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If there was one thing Bucky Barnes hated in life, it was running out of beer. 

“Hey, Clint, can you grab the extra keg from the back room?  And - hey, you!” Bucky shouted at a kid that looked no older than sixteen, who was trying to sneak a solo cup’s worth of beer from the nearly-empty keg. “How old are you?”

“Uh - nineteen?”

“Can I see your ID?”

The kid looked terrified. “Okay, I’m sorry, I’m sixteen, I just thought-”

“Well, you thought wrong. Do you want to go causing trouble for our Greek system?” Bucky said, ripping the solo cup from the high schooler’s fingers.  “Trust me, buddy, you wanna get gone, or else when Clint gets back-”

“Yes?” Clint said, appearing at Bucky’s elbow and setting the keg down heavily in front of him.

Bucky turned back to where the kid had been standing, but he was gone.  “Thank god,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief.  “I thought for a sec we would have to drag him out of here. Let’s do a sweep, just to make sure none of his friends are hanging around - we don’t need that sort of trouble with the cops this weekend.” 

“Good idea,” Clint said, and disappeared into the throng of people that were crowding the kitchen.

Bucky scrambled to attach the dispenser to the new keg, then went to check on booze levels at the counter’s impromptu bar - they were doing okay, but were a little low on vodka, so he pulled out another bottle from the cabinet above the microwave.

Clint fought his way past three giggling freshmen girls from Tri-Delta and poured himself a liberal shot of whiskey, draining it in one swift motion. 

“Any more?” Bucky asked, craning his head over a Delta Tau Delta pledge to check on cups.

“Just a couple,” Clint said, shrugging.  “You know it’s inevitable, Buck, they just wanna have a good time-”

“They won’t be having a good time in my house after what happened last year with Alpha Sigma Phi, I can tell you that much.” 

It had been a scandal - thirteen high school seniors caught at one of their parties that just happened to fall on the same night as the local high school’s prom.  Between that and the usual hazing complaints that were filed yearly against nearly all the campus Greek houses, the school board had to take quick action to shut down their chapter of ΑΣΦ. 

Bucky would be damned if he let the same thing happen to ΚΣΒ. 

“You don’t say,” Clint said sardonically.  “You wouldn’t even let us torture the freshmen this year, what fun is that?”

Bucky rolled his eyes, but smiled. He knew Clint was just joking, although there were many fraternities on campus that didn’t care much about what the school board thought and continued to haze the way they’d always done. Bucky had been careful with Rush this year, making sure that the process was fun, and maybe there was a little bit of hazing, but at the very least, it was safe. 

“Cry me a river. Now go grab some more chips from the pantry, we’re running low.” 

A great cheer erupted from the living room, and Bucky reluctantly left the kitchen to see what was going on. Some of the juniors had, it seemed, set up a beer pong tournament in Bucky’s absence, which, really not fair, because he was damn good at beer pong.  It was a point of personal pride. 

“Hey, James!” The shout rang out from the room behind him and he swung around to see Natasha Romanoff weaving her way through the crowd, a pack of young sorority girls fanning out behind her.

“I see you brought the Delta Beta Theta delegation, then?” he said, grinning at her and beckoning her to the kitchen to pour her a drink. 

“I do my best,” she said, accepting about four fingers of straight vodka from the fresh bottle Bucky had brought down earlier.  Bucky had always been impressed with her ability to drink vodka as if it was water, but she just claimed it came from being brought up in a rural area of Russia where their only pastime was seeing who could drink who under the table.  “Good bunch this year, though - little heartbreakers,” she sighed happily as she watched her fellow sisters start mingling with the hordes of frat boys that usually came to the first ΚΣΒ mixer.

Bucky snorted. “Where- hey!” he yelled, snatching a bag of pills out of the hand of a passing sophomore.  “What the fuck are these?  If you don’t want them going down the drain, get them the fuck out of my house.” The boy took one look at Bucky’s prosthetic arm and dog tags, and booked it out of the room. “Unbelievable. Anyways, where’s Pepper? I didn’t see her come in with you.”

“She’s got a date or something,” Natasha said, swilling her vodka around.  “Some nerdy little engineering student, I’ve never heard of him before.”

“He not Greek?” Bucky said, leaning against the counter and surveying the crowd, trying to keep an eye out for any more illicit drugs.  He didn’t mind the occasional joint in his house, but anything else was too dangerous to be seen within fifteen yards of a fraternity with the cops on such high alert.

“I’m not sure,” Natasha said, frowning.  “Might be. Gamma Nu… something? I’ve never seen him at a party before, though.  They probably just run in a different circuit.” 

Bucky nodded - some chapters were closer than others, and he certainly didn’t know everyone in the Greek system. They hadn’t even had their first Greek Life meeting yet this year, so he had no idea who’d been chosen as president from any of the other chapters. 

“Where’s Clint?” Natasha asked in a way that probably would have sounded offhanded to anyone else, but Bucky knew her too well. 

“Last I saw him, he was going to get more chips.  Bucky stood on his toes so that he could see above people’s heads to the table.  “Seeing as that’s been done, I have no idea where he went.”

Natasha shrugged and poured herself more vodka.  “All right.”

“You know, you could just ask him out,” Bucky said.  “I can guarantee he would say yes.”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t have time for that sort of thing right now, you know that.” 

“Right,” Bucky said slowly, “with all twelve credits you’re taking, you don’t have the time.”

She glared at him, and Bucky shut up, knowing when it was time to stop.  He may have been in the army, but Natasha had a history with martial arts, and he never wanted to be on the receiving end of her anger.

“Speaking of relationships…” Natasha said, raising her eyebrows. 

“No, Nat, how many times do I have to tell you, I do not need your help, I can find fuck buddies just fine myself-”

“Fuck buddies, yeah, but when was the last time you were in an honest to god relationship? There’s this girl in my Russian lit class, I think you’d really like her-”

“No,” Bucky said hurriedly. “No, that’s okay. I’m not interested.”

If he was being perfectly truthful with himself, the ladies hadn’t interested him now for a solid year and a half, and he wasn’t sure when the attraction would come back - if it ever would. Even Natasha, who he would have literally killed someone to sleep with at one point, held no appeal for him anymore.

Now, Clint, on the other hand -

Bucky stopped himself right there. His best friend was firmly off-limits. Safer to think about Thor, the head of Delta Psi Beta, or even Phil, who was now VP of Kappa Omicron Psi.

So yeah, maybe his dry streak had lasted a bit longer than usual - a lot longer than usual - but his reputation as a stellar heterosexual wasn’t just something he could throw away, particularly as the head of a very traditionally masculine fraternity, and as an army vet.

It was certainly fucked up, but he couldn’t see a way out of it. 

“Well,” Nat said, which effectively tore his attention away from the spot on the wall he’d been absently staring at, “if you ever change your mind…”

“You’ll be the first to know.”

“Oh, hey, Nat,” said Clint, who had just reappeared at Bucky’s shoulder.  His hair was ruffled and there was a smudge of dirt on his nose.

“Where’d you get to?” Bucky asked, looking at Clint’s rather disheveled appearance. 

“Had a slight altercation with some of the Delta Psi Betas, nothing major,” Clint said, looking away from Bucky.

“Slight?” Natasha said, clearly interested. 

“There might’ve been cocaine involved.” 

Bucky sighed. “What happened?”

“Nothing, really,” Clint said, rubbing the back of his neck.  “I just had to… escort them out.” 

“You’ve got dirt-” Natasha said gesturing towards Clint’s nose, but he wasn’t paying much attention - someone had just puked all over the fireplace. 

“I got it,” Bucky said wearily, leaving Clint and Natasha to it.  “Thanks for dealing with the coke, Clint.” 

“Don’t mention it,” Clint called as Natasha rubbed at his nose with her thumb, trying to remove the dirt.

“All right, let’s go,” Bucky said, escorting the girl who had puked to the door, a group of her friends trailing along behind him and apologizing repeatedly. 

“You get her home, okay?” Bucky said to the girls, transferring their sick friend into their waiting arms. “Are you walking, or do you need me to call you all a cab?”

“Walking,” said one of them, shaking her head a little as her friend leaned heavier on her. “Sorry again - thanks for all your help.” 

“Don’t mention it,” Bucky said, closing the door behind them. 

“Bucky!” Clint’s voice rung out across the living room, which now hung thick with smoke.  “We’ve got a situation over here!”

Bucky leaned against the doorframe for a minute, closed his eyes, and wondered why he ever thought he wanted to be the fucking president of a fraternity.

Chapter Text

“Steve, buddy!”

Steve Rogers turned, spying Tony Stark strolling towards him through a sea of drunk college students. Tony had the peculiar talent of being able to part any crowd simply with a wave of his hand and a larger-than-life presence, and it certainly came in handy at ragers.

“Tony,” Steve said, smiling, taking in Tony’s appearance - he was wearing rose-tinted aviators, a shockingly well-tailored tuxedo, and a grin that could light up the night sky. He was holding two glasses of champagne, one in each hand, and Steve sincerely hoped one of those was intended for him because otherwise it was going to be one of those nights.

(The last time it had been one of those nights, Tony had ended up thinking it would be a good idea to smash watermelons all over the inside of the frat house using only a “propuslor” that he had invented in one of the school labs in his spare time. Needless to say, the destruction had been widespread and absolute.) 

“Glad to see you made it! Where are the kiddos?”

Steve turned around and gestured behind him, where the new members of Rho Sigma Nu were dispersing into the crowd. “They’ve been talking about it nonstop for a week.  What rumors have you been spreading?”

“No rumors,” Tony said, grinning and taking Steve’s arm, proceeding to yank him towards the living room and away from the entryway. 

Steve raised one eyebrow. “So you actually hired seven professional bartenders, filled your pool with beer, and installed a stripper pole in the basement?”

Tony grinned wickedly. “The stripper pole was a great idea, don’t let anyone tell you any differently.  Especially Rhodey, because he will try to tell you it was a mistake.” 

“I’m sure,” Steve grumbled, accepting the glass of champagne that Tony held out to him.  It was very like Tony to serve champagne at his first mixer of the year - he’d always had a flair for the dramatic, ever since Steve met him his first year at university, when Tony had been his next door neighbor. They’d gone to different fraternities, but had remained friends since. 

As Tony wheeled Steve into the kitchen for some food (it was catered, Steve noticed, from Hell’s Kitchen - a five-star restaurant located downtown and run by an enigmatic chef), they passed by a table that was littered with what looked like different packets of pills, and more than a few joints. 

“Tony…” Steve began, but Tony ripped him away from the table. 

“Illicit activities table, Cap, pay no mind,” Tony said, shoving a plate of food into Steve’s hands, apparently hoping that would effectively shut him up.  Steve was about to rail Tony for it anyways when he said something completely unexpected.

“So, I went on a date last weekend.”

Steve almost spat out his cream cheese dumpling.  “You? You went on a date?”

Tony grinned, clearly proud that he had torn Steve’s attention away from the drugs that were currently being distributed right under his nose. 

“Yep.” 

“With who?” Steve asked, too incredulous to remember to keep the shock out of his voice.

“Girl named Pepper. She’s in my abnormal psychology class,” Tony said, trying and failing to look nonchalant. 

“And?”

“And it was good. She’s actually the VP of Delta Beta… Phi?  No, Delta Beta Theta. That’s gotta be it.”

Steve frowned. “Isn’t that the one that has the Russian assassin for a president?”

“Yeah, her name’s Natasha. And she’s not an assassin, according to Pepper, she just wants to join the CIA.  And maybe assassinate people for them.  Hey, I can’t judge,” he added, holding up his hands as if in surrender, “my old man makes weapons.” 

Steve was about to respond when Sam Wilson came around the corner, swaying slightly and clearly on at least his sixth drink.  Sam was Steve’s VP, and also his oldest college friend ever since they were roommates as freshmen.

“Steve,” Sam said, coming up to them, “they were not lying about the pool of beer.  You’ve gotta come see it.” 

Tony beamed.

“Where’s Carol?” Steve asked, looking around Sam to see if she had followed him in. 

“No idea, lost her about an hour ago. She’s probably doing shots off someone’s stomach.” 

Tony laughed, and asked, “That not bother you, Wilson?”

“Nah,” Sam said, “girls hate the clingy types, Stark, don’t you know?”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Tony said, and winked.  “I’ll leave you boys to it, I’ve gotta go check on the beer pool and make sure it’s doing all right. Stay away from the drugs, Cap,” he added, laughing as he strolled away through the crowd. 

Steve drained the rest of his champagne.  “Is he ever gonna respect-?” 

“Never,” Sam said, helping himself to some sort of mystery punch that was resting on the counter. “It’s just too good, man.”

Steve’s ambition, following college, had always been to enter the NYPD, or just join some sort of government crime-prevention organization.  The moment he’d expressed this to Tony their freshman year, Stark had never let him live it down, constantly taunting Steve about his own underage drinking and drug use.  It had grown even worse in the time since Steve had taken over the Rho Sigma Nhu fraternity, since he was now, in a way, encouraging the consumption of illegal materials by underage guys.  He hadn’t yet figured out a good way to justify what he was doing as the President of ΡΣΝ, even to himself. 

Watching Tony’s receding back, Steve said, “You were joking about the pool full of beer, right?”

Sam shrugged. “Guess you’ll never know. Come on, they’re starting up a beer pong tournament in the other room.  Let’s go show these freshmen how it’s done, huh?”

Two hours and too many beers later, Steve and Sam walked away from the tournament victorious and, in Sam’s case, incredibly drunk.  Steve was a bit buzzed, but his bizarre metabolism that had kicked into gear his senior year of high school seemed to keep him from that level of drunk that caused lost nights and bad choices. 

“All right, Steve, what say we find you a girl?” Sam said, leaning heavily on Steve’s side and surveying the crowd.

“Nah, Sam, I’m all right,” Steve said, patting Sam’s shoulder. 

“Man, you can’t keep pining away after her forever,” Sam said, shaking his head.  “She’s gone, Steve.  Went back to England.  There’s nothing you can do about it now.” 

Steve knew he was right. Beautiful, intelligent, incredible Peggy Carter had gone back to England at the end of spring quarter the year before, and he hadn’t heard much from her since.  He knew there wasn’t anything he could have done, but he’d never felt that way about any other girl before. A year was much too short a time to spend with her. 

“I know.  I guess I still can’t figure out how to let her go.”

Sam shrugged. “Fuck it out of your system? Therapy for serial monogamists?”

Steve scowled. “I loved her.  You can’t just let that go.” 

Sam nodded slowly. “I think I understand,” he said, and Steve followed his gaze to the back of the room, where Carol Danvers was standing, hair looking blue in the dance floor lighting Tony had rented out. She was talking to a girl Steve didn’t know - tall, thin, and with hair Steve could tell was red even with the club lights. 

“Who’s she talking to?” he asked, just to try and move the conversation away from himself.

“Not sure, I think her name is Pepper or something?”

Steve smiled. “You don’t say.”

“Stop trying to change the subject, Rogers.”

With a sigh, Steve said, “How ‘bout I tell you when I’m ready to get back in the dating game, and then you can find me a girl, okay?”

“Deal,” Sam said. “But hey, at least come and dance a bit.” 

Steve rolled his eyes. “Sam, you know I don’t dance.”

“You do tonight,” Sam persisted, pulling Steve along with him into the mass of bodies gathered in the gigantic living room. Tony had hired a professional DJ for the event, and Steve had to admit, as he awkwardly tried to dance with a junior from some sorority he didn’t know, that Tony really did throw the best parties. 

Chapter Text

“You know other people drink from that, right?” Bucky asked as he watched Clint pick up the entire coffee carafe and begin to drink straight from it.

Clint shrugged, still chugging coffee.  “They can make more,” he said when he finally pulled away from the carafe, setting it gently back down on the hot plate. 

“Are you not going to class?” Clint’s first class started at 10:00 on M/W/F, and Bucky thought that he’d already skipped about four classes within the first month of school. 

Clint grimaced.  “It’s raining.  I don’t wanna walk in the rain.” 

“And you wonder why you’ve never graduated,” Bucky said, rolling his eyes while pulling his Russian translations closer to him.  “I can’t believe you haven’t, by the way, a fucking comm major and everything-”

“Hey now! Fine, if it makes you happy, I’ll go,” Clint said loftily, packing up his bag and throwing his raincoat on. 

“Bless,” said Bucky, grinning behind his notebook.  “Don’t get lost, okay?”

“You’re a fucking asshole,” Clint said, lacing up his boots.  “Don’t know why I stick around.” 

“You ask Natasha out yet?” Bucky asked, resolutely not rising to Clint’s bait and refocusing on the third paragraph of the passage of Paradise Lost, which he was meant to be translating into Cyrillic. 

“Fuck off.”  The door shut, indicating that Clint had left, and Bucky stood to make himself some tea.  It really was raining hard, and the house was drafty and empty, most of its inhabitants at class.  His phone chimed and he looked down, surprised to see Natasha’s name flashing on a text notification. 

Nat: hey you, wanna go grab coffee someplace

Bucky smiled.

Bucky: sure, you wanna help me translate paradise lost into russian? If you say no then I’m not gonna come

Nat: fuck you. fine ill do your homework for you, you fucking slacker

Bucky: <3 love you too

Nat: meet at 1 at banners?

Bucky: see you there babe

Nat: you call me that again and I punch you

Bucky: :)

#

Banner’s was a ridiculously pretentious, hipster-oriented coffee shop that was about two blocks away from campus.  Bucky usually felt a little out of place there, but had thrown on a pea coat in an attempt to better fit in with the crowd.  Natasha was already there, elbows leaning on the table in front of her, a cup of black coffee between her palms.  Bucky picked up his own coffee from the bar and went to join her.  Natasha was always beautiful, but the rain had gentled her features, somehow, turning her hair a dark auburn and making the angles of her face seem somehow softer.

“Hey,” she said, smiling as Bucky sat across from her. 

“What’s up?” Bucky asked, setting his backpack down next to him and pulling out the passage of Paradise Lost he needed help with. 

Natasha shrugged.  “Nothing, really.  We just haven’t had much of a chance to catch up since your mixer.”

“So you missed me,” Bucky said, smiling.  Natasha swiped at his arm.

“I don’t miss people.  I have no feelings, remember?”

“Of course, my mistake,” Bucky said, leaning back in his seat and surveying her over the top of his mug.  “How are your classes?”

“Easy,” Natasha said, “but that’s not why I wanted to have coffee with you.  Are you doing all right, James?” 

Bucky grimaced.  She was the only person he knew that still used his given name instead of just calling him ‘Bucky,’ and it drove him crazy.  She knew that, of course, and probably only called him James out of spite. 

“Of course I’m doing all right.  What the hell would make you think otherwise?”

“Oh,” Natasha said, “only the fact that you haven’t had sex for at least eight months.” 

“How the hell-” Bucky started, then stopped himself, but the damage was already done.  “How do you know that’s the last time I slept with anyone?”

“I know everything,” Natasha said simply, shrugging and sipping her coffee.  “James, what’s going on?  Far be it from me to encourage womanizing, but it’s starting to worry me.” 

Bucky could understand that - sex had, admittedly, been one of his favorite pastimes before he had discovered that he maybe wasn’t quite as straight as he’d always thought. 

“Look, Nat, I appreciate your concern, but it’s not a big deal, okay?  It’s just - it’s a dry spell, and I’m looking for the right girl, you know…” Bucky finished lamely, entirely aware that she wasn’t going to buy it. 

“The right girl,” she deadpanned, right on cue.  Bucky winced.  “You know you can trust me with anything, right?  I’m here for you.  I’ve always been here for you.” 

Bucky almost felt bad - of course she was right; she’d been one of his best friends since he first met her in an introductory history class freshman year.  With the possible exception of Clint, he was closer to her than anyone else, and he knew that she would never judge him for being… whatever he was.  He knew for a fact that Natasha had fooled around with girls before, and even once, with Pepper - Bucky had no idea how they’d managed to get past that one, but they were still as close as ever. 

“Thanks, Nat.  I’ll - I’m gonna have to think about it, okay?”

“Sure,” she said easily.  “Now hand me that translation.” 

Bucky laughed, and pushed it over to her side of the table.  He leaned back in his chair, watching the entrance to the coffee shop with passive interest, occasionally glancing at the person working the bar - Bruce, the owner of the place, who was a constant fixture in the lives of many Hudson State students.  He had a fantastic vibe going for him - he was maybe ten years older than his usual crowd, and his brown hair always curled adorably around his ears. 

Bucky let his gaze drift from the bar to the other patrons, some seated around the fireplace, others clustered around small circular tables by the windows, books spread out over every viable inch of wood.  He let himself imagine, just for a second, what it would be like to be part of one of the couples cozied up by the fire, huddled over a shared crossword puzzle, or perhaps reading separate books, ankles entwined.

But who ever found love in a coffee shop, anyways?  Bucky shook himself, and turned back to Natasha, figuring he might as well try to learn something while he had her helping him. 

“Pepper’s doing well.  She’s still seeing that same guy,” she said, continuing to scrawl perfect Cyrillic onto a spare sheet of notebook paper. 

Glad for the distraction, Bucky smiled.  “That’s good.  What’s his name again?”

She rolled her eyes.  “Tony.  She won’t shut up about him, though - they’ve only been together three weeks and it’s already driving me insane.”

“Well,” Bucky said cautiously, “maybe if you just had someone of your own….”

Natasha fixed him with a pointed glare, and he desisted, finishing off his coffee.  “I’m gonna go grab another cup,” he said.  “Do you want more?”

“Thanks,” Natasha said, holding up her mug without looking away from the translation. 

Bucky snorted.  “Yeah, yeah, no problem….”

“Hey, Bucky,” Bruce said as Bucky approached the counter.  “Two more drips?”

“Please,” Bucky said, grinning broadly.  “What’s the roast today?  It’s really good.” 

“Ah, I’m glad you asked that, actually….”

Bruce talked animatedly about the new blends he’d received two days before as he prepared their refills, making them pour-overs even though those were meant to cost extra.  By the time he was done, Bucky had learned several inane facts about the roasting process and how to make a proper pour-over; it was these sorts of conversations that kept him coming back to Banner’s, despite the granola atmosphere. 

“Thanks, man,” Bucky said, taking the mugs and leaving a five in the tip jar. 

“Anytime, Bucky,” Bruce said, smiling and turning away to wipe down the bar. 

Natasha was watching him with narrowed eyes as he returned to his seat.  “What?” he asked, setting her mug down by her left hand, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. 

“Nothing,” she said softly, but Bucky could sense the lie under her words, and wondered why she didn’t just come out and say it, whatever it was, that was bothering her.

Natasha was stubborn when she didn’t want to talk, however, so Bucky shrugged and said, “Whatever,” turning to give one last glance to Bruce before settling back into his seat.  “So,” he started, uncomfortably, when he noticed her eyes were back on him like lasers, “what have you got so far?” 

Rain pattered on glass windows, and Bucky Barnes pushed uneasiness from his mind. 

 

Chapter Text

“What do you mean, we got an invite to a Delta Beta Theta party?” Steve asked, staring blankly at Sam while he continued to rinse the same pot repeatedly.  It was, by now, quite clean.

“My god, you’d think you’d been dropped on your head as a child,” Sam sighed, carefully moving to Steve’s side to shut off the water.  Steve started, looked down, and reluctantly set the pot to dry.

“Well it’s not unlikely, looking at my laundry list of medical conditions-” 

“Rho Sigma Nu,” interrupted Sam, every word exaggerated so that Steve could discern each syllable clearly, “has been invited to a party hosted by Delta Beta Theta.  There.  Need any more clarification?”

Steve glared. “No, I think I’m good, thanks. Any particular reason why we’ve been introduced into the party circuit?”

It wasn’t that other frats and sororities didn’t do good things for the community, just that there were some - Delta Beta Theta’s crew included - that chose to center their efforts on other things. Like figuring out how much alcohol the average freshman could drink and still stand upright. Fraternities such as Steve’s - those that didn’t focus much on parties, besides attending those rare ragers thrown by people such as Tony Stark - were seen as frats for people that didn’t really want a true fraternity experience, but wanted the connections and the community provided by endless hours of community service and a long history of membership.  (Steve rather thought this was the real fraternity experience, but would never say that to Tony, because then he’d just get more snide comments about Captain Rogers, fraternity police.)

“Not really sure - probably because we’re friends with Tony, and he’s dating the VP from ΔΒΘ , who, I’m sure, told him to invite anyone he thought was worthwhile.  It’ll be fine, man.  It’s not even really a party, is it?  It’s a sponsored open mic night.  Not even close to the same thing.  Very quiet, only a couple dozen people.” 

Steve scowled. “I sure hope Tony doesn’t expect me to…” he stopped at Sam’s wince.  “What, Sam. What is it.” 

“He might’ve…” Sam said, trailing off, then apparently deciding it was best to continue after spotting the expression on Steve’s face, which closely resembled something chiseled from marble, finished, “… signed you up already?  He told Pepper you were really good, I guess, and… Steve, man, don’t kill the messenger,” Sam pleaded, backing around to put the kitchen island counter in between him and Steve’s massive and very muscular body. 

“He already signed me up?” Steve repeated, just to make sure he’d heard right, and so that he would know exactly whose ass to kick. 

“Yeah,” Sam said apologetically. “If I could get you out of it, man, I’d’ve done it, but it’s at a local venue, and I just….”

“Where’s it being held?” Steve asked, curiosity finally getting the better of him. 

Sam sighed in apparent relief at the change of subject.  “Asgard Cellars. It’s not a huge space, but it’s 21 and over, so there won’t be any freshmen or anything there… it’s only our upperclassmen that are invited.” 

Steve let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.  If it was at Asgard, it couldn’t be too bad - a local mead shop, Asgard Cellars regularly hosted open mic nights that were free to college students, although he’d never heard of the space being rented out for a private function before. In fact, he thought it might be owned by Thor’s father. 

Thor was one of those people who everyone knew, but nobody knew anything about, except the fact that he played quarterback for HSU’s football team.  Even his name was a bit of a mystery, since nobody knew what it really was.  According to school legend, “Thor” had been a nickname he’d picked up during his high school years when someone noticed his lightning-like accuracy on the field. Steve had never met Thor, but knew he was the President of Delta Psi Beta, a major party fraternity and one whose parties Steve studiously avoided.   

At least if the performance went poorly, he could drink afterwards. 

“We extend the invite to just a few of the seniors, okay?  Don’t want to be showing up with a crowd, that space is too small,” Steve said, holding up his hands in mock surrender.  “And remind me to tell Tony that he needs to take a damn class in social cues.”

Sam shook his head sadly. “Pretty sure Rhodey’s been telling him that for years, poor guy.  Geniuses, man - they’re something else.” 

Steve nodded in agreement - once Tony got an idea in his head, there was very little that could stop him. “Want to go out tonight? Double wells at Knowhere for two bucks.”

“You had me at double wells.”

#

The bar was crowded - only three blocks away from Greek Row, it was a popular drinking destination. Steve managed to scare a group of four younger juniors away from a pool table just by giving them a look (one Tony called his ‘Captain’ look, it was intensely disapproving), and they settled in to play a few games before the dance floor opened up and the place got crazy. 

“Steve! Hey!”

Steve turned to find Peter Quill striding up to them, snapback firmly in place and sporting a ridiculous red leather jacket and pants.  A senior in the music department, Peter moonlighted as a DJ and went by the moniker of ‘Star-Lord.’ Steve thought it was the dumbest name Peter could have possibly come up with, and told him as such when Peter took his first gig at one of the smaller clubs downtown.  Peter had laughed, told him it was “legendary,” and never looked back.

“Peter, how’s it going?”

“Pretty good,” Peter said, holding out his hand to Steve and Sam in turn, “just mixing here tonight. I’ll be at Shield on Saturday if you wanna hit me up there, too,” he added, winking, and Steve had to resist the strong urge to roll his eyes.   

“We’re gonna have to pass on that one,” Sam said, turning back to the table to take his next shot.

When Peter raised his eyebrows, Steve supplied, “ΔΒΘ open mic night at Asgard.  Apparently Tony signed me up.” 

“Sucks to suck,” Peter said, and laughed.  “Christ, Steve, it’s a good thing your music tastes are about sixty years out of date - anything else would kill the vibe.” 

Scowling, Steve turned to the pool table so that he could take his turn.  Peter was right, of course - Steve’s music tastes were varied, but he did have a healthy appreciation for old classics, particularly old rock and roll. Anything modern short of a John Mayer sound would be very out of place at Asgard.  “I’m sure I’ll figure something out,” he said, sinking the 7 ball and watching as the cue ball ricocheted off a wall to drop the 3 as well.

“Fuck you, man,” Sam said, leaning heavily against his cue and taking a large swig of his beer.

“One of these days, you’ll beat his ass,” Peter said to Sam, sounding amused, and he clapped both Steve and Sam on the back.  “Well, gotta go pay the bills - see you guys later!” 

Sam considered Peter as he walked away.  “I’m not sure how he can beat on your music tastes, seeing as all he listens to when he’s not working is shit from the seventies.” 

“It’s good shit,” said Steve, shrugging.  “Eight ball, corner pocket.” 

Sam eyed the pool table and narrowed his eyes.  “Naw, man, you’ll never make that.”

“Is that how it is?” Steve asked, raising his eyebrows. 

“Oh, that’s how it is.”

Steve took the shot, and the eight ball dropped.  

Chapter Text

“Remind me again why I have to be here?” 

Natasha glared at him.  “Because you’re scared I’d slit your throat in your sleep if you didn’t come.”  

“Well, that too, I guess,” said Bucky, leaning heavily on a small table cramped into a back corner of Asgard Cellars.  The place was decked with gentle, twinkling lights that were strung from nearly every available rafter beam, and there was a fire crackling cheerfully across from where Bucky and Natasha were seated.  There was no other light in the whole bar except for a single spotlight, which shone a soft yellow-white on a small, raised platform that would serve as the stage.  

“But really though, you know I don’t usually go for this sort of stuff….” 

“Which is exactly why it’s so important to be here,” said Natasha coolly, scanning the slowly growing crowd.  “Here comes Clint,” she said, raising a hand and waving him over.  

“Sorry I’m late, I couldn’t find my hearing aids,” Clint said, sliding into the seat next to Natasha.  “Would sort of defeat the purpose of the thing, wouldn’t it?” 

Natasha rose to grab them drinks, and Bucky continued to watch people file into the bar.  There were a couple guys he didn’t know from a fraternity he thought was called Rho Sigma Nu; one of them, a tall black man with a smile that was somehow brighter than the spotlight at the front of the room, claimed a table over by the windows as his companion went to fetch them mead.  Pepper and a man Bucky didn’t know edged their way through the mass of people, collapsing into a couple of open seats when they reached the table.  

“Hey Buck, Clint,” Pepper said.  “Where’s Nat?” 

“Getting booze,” Clint said, smiling at the stranger.  “So you’re Tony, then?” 

Tony Stark was short, with perfectly sculpted facial hair and eyes that were bright and inquisitive even in the dim light of the bar.  “Sure am.  Clint, right?” Clint nodded, and Tony turned his attention to Bucky, eyes flitting from Bucky’s face down to his prosthetic arm.  

Bucky held out his flesh arm for Tony to take.  “Bucky.”

Tony just nodded, eyes still fixed on Bucky’s prosthetic, and Bucky wasn’t sure how he felt about the slightly hungry look in Tony’s eyes as his gaze raked the place where the prosthetic disappeared into Bucky’s sleeve.  “IED?” he asked suddenly, and Bucky jumped.  

“Yeah,” he said, glancing away towards the door so as to have something to do.  

“Would you ever consider-”

Natasha returned just then, cutting off Tony’s sentence.  “So Thor agreed to emcee for us, since it’s his dad’s bar-”

“Bro…,” Clint said, with no small degree of trepidation.  

Natasha fixed a gaze on him that would have made lesser men wither.  “…So we should be getting started in about five minutes.”  

Clint drained his glass and stood.  “I’m gonna need more mead for this,” he said, glancing at Natasha.  “Be back in a sex — sec-” he stuttered, and disappeared into the crowd.  

Tony turned back to Bucky instantly.  “Would you ever consider letting me work on a new arm for you?” 

Bucky stared.  “Uh… what do you mean?” 

“I’m an engineer,” Tony said, waving his hand distractedly, as if this bit of information didn’t matter.  “I build stuff.  I’ve been looking for a new project-”

“So you thought you’d experiment on him?” Natasha cut in, and her face was colder than Bucky had ever seen it.  

Tony shrugged, completely unapologetic.  Bucky was impressed at the lack of fear he saw on Tony’s face - if Natasha had looked at him like that, he’d have hid under the table.  

“I like building things,” Tony said, shrugging.  “Look, if you’re interested, let me know.” 

Bucky nodded slowly.  “Yeah, okay.  Thanks.”  

Natasha looked very much as if she’d like to say something, but Thor started speaking onstage, and she shrank back into her chair, crossing her arms over her chest.  

“Welcome, friends, to Asgard!” Thor boomed, completely ignoring the microphone that the tech crew had set up.  “Mead is on the house tonight, so I encourage you all to drink your fill and enjoy some fine performances!” He beamed around at the assembled crowd, and Bucky tried very hard not to look at the way his pectorals flexed beneath his too-tight shirt.  

Natasha frowned.  “I told him he didn’t have to do that…” she whispered.  Natasha hated favors, mostly because she hated being indebted to people - debt formed obligation, and Natasha liked to operate alone.  

“Up first tonight, we have Scott Summers, playing ‘Cherry Wine’….” 

Bucky’s eyes slid from the stage as the kid started the opening chords to a love song whose words he didn’t care to hear or understand.  He’d never had much interest in music, unless it was the kind for dancing, and this wasn’t it.  He lived steeped in words - translations, ancient poetry transcribed onto weightless flakes of parchment.  He’d promised Natasha that he’d perform, just because it was her event and he loved her (and because he was afraid she would kill him if he said no).  He was fourth up, and followed yet another performance of ‘Wonderwall’ with a slightly sick feeling in his stomach, just as he did every time he read in front of an audience.  

The light was bright - so bright - and he instinctively tried to hide his prosthetic behind his back as he drew up the piece on his phone.  He began speaking, words soft at first, then growing in confidence as he grew accustomed to the dozens of shadowed faces all turned towards him.  

“You watch her standing
Behind the old cedar depot, 
Steps chipped and molded 
By Mars’s storms.  Born 
From stone, her skin
Burnished with braille,
She weeps with the rain. 
It works the creases of her skin, 
Slithers deep where flame
Used to grow.  Her feet are still.  
Earth turns clay around her 
Sidewalk, rots in her womb. 
She breathes, and is drowned.  
Age stalks her, claims her pores, 
Takes her rain-creases and erodes.”

Bucky didn’t even take time to register the gentle snapping that followed the last words; the bar beckoned to him so sweetly, and he ran to drown post-reading embarrassment in another glass of free mead.   He couldn’t even remember what he’d written the damn thing about - just found it, hiding in a back file on his computer, separated from the rest of his work.  The words echoed, but somehow didn’t sound like his own. 

“That was beautiful, Buck!” Pepper whispered to him as he sat back down.  Natasha just nudged him gently with her elbow, but Bucky understood the gesture as one of appreciation.  

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, turning his attention back up front, where Thor was introducing the next performer.  Bucky didn’t recognize the name Thor called out, but watched attentively as the black man he had seen earlier nudged his friend, who was sitting hunched in shadow, apparently loath to actually go onstage.  

Finally, the stranger stood up, gripping a guitar tightly in one hand.  He ducked onto the stage, obviously trying to make himself seem as small as possible, but even Bucky could see that it was a hopeless effort.  It was as if someone had taken Thor’s physique and removed the brutality from his strength, and instead smoothed the curvature of muscles, enhanced their shape.  For such a large person, however, this man had the air of being much smaller, as if he had grown a significant amount in a short period of time and wasn’t sure what to do with all the extra length on his limbs.  He adjusted the microphone carefully, perched on the edge of the stool, and finally faced the audience.  

Even in the terrible lighting and from a great distance, the first thing Bucky noticed was that the stranger’s eyes were a startling shade of blue - one that might seem cerulean in bright sunlight.  The second thing, of course, was his mouth, because the man had started to sing.   

“Well, since my baby left me,
I found a new place to dwell.
It's down at the end of lonely street
at Heartbreak Hotel.
You make me so lonely baby,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely I could die.”

Bucky realized that his mouth was hanging open, and forced it shut.  There was just something about that voice that sounded so familiar, like he had heard it before, like he had been hearing it all his life.  

“And although it's always crowded,
you still can find some room.
Where broken hearted lovers
do cry away their gloom.
You make me so lonely baby,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely I could die.”

The man lifted his gaze to the audience for the first time, and his eyes locked with Bucky’s, who couldn’t stop staring, transfixed.  He wondered vaguely if his heart had stopped beating, because there was nothing in that moment, nothing, except the man on stage.   

“Well, the Bell hop's tears keep flowin',
and the desk clerk's dressed in black.
Well they been so long on lonely street
They ain't ever gonna look back.
You make me so lonely baby,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely I could die.”

His last chord seemed to echo in the room, hanging suspended like snow after an avalanche, drifting as it settled onto the destruction it had wrought.

Applause broke out, and the spell was broken - Bucky joined in, wrenching his gaze away from the man’s eyes, and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  He knew Natasha was staring at him, and refused to look at her as Thor stepped back onstage.  

“Steve Rogers, everyone, with ‘Heartbreak Hotel!’” 

“Yeah, Cap!” Tony said in a voice that carried, and Bucky watched, fascinated, as Steve Rogers threw Tony a dirty glare while packing up his guitar.  The man he had come with was shaking with silent laughter, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.  

Thor introduced the next person, but Bucky had stopped paying attention.  Instead, he watched the way the fairy lights played over Steve Rogers’ face, how his blond hair became a halo in the light of the fire, how his lips twisted up when he smiled.  

And if Rogers caught his eyes a couple more times during the night, well - that was just a coincidence.  

When the party was finally over, Natasha gripped his arm to hold him back from leaving with Clint.  He grimaced apologetically at Bucky, as if to say, “Sorry, bro, but I’m not going to get in the middle of this,” and left with Pepper and Tony.  

Bucky watched Rogers’ back disappear through the door with the rest of the Rho Sigma Nu guys, and turned to Natasha.  “What’s up?” 

“James,” she said in a voice that reminded Bucky of his younger sister, Becca.  He stared resolutely back at her, unwilling, as he was at Banner’s, to give anything away.  

She sighed heavily, like she knew that would be his answer.  “James,” she started again, “you can’t be everything, for everyone, all the time.  You know that, right?” 

Bucky stared at her, nonplussed.  “What?”

“Sometimes,” Natasha said slowly, like she was speaking to a child, “you have to do right by you.  Do you understand me?” 

Blue eyes flashing in a darkened bar, long fingers working strings.  A smile.  

“Yeah,” said Bucky.  “Sure, I do.”  

Gathering his coat, he walked out into the night, wondering if he really could fool anyone, and if he even wanted to, anymore.

Chapter Text

Sam nudged him as they walked down a back alley, dodging piles of litter and trying not to mind the rats that scurried by their feet.   It was a shortcut back to Greek Row, and Steve was used to the filth of the city.  He’d grown up in it.  

“You did great tonight, man.  Thanks for being such a good sport about it, and I’m sorry again that Tony signed you up.”  

Steve shrugged, eyes flicking to what he thought was a shape behind a dumpster.  They passed - just a shadow.  “It wasn’t too bad, I guess.  Free mead was nice, too.  It was good of Thor’s dad to do that.”  

“Well, they’ve got more money than god,” Sam said, not unfairly - Steve guessed the wealth of Thor and his family could keep a small country afloat for at least five years.  “Saw some of the girls looking your way,” he continued, and Steve felt himself stiffen.  This wasn’t something he wanted to talk about.  “Bet you could get any of them you wanted, man.  Not that you couldn’t before.”  

“Sam, it’s just not my thing right now,” Steve said, sighing and ducking his head, hoping that Sam would get the hint to drop the conversation.  He was trying very hard not to think about someone else that had caught his eye - the guy with long brown hair, pulled back into a ponytail, whose shoulders hunched just like Steve’s when he was performing for an audience.  The only other person who seemed just as unwilling to be on that stage as Steve.  He couldn’t even remember the guy’s name - everything seemed to disappear when he began speaking, and all that mattered was the way his lips moved when they formed words, the way his fingernails turned white as he gripped an iPhone in front of his face like a shield.  

So no, maybe the girls that had performed weren’t his thing right now.  But he couldn’t tell that to Sam.  He couldn’t tell that to anyone.  Talking about it made it real, and he’d been hoping for too long that those feelings for men would just go away.  It wouldn’t do to start acknowledging them now.  

“Well, when is it going to be your thing?” Sam asked, and Steve noted a shred of exasperation in his voice.  “What’s it going to take?  I gotta set you up on a blind date or something?  Cause I’ll do it, Steve, I swear to god.”  

Steve snorted.  “Sam….” 

“Just tell me what it is you’re looking for,” Sam pressed, seizing the small hole Steve had carelessly allowed in his refusals.  “Traits, or looks, whatever-”

“You know looks don’t matter to me, Sam,” Steve said, shaking his head.  “I don’t know.  She’d have to be smart - not afraid to call me on my bullshit, you know… someone I could talk to for hours… kind… could throw down, if she had to….” 

Sam huffed.  “So you want Peggy.  That’s what you’re telling me.”  

“What do you want me to say?” Steve said, halting in the middle of the sidewalk.  They were now only a couple blocks away from their house.  “I loved her, Sam!  I loved her more than anything, and not having her here anymore is… every day, it hurts.  It’s like something in my lungs, or my chest.  It hurts to breathe, sometimes, when I stop to think about her.  So yeah, I want Peggy.  I always have.  That’s not going to change.  How would you feel, if you lost Carol?”  

Sam frowned, like it was the first real thing Steve had said that made any impact on him.  “Man, I don’t know.  I love her, but I’ve been in love before.  Shit happens.  If it didn’t work… yeah, I’d be torn up.  But I wouldn’t set myself off on some sort of self-righteous celibacy streak just because a girl left me to go back home.”  

Steve opened his mouth to retaliate, then closed it, letting himself process Sam’s words. 

“It’s not that she didn’t love you, Steve,” he said gently, placing a hand on Steve’s shoulder.  “It’s that she loved something else more.”  

Rain started to fall, splashing the surface of puddles and rippling the orange reflections of the streetlights.  Steve felt a couple drops roll off his hair and down onto his forehead, tracking down his cheeks like tears.  

“I know, Sam,” he said.  “I know.”  

Sam didn’t remove his hand, just stood there, considering.  “Let’s get you home, Steve,” he said, and pulled Steve’s body against his side.   “Let’s get you home.”  

#

Sam didn’t mention the blind date for an entire week.  Midterm examinations had wrapped their persistent arms around the boys of Rho Sig Nu and were squeezing relentlessly.  The house had been invited to one of Tony’s parties, but many of the underclassmen were actually deciding to decline since they’d procrastinated too much on their studying.  It was amazing - Steve had thought the rumors of a hired metal band, a kitchen full of booze, and the certainty of hot girls in various “slutty” costumes would’ve been enough to ensure a full Rho Sigma Nu delegation.  But their frat didn’t revolve around partying, after all, and school was usually more important.  

Emphasis on usually, of course, because Steve was obstinately refusing to think about his art history midterm and had instead accepted the invite.  Sam grudgingly agreed to go with him on the singular condition that Steve not dress as a cop and instead wear a better, “less tight-ass” costume.  And that he’d get to pick it out.  

To make matters worse, Sam approached him on the day before the party to tell him that Tony knew someone Steve might be interested in meeting who was also going to be attending.  

“Why would I like anyone Tony thinks is good?” Steve asked Sam, aghast, as he added a bay leaf to the marinara sauce simmering on the stove.  

Sam looked up from where he was taking meatballs out of the oven.  “Don’t ask me, man.  He asked what you were interested in, and I gave him a description.  Thought, the more people looking out for you, the better.”  

“I’m touched,” Steve deadpanned.  Part of him was touched at Sam’s obvious concern for him, but mostly he was annoyed that Sam thought to tell Tony, of all people, that Steve was looking to date again.  

Sam held up his hands, but the effect was lessened slightly since they were covered with flower-printed oven mitts.  “Pepper’s not bad, okay?  I’m sure she’s got some friends.”  

Steve thought this over.  “How did he manage to get her to go out with him?  She actually does seem nice.”  Pepper had come with Tony to their last pub crawl, and Steve had been amazed at how well she handled the complete shit show that was her new boyfriend.  

“You got me there, buddy,” said Sam.  “Hey, so about your halloween costume - how are we feeling about army chic?” 

Steve willed himself to lessen his ironlike grip on the wooden spoon he was using, afraid it might actually snap.  “I thought we were trying to stay away from the law types this year, Sam.”  

“Good point,” he said, grabbing one of the stools that ringed the kitchen island.  “Okay, so if you won’t do army, how ‘bout cowboy?  The girls love a good cowboy.”  

“Sam,” Steve said slowly, “if you don’t quit fucking around-”

“Okay, man,” Sam relented.  “Well, do you have any ideas that aren’t boring?”  

“I guess the only choice I have left to me is to go as a male stripper,” Steve deadpanned.  

“So if we’re ignoring the sexy options,” Sam plowed on, as if he hadn’t heard Steve, “then that leaves us with the classics.  Monsters aren’t hot at all, though, so those are out, but….” He stopped.  “Steve.  How do you feel about tights?”  

Chapter Text

 Bucky pulled on the last piece of his costume and looked in the mirror with distaste. 

“I hate it.”

Clint, who was busy smoothing out wrinkles in his Green Arrow costume, shook his head.  “There’s nothing to hate, Buck.  Look, if you would rather go with broken war vet, suit yourself, god knows it’ll get you laid.” 

“I think I’d almost rather,” complained Bucky, fidgeting with his greaves.  “When you said we should go ‘traditional’ this year, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” 

“Stop bitching.”

“Well, it’s all right for you! You got Green Arrow!”

“Which you couldn’t be, since your new arm still doesn’t have the strength to draw or hold a bow. But it does look great in black.”

Bucky glanced down at his new arm, sheathed in thick black fabric that was a strange mix of what felt like canvas and spandex.  It was the first in what Tony promised was a long line of prototypes - he’d been astonished when the engineer had shown up at the house with schematics the day after the open mic night. 

“I thought I told you I’d think about it?” Bucky had said, bewildered, as Tony pushed past him and laid sketches down on the kitchen table.  His eyes were slightly bloodshot, and Bucky wondered if he’d slept at all the night before. 

Tony had shrugged. “Not taking no for an answer. Now, where should we start?”

And that had been the end of it.

“I hate you. Who is Nat going as?”

“Catwoman,” Clint said, rolling his eyes.  “I don’t think she could pass up the opportunity to wear a skintight suit with stilettos.”

Bucky nodded, making a last-minute adjustment to his cowl.  “People can’t even see my face in this.  How the hell is she even supposed to find me?”

The day before, as he was fitting the new arm, Tony had cheerfully announced to Bucky that he’d found him a date for the party. 

“I don’t need a date,” Bucky said, staring blankly at Tony’s expression as if looking for a hint that he was joking. Unbidden images of a bowed head, fingers and picks in soft lighting, floated to the forefront of Bucky’s mind. He pushed them away. If Tony had found him a girl, well - maybe Bucky could still get over it.  Whatever it was. 

“And besides,” Bucky added, “what makes you think you know what I like?”

“I know what everyone likes,” said Tony, biting his lower lip as he worked a screw further into Bucky’s new wrist joint. 

“Sure,” Bucky sighed, but decided to humor him nonetheless, mostly as an acknowledgement to all the work Tony had already put into the new arm.  He was pretty sure Tony had no idea what he wanted. 

That night, he’d had the old nightmare - it was the war all over again, but Natasha was sitting next to him when the IED went off.  She bled out in his arms, rust seeping through her fatigues and soaking Bucky’s skin like some sort of fucking baptism.  He’d woken up screaming.

Bucky pushed the image away from the front of his eyes and turned back to Clint just as he said, “She’ll know, man. Tony’s got this. He’s not too bad, honestly,” he added. “Insufferably arrogant, sure, but on the whole….”

Bucky nodded absently, allowing Clint’s words to wash over him as he fit his cowl on his head.

Batman.  What a stupid fucking idea. 

#

The Gamma Nu Pi house’s windows had been blacked out, and the music could be heard from two streets away. Bucky and Clint opened the front door and walked into a veritable wall of what seemed to be a mix of smoke and fog machines, people packed into every last corner of the main entryway.

“Oh, good, you guys are here,” came a flustered voice to their left, and Bucky turned to see a tall, very handsome black man striding towards them dressed in a getup Bucky vaguely remembered from a comic book, but couldn’t quite place.  “Clint and Bucky, right?” he said, holding out his hand.

“Yeah,” Bucky said, taking it. “Have we met?  Was I drunk?”

The man laughed. “No, no, I’m Rhodey, Tony’s friend.”

“Oh,” Bucky said, recognizing the name, “You’re the one who makes sure he eats and sleeps when he’s absorbed in projects, huh?”

“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for me.” 

“It’s good to meet you, man,” said Clint.  “But you’ll have to excuse me - I’ve got me a Catwoman to find.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “You know, this could be your night, Clint-”

“It’ll happen when it happens,” Clint said stubbornly before vanishing into the crowd. 

“Come on,” Rhodey said, “I’ll show you to the bar.”

“Where’s Tony?” Bucky asked, already starting to sweat uncomfortably in his costume. 

Rhodey shrugged as he pushed his way through a knot of “sexy” kittens.  A few appreciative “meow!”s followed them, but Bucky ignored it. Get your head in the game, Barnes.

“James!” Natasha greeted them from where she leaned on the bar (a real bar, too, not even a makeshift kitchen bar, and damn did Tony throw a good party). 

“Did you put Clint up to this?” Bucky asked, gesturing to his costume as Rhodey went to deal with some sort of incident involving a spilled bottle of tequila at the other end of the bar. 

“You’ll never know,” she said. “Besides, it suits you.”

“Couldn’t I have been Superman or something, at least?” asked Bucky, leaning past her to grab the vodka right out of the bartender’s hands.  “I’m gonna borrow this for a minute.” 

The bartender let it go reluctantly, and Bucky turned back to Natasha, pouring himself two shots in quick succession. 

“Superman was taken already,” Natasha said, eyes glinting from behind her mask. 

“By who?” Bucky asked, but Natasha’s answer was deterred by the sudden appearance of Clint at her shoulder.

“Hey, Nat,” he said, and whistled long and low at her appearance.  She looked stunning, black-clad legs vanishing into black shoes armed with lethal-looking silver heels.  “Hey, Buck. Wanna dance?” he asked, turning back to Natasha and holding out his hand. 

She smiled coyly. “All right,” she said, and let him lead her into the crowd of people.  As she turned to set her drink on the bar, Bucky flashed her a thumbs-up. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought she rolled her eyes. 

Removing his cowl and taking his first real breath of air in about fifteen minutes, Bucky turned back to the bar to find that the bartender had reclaimed his vodka.  Bucky stole it again, finishing off another three shots while he searched the mob for any sign of Tony - he had no idea how he was supposed to find his date, and Tony was the only one who knew who she was.

A man dressed in a Green Lantern costume slid up to the bar next to Bucky and ordered a double gin and tonic. The man’s face looked slightly familiar, and suddenly Bucky remembered where he knew him from.

“Hey, Rho Sigma Nu, right?” he asked, turning to the stranger.  “I’m Bucky Barnes.  Kappa Sig Beta.”

The man grinned behind his glass, and it lit up his face just as Bucky remembered.  “Sam Wilson.  It’s good to meet you, man.  You a friend of Tony’s, too?” he asked, looking down at the Batman suit. 

“I guess I am now,” Bucky laughed. “He started dating my best friend’s old roommate, and he sort of made me a new arm, so you could call us friends.”

Sam didn’t even look down at Bucky’s arm, for which he was extremely grateful.  “Yeah,” he said, “Tony can be a bit much. The group costumes, for example.”

“That was Tony?”

Sam nodded.  “He gets these ideas….”

“You could say that,” Bucky said. “So that’s a Green Lantern, Batman, Catwoman, Green Arrow… who’s Rhodey?”

“Shazam,” Sam said, taking the vodka from Bucky and pouring himself another drink.  “Superman should be around here somewhere.”

Bucky wasn’t sure if he was joking, but laughed anyways.  “Who did Pep and Tony go as?”

“The Flash and Hawkgirl. Do I need to make you a new set of eyes, too?” came Tony’s voice from Bucky’s left.  He’d arrived towing Pepper, who was looking pretty fucked up already - her alcohol tolerance couldn’t hold a candle to Natasha’s, and Bucky knew they would’ve pre-gamed the party.  “Hey Falco, you mind looking after my girl while I deal with this one?”

“Sure,” Sam said, bemused, and asked the bartender for a glass of water. 

“Falco?” Bucky asked, turning to Sam.

“Short for Falcon,” Sam said, rolling his eyes.  “Long story.”

“Put that back,” Tony scolded, taking the vodka from Bucky and giving it back to the bartender. “Quit aggravating the help, and put your fucking costume back on.” 

“It is on,” Bucky grumbled, and followed him into the next room without replacing his cowl. “You know, I didn’t give you permission to set me up,” he added as Tony perched on the hearth to look around the room, clearly searching for someone.

“You’ll thank me later, Soldier,” was all he said before diving back into the crowd and pushing past some Roman gladiators into what could only be described as a man cave.

“I told you to wait by the drinks, can you for once just take orders?” Tony shouted over the pounding bass.

“I don’t take orders, I just give them,” came a light voice, but Bucky was still so focused on not tripping over his own damn costume that he didn’t process the words or the tone.

“Asshole.  Anyways, Bucky, this is Steve.” 

Bucky looked up in a mute sort of horror to see Steve Rogers standing in front of him, dressed in blue and red spandex. 

Right.  So this was Superman. 

 

Chapter Text

Steve’s mind barely had time to register how much of a sick fuck Tony was for dressing him in a goddamn Superman costume between the sudden influx of oh shit and he’s hot.

“I’ll leave you two to it, then,” Tony said, and slunk back into the press of the party.

“Uh,” Steve started dumbly, and winced.  Way to go, Rogers. Great first impression.

Bucky’s eyes were panicked, and he opened his mouth as if to speak, only to close it again.

“Hi,” Steve croaked, wondering how the hell he was going to get out of this one. 

Bucky seemingly unfroze his vocal chords.  “Hey. Uh, Steve.  Right?” 

“Yeah.  And - it’s Bucky?”

“Well, it’s actually James, but everyone calls me Bucky,” said Bucky automatically, and then snapped his mouth shut again as if he’d said too much. 

Steve didn’t think he’d ever been part of such an awkward conversation in his whole life. 

“Look, um,” Steve said just as Bucky said, “Do you want to go outside?” 

Steve stared. “It’s loud in here,” Bucky said by way of explanation, and Steve nodded.  They worked their way out of the den and through the impromptu dance floor. Peter Quill was DJ-ing, and he waved at Steve as he trailed behind Bucky.  Steve tried to smile back, but thought it came out more as a grimace.

This was a nightmare. The guy he might have jerked off to last night was standing four feet away from him, and Tony had set them up - Tony, who knew Steve liked girls, and was this his sort of an idea of a joke?  Was Bucky even gay? And - so what if he was, it didn’t mean Steve could just start dating him, that would be social suicide for the both of them, and -

“So,” came Bucky’s voice from Steve’s left, and he realized suddenly that Bucky had led them all the way outside to a small table that was set up near the pool.  The party was still going on outside, but it was more subdued - most people were chatting, sipping their drinks, and probably trying to find someone to go home with. 

Steve swallowed. “Sorry - you know, about Tony, he - he probably just thought this would be… funny, or something….” He trailed off as Bucky fixed him with an increasingly horrified look.

“Yeah, I’m not gay or anything,” blurted Bucky, and then he winced.  “Not that - if you were, I mean, I don’t have a problem-”

“I’m not,” Steve said, grasping at this one bit of sense - he wasn’t gay, of course not, he’d loved Peggy, and he didn’t like both, he just kept thinking of Bucky’s fingers and tongue doing sinful things to his body because… he was an artist.  Right.   

“Oh, good,” Bucky said, relieved. “I mean….”

“I know what you mean,” said Steve quickly.  “How ‘bout we just talk? We can break it soft to him tomorrow, right?”

“All right,” Bucky said, laughing and shaking his head.  “I can’t believe you’re dressed as Superman, that just makes this all so much worse.”

And suddenly Steve realized what Bucky was wearing - a pretty realistic Batman costume, with his cowl tucked under his arm.  “Oh, god,” Steve said, and started laughing.  “Tony did all of this, didn’t he?  What an asshole.”

“Really, though,” Bucky said, and his eyes warmed just a bit, but it was enough.  “How about I go and grab us a couple beers?”

“Sure, thanks,” Steve said, and Bucky disappeared into the house.  Some of the people at the other tables were throwing him curious glances, and he studiously tried to ignore it - they weren’t doing anything, they were just talking, they were allowed to do that much, weren’t they?

Bucky returned, a beer gripped in each hand, and Steve followed the left arm as Bucky sat down. Bucky saw him watching.

“You can ask, if you want,” he said, handing Steve the beer in his right hand. 

“I was just - when I saw you at the open mic, your arm was different,” said Steve, taking the beer and finishing several mouthfuls in one go. 

Bucky stared. “Really?  That’s what you want to ask?”

Steve frowned. “What else?”

Bucky shook his head. “Most people want to know how I lost it.”  His body curled in on itself, as if to hide the space where a flesh arm should hang.

Suddenly, several things fell into place at once.  Bucky’s obvious reluctance to be in front of a crowd, presenting, exposed - the dog tags he wore even in costume (Steve could see the chain at Bucky’s neck), the prosthetic arm. “My dad was in the army,” Steve said. “First Gulf War. I didn’t know him - he died when I was too small to remember him - but I knew a lot of his friends growing up. You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to.” 

Bucky was looking at Steve, brow slightly furrowed and mouth the tiniest bit agape.  “It was an IED,” he said quietly.  “Afghanistan.  Joined up right out of high school, I fucked around too much to get into college,” he added with a bitter laugh.  A few strands of long hair fell down in front of his eyes, and Steve wanted to brush them back from his face.  “Only lasted five months overseas before….”

Steve nodded slowly. “That must’ve been really hard,” he said cautiously.  It was always difficult to tell what sorts of sympathy would be appreciated, and empathy was usually a safe bet. 

Bucky’s eyes widened. “Wow,” he said, laughing, “I think that’s the first time I’ve told someone that and they haven’t said some variant of “sorry.” Except Tony, of course. He just wanted to know how fast he could start making me a new arm.”

Steve burst out laughing, and the mood immediately lightened.  “Yeah, that sounds like Tony alright.  Was it the first thing he said to you?”

“Yep,” Bucky said, and took another sip of his beer.  “That’s why it’s different.  He came over the next morning and already had drawings and everything.  He had the first prototype ready two days later.”

Steve shook his head. “He needs to remember to sleep more often, or he’ll wear himself too thin.” 

“The guy looks like he lives off caffeine and booze,” Bucky said. 

“That’s not entirely inaccurate,” Steve agreed.  “So how do you know him?”

“His girlfriend is friends with my friend,” Bucky said, then paused, and clarified, “Natasha and I have known each other since freshman year.  Pep was her roommate.” 

“Tony tells me Natasha’s not really an assassin,” Steve joked.  “Is it true?  Because otherwise the rumors really set me up for disappointment.” 

Bucky lowered his voice conspiratorially.  “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”  When they had both stopped laughing, he continued, “She’s from Russia and throws a mean punch, so that’s probably where it came from.  To my knowledge, no, she isn’t an assassin.  Not that she couldn’t keep something like that from me, though,” Bucky added thoughtfully.  “She keeps secrets better than anyone I know.” 

“So what brought you to Hudson after the army?” Steve asked, genuinely curious. 

“Well, after I was discharged, I couldn’t really think of anything I wanted to do right away, and thanks to the GI bill, college was actually an option.  I grew up in Brooklyn, so I knew I wanted to stay in-state, so I just sort of picked Hudson ‘cause it was big and had a good party scene.” 

“You grew up in Brooklyn?” Steve nearly shouted, and forced himself to bring his voice down. “Sorry, I just - I grew up there, too.”

“Ah, no way!” Bucky said, grinning. “Tell me everything - what neighborhood? School?” 

They had grown up within ten minutes of each other, but always gone to separate schools, not to mention the fact that Bucky was two years older than Steve.  Still, it seemed an incredible coincidence, and Steve had to forcibly stop himself from thinking about how natural it felt, to be sitting at a Halloween party and talking to a complete stranger, as if they’d known each other their whole lives. 

“So I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have any scholarships for sports or anything-”

“Why not?” Bucky interrupted, then added, “It’s just - I thought you would’ve played football, at least.”

Steve laughed, rubbing a hand over his face in embarrassment.  “Well, maybe if I’d looked like this in high school,” he said, gesturing towards his chest, “I would’ve done something like played football. But I was tiny, sick all the time… asthma, the whole deal.  Wasn’t until the second half of senior year that anything got better for me.”

“No,” Bucky said, disbelief lacing his words, “you’re kidding me.  How small?”

“Oh god, what was I, like, 5’5’’ going into senior year, a hundred pounds soaking wet?  I didn’t have control over my body for at least after a year after I started growing, all my limbs and muscles were the wrong size.”

“I can’t even picture it,” Bucky said, leaning back as if to try to get a better mental image. “No, I don’t believe it. I’m gonna need to see pictures next time we hang.” 

Steve grinned. “Done. Well, anyways, I was always interested in art, and HSU’s got a good program for that sort of stuff, so I applied and got in.  It was a good deal for a runt like me - they offered me some money, and I was able to get a job at Starbucks for some extra  cash. Sometimes I’ll be lucky enough to sell some art.  What are you majoring in?”

“English lit, with a minor in Russian,” Bucky said sheepishly.  “I’ve got no idea what I’ll do with it, but it was nice to finally find something I liked.”

Steve opened his mouth to respond, but a girl in a killer Catwoman costume practically materialized out of thin air next to Bucky’s chair. 

“There you are,” she said to Bucky, “Clint was looking all over for you.  Says you’re missing all the good sets.”  She turned to Steve and smiled.  “Hey, I’m Natasha,” she said, extending her hand.  Steve shook it. 

“Bucky’s told me all about you,” he said. 

“I hope not,” she said cheerfully, tugging at Bucky’s elbow.  “Come on, Bruce Wayne - you too, Clark,” she said, shooting a quick look at Steve. “God, James, could you have picked a more apple pie date?”

Bucky and Steve started to protest, words tripping over each other, when Natasha cut in.  “Sure, sure.  I get it. Straight.  Now let’s go dance.” 

“She’s right,” Bucky said as they followed Natasha back into the house.  “Veritable Mr. America.” 

“Oh, I like that one,” Tony said as he passed them on his way to the kitchen, unloading two full shot glasses on Bucky and Steve.  “Captain America. Fits you, Steve-o.”

They took their shots, and Bucky laughed the rest of the way to the dance floor.  It was nearly completely dark, with odd flashes of blue and purple light illuminated by the fog machines that enveloped dancers in a very loose sort of privacy.  Steve was starting to feel a little dizzy - that shot had hit him harder than it should’ve, but he supposed the twelve or so he’d had earlier weren’t helping his case. Next to him, Bucky swayed slightly on his feet. 

“You feel dizzy at all?” Steve shouted over the bass, putting his mouth close to Bucky’s ear.

“Yeah, actually. I feel… high,” Bucky said, shaking his head slightly as if to clear it. 

“Tony,” Steve said, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.  “Must’ve spiked those shots.” 

Bucky shrugged. “Might as well enjoy it, then.”

They followed Natasha onto the floor, Steve feeling increasingly as if his limbs weren’t really his own. He wanted to laugh, to dance, to do all sorts of things to Bucky - out on the floor, in a bed, against a wall - it didn’t matter.  Natasha took one of Steve’s hands and one of Bucky’s and pulled them to her, Steve’s front to her back, Bucky facing her.  She was slightly taller than she would’ve been without the stilettos, but her height still put the top of her head below Steve and Bucky’s line of vision, so they could see each other perfectly. 

Steve let the music take him and watched as Natasha reached up to loop one arm around Bucky’s neck, bringing the other to pull Steve’s hips against her ass.  Steve moaned as she began to rub up against him, the friction driving him crazy, and he lifted his eyes to see her kissing Bucky, his hair now almost completely loose from its bun and falling in waves around his face.

And then she was facing Steve, and taking his lips with hers, and he looked up as they were kissing to see Bucky watching them with a hungry look in his eyes.  Steve’s cock throbbed, and he really wished he wasn’t wearing spandex right then because he didn’t imagine it would hide much of anything.

Slowly, as if he were in a dream (and the lights and the fog were disorienting, there was bass in his head and wasn’t he dreaming, because his body felt like it wasn’t his own as his hand drew through Natasha’s hair), Natasha pulled away from him and slipped out from between their bodies.  The crowd pushed Bucky and Steve together, and suddenly they were dancing face-to-face, hips aligned and oh god Steve was harder than he had ever been in his life -

He watched his hand rise to push the hair from Bucky’s eyes like he’d wanted to do all night, all week, ever since he first saw him at open mic, and his eyes telegraphed the movement, his brain acknowledged the feel of Bucky’s hair between his fingertips, but Steve could do nothing about it - couldn’t pull his hand back, even if he wanted to. He knew that the next morning he probably wouldn’t remember any of this, because drugs always made him lose control, and drugs mixed with booze almost always made him black out.

Whatever drug Tony had given them was doing its job perfectly, and Steve didn’t jerk away as one of Bucky’s hands found its way to his hip, then his ass, tugging Steve tighter to him, and he couldn’t say which one of them leaned in to close the distance between their lips - only that it happened, and then they were kissing, making out like high schoolers in the middle of a frat party, closeted by the fog and the dark and the night.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing Bucky became aware of was the low gurgle of a coffee maker.  It continued, beeped three times, long hard piercing noises that burrowed into his head.  The sound of the carafe moving from the plate - the clink of it as it was replaced.  Footsteps, coming closer, something being set on a table by his head.  Coffee.  This, he knew.  

His eyes didn’t quite want to open, but Bucky forced them to unstick, peering out into the pale light of a November morning.  It was raining, sheets pounding against the windows - familiar windows, so at least he had made it home last night, and that was what mattered.  

“Good, you woke up,” came a voice that was much too loud from directly above Bucky’s head.  He turned over - he was on the couch, he realized - and peered up through his eyelashes to find Clint staring down at him, his own cup of coffee clenched in his fist.  “I was worried for a bit there.”  

“What the fuck happened?” Bucky asked, dazed, trying to think back to the night before.  He remembered going to the party, drinking (a lot), and Tony taking him to meet someone… who had it been?  

“Well, after Nat found you and Steve, she said she brought you guys back inside.”  

Shit.  Steve.  Steve Rogers.  Superman.  Yeah, it was all coming back.  

“What happened?  What the fuck did I drink?  I don’t remember anything past taking that last shot from Tony.”  

Clint shrugged.  “I didn’t see you until Natasha dragged your high as fuck ass out of that crowd, and at that point you were already so gone it didn’t matter.  I got you home all right though, with no small amount of help from her.”  

“God bless that girl,” Bucky sighed, closing his eyes and groping blindly for his coffee, which Clint had left on the table.  

“To your left,” Clint said, and Bucky’s fingers closed on the handle.  

“Thanks.  So you don’t know… did I…?”

“You didn’t have time to run off with some girl, Buck, and if you did, I don’t think you’d be here right now,” Clint said.  

Bucky sighed.  He knew he didn’t run off with a girl - he was more worried about who he didn’t run off with.  He’d followed Nat into the crowd, and he knew all he was thinking about was how Steve’s hands would feel on his hips…. 

“So I didn’t do anything weird?” Bucky asked, choosing his words very carefully.  

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Clint assured him, walking back into the kitchen.  “We’re meeting people at Hell’s Kitchen in an hour, so you’d better get up.”  

“What the hell are we doing going to Hell’s Kitchen?” Bucky said, but dragged his upper body upright nonetheless.  “I can’t afford that shit.”  

“Tony can,” Clint said simply.  “We were invited.  Post-party breakfast, or something.”

“Do you not remember the last time Tony invited us to join something?  I was forced into a Batman costume.”  

“And you made a very nice Bruce Wayne.”  

Bucky groaned.  “And you could’t say no?” 

Clint turned to stare at him.  “Would it have mattered?” 

“No,” Bucky said.  “I guess it wouldn’t.”  

#

“Thought this place didn’t do breakfast,” Clint said as he and Bucky entered the restaurant to find Tony, Pepper, and Natasha tucked away in a back corner, away from the hordes of middle-aged couples that were clustered around small tables bedecked with live flowers and small candles.  

“This isn’t breakfast,” Tony said, with the air of a man who had already explained something more than once and was beginning to lose patience.  “This is brunch.  It’s entirely different.”  

Pepper rolled her eyes.  Tony didn’t notice.  

“Well, let’s order, then,” Bucky said as he sat.  “I’m starving.”  

“We’re still waiting for people,” Natasha said, eyeing Bucky with an intensity that made him uncomfortable.  “Coffee’s on its way, though.”  

“Who are we waiting on?” Bucky asked, glancing around.  “Everyone’s here.”  

“Rho Sig Nu,” Tony said, checking his phone.  “They’ll be here in two.”  

“Steve’s coming?” Bucky said, voice cracking at least one octave higher on the last word.  Tony looked like he was fighting a smile with everything he had.  

“And Sam,” Tony said, raising an eyebrow.  Bucky winced - he’d forgotten about Sam entirely in the excitement of seeing Steve.  “That gonna be an issue, Soldier?” 

“No,” Bucky said, “of course not.  And don’t call me ‘soldier,’ or I’ll snap your balls off with my new hand.”  

“Ouch, that’s cold,” Tony said, rubbing his arm as if Bucky had actually burned him, but smiling.  Bucky sighed and leaned back in his chair, trying very hard not to think about Steve sitting across from him with his sinful lips and massive hands.  

“Where’s Rhodey?” Clint asked.  

Tony grinned.  “Let’s just say he had other things on his mind this morning.”  

Clint laughed.  “Good for him.  The man was wound as tight as a screw.”  

“You’re telling me,” Tony said.  “You don’t have to live with him.  The only way to escape all that negativity is through drink or drugs.”  

“Speaking of drugs,” Bucky began heatedly, but stopped when he heard the door opening behind him.  

“Tony,” came Steve’s voice, clipped and angry, and Bucky turned in surprise.  Steve’s face was transformed since the night before, and had turned livid, his eyes were narrowed with intensity and lips tight and pale with rage.  Bucky shrank back, afraid by proxy.  

“Steve, bud, glad you made it,” Tony said, doing a fair play at being completely underwhelmed by Steve’s wrath.  “The coffee should be out any minute.”

Steve sat down heavily in his chair, Sam beside him.  They both crossed their arms at the exact same moment, which Bucky would have found very funny except that the climate of the room had dropped into sub-zero temperatures.  

“What the hell, Tony.  Explain.”  

Tony glanced around desperately at the assembled students, as if to find someone who would support him, but found nothing.  “You never let yourself have fun at parties, Steve.  It didn’t hurt you, did it?” 

“That doesn’t make it okay,” Steve said, face as cold as stone.  “You should’ve asked Bucky and I if we wanted any, see, that’s the polite thing to do, Tony.  The civilized thing.”  

Tony turned to Bucky.  “Well?” 

“We can’t - I don’t know - just talk about this later?” Bucky said.  “Come on, let’s just drink some coffee, wake up a bit-”

“Bucky,” said Steve, and his tone was so stern Bucky had to remind himself not to get defensive.  A waiter came out of the kitchen bearing coffee, and Bucky used it as an excuse to remain silent.  

Tony had turned away to talk to Pepper during Bucky’s inaction, and Clint and Natasha were leaning towards each other, engaged in what looked like a rather heated discussion.  Sam took one look at Steve and Bucky, and turned to Tony, effectively inserting himself in their conversation.  Trapped, Bucky turned back to Steve.  

“Hungover this morning?” Bucky joked weakly, and took an extra large sip of coffee to cover up for the fact that he felt incredibly awkward after their encounter the night before.  It was so hot he burned his tongue.  

Steve regarded Bucky for another few seconds, and turned away to retrieve his own cup.  “No, not really, but I don’t remember anything past that last shot.” 

“Me neither,” Bucky said, trying to hide his relief.  That was good.  If anything had happened - which, of course it hadn’t, but if it had - Steve didn’t remember it.  “Crazy party, huh?”  

Steve frowned.  “You could say that.”  

“Never done drugs before?” 

“No,” Steve said, shaking his head, “I’ve done my share.  I just like to be in a familiar environment… to actually know when I’m taking them….” He said this last part in a voice that was slightly elevated and pointedly directed at Tony, who acted as if he hadn’t heard him.  “Asshole,” Steve said, but he was smiling.  

“I heard that,” Tony said mildly, before turning back to Sam and Pepper.  

Brunch was quiet, the most exciting part for Bucky being the discovery that he and Steve both loved eggs Benedict.  They both agreed that the version from Hell’s Kitchen was the best they’d ever had.  

“God damn it, Tony,” Clint said at last, shoving his plate away and throwing the last bit of toast into his mouth, “who makes this stuff?”  

“Matt Murdock,” Tony said, and drained the last of his mimosa.  “We went to school together, before he took off to become the youngest culinary genius of the century or whatever.”  

“I gotta meet him,” moaned Clint, rubbing his stomach.  “Invite him to the next party or something.  I could eat this guy’s food forever.”  

“I don’t know how you do it,” Bucky said, glancing over Clint’s figure.  “You eat enough to sustain an elephant.  Where does it all go?  How do you stay that small?” 

“From all the working out I do,” Clint said, rolling his shoulders.  “All those hours.”

“I never see you at the gym,” Steve said, and Bucky made a mental note to start working out at the rec center more often.  

Clint grinned.  “Never said what type of workouts they were.”  He nudged Natasha, who punched him neatly in the ribs.  Clint pretended to drop his knife so that he could duck under the table and suffer in relative privacy.  

“When do you usually go?” Bucky asked Steve as Tony motioned for the bill.  

Steve shrugged.  “Whenever I have time.  Told you last night, I was a scrawny kid in high school.  This doesn’t come naturally,” he said, and laughed.  “Though, it’d be nice if it did.”  

Bucky nodded fervently.  Tony handed the waiter his credit card, and a few people around the table, Steve included, made halfhearted noises of protest.  

“No, no, don’t all thank me at once,” Tony said, waving his hand as he signed the bill.  “But really though, no problem.  Make up for last night, huh, Captain America?” he added, looking at Steve.  

Everyone but Steve burst out laughing, Sam most of all, his eyes watering with tears.  “Oh man, that’s just too good,” he said, clutching at his side.  “I think that’s better than ‘Falcon,’ Steve.”  

“Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want,” Steve said, standing and gathering his coat, “but I think being one of the only three members of HSU’s birdwatching society still wins.” 

“Bird watching?” Bucky asked, interested.  “You told me it was a long story!” 

“I lied,” Sam said sourly, glaring at Steve.  

As they filed out the door, Steve turned to Bucky.  “Hey, I’ll be at the gym tomorrow around nine, after I get off my morning shift.  If you want to join…” he trailed off uncertainly, looking at Bucky with a faintly bemused expression, like he wasn’t quite sure why he was extending the invite in the first place.  Bucky smiled.  Good - going to the gym.  A very nice, very masculine, very bro-thing to do.

“If I’m up by then, sure, I’d love to spot you,” he said, wincing internally at his use of the word ‘love.’ Good going, Barnes.  

Steve grinned, the expression lighting up the dreary November sidewalk just like it had claimed a whole room for itself at the party the night before, and at open mic before that.  “Awesome, I’ll see you there.”  He nodded once and started to walk away.  

“I didn’t say I’d be there for sure!” Bucky called after him.  

“You will!” Steve yelled back, and he and Sam turned the corner and vanished.  

Bucky turned back to find Natasha and Clint watching him - Clint, with the vacant expression that was typical of only a few cups of coffee (he generally needed at least six to get going), and Natasha with the piercing sincerity which unnerved Bucky every time he saw her.  

“I don’t suppose you two fucked last night?” Bucky asked hopefully, looking between them as if to find some physical mark of it.  

Natasha rolled her eyes.  “Grow up, James,” she said, and they turned to walk home, heads bowed against the November wind.  

“You don’t remember anything that happened?” she asked, standing to one side of Bucky so that Clint couldn’t hear.  

Bucky shook his head.  “I remember being handed a shot, and I think I was dancing.  I don’t remember who with, though.”  

Natasha smiled, but Bucky thought it looked sad.  

“What?” 

“I just thought you might remember, that’s all,” she said, and her voice was deceptively light.  Bucky couldn’t tell if she was playing him or not.  

“What did I do, Natasha,” he said slowly, deciding that she probably wasn’t fucking with him.  He had a tendency to do stupid things while really drunk, and Natasha had a tendency to be in the right place at the right time to bear witness to Bucky’s stupidity.  “Who was it.  Tell me.”  

“You really don’t remember?” she asked, raising one eyebrow.  

Bucky thought back hard, tried to sift through the layers of high and whoa and muscles moving disconnected and heart racing like a snare drum and calloused hands and bowed lips and the soft feel of spandex under fingertips 

“No,” Bucky said quietly.  “No, Natasha, don’t tell me-”

“I don’t know what it was,” Natasha disclaimed, “I just know what it looked like.”  

“No, Nat, I-” Bucky floundered, trying to find any way to make her understand that if he had danced with Steve, if he had kissed Steve, it was because of the drugs, those feelings weren’t real, they were just - platonic, yeah, and he hadn’t had sex in a while, one warm body was like another - 

But he never got the chance to say it, because Natasha just shrugged and said, “Sure.  Because straight boys make out like high school freshmen at their first dance.”

“It’s not what it looked like,” Bucky echoed.  

“Okay,” Natasha said easily, amiably, but Bucky knew it was because she had won.  “I guess the next question, though, is if Steve really doesn’t remember anything.  And, you know, if he thought it was platonic too.”  

Bucky started to splutter a response, but they had reached the Delta Beta Theta house, and Natasha strolled inside, waving behind her.  Clint looked after her, eyes wide and mouth open just a tiny bit.  

“Quit gaping,” Bucky snapped.  

Clint blinked once, twice, then shook his head.  “Sorry, bro.  It’s just - haven’t you ever felt like everything is right with someone, but you just can’t seem to fit it all into place?”  

Bucky scowled and started walking.  “Maybe more than you know.”  

“How ‘bout I make tacos tonight?” Clint suggested as they turned onto their street.  

“You’ve never had a better idea,” Bucky said, feeling as the day might just go his way after all.  

Chapter Text

Steve had just shoved his gym bag into his locker when Bucky stumbled into the locker room, looking like hell.  His eyes were slightly bloodshot, hair in a messy bun on the back of his head, and he was rubbing the bridge of his nose like he had a sinus migraine.  

“What happened to you?” Steve asked mildly, leaning against the wall as Bucky threw his gym bag on top of the second row of lockers and wearily retrieved his water bottle from inside it.  

“Clint fucking Barton,” was all Bucky said, but those three words contained more suppressed exasperation and resignation than Steve would have believed possible.  

“He did this by himself?” Steve asked, impressed.  

“No,” Bucky said sourly, rinsing his face in the sink and leaning against the countertop on his elbows for a couple seconds.  “We went out with Phil Coulson, you know, from Kappa Omicron Psi, and shit got intense.  He brought this girl, uh… Maria, I think her name was?  Well, she had the tolerance of an Irish alcoholic, and the rest of us tried to keep up, and….” Bucky trailed off, looking a bit sick.  

“You didn’t have to come, you know,” Steve said.  

“I do know,” Bucky agreed.  “It’s not like I can even spot you,” he added, holding up his arm and waving it a little.  “But, you know, it was either this or try to do homework while listening to Clint bitch about how someone drank all the coffee in the house.”  

“Ah,” Steve said sympathetically.  “Well, then, let’s do it.”  Bucky blinked at him, and Steve realized just a second too late that the words could have been a euphemism.  “Weights.  Let’s lift weights,” Steve clarified awkwardly, but Bucky just smiled and walked out of the room.  

They were about a half hour into a pretty easy workout when Bucky turned to Steve and, apropos of nothing, said, “So do you got a girl?” 

Steve started.  “No.  I used to, but she moved back to England.”  

“Rough,” Bucky said, and Steve refocused on his free weights with a bit of difficulty.  

“How about you?” he asked, aware that it was only polite, though the thought of Bucky with a girl - with anyone else - made Steve’s stomach churn with an anger he knew was unwarranted.  Just hormones, that’s all.  

“No.  Not for a while,” Bucky said.  “I keep thinking maybe something’ll just sort of fall into my lap,” he added, glancing over at Steve.  “Guess it hasn’t happened yet.”  

“I know the feeling,” Steve said, moving over to one of the machines.  He watched as a man he thought was called Brock walked into the gym and slapped one of his buddies on the ass.  The rec center was oddly full for a Sunday morning, and it made Steve nervous to be in such a small space as the weight room with so many people. 

Bucky moved to do sit-ups at Steve’s feet.  “You know, for an old man you’re surprisingly sprightly,” Steve joked, watching the way Bucky’s tight shirt moved over well-defined abs.  

“Fuck you too, Rogers,” Bucky said, and Steve smiled.  This - this hanging around, the joking, everything - felt so familiar, like a favorite trail that hasn’t been walked in a while, or an old song that you can still remember the lyrics to.  Steve moved to the floor to do his own crunches, matching his breathing with Bucky’s.  The process was strangely calming.  

Almost as soon as Bucky had finished his last set, the floor shuddered, and a loud clanging came from the other end of the room.  Before he knew what was happening, Steve had been flattened to the ground and was distinctly aware of a hot, heavy body on top of him, pressing him into the cement floor of the rec center.  Instinctively, his body tensed to fight back, but he stopped himself.  The only person that had been close enough to reach him that quickly was Bucky.  Therefore, it was Bucky’s hands that were holding protectively onto his shoulders, Bucky’s face that was inches from his own.  Steve could feel his breath on the back of his neck.  

“Bucky,” Steve began slowly, cautiously, “it’s okay, we’re safe.  Do you think you could let me go?” 

Bucky didn’t loosen his grip - if anything, he tensed even more.  His hands started to tremble where they held Steve’s arms in place, and he heard Bucky beginning to hyperventilate.  

“Hey, hey,” Steve said gently.  “Bucky, it’s all right, but you’ve got to let me go now, okay?” 

Steve felt, rather than heard, Bucky shake his head.  

Steve closed his eyes briefly, and changed tactics entirely.  He filled his voice with as much authority as he could muster and said, “Soldier, let me go.”  

And he did.  Bucky loosened his grip enough so that Steve could slide back against the cool glass windows of the weight room, although one of Bucky’s hands was still stubbornly attached to Steve’s wrist.  

“Hey,” Steve said again, grabbing Bucky’s hand in his own and starting to rub small circles into the skin.  “Come on back to me, Buck.”  He looked up to see what had caused the noise, and saw Brock getting cussed out by one of the rec center workers.  He had dropped his weights to the ground instead of setting them down.  Bucky’s breathing rhythm started to slow, and Steve turned back to him just in time to see his eyes clear.  

Bucky squeezed his hand uncertainly.  “Steve?”  

“Yeah, hey,” Steve said, moving closer and putting his other hand on Bucky’s bad shoulder.  “You back with me?” 

Bucky nodded mutely.  “I - I haven’t had that happen in a while,” he admitted quietly, glancing down at a crack in the floor.  “Every fucking time I think I’m over it…”  He stopped.  “Thought it was a bomb.  I’m sorry,” he said, finally addressing Steve.  “It won’t happen again.”  

“You’ve got nothing to apologize for,” Steve said truthfully.  “Your first instinct was to protect me.  I can’t complain about that.”  

Bucky shook his head.  “You don’t - you don’t understand.  I couldn’t protect him.  I couldn’t-” 

Bucky had started hyperventilating again, so Steve cut in.  “You’re here, Bucky.  You’re with me, and you’re safe.  Where are you?” 

“I’m at the rec center on HSU’s campus,” Bucky said slowly.  “It’s 9:53.  I’m safe.  I’m with you.”  

“Okay,” Steve said quietly, and squeezed Bucky’s shoulder.  

“Get a room, you two,” came Brock’s voice from Steve’s left, and before he could stop him, Bucky had stood and punched Brock in the face.  Reeling, Steve rose and snaked his arm around Bucky’s waist, effectively holding him back.  

“You fucking asshole,” Brock snarled, wiping blood from his chin.  It looked like Bucky had broken his nose.  “Get your crazy ass boyfriend out of here before he hurts anyone else,” he spat, and stormed out of the room.  

Bucky’s chest was heaving, and Steve pulled him into a corner.  “Bucky?” 

He looked up, eyes bright and gleaming with an angry fervor.  “He can’t just - can’t just assume-”

“Let’s get out of here,” Steve said.  “Grab some coffee.  Does that sound okay?” 

Bucky took a deep breath and nodded.  “Yeah.  Okay.”  

In the end, they walked to Banner’s, dodging puddles and dipping underneath awnings the whole way there.  It was abysmally cold and wet, and even Steve was grateful to be back inside, regardless of what he had said to Bucky when he had lent him his coat.  

“Hey, Bucky,” came a voice from behind the bar.  “Did you have to swim here or something?” 

Steve moved a bit so he could see the speaker - a guy in his early thirties at the latest, with gray streaked prematurely through his hair.  “Nearly,” Bucky said, shaking his head like a dog and sending water flying everywhere.  

Steve started to move towards the counter, but Bucky waved him off.  “Go get us a couple chairs near the fire,” he said.  “I got this.”  

“Are you sure?”

“Rogers,” Bucky said, staring him down.  “Grab us some chairs.”  

Steve raised his hands in surrender, and went to pull two armchairs as close to the electric fireplace as he could get them.  It was still too early and too rainy for the coffeeshop to be busy, for which he was grateful.  

“Best coffee in town,” Bucky said, taking the chair across from Steve and handing him a mug.  

“You come here a lot?” Steve asked, taking the mug and wincing as the heat made contact with his cold fingers.  

Bucky shrugged.  “From time to time.  Banner’s just a nice guy.  Good with faces.”  He took a deep breath, and Steve sensed that something heavy was coming.  “Did I tell you about the IED the other night?” 

Steve nodded.  “I don’t remember anything after we went back into the house, but I have everything before that.”  

Bucky nodded.  “I’m sorry for what happened at the gym.”

Shaking his head, Steve said, “No, really, Bucky, it’s okay.”  

Bucky pressed his lips together and gripped his mug a little tighter in his flesh hand.  “It’s not.  I lied to you, the other night.”  

“What do you mean?”  

“An IED did go off, but it just knocked me out of the vehicle.  I was hurt, yeah, but nothing too bad.  My battle buddy, he, uh…” Bucky wiped his hand across his face, and continued.  “He got the worst of it.  One leg blown off, half his face missing, and I couldn’t… I couldn’t save him,” Bucky whispered, staring down at his coffee.  “He died in my arms, and I couldn’t save him.”

“Buck-”

“And I got up, you know, to go for help, and that’s when the second bomb detonated,” Bucky said.  “It was the most intense pain I’d ever felt, and then… nothing.  And I woke up, back in the hospital, and the first thing I asked them is if he survived.  And I knew it, I knew he didn’t, but some part of me just was hoping… he was so young.  He didn’t deserve to die that way.  I still dream about it, sometimes,” Bucky added, “but it’s always someone else.  It’s Natasha, or Clint, or you-” 

Bucky stopped abruptly, and Steve wondered if Bucky had misspoken, or if he’d meant it.  “What was his name?” Steve asked.  

“Jim.  Jim Morita.”  

“There was nothing you could have done,” Steve said softly.  “You know that, right?” 

Bucky shook his head.  “It doesn’t feel that way.”  

“I know,” Steve said.  “I know.”  

“I’ve never told anyone that before,” Bucky said, looking up at Steve from under his eyelashes.  He took a drink of coffee.  “Not even Natasha.”  

Steve wanted to say thank you, anything, but it was like he had something stuck in his throat.  

“I don’t know why you do that to me,” Bucky said.  “I feel like I’ve known you all my life.”  

“Yeah,” said Steve.  “I know just what you mean.”  

They talked into the afternoon, and if their chairs moved closer together over the course of their conversation, well - they were just friends after all, and it was easier to hear someone if they were right next to you.  

They walked back to Greek Row together, until they were standing on the sidewalk out in front of Bucky’s house.  

“Thanks for everything today,” Bucky said, brushing his hair back out of his face.  He was still wearing Steve’s coat.  

Steve hook his head.  “You don’t gotta thank me for anything.  I - uh, I’ll see you sometime this week?” 

“Yeah,” Bucky said, smiling.  Steve turned to go.  

“Hey,” came Bucky’s voice, and Steve turned back around, only to find himself caught in a tight embrace.  “Thank you,” Bucky whispered close to his ear, and Steve tried to ignore the way Bucky’s breath on his neck made his heart race, or how solid and strong Bucky’s arm felt against his shoulder blades.  

“Anytime,” Steve whispered back.  

Bucky broke the hug, turned, and walked into his house without a backwards glance.  

Chapter Text

Five days later, he was still thinking about the hug. 

It was stupid. He’d panicked first thing back in the house, and the panic had only intensified when he realized he was still wearing Steve’s coat.  He hadn’t seen him yet in order to return it.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to. 

Bucky leaned up against the wall of the shower, hand on his dick, trying desperately to think of anything besides Steve.  The tile was cold against his back, but the water was warm, and he tried to picture it - Natasha, maybe, her breasts and her ass and her hips, how she would look spread out on a bed, or pinned up against a wall….

His brain took the wall image and ran with it, and then Bucky was the one with his back pressed into old plaster, and there were strong hands holding his hips in place, blond hair falling into eyes the color of an October sky, lines of muscle pressed up against his stomach and full lips tracing lines down his jawbone, his neck -

Bucky came with Steve’s name on his lips, and collapsed against the side of the shower, shaking with a sudden, intense realization: this was not going to go away. 

He needed to talk to Natasha.

#

“Hey there, stranger,” Natasha said, collapsing in the chair next to his.  Bucky pushed a mug of coffee towards her, and she took it gratefully.  The rain had not relented throughout the week; Natasha’s hair was wet and her fingers white.

“Hey,” Bucky said, trying at a smile but really only achieving a grimace. 

Natasha seemed to realize he wasn’t going to start the conversation, so she said, “You needed to talk?”

Bucky nodded mutely. “Yeah.  I, uh.  Ever since…” he stopped to clear his throat.  “Ever since the open mic night you threw… well, no, that’s a lie.  Before that.” 

Natasha waited patiently as Bucky took another sip of his coffee. 

“When you asked me about girls, well… I haven’t had sex in a while because I haven’t wanted to.”

“You haven’t wanted to?” Natasha said, a note of disbelief coloring her voice. 

Bucky shook his head. “I haven’t wanted to. With girls.” 

“Ah.” 

“And,” Bucky said, gaining some confidence, “I wasn’t really sure, you know, because I like girls, or I used to like them, and I just… Nat, I’m not really sure what I want anymore, but at the open mic night….”

“The night you saw Steve,” Natasha prompted. 

Bucky took a deep breath. “Yeah.  And I thought… I don’t know what I thought. I guess I always figured that if I was attracted to guys, I’d just know, and since it only really came about in the last year or so, I thought maybe… maybe I didn’t really like them, or I was imagining it, or something.  Does that make sense?”

Natasha nodded. “Yes.  How do you feel now?”

Bucky looked down at his coffee, and imagined that he could feel the heat of the cup in his prosthetic hand. “I really like him, Nat. I don’t know what it is, or how to explain it.  I’ve - it’s never… I haven’t felt like this before around anyone.  I feel comfortable with him, and that’s scary, because if it was just lust I think I could handle that, but….”

“But what you’re saying is that you have feelings for him,” Natasha said softly, and it could’ve come off sounding as condescending, but it didn’t. 

“Yeah.  I think so.  I can’t stop thinking about him.” 

Natasha leaned forward in her chair. “You really like him,” she repeated quietly.

“Yeah.” 

She nodded and bowed her head. “I’m sorry about what I did at the party.  I didn’t know. I thought - well, I saw the way you two were looking at each other, but… it wasn’t right of me. I apologize, James.”

Bucky shook his head. “No, don’t apologize for that. It’s Tony that should be sorry, the piece of shit.  You didn’t make me kiss Steve. But part of me wishes I could forget that I did.” 

“Why?”

“Because I’ve never kissed anyone like that, and now that I have, I’m not sure how I could ever go back to anything less.” 

Natasha smirked, just a slight twist of her mouth at the corner.  “Who says you have to?”

“I can’t see him, Nat. For one, he’s not gay, and-”

“You aren’t, either,” Natasha interrupted. “There’s more than one way to love a person, James.  And there’s more than one type of person to love.” 

“You’ve lost me.”

She sighed.  “Sexuality isn’t just back and white, James. Some people only love one gender. Other people love them all, or only some.  And sometimes you can feel attraction towards a gender without wanting to be romantically involved with them.  There doesn’t need to be a label for what you experience.  It’s enough that you experience it.” 

“Even if that’s true, there’s still the fact that I don’t know if he’s interested in me, and the fact that we’re both frat presidents and I’m pretty sure that would never fly-”

“Did you know Phil Coulson in freshman year?” Natasha cut in.  “He dated a boy down the hall from him for a few months before they broke up. Do you see him getting kicked out of his fraternity?”

“I didn’t know Phil dated a guy,” Bucky said, stunned.  “Why didn’t I ever hear about that?”

“Because it isn’t a big deal,” Natasha said slowly, as if Bucky needed extra time to let the concept sink in.  “Nobody cared. And then he went right on to the cellist, and he’s been with her since.” 

“Okay, but-”

“Pepper and I had sex once,” Natasha said blithely, talking over Bucky.  “That didn’t seem to be a problem for you when you found out.”

“Girls are different!”

Natasha’s face went as cold as Bucky had ever seen it.  “You say that one more time and I cut off your balls.  Girls aren’t any different.  The porn industry just likes to make you think they are.” 

“Sorry,” Bucky said, scrubbing a hand over his face and leaning back in his chair.  “That was sexist of me.” 

“Yes, it was.”

“You really mean, it, though?” Bucky asked quietly.  “You don’t think it would be a big deal?”

“Coming out?” Natasha asked. “I think it only becomes a big deal if you make it one - and even then, not in the way you think. If you mean, ‘Will I become a social pariah and lose my position in the fraternity,’ the answer is no. If you mean, ‘Will everyone everywhere now know that I’m into men,’ the answer is: only if you want it to be that way.” 

“What if Steve doesn’t feel the same way?” Bucky asked. 

Natasha rolled her eyes. “How many times have you been rejected by women?”

“That’s different,” Bucky protested. “There weren’t feelings involved.”

“Trust me, I know a goner when I see one,” Natasha said.  “And I saw two of them last Saturday at brunch, sitting across the table from each other.”

Bucky cast around desperately for another excuse.  “What about my family? And future employers, and-”

“James,” Natasha said softly. “You’re thinking too far ahead. Why don’t we start with the easy people first?  Who’s your best friend in the world, besides me?”

“Clint,” Bucky said automatically. “Oh my god, I’m gonna have to tell Clint, aren’t I?”

“I think it might be a good place to start,” Natasha said, and there was barely concealed amusement in her features.  “But you don’t have to tell anyone right now if you don’t want to.  This is your thing.  You make it what you want.”

“I should tell him,” Bucky said slowly.  “If it was him, I’d want him to feel comfortable coming to me.” 

“Then I guess you know what to do.”

“What about Steve, though?” Bucky asked.  “I don’t - how do I… what should I say to him?”

Natasha smiled. “Why don’t you ask him on a date?”

“A date,” Bucky repeated flatly. “I should ask Steve Rogers on a date.”

“Dinner, or something,” Natasha said, “so that he can’t misconstrue it.  Maybe Tony’ll have a good recommendation for a place to take him.”

“How did Tony know before I did?”

Natasha shrugged. “He’s got an annoying talent of cutting through people’s bullshit, breaking them down into parts. Just like he did the first night he met you, with your arm.” 

“He’s still an asshole.”

“Yeah,” Natasha said mildly, “I can’t argue with that.  So are we gonna stare at our empty mugs all day, or should we get on with our lives?”

Bucky laughed and followed her out of Banner’s, feeling considerably better about everything than when he had gone in.

#

When he got home, Clint was standing at the coffee maker, journalism homework perched on the counter next to him, forgotten.  “Hey, Buck,” he said, carefully scooping grounds out of the jar on the counter and into a coffee filter.  “What’s up?”

“Clint, I’ve gotta tell you something.” 

“Shoot.” 

“Something serious.”

Clint turned flicked the machine on and turned around.  “All right, you have my undivided attention for the next three minutes.”

Bucky took a deep breath. “I think I’m into guys.”

Clint looked at him blankly, and then waved his hand in a small circle as if to say go on.

“That’s all.”

“That’s it?  God, I thought you were gonna ask me to help you bury a body,” Clint said.  “All right, thanks for telling me.  You want some coffee?” he asked, turning back to the carafe, which was nearly full.

Bucky blinked. “You don’t - you don’t have a problem with it?”

Clint shrugged. “Not sure why I should. It’s not like you’re a different person than the one that left this house four hours ago.  And I’m not blind, even I can add two and two together to make four.  You’ve been eye-fucking Rogers for a week now.  About time you did something about it.  Now, coffee?”

Bucky nodded and accepted the proffered mug, feeling like the world had been turned upside-down and he’d left gravity behind him. Then again, he considered, he should’ve expected nothing less.  Natasha was nearly always right. 

Chapter Text

“Steve. Buddy.  We gotta talk.”  

Steve set down his free weights and turned to Sam, who was leaning causally in the doorway, a nice dress shirt on and rocking a killer pair of slacks.  “What’s up?” he asked, trying to feign innocence - Sam had told him, in no uncertain terms, that Steve would be accompanying him to 90s Night at Shield.  Steve had (apparently wrongly) thought that if he pretended not to have heard Sam, he would be off the hook for the night.  

Sam sighed.  “Look, I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to talk to you about this - that it might go away on its own, or something.”  

Steve froze.  How could Sam have known--?

“Ever since you and Peggy broke up, you haven’t been yourself,” Sam said, and Steve instantly relaxed.  This conversation, he could handle.  “And look, I get it if you don’t want to date right now, and I’ll stop pushing it on you, ‘cause it isn’t right to keep bothering you if you aren’t ready.”  

“Thanks, Sam.”  

“That’s not all,” Sam warned, moving further into the room and collapsing onto Steve’s desk chair.  “It’s more than just the fact that you won’t date.  It’s - Steve, I’m not saying you used to be a social butterfly before Peggy left, but now it’s like pulling teeth trying to get you to go out.  You don’t paint anymore, unless it’s for class, and you don’t play music.  God, the only times I’ve heard you play the guitar since she left were in the past two weeks.”  

Steve grimaced - he’d been fine-tuning “Heartbreak Hotel,” and had since been playing with some modern love songs by softer artists.  And Sam was right about the painting, too; the most he had done recently were some still life studies and a few sketches of folks in the park.  Maybe a few quick drawings of a man with long brown hair and bright eyes, but those had been carefully hidden from Sam.  

“All I ever see you do anymore is eat, sleep, exercise, and work,” Sam continued.  “Sure, you go out sometimes, but Steve - you’re isolating yourself.  And I can’t stand to see you do that anymore.  What did you think was going to happen tonight?  That I’d yet again pretend you hadn’t heard me ask you to come out, and leave without you?  Naw, man,” he said, shaking his head, “I’m done with that.  I won’t be a part of you tearing yourself apart anymore.  You still have so much to offer, Steve - not just to women, but to your friends.  You don’t even have to drink.  Just come out tonight, play some pool, maybe dance a little.  You can’t keep living in the past, man, or you’re gonna miss all the good shit that’s happening now.”  

“Sam…” Steve said, starting to put up a token protest.  

“Steve.  Her memory has taken you as far as you can go.  Move on from ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’” he said, grinning, “and go forward into a brighter, more… ‘Jailhouse Rock’ type future.”

“‘Jailhouse Rock,’” Steve repeated dubiously.  “That is ironic on… just, so many levels.”  

Sam laughed. “If you say so.  Come on, suit up.  We’re going out.”  

As Sam walked out the door, Steve called after him, “Give it up, Sam, you’ll never look as good as Barney Stinson!” 

Sam poked his head back around the door.  “I think Carol might have something different to say.  Suit up.”  

#

Steve had driven them to the bar on his bike; he wasn’t planning on drinking much, if at all, and was basically guaranteed a night of sobriety as a result of his metabolism unless Tony did something dumb like spike the drinks again.  Sam hadn’t been very clear on who they were meeting up with, but Steve assumed it’d be the usual gang.  

Tony and Pepper were already at a shuffleboard table, having apparently rushed to get there for the 9:00 wells (they were graduated on Fridays, though why Tony needed to rush anywhere to get a $2 well, Steve wasn’t sure).  

“Captain America and the Falcon!” Tony shouted as soon as he saw them, and Steve grimaced.  

“Let it go, tin man,” Sam said sourly, shoving Tony’s head as he passed by the table on the way to the bar.  “Want anything, Steve?” 

“Get me a gin and tonic or something,” Steve said, because hey, he was a poor college student that wasn’t about to pass up dirt-cheap wells.  

“Tin Man,” Tony said, shaking his head.  “That’s terrible.  I’ll have to work on it.”  

“I like it,” Steve said mildly, looking around.  “Who else is coming?” 

“Thor said he might stop by with his new beau - what was her name, Pep?” 

“Jane Foster,” Pepper said, rolling her eyes.  “She practically runs the physics department.  Nat’s coming, too, and we think Phil might come, but we aren’t sure if Nat will be able to con Bucky and Clint into leaving their little domestic fireside-”

“Did I just hear someone use my name and the word “domestic” in the same sentence?” came Bucky’s voice from by the coat-check.  

“I think she included mine, too, so I’d say it’s fair, wouldn’t you?” Clint said, throwing himself down into the chair closest to the bar.  

Bucky sat down next to Steve.  “I don’t know, honey, why don’t you go get us some drinks?” Bucky said sweetly, smiling at Clint.  

“In your dreams, asshole,” Clint said, but stood up anyways and literally ran into Sam, who was on his way back from the bar.  

“Steve,” he said, handing over the gin and tonic.  Steve sipped at it - disgusting, as usual, but at least it was strong.  The crowded, popular places were always the ones that served the worst drinks.  

Natasha dropped into the chair next to Bucky, smirking at him under eyelashes that seemed impossibly long.  “Nice shirt, soldier.”  

Steve, who had been a bit preoccupied with the way Bucky’s face looked in bar light and how his hair was pulled back into that stupid messy bun he liked to wear, looked down at Bucky’s shirt to see “Army Bitch” written out across it.  Next to Steve’s button-up and khakis, he looked rather out of place.  

“At least I don’t look like a grandpa, like Stevie over here,” Bucky said, giving Steve a once-over that felt very much like he was checking Steve out.  

“Sam’s fault,” Steve said, cheeks warming a bit at the nickname.  

Sam looked over at the sound of his name from where he was chatting with Clint and Tony.  “Not my fault you have nothing to wear besides old bro-tanks and t-shirts that have more paint on them than a Jackson Pollock painting.”  

“Hey now,” Steve complained as Bucky burst out laughing, “there’s no need to get nasty.  Or do I need to beat your ass at shuffleboard again?” 

Tony sat up straighter.  “Did someone say shuffleboard?”  

“Wanna play?” Steve asked.  

“Sure.  Hey, everyone!” Tony called to get the gang’s attention.  “Shuffleboard!  Steve and I are team captains, so please let me know if you suck before I pick you, all right?  I gotta win this one.”  

“Or we could do it tournament-style?” Steve suggested.  “That way everyone gets to play more.  Teams of two.”  

Tony eyed him carefully, like he was trying to figure out how it was a trick.  “Okay, you’re on.  But I got Barton, and someone else is gonna have to draw brackets.”  

“I can do that,” Pepper offered, drawing a notebook from her purse and starting to sketch out brackets.  

“You just had that on hand?” Tony wondered.  

“Of course,” Pepper said.  “I’ll never know when I’ll need it.  Do we want to do a loser’s bracket, too?” 

Tony just stared at her, then drained the rest of his glass and slammed it down on the table.  “God, I love you.”  

Pepper blushed furiously, but kept on writing.  “I know.  Now go get yourself another drink and yell to me when you have the teams figured out.” 

Tony kissed her on the side of the head, turned to tally the number of drinks he’d need for the table, and disappeared.  

Pepper looked up at Natasha, who was Standing right behind Steve and Bucky.  “That’s the first time he’s told me he loved me.”  

“Does that surprise you?” Natasha asked, clearly amused.  

Pepper shrugged.  “Does it matter?” 

Bucky laughed, and turned to Steve.  “Teammates?” he asked, holding out his fist.  Steve pounded it.  

“Let’s do this.”  

#

It took three hours, roughly nine rounds, and one very drunk Pepper (who was being monitored closely by Carol, who had shown up about halfway through) to reach the final two teams: Bucky and Steve, and Sam and Natasha.  

Everyone had been shocked at how well the two of them played off each other, and if Steve hadn’t known Sam was happily attached to Carol and that Natasha and Clint were probably hours away from fucking, he would’ve expected them to head home together at the end of the night.  They’d beaten out Thor and Jane, who had finally shown up just after they started their second round of drinks, and had eked out a victory against Tony and Clint (who had previously been soundly beaten by Bucky and Steve, and with their second loss dropped out of the tournament with much poor grace).  Bucky was well and truly sloshed, and Steve was glad that at least he was sober, although it didn’t seem to be affecting Bucky’s performance all that much - if anything, he got better.  

“What?” Bucky said when Steve asked him why he could still be so good if he couldn’t even see straight.  “I’ve won a lot of beer pong tournaments in my time.  I got good at playing while shitfaced.  It’s a talent.”  

Steve hadn’t had more than two gin and tonics at the start of the night before the wells got too expensive and he got too drunk to drive later.  Carol had already said that she would be taking Sam home, since she didn’t trust him on the back of Steve’s bike, an arrangement Steve was perfectly in agreement with.  

Despite their varied levels of intoxication, though, Buck and Steve played like two pieces of the same very finely tuned and well oiled machine.  Strategy wasn’t even discussed, it was just done, so that if Steve was placing one of their pucks in a certain place, Bucky would know just what one of the other team’s to go for so that it would get their puck closer.  And, against his better judgment, Steve was having fun.  Sam had been right - he needed to go out with his friends more often, stop shutting himself in like a recluse.  

“All right, Buck, you got this,” Steve said, glancing over to see Sam whispering something in Natasha’s ear.  When she saw him looking, she smiled at him angelically, but somehow made it look menacing.  They were up first for the final throw, which gave Bucky and Steve the advantage, and she knew it.  

Sam’s throw was good, but Bucky’s knocked it off place, sending it spinning into the gutter.  Steve whooped, clapping Bucky on the shoulder and letting his hand rest there a little longer than was probably necessary.  Natasha executed a well-placed throw that knocked Bucky’s puck just outside the center circle, but not off the board, and certainly not out of scoring range.  Steve would have to displace hers without moving Bucky’s - and that was going to be hard.  

“Come on, Stevie, you got this,” Bucky slurred, leaning heavily into Steve’s side and squeezing his neck.  “One more throw, and eternal glory is ours.” 

“That’s a lotta pressure, Buck,” Steve said.  “I’m not sure it’s worth it, to be honest.  If I fuck up, will you ever forgive me?” 

Bucky smiled at him, and the expression was different from the others he’d been throwing around that evening - this was gentle, almost intimate in nature.  “Stevie, if you win, I’ll make it worth your while.”  He winked, and Steve tried to steer his mind away from the entirely suggestive connotation of that remark.  “If you fuck up, well… I think I’ll still manage to forgive you somehow.”  

“Deal,” Steve said, and went to take his shot.  With Bucky’s words fresh in his mind, he managed to execute a perfect throw that knocked Natasha’s puck right off the end of the table.  

“Not so smug now, huh?” Bucky said as she crossed her arms, examining the table.  

“There’s no way you did that!  It was an impossible throw!” 

“How do you know it was an impossible throw?” Steve asked, curious in spite of himself.  

Natasha rolled her eyes.  “Because I designed it that way.”  

“Guess you’re just not as good as you thought you were,” Bucky said, throwing an arm around her shoulder and planting a huge kiss on her cheek.  He lingered for a few extra seconds next to her ear, whispering, and when he pulled away, she punched him in the stomach.  

“Ow!” Bucky said, rubbing the spot.  “What’s that for?”

“Not a word,” she said, and she went to grab her coat - and then left the building with Clint.  

“About damn time,” Bucky said, yawning as he watched them go.  “I’ve been waiting for eons.”  

Steve laughed.  “Wait, how are you getting home?”  

“I can walk,” Bucky said, weaving his way treacherously around a few barstools to make it over to the coat check.  

“No, you won’t,” Steve said, and noticed as Bucky handed over his ticket that the coat he had brought was the one Steve had lent him the previous Sunday.  

Bucky saw Steve looking and flushed, embarrassed.  “Oh, yeah, sorry, at least this way I can return it to you… it’s just a really nice coat,” he finished quietly, staring at his shoes.  

Steve just laughed.  “It’s one of my favorites,” he said, “and you can hold onto it as long as you need to, I’ve got more.”  

“So how are we getting home?” Bucky asked as they left the bar.  

“I’m driving,” Steve said, leading them over to his bike.  It was his child, practically, something he had poured countless hours into during high school and had bonded with Tony over during his freshman year of college.  Tony had actually been the one to help make the thing run again, and had taught Steve a lot of great shit about mechanics that was dead useful for repairs.  It was a 1940s-era Harley, but Steve kept it polished and glimmering like it was new.  Bucky’s mouth just about hit the ground when he saw it.  

“This is yours?” he asked, eyes wide as he circled the bike. “Steve, how did you get this?” 

Steve shrugged.  “Belonged to my grandfather.  He was in the war, and I guess they let him keep it.  Or he stole it, I guess that’s the more likely story.”  

“What division?” Bucky said sharply, suddenly sounding not quite as drunk.  

“The 107th,” Steve said, running his hand along the handlebars.  

Bucky laughed.  “No shit,” he said, shaking his head.  “Mine, too.”  

And it seemed like too good a night for such heavy conversation, so Steve said, “Well, come on, I’ll show you how it runs,” swinging a leg over the bike and beckoning to Bucky.  

“No helmets?” Bucky said as he slid in behind Steve, immediately resting his hands on Steve’s hips.  “Not very Captain America.”  

“I’m a safe driver,” Steve said, revving the engine.  “Don’t need a helmet.  Hold on!” 

Bucky’s hands moved and grasped at Steve’s waist, and he found he had to try hard to focus on driving considering how much of his blood was rushing south to his cock.  Having Bucky pressed up against his back - well, it felt good.  

Bucky was the perfect passenger, leaning into turns and nestling his chin up on Steve’s shoulder so that Steve could feel the warmth of Bucky’s skin against his cheek.  It was good the ride was so short, because otherwise, he might’ve caused some sort of accident - all he could concentrate on was Bucky’s breath on his skin, hot against the cold November air, and the sparks of pleasure that raced through him whenever Bucky tightened the circle of his arms.  

They pulled up to the Kappa Sig Beta house, but Bucky didn’t let go.  Instead, he rested there, head nestled into the crook of Steve’s neck, until Steve started to think that maybe Bucky had passed out, or that the rest of the booze had hit him.  

“You all right?  We’re at your house.”  

He felt Bucky nod.  “I owe you for that game tonight,” Bucky said, and for one wild moment Steve imagined Bucky inviting him inside, taking him upstairs, letting Steve press him up against the wall and fuck him until he couldn’t remember his own name - 

“I guess so,” Steve choked, praying Bucky wouldn’t notice how strangled his voice sounded.  

“How ‘bout I take you out to dinner?  Tomorrow.  My treat.”  

Steve wanted to say, That hardly sounds like a fair exchange for me winning our game of shuffleboard, or actually, Bucky, I’m straight and I can’t go out with you to dinner because that would give you the wrong idea, or I’m the president of a fraternity and so are you and we can’t be seen doing things like this or like dinner together do you know what that would do to us, but instead what came out was, “What time?” 

Bucky smiled into Steve’s neck - he could feel the shape of Bucky’s lips against his skin.  “I’ll swing by your place around seven.  We can walk there.  That sound all right?” 

No, it does not sound alright, we can’t do this, I can’t do this, I don’t know what it is about you but you do something to me that scares the shit out of me.

“That sounds perfect.  You sure you’ll remember all this tomorrow morning?” 

Bucky shrugged, and finally dismounted the bike.  “Pretty sure.  Apparently even things that are forgotten can be remembered again.”  

And before Steve knew what was happening, before he could make any move to stop it, Bucky had ducked down and kissed him on the lips - chaste, light, but still invariably a kiss.  Steve was glued to the bike, stunned, as Bucky walked back towards the house.  

“Night, Cap!” he shouted back.  “See you tomorrow!”  

Steve waited until the door had closed before he raised his fingers to his lips.  What was it Bucky had said? Even things that are forgotten can be remembered again.  

As he kicked the bike to life and drove away, Steve had the most terrible feeling in his gut that he had kissed those lips before, and had somehow managed to forget it.  

Chapter Text

Bucky stripped off his shirt and turned back to Clint.  

“No, give me the blue one, that’s the one I’m wearing.”  

“Are you sure?” Clint drawled from where he was reclining on Bucky’s bed, watching with amusement.  “Because, you know, ten minutes ago you were saying that it was too dressy, and that you didn’t want to make this feel like a date date.  Because obviously,” he continued, rolling the sleeve of the blue dress shirt between his thumb and index finger, “asking a guy out to dinner and then kissing him on the lips isn’t going to give him the idea that this is some sort of date date.  Have I got it right?” 

Bucky did his best to emulate Natasha’s death-glare, but Clint’s expression didn’t budge.  “You don’t have to be such an asshole.  Did Natasha text you back?” 

Clint had sent pictures of all the shirts to Nat as Bucky threw them out of his closet and onto the bed, asking for her input.  “No, not yet,” he said, frowning down at his phone.  

“I don’t know why this is such an issue, I’ve never had this problem before,” Bucky complained, throwing himself down onto the other half of the bed.  

“You’ve never liked anyone like this before,” Clint pointed out.  “I mean, Buck - have you ever even really gone on a date before?  And I mean a real one, not a “I’ll meet you at this bar at this time and then we’ll head back to your place and fuck till we fall asleep.”  An honest to god dinner date.  Ever had one?” 

Bucky frowned.  He was sure that at some point, he’d done that… 

Clint nodded at Bucky’s silence.  “That’s what I thought.  Oh, she’s responding,” he said, and Bucky immediately sat up straighter. 

“What did she say?” 

“She’s still typing, give it a rest,” Clint said.  “Huh.  She likes the red one, says to do that with the black pants.  She says red suits you.”  

Bucky looked over at the red shirt doubtfully.  “What the fuck does that mean?  She wants this to go well, right?” 

Clint shrugged.  “She wants to see a photo of you with it on.  And she says to make sure you do something to your hair, and to not wear it down like a meth-addicted rockstar.”  

“She did not really say that.”  

Clint just turned his phone screen so that Bucky could see the text.  

“Fuck,” he said under his breath, and pulled on the black pants first, turning back to Clint.  “These look okay?  Appropriate and all?  Tight enough?” 

Clint squinted.  “Yeah, I think you’re okay.  Just don’t wear fucking Air Jordans or something with them and you’re fine.  Now are you gonna send Nat a picture or not?”  

Bucky sighed and fished the red shirt out of the small pile adorning the foot of his bed.  “Okay,” he said when he’d finished buttoning it.  “Shoot.”  

Clint mimed pulling an arrow, holding his phone out as if it were a bow, and took the photo just as he released his imaginary arrow.  “Sending, and… sent.”  He waited a few seconds, then said, “Yep, she thinks you look great.  Says…” he stopped, a flush creeping over his cheeks.  

“Said what?” 

“Nothing,” Clint said, his voice strangled, locking his phone quickly.  “So-”

“No, gimme that!” Bucky lunged for the phone, and after a brief tussle, pried Clint’s phone from his fingers.  

“Buck, no-” Clint whined as Bucky typed in his password (4295, for ‘HAWK’) and opened the messages app.  

Bae <3:  tell him to do something with his hair, he can’t go looking like some sort of meth-addicted punk rocker. And send me a photo <3

You: ok lol here’s the photo

Bae <3: mhm, that’s the one. Hey if his thing with steve falls through maybe we can try for a threesome ;) 

Bucky’s mouth fell open, and then he started laughing.  He texted back: 

You: this is bucky. Don’t flatter yourself, nat, your fuckboy’s not that good looking 

Clint grabbed the phone back as soon as Bucky had sent the message, and stared at the screen in horror, which quickly changed to confusion, tinged with a shade of mock hurt.  “What do you mean, ‘not that good looking,’ have you seen this ass?”

Bucky shrugged, buttoning his cuffs.  “Eh.  Seen better.”  

“You fucker.”  

Bucky left the house about a half hour later, only after fixing his hair from where he’d fucked it up wrestling with Clint.  Tony had given him the address of what he said was “a nice place downtown, not too fancy or anything, I promise.”  

Bucky had stared at him as he took the piece of paper.  “How fancy, Tony.”  

“Not fancy at all, I promise!” Tony said, looking up from where he was rewiring the elbow joint in Bucky’s newest arm. (Over the past week, there had been two new models, only improving in form and function.  Bucky was a little worried about Tony, because he didn’t seem to have slept, but his new arm was more mobile than ever and a cool metallic silver color, so he didn’t mind much.)

“Seriously, man, I just need the address of like, a tavern or something, someplace it wouldn’t matter if-” Bucky stopped himself abruptly.  He hadn’t told Tony who he was taking on a date, and didn’t much feel like broaching the subject, especially since he and Steve were so close.  

“-If two frat presidents were seen there together?  Yeah, I thought about that,” Tony said easily, and Bucky stiffened automatically.  “Relax,” Tony grumbled, “I set you two up, remember?  You have me to thank when this goes great.”  

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask you - why the fuck did you do that?  You knew we were both straight.”  

Tony laughed.  “Man, there’s two things I’m good at in this world: building things, and sex.  It was pretty obvious what your deal was, once I got it out of Pepper that you weren’t fucking around anymore-”

“You what?” 

Tony ignored him.  “I mean, why else would a guy go stone-cold celibate unless he had some dramatic sexual crisis?  Well,” he paused, “I guess if you were gonna become a Priest or something, that could do it too.”  

“Tony,” Bucky began angrily, but Tony cut across him again.  

“So yeah, you were easy, I had you down the first few days.  Steve though, that kid’s a tough one.  Completely in love with Peggy, and has only ever been into pussy since I’ve known him, but the man’s got a heart of gold and I’m pretty sure he could grow to love a killer if that killer had a heart and a good reason for why they did what they did.”  He stopped, tilting his head to one side and considering.  “Actually, I’ve always been so sure Steve had a set of morals that were black and white, but I don’t think that’s true.  I think he does what he thinks is right, fuck the consequences.  And if he saw something in someone, well, I think he probably wouldn’t care what gender they identified as.”  

“You think?” Bucky choked, thrown off his indignant outrage by the perceptiveness in Tony’s remarks.  

Tony smirked.  “I know.  I’ve been getting texts from Sam all morning - apparently Steve told him he has a date tonight, and Sam wants to know who the lucky lady is.  Don’t worry,” he said, holding up the hand that was gripping a pair of pliers, “I didn’t tell him anything.  That’s Steve’s job.”  

“Damn right it is,” Bucky said.  He took a deep breath, and rasped out, “Thanks, Tony.  I mean, I don’t know if it’s gonna work out, or if you’re even right about him, but I’ve never felt about anyone like I feel about him.  He’s got this sort of… gravity, you know?” 

Tony smirked.  “He’s an asshole, but he’s the good sort of asshole.  And when you’re around him, well.  He kinda makes you want to be the good sort of asshole, too.”  

Bucky grinned at that.  “Quill once told me something like that.  He said, ‘I may be an asshole, but I’m not one hundred percent a dick.’”

“I gotta actually get him to a party sometime, when he’s not the DJ,” Tony said absently.  “I heard he can throw down some sick dance moves.”  

“If this goes well, I’ll even talk to him for you.”  

So Bucky left the house clutching the address in one hand, drawing his gray scarf closer to his throat, his pea coat a little tighter around his body.  It was really fucking cold.  

By the time he got to the Rho Sig Nu house, his fingers had developed a whitish tinge that was a little alarming, and he was cursing his decision to forego a hat of any sort; his ears were more or less frozen.  He only had to wait at the curb for a minute before Steve came out, bundled up in a beautiful vintage-style brown leather jacket with a blue collar peeking out from underneath it, dark jeans form-fitting and tapering down to a skinny leg where they met a pair of stylish brown shoes, blond hair slicked back in a sort of subtle pompadour that had Bucky wanting to run his fingers through it.  He suddenly felt woefully disheveled, and wished he’d made more of an effort with his hair, but Steve was breaking out into a smile at the sight of him and it drove the thought from his mind.   

“Hey,” he said, and they set off down the sidewalk together, still retaining a careful distance between them.  This was territory where they both had acquaintances, and Bucky - well, he just wasn’t ready for that yet.  

“Hey yourself,” Bucky said shyly.  “You, uh - you look good.”  

It was hard to tell in the half-light of the street, but Bucky thought he saw Steve blushing.  

“Thanks,” he said.  “You clean up well yourself.” 

“So they tell me,” Bucky said wryly, nervously tucking a stray strand of hair behind his ear.  They turned a corner, making it out of the Greek neighborhoods at last, into an area that was slightly safer from prying eyes.  

Steve had followed the motion.  “New arm?” 

“Yeah,” Bucky said, happy to find a good, neutral subject.  “Tony was over this morning installing it.”  

“How’s it feel?” Steve asked, eyeing Bucky’s fingers with obvious interest.  

“Good,” Bucky said, smiling.  “I can even make a fist, look-” 

He curled his fingers in on themselves, and a grin split Steve’s face.  “That’s awesome!  I’m really happy for you.”  

“Thanks,” Bucky said sheepishly, turning his face away towards the street.  “I don’t think it’s too much farther, maybe just a couple blocks.  Sorry, I know it’s cold….”

Steve just shook his head.  “Nah, it’s not that bad.  Why, are you cold?”  

“Just my fingers and ears, a bit,” Bucky lied.  His entire body was shivering, and wondered if Steve was just trying to play it cool or if he actually didn’t experience cold like a normal human being.   

Steve glanced around uncomfortably, like he was checking for something, and then reached over to grab Bucky’s hand.  

Bucky almost stopped walking.  Steve’s palm was calloused, his fingers rough and hot against his skin, and he realized Steve’s body must just run hot because the man felt like a fucking radiator.  And - Steve was holding his hand.  When Bucky looked over at him questioningly, Steve just shrugged.  “No point in you staying miserable if I can help at all, right?”  

Bucky had to remind himself to keep talking.  “I guess so.  Um - how was your Saturday?”  

“Not too bad,” Steve said, “just worked out a bit, the usual.”  

“By ‘a bit,’ you mean you spent four hours at the gym, right?” Bucky teased.  

Steve shot an amused look at Bucky.  “Maybe.  But it pays off, doesn’t it?” 

“It does,” Bucky replied, and this time he let some of the lust he’d been feeling since Asgard Cellars seep into his voice, just to watch what it did to Steve’s pupils.  And as large as they were with the night, well - now Bucky almost couldn’t see his irises at all.  He smirked.  “I think we’re here,” he said, stopping at what looked like a retro diner.  He frowned and looked down at the paper again, just to double-check he had the address right.  This didn’t seem like someplace Tony would even register as being worth his while.  

When he looked back up again, though, Steve’s face was lit up with a smile brighter than the red neon lights buzzing around the windows.  “No way, how did you know?  I love this place.”  

Bucky shook his head.  “I didn’t.  Wanna-?”

“Yeah,” Steve said enthusiastically, pulling Bucky along with him.  

Their waitress seated them at a back table that was blocked off from view of the main doors by a couple columns, and Bucky wondered if Tony had called ahead.  He needed to give the man more credit.  

“Sorry,” Steve said once they had sat down, “It’s just - I used to come here a lot with… with my mom,” he finished, and Bucky wanted to ask but didn’t want to pry, so he pressed his ankle against Steve’s in silent solidarity.  “Sorry,” Steve said again.  “It’s just - she died a few years back, right after I started at HSU.  I, uh, haven’t been back here since.”  

Bucky was mortified - Tony must’ve known this, so why did he send them here?  “If you want - I mean, we can leave,” Bucky stammered uncertainly.  

“No, no,” Steve said, smiling gently.  “It’s perfect.  I’m really glad we’re here.”  

Dinner was interesting, mostly because both Steve and Bucky had the appetites of baby elephants and ordered one of nearly everything on the menu.  Steve alone ate about five pieces of pie before finally having to turn down any more food - Bucky had never known someone to like apple pie that much, and it just made it so much better that it was Steve, the all-American.  

They didn’t see anyone they knew, which was a relief, and when Bucky asked for the bill the waitress smiled and told them it had been taken care of already.  Bucky blinked.  

“Taken care of?  By who?”  

“Um, a Mr. Stark, I think?” she said.  “He called in about it this morning.  So will you boys want anything else?” 

“No,” Steve said immediately, “I can’t eat another bite, and if you bring us more food, I’m going to do just that.”  

The waitress bid them good-night, and then they were back out in the cold, and Steve took Bucky’s hand easy as breathing.  

“I had a good time tonight,” Steve said when they reached his house.  They had stopped holding hands a half block away from Greek Row again, just in case, but all Bucky wanted to do was kiss him, and it tore him up that it wouldn’t be able to happen.  Not like it would if Steve were a girl. 

“Me too,” Bucky said, smiling and looking at his shoes.  “Um - would you maybe… want to do it again?  Sometime?”  

And then all of a sudden Steve was right in front of him, dragging him by his lapels back into the shadows next to the Rho Sigma Nu house.  Bucky felt a wash of lust crash over him at the manhandling, and had a sudden, intense fantasy of Steve holding Bucky’s arms above his head while he fucked into him, and - oh my god, that shouldn’t be so hot and the thought of getting fucked should be turning him off so why was he half-hard against his too-tight jeans- 

Steve moved them behind a rhododendron bush and shoved Bucky up against the exterior of the house, exacting a needly little whine from Bucky’s throat that he hadn’t meant to release.  And it was difficult to tell in the dark but Steve’s eyes were just a little hard with something - resolve?  

And then Steve was kissing him, and it was as if Bucky had never been kissed before that moment because it had never been like this, so hot and dirty and needy and Steve’s teeth were biting into his lower lip and Bucky went boneless, wrapping his flesh arm around Steve’s neck to hold him there because if he let go Bucky thought he might die.  Steve forced Bucky’s lips to part and then he could taste Steve and he was apple pie on his tongue, and he smelled like oranges and musk and a hint of vanilla and Bucky wanted to smell only that, taste only Steve’s taste, for the rest of his life. 

With one final, hard nip to Bucky’s lip (which would probably be bruised tomorrow, and oh god how did he let this happen) Steve leaned forward to breathe into his ear, “Yes.  I’d like to do it again.”  He leaned back and carefully straightened out his collar, fixed his hair where Bucky had run his hands through it.  

“Sam’s waiting up to hear how it went.  What should I tell him?”  

Bucky blinked, still not sure he could make full sentences.  “Whatever you want,” he said honestly.  “I understand if you can’t….”

Steve nodded.  “Okay.  I’ll text you,” he said, leaning back in to ghost his lips against Bucky’s once more.  “Good night.”  

And he was gone, leaving Bucky behind the rhododendron bush, harder than he had ever been in his life, and certain of one thing: that Steve Rogers was dangerous, because Bucky didn’t think there was a single thing Steve could ask of him that he wouldn’t do.  

Chapter Text

Steve stopped two feet into the entryway, toeing off his shoes and resting his forehead against the wall.  Part of him - a very large, gnawing part - wanted to run back out after Bucky, tell him it was all a mistake, that they couldn’t do this, that he was sorry, but that he just didn’t feel that way… 

The other part of him, which was growing bigger every second, was dying to pull Bucky back into the house, up to his room, and fuck him through the mattress.  And after what he’d just done, would Bucky believe him if he said anything different?  

Hanging his jacket on one of the pegs by the door, Steve sighed.  He needed to talk to someone, and Sam was the least judgmental person he knew.   

As promised, Sam was lounging on the couch watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix when Steve walked into the living room.  A couple of the other guys were huddled up around one of the tables in the corner, doing homework, but the vast majority of the house was out at a party being thrown by Delta Beta Psi.  Sam took one look at Steve and threw the remote to Teddy, a Sophomore who had been lucky enough to squeeze his way into the house, and followed Steve into the kitchen.  

“Beer?” Sam asked, opening the fridge.  

“Yeah,” Steve said, scrubbing a hand across his face and leaning back against the counter.  Sam popped the caps and handed one to Steve, who took a long drink before shifting his body to face Sam.  

“What happened?” Sam said softly, moving a little closer to Steve so they wouldn’t have to talk as loud.

Steve sighed.  “Sam, I don’t know.  I don’t know what happened.”  

“I’m sorry, man.”  

Steve shook his head.  “No, that’s not it.  It was… it was amazing.”  

Sam’s eyebrows shot up.  “So you liked her?  Then what was the problem?”  

“I, uh…,” Steve said, glancing towards the small archway that led back towards the living room.  “Do you think we could maybe talk about this someplace else?”  

Surprise flitted across Sam’s face, but he hid it quickly.  “Sure.  Let’s go see if anyone’s in the den.”  

Sam had to turn on the lights when they entered the room - it smelled faintly of weed, but clearly no one had been using it for a while, so Steve closed the door behind them.  

“What’s up?” Sam said, leaning back into one of the three sofas that ringed the TV.  

Steve opened his mouth, closed it, and laughed.  “Um, I don’t really know how to say this.”  

“Just spit it out,” Sam said, shrugging.  “Unless you’re secretly a CIA agent or something, ‘cause then shut the hell up because I don’t feel like getting killed in my sleep tonight.”  

Steve laughed despite himself, quite aware that had been Sam’s intent, and very thankful for it.  “Okay.  Well, see, back on Halloween, do you remember how Tony set me up with someone?” 

Sam’s brow furrowed as he tried to remember.  “I know he said he was gonna do that, but you never told me about it.  Wait,” he said, pausing, a grin stretching slowly across his face, “you didn’t go out with that girl, did you?  The one Stark set you up with?”  

“No,” Steve said honestly, “because he didn’t set me up with a girl.  He set me up with a guy.”  

Sam’s face went perfectly blank for several seconds before a wave of comprehension seemed to hit him.  “He set up you and Barnes!” he said, and started to laugh.  “Oh, that poor guy - what did you do?”  

Steve shrugged.  “We talked, mostly.  I didn’t really know what to do, I mean, Tony’s so eager, but then….”  

“What, don’t tell me you two made out,” Sam said, trying to sound like he was kidding but doing a very poor job of it.  

“That’s the thing,” Steve said, frowning.  “I don’t remember.  Tony spiked our shots - I told you about that - and the rest of the night is just dark.”  

“So what does this have to do with tonight?” 

“Well, after last night, he kind of… asked me to dinner?” Steve said, voice lilting upwards at the end so that it almost sounded like a question.  

“And you said yes.”

Steve started pacing.  “I didn’t - I wasn’t going to!  But then I’d said I’d go to dinner with him and - and - it was incredible, Sam, it was the best fucking date of my whole life and he took me to that diner my mom and I used to go to and I don’t think I could’ve gone back there with anyone else, and then I - I kissed him, Sam, but I don’t know why I did it, because I’m not gay-

“Whoa, Steve,” Sam interjected, holding up his hands.  “Slow down a sec.  So you went to dinner with him, and you had a good time?”  

Steve stared.  “Isn’t that what I just said?”  

Sam nodded in acknowledgement.  “Okay, so you had a good time, and you kissed good night.  Did you decide if you wanted to see each other again?” 

“Well, yeah,” Steve said automatically, “but I know we shouldn’t, it’s not like it would ever work, and besides, he’s a guy, and-”

“So you went on a date, had a great time, said you wanted to see him again, and kissed him.  Is this all sounding right?” 

“Yeah,” Steve said slowly.  “What are you getting at?” 

Sam started laughing.  “Steve, you like him!  There’s nothing wrong with that - it’s great!  Just - god, I wish I hadn’t tried to push you towards every single girl out there, I must’ve seemed like the biggest asshole.”  

Steve stopped pacing, nearly-empty beer bottle halfway to his lips.  “What do you mean, ‘it’s great’? And - you weren’t an asshole, I like girls, I mean, I went out with Peggy.”  

“Steve,” Sam said, shaking his head, “just ‘cause you loved Peggy-”

“I know, Sam,” Steve sighed.  “I know.  But - what do you think I should do?  I mean, it’s great that you think it’s great, but I know other people won’t think that way, and….” 

“You’re scared, Steve,” Sam said softly.  “What are you afraid of?  I know it’s not what other people think - that’s never bothered you in anything.  So don’t try to tell me that’s it.” 

 Steve sat down heavily in one of the armchairs.  “I’ve never felt this way about anyone, even Peggy.  It’s like I’ve known him my entire life - or like he was a friend I once had that I’d forgotten.  He’s familiar in a way he shouldn’t be, and I don’t know why.”  

“Didn’t know you believed in that past-life stuff, Rogers,” Sam joked, sitting down across from Steve.  

Steve barked out a laugh.  “Never said that.  He just feels… comfortable.”

“But you’re still afraid.” 

Steve stared down at his hands.  “When I lost Peggy, it was… awful.  You know that, I was a wreck for weeks.  And I’m scared that, if I let myself do this - it’s already different from how it was with her.  It’s more, somehow.  And I can’t lose someone like that again, Sam, I can’t do it.”  

Sam gave Steve a hard look.  “And you think running from him is the answer?  You think that if you ignore it, that’s gonna make it better?”  

“No,” Steve said quietly.  “You know I don’t.”  

“Steve, man,” Sam said, leaning forward to rest his hand on Steve’s knee, “you know I love you, but sometimes you’re a real fucking idiot.  Pull your head out of your ass, and go the hell after him.”  

#

Steve made it two hours before texting Bucky, torn between seeming too eager and too distant, and deciding to opt with overeager, because at least it wouldn’t give the wrong idea.  

Steve: hey, just got done talking to Sam 

He sent the message and watched his phone for a few seconds, immediately wishing the message back.  Should he have said more?  He should’ve waited until Sunday to message Bucky.  It was too soon, he would seem needy - 

Bucky: yeah? How’d it go? Can’t sleep, Clint and Nat are too busy ramming his bed into the wall :(

Steve sighed in relief and began to text back.  

Steve: not bad. Took it fine, told me I was being stupid for worrying about other people’s reactions.  Sucks about clint and nat, but at least they’re getting it out of their systems 

Bucky: haha so true :) but I don’t think that’s stupid, it’s normal.  And who wants to be seen out with the crippled homo with the bad haircut, right? haha 

Steve frowned.  It wasn’t right, for Bucky to be talking about himself like that.  Didn’t he know how he looked to other people?  How he’d looked tonight, in his stupid pea coat and the red shirt that complemented his skin, chapped with cold?  How Steve had wanted to jump him from the second he stepped out the door? 

Steve: I don’t think your haircut is bad, it suits you! And you didn’t see how you looked tonight, apparently, cause anyone would want to be seen out with you 

He sent the message with reluctance, not sure if it was too much.  

Bucky: oh yeah? Well old man you don’t clean up too bad yourself, in those fucking jeans and your goddamn jacket, wanted to do so many things with you right there on the side of your house

Steve felt his face growing hot, and shifted in his bed, willing himself not to get hard.  He wouldn’t sext Bucky, he wouldn’t, it wasn’t right after only one date - 

Steve: oh yeah?  Like what?

Steve regretted it as soon as he sent it, but watched as the speech bubble popped up on Bucky’s side of the conversation, and waited anxiously for the response.  

Bucky: can’t stop thinking about you pushing me up against the side of that building, god that was so hot, I was hard when you walked away.  Want to be on my knees for you, and I never wanted that with anyone before stevie, but god I wanna know what you taste like 

Steve’s breath caught in his throat, and he was instantly half-hard.  The thought of Bucky kneeling in front of him, sucking him off, or better yet letting Steve fuck his mouth, holding onto Bucky’s hair and pulling at it - 

Steve: fuck bucky, you can’t just say things like that 

Bucky: it’s true. Want you to pin me up against a wall and fuck me until I can’t remember my own fucking name 

Steve’s hand had moved to his dick about halfway through that message, and he began to stroke himself, imagining pressing Bucky up against the wall of his room, taking him from behind, or better yet - 

Steve: wanna see your face, could hold you up, wrap your legs around my back, get you off like that

Bucky: oh my god steve I’m so hard right now, wish it was your hands on me, your lips 

Steve moaned with the image, throwing his head back against a pillow and struggling to respond while using only one hand.  

Steve: are you touching yourself? 

Bucky: yeah, god steve wish it was you, I wanna know what you feel like 

It hadn’t been long at all but Steve was embarrassingly close, and he squeezed his eyes shut as he pictured Bucky laid out below him, flushed and sweaty and gasping and crying out his name….

Steve came all over his fist with a cry that sounded too close to Bucky’s name for comfort.  He stroked himself through the climax, shuddering out the aftershocks and felt nearly too boneless to type out a response to Bucky’s text.  

Steve: when can I see you again 

Bucky: there’s a thing on wednesday, over at xandar. Come with me? It’s dark, lots of good corners, greek kids don’t usually go there. Im sure the others will want to come too, its half off cocktails and live music, but they probably know already 

Steve hesitated - on one hand, being in public like that with Bucky would be a risk.  Neither of them were ready to come out yet, and he didn’t want to be seen by people who would ask questions.  On the other hand, he imagined dancing with Bucky, grinding on him, finding a nook and making out like any other couple until they had to leave the club to find someplace more private - 

Bucky: it’s a gay-friendly bar, if that makes any difference  

It did - people would be less likely to look twice.  

Steve: okay. Is this something I should dress up for? 

Bucky: no grandpa shirts, but wear what the fuck you want. Just be looking good, I ain’t gonna dance with someone who isn’t looking sexy as fuck ;) 

Steve: oh I see how it is. Well you’d better be looking good too, then, cause if we’re dancing, I want to make sure everyone looks at you and sees you’re there with me  

He sent the message without thinking, and immediately wanted it back - possessive, incredibly inappropriate, it didn’t sound like him at all - but it was the truth, and why did he feel that way?  

Bucky: oh they’ll know.  Ill see you then :) 

Steve: night, buck

Bucky: night stevie

Steve buried his face into his pillow, trying to smother his smile, and waited for sleep to come.  He couldn’t stop thinking about Bucky.  

He didn’t think he wanted to.  

Chapter Text

“So is this your day job, then?” 

Bucky jerked upright from where he’d been leaning on the front counter, almost toppling out of his chair in the process.  “Guess you could call it that, yeah,” he said, adjusting his mug of coffee to bring it closer to himself. 

Sam Wilson grinned and moved closer to the front counter.  “Never seen you working here before.”  

Bucky glanced around the bookstore, walnut shelves and aged pine floors creaking with weight disturbance.  “I usually work opening shifts.  More time to party at night, you know?” 

Sam rolled his eyes and laughed.  “Yeah, I know.  Look, you got any books on birds?” 

Bucky grinned.  “Trying to live up to your moniker?  Nah, I’m just kidding,” he added at the look on Sam’s face, which was at once mutinous and grudgingly amused.  “Come on, over here,” he said, stepping out from behind the counter and leading Sam through a few lanes of tall, sardine-packed bookshelves.  “There ya go.  Everything from albatrosses to wrens.”  

“Thanks, man,” Sam said, bending down to examine a couple small field books at the bottom of the shelves.  

“Bring it up front when you’re ready, yeah?” Bucky said, already moving back towards the counter, which he’d unceremoniously abandoned.  

“Sure thing, soldier,” Sam called after him.  

Bucky went back to his silent post behind the register, staring at his phone and trying to figure out if he should text Natasha about Xandar.  He hadn’t let things with him and Steve progress past where they’d gotten on Saturday night (and shit if Bucky wasn’t still jacking off to those messages), but was still feeling optimistic for at least a bit more action that night, if only kissing.  Bucky would be fine with that - he’d be fine with holding hands at this point, if only it meant he could see Steve again.  

It had been a long four days without him, longer than was natural or healthy for someone who knew another person as well as Bucky knew Steve.  But every time Bucky thought about him, it was like flying and being drunk and wanting to vomit all at once.  The sensation - foreign, entirely new - was addicting, and Bucky was a junkie of the worst kind.  

He kept imagining what Steve would be wearing that night - would he be in those tight jeans, the ones that showed off his ass so well Bucky would rim him right there on the dance floor; would he be wearing one of those shirts that was too tight for comfort, biceps bulging and pectorals straining to escape from tempered fabric?  

“You doing okay, man?  It’s like you’re gonna pass out or something,” came Sam’s voice from in front of him, and Bucky sat up from where he’d been staring vacantly at his phone, blinking his eyes a couple times to adjust to the sight of Sam Wilson in front of him, clutching a book on predatory birds of New York state.  

“Yeah, sorry, just haven’t been sleeping too well,” Bucky said.  It wasn’t a lie.  Ever since the incident with Brock, Bucky’s nightmares had been occurring more frequently, and these times - these times, Steve’s face took that of his partner’s, and it was Steve’s blood on his hands, staining the earth, his fatigues, and Bucky didn’t care if half his body got blown off because Steve was dead - 

“I guess,” Sam said, eyes flashing in the soft light.  “Too tired to go to Xandar tonight?” 

“No,” Bucky said, faster and perhaps more emphatically than would have been considered natural.  Sam noticed the slip.  

“Now, look, man, I know Steve told you that he talked to me-”

“If this is some sort of ‘don’t fuck up Steve Rogers or I’ll fuck you up’ talk, no offense, but first - I only want to do right by him; and second, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t stand much of a chance at fucking me up.”  

Sam raised an eyebrow, smirking.  “I wasn’t gonna say anything like that - Steve’s old enough to make his own choices, and I trust him.  I just wanna make sure you’re doing okay, too.”

Bucky stared.  “I’m good.  Yeah, I mean, I’m fine.  Honestly,” he added as Sam gave him a skeptical look.  

“All right,” Sam conceded, handing the book over to Bucky so that he could start to ring it through.  “He’s been looking for something good to wear all day, just so you know,” he said, grinning, “so you’d better bring it.”  

Bucky leaned back, tilting his chin down in towards his chest.  “Have you ever seen this,” he said, gesturing towards his own body, “dressed any way besides divine?” 

“Huh,” Sam said, pretending to consider, “well, there was that time you were dressed as Batman at Tony’s Halloween party….” 

“Get out,” Bucky said, laughing, handing Sam the book back.  “That was not my choice.” 

“I seem to remember someone dressed up as a really good Green Lantern,” Sam said as he turned to leave.  “You know, he was pretty handsome-”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Bucky interjected, talking over him, “stroke your ego a bit more, okay?” 

Sam just laughed.  “I’ll see you tonight!” he called back after him, letting the old single-paned door close with an ominous ringing sound and much protest from the door frame.

“Ah, shut up,” Bucky said to it absently, turning back down to his phone and sending a message off to Nat, trying not to think about how very much could go wrong that night.  

“I should’a known this was gonna happen,” Clint said, lacing up his right shoe.  “You come out, start dragging me along to gay clubs, where I’m gonna be nothing more than eye-candy, guys hitting on me left and right-”

Bucky snorted, picturing Clint being propositioned by a couple of beefy queer dudes, but quickly sobered.  “If you don’t wanna come, you don’t have to, really, I’ll be fine-”

“And leave Natasha to take care of you on her own?” Clint said.  “I don’t think so.”  

Bucky frowned.  “Steve is gonna be there, too!”  

“Exactly,” Clint said, “that’s why you need someone with integrity, intelligence, etcetera, at this sort of thing.”  

“What makes you think guys would be hitting on you anyways?” 

Clint shrugged.  “Well, some people actually do appreciate my ass, you know….”

Adjusting his muscle shirt one last time so that it was artfully rucked up over one of his belt loops, Bucky rolled his eyes.  “Right, of course.  How could I forget?”  He bent down and laced up his combat boots until they were done up to the top.  “Oh yeah,” he said, looking at himself in the bathroom mirror.  “I look good.”  

Clint started down the stairs.  “And he’s modest, too!  Let’s go, you arrogant prick.”  

“Pot, kettle?” Bucky said, grinning, as he followed Clint out the front door.  

“Don’t wait up for us, boys!” Clint called back into the house before closing the door behind them on about six juniors who hadn’t yet turned 21.  “Poor fucks, not old enough to go out to bars…” he said mournfully.

“Too chicken shit to get fakes,” Bucky corrected, drawing his coat (Steve’s coat) closer to himself as they moved quickly down the sidewalk.  “You call anyone else, tell ‘em to meet us there?” 

“Sounds like Pep and Tony are coming, and they might be bringing Rhodey too, if they can pull him away from this big project he’s got going for, like, the Model UN or some shit,” Clint said as they turned the block.  “Phil mentioned something about coming ‘cause he likes the DJ, but I don’t know about anyone else.” 

“Hey, boys,” Natasha called to them as she strolled down the drive of a house thirty feet in front of them.  “Ready to get trashed?” 

“Like you ever get trashed,” Bucky said as she fell into step with them.  “Your liver’s, like, something out of The X-Files.”  

“Hey, Clint,” Natasha said casually, glancing over to Bucky’s right.  

“Don’t try to pretend you weren’t fucking at like eighty decibels just last night, guys,” Bucky said, watching as Clint flushed.  

“And what were you doing, texting Rogers?” 

“That’s not the point!” Bucky said, as Clint burst out laughing.  

“Well, at least you look hot,” Natasha sighed, glancing over Bucky’s outfit.  “Hey birdbrain, you could learn a few things,” she added with a smirk, looking over at Clint, who flipped her off.  

It only took about five more minutes to reach the bar, and by the time they did, they found Rhodey and Tony already in line.  

“Hey Sarge, how’s the arm working out?” Tony asked.  Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “‘Cause I’ve almost finished the newest prototype, I think we’re really getting somewhere with the nerve-”

“Where’s Pepper?” Natasha interjected sweetly, gently cutting Tony off before he could launch into technobabble.  

“She’s with Carol - they’re all inside, already.”

Natasha hummed and nodded.  “How are you, Rhodey?” 

“Good,” he said, “just been busier than anything but what else is new?” 

“I get it, man; I haven’t had the chance to go on Netflix for a week now,” Clint mourned, picking at the hem of his shirt.  “The last show I watched was Arrow.”  

“I forgot you watched that trash,” Bucky teased in a well-worn game of theirs.  

“From the person who watched the whole first season of Gotham and loved it?  Rich.”  

“I did say The Flash was better, okay?” 

“Damn straight.” 

They handed their IDs over to the bouncer, who stamped their wrists and let them pass.  

“Can’t believe you’re still bringing that up,” Bucky said as he handed his coat to the attendant at coat check.  

“Bucky,” said Clint, and something in his tone made Bucky turn and pay attention.  “Look.”  

Bucky followed his gaze and saw Steve leaning up against one end of the bar, chatting to Natasha.  He was wearing a tight blue t-shirt with “POLICE” stamped in large white letters across the chest, and he’d done something different to his hair - it was shorter, now, and casually ruffled in a way that made Steve look like he’d just rolled out of bed.  His hip was cocked at an angle, accentuating the long lines of dark-wash jeans that disappeared into shadow under the bar.  He had a small grin on his face that only widened as he listened raptly to Natasha.  

Bucky’s mouth went dry, and he watched the muscles play in Steve’s arms as he reached out a hand to grip Nat’s shoulder.  

“Earth to Bucky, come on,” Clint said, and Bucky broke focus for just long enough to glance over at Clint and give him a dirty look.  When he turned back, Steve’s eyes were on him, and the expression on his face was almost feral.  Bucky tried desperately to think of anything that wasn’t sexy - baseball statistics, maybe, Brock Rumlow, anything, because he was already half-hard and all Steve had done was stare at him.  

Steve pushed off the bar and made his way over to Bucky, carrying two drinks.  “Hey,” he said shyly as he passed over what looked like a gin and tonic.  

“Hey,” Bucky managed to rasp out, suddenly wishing he’d worn something a little more attractive than his old fatigue pants, combat boots, a muscle shirt, and his dog tags.  “Um, do you wanna…” he gestured towards the air hockey tables in one corner of the bar area, where a few of their friends were drinking and talking.  

“Sure,” Steve said easily.  “Looks like one of the tables is open - wanna play?” 

Bucky leveled him with a look.  “You think you can beat me at air hockey?” 

Steve shrugged.  “Guy with one arm, bad balance, who’s drinking?  Yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about my chances,” he said, grinning.  

“You’re an asshole,” Bucky laughed, but drained his drink and went to put a few coins in the slots.  “But you’re on.”  

#

They played air hockey for a solid 45 minutes, Tony continuously buying them drinks and more rounds of play, saying, “Don’t worry about it, this is the best entertainment I’ve had in ages.”  They found out afterwards that Tony had actually set up a small betting pool on the outcomes of matches and was trying to better his own odds of winning - but free drinks were free drinks, so Bucky couldn’t much complain.  He and Steve were both sweating a bit by the end with the alcohol and no small amount of exertion.  Steve glanced towards the dance floor, which was separated from the main bar by a wall, with two doors on either end as entrances.  

“Wanna go dance?” he asked quietly, tilting his head just a bit towards the room.  

Bucky glanced around to find most of their friends engaged - Nat was talking to Scott Lang, who was in one of the shadier frats that Bucky thought got up to some of the harder drugs; Tony, Pepper, Clint, Thor, and Phil were arguing about the benefits of sports scholarships at the collegiate level; Sam and Carol were in a corner by the bar, leaning close and drinking; and Peter Quill was buying Bruce Banner a drink at the bar - come to think of it, Bucky had never seen Banner out on the town, but the guy cleaned up real well when he was out of an apron.  A man Bucky didn’t know walked through the door in attractive shades and a dress shirt, who was received by Tony with a cry of welcome.  He and Steve were clear.  

“Yeah, let’s go,” he said, setting down what must’ve been his sixth gin and tonic and letting Steve lead him onto the dance floor, just inside the press of people.  

The lights were dark, flashing magenta and blue in time with the music, and Bucky turned hesitantly to Steve, wondering how this was going to work - they’d only danced together once before, and Steve certainly didn’t remember it, and - 

“You look amazing tonight,” Steve murmured into Bucky’s ear, placing his hands on Bucky’s hips and drawing him in close.  

“Amazing wasn’t exactly the reaction I was going for,” Bucky said back quietly, snaking one of his arms around to place a hand at the small of Steve’s back and press their hips together.  

Steve hummed into his ear, and the vibration went straight to Bucky’s dick.  “Well,” he said, “if you were going for fuck me over the bar, then you succeeded.”  Steve dipped his head in time with the music and gently tugged at Bucky’s earlobe with his teeth.  

Bucky’s knees went weak.  “Well, that’s good then….” He gasped as Steve’s mouth trailed lower, down onto his jaw, even as they continued to sway with the bass.  Slowly, Bucky moved his hand down until it was gripping Steve’s ass.  “You wanna be the one bending me over?” he whispered, and Steve moaned, biting into the soft flesh right above Bucky’s clavicle.  

“Got no idea how you look in that fucking uniform,” Steve said, rolling his hips into Bucky’s and tightening his grip by sliding a hand up to cup Bucky’s neck.  The song changed, more upbeat and less conducive to simple swaying, and Bucky fit one of his legs in between Steve’s so that he could start grinding on him.  

“Yeah, officer?” Bucky said, intending it as teasing but it came out as wrecked.  “God, Steve-”

Steve cut him off with a nearly violent kiss, still holding the back of Bucky’s head possessively.  Bucky returned it with fervor, pressing Steve backwards so that they could break out of the main crowd and get a bit more room closer to the wall.  

Steve pulled away.  “Someone could see-”

“I don’t care if half the fucking presidents on the Fraternity Council walk in here right now,” Bucky said, darting back in to steal another kiss.  “I ain’t gonna stop kissing you.”  

“Good,” Steve said, and he gripped Bucky’s arms and moved him back onto the dance floor, kissing him all the way.  

“Hey lovebirds, get a room!” Sam said from right beside them.  Bucky cracked his eyes open just long enough to see Steve forcibly shove Sam away with the hand that wasn’t resting on Bucky’s hip.  Laughing, Sam disappeared into the mass of sweat and grinding bodies.  

Abruptly, Steve turned Bucky so that his back was against Steve’s front.  He started to kiss down Bucky’s neck, leaving small bites that his tongue would smooth over, and as Bucky started to move again he turned his head to give Steve better access.  In less than a minute, one of Bucky’s hands was cupping the back of Steve’s head and the other was resting over Steve’s as it slowly inched its way under Bucky’s shirt.  Belatedly, Bucky realized that Steve might not like the feeling of metal fingers on his skin, and started to pull his hand away.  

“Don’t,” Steve whispered, grabbing Bucky’s hand and tangling his fingers with metal ones.  “It’s beautiful.”  

No one had ever called it that before - the empty space at his side, or the prosthetics that had been attached since, just to make folks more comfortable, ugly things that made him look more robot than man….  Blinking back tears, Bucky turned to face Steve again, glad for the dark and the flashing lights.  “How bout we dance for another fifteen minutes, and then we get the hell out of here?” he said.  

Even in the strange half-light of the dance floor, Steve’s eyes noticeably darkened with want.  “You’ve never had a better idea.”  

Chapter Text

They never made it home.  

Each time they meant to leave the room, they’d get pulled in by one of their friends for yet another song, and Steve’s dick was so hard he literally thought it might fall off if Bucky’s ass rubbed up against it one more time.  

Because every time Steve touched, or even looked at Barnes, waves of lust and something even more than that, something alarmingly like friendship and feelings rushed through Steve with enough force to knock him senseless.  

He supposed “senseless” would be a pretty apt descriptor right about now.  

After an hour of dancing and another three tequila shots, Bucky, with a determined glint in his eye, had grasped Steve’s arm and dragged him into through the side exit, not even glancing at the bouncer as he passed by.  Bucky hadn’t even checked to see if the alleyway was empty when he pressed Steve up against rough brickwork and kissed him.  

And Steve wanted to protest, really, he did, but Bucky’s lips were sinfully soft against his own, stubble scraping against stubble and Steve knew his upper lip would be rubbed raw the next morning but he didn’t care.  Bucky bit down lightly on Steve’s lower lip, rubbing his leg against Steve’s erection at the same time, and forced Steve’s lips open with the resultant gasp.  He tasted like tequila and lime and salt, and smelled like it, too - it seeped from the pores on his face, washed over Steve’s skin.  He loved it.  Steve finally returned the kiss with vigor, reversing their positions and guiding Bucky along the wall until they had turned the corner and entered an even darker street - in darkness, they could be mistaken for anyone.  

“You really want to do this here?” he asked, voice low and dark and hoarse and practically unrecognizable. 

Bucky’s lips were red and spit-stained; his hair was falling out of his messy bun in waves around his face and Steve wanted to pull it.  Bucky pushed his hair back from his eyes and looked Steve over once, almost assessing.  

“You never done it in an alleyway before, frat boy?” 

Steve kissed him once, hard, brutal, and latched onto Bucky’s neck to suck a bruise into the skin.  Bucky sagged against the wall, fingers grasping at rough concrete and finding no purchase.  

“Never wanted to, before.”  

“God, Stevie,” Bucky choked out, diving back in to reclaim Steve’s lips and gripping desperately at the short hairs at the back of Steve’s head.  “Can’t wait, can’t walk all the way back home, god, I’d fuck you in a fucking bush-”

Steve moaned, reaching down to run his hands under Bucky’s shirt, across the flat planes of his stomach, the valleys of his abs.  He wanted to kiss his way down Bucky’s body properly, learn what made him cry Steve’s name, what made him moan, what made him come….

Working fast because Steve had no idea how long their good luck might hold - it wasn’t a weekend, but it was a busy Wednesday, after all, and alley sex wasn’t exactly unprecedented - he undid Bucky’s belt and started in on his pants button.  Suddenly, with Bucky’s erection hard and apparent even underneath his jeans, Steve faltered.  He’d never done this before - never even touched another dick besides his own - what if he was terrible?  What if he couldn’t even give a proper hand job?  He’d never even really seen any other guys erect before, except Sam that one time and they don’t talk about that, and he was abruptly nervous he would get it all wrong, or that he’d open Bucky’s jeans to find that he didn’t actually like guys - 

“You’re thinking too much,” Bucky whispered, reaching up to rest his metal palm against Steve’s face.  “Let me.”  

And Bucky - he dropped to his knees and nuzzled his face against the bulge in Steve’s jeans.  Quickly, and yet while maintaining eye contact with Steve, Bucky unbuckled Steve’s belt and worked his jeans open, sliding them partway down his thighs.  Steve was now just in his boxer briefs and felt extraordinarily exposed, because - well, what if Bucky didn’t like it?  

“Stop thinking,” Bucky repeated, breathing in deeply and then mouthing Steve’s cock over his underwear.  Placing his hands on Steve’s hipbones, Bucky slowly tugged down on Steve’s boxers, finally freeing his cock.  Bucky froze, staring at it - flushed dark red, jutting upwards with a slight curve to the right, leaking precome like it hadn’t done since high school.  

“Um,” Steve started awkwardly, after Bucky had been looking for a solid five seconds, “we don’t have to do this, if you don’t want to-”

Bucky caught him off by taking Steve’s cock in his mouth, swallowing it down to the base, and Steve almost passed out right there.  

He sucked cock like he’d been born to do it, one hand gently cupping Steve’s balls and rubbing at his perineum, the other alternating between holding Steve’s hips in place and jacking what Bucky couldn’t take in his mouth.  It was everything Steve could do to not make noise, stifle his gasps, because the choking sounds Bucky was making were already loud enough, and at least those could be passed off for a very drunk person’s vomiting.  Steve didn’t know where Bucky had learned to give head like that, but guessed that you must pick up something if you’ve been with as many girls as Bucky Barnes had.   

But, Steve thought with pleasure, none of them got to see him like this.  This was all for Steve - the wanton need, the desire to take, and be taken.  

In an embarrassingly short amount of time, Steve began to feel his muscles tighten, heat building throughout his body, and he tugged gently at Bucky’s hair.  

“Buck, I’m-”

Bucky didn’t move, just shook his head and hollowed his cheeks, peering up at Steve from underneath heavy eyelids with eyes that were as black as the night sky.  

And at the last second, right before Steve came, he felt Bucky’s hand inch away from where it had been busy stroking his perineum and circle a single finger around his hole.  

Steve came with a shout, low and guttural, spilling into the back of Bucky’s throat, and as the orgasm raced through his body, he distantly registered the sound of the door opening.  

They froze, Steve’s dick still in Bucky’s mouth, softening increasingly, Bucky still trying to swallow the rest of Steve’s come.  Bucky look back up at Steve with eyes that were wide, but not with fear.  Softly, so quietly even Steve couldn’t hear it, Bucky slid Steve’s cock from his mouth and started to rub himself over his pants.  

Steve stared, listening absently to the sound of lighters flicking on and a couple voices talking about the DJ and who they would be going home with, but he couldn’t tear his eyes from Bucky, who was pulling his dick out of his waistband and beginning to stroke it.  

If someone had told Steve a dick could be beautiful, a month ago, Steve would have laughed in their face.  Now, though - Bucky was shorter than him, although maybe thicker; he was cut, and even hard as a rock his dick was a mouthwatering shade of dark pink.  

He wanted to know what it would feel like on his tongue.  

The door opened and closed again, and Steve listened for about five seconds to ensure that they were alone in the alleyway again before pulling Bucky up to his feet by his dog tags and pushing him back against the wall.  

“Bucky,” he gasped, and Bucky moaned as Steve wrapped his hand around Bucky’s cock and started to stroke the way he liked it, because it was the only way he knew how.  

“Faster,” Bucky panted, gripping Steve’s shoulder with one hand, the other seeking purchase on the wall and finding nothing.  “Oh, god, yes, Stevie,” he moaned as Steve obliged, precome smoothing the way.  “So good, you’re so good-”

“Yeah?” Steve asked, leaning in close to suck another mark into Bucky’s neck.  “Not as good as you, Buck - born to suck cock, my god, you’re perfect, look at you….”

“Steve, Steve,” Bucky whined, breath coming in short little gasps that almost sounded like hyperventilation.  

“God, Bucky, I wanna take you home, mark you up all over your body, fuck you for hours….”

Bucky’s eyes slid shut as he whispered, “Yes, yes… gonna come, Steve, gonna -” 

Shuddering, Bucky’s body tensed and then he was coming all over Steve’s hand, cries swallowed down by Steve as he kissed Bucky through his orgasm.  

As he tucked Bucky back into his fatigues, Steve laughed.  “Well, can’t say my first time with someone’s ever been anything like that.”  

Bucky smirked a little and glanced at him with satiated eyes.  “Aw, Stevie, you make me feel so special,” he said, voice ladened with sarcasm.  “Fucking punk,” he added as Steve playfully bit him on the tip of his ear, following it with a swift kiss on Bucky’s lips.  

“You’re a jerk,” Steve said, wincing at the pathetic comeback.  

Bucky just laughed.  “You should go wash your hand,” he said apologetically, looking down.  “Otherwise people might…” He trailed off, but they both knew the words that remained unsaid: people might find out.  

“You’ll follow a few minutes after?” 

“Like I’d stay out here all night,” Bucky scoffed.  “It’s fucking cold.”  

Steve shrugged.  “Good point.  Okay, I’ll see you back inside.”  

Bucky smiled and pressed his head back against the wall as Steve reentered the bar through the (now propped) side door.  It wasn’t hard to find the bathrooms, and Steve gratefully turned on the sink, eager to wash the come off his hands before it could start to stick.  

“I thought you might be with him,” came a deceptively mild voice from directly behind Steve, and he whirled around to see Natasha standing against the wall of the men’s room with her arms crossed and her sleeves rolled up.  

“Hey, Nat,” he said as nonchalantly as he could.  

“Where’s James?” she asked, completely ignoring Steve’s greeting.  

He sighed.  “Look, he’ll be back in a few minutes.  Is something wrong?” 

“I don’t know,” Natasha said, eyes narrowing, “why don’t you tell me?” 

Steve struggled for a moment to reconcile the friendly, funny woman he’d been chatting with earlier and the absolute terror that stood before him now.  How had he never thought to be afraid of her before?  No wonder everyone thought she was an assassin secretly working for the CIA.  “I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” he settled on.  

She rolled her eyes, stepping forward off the wall.  “Steve, I’m sure you’re a nice guy.  Actually, I really have nothing to indicate otherwise, especially considering how things have been with you two until now.  But,” she said, pausing, “I don’t know you.  And only fools trust people they’ve just met.”  

“Sometimes it pays to give people the benefit of the doubt.”  

“And sometimes you get stabbed in the back,” Natasha said, her lips turning up in a small smile.  

“You don’t trust many people, do you?” Steve asked, backing up slowly as Natasha continued to advance.  

“I don’t like getting hurt.”  

They stopped moving, each analyzing the other with a new understanding, barely two feet separating them now.  

“I won’t hurt him, Natasha.  I would never do that.”  And he wouldn’t - he cared far too much for Bucky already that hurting him would be like hurting himself.  

“You would never mean to,” Natasha corrected, her words sharp.  “You can’t promise that.”  

“No,” Steve said slowly, “I can’t.  Are you here to tell me that if I do anything to hurt him, you’ll hurt me?”  

“No,” Natasha said, and Steve’s brow furrowed in confusion before she added, “you already know that.”  

“Oh,” Steve said, taken aback. “Then… why?” 

“James has been hurt more times, and more deeply, than he cares to admit,” Natasha said, closing the distance between them so that Steve had to peer down his nose to see her.  “Has he ever mentioned Alexander Pierce?” 

“No.  But - wait, you don’t mean General Alexander Pierce, do you?” 

“You know him.”  

“Sure,” Steve said.  “Ever since that news special Diane Sawyer did with him, after his promotion.  But - what does he have to do with Bucky?”  

Natasha shook her head.  “That’s not for me to say, and it’s not for you to ask about.  But - Steve, just know… know that he loves more deeply than anyone I’ve ever met.  And when things go badly….  I never want to see him like that again.  And I will hurt the person who did it to him.  Understood?” 

Steve nodded.  

“Good,” Natasha said, and she moved to leave.  

“Natasha?”  

She turned.  “Yeah?” 

“You’re a good friend.”  

She smiled, but this time, it held no malice or threat, just pleasant surprise.  “Thanks,” she whispered, and left Steve alone in the bathroom, leaning on the sink, to think about what she had said.  

#

Bucky was back at the bar when Steve came out of the bathroom, talking animatedly with a man wearing sunglasses and a nice button-down shirt.  “Steve!” Bucky cried when he saw him, racing over to drag Steve the remaining ten feet to the bar.  He’d gone from very tipsy to really drunk in almost no time at all, and Steve wondered who had been pouring his shots before glancing over to find that Tony, Clint, and Peter had gotten bottle service.  Bucky pulled him up to the man at the bar, who smiled politely as Bucky said, “This is Matt!  He’s the one Tony knows, who cooks for Hell’s Kitchen.”  

“It’s nice to meet you,” Steve said, smiling and holding out his hand for Matt to shake.

“The pleasure’s all mine,” Matt said, but he didn’t take his hand.  Steve glanced at Bucky, confused.  

“He’s blind, Stevie,” Bucky whispered in his ear, showing an impressive amount of tact considering how much tequila Steve could smell on his breath.  

“My mistake,” Steve said, taking back his hand.   

“No worries,” Matt said easily.  “Tony forgets all the time.”  

Bucky frowned.  “What do you mean, he forgets?” he asked, turning slightly to face Matt and accidentally knocking his shot glass off the table.  

In a movement so quick Steve almost missed it, Matt’s hand flew out to catch the shot glass before it hit the floor.  He replaced it on the counter, smirking.  “I’ve got good reflexes,” he told Bucky, who was staring dumbly at the glass.  

“You sure you’re blind?” Bucky joked.  

“You sure you got one arm?” Matt shot back.  

They both burst out laughing.  “Fair point,” Bucky slurred, turning back to Steve.  “Matt said we should come down to his restaurant sometime.”  

Steve hesitated - Hell’s Kitchen was an expensive place.  “I don’t know-”

Incredibly, as if he sensed why Steve was reluctant, Matt said, “Friends don’t pay at my restaurant, Steve.”

“But Tony paid when we were there for brunch,” Bucky pointed out.  

“Yeah, well, Tony’s got more money than God.  He always pays.”  

Bucky laughed so hard he swayed and had to grab onto the bar to catch his balance.  

“Whoa, there,” Steve said, reaching out a hand to clasp Bucky’s shoulder.  Matt graciously left to go talk to the rest of the guys, who had been joined by Phil and Thor and were now drinking in earnest.  “C’mon, Buck, we should get you home.”  

And through some small miracle, Bucky didn’t protest, merely followed Steve to coat check and grabbed his things.  He was losing coordination fast, so Steve helped him shrug on his coat (Steve’s coat, and he didn’t care if Bucky never gave it back at this point because it looked better on him anyways) and ushered them out the door into the frigid November night.  

The walk back didn’t seem to take as long as it should have, and in no time at all they were standing in front of the Kappa Sig Beta house, Bucky tugging Steve towards the door.  

“No, Buck,” Steve said gently, carefully prying Bucky’s fingers off his wrist.  

Bucky’s face fell.  “Why not?  I thought - don’t you - don’t you want me…?” 

“God, Bucky,” Steve laughed, leaning in and kissing him chastely, “of course.  But, well, you’re really drunk right now.”  

Bucky stared at him blankly.  “So?” 

So it wouldn’t be right, Buck.  That’s taking advantage of you.  I ain’t gonna do that.”  

“So fuckin’ noble,” Bucky mumbled before diving back in for another kiss.  “Fuckin’ white knight.”  

“What does that make you?” Steve whispered into Bucky’s lips.  

Bucky pulled away, looking at Steve with dark eyes that glinted in the streetlights and considering.  “The Dark Knight.”  

“Of course,” Steve sighed.  “How could I forget?  Sexiest Batman there is.”  

“Let’s grab coffee soon?” Bucky asked.  “I got some stuff… I gotta tell you some stuff.  Can’t - can’t think right now.”  

“Sure, Buck.  Is everything okay?” 

“Yeah,” Bucky said, “there’s just some things I have to tell you before… before this goes any farther.”  He looked down at his shoes.  “I should get inside.”  

“Okay,” Steve said, leaning in to kiss him one last time.  “Good night, Bucky.”  

“Night, Stevie.”  

He turned around and vanished into the house.  

Steve swallowed the words that had been sitting on his tongue, desperate to be said, all evening.  

Love you. 

No.  It was still too soon.  A bare few weeks wasn’t enough to love someone - was it?  Even if you felt like you’d known them your whole life?  

Only fools trust people they’ve just met.  

It couldn’t be love.  Not yet.  

Chapter Text

Steve swung by on his bike Saturday morning to pick up Bucky, who was still slightly hungover from the party Phil’s house had thrown the night before.  Thoughts about the next morning had led him to down one too many shots of whiskey, and he ended up bent over a toilet for most of the night, throwing up what felt like the very lining of his stomach walls. 

All in all, not the best experience, and one he wasn’t keen to repeat. 

“What happened to you?” Steve joked as Bucky clambered on the back of the bike and loosely held onto Steve’s waist. 

“Just a bad night,” Bucky said. “Lots of alcohol involved. Clint’s still moaning in bed about how he won’t ever drink again.” 

“Was it that party over at Kappa Omicron Psi?”

“Yes,” Bucky said, “and Wade Wilson showed up halfway through-”

Steve made a sympathetic noise in the back of his throat.  “How long did it take him to get people to start doing body shots?”

“About fifteen minutes. You know him?”

“Who doesn’t?” Steve said, shrugging. “He crashed one of Tony’s parties about a year ago; it was a mess.  Walked in eating a chimichanga and carrying what must’ve been a quarter pound of ecstasy.” 

“No!  What did Tony do?”

“Just asked for the first tab,” Steve laughed, and kicked the bike to life.  “So, where to?”

“Do you mind if I stop somewhere first, before we get coffee?” Bucky asked him.  “Well, two places, actually.  It’s just - there’s something I gotta do today, and usually I’d take the subway, but….”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Steve said. “I’ll take you. Where are we going?”

“East River College,” Bucky supplied. “The bookstore. You know how to get there?”

“Yeah,” Steve said, tone surprised. “Why are we going there, though? Don’t tell me you’re thinking of transferring to that shithole or anything.” 

Bucky laughed as Steve revved his Harley and started to cruise down the deserted street.  “Nah.  I gotta pick something up for a friend.” 

Steve didn’t question him any further, and got them to the bookstore in a much shorter amount of time than it would’ve taken Bucky to get there using city transit.  East River College was located on the other side of the city, squashed into a few blocks and bordered by a couple nice sports fields where the football and soccer teams practiced.  The cross-town rival of HSU, the enmity between the Hudson State Spiders and the East River Venom was fierce and unparalleled. 

“What do you think?” Bucky asked as he browsed through the street level.  “I’ve already done pennant, keychain, lanyard, and t-shirt….” He picked up an ERC mug, considering.

Bemused, Steve held up a shot glass emblazoned with ‘ERC Venom.’  “What about this?”

Bucky grinned and took it. “Yeah, that’s perfect. Let’s go.” 

“Where next?” Steve asked patiently as they walked back to the bike. 

“Metro General.”

Steve paused. “The hospital?”

“Yeah.” 

#

“Hey, Bucky,” the woman at the front desk said as soon as Bucky and Steve walked through the doors.

“Hey, Claire,” said Bucky, leaning up on the desk.  “How’re you doing?”

“Not bad,” she said, reaching over to grab a clipboard from the other side of her desk.  “Same room as always,” she said, anticipating Bucky’s next question and handing him a pen. 

“Thanks,” Bucky said, signing in and handing the clipboard back to her.  “Don’t get too bored while I’m away, all right?”

Claire grinned. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll try not to. I’m right here if you need me, all right?”

“You’re the best, Claire.”

“Wait,” she said as they started to walk away, “your friend….”

“Sorry,” Steve said, smiling a little and taking the clipboard, signing it and handing it back. “Have a nice day.”

The room was two floors away, and to Steve’s credit, he didn’t pry once on the way there - just walked a pace behind Bucky, letting him lead.  One left turn, one right, and six doors down… “This is us,” Bucky said, holding open the door so Steve could enter, and following behind. 

The bed hadn’t moved - in fact, nothing had moved at all, including the prone body stuffed with tubes and needles and hooked up to vitals monitors.  The bedside table looked the same as it always did: a small lamp perched precariously on one end, crowded by an empty vase, a framed photograph, and a veritable mountain of ERC merchandise.  It was on this pile Bucky placed the shot glass, nestled up against a Venom water bottle and pennant. 

“Who is he?”

Bucky turned to find Steve standing near the foot of the bed, watching him closely.  Bucky cleared his throat self-consciously, and sat down in a chair next to the bed. 

“His name is Eugene Thompson. But we all called him Flash.”

Steve moved to Bucky’s side and sat down in the chair next to his.  “Flash?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, smiling. “Nickname he picked up ages ago, back in grade school.  He was always the jock.” 

“You knew him from school?”

“No,” Bucky said, leaning forward on his elbows.  “I knew him from the army.”  

Steve made a small noise, like understanding.  “Bucky, if you don’t want to talk about it….”

“Then I don’t have to? Yeah, Steve, I know. The thing is, I’ve never brought anyone here before.  Not Natasha, not Clint, nobody.” The words felt like a dull echo of their conversation following the incident with Brock, except this time… this time, Bucky was prepared to tell him everything.

“I met him at AIT. We shipped out together, us and Jim and all those other sad fucks that didn’t make it back….

“We were assigned to this unit - small, specialized.  Best guns in our whole graduating class, they said, and so they gave us to a new commander. Up and coming, I remember that’s how Flash described him.  None of us….” Bucky breathed deeply and tensed as he felt Steve’s hand come to rest on his shoulder.  Steve began to rub circles into the knotted muscle, and Bucky relaxed, letting himself commit to memory the feeling of Steve’s fingers, the soft sound of his breath.

“None of us had heard of him before,” Bucky continued shakily.  “Colonel Alexander Pierce.” 

Steve’s hand paused on Bucky’s shoulder, hesitating a brief but noticeable few seconds before continuing to move.

“At first, it was what we’d dreamed of doing… the dangerous stuff, you know, like ambushes and liberating towns and finding terrorists.  But sometimes, after a hard day, you’d get called into the Colonel’s tent. He always said it was to talk strategy. Those words, every time, and you started to know what was coming.”  He swallowed heavily, glancing up at Flash’s face, placid with unconsciousness. “And he… he made us do things,” he said, voice dropping down into a nearly undetectable range of volume. “He played us, told us all the things he could do if we didn’t do as he asked, the missions he could give us…. You gotta understand, we didn’t do it - any of it - because we wanted to.  We just wanted to stay alive.” 

“Okay,” Steve whispered, sliding his hand down to grab Bucky’s.  “Okay.”

“And-” Bucky started, but had to stop to blink back tears.  “And when word came down from the White House, about Bin Laden, he jumped at the opportunity to hunt him down.  All the - the fucking glory, or whatever, he thought he could get, that was all that mattered. And it was on our way to one of Bin Laden’s suspected hiding points when the IED hit us.”  He squeezed Steve’s hand once before continuing, “Everything I told you about Jim, and the bomb, all of that was the truth. But after I got hit… Flash had managed to escape the wreckage, and he found me.  He carried me for miles on legs full of shrapnel and bone shard and when they finally found us he was so fucked up that… that…” Bucky breathed in sharply and finished, “that he hasn’t woken up yet.

“And the worst part? The worst part is that Pierce survived. We survived, and no one else did. Not a single other person in our whole company, and so I’m left here with the only person I think I’ve ever really hated in life and a friend who gave everything to save me. He always wanted to be a football player for East College,” Bucky added, smiling at the memory of Flash telling him all about the program with a look of fervent ardor in his eyes, a raw hopefulness for the future Bucky could never even try to imitate. “But after everything, he lost his legs. And so every time I come to see him, I bring him something new and pray that he’s woken up and will finally be able to send in that application he was always talking about, even if - even if it means he’ll never play on the ERC field.

“And Pierce… Pierce gets a fucking medal because he wasn’t riding with our company.  He pushed on and didn’t go back after the hit, just told a few privates and a medic to go back to the damage and try to find the wounded. He went on, and they say he was the one that pulled the trigger himself, but I don’t believe it. I never thought he really had the stomach to kill a man point blank, even if that man was the greatest terrorist threat since 9/11.  But he got credit for it, is what matters, and… well, you see where he is now. Didn’t take him long to keep climbing that fucking ladder.  I’ve asked Claire, you know, if he’s come in to visit at all.  Not once, in four years.  How fucked up is that?” 

Bucky felt something wet land on his left hand, and realized he was crying.  The next words seemed stuck in his throat, but he knew he needed to say them, before anything else happened between him and Steve. It wasn’t exactly that Steve had the right to know, it was that Bucky felt the obligation to tell him.

“Every time I see his face, on television at a press conference, or with the Joint Chiefs, or in the field talking about the state of our troops and the military industrial complex I feel like I’m gonna be sick because I can’t stop remembering all the things he made me do.  Made me… go on my hands and knees, you know, suck him off while he filed reports on my performance… fucked me like a dog, bent over his desk, or against a wall, and I….” He took a shuddering breath, and plowed on.  “I remember thinking I must’ve done something to deserve it, or that all commanders did that, and I remember throwing up after it was over because sometimes - sometimes I liked it, and if that isn’t the most fucked-up-”

He stopped, gasping and clutching his chest like he could do something about the ache that was buried there, so deep no one had ever seen it, so far in that Bucky had never so much as examined it himself.  “And I’m-” he choked, trying to get out the words he had to say, so that Steve knew, “I’m not clean, and you deserve something - something so much better and someone who isn’t, well, tainted-

And then strong, warm arms were wrapped around his torso, Steve’s nose pressed to his neck and his lips to Bucky’s clavicle.  One of Steve’s hands ran up to grasp the back of Bucky’s head, and the other was simply clutching Bucky’s back so fiercely he thought he might get bruises. 

“No,” Steve whispered, cutting off Bucky’s protests.  “No, no, no.” He pressed small kisses to Bucky’s throat and gently worked his way up Bucky’s jaw until he was kissing the tears off Bucky’s cheeks.  “Don’t you ever say that.” The had gripping Bucky’s head moved around to wipe at the tears that were still flowing because Bucky couldn’t seem to stop them, now that he was about to lose Steve for good -

“It’s true,” Bucky protested weakly, avoiding Steve’s eyes.  “Everything I’ve told you - I’m not-”

“You were abused and assaulted by your commanding officer,” Steve interjected, a steely look in his eyes Bucky hadn’t seen before.  It was frighteningly assertive, and Bucky felt himself wanting to agree with whatever he said. “You’ve gone through hell, Bucky - more of it than most people experience in a lifetime - and you came out alive, and full of so much joy and a passion for living that I’ve never seen before. And-” Steve paused, visibly seeming to struggle with words, “you’re the bravest person I’ve ever met, and I care about you.  Nothing will ever change that, Buck.  Nothing you tell me could ever make me stop lov-“ Steve said, then cut himself off. Bucky was too surprised at the turn the conversation had taken to pay any attention to it. “Nothing you say, now, or in the future, could ever make me stop caring about you.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Bucky stared down at Steve’s belt, just visible below his half-tucked-in Yankees sweater. “How could you think that? Why would you want me, still?” he whispered, unable to meet Steve’s eyes. 

Steve took Bucky’s chin firmly, but gently, in his right hand and forced Bucky’s head up so that he was looking at Steve.  “Bucky. You could be anything - a rent boy, a high-school dropout, a dancer, a soldier, a killer - and I would still want you.  Whatever you choose to do, you’re still Bucky Barnes, and I’m still Steve Rogers, and I will always choose you. That will never, ever change. Do you hear me?”

Bucky still couldn’t quite comprehend the way the conversation was going, but it was a hell of a lot better than how he’d envisioned it.  “So you aren’t angry?”

Steve laughed, a short, frustrated sound.  “Angry? Baby, of course I’m angry. I want to rip Alexander Pierce’s head from his body, but seeing as I can’t do that, I’ll have to settle with hating him from a distance, and looking after the pieces he left behind. But I’m not angry at you,” he added. “I never could be.”

“Steve,” Bucky sighed, drawing him back in for another hug, “you’re seriously too good to be real. Are you sure you’re real?”

Steve chuckled and gently took Bucky’s hand.  “Does this feel real?”

“Yes,” Bucky breathed.

“How about this?” Steve asked, moving Bucky’s hand to his cheek. 

“Yes.” 

Steve gently moved Bucky’s hand to hover over his heart.  “And this? Is this real?”

Bucky was dimly aware that tears were sliding down his cheeks again, but ignored them, concentrating on the faint but steady beating of Steve’s heart beneath his hand. “Yes.” 

“It’s yours, Bucky,” Steve said, leaning in to catch his lips in a chaste kiss.  “I’m yours.” 

They sat there, wrapped up in one another, until the nurse entered and told them it was time for them to leave. 

Chapter Text

Bucky had remained silent as they made their way from the hospital to Banner’s, just clutching at Steve’s jacket with a frightening intensity, as if he were afraid Steve would disappear.  He wondered how many people had done that to Bucky, before - disappeared.  

Banner greeted them like old friends as soon as they walked in the door, which surprised Steve since they had only talked a couple times before, and never at great length.  He handed Bucky their drips free of charge, but Bucky threw a five into the tip jar before leaving the counter, anyways.  

“Thanks for coming with me, this morning,” Bucky said quietly when they had sat down in the armchairs next to the fire.  “I know it’s not exactly - well, fun, but I appreciate having support.  It means a lot.”  

“You don’t gotta thank me,” Steve said, glancing around the coffee shop before briefly resting his hand on Bucky’s knee.  “Whatever you need.  Don’t ever hesitate to ask.”  He removed his hand, aware that they were still in a very public place that a lot of HSU students frequented.  

Bucky smiled, but the gesture was small and sardonic.  “Are we ever… gonna talk about this?” 

Steve sighed.  If he was being honest, he had been wondering when the topic would come up, but was too content living in his and Bucky’s own world, free from worrying about others.  “Yeah, we probably should.”  

Bucky nodded, mouth set and metal hand clenched tightly on the loose fabric at the hem of his sweatshirt.  Sensing that Bucky probably wasn’t going to speak first, Steve said, “You know how I feel about you, Bucky.  And… well, I mean, I know how hard this is, and god knows what people would say, but….”

“But you’re tired of having to hide it,” Bucky said wearily.  “Yeah.  I am, too.”  

Steve inched his armchair closer to Bucky’s.  “I wish it could just be the way it is with normal couples.  That none of this was even an issue….”

“We are a normal couple,” Bucky protested, eyes surprisingly earnest, leaning forward slightly in his chair.  “It’s just… it goes against everything I’ve always believed about myself.  About what I let others believe of me.  I can’t say I never thought about guys before, after everything that happened with Pierce, but I’d be lying if I said I ever considered a relationship.   And that - that’s what this is, isn’t it?”

Steve considered the question carefully.  They’d gone on dates, bared their souls to each other, kissed, had what some may consider to be sex.  With anyone else, it would be one.  “Yeah, I’d like to think so,” he said slowly.  “But god, Buck, if you were a girl I’d be showing you off at every frat party I could go to.”  

Bucky grinned at that, and Steve smiled in relief.  “I’d be doing the same with you, trust me,” Bucky said.  “What do you really think would happen?  If we came out?  Nat’s always telling me it wouldn’t matter, that it’s normal, even embraced nowadays, and that people wouldn’t care… but I can’t help but feel it would change everything, you know?” 

Steve nodded.  “I’m scared to death about it, Buck.  I don’t know how it was for you, but since I was so small growing up, people used to call me things - ‘fairy,’ you know, stuff like that.”  Bucky opened his mouth angrily as if to speak, but Steve kept going.  “And I spent so long denying it, you know?  I put all my energy, for so long, into getting people to see me as straight.  It got easier, once I started growing, once I started getting attention from girls, but… part of me thinks that maybe it’s why it took me so long to see it.  Because I spent so much time convincing not just the world, but myself, that I was something I’m not.  And there’s a part of me that looks an awful lot like that skinny punk that doesn’t know how to let it go.”  

“That thinks people will see you as… less,” Bucky mused, setting his now empty mug down on the table next to them.  “Less strong, or masculine, or….”

“Yeah.  And - I know it’s stupid, I do.  There’s part of me, too, that trusts Natasha and really believes what she told you, but….”

“Fear is a powerful thing,” Bucky supplied softly.  “It can control you.”  He paused, and Steve watched as he clenched his metal hand to make a fist.  “It can control you, but only if you let it,” he said.  “Steve, I don’t want to let it.  I’ve been living with it - with Flash, with Jim, with Pierce - for years.  It’s not something I’m proud of.  It’s like a shadow, constantly following me even in the dark.  And I don’t want to let it, anymore.”  

Bucky looked up at him, breathing heavily, hands trembling, and Steve wanted to reach out and touch him, hold him, tell him everything was going to be all right.  He didn’t.   It would have been a lie.  “What about our fraternities?” Steve asked weakly.  “Our families?  Our friends?” 

Bucky snorted.  “If our friends haven’t figured it out by now, then they’re all as dumb as they look.  And - well, my sister will be fine with it, I’m sure.  My parents?  Maybe not,” Bucky said, frowning.  “I’ve been away from them for five years now, so I’m not sure it matters much.

“As for the frats?  I know Clint has my back.  And Natasha told me that Phil dated a guy freshman year, and he’s not kicked out yet, so….”

Steve was forced to concede that one - he’d seen the way Phil kept stealing glances at him when they were at Xandar, and there was no way that guy was straight.  Plus, he had Sam.  If Steve shared something extraordinary with Bucky, he shared that same thing with Sam, but just in a way where he’d never been interested in fucking his best friend into the floor.  

“But I’m not afraid of what they’ll do,” Bucky said, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and balling his hands.

“Why not?” Steve asked despite himself.  

Slowly unclenching his fingers, Bucky looked up at Steve.  “I’ll be with you.”  

#

Friday night was football night at HSU, and this week was particularly special, as their opponent was ERC.  

“We can’t let them beat us this time, man,” Sam said, pulling on a red shirt and glancing back to where Steve was standing, one foot on the cooler, waiting.  “It was embarrassing last year, with Thor out and all.  Not that I can blame his brother for almost dying or anything,” he clarified, zipping up a parka and jamming a hat onto his head, “but we were a mess without him.  Drax being gone, too - our offensive line looked awful.  Ok, I’m ready to go,” he said, grabbing the camp stove and chairs from where they were leaning against the cooler.  

“Good, we’ve still gotta pick up Bucky and Clint,” Steve said as they started to load up Sam’s car.  “I forgot you take about two hours to get ready-”

“Not cool, man!” 

Steve laughed.  “They’ll be wondering where we are.”  

The Kappa Sig Beta house was only a couple blocks away, and they pulled up out front to find Clint and Bucky dragging cases of beer to the curb.  

“Hey, guys,” Sam said, hopping out of the car and giving Clint an appraising look.  He had dressed himself in clothes that were only too inappropriate for the weather and had dyed his hair a violent shade of scarlet.  “Nice outfit, Clint.”  

Bucky rolled his eyes.  “He won’t listen to me, I told him he’ll freeze to death-”

“I’ll be fine,” Clint interjected.  “Alcohol makes you all warm and fuzzy, remember?” 

Steve raised an eyebrow.  “Yeah, by lowering your internal body temperature.  Clint, at least grab a coat, you’re gonna get hypothermia.”  

“See, Clint?  Someone else agrees with me,” Bucky said.  

“He has to!  He’s your boyfriend!” 

“Clint.” 

“Fine, mom,” Clint moaned petulantly, and ran back inside to grab a jacket.  

“Hey,” Bucky said to Steve, blushing a little as Steve helped him load the beer into the back of the car.  

“Hey yourself,” Steve said, glancing around and stealing a kiss.  They may have decided it was better not to hide, but they weren’t sure when they would make their relationship public, or how they would do it.  “New arm?” Steve asked, catching Bucky’s hand in his and examining the fingers.  They were beautiful - silver, plated in a way that made it easy for Bucky to flex the joints, and Steve wondered what the rest of it looked like, hidden away under Bucky’s coat.

“Yep,” Bucky said, but his voice sounded excited, eager, almost.  “Actually, I wanted to tell you about that - I went back to Banner’s on Monday to do some homework, right?”  

“Hey, get in the car, you two, we’ve gotta get down there,” Sam called.  

“Yeah, yeah.”  Once they’d settled in the car, Bucky turned back to Steve.  “So I was down at Banner’s, and Tony comes in with these new schematics and stuff, but he said he was having trouble with finding ways to further connect the arm to my nervous system, you know, trying to get me better sensation and mobility.  But then Banner comes over to grab us refills, takes one look at the diagrams, and starts talking in rapid-fire science speak.”  

Steve stared.  “Banner?  As in, Bruce Banner?  You sure we’re thinking of the same guy?” 

“Exactly what I thought,” Bucky laughed, and started to detail what had happened.   

Tony had stared up at Banner in shock, listening to every word with the rapt attention of a child learning they would be going to Disneyland.  

“Finally, someone who speaks English,” Tony said when Banner had finished, clearing a stack of papers off the chair next to his.

“Is that what just happened?” Bucky grumbled as Tony forced a reluctant Banner into the seat.  

“Why didn’t you tell me you liked science?!  Do you know how hard it is to find another person as smart as me?” 

Bucky rolled his eyes and crossed his arms.  “Thanks, Tony.”  

“No offense, Cold War,” Tony shot back, then shoved the diagrams at Banner.  “What do you think?  And why are you working at this place, I’ll give you a job in my company, you know, you’d be making seven figures a year at least-”

Banner shook his head, smiling a little as he took the sheets from Tony.  “I graduated early from Harvard with a PhD in nuclear physics.  There was… an accident at one of the labs, and I… well,” he said, clearly distracted by the designs on the page.  “I’ve never had the best record with anger management.  I realized I didn’t want to pursue science for science, if I could help people.  I worked towards certification as a medical doctor and went overseas.”  

“That still doesn’t answer why you’re here,” Tony said bluntly, watching Banner examine the prints.  

“I needed a low-stress environment.  I got it.  Science is… more of a hobby now.”  

Tony stared in disbelief as Banner started scribbling notes on the papers.  

“So he wrote all this stuff down and they talked for about another half hour, and the next day I get an email from Bruce, telling me to stop by Metro General that afternoon,” Bucky said.  

“Bucky,” Steve started, not liking where this was going, but Bucky cut across him.  

“I know how it sounds, Steve, but they explained it all to me - by anchoring the arm, connecting it to my bone structure, they could hitch it entirely to my nervous system, so that I could use it my like my flesh one, and even feel pressure, heat.  Pain.”  Bucky held up his hand and wiggled the fingers a little.  “And maybe it was rash, or stupid, but I went in on Wednesday… it only took a few hours, and I walked out drugged and in pain but able to feel it, for the first time in almost five years.”  

Steve studied Bucky’s hand.  “You can feel things?” 

“Yeah,” Bucky said, leaning forward to take Steve’s hand in his.  The metal fingers slid through Steve’s with ease, and he noticed that for once, the surface of the arm wasn’t cold, but cool - not quite like skin, but comfortable. “I can feel that.  The heat coming from your hand.  When you squeeze-” he paused, letting Steve gently press their palms closer, “-I can feel that, too.”  

“Isn’t it incredibly heavy?” Steve protested.  

Bucky shrugged.  “No.  Tony said he’d been developing some new titanium alloy or something to use in later prototypes - this is it.  It’s no more damaging to my back or muscles than a skin and bone arm.”  

Steve looked at him closely.  “And you like it?” 

“Steve,” Bucky said, “it’s beyond anything I ever expected.”  

“Okay,” Steve whispered, kissing him lightly on the lips, and then on his metal knuckles.  “Man, how are you ever gonna repay him?” 

Bucky groaned.  “I honestly have no idea.”  

#

The stadium was packed, and almost every member of their group save Steve and Natasha had a solid buzz or were clearly drunk from the tailgate.  Bucky was tipsy, but not as much as Clint, who was already slurring and clinging to Natasha like a limpet.  She looked faintly amused and embarrassed by the situation, and kept moving Clint’s hand away from her ass whenever it started to creep downwards.  

Tony, having driven, wasn’t drunk at all, and was talking animatedly to Rhodey about the party they would be throwing after the game.  

“I still think we should pick up another case of vodka on the way back, you know how fast it goes at these things,” Tony protested as Rhodey shook his head.  

“Man, we have more than enough beer and hard-a to go around.  You buy another case of booze and we’ll have more stock than a liquor store.”  

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”  

Bucky tugged on Steve’s sweatshirt, dragging his attention away from the conversation.  “You gonna go tonight?” 

“‘Course,” Steve said, grinning at Bucky.  “You?” 

Bucky smiled back.  “Clint wouldn’t let me miss it.”  

It wasn’t until well into the third quarter that HSU took back the lead from East River, Thor throwing a perfect touchdown pass over the head of Erik Lensherr to Pietro Maximoff, a student from Eastern Europe that had discovered football his freshman year at HSU and made the team as the fastest wide receiver they’d ever had.  

“That was incredible!” Sam enthused as special teams lined up to attempt the extra point.  

Bucky nodded his assent.  “They’ve gotta get picked up, if they don’t-”

“Bucky!” Pepper squealed from the row in front of them, pointing up towards the jumbotron.  

Steve glanced up to find his own face on the screen with a panicked expression on his face because - 

“Steve,” Bucky said, just loud enough that Steve could hear him.  “Come on.”  

And - incredibly - he wasn’t afraid anymore.  Bucky had been right. 

Steve leaned in and locked lips with Bucky, satisfying the Kiss Cam; as if from a distance, he thought he heard Tony shout, “Consider that repayment, Barnes!” 

In that moment, he didn’t even care if Tony had schemed to out their relationship to the whole school and God himself.  He didn’t care what the fraternity would think, or what his friends would think, or how people would see him now that he was dating another man.  He didn’t care about anything, because Bucky was there with him.  

I’ll be with you.  

And he knew, somehow, that everything was going to be all right.  

Chapter Text

The touchdown pass was electric, half the stadium erupting with cheers (the other half booed loudly, a few people reluctantly putting down their black and white “Venom” flags).  

“That was incredible!” Sam said from Steve’s other side, and Bucky leaned forward to grin at him, chancing a glance up at Steve as he did so.  His face was glowing in the bright lights of the stadium, cheeks flushed with the cold wind that whipped through the stands.  He was grinning, and Bucky thought he hadn’t met anyone before Steve Rogers whose smile could outshine a stadium on Friday night.  

Bucky cleared his throat and refocused his attention on Sam as HSU made the extra point.  “They gotta get picked up, if they don’t-”

“Bucky!” Pepper said from right in front of him, turning around and gripping his arm, tugging his attention towards the scoreboard at the south end of the stadium.  

It took him a second to comprehend what he was seeing, but then he realized the fucking Kiss Cam was on them.  Bucky wanted simultaneously to kill Tony (because he was suddenly, absolutely certain this had been Tony’s idea), run, hide, and jump Steve’s bones in front of half the student body of two different schools.

When had his life become this?  It’d seemed like one thing, at the time, to tell Steve he didn’t want to live in fear anymore, but it was something else entirely to flaunt it, parade it, in front of that many people.  Bucky had never thought of himself as the type to wear a rainbow pin on his bag, not because he didn’t support gay rights, but because he didn’t want to bring attention to the fact that he did.  

And god, he was a coward.  Always dancing with Steve in situations where it’d be hard to catch them at it, relying on drugs or alcohol for the courage to act on what he wanted, making sure nobody was around when he gave Steve a hug - and how was that living?  

Bucky was abruptly back in the hospital, leaning on Flash’s bed and talking to him about Steve, just after they’d first met, but Flash couldn’t speak back.  That had been taken from him, the chance to take chances, to make mistakes.  To live.  

“Steve,” Bucky said, making his decision, speaking just loud enough to carry over the sound of the crowd.  Their faces were still up on the Kiss Camera, and Bucky knew he probably looked just as terrified as Steve did.  “Come on,” he urged, thinking again of Flash, of wasted time and un-lived lives.  

Steve’s eyes finally met his, that hard determination there again, commanding in a way that got Bucky harder than he had a right to be.  As their lips met, in front of HSU and ERC and fucking God himself, Bucky stopped worrying about if he’d made the right choice, or if he was gonna regret it in the morning.  He stopped thinking about the fraternity and his family and his future jobs because he was with Steve, and they were kissing, and it was all right.  

#

It seemed as if half the Greek system had somehow managed to cram its way onto the Gamma Nu Pi compound.  The crowd was a mass of red and blue, black spiders waving on banners draped over balconies or stairwells.  Tony had booked a local band for the night, and they’d set up in a sheltered area next to the house to allow the dance party to continue on, uninterrupted, in the main living area.  People stepped outside from time to time to get some fresh air and cool off in the chill November breeze, but Tony had planted space heaters all over the patio so that people could stay warm and listen to the Midnight Sons, who were performing a mix of classic rock and contemporary pop with heavy metal undertones.  It was an interesting choice of band for a party, but complemented the dance beats fairly well; the bass of the living room could be felt even from the backyard.

Bucky and Steve were standing next to one of the space heaters, pressed up against each other to shield from the intermittent wind that swept through the yard.  The band had just finished performing “Stairway to Heaven,” and was received with rousing applause from the assembled listeners, most of whom were double-fisting their beers and looking for someone to take home for the night.  

“I’d be worried about the neighbors calling and filing a noise complaint, but the sad reality is that most of them are probably here,” Rhodey said from Bucky’s right, where he’d weaved his way through the crowd to reach the front.  

Steve laughed.  “You’re fine.  We won, so it’s to be expected.  Where’s Tony?” 

Rhodey looked up a little hopelessly and made a broad waving motion with his right arm.  “Who the hell knows?  Disappeared a half hour ago, so he’s either nailing Pepper or he thought of some new thing to invent and he had to go draw it out.  Usually it’s one of those things.  Although,” he added, considering, “he could be playing beer pong.  I haven’t checked the basement.”  

“Better go do that,” Bucky said, only half-serious.  Rhodey seemed to take him at his word, though, and edged his way slowly out of the mass of bodies.  

Warm fingers were suddenly entwined with Bucky’s, and he glanced over to see Steve smiling at him.  When Bucky raised his eyebrows, Steve shrugged and said, “What?  The world didn’t end, did it?” 

“No, I guess not,” Bucky sighed, squeezing Steve’s hand.  And it hadn’t - there had been some cheering, but nothing unlike what a normal couple would receive at a football game; there had been a couple snide comments from some of the preppier frat boys as they had exited the stadium, like “So guys, who’s the girl?” or “Hey, Barnes, he popped your cherry yet?” but it was nothing unexpected, and pretty tame compared to what Bucky had feared.  Natasha had started angrily towards a couple younger boys when one of them had said the word “fairy” as they walked past Bucky and Steve, but they cleared out when they saw the expression on her face and didn’t make another comment.  

All in all, they weren’t harassed, and had since been congratulated by several of the other guys on the Council, who seemed overjoyed to be able to present the school government with evidence of “diversity” and “changing attitudes” in campus fraternities.  

“Think about it - they can’t complain about us for at least a couple months, thanks to you two,” Scott Lang had said, clapping them each on the shoulder and grinning broadly.  “Ten bucks says at least a dozen more come out in the next couple weeks - this is gonna do us wonders, guys.”  

He’d walked off, leaving Steve and Bucky more confused about their decision to come out than ever.  

The band had started to play a slower, more dance-friendly song, and Bucky turned away from the stage to look at Steve.  “I hope they don’t think it was just political, or something,” Bucky said, frowning, as Steve started to steer him away from the band and out towards the pool.  

“They don’t, Buck,” Steve laughed, halting them suddenly and grabbing Bucky’s waist so that he was facing Steve.  “They’re just being assholes.  Well, they’re well-intentioned assholes who are also major opportunists, but I think we’ll take what we can get, right?”  He placed one hand on Bucky’s lower back and took his metal hand, starting to spin them in a slow circle.  “You know, I can’t dance at all.”  

“What are you talking about?” Bucky snorted. “You’re dancing right now!”  

“Two left feet, honestly,” he protested, making an exaggerated motion of stepping on Bucky’s toes.  “Oops - can’t help it.”  

Bucky scowled.  “You did that on purpose.”  

Smiling, Steve kissed him, and Bucky let his flesh hand wander to the back of Steve’s neck to hold him in place.  He could stay in this moment forever, simply kissing Steve at a party in the dead of autumn, surrounded by frost and decay and life.  

“Maybe,” Steve whispered, pulling away and biting a little at Bucky’s lower lip.  “Wanna get out of here?” 

Bucky groaned.  “Jesus, yes.”  

#

Steve’s place was closest, and they managed to make it up to his room undetected by his housemates, a blessing for which Bucky was extremely grateful.  Steve’s room was small, but not cramped, and the walls were tacked in sketches and unfinished paintings, mostly of sites in Brooklyn that Bucky was able to recognize instantly. 

“Is this Prospect Park?” he asked quietly, going up to inspect one series of drawings that, even in black and white, managed to capture the quiet bustle of a city park in summer.  

“Yeah.” 

“And these,” Bucky said, turning to a couple watercolors, one of which was still on Steve’s desk, “these are Coney Island.”  

“I used to love it there, as a kid,” Steve said, smiling.  “It has a strange kind of beauty - old, run-down, but still strong.  Like a living memory.”  

Bucky looked at the strong, bold lines of the Cyclone, surrounded by a desolate parking lot, the colors washed-out but in a way that made him feel as if he were looking back into the Depression, maybe, or looking forward to an America that no longer remembered its past.  

“These are incredible, Steve,” he said, glancing up to see Steve shuffling some papers into notebooks on the other end of his desk.  “You’re gonna be big someday, and you can take me to all your fancy art gallery openings,” Bucky said, slipping an arm around Steve’s waist.  “We can wear tuxedos and they’ll give us free champagne….”

“Are you sure you’re thinking of an art gallery opening and not the opera or something?” Steve teased, grinning and letting Bucky wrap him in his arms.  

“No, I think I’m right about this one,” Bucky said, and started to pull Steve back towards his bed.  

“You’re confident?” Steve asked, leaning down to mouth at Bucky’s neck.  “You’re-” he paused, biting Bucky’s earlobe, “you’re sure?” 

“Yes,” Bucky breathed, losing his train of thought as Steve’s hands started to skim underneath his shirt, tracing his V lines.  

“Fuck, Bucky,” Steve swore softly, pushing him back on the bed, “wanted this since the first time I saw you in that Batman costume.”  

Bucky moaned as Steve yanked off his shirt, exposing a chest that belonged on a statue of Ares.  “You gotta stop bringing up that Batman costume, babe, or I’m never gonna be able to come tonight.”  

“Sure,” Steve said, lifting Bucky’s shirt over his head, “right after you can forget you ever saw me in a sixties-era Superman costume.”  

Bucky’s cock throbbed with the memory, and he grinned.  “Never.”  

“That’s what I thought,” Steve said, and started in on Bucky’s belt.  “I might be terrible at this,” he said, tugging off Bucky’s jeans and boxer briefs.  

Bucky rolled his eyes.  “It’s not like you haven’t done it with girls, you just gotta stick it-”

And then Steve’s mouth touched his cock, and he was gone.  

It had never occurred to him that Steve would want to give head - he’d never done it before, and to a guy who’d recently discovered gay sex of any sort, well - it would’ve been a lot easier and a lot more familiar for Steve to just fuck him. 

But Bucky couldn’t complain, because the inside of Steve’s mouth felt like what heaven was to religious zealots.  And although Bucky had received a lot of blow jobs in his time from a lot of very experienced women, none of them could compare to Steve.  He wasn’t great technically, but he sucked cock like he was dying for it, like Bucky was the only thing that grounded him and gave him reason to keep breathing.  Bucky struggled to keep his eyes open as Steve moaned around his dick, swallowing him down until Bucky could feel the back of Steve’s throat and then licking back up to work the tip, slow swirls of his tongue around the head and flicking into Bucky’s slit to taste him.  

In less than five minutes Bucky was already desperate for more, trying to prevent his hips from thrusting into Steve, and then - 

“Tell me if you want me to stop, all right?” Steve asked, pulling off and catching his breath.  Bucky stared at him. 

“Why the fuck-” 

But then Steve’s mouth was on him again, trailing lower this time, until his tongue hit - 

“Oh, fuck, fuck, Steve,” Bucky cursed, fingers gripping the bedsheets so that he wouldn’t grab onto Steve’s head and keep him there, face pressed against his hole.  No girl had ever done this before, and it was beyond anything he could’ve imagined, better by far than he’d even read about online.

Steve moaned in what sounded like encouragement, or maybe pleasure, and Bucky couldn’t control the barrage of fuck and Jesus and Steve because he was having a very hard time thinking about anything else.  Heat raced through his blood and collected in his neglected dick as Steve began to work a finger in alongside his tongue, so Bucky moved to stroke himself.  

“No,” Steve said, pulling away with his chin covered in saliva and his eyes dark with lust.  

“What do you mean, ‘no?’” Bucky managed to string together, hand still halfway to his dick.  

“It means no,” Steve said simply.  “No touching yourself unless I say so.  Understand?” 

Bucky’s cock got, impossibly, harder.  “Bossy in bed, Captain?” 

Steve’s pupils blew out, and Bucky’s breath caught.  “Do you understand?” Steve repeated.  

Bucky felt something give within him in a way he hadn’t felt since the army, and he placed his hand back on the bed.  “Yes, sir.”  

“Good,” Steve said, and started rimming him again, and Bucky had to keep reminding himself why he wasn’t allowed to touch himself because he’d never been so turned on in his whole life.  

“God, Steve, please, let me come,” Bucky pleaded after what seemed like an age.  Steve’s finger reached deeper within him and started to press on his walls, and Bucky wanted to cry, it felt so good.  “Please, I’ll do - what the fuck was that?” Bucky moaned as Steve pressed up against something in him that felt like it should have triggered his orgasm immediately with its intensity, heat building almost unbearably in his groin.  

“Prostate,” Steve panted, finally pulling away to lick up Bucky’s cock.  “Never felt that before?” 

Bucky shook his head, beyond words, as Steve reached over to grab something from his bedside table.  

“Of course not,” Steve muttered darkly, but Bucky didn’t care to find out why Steve was angry because his fingers were back, now slicked with lube and pressing insistently against his hole.  

“Don’t need that much prep,” Bucky choked out.  “Never - never needed it before.”  

Steve almost stopped fingering him - Bucky could feel the brief hesitation before he continued like nothing had happened.  “I don’t know who told you that,” Steve said, “but they were wrong.  I won’t hurt you, Buck.  Never.”  

Steve slid a second finger in beside the first and Bucky hissed at the burn, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been when Pierce pushed in nearly dry, and the pain faded to pleasure much faster.  “Another, come on, I can take one more,” Bucky pleaded.  

“Look at you,” Steve whispered, hovering over him, balanced on only one forearm as he obliged.  “Begging for it.  Like you were meant to take it.”  

“Yeah,” Bucky said, “born for you to fuck me, Steve….” 

Steve buried his face in Bucky’s neck and inhaled deeply.  “Ask me for it.”  

“For what?” Bucky asked, playing coy to get a reaction. 

Steve pulled away and his eyes hardened again, took on that steely glaze Bucky had seen so rarely before.  “Ask me to fuck you.”  

“Fuck me, please.”  

“Like you mean it.”  

Bucky tilted his head back, exposing his neck, mind blanking momentarily as Steve brushed against his prostate again.  “Please, Captain, fuck me, please.”  

Steve nearly growled as he ripped off his own jeans, Bucky’s careful use of the nickname working as he had hoped it would.  Bucky watched as Steve rolled on a condom and lined himself up.  “Is this what you want?” he asked, teasing at Bucky’s hole with the head of his cock.  

“Yes, sir,” Bucky panted.  “Please.”  

“All right, then,” Steve said, nodding, and started to press in slowly, probably hoping to spare Bucky some of the initial discomfort at being filled.  

“Please,” Bucky said, rocking forward and trying to speed up the pace.  “Please.”  

Steve’s breath caught for a second before he slammed in.  The stretch made Bucky yelp, and Steve looked down in concern.  “Buck….” 

“No, just… give me a few seconds,” Bucky said, rolling his hips in a tiny circle to try and adjust to Steve’s girth.  “Move, please, move.”  

He did, bracing himself on one hand so that he had access to Bucky’s neck, his ears, his lips, and stroking Bucky’s cock with his other hand.  

“Raise your left leg up a little bit,” Steve panted, thrusting in and out in shallow motions.  “Yes, there, there-”

And then Bucky felt it - Steve had known exactly how to position them to best access Bucky’s prostate, and he didn’t know how long he was going to last between Steve’s hand and his cock.  

“Oh god, Steve, Steve,” Bucky chanted, tugging him down to kiss him, sloppy and open-mouthed.  “Harder, please-”

Steve didn’t hesitate, but started fucking Bucky like he was trying to break the bed.  “God, Bucky, you’re perfect, so tight, god you’re so tight, just for me, baby, just for me-”

“Yours,” Bucky echoed.  “Yours, Steve, yours-”

Steve nearly growled, impossibly increasing his pace and shifting his left arm further up the bed so that he had better leverage as he rocked into Bucky.  “All mine, aren’t you, my god, so hot-”

“Yes, Steve, yes,” Bucky said, meeting Steve’s thrusts with increasing fervor, so close to orgasm, he could almost taste it - 

Steve’s hand sped up and he leaned down to whisper, “Come for me, come on, Buck.”

Steve thrust once, twice, and then Bucky was coming, shuddering out one of the most intense orgasms he’d ever experienced, muscles convulsing and twitching as Steve’s hand was coated in semen.  He was still coming when he felt Steve give a few short thrusts and then still, tensing above him as he came.  

Distantly, he felt Steve slide out, as if his entire body was numb, and was only vaguely aware that Steve had grabbed his discarded shirt from the floor and was using it to clean the come off Bucky’s stomach and his own hand.  

“Um,” Steve said tentatively, lying down next to him.  “That was….” 

“Amazing?” Bucky suggested, finally finding his voice.  He shifted his head so that it was resting on Steve’s chest, and listened to the sound of his slowing heart.  

“I guess that works,” Steve said.  “I was gonna say ‘perfect.’” 

Bucky tilted his head so that he could look up at Steve.  “That, too.”  

“Bucky, I…” Steve began, but trailed off, tucking a loose strand of hair behind Bucky’s ear.  His man-bun had come completely undone during sex, and he was sure his hair looked like a rat’s nest.  

“What is it, Steve?” Bucky prompted when he didn’t continue.  

Steve swallowed visibly, and glanced away before looking back at Bucky.  “I… look, I just wanted to tell you I’m serious about this.  I’ve got… well, I’ve never met anyone like you before, and… I think I love you, Bucky.  And you don’t have to say it back, that’s not why I’m telling you-”

“Steve,” Bucky laughed, “slow down.  How could you think that I don’t feel the same way?  I love you too, you punk.  And it’s not gonna be easy, I’m sure-”

Steve scoffed.  “When has it ever been, for us?” 

Bucky smiled softly.  “Yeah, that’s true.  But what I’m trying to say, is… well.  I’m with you ’til the end of the line.” 

Steve’s grin faded into something much gentler, more intimate.  In a voice so low Bucky might’ve thought Steve was speaking to himself, had he not been looking directly into Bucky’s eyes, he repeated, “’Til the end of the line.”  

Bucky fell asleep listening to the sound of Steve’s heartbeat, and found it keeping time with his own.  

Chapter Text

“Steve, I told you I didn’t want to do anything for it!  Can’t you just, I don’t know, respect my wishes for once-”

“No, not really,” Steve said, gripping Bucky’s hand tighter as he steered him away from their apartment towards his bike.  “I mean, I do respect you, but I’m not gonna let you do this to me.” 

“To you?  I’m sorry, but do you think you could explain exactly how I’m imposing on you when you’re the one-”

“Shut up and grab my waist,” Steve interrupted, twisting around on the motorcycle to grin at Bucky.  

“A little forward, Steve, you could’a just asked,” Bucky said, his hand drifting down towards Steve’s hips.  

Steve laughed, breath billowing out in front of him in a huff.  “Stop that, or we’ll never leave the building.” 

“Why do we have to?” Bucky whined, nosing at the soft stretch of skin right underneath Steve’s ear.  “Our bed is just six floors up, and it’s looking really inviting right about now….” 

“We just had sex!” 

“And it was great, so let’s go do it again, huh?” 

“No,” Steve said firmly, starting the engine on the bike.  “No, you promised me you’d let me have this, and I’m not letting you get out of it now.” 

“Bossy,” Bucky said, worming his metal hand underneath Steve’s coat.  It took all his concentration not to jerk the motorcycle as they made their way out of the parking garage.  

“You like it.”  

Even through the rush of October wind, Steve heard Bucky laugh and say, “Yeah, I guess I do.”  

#

“I still can’t believe we owe all this to Stark,” Bucky said, gesturing around as the host took their coats at the door.  Hell’s Kitchen was packed, as it always was on a Saturday night.  In nearly a year, Steve had never taken Matt Murdock up on his offer of a free table, but had finally swallowed his pride and made the call - some things, he figured, were worth it.  

“Mr. Rogers, right this way,” said the host, leading them to a table tucked back in a dimly-lit corner, illuminated only by one slender candle.  Discomfort crept in as they sat down, and Steve looked across the table to see Bucky shifting in his seat, and knew he felt it too.  

“Steve,” Bucky whispered as the host walked away, “we shouldn’t be here.  You sure we can’t leave, go get a burger or something?”

“Bucky,” Steve said, trying to instill his voice with more confidence than he felt, “you look great.  I promise.”  

“Bet you say that to all the guys,” Bucky said, smirking. 

Steve shook his head.  “Not all the guys.  Just one.”  

“How are you gentlemen doing tonight?” said a tired voice from Steve’s right.  He turned to find a guy with a mop of blond hair and a severe 5 o’clock shadow who he thought he might recognize from college but couldn’t quite place.  Without waiting for a response, the man pressed, “My name’s Johnny, and I’ll be your server tonight.  Can I answer any questions for you?” 

Bucky’s eyebrows had practically hit his hairline.  “Thought servers here had to be clean-shaven,” he said, barely-disguised derision in his voice.

Johnny’s scowl deepened.  “Thought our customers were supposed to be old white hetero couples.”  

Bucky leaned back, clearly impressed.  “Ok.”  

“Yeah, do you have a wine recommendation?” Steve asked, ignoring Bucky’s surprised snicker.  

“Well, I might if you told me what you wanted to eat.”  

Steve glared up at the waiter, quickly losing patience with the way Bucky’s body was shaking with silent laughter.  “Chef’s special.  So what,” he said, enunciating each word, “would you recommend?”

“I don’t know anything about wine,” Johnny said, shrugging, “but some bigshot army guy came in here with what could’a been his daughter or his trophy and ordered this one,” he paused, pointing to the wine menu, “with the special.”  

Nearly choking on the price, Steve croaked, “Sure, sounds great.  Thanks a lot.”  

“No problem, guys,” Johnny said, striding away from the table and back towards the kitchen. 

“I like him,” Bucky said simply, grinning across at Steve.  “So now that we’re here, what’s the grand plan for the night?” 

Steve smiled, hand clenching under the table.  “Sorta depends on dinner.  We can figure out the rest later.”  

“Sounds good,” Bucky laughed, leaning back again in his chair and crossing his arms across his dress shirt and skinny tie.  “You never told me how your gallery opening went last night.”  

“Didn’t have a chance to.”  

“Yeah, we did get kind of distracted,” Bucky considered, hooking Steve’s foot with his own.  “So tell me now.  Did that asshole show up?” 

“Schmidt?  Yeah, he made an appearance,” Steve said, shaking his head.  “Told me he thought my work was ‘uninspired.’”

“Him and no other art critics in the greater New York metropolitan area,” Bucky pointed out.  “You can’t listen to him, Stevie.  Everyone knows you’re ridiculously talented.”  

Steve shook his head, grinning. “Not like I could’ve done it without you.” 

“Yeah, you’ve got a point,” Bucky said, leaning forward on his elbows.  “The whole ‘Winter Soldier’ series probably wouldn’t have looked quite the same.”  

“Wouldn’t have even existed.”

Bucky looked away.  “Stop that, you’re making me blush.”  

#

They were halfway through dessert when Bucky’s phone rang.  Steve had one hand in his pocket and the other working tirelessly on their shared tiramisu, and both froze when he saw the expression on Bucky’s face at the caller ID.  

“Hello?” he answered the phone, voice hushed.  “Is everything-” he said, then stopped, just listening to the caller.  “Are you sure?”  Steve watched as Bucky paused a few more seconds, nodded, then hung up.  When he looked up at Steve, his eyes were filled with pain Steve had seen countless times, most often when Bucky woke from nightmares, screaming next to him in their bed.  

“We have to go.”  

“What’s wrong?” 

Bucky swallowed.  “Flash just woke up.”  

#

The hospital was no different than it had been every other time they had visited Eugene Thompson.   Claire greeted them at the desk, waving them through despite the hour without checking them in.  

Right before they reached the door, Bucky turned to Steve and kissed him.  “Thanks for being here.” 

“Nowhere else I’d rather be.”  

The room smelled different - not stale, but lived-in, like there’d been many people in the small space in such a short amount of time that the room wasn’t quite sure how to react.  

“Flash,” Bucky whispered, eyes fixed on the man in the bed, now freer of tubes and wires than Steve had ever seen him and looking like hell.  

“Hey, asshole,” Flash said, so quietly Steve almost didn’t hear it.  

Bucky was across the room in a second, hugging Flash and nearly sobbing into his shoulder.  When Flash looked past Bucky to Steve, Steve gestured towards the door.  

“I’ll go wait outside, give you guys some time alone.”  

“You’re Steve,” Flash said quietly.  “I’ve heard a lot about you.”  

Bucky pulled out of the embrace.  “But you just woke up.”  

“Well, you couldn’t shut up about him whenever you came to visit,” said Flash, leering.  “I’ll tell you, Buck, you sure as hell got a dirty mouth.”  

Bucky glanced back at Steve, eyes wide and mortified.  “You heard everything?” he hissed, turning back to Flash.  “I can’t believe you!” 

Flash rolled his eyes.  “Sorry, right.  Next time I’m in a coma, I’ll make sure my ears go along with the rest of my body.”  

“You’re such a dick,” Bucky sniffed, sitting down next to the bed.  “Don’t know why I ever wanted you to wake up.”  

“That’s the Barnes I know.”  

Once again, Steve motioned towards the door.  “I really am gonna let you guys have some time, now,” he said.  “Buck, I’m gonna grab coffee.  Want any?” 

Bucky nodded.  “Thanks, Steve.”  

Steve shut the door behind him and leaned against the adjacent wall.  Almost instinctively, he reached his hand into his pocket, toying with the slim band of silver that had been resting against his leg all night.  He closed his eyes and felt for the grooves on the inside: ’Til the end of the line.  

He would ask him another time.  

#

On his way back up from the downstairs cafe, Steve heard raised voices a couple hallways away at the front desk.  Wondering what the yelling was about, and thinking that he might have recognized one of the voices, he made his way back to Flash’s room in a pattern that had become well-worn over the last year.  

“Hey,” he said softly, entering the room to find Flash asleep and Bucky with his head in his hands.  “Pumpkin spice latte, extra whip.  Just how you like it.”  

Bucky accepted the cup gratefully and leaned his head against Steve’s side.  “You’re the best. What did I ever do to deserve you?” 

“That’s my line,” Steve murmured, kissing the top of Bucky’s head.  “Should we let him rest?” 

“Probably,” Bucky said, standing and pressing into Steve’s chest, letting their foreheads rest against each other’s.  “It’s strange to have him back.  I had started to wonder….” 

“You don’t have to, anymore,” Steve said, taking Bucky’s free hand in his.  “Come on, let’s go home.” 

They were halfway down the hallway when they heard the footsteps.  Bucky froze, and Steve gripped his hand a little harder - the sound of boots on hard floors was never good for Bucky, since it reminded him of his time in the army.  “You okay?” 

“Fine,” Bucky said, relaxing, and Steve believed him.  “Let’s go.”  

The footsteps got closer, and as Bucky and Steve rounded the corner, they discovered their source.  

Alexander Pierce was walking towards them, a full escort of press and guards on either side.  He stopped at the sight of Bucky.  

“Sergeant Barnes,” he said congenially, although Steve thought there was an undertone of surprise in his voice.  “It’s good to see you again.”  He took a few steps forward and stretched out his hand.  “Been a few years, but you look good.  Got a new arm, I see.”  Pierce glanced to their joined hands and his lip curled.  “A new arm and a new man.  Who would’ve thought,” he added so quietly Steve doubted the reporters caught it.  

Bucky didn’t seem to be able to move, simply staring at Pierce’s hand in a sort of numb disbelief.  “Bucky,” Steve whispered.  “Let’s just go.” 

“You never came to see him,” Bucky said, voice raised in what Steve knew was a tactical move.  “Not once in over five years.”  

“Sergeant,” Pierce began in the same lighthearted tone, but Bucky cut him off.  

“You don’t care about him.  You never cared about any of us.  You’re only here with your posse so that you can get a couple good photo ops with a disabled American veteran, is that it?”  

Pierce lowered his hand, expression changing from genial to cautious.  “Of course not, Sergeant.”  

“Cause guess what?” Bucky said manically, nearly shouting now, “you got one right here!  Hey, Times, you want a moving story for the front page?” Bucky snapped, turning to one of the reporters who was wearing a New York Times ID badge.  “How ‘bout this: United States General only visits wounded soldiers when it’s beneficial for him politically.  Or - try, ‘United States General under investigation for sexual abuse of the men under his command.’  What do you think, Pierce?” he spat, turning back to the General.  “You think that would sell?” 

“James,” Pierce said, a note of urgency in his nervous laugh.  “That’s a good joke.”  

“You think he won’t back me up?” Bucky hissed.  “You think he’ll stay silent, after hearing about everything?  All the other men that’ll come forward, if not for retribution, then for settlements?” 

“James,” Pierce said, his voice low and dangerous.  “I can destroy you.  Is that what you want?” 

Bucky’s hand tightened on Steve’s.  “You can’t touch me now.”  

Pierce opened his mouth as if to respond, but Claire rounded the corner and halted at the scene: three men all ready for a fight, a small mob of journalists scribbling notes, photographers snapping candids.  

“What the hell are you doing to my hospital?” she said sharply, striding directly up to Pierce.  “Get out.  I don’t want to see you here again.”  

Pierce held up his hands and bowed his head in surrender.  “Of course.  Please excuse me.  Sergeant Barnes,” he added, nodding.  “It was good to see you.”  

“Likewise,” Bucky snarled through clenched teeth, and Steve watched his eyes track Pierce until he was out of sight.  

“I’m so sorry, Bucky,” Claire said.  “He had clearance and everything, I didn’t-”

“You couldn’t have known,” Bucky said wearily.  “It’s okay, Claire.  But Steve and I really do have to get home.”  

“Of course.  Goodnight,” she said with a small smile and disappeared down the other end of the hall.  

Bucky turned to Steve, taking a long drink from his Starbucks cup as he did so.  “Want to go home?” he asked, and Steve thought his voice sounded tired, but almost… relieved.  They would talk about it later; Steve wouldn’t let this one lie.  

“Yeah, Buck,” Steve said, wrapping his arm around Bucky’s waist and planting a kiss on the corner of his mouth.  “Let’s go home.”  

Chapter Text

Natasha was looking at him with an expression that could wither a fucking succulent. 

“That’s it?  That’s your plan?”

Bucky recoiled slightly, rubbing his right hand harder against the outside of his jacket, a little upset that his other hand was unforgiving metal.  “What, I don’t see you coming up with anything better!”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “It’s not my relationship, James. Not my responsibility. Did you ask Clint?”

“Of course I asked Clint,” Bucky grumbled, holding open the door to a Starbucks that was just down the street from Natasha’s loft.  “You think he was helpful?  You know him better than that.” 

Natasha nodded thoughtfully. “Sam had to have some ideas.”

“You know he did, I’m sure he told you all about it,” Bucky sighed.  “Tie it around your dick, Barnes.  He’ll love that,” Bucky mimicked crudely. 

Natasha snorted. “He doesn’t sound like that,” she protested halfheartedly. 

“You’re a liar and you know it. How are things going with you guys?”

The corner of her mouth lifted barely. “They’re good.”

Clint and Nat had been a good thing while they had lasted, but then Carol left Sam for Rhodey and Clint met Bobbi Morse, who was equally as into birds as he was, and things sort of fell together from there.  It hadn’t been long before Sam and Natasha had hooked up - their chemistry was apparent to anyone with half a brain.  Sam and Steve had only managed to drag Nat and Bucky out on a couple double dates, mostly due to Natasha’s vehement opposition to any sort of couples outing. Bucky knew there was a reason he loved her. 

“But don’t change the subject,” Natasha added, handing the cashier her card as she paid for their drinks - she was making a lot more than Bucky, since he didn’t exactly have a stable job as a writer and she was off working for some shadowy government agency. “If Coney Island is all you have, then I say go with it.” 

“Does it matter that I’m not exactly the one that planned it?” Bucky asked as they waited for their coffee. “I mean, shouldn’t I, I don’t know, hire a violinist or something, or-”

“That’s a terrible idea,” Natasha interjected, thrusting Bucky’s toasted graham latte into his hands. “And you know it. Steve would hate that.”

“He is more of a jazz guy, isn’t he,” Bucky mused as they exited the shop back out into the cold October rain. 

Natasha shook her head. “You make me weep. James, trust me. You’re going to do fine. And it’s not like it’s not going to go well.” 

“So you say,” Bucky said. “Bet you twenty bucks Tony shows up halfway through and ruins things.” 

“That does sound like Tony.”

“Exactly.” 

She smiled.  “Just wing it, Barnes.  Since when do you ever do anything else?”

#

Bucky woke to Steve’s lips on his neck, tracing a messy line down to his clavicle. 

“Well, this is nice,” Bucky slurred, tongue still heavy with sleep.  Steve glanced up at him, grinning. 

“You’re finally awake? Thought you’d never regain consciousness,” he teased, then resumed mouthing at Bucky’s jaw. “Let’s go, we’re already getting a late start.” 

“It’s Coney Island, how late can we be?” Bucky protested, trying to draw Steve’s lips to his but meeting resistance. 

“Do you want the place to be overrun with kids?  Because it’s nice out, it’s gonna be warm, and there are going to be children everywhere.”

“Ugh,” Bucky grumbled, reluctantly shifting to throw off the covers.  “Fine. Promise me we’re never having kids.”

Steve just laughed.

Twenty minutes later they were two blocks away from their apartment, and Bucky was kicking at small piles of dried leaves that had gathered on the sidewalk as they walked towards the subway.

“Did you bring your sketchbook?” he asked abruptly, squeezing Steve’s fingers where they were threaded with his.

“Do I ever leave it behind?” Steve said, smiling.  “Besides, can’t resist the opportunity to make you uncomfortable by making you model for me in public.” 

“I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.”

Bucky sighed. “No, I don’t.”

The subway was noisy and Steve crowded Bucky in a corner so that he wouldn’t have to have so many people pressed up against him - they’d found out early on in their relationship that crowded subway rides could be triggering for Bucky if even one thing went wrong.

Steve had been right about the kids - they were everywhere, and Bucky kept having to remember to look down so he could dodge them as they wove their way through the crowds near the carnival games and the pumpkin patch that was up in honor of the harvest. They ate hot dogs for lunch, and Steve bought Bucky cotton candy as the sun started to sink near the horizon.

“Hey, let’s go on the Cyclone while it’s still light,” Bucky said, tugging Steve towards the roller coaster.

Steve pulled back. “No, seriously, if I go on that right now I’m going to throw up on you.” 

“You’re not,” Bucky scoffed. “Look,” he said, pointing to a group of kids who looked to be about ten and were exiting the ride. “They did it!”

“Yeah, and I think that one just got sick,” Steve said, nodding towards one of the kids, who was bent over a trash can near the exit. 

Bucky pressed himself up against Steve and gave him his best puppy-eyes.  “Come on, please?  For me?”

Steve’s mouth lost its hard edges and his eyes softened.  “Fine. I hate you, you know.” 

“No, you don’t,” Bucky said, grinning.

“No, I don’t,” Steve grumbled, letting Bucky tug him into line. 

Five minutes later, Steve was bent double over the trash can and Bucky was howling with laughter.

“Glad you think it’s so funny,” Steve moaned, glancing up at Bucky to scowl before ducking his head again.

“I’ll buy you dinner later?” Bucky offered, rubbing Steve’s back.  “You doing all right?”

“Can we just go sit down?” Steve asked, still looking a little green. 

Bucky nodded. “Of course.  I think there was an open bench right back there.”

The sun was slipping down over the New York skyline as Steve and Bucky took a seat facing the Atlantic, watching the waves crash into the pier.  Steve took out his sketchbook and started in on penciling the seagull that was perched on the post closest to them, quickly losing himself in the drawing. Bucky sat in silence, listening to the sound of Steve’s pencil, the swell of the sea, and the shrill cries of children.

Steve’s pencil stopped, and Bucky knew - this was it. 

“Steve,” he said softly, just as Steve said, “Bucky-”

“You go first,” Bucky said, suddenly forgetting how to breathe. 

Steve took a deep breath. “Look,” he began, “I know we’ve only been together a year, but it’s been… well, it’s been the best of my life.” He cleared his throat, eyes locked on the bench.  Bucky couldn’t tear his gaze away from Steve’s face.  “It’s like from the moment I saw you in that bar, I knew you would be important. Like I’d known you before, in some other life.” 

Bucky’s heart was hammering in his chest, but he thought he could see what was about to happen, and -

“Steve,” he interrupted, clenching his flesh fist so tightly he wondered if he’d ever regain circulation in his fingers. 

Steve froze, blinked, and said, “Yeah?”

Bucky held out his flesh hand, palm up.  “Will you marry me?”

He watched as Steve’s eyes found the silver band resting on the center of his palm.  Steve’s entire body tensed, mouth dropping open like he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. 

“Well?” Bucky prompted quietly, glancing nervously down at the ring, then back up at Steve’s face.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Steve blurted, probably a little louder than was needed considering their proximity. 

Bucky flinched, wondering how he could have read the situation so completely wrong.  “Are you saying no…?”

“You asshole!” Steve said, diving his own hand into his pocket and pulling out a ring that looked nearly identical to the one Bucky was holding.  “You stole my proposal!”

Bucky snorted. “I didn’t steal your proposal!”

“Yeah you did! I set this all up - Coney Island, everything - because I was going to propose to you!” Steve exclaimed, brandishing the ring in Bucky’s face. 

“Did you put writing in that?” Bucky asked incredulously, trying to get a better look at the ring. “Is that - is that ‘’til the end of the line’?”

“It’s kind of our thing,” Steve said, then grabbed the ring from Bucky’s hand.  “Wait - no.  You did the same thing!”

“Well, of course I did!” Bucky protested. “I notice things, too!”

“Oh my god,” Steve laughed, “I can’t believe this.”

“You still haven’t given me an answer,” Bucky said, trying to grab the ring back from Steve. “You don’t get to keep it until you’ve said yes!”

“You didn’t even get down on one knee or anything!”

“Well, it’s better than making some grand romantic speech with a whole bunch of canned bullshit.”

Steve’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline.  “I don’t know how to propose to someone, I’ve never done it before!”

“Well, go on then and ask!” Bucky said, shaking with laughter. 

Steve glared. “Bucky Barnes, will you make me the happiest man on earth?”

Bucky shook his head. “Only if you accept my proposal first.”

“That’s not fair,” Steve complained. “This was supposed to be my proposal. My date, my time to pop the question.”   

Bucky shrugged. “I asked first.”

“Fine,” Steve relented. “Okay.  Yes, Buck, I’ll marry you.” 

“You’re a punk,” Bucky said, grinning, as he slid the ring onto Steve’s finger.  Steve did the same, where it rested, metal against metal, on Bucky’s left hand. 

“And you’re a jerk,” Steve whispered, leaning in to kiss him. 

“But you love me,” Bucky said as Steve pulled away, gripping his hand tightly in his own.

“Yeah,” Steve said. “I guess I do.” Bucky leaned back in to kiss him again, when he noticed Steve’s expression change, mouth turning down and eyebrows contracting. 

“What?  Is everything okay?”

Steve shook his head. “This means we’re going to have an actual wedding. That we have to invite our friends to.”

Bucky waited.

Steve smiled grimly.  “Tony’s going to be a nightmare.”