It only took spending a week in a snowed-in, boarded-up, one-room cabin, two bottles of vodka between the four of them and an hour of Bucky complaining that there was absolutely nothing for them to do until the storm died down and they went back to stalking the target of their mission for Sam to come up with the idea.
The other three stared at him, varying expressions on their faces, after he was finished explaining. Steve looked almost uncomfortable, Natasha looked amused and Bucky looked like he couldn’t believe Sam was suggesting that.
“Come on,” Sam said. “It could be fun. We could see who pulls it off the best.”
Bucky arched a brow, still looking like he couldn’t believe this was real. “You want us to compete to see who can, what, fake date each other the best?”
“It could be fun,” Natasha said, leaning back in her chair, her feet up on the table. She pointed at Bucky and then Steve. “You two have an advantage anyway,” she said. “You’re both always mooning over each other every hour of the day.”
“We are not,” Steve said instantly, but the flush in his cheeks countered his argument pretty well.
“And the media already thinks you’re a couple,” Sam pointed out. “Do you know how many stories I’ve read about whether Captain America is dating Bucky Barnes?”
“Too many,” Bucky groaned, as Steve’s face turned an even brighter red.
“Fine,” Steve finally said, after a few more half-hearted protests. “Say we agree to this — not that I’m agreeing to this —”
Natasha made a noise somewhere between a scoff and a snort. Steve glared at her before continuing. “How would we determine the winners anyway?”
“And what do the winners get?” Bucky chimed in.
They all looked at Sam.
“We could let the media decide?” he said. “Whoever he thinks are together by the end of, say, a month?”
“No,” said Bucky.
“And if they don’t know?” Steve asked.
Natasha snorted. “Then we ask Tony.”
“No,” Bucky said.
“Yes,” Steve said.
“Tony and the others!” Sam declared.
And so it was settled. They had a month to switch off dating each other, and by the end of the month, whoever it was determined were dating based on media stories and the other Avengers’ thoughts would win labor from the others for a month.
“You boys are going to be making me breakfast for a month,” Natasha told them with a grin.
“Maybe I’ll have you all polish my shield three times a day,” Steve said.
Sam just grinned. “You guys don’t want to know what I’m going to have you do.”
A second later he was hit in head by a potato chip.
“Oops,” Bucky said at his glare. “It slipped.”
They set up a schedule to ensure that each of them had equal time with every other person. As to what kinds of dates and how far they were willing to go to make it appear real, that was up to each pair. Nothing was off limits as long as both people were okay with it.
Steve and Bucky went out first, venturing to Brooklyn to walk the streets while holding hands and reminiscing about what used to be. They found an old diner to eat lunch at and were bombarded with fans asking for autographs.
“That was uncomfortable,” Bucky said when they returned.
“Yeah, it was,” Steve agreed, but Sam and Natasha could tell it wasn’t all bad. Especially when they saw Steve take Bucky’s hand under the table when they were all eating dinner.
Sam and Natasha went next. She took him to Rockefeller Center to go ice skating. She hooked her arm into his and pressed herself up against him as they skated around the rink. She was much better at it than Sam, to neither of their surprise, but when he stumbled and accidentally pulled her down, they both laughed, and then she leaned in and pecked him on the lips. He stared at her for a moment, trying to gauge how much of it was for the people around them, but then he decided he didn’t care. He pulled her back in and kissed her hard, and she curled her arms around his neck and let him.
Wanda studied them curiously when they returned to the compound that night, both of them still laughing and grinning, and Natasha told Sam later that she saw Wanda shooting them looks over the top of her book the rest of the night.
Steve took Natasha to the ballet. She stared at him in surprise when he led her to the theater and showed her a ticket, fidgeting a little as he did so. She flung herself into his arms in gratitude.
Steve spent the whole show watching Natasha, at the smile on her face and the way her eyes lit up. They went out for coffee afterward and she told him how dancing was the one part of her past she didn’t regret.
She waited till they got back to the compound before kissing him, there in the doorway.
Unlike the first time they kissed, back when they were on the run from Hydra, this time when they pulled apart, she beamed at him. “You’ve been practicing,” she said, and for once, Steve didn’t think she was being sarcastic.
Steve and Sam went to volunteer at a soup kitchen. They served hot meals to vets, standing side-by-side and sharing their experiences with those in line. They shook a lot of hands and took a lot of photos, and they finished the evening just sitting on a bench in a park a few miles from the compound, staring out over the water and talking.
They didn’t return back to the compound until after midnight, where they found Natasha and Bucky asleep, curled into each other on the couch. Steve and Sam covered them both with a blanket, smiled at each other and went up to bed — together.
A month later, the four of them sat around a table in the kitchen eating the breakfast Sam had just cooked for them.
“This dating thing,” Natasha said, “It’s not so fake after all, is it?”
Sam let out a whoosh of air. “I thought it was just me who thought so.”
Steve looked up and grinned at him, a twinkle in his eye. “No, you didn’t think it was just you,” he said.
“Okay, no, I didn’t,” Sam said.
Bucky looked around the table, at all of them one by one. “So we’re doing this?” he said. “All of us?”
“Why not?” Natasha said. “It could be fun.”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “Why not?”
Steve picked up his orange juice, tilted his glass toward them as though in a toast. “Yeah,” Steve said. “Why not?”
“I guess it could be fun” Bucky said, but he was grinning, and they all clinked their glasses together. Later, they sealed it their new relationship with a kiss — and a lot more kisses after that.