The only thing Bucky hated these days more than surprises was knowing that the people around him knew more than he did about something that concerned him. Steve understood exactly why he had those aversions, but it made it hard to plan for Bucky's birthday.
Steve didn't bother to ask what Bucky wanted, because if he did Bucky was going to tell him he didn't want anything. If Bucky actually stated a preference Steve would be obligated to let Bucky's avoidance of surprises deprive Bucky of a birthday celebration. Steve wasn't going to let that happen if he could avoid it, not when Bucky had gone so long without his humanity, let alone his birthday, being acknowledged. Bucky had always loved getting presents--he still loved getting presents, when Steve could figure out how to give them to him without unduly surprising him. Steve was maybe a little addicted to the sight of Bucky's eyes lighting up. He'd done more reckless things for less chance of reward before.
So Steve said nothing to Bucky while frantically organizing and conspiring with all their friends behind his back. He was pretty sure he'd figured out how to give Bucky exactly what he wanted. He just needed to make it perfect before Bucky found out.
Bucky knew Steve knew his birthday was coming. Steve never forgot things like that. He also knew Steve wouldn't do anything as stupid as try to spring a surprise party on him, and he was trying to hold down his sick horror of the surprises Steve might not think to avoid--wrapped packages with mysterious contents, unexpected changes of plan, too much attention from too many people at once. But Steve didn't say anything about it, so Bucky didn't say anything about it either. As the day got closer the dread of it got worse, even though he was mostly sure Steve wouldn't do anything terrible. It was the night before when Bucky finally cracked and asked.
He and Steve were standing in the kitchen waiting for the cookies-from-a-tube to cook when Bucky said, "Steve--you're not planning a party or something, right?"
"Nope," Steve said, not pretending for a second not to know what Bucky meant. "Here, I've got your present right here. I'd have given it to you sooner but I just finished it this morning. It took some hammering out."
He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a single sheet of paper, folded into eighths, and handed it to Bucky. He shook it out as he did so that Bucky saw even before he touched it that it was a simple list, rows of plain black type.
It was a schedule, Bucky realized as his eye skimmed down it. March 10: Your Birthday was at the top, and immediately below it was a little block of text. In the case of an all-day life-threatening event Your Birthday will be rescheduled to March 16. In the case of a life-threatening event occurring sometime during the day, only the interrupted schedule item and subsequent schedule items will be rescheduled to March 16. In the absence of a life-threatening event the schedule will be strictly observed.
Bucky didn't read any further before he stepped in and gave Steve a kiss. This was honestly the best birthday present imaginable--it was beyond that, something he hadn't known to imagine. Steve pulled away after a minute, laughing a little but also with his arms firmly around Bucky. "Come on, actually read it, I want to see if you like it."
"I already like it," Bucky said, grinning. It was a schedule. It was like knowing the future already, like being able to control the future just by seeing it set down here on the page.
"Seriously," Steve said, shaking him a little, "read it, I had to wrangle so many people to make them cooperate with this. I want you to appreciate all my work."
Bucky looked down and started at the beginning: 0600: Steve goes for a run without asking you to come along. 0645: Steve comes back from running and wakes you up by sucking you off before he goes to take a shower.
Bucky could picture that perfectly; he could almost feel it already, the lazy luxury of staying in bed after Steve got up, unruined by any cajoling from Steve to get up. Bucky couldn't really sleep through Steve leaving, or go back to sleep while he was gone, but he would have the better part of an hour to just lie in bed and wait for Steve to come back. All that and then he'd get the special pleasure of pretending to be asleep so Steve could wake him up.
After that was breakfast, with the note enter your order here and a blank line. When Bucky looked up Steve was already holding out a pen, and he was starting to look really proud of himself. For once Bucky didn't feel inclined to puncture that at all, so he took the pen without a word and leaned over the counter to write down all the things he wanted for breakfast on his birthday. Steve read over his shoulder, and Bucky knew he would remember everything perfectly and have it ready to go in the morning.
After breakfast he had a specific window to take a shower--NO SHOWER SEX, OBSERVE SCHEDULE--and then the next line was 0930, shopping with Natasha. Gift: no less than three items of your choice, up to six. You will not be harassed about wearing colors. Food from street vendors as desired.
Natasha was a relaxing person to be in public with; she knew exactly how to complement his situational awareness so that he could pay some attention to doing something else. Knowing that she would refrain from hassling him about his choice of camouflage meant there would be hardly any tension at all in the day. He could relax into it and let her choose things for him, secure in the knowledge that the shopping session couldn't drag on all day, because the next schedule item started at 1100, and Natasha would have to let him go when it started.
Bucky cracked up as he read that item: 1100, Sam personally airlifts you out of shopping trip and takes you flying before delivering you to lunch. Gift: Sam's mom's homemade cookies, to be eaten after lunch because you're already heavy enough.
Lunch with Sam and Steve was on the rooftop patio at a place where Bucky had eaten with them over the winter, when the patio was closed. Bucky suspected it was still supposed to be closed, but the schedule said they were going to get to eat on the roof, so Steve must have arranged something. He was already picturing the sightlines; he'd be able to pre-clear all the higher roofs within range while flying with Sam, so he'd be able to relax and enjoy it properly. From what he remembered the food had been pretty good too.
1400, visit animal shelter with Clint. Not an official Avengers charity activity, no photography. You are volunteers in the dog-exercise section, walking and playing with several dogs who are ready to be adopted. You will be in the outdoor exercise area, away from the veterinary clinic. Gift: the latest season of Dog Cops on DVD in a plain brown bag. Do not leave with a dog. Adopting a dog is not on the schedule.
After that he had a sparring session with Thor (Gift: one small cask of Asgardian mead, to be enjoyed at a future time of your choosing) and the next meeting of the Avengers Bollywood Film Club, which consisted of Bruce, Pepper, and Bucky (Gift: certificate declaring Tony and Steve's lifetime bans from the ABFC, enforceable by building security + complete set of curries and spices for Indian food experiments).
Bucky looked up at Steve with a sly smile, and Steve said, "It's not even like I want to go back. I hate musicals."
"Which is hilarious, coming from a former showgirl," Bucky informed him. "But yes, we know. We all know."
"I just," Steve said, and Bucky said, "Shh, don't ruin it," and gave Steve a kiss to shut him up.
Steve kissed back agreeably enough, and then Bucky returned to studying the schedule. There was a solid three-hour block for dinner with Steve, Natasha, and Clint, and the location was listed simply as the place Natasha gets the blini from.
Bucky beamed at the page. "She's going to let us know where it is?"
"After extensive negotiations she has agreed to forgo blindfolding us on the way there," Steve assured him dryly. "Clint still has to ride in the trunk, though."
"Well, he's used to it," Bucky agreed, scanning greedily down the page without letting himself fantasize too much about getting a full dinner--clearly, with that much time allotted, it was going to be a multi-course affair--from Natasha's blini source.
The next entry was 2200, controlled detonations with Tony and Rhodey on upper tower roof. Full array of chemical and propellant options. Up to ten people with lower roof access may be observing from a safe distance. Necessary city permits have been obtained.
Bucky grinned. "Seriously, Stevie?"
"Well," Steve said. "You always said you should get a turn, so this year you get the fireworks for your birthday. It's about time, right?"
Bucky shook his head, but he was smiling so widely his face ached a little. There was another line past the 2200 entry: 2330, go to bed with Steve. Enter requests here (may occupy up to six hours).
"You only gave me three lines," Bucky muttered, tapping the pen on the page a few times before he started to write in small, careful letters.
"You can go onto the back if you need to," Steve said, but Bucky shook his head. That would break up the perfection of the one-page schedule.
"I can make it fit," Bucky assured him, choosing his abbreviations carefully.
"I've heard that before," Steve muttered.
"And," Bucky said, finishing with a flourish. "I did, so no complaining."
Steve leaned over his shoulder, reading. "We haven't done that in a while," he pointed out, tapping his finger down on the middle line. "Maybe we should have a dress rehearsal tonight, make sure everything goes smoothly tomorrow?"
"Just to keep the schedule straight," Bucky agreed, reaching out to stop the kitchen timer before it could ding. He let Steve use an oven mitt to take the cookies from the oven, because Steve found it unnerving when Bucky used his bare left hand. Bucky could be generous. He stared down at his schedule instead, letting his eyes travel over every neatly ordered event.
"Thanks, Steve," Bucky said without looking up, and Steve came over and stepped in close behind him, wrapping both arms around Bucky's waist. Bucky leaned over to grab a cookie left-handed. "This is..."
"Happy birthday," Steve murmured, and it wasn't even a wish, it was a tactical plan. Bucky could hear him grinning, definitely pleased with himself. Bucky didn't blame him a bit; he was pretty pleased too. He popped the still-gooey chocolate chip cookie into his mouth and started humming Steve's song, and Steve squawked with outrage just like clockwork. His birthday was only an hour away, and it was going to be perfect. There wasn't a surprise in sight.