky's heart would give out from a combination of shock and sudden arousal.  He felt almost hysterical now at the concept that he wouldn't be up for it, it was so ludicrous.  "I can't believe you just said that to me."

 

"You've shared all the things you've thought about doing to me on the internet.  I think you should make good on them.  It’s been driving me insane for weeks."

 

"I haven’t shared everything.  No one can write or draw that fast.  Some of it can just be for you."

 

"Well, some of it you should make good on, no matter how many people have seen it.  It turns me on, actually."

 

"No shit," Bucky answered with an edge of sarcasm.  "I never would have guessed.  What are you doing today?"

 

Steve shrugged with absolutely zero sense of casualness.  “Nothing. I got a text message this morning that I have the day off.  Some equipment malfunction that I’m sure a lot of the crew are tearing their hair out about, but I’m not busy.  Thought maybe I’d go for a ride.”

 

“That sounds like a great idea,” Bucky answered, doing his best to ignore the innuendo laden suggestion Steve was making.  “Did you bring your spare helmet?  I have the perfect place we can head for a day-trip.”

 

It was worth it for the look on Steve’s face as he tried to hide his disappointment and then quickly shifted his expectations for the day.  “Yeah?  Where?  New Haven is a good drive.”

 

“My bed, you asshole.  Thought maybe I’d go for a ride,” he echoed, imitating Steve’s attempt at blasé.  “It would serve you right,” he said, grabbing Steve’s hand and dragging him back towards the bike.  “If I just dragged you somewhere in upstate New York.”

 

“Your bed?  That’s presumptuous of you,” Steve answered, but for all that he was an actor on a marginally successful television show, he was pretty terrible at keeping a straight face.  Bucky nudged him into sitting sideways on the bike, leaning down to kiss him as thoroughly as he could, his fingers in Steve’s hair and his tongue running along the inside of Steve’s lip in a way Bucky knew felt fantastic.  Steve inhaled against Bucky’s mouth, tilting his head eagerly into Bucky’s touch.

 

Bucky pulled away once Steve grabbed his hips to move him closer.  “Is it presumptuous?” he questioned.  “New Haven isn’t off the table if you’d rather.”

 

*

 

Steve didn’t make good on his promise to ride Bucky that morning, but not for lack of intent.  The moment they were through the front door of his apartment, Bucky had Steve pushed back against it, getting to his knees in the small foyer with his feet hanging over the top step.  There was something incredibly hot about the idea that anyone on the street would be able to see Steve’s silhouette pressed up against the frosted and bevelled glass, but then there was something incredibly hot about the entire situation, desperation to get Steve off as quickly as possible leaving both of them an incoherent mess by the time Bucky was through.

 

Steve watched the entire thing, eyes shuttering closed only when Bucky pulled his shorts down enough to get his hand around himself.  It was only for a moment, and then Steve was watching him again, mouth open and making the most delicious sounds, and it took Bucky a while to realize he knew because he kept looking up to check.  There was an intimacy to their desperation that made his spine tingle and his hand speed up until he was moaning around Steve’s cock and losing all sense of rhythm, urging Steve on until he was coming down Bucky’s throat.

 

His lips felt raw from keeping his teeth covered, and his throat wasn’t much better, but neither of them could catch their breath sitting side by side at the top of the stairs and Bucky wasn’t sure he’d ever been happier after sex, giddiness taking over all his good sense.

 

“If I was Captain America I’d be expecting round two right now,” Steve told him, flushed and sweaty, his hair standing up in every direction. He was slouched so low against the door, his shoulders and neck were the only parts of his body touching it. Bucky expected that he looked more fucked out than Steve did. 

 

Bucky snorted, but it was still breathless and when he spoke his voice was rough in a way he couldn’t fake.  “Not with me, you wouldn’t.  I need to rest.”

 

“I can do it myself,” Steve answered, because of course he needed to fight Bucky for the honor of the getting the last line.  Then Steve flopped over, his head resting against Bucky’s thigh in a way that could not be comfortable. 

 

“Sure,” Bucky agreed, hand in Steve’s hair.  “Sure, in a minute.”

 

(It turned out that Bucky didn’t have to be worried about Steve’s dick being a disappointment, but Steve took Bucky’s relief with a complicated sort of grace that made him blush and stutter as Bucky assured him that he could have worked with anything, it was just incredibly empowering to be right.)

 

*

 

Somehow, they made it through kissing in the park and riding off into the early morning light on Steve’s bike without anyone noticing, but Bucky knew their luck wouldn’t last forever.

 

When it happened, it was simple.  They weren’t sharing a milkshake or making out.  Steve came with Bucky on his quest for a very specific microbrew that Becca, in all her homegrown hipsterism, refused to buy for herself but secretly loved.  Bucky figured that he should apologize for almost dragging her into a fandom and then when she was as hooked as she ever was going to be, banging the hell out of the main actor in a way that was shaping up to not be temporary.

 

There probably wasn’t an apology card for that.

 

(though Bucky had some very artistic ideas of how to make one that actually made everything so much worse)

 

(and that he thought he probably was going to do)

 

Steve held his hand.  It was that simple, but undeniable.  Steve held his hand and then kissed him goodbye.

 

It only took three hours before pictures of the two of them showed up online – or, well, migrated from Twitter or Instagram and into popularity in fandom.  Bucky was in the middle of responding to a prompt, using his Tumblr dash as a distraction when he couldn’t figure out a way to end the ficlet in less than 1000 words.  He had too much on his plate to really dedicate himself to a new long-fic.  He had his new job, which ate up a large chunk of his free time, and he had a new boyfriend, which… well, ironically, dating Steve was going to force him to really cut back on the time he dedicated to Steve Rogers.

 

He was smiling, thinking of the way Steve’s hand had felt in his when Steve walked with him through the neighbourhood, out in the open like it was absolutely no concern to him.

 

But it wasn’t a surprise when Bucky came across a grainy shot of the two of them holding hands.  It was obviously taken using a camera phone zoomed in as far as possible, and Steve was recognisable enough, his head tilted slightly towards Bucky as he listened attentively, lips curled into a smile.  Bucky was facing Steve and talking animatedly, his free hand gesturing towards nothing in particular.

 

The first responses were typical enough:

 

  • Wait, Steve Rogers is gay?
  • No, he’s bi bi bi
  • THIS IS THE BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN!!
  • My bae I crey
  • The bisexual representation we deserve
  • I’ve been burned by enough bros holding hands that I won’t believe it until he actually talks about it.
  • He’s a piece of shit if he doesn’t come out after doing this.

Etc…

 

And then, of course, there were the people who immediately started focusing on Bucky himself.  “Steve Rogers deserves better” was one of the better ways the sentiment was expressed, but most of the jealous, spiteful vitriol was a lot more harmful.  It wasn’t that a lot of people were saying bad things about him, but the ones who were saying things felt incredibly vocal to Bucky and it was all he could see.  He’d seen this coming but had hoped that maybe it wouldn’t happen because it sucked to refresh his dash and see another mean comment about him. He spent 15 minutes using his considerable amount of power in fandom to shame everyone on his dash who had negative things to say, but after a while Bucky ended up unfollowing anyone who said anything against Steve and his unnamed boyfriend, and in a fit of disappointed rage, he opened a word document and started typing.

 

His RPF drabble between Steve and his boyfriend ‘Jimmy’ got three notes and about 16 people unfollowed him. It felt so satisfying that Bucky sat down and wrote a second one.

 

Bucky was severely grateful he'd never posted any selfies.  The initial surprise of one of the BNFs in a relationship with the star of the show would last about five minutes before he started getting anon hate and people tweeting Steve links to his blog as though Steve didn't know, as though Bucky didn't deserve Steve.  Bucky would much rather keep his identity secret, thank you very much.

 

*

 

[Interview with Steve Rogers, 2015. Los Angeles]

 

“Would you ever date a fan?”

 

“I am dating a fan,” Steve answered.  “And I’m not saying that glibly, like ‘my mother is my biggest fan’.  I’m dating someone considered a… I think he called it a Big Deal Fan?  He’s not just a fan, he also happens to be the kid from the playground who helped inspire Captain America – my playground hero, and so much more than that.”

 

He is?”

 

“Yeah,” Steve continued on as though he didn’t understand the underlying question, like he was bypassing the assumption of a straight relationship altogether, which, upon reflection, was probably why he was on Ellen.  “He’s great – and still so much of a hero.  Sometimes – you know how sometimes you remember things or people as being larger than life and then you meet them when you’re an adult and you’re underwhelmed?  My boyfriend is fantastic, and definitely not underwhelming in any way.”

 

[cut for commercials]

 

Well fuck.

 

Bucky adored Steve, but this made him hit himself on the face with his sketch book, the heavy paper and cover the perfect weight to match the symbolic headache Steve’s words just caused.  He and Steve had spoken about the possibility, of course they had, and Bucky thought he was ready.  He thought he was ready until the moment Steve, incredibly sweetly and full of pride, said ‘I’m dating a fan’.

 

No one could really be ready for the realization that though it was likely someone would eventually figure out who Bucky Barnes was, and then maybe even figure out who inforawildridey was, it had always seemed like something he’d face later.

 

Already people were saying:

  •          HE CAME OUT
  •          WHO IS HIS BOYFRIEND??? ONE OF US? I can only think of about 10 people I’d actually consider being a BNF so which one is it?
  •          Do we assume he’s gay? He didn’t say the word bisexual.
  •          Is no one going to talk about the fact that Steve told us all he’s dating the guy who inspired Captain America? [insert video]
  •          OMFFFFFFG

 

Bucky took a fortifying breath and opened the video app on his phone.  If Steve had the courage to come out to his fans, then Bucky would have the same.  There were now some very clear photographs of him and Steve having lunch, Steve leaning across the table to kiss him before they both left to go back to work.  Someone had taken a photograph of just his face, appreciatively watching Steve walk away.

 

Fandom identified hard with that.

 

Everyone (who cared) knew what Steve Rogers’ boyfriend looked like, and Bucky would rather the reveal be on his own terms.

 

So when Bucky opened the video with “Hi, I’m Bucky Barnes,” he knew he probably wouldn’t have to insert the picture into the video, but he did it anyway.  It made for good impact, if nothing else.  Bucky had never played much with video editing, but like everything else, the basics were something he could figure out.  “You know me as inforawildridey. Wild ridey. Bucky.  Get it?”  Bucky shook his head to get away from that train of thought, because he wasn’t speaking to explain how clever his user name was.  There were memes for that.

 

“You don’t know me very well as a person, and maybe I could have been better about sharing.  For instance, did you know that I was in a major car accident last year that left me unable to work?  Did you know that as I’ve been writing and drawing, I’ve been undergoing physical therapy to rehabilitate my left arm?”  Bucky shrugged his left shoulder.  “I know you don’t, because I rarely talk about it, but I was able to write a fic about it, about how it felt.  I haven’t been writing about Steve Rogers, not really.  I’ve been writing about myself and I needed that outlet.  You don’t know how much.  Or maybe you do, from me to fandom, I’m sure most of you do understand needing an outlet for self-exploration.”

 

“You’ve been my safe space when I needed it, and I’ve gotten to know you guys. Individually, most of you are great, some of the best people I’ve ever met, but I also have been around for some pretty wanky things, and I don’t trust certain members of fandom not to create a toxic environment for me.  For us, Steve and me.  I need to protect myself first and foremost, so I’ve turned off anon before the messages start, and I’ll be around but I won’t be active under this name in the same way.  I love it here, but I’ve already seen the types of things being said about me when I was a nameless guy dating Steve Rogers, before there was a specific blog to target.”

 

“Remember, I know how your brains work, so before someone decides to take it upon themselves to tweet Steve links you think he should be disturbed by, know that he’s probably been lurking on here long enough to see it all. That’s a kicker, right?  To know that he’s probably seen all the things I’ve reblogged.  I can feel you freaking out from here, and believe me, I KNOW. It was so strange in the beginning, but he’s so great, and so supportive, you have no idea.  You can keep the fics and the fanart I’ve given you, I’m not pulling anything down.  I’m not ashamed of my work – I think it’s great.  Steve thinks it’s great.”

 

“So thank you for being there when I needed you, fandom, and for being an encouraging and empowering presence in my life.  I’ll be here for Captain Stark, but in the words of T-Swift, haters gonna hate, and I’m not here for that.”

 

*

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Just saw a clip of your man on Ellen.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Good news: your man likes men

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Bad news: he's dating someone

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Wait.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

WAIT. YOU FUCKER.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Is that you?

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

THAT’S YOU!

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO TELL ME WHEN YOU'RE DATING HOTASS WHITEBREAD ACTORS. THAT'S SOMETHING YOU BRAG ABOUT.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

YOU BRAGGED ABOUT FITTING A WHOLE FRUIT ROLLUP IN YOUR MOUTH YESTERDAY. BUT THIS I GET RADIO SILENCE?

 

Bucky: My last message to you is talking about how hot my boyfriend looks in the new promo pictures.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

I thought you were being facetious. You've been calling him your boyfriend for months.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Noooooooooooo. Months?

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

How much whitebread can you fit in your mouth?

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

Nevermind. retracting question.

 

Bucky: the whole baguette.

 

Bucky: if I’ve learned one thing from Tumblr it’s that fucking a baguette is a pain in the ass.

 

New text from Sam Wilson:

I hate you.

 

*

 

Bucky was a pessimist.  It helped keep him alive throughout the years to expect the worst from people, so when it happened exactly the way you anticipated it to, you weren’t the one being shot.  Expecting the worst didn’t mean that he wasn’t aware that people didn’t always live up (or down) to those expectations, it just meant he’d rather be surprised and pleasantly pleased about humanity than surprised and dead.

 

So when his video was posted, he tried his best not to look at the comments or peek at the tags and lasted about half an hour before curiosity got the best of him.

 

There were a lot of ‘one of us’ references.  Some ‘who could hate his pretty face’ as well as some ‘I hate his pretty face’ that Bucky took as a typical dramatic Tumblr response rather than anything incredibly negative about him.  A lot of people thought he was very brave.  Some wanted to have a threesome with him and Steve.  Most were freaking out about the idea that fandom culture was about to go mainstream now that Steve mentioned it on a popular talk-variety show while coming out publicly in an interview that he later did identify as bisexual in.

 

He got so many asks that he didn’t even bother reading them all, and eventually they all felt the same.  People either wanted to know if his fics/art were accurate depictions of Steve (and could he please take a picture, or at least nod if his fanart was accurate pleeeease), wanted to say some incredibly supportive things to him, or didn’t.

 

It ended up being the mainstream media that said some of the cruelest things about him, and about fans in general.  Some of it Bucky hadn’t been able to anticipate, because it was almost impossible to anticipate the bullshit that got put on FOX news.  If Bucky had just been some guy Steve was dating, it would have blown over, but instead Bucky was some guy who did dirty art that created news sensationalism, so it lingered for a few days.

 

“Oh Christ I’m sorry,” Steve said over the phone, and he really did sound it.

 

“It’ll blow over,” Bucky answered with a shrug.  “I told you that I knew what I was getting myself into.  I’m not terribly surprised.”

 

Steve sighed.  It was the closest to the Captain America ‘disappointed in your shit’ that he’d ever sounded.

 

“Are you?” Bucky questioned, suddenly concerned.  “Is it too much?”

 

“Bucky, no.  It’s not that – they’re being terrible to you, and you don’t deserve to be the person all of America is laughing at, not if I can help it.”

 

“Well first, thanks for that phrasing,” Bucky said sarcastically.  “Second, I’m pretty sure all of America is bored of the story already, so just leave it alone.”

 

Steve hummed thoughtfully instead of agreeing, and Bucky really should have understood what that meant after Steve had skillfully evaded promising not to read Bucky’s fic and it led to them developing a relationship in a far more straightforward way than might otherwise be expected from two people who weren’t sure that they were good enough for each other.  Instead, Steve deflected like a champ.  “I miss your mouth a lot, but I realized last night that I haven’t taken the opportunity to blow you and it seems like the kind of misfortune I should fix as soon as possible.”

 

Yes, make Bucky think about blowjobs.  Works every time, Steve.

 

*

 

When the media found out that Bucky Barnes was a national hero, things took a very drastic turn.  Suddenly, the videos of entertainment newscasters laughingly showing pieces of his fanart turned into a picture of Bucky in SWAT gear.  There were no longer voiceovers of someone reading snippets of fic, instead, there was a tearful voice claiming: “When I first met Special Agent James Barnes, he was apologizing to me for grazing my arm when his bullet stopped a homegrown terrorist bomber.  I was trained in the army to shoot, and I don’t know very many men who could have made that shot by only grazing me.  By rights I should be in a coffin right now.”

 

(The internet consensus was that was really hot.)

 

It spiralled quickly to a local DC channel digging up shaky camera video of the day of Bucky’s accident.  It showed the aftermath of the collision, Bucky climbing out of the passenger seat of his upside-down car.  The person taking the video was swearing loudly and in horror as Bucky fully came into view.  There was a lot of blood, and his left arm was… well, there wasn’t much to be said about his arm except for the fact that it was pixeled out by someone at the news station.  Then came a part Bucky couldn’t even remember happening.  He was rounding the remains of his car to get to a secondary crash caused by the initial impact, helping someone out of their vehicle before falling to his knees on the side of the road, blood dripping from his fingertips and into a growing pool the longer he remained stationary, wavering on his knees like he was trying to get up but couldn’t.

 

The blood wasn’t pixelated.

 

(The internet consensus was that Bucky needed a hug.)

 

“Jesus,” Steve said, staring up at the television above his head in the pub they were eating supper in.  His fork was forgotten in his hand as the clip cut to show Bucky staring defiantly at the camera during the video he had posted online, making sure to get the moment where he jerked his shoulder as he said ‘Did you know that as I’ve been writing and drawing, I’ve been undergoing physical therapy to rehabilitate my left arm?’  “I’m sorry they’re doing this,” Steve said, and he actually looked surprised by the fact that his relationship with Bucky hadn’t quieted down after fifteen minutes.

 

Bucky shrugged with both shoulders, the left feeling tight and aching after he’d seen the video.  He wasn’t going to sleep easily, after seeing that.  “Don’t pretend you didn’t start this with your interview with Stephen Colbert the other night,” Bucky answered pointedly. 

 

Steve had the gall to raise his eyebrows in some approximation of innocence.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

"Sure," Bucky agreed, opening his YouTube app.  It wasn't difficult to find.  Steve was popular right now, and Bucky couldn't decide if that was because of how straightforward he was about his sexuality or if it was the speculation about the naked fanart.  "Doesn't ring any bells, huh?" he asked, pressing play and thrusting his phone in front of Steve's face.

 

[Interview with Steve Rogers, 2015. New York City]

 

“So your boyfriend seems interesting.”

 

“You have no idea.  The fact that Bucky wrote fanfiction and did fanart about me before we started our relationship is one of the least interesting things about him,” Steve divulged.  “He’s met more important people than me, for instance,” he continued as a picture of Bucky shaking hands with the president was projected in the background.  “He’s good at everything he does, and I’m not making an innuendo here when I say that.  He’s done some amazing things in his career with the FBI that I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk about – so maybe his fandom affiliations are one of the interesting things about him, but only because they’re so normal for a man who has a defining career before the age of thirty that is distinctly not.”

 

“Can you clarify?”

 

“Where’s the fun in that?” Steve smirked.  “You know, the president has never shaken my hand, but then I just play a hero on television.  Some people are Captain America every day.”

 

[end interview]

 

Steve reached forward and turned the video off before the first question finished.

 

“My mistake for assuming you'd remember sticking up for me on live television,” Bucky continued with sarcasm, but there was a softness about it because he couldn't remain angry in the face of Steve's earnest need to protect him from bullies.  “Let me remind you: the one where you planted seeds in everyone’s mind about me being an American Hero, because Americans love their heroes in the shape of sympathetic, attractive white men with an artistic lean and a tragic backstory.”

 

“I don’t know what I was thinking.  You’re not sympathetic, you’re bitter and caustic.”

 

“Mmm, tell me more,” Bucky responded, taking a bite of a fry.  “You’re such a sweet talker.  My protector,” he said, batting his eyelashes.  "Some people just can't help being Captain America all the damn time."

 

Steve observed him for a moment, and it grated on Bucky’s nerves that he had to assess Bucky before deciding how to respond.  “You’re also sexy as hell,” Steve answered, tilting his head towards Bucky so his words were just between the two of them.  His hand traced the inseam of Bucky’s pants, moving over his thigh muscles as Bucky tensed his legs before spreading them wider. The touch did a lot to bring Bucky back into a headspace that was flirtatious rather than defensive. “Completely, undeniably gorgeous, and you do dirty, wicked things to me whether you’re trying or not.  You have since the first moment I saw you.”

 

“I was a child!” Bucky exclaimed in mock horror.  “Steve! That’s concerning.”

 

Steve narrowed his eyes at him.  “You’re also a huge jackass.”  Bucky grinned in acknowledgment.  Steve’s hand continued along the line of Bucky’s pants, fingers spreading as he pressed his palm against Bucky’s obvious erection.  There was no other way to describe Bucky’s reaction except for with the phrase ‘bucking up’ into Steve’s hand, and Steve seemed to know it too, if the way he said, “liked that, huh Buck?” was any indication.

 

It was stupid, and cheesy, and it made Bucky grin wildly and his heart expand like it was incapable of stopping.

 

And, well, it had been over a year and a half since the day Bucky pulled himself out of the wreckage in that clip.  That Bucky Barnes had been brave, but there were different types of bravery.  That Bucky Barnes wouldn’t have understood what it could mean to have and keep a man like Steve Rogers.  Two years ago, if they had met Bucky would already have gotten what he wanted from Steve, had a few very pleasurable nights and left for a job, not bothering to contact Steve once he returned.  He wouldn’t have tried to keep him, wouldn’t have even considered wanting to.

 

And he would have missed out.  The Bucky Barnes in that video was a fucking coward when it came to love, and he felt that he was so much better than that person.

 

“I love you,” Bucky answered simply, because he wasn’t the same anymore, and that was a good thing.  Then, because Steve was also right about him being a jackass, he grinned at Steve’s frozen surprise and tilted their heads even closer together.  “Now I think you said something about missed opportunities and owing me a blowjob.  The bathroom is by the door, pay and meet me there.”

 

He walked away without looking back, but he didn’t need to look to know that Steve’s eyes didn’t leave him until Bucky was completely out of sight and he was standing to follow.