“Go on a date with me.”
This is how it's been since fourth year- Bucky Barnes asks him out, and Steve Rogers says no, it's an old routine by now, one that everyone is used to, so most just tend to ignore it. It's not like Steve doesn't want to say yes, because he is interested in Bucky. He's aware that he has some degree of feelings for him, but decides not to acknowledge them, seeing as all that Bucky does is act like he's been dared to ask Steve out. Sure, he's a little infatuated with Bucky, but the guy is an asshole; an arrogant, obnoxious dick, who thinks he's entitled to anyone he wants.
Bucky Barnes, star Chaser and captain of the Gryffindor quidditch team, top of the class in Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts and Astronomy, the guy who pretty much everyone looks up to. The most popular guy at Hogwarts. Or in sixth year, at the very least. And he's been asking Steve out every day for the past two years. Steve.
Skinny Steve, the boy who only excels in getting beaten up.
Okay, technically that's a lie, because he's second in Charms behind Sharon, and top in Care of Magical Creatures, but still. He's an unattractive smartass who everyone thinks has a violence kink. It's not like Bucky actually likes him.
The first time it happened was on the Hogwarts Express, the first day back after summer, and Bucky had shouted it down the train corridor while Steve was innocently looking for a compartment. He had flushed bright red, assuming that Bucky had somehow found out about his newfound crush on him, and chosen to exploit it to make fun of him. It didn't make sense for Bucky to randomly ask him out of the blue, because despite them being in the same house, they'd never really spoken in all their years at Hogwarts. The obvious conclusion was that it had been a joke, or a dare, or something similar. Maybe Clint or Natasha had discovered Steve's feelings and told Bucky. That had to be the explanation.
However, he'd kept asking.
And it wasn't like Steve could escape very easily, they sleep in the same dorm, for Merlin's sake.
After a while, a few months or so, it dawned on Steve that while Bucky may be an asshole, he isn't cruel, and probably wouldn't keep up a charade like that for too long. So Steve was in the clear, Bucky didn't know about his feelings, but it left the question of why he was asking at all, let alone so persistently. With some help from Sam, he'd deducted that it was the challenge that Bucky was, well is, attracted to. Steve says no, every time, and that just makes Bucky want it even more. If Steve says yes, he'll take him out in one date, touch him up a bit, and then lose interest. Steve resents the part of him that doesn't want that to happen any day soon.
Everyone knows that really, Bucky just wants to add 'loser' to his long list of sexual conquests, and go and brag about it to his friends afterwards.
Steve is perfect for that category, and the chase just makes it even better for Bucky.
Granted, there's no proof that Bucky has actually been with anyone since second year, and while it wasn't sexual back then, he'd had a different girlfriend or boyfriend every other week. Still, there are rumours: “Bucky Barnes kissed Darcy Lewis in Zonkos!”, or “I saw him with Sif!”, and “Bucky's dating Loki, I'm sure of it!”
Steve doesn't know whether to believe all of them, but he's fairly certain that some must be real, seeing as Bucky's pretty much the hottest guy in school. He just wants to add Steve to the ever-growing gossip about his love life. Steve won't relent, though. However much he wants Bucky, he won't give in, because he knows he'll get his heart broken. This has been happening for over two years, and Steve is used to it, so he doesn't struggle saying no every time. He'll keep saying no, up until his last day at Hogwarts, when he can leave, and finally fall in love with someone new. Only two more years to get through.
“Hey, Rogers,” Bucky says, coming up behind him and putting his hands on Steve's shoulders, making him jump. Steve turns his head to see Bucky's smug and smirking face, eyes sparkling with mischief as he stares at Steve. It really is a wonder that Bucky still gets enjoyment from this ridiculous cat-and-mouse game. In Steve's opinion, it expired years ago.
“What?” He grumbles when he realises who it is, shrugging him off, and hunching further over his dinner. He likes to think he's perfected this- ignoring Bucky. Usually just tries to distract himself with other things while Bucky prattles on or basically attempts to just tune him out. But then again, who can ignore Bucky Barnes? He's fucking relentless.
“Who are you going to Hogsmeade with?” He asks, completely ignoring the presence of Sharon, who's sitting opposite Steve and smiling in amusement at them, just like she always does. Steve really hopes that one day his friends get their heads out of their asses and realise that he and Bucky do not share some sweet and lasting romance story that they'll tell their kids about. He wants their support on this, dammit.
“The same people I always go with, the same people I always tell you I'm going with. My friends,” he answers, tired of the same old pattern. Bucky seems to treat his friends' existence as temporary- there for when Bucky wants to use them as some kind of bargaining chip in his pursual of Steve, but simply invisible when they aren't a part of his newest way to woo Steve. Honestly, as if he doesn't need another reason why they shouldn't date. Bucky would be a terrible boyfriend. Hypothetically.
“You can ditch them for one day. Come to Madam Puddifoot's with me.” Steve rolls his eyes and just ignores him this time, carrying on eating. “Or The Three Broomsticks. Or Honeydukes. Or Zonkos,” Bucky offers. “Where do you wanna go? I'll take you.”
“I don't wanna go anywhere. Not with you,” he snaps, annoyance finally peaking. “Just leave me alone. Let me eat in peace.”
Bucky goes silent for a second, nodding, seemingly listening to what Steve's saying, before he continues, “The Hog's Head?” Steve whips his head up in anger, finally looking at him, and his cocky, confident smirk just infuriates Steve more. “If you're into something more downmarket?”
“Go. Away.” He demands. “Learn how to take rejection.”
“Your loss. For now. One day I'll get you to go out with me, Rogers,” Bucky replies, shrugging, and walking to the other end of the Gryffindor table, sliding in beside Thor, winking mischievously at Steve, who sticks his middle finger up in reply.
“Is he ever gonna accept that he doesn't stand a chance?” Sharon asks from across the table with a sigh, shaking her head. “That boy never learns.”
“Tell me about it,” Steve mutters.
“Who's telling who about what?” Sam wonders, arriving next to Sharon, dirty and sweaty from what was probably an intense Herbology lesson. Mandrakes, or something. Steve isn't sure. He dropped that subject as soon as he could.
“Bucky,” Sharon responds, not needing an explanation as Sam nods in understanding. He freezes all of a sudden, expression drooping into something sorrowful, and he shifts his head to look down the table at an unaware Bucky, pouting in irritation.
“Damn, I missed it?” He complains, disappointed. “What pick up line did he use?”
“No pick up line this time. He's probably saving up the good ones for Christmas,” Steve snipes, stabbing at his food, the familiar rush of injustice surging inside him. Pick up lines and smirks. That's all his life seems to be consumed with, nowadays. He should be focusing on his NEWTs, for Merlin's sake, but no, all he's doing every day is wondering in both fear and excitement-tinged anticipation when Bucky will next approach him.
“I can't wait,” Sam remarks excitedly, sitting down next to his girlfriend, who makes space for him with a sweet smile.
“I'm glad this is a good form of entertainment for you,” Steve hisses, dropping his cutlery and pushing his plate away, suddenly losing his appetite.
“Steve-” Sharon starts, ever-apologetic and considerate, but Sam interrupts before she can defend him.
“I didn't mean it like that. I'm sorry, man,” he says.
“It's okay,” Steve sighs. At least they apologise. “Look, I'm not really hungry. I'm gonna head to the library, get some studying done. I'll see you in the common room later?”
Sharon purses her lips at his refusal to eat, but doesn't object, letting him leave. He pretends he doesn't feel Bucky's eyes on his back as he leaves the Great Hall, determinedly keeping his head and eyes forward and walking to the library, coincidentally and quite literally bumping into Angie when he gets there, heart leaping in surprise as they come face-to-face as he turns past a bookcase.
“Hey Steve,” she says, cheerful and friendly as usual, bubbly nature not allowing Steve's scowl to remain. Despite his original bitterness and envy about her relationship with Peggy, he really likes Angie nowadays. It probably helps that he isn't in love with Peggy anymore. After slowly becoming a part of their ragtag group of friends when she began dating Peggy, Angie's never failed to make him laugh, and is probably the person he feels most comfortable having heart-to-hearts with, out of all his friends. She just has that nature about her. It might be the same for all Hufflepuffs.
“Hey Ang. You studying too?”
“Yeah, wanna join me?”
“Sure,” he agrees, fairly enthusiastic due to his longing for a distraction, even if it's studying, of all things. He picks out a Potions book from the shelf, and dumps it on a nearby table, getting to work, despite his mind still being preoccupied with his righteous indignation with Bucky. After a full half hour of reluctant studying, glaring at his page, Angie finally breaks the tense silence with an exasperated sigh.
“Okay, Steve, what's wrong?” She questions, folding her elbows and leaning across the table, eyebrow arching.
“What do you mean?” He dismisses, resorting to denial. He wishes he had friends that would put up with his shit and his pissy moods. Which are mostly down to Bucky. Merlin, that boy really is the bane of his existence.
“I'm not an idiot, I can see something's up. Now tell me.”
“Just the usual,” he admits, sighing in defeat.
“Yep. I just wish he would take a hint, you know?” Steve says, slamming his book closed with a long-suffering sigh. Except he kinda doesn't, at the same time. Which makes this whole thing worse. Steve can't make up his own damn mind about Bucky, and it just confuses him. If only Bucky would shut the hell up for once and let Steve actually figure out how he feels.
“Well, the poor boy's smitten, what do you expect? Guys always turn into idiots when they're in love,” Angie comments, and Steve rolls his eyes. Like Angie, world-class lesbian and proud, would know anything about guys in love. Not to mention that Bucky doesn't even apply, because he does absolutely not belong in that category. In love. As if.
“He's not in love with me,” he retorts, steadfast in his opinion. “I doubt he's even attracted to me. He just does it because he wants someone else to boast about to his friends,” he proclaims. Perhaps it's because they've never been on the receiving end of Bucky's incessant flirting. They'd understand then.
“Speak for yourself,” Steve hears from behind him, and he turns to see Peggy, who walks past and takes a seat next to Angie, kissing her on the cheek in greeting, leaving a smudge of pretty red lipstick behind. Angie beams, face flushing pink. “He hasn't been with anyone else since second year, he's too hung up on you. You should hear Natasha complain about the pining, Merlin, I feel terrible for her.”
“Whatever,” he says, rolling his eyes again and standing up, not in the mood to become yet another third wheel for his friends. He's the only single one. “I'll leave you two to... make out, or something. See you tomorrow.” As he walks away, he gets a couple of murmured goodbyes and absentminded waves from the girls, before they're inevitably distracted by each other. Unbelievable.
While he and Sam are convinced Bucky does it because he's a conceited jerk, the girls believe it's because he actually likes him, and even go to the liberty of making up bullshit stories to persuade him that it's true. According to Peggy, who shares a dorm with her, Natasha always whines about how Bucky never shuts up about Steve, constantly staring at him and lamenting at how he never says yes. Angie seconds this information due to being one of the only students taking Alchemy with Clint, who is also apparently told everything by Bucky. A likely story.
Sharon on the other hand, doesn't base her evidence on stuff that Clint and Natasha have said, but her 'observations'. She says stuff about Bucky being sad every time Steve rebuffs him, and never paying attention in class- only looking at Steve, which is so obviously fake, because then how is he so clever? The girls think it's romantic, and presume that there are actual feelings involved, but Steve knows what's really going on. Whatever Peggy, Angie and Sharon tell him, the fact remains that Bucky doesn't love him, and will never love him, he only asks Steve out to annoy him.
One day he'll give up.
That day isn't going to be soon, and Steve knows it. Bucky's kept it up for two years, so he'll probably keep it up for longer, which both irritates and pleases Steve, igniting the conflict in himself that Bucky always brings out. Steve is just so tired of it. Tired of suppressing how he feels.
“Hey, get outta here Rumlow!” Bucky shouts, grabbing the bigger boy by the collar and throwing him back from where he's hexing Steve. Rumlow sneers, lip curling menacingly, but he complies, slinking away angrily, leaving Bucky and Steve alone together, standing by the side of the lake. Great. Suicide by Giant Squid seems to be Steve's best option here. It's certainly preferable over this.
“I had him on the ropes,” he protests, diverting the conversation as far away from dating as possible and grabbing his wand, picking himself up off the ground. He wipes blood from his mouth and turns, beginning to walk away from Bucky, hoping to Merlin that he might just get away without being dragged into an exchange lasting longer than three sentences.
“That's what you say every time. Why do you always insist on getting into stupid fights?” Bucky says, trailing after him, sounding reproachful of all things, as he marches along at Steve's elbow, refusing to let it go.
“He was picking on a first year,” Steve explains. “Why do you always insist getting involved?”
“Because one of these days you're gonna get yourself seriously hurt!” Bucky snaps, and goes uncharacteristically silent when the words ring in their ears. Huh. Steve resists the urge to glance at him, but can't stop curiosity from gnawing at his insides.
“Why do you care?” He asks, genuinely puzzled at Bucky's oddly vehement reaction. There's a pause, where Steve hears Bucky take a deep breath, inhaling sharply. He slows to a stop and gives in, turning to look at him quizzically, but is hit by Bucky's trademark smirk, full blast.
“Well, I gotta take you out on that date, don't I?”
“Ugh.” Steve starts walking again, faster, feeling the wind whip against his stinging cheeks. It sort of feels like he's crying. It sort of feels like he wants to cry. It sort of feels like he wants to say yes, but his body slams down on that impulse before it can go anywhere, trained expertly after years of close calls. Merlin, no. Never. If only he could just remember that in the split-second after Bucky asks him out. He always forgets, just for a moment. For a moment, he very nearly agrees, nearly inflates Bucky's ego even further by letting him know that he actually is affected by his cocksure smiles and perfect hair and charms.
“C'mon, Steve! Gimme a chance, just one date-”
“No!” He yells, spinning around to face him, fury building. “How many times do I have to tell you? No!”
“I'm not giving up, Rogers. I don't care how many times you say no, I'll keep asking until you say yes,” Bucky promises, lifting his chin up defiantly, eyes screaming challenge. See, this is precisely why Steve thinks, knows, that Bucky doesn't mean it. It's all about the challenge. All about viewing Steve as a fucking conquest that he can win over because he's just so damn irresistible.
“Have fun waiting for that,” Steve says, and storms off, heading off in the direction of two girls in the distance, one dressed in Gryffindor robes, and the other in Slytherin. If he squints, he thinks he can make out bright red lips on the girl in green robes and golden curls brushing against the shoulders of the girl in red robes. Peggy and Sharon, probably. Hopefully. Bucky's reply is lost to the harsh wind, and Steve wouldn't have listened anyway, so he just carries on briskly striding towards his friends. When he reaches them in the courtyard, and they see him, their looks of dismay and exasperation are immediately evident upon seeing his beaten up state.
“Steve!” Sharon tuts.
“You need to stop getting into these silly duels,” Peggy berates, bringing up her sleeve to wipe away some blood from his face. Bucky catches up then, walking past them, meeting Steve's eyes over Peggy's shoulder and giving him a strange look that he can't quite place. Bucky's eyes flick to the ground, before he strolls away, head bent.
Steve watches him the whole time as he walks off.
“Hey, Rogers!” Bucky shouts, bounding up the corridor towards him, and joining him on his walk to Transfiguration. Steve huffs, making his annoyance obvious and shaking his head at both Bucky's presence and his cheeriness.
“It's Quidditch trials on Saturday,” he comments, sounding overly pleased with himself for reasons that Steve isn't quite sure about. Perhaps because he's Captain? Steve frowns, glancing suspiciously at Bucky's smug expression and narrowing his eyes.
“I was aware,” he deadpans, keeping his voice steady and monotone. Oh Merlin, what has Bucky got in store for him this time? Something terrible, he bets. Something that will make him want to say the great and horrible yes.
“Are you trying out this year?” Bucky asks eagerly, practically skipping as he bounds along beside him, grin growing steadily wider.
“I try out every year,” Steve confirms, wary.
“I'm the captain this year,” Bucky remarks proudly, grinning at him. Damn him and his pretty face. Steve bites his lip and drops his eyes, unable to keep looking directly at Bucky's maddeningly attractive smile.
“I was aware of that too. Is there a point to this conversation or did you just want to gloat?” He manages, suppressing the stirrings of unwanted desire swirling in his stomach. It never stops. His own body is a traitor.
“I'm just saying, you know. Not that many people are trying out for Seeker this year, and I'm the captain, so you might have a better chance of making the team.”
He freezes in the middle of the corridor as it sinks in- the realisation of the motivation behind this strangely civil conversation between them, making itself known and clicking into place in Steve's brain. Oh. Just another shot at flirting, then. Not an actual conversation. It's Bucky Barnes, after all. Steve should never have expected anything different. “Are you... Are you offering me the position of Seeker so I go out with you?” He asks, incredulous.
“Yep,” Bucky reveals proudly, rocking back on his heels as they stand still, Steve frozen in surprise. He's been trying out for Seeker for years, and finally… but no. That would be wrong. That would be unfair.
“I don't want you to do that, I want to get it fairly. And I'll never go out with you,” Steve says, unwavering, walking faster, but Bucky matches him stride for stride.
“Yes you will. I think I might give it to you anyway, 'cause I'm so nice and all.” Steve snorts, and Bucky gasps in mock indignation, causing Steve to swallow down even more laughter, chastising himself. “What? I'm totally nice! And when we're finally dating, you'll remember how good a boyfriend I am for letting you be Seeker!”
“Nice reasoning. You're really just going to give it to me? Without me owing you anything?”
“Yeah,” Bucky responds, shifting closer as they turn the corner, a dangerous tint of hope entering his voice. Steve almost wants to drag it out longer, to keep him hanging on a string just like he does for Steve, but he can't. Is too irritated by the notion of Bucky believing he stands a chance finally catching his chase, even just for a second. The words nearly force their way from his throat.
“Well, thanks. But I don't really feel like trying out this year, so you'll have to find someone else,” he says, kicking himself and wanting to kick Bucky for stealing his chance.
“Wait, what? But you try out every year!” Bucky exclaims.
“I don't want to get in just because the captain has made it his life goal to torment me. I wanna earn it,” Steve explains, annoyed but honest, and enters the classroom that they've reached, walking over to his assigned seat next to Sif as fast as he can, desperate to get away.
“But I wanted to see you in the Quidditch changing room showers!” He hears Bucky wail behind him, and rolls his eyes. One day his eyes might just roll right out of his head around that boy. He doubts what he said is true, Bucky's seen him shirtless- sharing a dorm together doesn't offer that much privacy- and it wouldn't make sense for him to actually want to see more. Bucky's just making fun of him.
If Steve is being honest, Halloween is one of his favourite days of the year.
It's a close second behind Christmas, he decides, as he sits at the Hallowe'en feast, laughing with his friends. The feast itself is a definite highlight of Hogwarts, one that makes Steve feel a little sad that he's only got one more to attend before he leaves. Hogwarts is home, and the heavy atmosphere of camaraderie and cheer hangs thick in the air of the Great Hall- Steve feels connected to everyone, right from the tiniest first year to the biggest seventh year. He won't let anything ruin this night.
Not even Bucky Barnes.
He's only worrying about it because Bucky seems to have gotten even worse with asking Steve out this year, and he's bound to do something ridiculous and annoying, and it'll put Steve in a bad mood for the rest of the evening, which he doesn't want. What he wants is to enjoy himself a little longer, bask in the enjoyment of his friends company and the delicious flavour of the feast set out before them. Everything would be absolutely perfect if he didn't have to worry about Bucky popping up at his shoulder every two minutes and spend the night glancing around in anxiousness. Hopefully he'll have the courtesy to wait until the end of the feast.
Apparently not, Steve realises, as he hears the unmistakeable footsteps of Bucky coming up behind him. His stomach sinks as he prepares for the inevitable sound of his voice accompanying his ridiculous presence.
“Barnes.” Bucky shoves Steve's half-eaten plate of food aside, placing a large pumpkin down in front of him, turning it so that he sees the big heart Bucky's carved into it, jagged and imperfect. Steve sighs wistfully at his meal, but decides he better get this out of the way first. Sam watches in a way that he must think is secretive if his bent head is anything to go by, but the big smirk spread across his face gives him away.
“Where did you get an empty pumpkin from?” Steve asks, momentarily confused.
“It wasn't empty,” Bucky admits, and Steve glances up the table to where he was previously sitting, to glimpse a heap of sweets piled on his plate, evidently taken out from the pumpkin. Something uncomfortable settles inside of him, niggling at the back of his mind. Where's Bucky's food?
“You haven't eaten yet?” Steve frowns, bringing forth that ugly crease in his forehead that always appears when he's confused. Bucky doesn't turn away in repulsion, though, just continues beaming at Steve, a soft expression on his face. The sweets are the only thing on the plate. Which is weird. Did Bucky spend all this time on making a new way to flirt with Steve? Just for the possibility of a lukewarm Butterbeer together or a peck on the cheek? A possibility that is extremely small, considering all of Steve's previous responses?
“Nope. Had to carve your pumpkin, didn't I?” Bucky shakes his head at him, like he's an idiot. Merlin. Steve huffs, suddenly hit by his familiar Bucky Barnes headache, one that more often than not, morphs into more of a migraine. It's official, his night is ruined.
“Thanks, I guess?” He mumbles, in a hurry to just get this over with now.
“No problem. So, will you go out with me?”
“Fine. Next time, then,” Bucky says, oblivious to Steve's nearness to the end of his tether, sauntering back to his seat. Steve sighs, and rests his chin in his hands, scowling at the pumpkin.
“This is your fault,” he whispers to it, and Sam starts cracking up. Why does Bucky have to be so persistent? It'd be a lot easier to get over him that way.
Steve is trying to concentrate on his book, he really is, but it's hard with Bucky flat out staring at him, lounging on his bed, his eyes locked on Steve, completely ignoring the parchment in his hand. They're all in the dorm, lying on their beds and relaxing before they go to sleep. Sam and Rhodey are having a quiet conversation about Quidditch, Thor is doing homework, and Steve is trying to read. Bucky's gaze is heavy and lingering, and Steve can feel it shift over his body now and then. He grits his teeth and ignores it, flicking through his book with determined focus, but Bucky does not look away. Not even for a second. Eventually, he just can't take it anymore, and slams his book down, lifting his eyes to see Bucky properly.
“Have I got something on my face?”
Everyone swivels to look at him, and Bucky seems to snap out of a daze, flinching in alarm at four pairs of eyes suddenly being turned towards him. “Hmm?” He mumbles indistinctly, raising his head from where it was lolling on his shoulder, vague and not entirely there.
“Is there a reason you won't stop looking at me?” Steve tries not to let his voice waver in anger, he really does, but he's pretty sure it slips in there. Bucky doesn't seem to notice, thankfully, is too busy sitting up straighter and attempting to hide the way his cheeks have gone pink from everyone in the room.
“Stop staring at me,” Steve snarls, mounting rage finally overflowing.
Bucky's face shifts, and he tilts his chin up in that way that is seared into Steve's mind. Uh oh. This can't be good. He looks to be considering something, mouth twisting and eyebrows furrowing, but after a few seconds, his expression morphs into a wide grin. “I will if you go out with me,” he offers brightly, and everyone groans, going back to their respective tasks after realising it's just yet another incident involving Bucky's fake flirting.
“Bucky...” He starts, and Bucky freezes at the tone, his grin fading, mouth going slack. He blinks a few times in surprise, and swallows, face twitching in what Steve can only assume to be victory. The thing that throws him off track is the softness invading Bucky's features, widening his eyes and curving his mouth so sweetly. But Steve ploughs on. “The only way I'd ever go out with you is if I was Imperiused.”
Bucky's head rears back at the words, and he bangs it lightly against the headboard in chagrin, clenching his jaw, exhaling in frustration. “You'll go out with me one day, Rogers.”
“In your dreams,” Steve says mock-sweetly, before pulling the curtains to his bed shut.
He hears muffled muttering the other side, but blocks it out, looking back to his book.
“Hey, Rogers!” Bucky whispers, turning around to face Steve, who really just wants to focus on Charms.
“What,” he hisses, voice tight in aggravation, his eyes not moving from Professor Hill, who's likely aware of the interaction passing between them. She doesn't mention it though, just gets on with teaching, just like all of their professors nowadays. Bucky truly is relentless, and most of them just ignore him when he does this, probably to avoid a confrontation with a boy that will somehow get out of trouble somehow.
“Go on a date with me.”
“Bad luck, Barnes,” Darcy snarks from beside him, smirking in amusement at them. “Keep trying, I'm sure you'll get there.”
“Don't worry, I will,” Bucky assures with a wink, before shifting to face the front again, bored already after Steve's rejection not ten seconds ago. He grits his teeth in annoyance, grinding them together, and Darcy nudges him.
“Hey, come on. It doesn't annoy you that much does it?” She asks, seeming genuinely curious.
“It really does,” he answers shortly, frowning at how Bucky's shoulders tense. Maybe it's something Professor Hill said, which Steve would know if he were actually being allowed to listen. He does his best to tune them out.
It's a lie, of course, what he tells her. It does annoy him, but not as much as he makes it out to. A small part of him is thrilled every time Bucky asks him out, because the only actual relationship he's ever had was with Peggy back in third year, and it's still flattering to get some attention, even if it isn't real. It's not like he has anyone else expressing interest in him, he's not exactly a catch.
“Sure,” Darcy says, snorting in disbelief, and he glares at her from the corner of his eye. She just raises her eyebrows at him, and looks back down at her parchment, picking up her quill.
He sighs, and focuses on Charms again.
“Are you going to the party with anyone?” Bucky asks, ambushing him at lunch, leaning cockily against the table, expectant and hopeful. Steve throws his gaze up to the pretty sky in frustration, wishing for the wafting clouds to swallow him up. The Slytherins are throwing a Christmas party for the sixth and seventh years, and everyone is invited. Even Steve. And he doesn't want to go- he doesn't do parties. But now it's just another excuse for Bucky to ask him out. It isn't really a surprise.
“I'm going with my friends,” he replies as Bucky sinks onto the bench beside him, turning his attention back to his lunch, pushing his food about his plate with his fork and glaring at the table. Bucky just leans further into his personal space, not deterred at all and actually seemingly emboldened by Steve's familiar rejection.
“Why don't you come with me? I'll show you a good time,” he says, breath hot on Steve's ear as he goes to push his plate away, so he can undoubtedly use the free space to lean on his elbow in a way that he thinks to be seductive. Well, it is, but that's besides the point. Steve snatches the plate before he can touch it, glowering at him and dragging it across the table.
“I doubt that,” Steve says, and Bucky pouts, knocking his knee, which is folded awkwardly on the bench, against Steve's thigh.
“At least let me prove you wrong,” he pleads, playful, shooting Steve a look that could be classified as smouldering. Steve shifts awkwardly on the bench, clearing his throat and looking away, only to find his gaze drawn to where their legs are brushing against each other. His heart rises in his throat, causing him to squeeze his eyes shut and reach for that iron-willed resolve inside himself that always allows him to decline Bucky's ridiculous begging for a date.
“Nope,” he responds through the yes stuck in his mouth, before scrambling up from the bench and pushing past Bucky, storming from the Great Hall.
“See you tonight!” Bucky shouts after him.
Surprisingly, Steve doesn't actually see much of Bucky later. He doesn't get ready for the party in Gryffindor, so Steve guesses he's already in Slytherin with Natasha or over in Hufflepuff with Clint. For most of the actual party he doesn't appear either, is probably getting off with someone in a cupboard or something, and Steve doesn't see him until the very end, when his friends have split off into their respective couples and he's chatting with Pepper in the corner, discussing their DADA essay that's due. They're rudely interrupted, however, as somebody stumbles up to him and throws their arms around his shoulders, quite literally knocking him from the conversation.
“Rogersss!” Bucky slurs, obviously drunk, smiling distractedly and pressing a finger against Steve's cheek.
“Get off me!” He demands, shoving him away, huffing, desperately trying to untangle their arms. But Bucky isn't having it, lacing his fingers into the fabric of Steve's shirt, knocking his forehead against Steve's cheek.
“I'll see you later, okay?” Pepper says, looking like she's about to burst out laughing, backing away. Steve feels an even stronger surge of irritation at Bucky. So now he's scaring his friends off, too? He can't even have a civil conversation with someone without Bucky coming in and ruining it.
“No, no, you don't have to go, Pepper-” Steve objects, making more violent efforts to free himself, but she just purses her lips, presumably to prevent any laughter from escaping her while Bucky shuffles even closer.
“Seriously, I'll leave you two alone,” she offers, and before Steve can protest any further she's heading toward Darcy, the other side of the room.
“What do you want?” He hisses at Bucky, who's giving him a dopey smile and swaying heavily against him. He rebuffs yet another of Steve's attempts at pushing him away, laughing breathily as Steve shoves at him. The smell of alcohol washes against his face, heady and strong, and he has to screw up his face at the force of it.
“Pleaaase go out with me,” Bucky whines, knotting his hand even harder into the sleeve of Steve's jacket and dropping his forehead onto his cheek.
“No. Go and bother someone else.”
“But you're my favourite!” Bucky exclaims, sliding his head down and practically nuzzling Steve's neck, and he hears a quiet moan catch in Bucky's throat as he does so. Steve tries not to let his full body shudder become obvious at hearing this. “I love you!”
He doesn't mean it, he thinks, his heart starting to pound, throwing itself violently against his ribcage. Bucky's drunk, and is saying exactly what he thinks Steve wants to hear, so he can get a feel up at a party and finally get him to say yes. Steve can't do this, as much as he wants to. He especially can't do it with him.
“Bucky, you're drunk,” he says, matter-of-fact. “You need to get off me.”
“Mmm, love it when you say my name,” Bucky sighs, brushing his eyelashes against Steve's throat, and drawing impossibly closer, almost hugging him. When he tilts his head up a little, his lips move softly against Steve's skin, and goosebumps begin to break out all over his body as a result. Merlin, Bucky doesn't know what he's doing to him. “You should say it more often. You should say yes more often, too.” Steve opens his mouth to reply, set on objecting wildly at even the suggestion of a yes, but doesn't get anywhere, due to Natasha and Clint appearing in front of them in the crowd.
“Sorry about him. He gets clingy when he's had too much,” Clint explains, dragging Bucky off him, ignoring his cries of protest. He hauls Bucky backwards with the true strength of a Seeker, and manages to distract him with the offer of another drink. Steve shakes his arms properly free, breathing a sigh of relief at the loss of the pressure of Bucky's embrace.
“Yeah, you might wanna leave before he starts singing Karaoke or something. His favourite right now Hopelessly Devoted to You,” Natasha informs him, sly smile curving her mouth. “He might just be in that mood at the moment.”
“Seriously?” Steve asks, eyes wide. “He'd do that?”
“He's done it before, so yeah, probably,” Clint says. “You being here just makes it more likely.”
He doesn't know what to say to that, but they've all disappeared into the crowd of dancing teenagers before he can even consider a reply, let alone process the words to begin with. He just shakes his head, grabbing one last drink of Firewhisky and exiting the Slytherin common room, deciding to go to bed as soon as he gets back. Bucky and his terrifying friends should not have such a large role to play in his life. He doesn't need to think about them, or their supposed strange tendencies to sing when drunk.
He falls asleep almost instantly back in the dorm, and doesn't have any time to think about what will happen at breakfast. Nor does he really care, at that point.
He wouldn't have predicted it anyway.
Bucky isn't in the dorm when he wakes up, having most likely stayed the night with one of his many girlfriends, so the next time Steve sees him is when he's pouring milk into his cereal, laughing at a seriously hungover Sam. He hadn't drunk that much himself, thankfully, and he's extremely grateful for this fact when he sees a certain someone enter the Great Hall. Thank Merlin he's not hungover. It would somehow become even worse than usual, he's sure of it. Bucky strolls over to him as soon as they make eye contact, and he can't stop a groan of annoyance escaping his mouth as the last tendrils of gratitude disappear inside him.
“Hey, Rogers,” Bucky greets, sounding cheerful despite his bloodshot eyes and the purple bruise-like rings underneath his eyes. “Have a good time at the party last night? Regretting not going with me?”
“No, I had fun without you, actually,” Steve lies. Not that he would've had more fun with him, or anything. It's just that he really hates parties. “Was there something else you wanted?”
“Yeah. Go on a date with me.” He drops onto the bench opposite Steve at this, leaning over the table and folding his elbows, placing his chin on his hands and staring up at Steve lovingly. Or fake-lovingly. Technically. Steve shakes his head at the familiar routine, and makes Bucky wait for his answer as he puts a mouthful of cereal in his mouth, making sure to take his time to swallow it. Bucky doesn't seem to mind, though, just patiently watches Steve's mouth as he chews.
“Isn't that kind of pointless?” Steve suggests when his mouth is finally empty, swirling round the cereal in the bowl. Bucky actually looks like he's listening, damn him, eyes flicking over Steve's face as he speaks. “Seeing as we're all about to go home for the holidays? I wouldn't be able to go out with you anyway.”
“How about you just say yes? Let's call it an early Christmas present,” Bucky begs, shifting further over the table. Steve can see the beginnings of a smirk playing at his mouth, and all of a sudden, the desire to hasten this conversation becomes far more apparent.
“I'm afraid you're not getting anything from me this year, Barnes.”
“Next year then?” Bucky asks, hopeful, and Steve is reminded of all the ridiculous gifts Bucky sends him over the holidays. Steve never gives him anything in return, and Bucky never expects anything back. It's his own fault he's a stupid-rich pureblood who apparently still likes Muggle musicals… Musicals. Well.
“No. Now go away and sing some Grease songs, or something,” Steve snaps.
“What? Grease songs? I don't...” Bucky falters, and a look of recognition spreads across his face, and his lips part in surprise. He huffs out a breath, mouth opening and closing as he struggles for something to say, but instead he just settles for embarrassed silence as he tries to gauge Steve's true reaction to this valuable piece of both knowledge and blackmail material.
“Are you remembering last night better now?” Steve says, smirking, for once in his life having the upper hand during a conversation with Bucky. He's almost enjoying it too much. They have to do this more often.
To his shock, Bucky actually blushes, cheeks flushing with pink as he takes a step away from the table. “I… I don't...” He stammers, cheeks red, before shaking his head in defeat and turning around, striding with purpose toward Natasha at the Slytherin table, who's laughing with Peggy. Steve watches as Bucky storms over and says something angrily to her, looking positively murderous, but Natasha just crosses her arms and flicks her hair back while Peggy breaks into peals of laughter that can be heard from the other end of the Great Hall.
Steve huffs, looking back at his breakfast, acting uninterested. Sam is staring appraisingly at him, an eyebrow raised. “That was unexpected,” he remarks, before letting his head fall against the table once more.
When Steve wakes up on Christmas morning, the first thing that occurs to him is not the few small presents at the foot of his bed, but the large tawny owl tapping at his window, holding a present in its beak.
He knows it's a gift from Bucky, he's been doing the same thing every Christmas since fourth year, and Steve wonders what to expect this time. Something ridiculous, he bets. Ridiculous or far too expensive. The first time, he'd received an eagle-feather quill that must have cost a fortune, and in fifth year, it'd been a flask of Amortentia- labelled, of course. Steve had actually laughed, and tried to pretend that it didn't smell like broom polish, petrichor and pumpkin juice, worryingly similar to Bucky. He's still got the quill, buried deep in a drawer somewhere. It really is beautiful, and Merlin he'd wanted to use it, but he couldn't let Bucky have the satisfaction, despite how much it must have cost him. He's just really committed to his chases, Steve supposes. At least he had the courtesy to actually label the Amortentia.
He gets some sort of poem or box of chocolates on Valentine's Day and his birthday, too. Bucky goes all out, every year. It's absurd. Surely Bucky knows by now that he doesn't stand a chance, so why would some silly gifts change that? Or just gifts, really. Not all of them are silly, which makes receiving them even harder. He's always grudgingly thanked Bucky for the gifts, he's not rude, but he also won't be bribed, which is obviously what this is.
He reluctantly pulls himself out of bed, and stumbles to the window, opening it and taking the present from the owl's mouth. Tearing the wrapping paper off, he reveals that inside, there is a thick, knitted scarf and a pair of wool gloves. They're soft against his palms. He smiles distantly. It's a strangely... sweet gesture, quite practical, and not extravagant and ridiculous like usual. He had been colder this month, shivering more often and gaining a bad cough because of it. Bucky noticed, then. Huh. The thoughtfulness of the present is ruined, however, when he picks up the piece of parchment that's fallen out of the wrapping paper.
Did you survive the Killing Curse? 'Cause you're drop dead gorgeous ;)
Steve scoffs, folding the paper and placing it on his desk, a headache stirring at his temples. On Christmas morning. Wonderful. He looks at the scarf and gloves in his hands mournfully. The pick up line is stupid, but the gift itself is okay. Maybe he'll wear them a few times.
'Maybe' turns into 'definitely', and Steve actually forgets how much he's supposed to hate Bucky, and pulls them on for their journey back to Hogwarts, not even really registering any possible repercussions in his rush to get to the train station on time. When Peggy asks, he blushes, only just realising himself, and sheepishly tells them that they were Bucky's Christmas gift, sinking down in his seat in the blind hope that they won't hear him.
“That's adorable! He saw you had a cold and wanted to keep you warm!” Sharon coos, shuffling over to him as the girls begin to crowd around, poking and prodding and stroking at the gifts, Steve shifting away from them desperately.
“These look hand knitted as well!” Angie exclaims, and sets off a new set of 'aww's' from the girls. Or at least Steve thinks it's only the girls. He has to be imagining that masculine voice there, right? Angie must have a cold, or something. Once they finally move onto a new subject of conversation, they're interrupted by the sound of the compartment door sliding open, and things are back to square one.
“Ladies. Sam,” Bucky acknowledges with a nod. “Darling,” He says, looking at Steve, arrogant grin softening as he strolls over to his corner of the compartment.
“Go away,” Steve mutters, attempting to shield Bucky's view of his hands and neck.
“But I...” He stops, noticing it, probably because Steve's incessant shifting drew even more attention to it. “You're wearing it.” His voice is quiet, barely a whisper, and weirdly gentle, almost pleased. His breath catches, loud enough for everyone to hear, and swallows nervously. But then the vulnerability he's displaying turns into cockiness, and the mask comes down as he licks his lips, leering at Steve. “Does this mean you'll go out with me?”
“No. I'm wearing it because it's warm, not because I like you. I'm not gonna go out with you.”
“Come on, you know you want to,” Bucky urges. “It'll be cold in Hogsmeade, so you'll have to wear my present.”
“No. Leave me alone.” Steve scowls at him, fiddling with the end of the scarf and seriously contemplating tearing it off and throwing it in Bucky's face, just to spite him. Bucky seems to notice, however, eyes flicking down to Steve's hands and recognition dawning in his face. He obviously knows Steve well enough to predict his pettiness. It's slightly disorienting to realise that.
“Suit yourself. See you later sweetheart,” he replies, flicking his own scarf over his shoulder, and pulling the door shut behind him as he goes.
“He better not be doing pet names now,” Steve comments, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
“Oh, I think it's cute,” Peggy remarks dreamily, staring at the closed compartment door. “He's obviously head over heels for you.”
“Very funny, but I seriously doubt that.”
The girls just laugh it off, and Steve is shocked to see an amused smile on Sam's face, too.
“Hey, Rogers!” He turns, irritated and attuned to that phrase, expecting to see Bucky and hear his obligatory asking out for the day, but is instead greeted by Tony Stark walking up to him, looking uncomfortable in his own skin, bouncing on his heels as he comes to a stop before Steve, gnawing on his lip.
“Stark,” Steve greets. He knows that the surprise in his tone is evident as Tony's seemingly forced smile begins to fade more.
“Are you going to Hogsmeade with anyone?” Tony asks with a hand awkwardly rubbing at his neck. Confusion grasps at Steve, furrowing his brow. Why does Tony care? This is Bucky territory. Him and Tony talk sometimes, sure, but that's only because they're in the same Potions class. They're not exactly close enough to have conversations in corridors.
“No, just my friends,” he says, frowning, trying to figure out Tony's intention from his tone of voice and face. But Tony just looks uneasy, which doesn't illuminate Steve to what he wants whatsoever. Which is strange, because most people view Tony Stark as anything but a mystery. His whole life is on display, usually, and he pretty much just tends to say what he means. But this is different.
“So you're not dating Barnes yet?” Steve twitches in irritation. Of course. Because everyone in the damn school has been wondering when he and Bucky are going together for years. It's never, really, but they just don't understand. Label it as some cutesy love story and Steve's real emotions towards Bucky are removed from the equation.
“I'm not dating Barnes ever, but yeah, we aren't going out. Why do you ask?” Despite his annoyance, he's still curious.
“I was wondering if you maybe wanted to go to Hogsmeade with me?”
Steve stares at him, dumbfounded. Tony Stark wants to go to Hogsmeade with him? Like that? Or at least that's what he assumes, seeing how anxious Tony looks right now. “Don't you have feelings for Pepper?” Is all he comes out with, causing him to wince at his unstable brain-to-mouth filter. It's fairly obvious to both of them he's not experienced in situations like these.
“Well, yeah. But I don't think they're reciprocated, and I'd like to get over her. You're cute, and I like you, so I wanna see if there's anything there,” Tony explains, hopeful smile on his face, pointed at Steve. “You don't have to say yes,” he says hastily, when Steve doesn't speak for a long pause, searching for something to say.
“No, no, I want to say yes,” he assures. “Thanks for being honest, I guess.”
“No problem.” Tony swallows awkwardly. “So, um, I'll meet you outside before we go then? Does Madam Puddifoot's sound okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, sure, it sounds fine,” Steve says, still in a daze because he was just asked out by Tony Stark. Of all people to actually be interested in Steve, it's this guy. He's slightly reluctant, as Tony is similar to Bucky is some ways. A lot of ways, really. But Tony hasn't been treating him like a throwaway conquest for two years, so Steve thinks he can look past the parallels that can be drawn between the two.
“See you round, Steve,” Tony replies, patting him on the back as he brushes past him. He's a little shellshocked, but trying a date with Tony won't do any harm, and might actually give him the chance to get over Bucky. Tony's actually really hot, and he can't get his head around the fact that of all people, he asked Steve out. Steve. They really couldn't have less in common, apart from a mutual hate for Herbology. He isn't looking where he's going, walking with his head down, sharing a private smile with himself, so he ends up crashing straight into someone, scattering the books that they're holding all over the floor.
“Oh Merlin, I'm so sorry,” he babbles, crouching down to pick some of the books up, scrambling at them desperately in embarrassment and apology.
“Hey, that's okay,” the person says, and squats down to help him. Steve recognises the voice, and glances up from the ground to see Bucky smirking at him. A stab of something like guilt punches through him, almost like he's cheating. Which is ridiculous. He's done nothing wrong, nor does Bucky have any control in who and who he doesn't date. “But it would make me feel better if you went to Hogsmeade with me this weekend.”
“No,” he answers, shoving the books back into Bucky's hands and stalking off.
“One day, Rogers. One day you'll go out with me,” Bucky yells after him, and Steve ignores him.
When Saturday comes, Steve gets nervous.
He dresses casual, attempting to seem like he isn't trying too hard, but worries nonetheless. This is the first proper date he's been on since he was thirteen, so he's completely clueless as to how to act and what to do. Tony's already there when he gets down, waiting in the entrance hall, and he smiles as he sees Steve. Thankfully, on the way to Madam Puddifoot's, they're never short of conversation, and Steve has a great time. The tea shop itself is kind of awkward, seeing as most of the people there are kissing, or at least already in serious relationship, but Tony just laughs it off, and Steve is far more comfortable than he imagined he would be.
“Your favourite colour is not red!” Tony says, giggling. “You're a Gryffindor! That's so cliché!”
“My favourite colour was red before I got sorted, thank you very much. What's your favourite colour then?”
“Well, red, actually. But I'm in Ravenclaw, so it's allowed.”
“Allowed?” Steve scoffs, laughing. He shakes his head, eyes pointed at the table, but glances up when he doesn't hear Tony laughing along with him. There's a reason for that, apparently, and Steve's mouth goes dry as he sees the way he's being looked at, making his heart begin to hammer in his chest.
“Can I try something?” Tony asks, and Steve nods, lips tingling with the phantom feeling of the kiss that's bound to come.
He brings his hand around to cup the back of Steve's neck, and drags him forward, in for that kiss, parting Steve's lips under his, and twisting his fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck. His lips are soft and patient. It's nice. He can't get his head around the fact that he's kissing Tony Stark, the guy who almost everyone wants, and who, admittedly, he had a crush on in first year.
And he feels nothing.
It's okay, a little uncomfortable, seeing as they're leaning over the table, but it's okay. Objectively, it's actually a pretty good kiss, but Steve doesn't feel anything. It's not fireworks like it was with Peggy, it's just two pairs of lips touching, and it's not doing anything for him. It's fairly bland for a kiss. It doesn't help that he's imagining a mouth that is far more chapped than this and stockier shoulders. He's just about to pull away when the door to the tea shop bangs open.
“Steve?” He hears from the doorway, and finally breaks off the kiss to see Bucky marching towards their table. This hasn't seemed to attract anybody else's attention, thank Merlin- they're all caught up in their own little bubbles. Steve sighs, hardly wanting to anticipate the utter rudeness of Bucky planning to ask him out while he's obviously with someone else. “Why were you... Wha-” Bucky stutters, running a hand through his hair, eyes wide and panicked. “What are you doing?”
“I'm on a date.”
“With him? I thought.” He halts, lips parting in shock, eyes darting wildly around the room as he actually starts to realise what's going on and where he is. A wretched, choked noise escapes his throat as his gaze flicks between Steve and Tony, and a hand comes up to cover his mouth, presumably to prevent whatever noise that was from being heard again.
“You thought what?” Steve responds, genuinely confused.
“I- but. We were...”
“We were... what? I don't know what you're trying to say.”
Bucky stands there, frozen and looking like he's been Confunded. He frowns a little, his mouth opening around words that he doesn't say, and his Adam's apple bobbing convulsively. Eventually, he just shakes his head, face screwed up in a pained expression. “It's...nothing. Enjoy your date,” he spits, storming away abruptly, slamming the door closed.
“Now I actually feel kinda guilty,” Tony comments, looking at Steve remorsefully, making a point of leaning back into his seat, moving away from where they were tilted towards each other over the table. Steve is completely fucking lost at this point, and is pretty desperate for answers. Can nobody actually communicate at this school?
“The poor guy looked like he was about to cry. I didn't realise how bad he had it,” Tony laments, staring guiltily at his hands.
“What? Bucky wasn't about to cry, I don't even know what that entire exchange was about.”
“The man was heartbroken,” Tony remarks, shaking his head pityingly at him. “You really are oblivious.”
“Never mind,” Tony says, waving him away. He shifts uncomfortably in his seat, glancing at the door once more, which could probably be interpreted as rude if the mood hadn't have been shattered so heavily a few minutes ago. Steve can only really sympathise with the guy. Another day ruined by Bucky. A date ruined by Bucky. Fantastic. “No offence, but now I'm...”
“Not really feeling it? Yeah me neither,” he admits, and Tony looks grateful.
They pay for their stuff, and leave the shop, trudging up the street through the thick snow together. Steve pulls his coat tighter around him, getting as warm as he can while the cold air rushes against them. “Don't take this the wrong way, but... I'm not sure if I want to do this again,” Tony confesses, guiding Steve aside as a large group of people hurry past.
“Hey, at least you told me instead of leading me on,” Steve says. “I think you're right, though. This wasn't everything I thought it'd be.”
Tony sighs in relief. “Yeah, same here. Wanna go to Zonkos?” He asks, nodding at the shop in front of them, and Steve can't help but agree.
He spends another hour with Tony, in Zonkos and Honeydukes, and both of them are a lot more relaxed once they decide to just hang out platonically. Steve explains later to his friends that it didn't work out, leaving out the part about Bucky, which he seriously doesn't understand.
Tony bounds up to them on the walk back to Hogwarts, excitedly telling Steve that Pepper got jealous, and she actually does like him back. Steve congratulates him, although he supposes he should be annoyed about it. But he's just... not. When they enter the Great Hall for dinner, Steve's good mood vanishes however, as the only free seats at the Gryffindor table are opposite Bucky, who's sitting alone for once. Bucky casts a furtive glance at them when they sit down, sniffing, his eyes red and puffy. For some reason, he looks miserable, almost like he's been crying. He glares down at his meal, but doesn't seem to be eating, just twirling food around his fork and letting it go. His hands are trembling. Steve doesn't like it.
“How was your date?” Bucky asks him bitterly, his voice hoarse, as he viciously stabs at the food on his plate with shaking hands. The splotchy redness of his cheeks stands out against the glow of yellow in the Great Hall, lit by candles. Steve's heart is beginning to ache for Bucky, a little.
“It was fine, thanks,” Steve replies.
“I hope you're very happy together,” Bucky says shakily, and this is now officially the strangest interaction Steve has ever had with him. He doesn't offer Steve any insight as to why he's being weird, just props his head up on his hand and glares in the direction of the Ravenclaw table with his bloodshot eyes. Steve is pretty sure his eyelashes are wet. Maybe he used eye drops?
“We're not going out. It was just one date.”
“But... You kissed him,” Bucky seems to force out through gritted teeth, curling the hand that should've been propping him up into a fist, pushing his head up. That choked noise makes it's appearance again, and Bucky looks towards the ceiling, eyes shining with what must be some weird trick of the light. Or eye drops. Definitely could be eye drops.
“So? Again, it was one kiss, and one date. It didn't work out. Turns out Pepper does like him after all,” Steve explains, moving to spear some sausages and put them onto his plate, wanting to satisfy his growling stomach, but Bucky's hand shoots out and grabs his arm. Steve glances up to see him looking absolutely furious, and feels the hold on his arm grow tighter.
“He just dumped you? Straight away? For Pepper?”
“No? We decided that we weren't going to go out again first, and then he found out that Pepper felt the same,” he clarifies. Deciding he's had enough of all the theatrics and secrecy, he can't help but bring it up as he attempts to tear his arm free from Bucky's iron grip. “What is up with you today? You're acting seriously weird.”
“Nothing. Not- not anymore. Nothing's up with me,” Bucky says, a grin working its way back onto his face. Ah, Steve recognises that one. It's his 'flirting' grin. Now he knows Bucky really is alright. “So... You're single?”
Steve huffs, hiding the fact that he's actually glad that Bucky is back to normal, making fun of him again. “Yes, I'm single,” he admits, raising his hands in mock defeat, and Bucky's grin fades into a softer smile as he gazes at him.
“Go out with me then.”
“One day, Rogers, you'll go out with me. One day.”
“Be my Valentine?” Bucky asks, catching up with Steve as they leave Astronomy, and unceremoniously shoving a box of chocolate frogs into his arms. He bounds along beside Steve, effortlessly matching his pace and doing so with a big smile on his face. It's really quite annoying.
“It's not Valentine's Day,” he comments, trying to stuff the box into his bag while he keeps walking, trying to speed up but failing miserably. Not that it would manage to deter Bucky, though, he's far fitter than Steve and absolutely nothing seems to discourage him nowadays. He used to go away after Steve's first no, at Steve's first implication of a no, but now...
“No, but it is this weekend. You should be my Valentine."
“No thank you.”
“Well who's gonna be my Valentine now?” Bucky complains, pouting at Steve, grabbing his elbow and dragging him backwards. Steve huffs angrily, tilting his head to glare at Bucky, who just smirks proudly, not seeming to care about them blocking the corridor. Steve won't deny that he does love being the sole centre of his attention while there are hundreds of other students around he could be talking to. But that's besides the point.
“You'll find somebody. Half the people in school want you, after all,” he remarks.
“But I don't want them. I want you.”
Steve feels his stomach cartwheel, and has to fight back a flush. How can Bucky sound so romantic when all he does is mock Steve? The only reason Bucky still does this is because Steve's unattainable, and that makes it even more fun for him. Heart sinking, Steve remembers why he so unwaveringly says no each time. “Well I don't want you, so find someone else,” Steve lies, resolutely not looking at him. Bucky doesn't reply for a second, just sighs and slows down as Steve spots his friends doing homework in the courtyard, and begins to go over.
“You're really missing out, you know.”
“You keep telling yourself that.”
Steve strides off, leaving Bucky standing in the archway alone.
“Hey, beautiful,” Someone greets from behind him, directly in his ear, and Steve jumps, almost having a heart attack, having to press a hand against his mouth to prevent himself from shouting in fright and getting thrown out of the library. A low chuckle follows his reaction, and Steve's temper begins boiling again, in that horrible specific way that only one person is ever the root of.
“Bucky!” He hisses, spinning around. “What do you want?”
“Go on one date with me. Just one,” Bucky begs, putting his hands either side of Steve's head. He crowds him against the bookcase, pushing so close that Steve can smell the pumpkin juice on his breath. He tries not to shudder, ignoring how many fantasies he's had that start exactly like this. He hopes Bucky hasn't been practicing Occlumency.
“No,” Steve says, pushing at his chest. “Leave me alone.”
“Please, Rogers. One date.”
“No,” Steve repeats, wiggling out from underneath Bucky's arm. Bucky lets him go, letting out a pained groan as Steve moves away, trailing after him and mirroring his movements like a man possessed, lip caught between his teeth and eyes unguarded. Heart in his throat, Steve does his best to ignore him.
“I'll convince you eventually,” he vows.
“Good luck with that.”
There's nothing quite like the fear one feels when they receive a Howler.
Especially if it's sitting in the Great Hall, with hundreds of students around, all waiting to hear what it'll say. Steve is surprised to say the least, if his mother is annoyed it him, she can usually convey it fairly well through writing, and she knows how much he hates attention, so probably wouldn't send him a Howler. He briefly considers making a run for it, wondering if he'd get away in time, but considering how shitty Steve is at running, it's probably not likely. Half of the Gryffindors, who are the only ones who've noticed so far, are either giving him sympathetic looks or grinning in excitement, and Steve can't take it any longer. He tears open the envelope and drops it, waiting for the inevitable.
The Howler begins, and Steve almost cries when he recognises the voice. He groans in embarrassment, and tries to block out as much as he can.
“-THINK YOU SHOULD LET ME TAKE YOU OUT-”
Laughter is beginning to erupt all throughout the hall, and Steve covers his face with his hands.
“-BEST DATE YOU'VE EVER BEEN ON-”
Honestly, somebody needs to Kedavra him, immediately.
“-KNOW YOU WANT TO-”
Who knew having Bucky Barnes pursue you relentlessly would be so mortifying?
“-SEE YOU ON SATURDAY.”
On that note, the envelope abruptly bursts into flames, burning so that all is left is ashes, just like a Phoenix. Steve finally raises his head to see most people in hysterics, Professor Fury giving Bucky a disapproving glare, and the other teachers trying not to smile. Bucky seems unperturbed by all of this, staring at Steve, looking proud of himself, just like he always does. He quirks an eyebrow, as if waiting for an answer, and Steve knows exactly how to respond.
“No,” he says.
He only went to the cupboard for a minute.
That's the only space of time that Bucky could've added something to his potion, or charmed it in any way, seeing as Steve didn't leave it unattended at any other time. As soon as he puts in the Shrivelfig, his whole potion explodes confetti, the liquid overflowing from his cauldron and pouring into the floor. The flow has knocked over his bottle of ink, that has spilled over onto parchment, and conveniently, enough has dribbled out to spell the words 'date me'. Everyone is helplessly giggling at him, and Steve can't stop himself from feeling a flood of embarrassment. It's a stupid prank, that probably required very complex magic, and he doesn't know how Bucky did it, but it still happened, and Steve is annoyed.
“April fools!” Bucky says from a few desk over, smirking at him in the stupid way he usually does, and everyone just laughs harder. Steve crumples up the paper and chucks it at him, getting even more angry when Bucky just laughs and bats it away, treating it like a joke.
“Detention, Mr Barnes,” Professor Coulson says, interrupting the class' fun. “You'll be staying behind after class to clean this mess up.”
“Wait what? It was just a joke!” Bucky protests.
“Yes, Mr Barnes, I'm aware of that, and I don't have a problem with jokes. Feel free to joke all you want, especially as it's April fools day. But this was more of a prank, and somebody could've gotten hurt. That person probably would've been Mr Rogers here, and I'm sure we all know how much you don't want that to happen.” Steve swears he sees Bucky flush at that, but he's too busy shaking confetti out of his hair to be sure, so he dismisses it as wishful thinking.
“Sorry sir,” Bucky mutters, shuffling guiltily.
“I'm not the one you need to apologise to,” Coulson states, stern. “Get back to your cauldrons everyone, don't get distracted. Steve, you can join in with Sharon,” he says, and Steve nods at him in thanks.
“You're in luck, Steve, because I'm almost finished. I just need... Lacewing Flies,” Sharon says, checking the ingredients. “I forgot to get them at first.”
“I'll get them now,” Steve offers, walking to the cupboard again, but with the knowledge that this time, his potion won't be sabotaged. The jar of Lacewing Flies are on the top shelf, and he stretches up to reach them, and as a result, is too distracted to hear someone enter the cupboard behind him, and jumps when a large hand steadies his waist.
“Here, let me get that for you,” Bucky offers, leaning over Steve and grabbing the jar. He snatches away his hand as soon as possible, like he's been burnt. He doesn't meet Steve's eyes, just keeps his gaze fixed on the ground as he bites at his lip.
“Thanks,” Steve mumbles, taking it from Bucky's hands and pretending he doesn't feel the way Bucky tears his hand back again when their skin brushes. He supposes Bucky really is that repulsed by him. What a wonderful feeling.
“I'm sorry. I didn't want you to get hurt,” Bucky blurts out after a few seconds of strained silence, still staring at his feet.
“I didn't get hurt, so you don't have to-”
“But you could've. You could've gotten hurt. I wasn't thinking, I'm sorry.”
Merlin, he sounds crushed. Steve sighs, pity encompassing him as he watches Bucky's stricken face. “It's okay,” he relents, and Bucky's head shoots up, meeting his eyes. A small smile begins to spread across his face and he leans towards Steve, gaze hovering on his lips. Steve can see where this is going, and scoffs, holding up a hand. “But the answer is still no. I won't date you.” Bucky steps back, disappointed but still not deterred.
“You will. Maybe not now, but you will,” he declares confidently. “I'll make sure of it.”
“Whatever you say.”
“Um, hey Steve,” Sam says, hesitantly approaching him when he's stretched out on the sofa in front of the common room fireplace. Steve looks up from his parchment, pausing his essay to glance at Sam, who seems beyond awkward as he perches on the sofa beside him, nervously rubbing at the back of his neck. “Can I talk to you about something?”
“You can talk to me about anything, Sam. You know that.”
“It's about Bucky.”
“Oh,” Steve responds, sitting up straight, his curiosity piqued. Sam barely ever talks about Bucky, despite them both being on the Qudditch team together. He mentions him in passing of course, which would probably be unavoidable, but there's something about the complete seriousness Sam is exuding that is completely out of character. It's starting to make Steve worry. “What about him?”
“Well, um. On my way to Herbology, I bumped into him, and all our stuff went on the floor.” Ugh. Steve still can't believe Sam took Herbology for NEWTs. “And he kinda... Forgot to pick this up.”
Sam pulls out a crumpled piece parchment from his robes, with writing on it that just looks like notes for Defence Against the Dark Arts, and hands it to Steve, sheepish expression on his face. “What is this supposed to be?” Steve asks, smoothing it out and frowning at the messy scrawl that he's pretty sure describes the benefits of using nonverbal spells. Is Sam trying to help him with his homework?
“Turn it over,” Sam prompts.
So he does, and his heart practically leaps out of his chest. The back is filled with is incomplete doodles of a boy. Not just any boy- Steve. Scattered across the parchment is hastily scribbled drawings of him, unclear enough that he can't make out the features. That could be anyone, right? It can't be Steve. He zeroes in on an incredibly detailed picture of a snitch, that is mostly taken up by the embellished letters 'S.R.'.
“I kinda got the impression that he actually likes you,” Sam says, and all Steve's brain can scream is no, no, no. He can't. “Seeing as he spent the majority of class drawing you and writing your initials.”
“Are you sure that's me?” Steve wonders, searching for an excuse- reaching, really. But he'll say anything at this point. As long as he can find a way to explain this, without resorting to the dreaded answer that Bucky might actually like him.
“Yeah, Steve, I'm pretty sure that's you.”
“I... They might not be my initials. I'm sure there are loads of people with those initials.”
“Yeah? Like who?” Sam questions, and Steve stares at the parchment, racking his brain for anyone, anything. He comes up empty, and doesn't meet Sam's eyes, still refusing to accept what Sam is implying. “Considering that he's been asking you out every day for almost three years, I think it's probably you.” Sam raises an eyebrow, unimpressed, but Steve doesn't budge, just reaches for another conclusion.
“Maybe he dropped it on purpose,” Steve suggests, mind finally producing something. Of course. Bucky's been doing this for years. There's almost nothing he wouldn't do, now. Just to add Steve to a list, or something. It's disgusting, sure, but it's Bucky. And Steve knows what he's like. “Just another part in his plan to get me to go out with him.”
“Even for Barnes, that's a bit far-fetched. You really think he'd do something that embarrassing?” Sam asks.
“But that would mean...”
“That he's completely gone on you?” The words nearly make Steve flinch. Merlin, it can't be true. It's Bucky. Bucky who has mocked him and laughed at him and treated him like a chase for almost three years. But… it's also Bucky. Bucky who he has wanted and loved and dreamt about for such a long time. Could he really feel the same? “That he deals with rejection from you every single day? Yeah.”
“Oh,” Steve says, a dizzying feeling consuming him. He wonders if this is all an elaborate dream or fantasy he's made up. It doesn't feel real. “You... You really think-”
“Yeah, I do. We were wrong,” Sam admits. “He has feelings for you, Steve.”
“Oh. I... Wow,” he breathes, slumping backwards onto the comfy couch. He feels like he's been Stupefied, and can barely focus on anything. The chatter of students around him and the crackling of the fire is just background noise, and the feel of the soft velvet of the couch against his palms hardly registers with him as his mind races at discovering all of this new information.
“I just thought you deserved to know.”
He can't help the small part of him, the part that fuels his insecurity, propose the idea that it's a joke. It has to be a joke, because why would Bucky ever want him at all, let alone enough to actually doodle his initials? “You should take this back,” Steve says, waving the parchment. “Give it back to him.” He sounds ridiculous, he's aware, but this has been such a sensitive subject with him for so damn long that he just can't risk it.
“Why? Don't you wanna tell him that you know?”
“No. I mean yes- I don't know. I just need to know, I want to see. I have to check something,” he babbles, knowing he doesn't make any sense, but shoving the parchment back into Sam's arms nonetheless. “Don't tell him I saw it.”
“Okay?” Sam agrees uncertainly, peering at Steve bizarrely, and taking the parchment back. He has to be sure. So when they all go up to bed, Steve pays attention. He notices Bucky's constant glances at him, the way his breath catches when Steve meets his eye, sees just how far Bucky comes into his personal space when he brushes past to get to his bed. It makes him feel warm inside
“Hey, uh, Bucky? You dropped this earlier,” Sam says, bringing the folded parchment out from his pocket and passing it to him, as the others sit on their beds, doing their own thing. Steve pretends to read, watching surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye as Bucky's face shifts in recognition, and his eyes widen and flick to Steve.
“Did you, uh. Look?” He mutters.
“Yep,” Sam answers, smirking at him smugly.
“Did you show him?” He hisses, clutching Sam's arm in panic, and Steve has to strain to hear him.
“No. Calm down, Barnes. Steve doesn't know how bad your crush on him actually is,” Sam lies, and Bucky flushes red, huffing and throwing Steve another fearful glance. He has to hide the curve his mouth makes, dropping his head and attempting to block Bucky's view of his smile, making it harder to see Bucky in the first place. He feels the weight of his gaze move back to Sam, however, and lifts his eyes to watch again.
“I'm pretty sure he knows that already. It's just...” Bucky mumbles, his grip loosening.
“You want to seem cool and collected around him? Yeah, I get it.” Bucky glowers at Sam, dragging him further out of Steve's hearing range to have an even quieter conversation with him, but it doesn't matter. Steve's heard enough to know.
Bucky likes him.
He spends the entire next day filled with excitement at the prospect of Bucky asking him out, practically buzzing in anticipation. Having utter control of their situation, even though Bucky doesn't know it, is a heady, powerful feeling that he can't stop himself from revelling in. When Bucky walks into the Great Hall, Steve stares at him as he scans up and down the Gryffindor table, until he spots Steve and smirks, strolling over to where he's sitting, standing the opposite side of the table. Steve's heart stutters so hard it threatens to beat right out of his chest.
“Bucky.” This time, he doesn't miss the way Bucky smiles at the use of his name. “What can I do for you?”
“Go on a date with me.” Oh Merlin, Steve has been so blind. He doesn't know how he didn't see the way that Bucky's looking at him before, a mixture of hopeful yearning and longing, the way he's already tensed up, expecting rejection. Steve pushes past the pity and guilt, braving himself for words he's been avoiding saying to Bucky for so long now.
“Okay,” Steve says. Bucky blinks, stunned, shifting his stance as he tries to figure out Steve's sudden change of heart. Evidently, he doesn't come up with anything, if the bewildered expression on his face is anything to go by. He frowns, and shakes his head.
“Are you deaf? I said okay.”
“Okay?” Bucky repeats dubiously, scrutinising Steve like he's been Imperiused or something. But Steve sticks to his plan of action, ignoring Bucky's mistrust. It's understandable, after all, Steve can't exactly blame him. This has come rather unexpectedly, after years of rejection.
“Meaning yes, I'll go on a date with you.”
“I...” He narrows his eyes, considering Steve. “Really?” He says on an exhale, making his voice sound high and shaky; panicked.
“Yep. Maybe not just the one, though. Two or three? Four, just to make sure. After that, we'll see,” Steve teases.
“Are... Are you making fun of me?” Bucky asks, suddenly looking dangerously close to tears, and Steve sighs, feeling an even stronger rush of yet more pity. Merlin, he can't imagine why Bucky would think this insistent flirting would be the solution to wanting Steve, but he supposes that's the logic of some teenage boys. It's been utterly ridiculous, but slightly endearing, now he views it from the perspective of somebody who isn't being mocked.
“No. I actually want to go out with you, believe it or not.”
“Oh.” He pauses. “Really?”
“...Are you sure?”
“Fuck it,” Steve says, dropping his fork, standing up, instantaneously not caring that they're in the Great Hall, able to be seen by everyone, and braces a hand on one of Bucky's forearms, the other in his hair, dragging him over the table for a kiss.
As soon as their lips touch, he feels a full-body shudder go through Bucky, feels him make a desperate gasp as he returns the kiss with a fervent ferocity, panting in shock as he grasps at the lapels of Steve's robes with one hand. Bucky clasps at Steve's sleeve with the other, holding onto him for dear life wherever he can, going along for the ride as Steve kisses him harder. Something explodes inside of him, something like fireworks, and his mouth curves as they kiss, joy unfurling inside of him as he finally gets what he's wanted all this time. About time. He hears a loud clatter, but ignores it, opting to keep kissing Bucky, who is now weakly trembling, his arm shaking with tremors under the light press of Steve's palm.
He finally pulls away, slowly, unwillingly, and Bucky sucks in another sharp breath when Steve's teeth graze his lip. Angling his head back, Steve gazes at Bucky as his eyes flutter open and he releases a puff of air, heaving for breath. And oh, Bucky looks wrecked. His pupils are blown wide, his cheeks are flushed, and he's staring at Steve in dazed adoration. “Wow, um, wow. I...” Bucky rambles, still clinging onto Steve's arm. “Wow.” There's a lot of noise in the hall at the moment, some of it about them, some of it not, but it means that neither of them can be blamed for not noticing Sharon calling their names until she tugs on Bucky's robes.
“Bucky, you might wanna, um...” Sharon trails off, gesturing down. “I think you should wash your hand.” Steve glances down to see that the loud clatter he'd heard was the sound of Bucky knocking the gravy jug over, while scrabbling for purchase with his other hand. The gravy has poured out onto the table, pooling into a large puddle that Bucky has put his hand directly in the centre of. Bucky goes pink, and lifts his hand up, allowing some gravy to dribble off.
“She's probably right,” Steve says, grinning at him. “It's kinda gross.”
“It's also your fault,” Bucky remarks.
“How is it my fault?”
“You caught me off guard. I was surprised.”
“That didn't mean you had to spill the gravy!”
Bucky snorts, beaming at him with so much affection that Steve feels self-conscious. “You're still gonna let me take you out on that date, right?” He checks, causing a fresh spell of love to bloom in Steve's heart, this time actually managing to notice Bucky's worried swallow and nervous shifting.
“You don't need to keep asking, I'm not gonna change my mind,” he confirms, rolling his eyes in mock irritation. “Now go and wash your hand.” Bucky reluctantly nods, and goes to leave, glancing back at Steve a few times before he finally exits the Great Hall, and Steve stares after him, smiling in satisfaction and contentment, before he sits back down.
“That was officially the cutest thing I've ever seen,” Sharon declares.
“I thought I was the cutest thing you've ever seen?” Sam says, scandalised.
“Of course not,” Sharon scoffs, giving him a shove.
They carry on talking like this for the next few minutes while Steve finishes his dinner, still reeling from the kiss, only managing to chew due to muscle memory. He's jolted out of his reverie by Bucky returning, however.