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Easy Work For Easy Pay

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Bucky squints at Fury, sitting coolly behind his desk in front of the large plate glass windows looking over the city.

“You want me to babysit.”

It’s a token argument and they both know it, but Fury does him the kindness of not bringing it up. He sighs, like he was expecting this but is still disappointed. “Integrating Captain Rogers into the 21st century is imperative if he’s going to be leading my team on missions. And the sooner he’s cleared for duty the better.”

“And since I have nothing better to do you thought I’d be a good babysitter?”

Of course Bucky’s going to do it. Get to work with Captain fucking America? The man is an honest to god war hero and a living legend. Becca’s going to shit her pants when he tells her.

And truthfully he doesn’t actually have anything better to do. He’s barely clinging onto the lower rungs of the S.H.I.E.L.D. ladder, filing paperwork for other field agents in his own personal level of hell. Being entrusted with arguably the most important asset in S.H.I.E.L.D. history is a huge promotion. Especially given his shaky psych evals.

The explosion had him out of commission for two months in the hospital, in a drug-induced coma for almost half that. Sixty days in a hospital bed, staring at the plaster ceiling when daytime soap operas became too much to bear, reliving all the things he could have done differently.

The next two months at home were hardly any better, recovering as best as a body can on four hours of nightmare-addled sleep each night and being fitted for the most high-tech prosthesis Stark Industries had to offer. Learning to use the contraption took another two months, before he was even able to feed himself with it, let alone go back to work. Spending so much time with Tony Stark is enough to make anyone a little crazy, except zen master Pepper Potts.

He’s a highly trained covert operative, and he’s been sitting in a fucking swivel chair filling out reports at a desk for four months now. He hates fluorescent lights. Cubicles. He wants to be useful again.

But he’s also terrified of that responsibility. The last time he was entrusted to a team, two of them ended up dead, and the other left fieldwork permanently.

“You’re a valuable member of the team, Barnes,” Fury says, looking like his patience is running thin. “Plus you have the right security clearance.” Bucky slouches a little more in his chair.

“I just want you to admit I’m babysitting.”

“Will you do it or not? You know Romanov would jump at the chance.”

Bucky makes a face. He’s not going to leave poor baby-face Rogers to Natasha. She’d eat him for breakfast.

“When do I start?”

Fury had helpfully provided him with a prospectus for Captain Rogers’ intro to the future and to S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s remarkably detailed, almost down to the hour for the first month. It includes basics like U.S. and world populations, historical social events such as the Civil Rights movement and current international conflicts.

Captain Rogers has had access to the S.H.I.E.L.D. library and the Internet since waking up, but has hardly touched his laptop. According to his activity, the Captain was connected to the Internet for all of 20 minutes, long enough to do a Google search and read a couple articles about Agent Margaret Carter. He hasn’t so much as opened his laptop since.

Bucky knows about Steve Rogers. At least, as much as everyone else who took a history class in high school. Of course, he looked at the black and white picture in the textbook with interest, everyone did. But it didn’t go further than that, for him. Some of his classmates mooned about it, photocopied the book and taped the picture up in their lockers. Some of that infatuation had been renewed amongst the hipsters after the Captain had been found alive, with T-shirts and hats depicting the iconic red, white and blue shield.

Bucky read about them finding him in the ice online, along with the rest of the world. Natasha wouldn’t tell him anything, and he didn’t bother to ask Fury. But now, he has the entire file.

He reads it twice before he finds a half-chewed up black pen in his kitchen drawer and starts making changes to the prospectus.

They’d set Steve up with an apartment on the top floor of the building. Told him it was for his safety, but Bucky’s sure the Captain knows he’s being held captive. Bucky has a duffle bag of tech to brief him on, but when Captain Rogers opens the door, Bucky’s game plan changes.

For starters, he’s far more attractive in person than in the shitty old propaganda films he binge watched the night before. It’s almost funny how good-looking he is. Like a marble statue come to life.

Secondly, he looks miserable. He smiles because he’s polite, but his eyes are the saddest thing Bucky’s ever seen.

“Captain Rogers, I’m Sergeant James Barnes, Directory Fury sent me to—”

“Babysit me?” Steve says as he steps aside to let Bucky in. The apartment is immaculate, like it hasn’t even been lived in for the two months since he’s been out of the ice.

Bucky chuckles. “To help you integrate into this crazy century.” He sets the duffle on the coffee table and turns back. The dry look Steve shoots him takes Bucky by surprise. His laugh is real this time.

“Yeah, ok. I’m your babysitter. Fury wanted me to brief you on some tech, but why don’t we take a walk instead? You look like you could use some fresh air.”

Steve is squinting at him like Bucky’s going to pull the candy away before Steve can snatch it. “Am I allowed to do that?”

“Sure, as long as you don’t try giving me the slip.”

The mixture of hope, fear and longing that passes over his face makes a strange surge of anger flare in Bucky's chest.

"But first," Bucky says, "I need to see your laptop."

It's sitting on the entertainment center, gathering dust along with the remote control. Bucky logs on, disables the tracking app and replaces it. "Alright, let's go."

They walk down to the park and Bucky keeps up a steady stream of chatter, since Steve is surveying the city with contempt, like something once beloved that has been bastardized beyond recognition. Bucky talks about the new buildings that he knows about, the gentrification of the neighborhoods and the new restaurant styles. They get coffee and sit on a bench at the entrance to the park when Steve finally speaks up. He looks tired.

“Did you grow up here?”

That’s all the cue Bucky needs. He feels like an ass all of a sudden. Of course Steve wouldn’t want to hear about all the changes made to his city; everyone has probably been telling him all about it.

So Bucky tells him about growing up in Brooklyn, his family, enlisting, and even a little bit about the accident that took his arm, which surprises him. He only ever talks about it with his therapist, and even then it’s by force, but Steve has perked up and Bucky doesn’t want that to stop. He seems interested and he even chuckles once or twice at some of Bucky’s stories.

Steve looks down at the arm like he’s seeing it for the first time, which Bucky knows can’t be true. The exposed hand gleams like a fucking beacon in the midday sun.

“Stark Tech,” Bucky says. “Tony tried painting it red and gold but I told him I’d break his dick.”

Steve laughs, big and warm. Bucky wants to wrap himself in the sound.

“Yeah," Steve says, casting his eye over the skyline again, "his dad was like that too.”

“You took him to Central—?”

“Yeah I—“

“Do you have any idea the security—“

Yeah I—“

“He’s a flight risk and a—“

“No, he’s depressed. You want me to integrate him, let me fucking integrate him.”

“You got in trouble didn’t you?” Steve says from the kitchen table, where he’s reading a newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee. Bucky had knocked and let himself in at Steve’s behest.

“Eh.” Bucky sets down the duffle on the countertop again. Maybe this time they’ll open it. Maybe not.

“Coffee?” Steve points with his cup over to the coffee maker and Bucky pours himself some then settles across the small table from Steve. “So what’s on the agenda today?”

“I’m not sure what would piss Fury off more, taking the subway or going to Starbucks,” Bucky muses.

“Why would you want to piss him off? He’s your boss.”

“Yeah, he’s also micro managing the shit out of me.”

Steve tries hiding his smile behind his coffee cup, “Let’s take the subway.”

He’s started being invited to Fury’s general strategy meetings again. If he’s got the clearance to babysit their most valuable asset, he’s apparently big enough for these too. Even though he sits in the corner and has nothing to offer, at least he’s being kept in the loop. Today, though, he’s only half listening.

He has the Project Rebirth file on his lap. He’s read it six times already, but he’s reading it again. Everything they know about Steve Rogers fits in a manila folder. His birth certificate, health records and mission history. There’s not much from before he joined the Army, though. He’s mentioned in his mother’s death announcement. His name is on a census with two male roommates in 1931.

He glances up and sees the sides of everyone’s faces, still paying attention to Fury at the front of the table, except Natasha, who’s staring straight at him. She’s trying to tell him something with her eyes, but he scrunches up his nose. Then she tilts her eyebrow one way and her lips the other and he gets it.

They have a silent conversation made up of Bucky squinting at her staunchly while she tries varying degrees of eye-widening and tilting her mouth this way and that.

He slips out of the room when the meeting is adjourned, making a beeline for the elevator. He punches the button and feels her come up on his right.

“So,” she says. “You got Rogers, huh?”

"Fury tasked me with getting Captain Rogers up to date on current national, international and S.H.I.E.L.D. policies," he says primly.

“You need any advice on a curriculum,” she says, letting the offer finish itself.

Bucky knows what curriculum she’d offer. Heavy hand to hand and ballistics combat training. Finish sculpting the perfect weapon. Bucky has known the Captain for five days, and he knows that would end in nothing but disaster.

Steve adapts to the rush of the city like a fish to water. Turning his shoulders to slip between crowds of people, avoiding eye contact like the veteran New Yorker he is. He attracts some attention, but not because he’s Captain America. S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t able to keep the story of his thawing under wraps, but the minor media shitstorm has died down a little, and there’s not many avid fans around anymore to recognize him in passing on the street.

That doesn’t mean people don’t notice the sheer mass of him; thick arms, broad chest, not to mention the unfairly square jaw and full lips. His blue eyes are hidden behind aviators, thank god, or Steve’d be beating the mob off with a stick.

Bucky takes him across the river and does several line changes, with no real destination in mind. Steve studies the map on the wall in the tunnel and follows Bucky around, a step behind and to his left. In the subway car, Bucky’s holding the rail with his right hand, his left tucked into his pocket and Steve is standing next to him. It’s lunchtime, and to avoid jostling the elderly Chinese woman next to him, Steve has tucked up into his side, their hips bumping as the car shakes along the tracks.

Across from them, two men are sitting angled together, hands held between them, trading light kisses and speaking quietly. Bucky forgets the pang of jealousy in his chest when he notices Steve also staring at them. Bucky catches his eye.

Steve shrugs. “Woulda got ‘em arrested two months ago.”

Two months ago, Steve was living in 1945, and today almost everyone he’s ever known is dead. Bucky can’t imagine that kind of aloneness.

Bucky leads them impulsively to his neighborhood, to the shitty tamale place he likes for hangovers.

“The owner lives above, and she opens up at 2 a.m. to get the bar crowd," Bucky says, leading Steve in.

There are about seven mismatched chairs around four tables and all of them are full. Metal pans are banging, grease sizzles and orders are shouted back and forth. Steve squeezes in close again, trying to take up as little space as possible in the cramped room. Bucky could shift his weight onto his heels and be pressed against him. He wonders how Steve’s chest would feel against his back.

He dismisses the errant thought as a human’s natural response to Steve Rogers. There’s nothing inappropriate about their relationship, there never will be. They work together, end of story. If Bucky finds Steve unfairly attractive, well, it’s simply a product of having eyes and a brain. It’s not like he’d ever do anything about it. Fury would have his head, then Hill would kick it around like a soccer ball.

When it’s their turn at the kitchen window, Bucky orders for them both in Spanish. Mrs. Montenegro scowls at him like she does everyone else, but gives them extra salsa. Bucky side-eyes her, but the woman's a vault.

They take their food down the street and sit at a relatively quiet bench to eat. Tamales are a pretty good eat-on-the-go food, but Bucky likes to dip his in salsa, and winds up with tomato juice dripping down his wrist and into his sleeve.

Steve, mouth full of corn and chicken, points and laughs as Bucky tries to mop it up with two flimsy napkins.

The next day they finally open the duffle.

The blinds across from the kitchen are open, letting in the morning sun, and Steve is sitting at the kitchen table as Bucky pulls out tech: headsets, locators, detonators, tablets, phones; everything Steve could feasibly need on a mission.

The prospectus had said to “reveal and brief on tech one at a time” so as not to overwhelm the Captain, but the prospectus is buried under a pile of mail at Bucky's apartment, so he lays everything out in front of Steve at once.

Steve picks up the GPS and looks at it dubiously. He presses the button and jerks when it beeps. Bucky pretends to be busy fiddling with a tracker as he watches Steve press all the buttons and tap the screen, to see what it'll do.

“Oh,” Steve says quietly, when he’s figured it out. He looks up at Bucky, eyes sparkling, with a grin that makes Bucky’s heart do a triple step.

For the first time, Bucky thinks he might actually be in trouble.

Chapter Text

They’d told him Steve was pretty good at tactical planning, but Bucky hadn’t realized that also applied to social situations. He’s so quiet and unassuming most times, endearingly awkward, that Bucky didn’t recognize what was happening until he was well into the interrogation. He starts to understand that the ‘aw shucks’ persona is— at least in part— a cover. Bucky wonders if it was a conscious effort on Steve’s part, or if someone just assumed he’d be an innocent choir boy and Steve ran with it.

Steve asks innocuous questions that lead naturally to more questions. They somehow get talking about Bucky’s mom, which paves the way for the question that makes Bucky stop and think back on their conversation.

“So you won’t be bringing a girl home for Christmas?” Steve had joked.

Bucky blows out a breath. “Or a guy, either. She’s like a wolverine. You know, that cartoon one from Looney Tunes. Put that on your list.”

Steve is looking at him, considering. “You’re…” he looks to the side, searching for the right word.

“Bi,” Bucky supplies. “Is that a problem?” he asks, because there’s something sharp in Steve’s expression, but it flickers out quickly. He’d sure hate to be the one to find out Captain America is a bigot.

But no, of course not. Steve looks a little offended by the question and Bucky doesn't bother trying to smother his grin.

Bucky’s seen Steve’s sketches from the ‘40s. There were several in his file; a monkey on a unicycle, the city skyline, an old woman’s face. He’s seen the leather bound sketchbook on his coffee table, and the charcoal pencils littered around it. So he buys a Wacom tablet with his S.H.I.E.L.D. issued credit card and is nearly skipping through the lobby to go give it to Steve when he's waylaid by Darcy, strolling past with a Starbucks cup.

"You're looking chipper."

"Ugh," he says, and makes an effort to look less excited.

"Whatcha got there?"

"Tech for Captain Rogers."

She scoffs. "What tech did you get at Best Buy that you couldn't get here?" She makes grabby hands at the bag, so he fishes out the tablet and holds it up for her to see.

"Ooooh, I love these! Does he need a tutorial? I can come give him a tutorial. Come on, I'll come with you."

He’s sure Steve will have it figured out in five minutes, but she's so enthusiastic he doesn't know how to say no without sounding like a dick.

Steve calls out to 'come in' when Bucky knocks. He's got his back to the door, one arm braced on the kitchen table as he leans over his phone, swiping and tapping before music starts to play. His T-shirt stretches across his back and he must plan on going to the gym later, because he's wearing grey sweatpants. Bucky glances over at Darcy and her slack-jawed expression. Yeah, honey, I know, he thinks. He elbows her in the arm and her mouth snaps shut with a clack.

"Brought you something," Bucky says, forcibly pushing Darcy out of the way so he can close the door behind her. Steve turns and sees Bucky's not alone.

"Oh, hello," he says, smiling.

"Steve, this is Darcy Lewis, she works downstairs doing...something, I don't actually know. Darcy, this is Captain Rogers."

They shake hands and Bucky hands Steve the plastic shopping bag. 

"Darcy volunteered to show you how to use this."

Steve’s eyes are bright with surprise when he pulls the tablet out of the bag. It’s the first thing Bucky’s given him that isn’t for a purpose on missions; something just for him, because Bucky thinks he’ll like it. 

“It’s for drawing. I know you like pencil and charcoal, but this is,” Bucky shrugs at the thing instead of finishing his sentence.

Darcy pulls it out of the box and turns it on, but after two minutes it’s clear she knows even less about it than Bucky does.

“What?” she says to his admonishing look, completely unrepentant. “Come on, can you blame me?”

He can’t really. When he sends her away, Steve is blushing at the tablet, a pretty pink that goes all the way up to the tips of his ears.

Bucky has thrown away the prospectus. Steve is demonstrating understanding of all required tech, and is getting used to S.H.I.E.L.D. procedures. They start ballistics tomorrow. But right now they’re sitting at a café near the S.H.I.E.L.D. building, because Fury has finally given up trying to keep them locked down.

Bucky’s drowning in paperwork. Fury didn’t lighten his load much, so he’s basically working two jobs, still trying to file reports and reports on the reports. But Steve is messing around on his laptop anyway.

“Do you mind if I catch up on this?” Bucky asks, gesturing at the stack of papers.

Steve shrugs, “Go ahead. I’m going to look up what unf means.”

Bucky laughs. “Who said unf to you?”

“Darcy,” Steve confesses. Of course she did. “What does it mean?” Steve asks.

“Nah, I'll let you figure that out on your own.”

Bucky’s finished half a report when Steve chokes. He’s looking affronted at his laptop screen and glares when Bucky laughs again.

An hour later, Bucky rolls his shoulders when he emerges from the paperwork and finds Steve looking at him. No, not just looking, staring with his brows pulled together, his lips slightly parted. Bucky startles. Steve startles at being caught, and blushes Bucky’s favorite shade of pink.

“Hey,” Bucky says.

“Hey.” Steve clears his throat. “Sorry, I was just, um, sketching.”

“You were drawing me?” A happy feeling washes through Bucky and he glances down at the notebook and pencil in Steve’s hands. He has it angled against the edge of the table so Bucky can’t see it.

Steve looks down, an anxious pull between his brows.

“Don’t show it to me,” Bucky warns, “It’s bad luck to see a drawing before it’s finished.” Which he totally just made up, but Steve doesn’t call him out on it.

“I like the tablet,” Steve says. “I can do color like I never would otherwise, but pencil just feels more…familiar, I guess. But look at this,” Steve pulls the tablet out of his messenger bag and taps it a few times before turning it around and handing it across the table to Bucky. A gorgeous color drawing of Darcy looks out from the screen at him. The likeness is astonishing. Bucky can practically hear her dry sarcasm.

“Wow, that’s…absolutely stunning.”

“Think she’d like a copy?”

Bucky scoffs. “God yes. Just, gird your loins.” Steve makes a face at him.

The waitress brings their check and lingers. When she leaves, Steve says, “Don’t let an old fogey cramp your style. You should talk to her.”

“Huh?” Bucky says, scrawling his signature on the slip.

“She keeps looking at you.” Steve glances up over Bucky’s shoulder, then back at him. Bucky shakes his head.

“Nah, she was looking at the arm.”

Steve cants his head. “You think?”

“Yeah, come on. I’m a quarter robot over here," he says, waving his hand at his arm, under his short sleeved T-shirt.

“Eh,” Steve says, eyes raking over Bucky’s chest and arms. “More like 1/8.”

Bucky guffaws and Steve’s eyes do that sparkling thing again. For one insane moment, Bucky entertains the absurd notion that it has something to do with him.

Steve is grateful for Bucky. Really, he is. He’s patient when Steve’s slow on the uptake, unflaggingly kind and never judgmental.

But he’s also ridiculously handsome.

It helped for about the first two minutes; made Steve actually want to listen to him instead of tune him out like all the agents and therapists they’d shoved at him for two months. Now it’s just distracting.

The moment Bucky started talking it was clear he didn’t even need to be unfairly attractive for Steve to take to him. He’s insightful, funny, charming and completely humble about all of it.

Falling for the first person to show him any true warmth in this century is so cliché and pathetic he almost resists on principle alone. He has to remind himself Bucky’s literally being paid to interact with him.

He’s not Bucky’s friend, he’s his assignment.

Chapter Text

Steve isn’t in his apartment when Bucky knocks. He pulls out his phone to text him instead of calling, because Steve’s texts are always pretty funny (capitals and punctuation, like he has respect for the English language or something) but the elevator pings in the next moment. Steve steps off, eyes trained to his feet, fiddling with his keys in his hands. When he catches sight of Bucky standing at his door with a paper bag of groceries, something strange and complicated flashes over his face before he smoothes it out with a smile.

Steve pokes around in the grocery bag while Bucky rifles through his cupboards for the pot he needs to get started on a pork stew with potatoes and onions. He’s normally not much of a cooker, but Google told him this is a dish that was commonly made during the Great Depression.

“Director Fury must be fast-tracking my clearance exam,” Steve says, sitting at the kitchen counter, watching Bucky chop onions and carrots. At Bucky’s confused look, he says, “It’s Saturday.”

“Oh.” Bucky hadn’t even realized. He opens his mouth to offer to get out of his hair on his weekend, but Steve is smiling softly as he comes around the counter, moving behind Bucky to swipe the onion trimmings into his hand and dump them in the garbage.

It’s a humid, rainy day so they talk about political history while they get the stew on, which somehow morphs into a discussion of American social movements. Unsurprisingly, Steve has strong opinions about lots of these issues. Bucky pushes the agenda from the long-forgotten prospectus, because if he doesn’t, he'll be way too transparent. It is, after all, technically both of their days off and Bucky had cooked them lunch.

Bucky has shown Steve how to play radio stations on his phone, and the apartment is always filled with soft sounds from the Bluetooth speaker. Bucky's not sure why he's surprised that he hasn’t been playing big band jams, but tends to favor old jazz from the ‘20s and ‘30s: Bessie Smith, the ODJB, Billie Holiday and Jelly Roll Morton.

“Put some music on,” Steve says as he's washing the knife and cutting board and Bucky's measuring out spices, “my phone’s in the bedroom.”

"Why, you wanna dance?" Bucky teases as he goes to the entryway to find his phone.

"You couldn't handle my dance moves," Steve says, because he confessed long ago that, contrary to popular belief, not everyone who lived in the '40s knew how to Lindy Hop.

Steve isn’t tied to his screen the way Bucky’s generation is. He forgets to bring his phone with him almost constantly, and when he takes it out of his pocket at the door, he leaves it on the counter instead of taking it all over the apartment with him like Bucky usually does. Bucky’s tried adopting this strategy, to see how it feels. It made his palm sweat at first, to not be connected, to not be able to tap the screen and see where his sister is, but that gave way soon enough to boredom— but in the good way. Without constant entertainment in front of him, his mind is free to wander, to think about things that are more important than what his friends on Facebook are up to, or what upsetting bullshit is happening in the political arena.

Bucky unlocks his phone and hands it to Steve to choose the station. After a few seconds, the familiar sounds of Louis Armstrong fill the room.

“Do you listen to this station when you’re not here?” Steve asks with a suspicious smile, turning the screen off and setting it next to the speaker.

Bucky scoffs. “What? No,” he says, because his station history makes it clear that he does. The jazzy trumpets are just so catchy. “I don’t like your old-person music.”

“Uh-huh. Yeah okay,” Steve nods. “Sure.”

A warm feeling blooms in his chest and down his legs when Steve breaks and grins at him. Bucky decides to ignore that, and the buzzing at the back of his mind that sounds suspiciously like an air raid siren.

When he reaches forward to ladle the stew into two bowls, he realizes Steve is looking at him.

“What’s that?” Steve asks, pointing at Bucky’s flesh arm. He looks down at the little bit of his tattoo showing under his short sleeve. Bucky pulls up the fabric to show the rest of it.

“My unit,” he says. The numbers are blocked in thick hollow typography. “I had it on this one,” Bucky gestures to the metal arm, “then I had to get the fucking thing redone.”

Steve leans in closer to look, his breath puffing over Bucky’s skin, and brushes one fingertip across the ink. Bucky's whole body tenses up as a plethora of images involving a lot of skin flash in front of his eyes.

“Hm,” Steve says, then takes the two bowls out of Bucky’s hands and brings them over to the table, while Bucky has a minor heart attack over the stove.

“This is good,” Steve says, pointing his spoon down at his bowl. “Reminds me of my ma. She used to make something like this.”

“Except better, probably.”

Steve shakes his head with a soft laugh. “Not really. We were lucky if we could get our hands on two onions at a time. But my mom, she always managed to find something. It was tough, with me being sick. She always worked way too much, ate way too little so that I could have more. She was the strongest person I ever knew.” Steve smiles, nostalgic and forlorn at the same time, but just on the right side of it. “She woulda liked you.”

Bucky can’t think of a single thing to say to that. It’s the highest compliment he’s ever been paid.

The stew makes Steve reminiscent. They talk about the Depression, about the friends Steve had growing up, which were not many. Mostly he had acquaintances and roommates. Sticking his head into fights it didn't belong in and getting the snot kicked out of him didn’t endear him to folks, for reasons Bucky can't pretend to understand.

When Bucky leaves a few hours later, he pauses at the door of the building to zip up his jacket and turn up his collar. The rain has started coming down in earnest, and the walk to the subway station is going to be a wet one. Steve had hemmed and hawed before letting Bucky leave and Bucky'd been a breath away from an excuse to stick around, but then that air raid siren started up again somewhere in the back of his brain. Bucky shoves his hands in his jacket pockets and feels something crunch. He pulls out a piece of textured ivory paper and unfolds it.

It’s a sketch of his face, laughing. The lines are sharp and clear around the edges and the features are shaded in wispy strokes, his longish hair pulled back away from his face. He stands in the lobby and looks at it for a long time, then tucks it inside his jacket to keep it from getting creased or rained on.

“What’s tbh?” Steve is slouched on the couch with his feet on the coffee table. His shirt has rucked up and a little bit of his stomach is showing. It’s driving Bucky to distraction.

“To be honest.”

Steve scrolls in his phone some more. “Ffs?”

“For fuck’s sake. Darcy again? Do I need to be jealous?”

Bucky probably shouldn’t be pleased by the way Steve stammers then, but he really really is.

“We’re not— I don’t— it’s not like that.”

“I know,” Bucky laughs, “We’d all have heard about it in extreme detail by now.”

Steve is quiet that afternoon and it helps Bucky keep on task. It’s becoming increasingly difficult, between field trips to the shooting range and the gym, to separate his job from the feeling of just hanging out with his friend. It doesn’t help that Steve likes to ask leading questions and make facetious comments just to get Bucky off track.

But his silence is uncharacteristic. They’re in the elevator and Bucky’s balancing two hot pizza boxes on his metal hand when he asks, “You okay?”

Steve looks at Bucky with something like panic. “I’m gay.” Then he shoves his face into his hands and huffs a sharp breath. “You’re the first person I’ve ever said that to.”

That was so not what Bucky was expecting it takes him a moment to figure out something appropriate to say.

“Uh, wow. I’m…honored.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Steve says, dropping his hands. He’s blushing, but one corner of his mouth is pulled up.

“I mean it,” Bucky says as they step out onto Steve’s floor. He’s the only one living up here, but there are two other apartments down the hall for character. “I know it must be kind of a big deal for you.” Steve's still looking at him, seems to be waiting for something else, but Bucky’s not sure what. Do they need to talk about it? Was he not supportive enough? His mom had made him talk about it at length when he came out to his family in high school and it was, to date, the most uncomfortable conversation he's ever had.

Bucky pulls two plates down from the cupboard, because Steve doesn't tolerate eating off paper towels. “Pepperoni or Hawaiian?”

Truly, he is honored that Steve trusts him with something so personal. Being the only person to know something so deep about Steve makes the possessive part of him growl happily. But he’s also a little bit devastated. Because falling for a straight guy? Sure, fine. Everybody’s done that at one point. But Steve’s gay and just not into him? It’s a little too much for Bucky’s weak heart to bear.

Chapter Text

Bucky sets himself up at a café across town and texts Steve the address with “Meet me in 15. I’ll order you a Rueben.”

It’s a stupid exercise; Bucky knows Steve’ll make it just fine, but Hill’s been scheduling weekly one-on-one meetings with him to discuss Captain Rogers’ progress. He’s sure the prospectus is going to come up again in a line-by-line fashion, so he’s been paying lip service to it here and there, twisting the bullet points to his liking.

Steve strolls up 14 minutes later, hands in his jacket pockets and aviators hanging on the V of his shirt.

“You made it,” Bucky says when Steve sits across from him on the patio. Steve screws his face up. Oddly, it’s still attractive.

“Was this a test?”


It’s the first time Steve has left the S.H.I.E.L.D. building unaccompanied, and Bucky’s sure that fact didn’t escape his notice. Steve rests his arm along the wrought iron patio railing and grins, something devastating in the quirk of his eyebrows. Bucky can only stare.

“If I’d known, I could’ve shaved two minutes off my time.”

The waitress comes with Bucky’s promised Rueben and a burger for himself. They're just finishing their lunch when they’re interrupted.

“Barnes? Sarge?” Bucky turns to find Big Mike, the demo expert from his team, standing behind him on the sidewalk, disbelief and delight on his weathered face, under the familiar shock of bright red hair. They haven’t seen each other in over a year and Bucky is simultaneously glad to see his face and inwardly panicking. All the good times his unit had together and all the really, really bad ones come rushing back, hitting him like a sledgehammer in the chest.

Steve’s foot touches his under the table, exactly halfway between a kick and a caress.

“Still have that drowned rat on your face, I see,” Bucky says, the teasing words jarred out and rolling off his tongue like muscle memory.

“Still the same ole bastard, I see,” Mike says, reaching forward as Bucky stands for a brief shoulder-clapping hug over the railing.

“Come around, sit,” Bucky offers, a little stilted with panic. When Mike makes his way around into the patio, Bucky gestures to Steve. “Mike, this is Steve.”

He’s not quite sure if he should tack on ‘my co-worker’ or ‘my friend’ so he just leaves it at that.

Mike, in a surprising display of awareness and tact, says, “It’s an honor, sir,” as he shakes Steve’s hand.

Steve smiles, “Please, just call me Steve.”

The waitress brings him a coffee and they spend the next half hour trading stories from service, comparing Steve’s experiences with theirs. It could have been nightmarish, but Bucky thinks it’s actually kind of nice, to share this camaraderie.

“I got married last year,” Mike says. Bucky makes a sound of disbelief. “I know, me too!” Mike agrees.

The mood suddenly shifts, and Mike’s voice softens. “She’d really like to meet you, Sarge. Said she wants to thank you.” Bucky looks down at the table. “Which probably will entail a hot dinner and a lot of hugging, so be warned,” he laughs and Bucky tries to laugh with him, but it falls short.

They exchange numbers and Mike hugs Bucky again before he goes.

“Don’t wait so long next time. It’s nice to see you,” Mike says. “It was good to meet you,” he says to Steve.

“And you,” Steve says, shaking his hand.

Bucky signals for their check, desperately trying to avoid Steve’s eyes while Steve tries to catch his.

“You’re a hero, you know,” Steve says anyway. He sounds pretty confident about that. How does he even know enough to have an opinion one way or the other? Did he look up the details, or is he just so sure about Bucky?

Bucky shakes his head. “It wasn’t like that.”

Yeah, he’d pulled them all out of the vehicle with his one good arm, but Jorge’s injuries were still too extensive to save him, and Maggie was already dead, not that he knew that at the time. What was he going to do, leave them there to burn?

“Then what was it like?” Bucky looks up, because with Steve anywhere within his line of sight, he can’t not look at him.

“It was just…what you do.” Then he huffs, because that makes it sound even more heroic. Steve is giving him a look—admiration and respect and maybe something else.

Bucky feels heat creeping into his face and huffs again, “Will you stop.”

“No,” Steve says, smiling. “I don’t think I will.”

When Bucky catches sight of him, Steve’s already spotted him in the lobby, crowded with the morning commuter crush.

“Morning,” Steve says. Bucky wants to glare, because this is the earliest they’ve met up so far. Bucky doesn’t normally get going until 9 a.m. – a full two hours from now— and even then not until copious amounts of coffee have been had. He gets his best sleep in the early morning, after the nightmares have passed and once the sun lights up the room.

But Steve is smiling, so Bucky finds a matching smile on his lips anyway.

“What’s this mysterious ‘thing’ you had to get me up at the crack of dawn for?”

Steve waits until they’re on the street to say, “It’s a VA meeting. A group thing. I mean, you don’t even have to come in if you don’t want to. I just think it’d—“

“Of course I’ll go.” It’s a good thing, really, that Steve thinks he has to talk Bucky into it. That he doesn’t know simply asking Bucky for something would be enough, no matter what it is.

“I figured it’s not fair for you to shoulder me all by yourself. Plus the therapist here is judgey.” He’s unapologetic about this opinion, and Bucky feels a flash of annoyance, then guilt for cancelling his appointment with Dr. Davis today just to go to a different therapist.

“Well, A: it would take at least six of us to shoulder you, buddy.” Steve chuffs a soft laugh. “And B: Dr. D is sweet, I won’t hear a word against her.”

“No, I got Dr. Wendt,” he curls up his lip as he says it, then smooths out his expression in the way that means he’s trying not to show too much. “I didn’t know you saw a S.H.I.E.L.D. therapist.”

“Eh, I don’t so much see her as cancel on her more often than not.”

“You’d think a modern man like you would be more open to it than a stodgy fogey like me.”

“C’mon, in unfrozen years you’re like 20.”

Bucky watches Steve's face closely as he laughs, the crinkles around his eyes, the stretch of his lips, and nearly knocks into a trashcan. He’s gotta pay more attention to his surroundings.

“Twenty seven, actually. You should know this, you have my file. Are you sure you don’t mind coming? With me, I mean. To this.” Steve's being unusually twitchy. Maybe he’s a little worried about the meeting.

Bucky shrugs, trying for a casual air to put them both at ease, because the idea of standing in a room talking about what happened makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “’Course I don't mind.”

Steve is so good at the subway now that Bucky follows behind him. He’s better at cutting a path through people—they seem to part for him now, seeing his breadth coming, the sureness of his steps.

When they emerge from the train in Brooklyn, a woman runs up from behind them, breathless and grinning, and asks for his autograph. Steve’s eyes go wide and surprised. It hits Bucky every now and then that people know about Steve and want his time, his attention. He remembers thinking about Steve that way; as someone on another plane. He knows now that Steve truly is on another plane, but not for any of the reasons this woman does.

She holds a small notebook and pen tentatively, and he smiles bashfully as he signs it, babbling about being honored and humbled. She stares at his face as he scribbles a little note, then turns her awed look on Bucky for a moment, as if he's somebody too, just by virtue of standing next to Steve.

When he hands the notebook back to her, she shoves another little scrap of paper at him and Steve takes it automatically.

“My number, just in case, maybe. Anyway, thank you. Have a nice day!” she chirps, blushing furiously, then turns and practically runs back down the steps into the subway station. Steve watches her go, then turns to Bucky as if he can provide some sort of explanation, but Bucky just laughs at him.

The VA smells like high school. Bleached linoleum, coffee and paper. The receptionist directs them to a meeting room down the hall without so much as batting an eye at Captain America or the Man With the Metal Arm.

There’s a lot of space at the back of the room, behind the rows of metal folding chairs. Bucky understands that. He doesn’t much feel like sitting down, but he follows Steve and they sit elbow to elbow at the end of the back row.

There are 19 people in the room, excluding him and Steve. It’s pretty evenly split between men and woman, but the age range is wide. There’s a man with his right sleeve pinned up to his shoulder, a woman with scarring covering the left side of her face. Bucky’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt, and he’d have worn a glove if Steve had told him where they were going beforehand. As it is he just covers up the metal with his right hand as best he can.

Bucky identifies an adrenaline spike, making his breath start to come faster. Most of the vets are quiet, keeping to themselves, eyes casing the room briefly or staying trained on the floor. Some loiter in groups, talking quietly. Some eye he and Steve intently.


Steve is here. Talking to him.

“Thank you for coming. If we need to leave we can just get up and go. No one will care.”

Steve has a hand on Bucky’s right shoulder, steady pressure. To comfort, not confine. Bucky opens his mouth—to protest or take him up on it, he’s not sure—but a handsome black man in a blue plaid shirt steps up to the podium to start the meeting.

Several of the vets stand to speak about their experiences, difficulties in adjusting to civilian life, nightmares. How a sound or a smell on the street shoots them back to the explosion, the smell of burning flesh, screams, screams.

When he opens his eyes again—when had he closed them?—he’s looking into Steve’s blue eyes.

“—okay, we’re outside the VA office in Brooklyn, you’re okay.”


“It’s o—“

“Shit shit shit.”

“Bucky, look at me.”

Bucky looks up from where he’s crouched against the cool bricks. Steve’s as pale as milk and Bucky wonders if this affected him just as much or if his unease is because of Bucky’s episode.

“Did I upset anyone?” Bucky asks. Steve, inexplicably, smiles.

“No, Bucky. Most of them didn’t even notice you leave. You’re damn sneaky.”

Bucky huffs a grateful laugh, then searches Steve’s face for any inclination of how he feels about what just happened.

“I’m ok,” Steve says. “Glad for some fresh air, actually. I didn’t think hearing about it would…shake me up so bad.”

Steve sits next to Bucky, closest to the door of the building, not blocking Bucky in. When Bucky’s legs start to cramp, he slumps back onto his ass on the concrete.

“I’m so sorry, Bucky. Maybe this was a bad idea.”

Bucky shrugs. “Dr. D’s been trying to get me to do these things for months. It’s—I didn’t think—I didn’t know anyone else felt that way.”

“You thought you were the only one fucked up by war?”

Bucky has to laugh, though it's a weak sort of thing. “No. But I think I need to go home and sleep the rest of the day away.” 

Steve stands and offers him a hand. “That sounds like a great idea. But first, tamales.”

The door opens behind them and the man who’d moderated the meeting sticks his head out.

“Hey, man.” Apparently what he sees in Bucky’s face makes him feel safe enough to step outside. “Sam Wilson. Glad to see some new faces.”

He waits for Bucky to extend his hand to shake, and it endears him to Bucky immediately and intensely. He doesn’t try to keep them long to chat, just encourages them to come back again.

Steve leads them to Mrs. Montenegro’s. Her teenage granddaughter’s working, and pretends to be unimpressed while sneaking pictures of them on her phone. They don’t sit and eat, but take their bags of comfort food and go their separate ways.

Bucky makes good on his suggestion of sleeping the day away and when he wakes up that afternoon he feels refreshed. Day naps are great.

Sleeping that night is not so fun. Just hearing about the war brings back all the memories, but he’s content with the knowledge that maybe some of the other people that were in that meeting room today are awake too, with fresh sweat cooling, hearts pounding. Knowing he’s not alone.

Chapter Text

Steven Grant Rogers isn’t who they said he was.

The 1951 movie starring James Stewart painted him as a man with unbending morals, who saw the world in absolutes. Even the textbooks make him out to be the epitome of truth and justice.

Really though, Steve Rogers is kind of a shit. And it’s so much better than the movies.

They’re standing shoulder to shoulder in line at a coffee shop. Bucky’s been talking about these snickerdoodles all morning, and he’s eyeing the case with anticipation when he feels Steve tense beside him. He scans the place quickly, but there are no imminent threats. Then he hears the conversation being had by the man and woman in line behind them.

“It’s not that I don’t like them, I mean I don’t care one way or the other what they do. I know lots of gay people. But I just think marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

The woman’s companion puts up a token devil’s-advocate argument, allowing the full range of bigotry to come out.

Bucky forces his shoulders back and down away from his ears and puts his focus back into the impending cookies and caffeine.

Then Steve turns his shoulders and steps closer to him, so close that his chest is pressed against Bucky’s right arm. He dips his head and presses his nose into Bucky’s neck. From behind, it must look like a kiss.

Bucky is surprised only for a moment before he catches on, but his heart still pounds. Steve slides one arm up and around Bucky’s back, curling his hand around Bucky’s metal shoulder. 

The conversation behind them grinds to a halt. Steve drops his hand from Bucky’s shoulder only enough to rest it at the small of his back and they step up to the counter when it's their turn to order.

Bucky forgot what he wanted to order, so he just gets a black coffee. Steve gets his black too, plus two cookies. He doesn’t even look smug about it, which is vaguely astonishing.

“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself,” Steve says sheepishly, when they’re tucked away at a table.

“I’m glad you did something, or I’d have socked someone. But there are a number of people who will be tripping over each other for my head if somebody reports it before we can put out a statement.”

All the warmth in Steve’s face vanishes as he considers this.

“If someone finds out I’m gay before we can fess up first?”

Bucky sighs and snags one of Steve’s cookies. He assumed one was for him, anyway.

“Yeah,” Bucky shrugs. “You’re a national icon. Sorry buddy, that’s how it is.”

Bucky reaches out and puts a hand on Steve’s shoulder, because sad Steve makes him want to raze buildings, smash skulls, burn the world to the ground, and he’s not entirely comfortable with that. Steve puts his hand over Bucky’s, his thumb brushing back and forth over the inside of Bucky’s wrist, a silent thank you.

They finish their coffee, and Steve heckles him for stealing a cookie. Bucky pushes out the door first, and takes two steps down the sidewalk when he sees Becca heading their way.

“Goddammit,” he mutters. He’s a little surprised it’s taken her so long, actually. They follow each other on Find My Friends, so she always knows his location, just like he always knows hers. Bucky had insisted, after coming back from his accident, that he could find her at all times. He bought his mom an iPhone as well, for that express purpose, and forces her to use it against her will. He checks in on them every night and every morning. It helps ground him.

It also lets Becca stalk him and —as she intended— his 6’, blonde, blue-eyed companion.

“Bucky!” she says, and if he didn’t know her any better, it might even sound convincing.

“Hey, Becks, funny runnin’ into you here. Steve, this is my little sister, Rebecca.”

Steve’s face lights up as he shakes her hand, and Becca looks like she might pass out under the brightness of it. She’s a grown woman, but she was one of the ones in high school who taped photocopied WWII pictures to the inside of her locker.

They chat on the sidewalk for a moment before Becca claims to be going on an errand.

“Would you like any help? I’d be happy to walk with you,” Steve offers.

Bucky is almost too surprised to intervene quick enough, but interrupts before Becca can accept.

“Sorry, Steve, there’ll be no more charming unsuspecting ladies today. I booked the whole shooting range for us this afternoon.”

Steve looks downcast, and Becca looks ready to float away. He shakes her hand again as they part ways.

“It was a real pleasure to meet you, Ms. Barnes.”

“It was nice meeting you too, Steve.”

Bucky kisses her cheek, then glares over his shoulder at her as they walk away. She makes a show of fainting against the streetlamp.

“Thanks for that,” Bucky says. Even though he’s annoyed and failing miserably at separating his work and personal life, he can always be glad that his sister is happy. “You made her year.”

“She’s a sweet kid,” Steve says, and Bucky nearly walks into a bike rack, because Steve is practically glowing, looking at his shoes and trying to hide a joyful smile.

Becca comes over that night to gush. From the moment he opens the door, she can’t shut up about Steve.

“He’s just so hot,” she says around a mouthful of the sandwich she’d brought them for dinner. “It’s overwhelming. It’s devastating.” Bucky makes a sound of agreement.

“And genuinely kind. Did you hear him offer to walk me to the grocery?”

“I was standing right there.” He doesn’t need anyone to sell him on Steven G. Rogers.

“How do you even work next to that guy?”

“You don’t really. You type nonsense on your laptop and hope he doesn’t notice you staring at him.”

Becca laughs, still giddy. She goes down the hall to the bathroom, and comes back a few minutes later holding a frame from his bedroom.

“What kind of narcissist frames a sketch of himself?”

Bucky plucks it out of her hand. “What were you doing in my bedroom?”

“The door was open, sheesh. Who drew that?”

He sets the frame face down on the counter. It’s not like he likes to look at himself. He just wanted to protect the paper, the graphite, didn’t want it to smudge.

Becca’s eyes go wide. “Steve drew that?”

Bucky glares at her. “You should be a spy.”

“Bucky,” she says, grinning in disbelief. She’s happy about something, but won’t say what. Bucky changes the topic quickly and she lets him, but he gets a call from his mom five minutes after Becca leaves. She doesn’t ask him about Steve, which is how he knows that’s all she wants to talk about. But Bucky refuses to say a word about it.

He’s walking home from the subway when he sees Tito come out of a bodega.

“Hey, man,” Bucky says, a passing greeting. But Tito’s face lights up like a kid on Christmas morning. On a stocky Mexican with neck tattoos, it looks a little funny.

“Bucky! Thanks for the referral, man. What an honor!”


“Doing Captain America’s ink? That’s going on all the bench ads.”

Tito slaps Bucky’s shoulder and carries on. Bucky just stands there on the sidewalk as his brains melts down his spinal cord.

Steve had asked him where he’d gotten his tattoo and he’d told him, not thinking anything of it. Not thinking Steve would go get a tattoo. Jesus.

His first thought is that Hill’s going to kill him. The second is less of a thought and more of an overwhelming sense of unfairness that something as sexy as a tattooed Steve Rogers exists in this world and he’ll probably never even get to see it.

He squints at Steve all the next morning, eyeing the exposed skin on his arms for any hint. He’s about to just ask him outright, but then Steve catches onto his indiscreet curiosity and smirks, the bastard. Finally, they’re in the cafeteria on the ground level of the building when Bucky has had enough.

“Ok, fine, will you just fucking tell me what you got?”

Steve laughs, endearingly loud and obnoxiously long and deeply sincere.

“I can show you?” he grins. Bucky barely restrains himself from an embarrassing noise and nods.

Steve pulls up the right sleeve of his T-shirt. There, in the same spot as Bucky’s, is the Howling Commandos crest. It looks already healed, which, with Steve’s enhanced healing, provides no clue as to how long he’s had it. The serum hasn’t affected how well he took the ink, though. It’s a beautiful piece. The bastard.

Bucky rests his hand Steve’s shoulder and uses his thumb to push Steve’s sleeve up a little more to see the top of the crest. Steve sucks in a quiet breath through his teeth. Bucky’s eyes jump to Steve’s automatically. He’s looking at him in that focused way again, like he’s committing details to memory for drawing later. It makes heat rise to Bucky’s face.

He leans back in his chair and is a little disappointed in himself when all he can say is, “Nice.”

Bucky’s checked off all the points from the prospectus last week, and is starting to feel a little guilty for getting paid to just hang out with Steve, but still selfishly holds on to the report for a couple days. Once Steve’s cleared for active duty, Bucky will go back to desk jockeying until he’s ready for his own clearance exam. He’s a little concerned about what’s going to happen then. They won’t be friends by necessity, anymore. Bucky’s not sure he’ll be able to keep his cool about it if Steve doesn’t want to see him any more.

He’ll tell Hill at their meeting tomorrow that he’s submitting the report to Fury. Telling Steve is a little more difficult.

“Oh,” Steve says, surprised. Bucky’s sure he’s acting a little shifty, which doesn’t help matters. “So you won’t…”

“You won’t get to see my beautiful face all the time,” Bucky interrupts with a crooked grin.

“Good for me,” Steve says dryly. “I was starting to feel inferior. I was going to say so you won’t interrupt movies anymore with stupid trivia about the century that I already Googled?”

Bucky laughs. “You Googled Die Hard?”

“Of course I did. I Google everything. Don’t they keep track of that sort of thing?”

“Nah, I disabled that.”

That’s what you took my laptop for. Sheesh, all the porn I could’ve been watching this whole time.”

Bucky laughs so hard he starts coughing and Steve pats his back absently.

He forgets until later to be relieved that Steve seems to want things to go on as they have been. He forgets altogether to notice the way Steve hadn’t lumped him in with the ‘they’ who might have been keeping tabs on his keystrokes.

Chapter Text

Bucky submits his report to Fury, with his recommendation for release. Fury argues that the Captain wasn’t captive to begin with, but Bucky doesn’t justify that with a response.

Despite Steve’s implication that they’d keep hanging out, Bucky doesn’t see him for a week. His casual texts on the first few days were met with ‘Sorry, busy!’ and ‘Can’t today, later?’ so he’d quit, which is just as well.

Doing all the prep for Steve’s clearance has made him think about going back to fieldwork, and it’s made the nightmares worse. He’s tired, anxious and pissed off and almost relieved for it, since it doesn’t leave much room for him to think about Steve and how glaringly absent he is from Bucky’s life.

Natasha finally does get her hands on the Captain, to brush him up on hand-to-hand. She’s brought Barton in for shooting practice, which only stings a little. She corners Bucky after Fury’s weekly briefing to tell him this and he’s mystified by her generosity. 

“He’s different than I thought he’d be,” she muses.

Bucky bites back a mean retort. What, did she think he’d be the cartoon character, with no thoughts or feelings other than protecting his country?

But it was kind of her to bring him this update, so he smiles.

“Yeah. Me too.”

When Bucky catches sight of him again, Steve’s walking down the hallway with Hill, deep in what appears to be a heated discussion. Bucky wants to punch whoever bought him that deep blue V-neck shirt two sizes too small. His money’s on Darcy. He has his leather jacket over the shirt, jeans and brown boots. Longing hits Bucky so hard in the chest that his steps falter.

As they brush past in the hallway, Steve’s eyes dart over to him and glance away again, not interrupting the flow of his conversation, not even acknowledging Bucky at all.

He’s busy. Of course he is. He’s an integral part of Fury’s A-team now. It’s fine.

Bucky gets around the corner and is waiting for the elevator when he hears footsteps jogging up behind him. He turns to see Steve, looking upset and relieved at the same time. He doesn’t have time to do anything before Steve pulls him into his chest for a hug. When he doesn’t reciprocate, Steve steps back, head ducked with pink cheeks.

“Hey, buddy. Good to see you,” Steve says.

Bucky’s body acts on its own accord and steps in to hug him again, since he hadn’t fully appreciated the first one. Steve squeezes him even tighter than before and laughs in his ear. It vibrates through his chest and straight to Bucky’s knees.

“Sorry I couldn’t stop before. I was having some words with Agent Hill.”

“I noticed. Everything ok?”

“Yeah. Listen—“

Bucky’s phone cuts him off. “Sorry,” he mumbles, checking the screen. “It’s Fury, I gotta run.”

“Right, yeah. Hey—will you have dinner with me tonight?” Steve blurts in a rush. Bucky grins.

“Sure, man. Your place? I’ll bring the pizza.”

He’s so glad to be seeing Steve again that he doesn’t worry too much about what Fury wants until he’s sitting across from him and notices him looking even more terrifying than usual.

“You have been,” Fury seethes a put-upon sigh, “requested —vehemently— by Captain Rogers for his team.”

Bucky blinks.

“He’s made it a condition of his joining S.H.I.E.L.D. on a permanent basis, since you are apparently the only one of ‘us’ that he trusts.”

Bucky feels warm all over, and not in an entirely pleasant way.

“But I’m not cleared for duty.”

Fury’s gesture in the air that makes it clear he already told Steve that.

“You’ll be no good to anybody if you go back before you’re ready, but I don’t have to tell you how important Captain Rogers is to this organization.”

Leave it to Fury to be supportive and obnoxious in the same sentence.

Bucky waits a few hours until he can’t anymore, then brings pizzas up to Steve’s. He can’t quite believe it; he has to hear it from Steve.

Steve opens the door smiling, then squints.

“Is this an early bird joke?”

“Couldn’t wait,” Bucky says, and Steve’s smile takes on a surprised edge. “I talked to Fury.” Steve’s smile quickly loses its extra brightness and Bucky sets the pizzas on the table.

“Right. So what do you think?”

“I think you have a good team already. And I’m not cleared for fieldwork.”

Steve shakes his head, and he looks so earnest that Bucky melts.

“The last thing I want to do is rush you. Of course you should wait until you’re ready. But when you are, there’s nobody I’d rather have watching my six.”

There’s nobody’s six Bucky’d rather be watching, and even though he’s not sure he’s good enough to be protecting someone so important, he nods.

Steve pulls him into a hug, because apparently that’s a thing they do now. He’s solid under Bucky’s hands, and warmer than a normal person. When Steve pulls back, smiling so bright it's almost blinding, his hands slide down Bucky’s arms to his wrists, gliding along his palms and off his fingertips.

Steve gets called on a mission two days later. They were supposed to go for sushi that afternoon but Bucky gets a text at 4 a.m.

Steve: Called away. Raincheck?

You: Sure but you’re buying

It’s not uncommon for missions to last four or five days, but after the second day, Bucky’s not sure how much more of this he can take. He can’t focus at work, he can’t sleep at home. Fury won’t even tell him what side of the world Steve’s on, let alone who’s on his team. Are they staying sharp? Can Steve rely on them?

Bucky goes to Fury on the third day.

“Ok,” he says, from the doorway. Fury looks up from his computer.

“You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“I’ll join your A-team.”

Fury folds his hands together on the desk in front of him.

“You sure you’re not just doing this because you’re worried about him?”

The truth spills out without hesitation. “Not just.”

On the fourth day, Bucky sees Steve in the fucking hallway. He’s standing by the stairwell door with Darcy, and Bucky experiences an unpleasant flash of anger and jealousy that makes him break into a sweat. He stalks past them and watches as Steve catches sight of him. He lights up with a smile briefly, before seeing the murderous look on Bucky’s face. His eyes widen and he stammers goodbye to Darcy then follows Bucky into the stairwell.

“Bucky,” he says, bewildered.

“How fucking long?” Bucky spits.


“How long have you been back?” Bucky sees the realization dawn on Steve’s face along with relief and maybe a little bit of amusement.

“Got in last night.” He has the grace to look a little guilty.

“Ten hours and you couldn’t find fifteen seconds to text me?”

“Texting takes me longer than most—“

“Goddammit Steve,” Bucky says, but he’s smiling now because Steve can’t fight back his laughter.

“You were worried about me,” Steve gushes as Bucky pushes past him back out into the hallway.

“Don’t get used to it, because next time I’ll be there myself.”

Steve’s laughter halts abruptly as he reaches out to stop him. “Are you sure?” They’re standing there in the doorway between the stairwell and the hall and Bucky realizes Steve’s got his hand wrapped around the elbow of his metal arm.

Is he sure?

The other day Bucky caught Steve singing softly to himself, “this is how we do, yeah, chillin’ laid back straight stuntin yeah we do it like that,” and he had to sit on his hands to keep them from reaching out. Bucky’s so in love he can hardly think straight. Can hardly see past blonde hair and blue eyes.

Follow this man into the jaws of death?

Bucky’s never been more sure of anything.

Steve has all the flirting finesse of a pelican, but he tries his best. He teases, smiles, looks up from under his eyelashes, which all the USO girls had been so jealous of. He thinks he’s being pretty subtle about it too, until Darcy ruins everything.

He’s taken to bringing her an afternoon coffee, mostly for something to do, since Bucky’s gone back to his regular job full time and there’s only so many hours a person can spend in the gym without actually going crazy.

The routine is nice, and she titters and doesn’t treat him like a superior or a ghost.

“Caramel latte,” Steve announces, handing her the sugary drink. He’d taken the lid off and had a sip already, like he does every afternoon, and this one is just as disgusting as the last.

Darcy takes the coffee and sets it on her desk. The floor is a beehive of cubicles, thin walls and open air, but she doesn’t even a whisper.

“Are you banging Bucky?”

Steve chokes on his gasp. He manages to cough out a harsh whispered, “No!” but she’s still looking at him suspiciously as he gets his breath back.

“Are you sure?”

“I think I’d know.” She leans back in her seat and crosses her arms over her chest.

“Well, if you ever wanted to, I’m pretty sure he’d be all for it.”

Steve chokes again.

Darcy takes a sip of her coffee and hums, looking at the label with approval.

Chapter Text

Once it becomes an immediate possibility, Bucky finds he wants to get back in the field as soon as possible, if only to spare himself the agony of Steve going on another mission without him.

Fury has left the timetable up to him, so he asks Steve to pass on the training Natasha and Clint have recently imparted to brush him up.

If Bucky thought working with Steve and showing him the ropes of 21st century life tested his resolve, training together is a fucking nightmare.

Ballistics is ok, because they only have to stand next to each other, but combat is beyond distressing, for several reasons. Steve goes easy on him in hand to hand, but Bucky busts out of the gate like he’s got something to prove. The first time he knocks Steve on his back and sees his metal hand on Steve’s chest, holding him down, he spirals straight into a panic attack.

He gasps and jerks backward, stumbling back to the locker room. He hangs his head between his knees, his whole body trembling, and hears Steve run in behind him. He wants to push him away, tell him get the fuck out, but he can’t speak. So Steve sits next to him on the bench quietly, until he can lift his head.

Steve offers him a smile. “I think that’s all for today.”

“I can—“ Bucky starts to protest, but his voice cracks and Steve cuts him off.

“No,” he says kindly, but commandingly. “It was a good start.”

He eases into it a little slower after that, and Steve seems to target his left side, trying to get him to punch with the metal fist until he’s as comfortable with it as his right.

Bucky’s pretty sure Darcy’s been buying Steve clothes, because his workout shirts are obscenely tight these days. It’s good for his mental fortitude to tune out the sweat beading on Steve’s forehead and dripping down his neck as they grapple.

He’s thought about getting Steve under him enough that when he gets it— not often, but maybe a little too often, like maybe Steve lets him do it— it makes his blood bubble in his veins like champagne.

They draw crowds when they spar. The other agents in the gym will stop what they’re doing to watch. Passersby in the hall gather in front of the window. Despite Steve being an enhanced supersoldier, his modern warfare training is relatively new. Bucky’s had a lot of training and a lot of practice using it. Plus a fucking metal arm. So they’re actually pretty evenly matched.

Steve’s stamina is through the roof, but one day he seems distracted by something, and one of Bucky’s punches lands. Steve’s head jerks to the side and he staggers back. Blood drips down his chin from the split in his perfect lower lip. Panic and pride shoot through Bucky with equal intensity.

He hurt Steve.

He decked a supersoldier right in the mouth.

“I got you,” Bucky says, surprised.

“Yeah you did.” Steve thumbs gingerly at his lip.


Steve grins crookedly. With sweaty hair and a bloody lip, the combination is dizzying.

“Take a lot more than that to hurt me. Got another round in ya?”

Bucky puts his fists up. “Why? Gettin’ sleepy, old man?”

A few days before his scheduled clearance exam, he pins Steve’s back to the mat again, and his body lingers without his permission. Just a fraction of a second too long, so he can relish the feeling of Steve’s thighs between his, the hard muscles of his arms under his fingertips.

When he rolls away, a joke on his lips, Steve stays there, looking up at him with dark eyes, face flushed from exertion. Bucky extends a hand down to help him up and Steve takes it, laughing and shoving at him, and the moment slips away.

“Hey, wanna get dinner?” Bucky asks when Steve answers the phone, on the second try. You’d think with super hearing, he’d be able to find wherever he left his phone lying around the apartment.

“Oh, I.”

Bucky carries on over him. “I think sushi is still next on your list. We’ve been stuck on Indian for too long. I’m starting to sweat curry sauce.”

“I’m actually going out for a beer with Sam tonight. D’you wanna come?”

This gives Bucky pause.


He’s been going out on his own now, taking his bike for rides, getting his own groceries instead of having them delivered. He has a life separate from Bucky. Of course he does; it’s only right. This shouldn’t be upsetting.

“I don’t want to intrude.”

“It’s not, it’s not a date or anything. I mean, he’s straight. Not that I’d—“ Steve pulls in a sharp breath and finishes in a rush, “You’re more than welcome to come.”

Bucky would give anything—he’d give his right arm for some body language cues right about now.

“You’ve earned your independence. I don’t always have to be your chaperone.”

“Yeah, but I— I mean, whatever you wanna do.”

Space. Some space would be good, anyway. He realizes with a jolt how ridiculously codependent he's become. The expanded boundaries of their not-work-imposed friendship have been messing with his head a little bit.

“I’ll skip it. Have fun, though.”

He feels guilty for the unease in his stomach all afternoon, which only compounds the discomfort. Steve should have friends besides him. And Wilson is a great guy, he chats with them before their group meetings more often than not. It’s clear that Sam’s tickled pink to be on a first name basis with Captain America, but he doesn’t make a big deal about it. He’s a genuinely good dude. Bucky likes him.

It’s not like he and Steve are joined at the hip, not really. They only see each other three or four nights a week. But having anticipated Steve’s company, Bucky finds the lack of it depressing. He always was a people-person; it took a while after his accident for that to come back, but it's finally started to, and being alone just doesn't sound appealing tonight. 

He throws some dinner together from the sad contents of his fridge and scrolls through Netflix for an hour before finally grabbing his Kindle, but that doesn’t hold his interest either.

He finds his phone and opens his text chain with Steve. His last text to Steve was from yesterday: ‘Going down to the gym in 20, come get your ass kicked again’ to which Steve had replied with six angry face emojis and one poop emoji.

His fingers hover over the keypad. He could ask where they are and meet up with them, but then he’d feel like even more of a tag-along. He could ask to reschedule that sushi. He could just say hi, just to connect, just get a little bit of his attention.

His phone buzzes in his hands and he drops it in his lap with a startled curse. Becca’s picture looks out at him, a sunny grin and a rude gesture. She'd talk his ear off for hours if he let her, she'd hop on a train and be there within 45 minutes. He doesn't have to be alone. But she's not the company he wants.

He watches it vibrate for a moment before he red phones her.

“Hey, Dr. D,” Bucky says sheepishly as he knocks lightly and pokes his head in. Dr. Davis smiles up at him from her desk. She stands to meet him halfway at the arrangement of couches and chairs in her large open office.

“Bucky, it’s nice to see you again.”

“I’m sorry I had to cancel the last couple meetings.” Bucky refuses to call them sessions, no matter how adamant the receptionist is about the terminology. “But I’ve been going to the VA with Steve,” he offers as a truce.

Dr. Davis’ blonde eyebrows rise fractionally, which is as much of a reaction as he’s ever gotten from her.

“I’m glad to hear you’re finally taking it seriously. You still see Captain Rogers regularly?”

“Uh, yeah. Semi-regularly. A couple times a week we have dinner or a beer at his place.”

“Has he been to your apartment?” 

“Uh, no. Aren’t we supposed to talk about fieldwork? This is part of my clearance assessment right?”

“Your entire mental well-being is involved here, which includes your relationships with friends.”

“Steve’s a great friend,” Bucky says, with maybe too much enthusiasm.

“Wonderful.” She smiles. “How have you been sleeping?”

“Honestly, not great these last few weeks. Training for combat has brought back some dreams—nightmares,” might as well call it what it is, “but it seems a little more hazy than before. Not so clear. Not so real.”

He’s bouncing his leg by the time his hour’s up and he all but runs out of the office, after shaking Dr. D’s hand, because his mom would snatch him baldheaded if he wasn’t at least civil to someone who’s been trying her best to help his stubborn ass.

He takes a cleansing breath as he walks away. It’s done now. If Dr. Davis doesn’t think he’s mentally stable enough to be on Steve’s team, he will trust her judgment and be 100% glad someone smart is vetting all of the poor saps responsible for keeping Steve safe.

Fury and Maria are watching over his shoulder as he puts a clip of bullets into the paper target, split between the head and the chest. He hadn’t really slept the night before, thanks to his appointment with Dr. D dredging up some insecurities and general nerves for the rest of the assessment, but he finds muscle memory takes over for him anyway. He thinks it’s going well.

When they step out into the hall to head to the gym for the hand-to-hand assessment, Bucky finds Steve leaning his shoulders back against the wall. He has a sucker in his mouth. Bucky glares at him, but Steve just smiles and falls in step with him, following Maria and the Director.

“Not bad,” he says.

“’Not bad’” Bucky mutters. “I aced it.”

Where the fuck did he even get a sucker? Did he go to the pediatrician this morning? The inside of his mouth is all blue from it, Bucky can see when Steve licks his lips. Bucky wants to ask if Steve’s trying to distract him, but that would imply that Steve is distracting.

Some of his nerves must show, because Steve asks, “Would you rather I didn’t come?”

“No, it’s fine. I’d like you to be there,” Bucky says, and is less surprised than he should be to find that it’s the truth.

It bolsters him, knowing Steve is watching as he grapples with Natasha on the mat. She's slippery as an eel and twice as fast. She swings up over his shoulder to lock her thighs around his neck, but he was expecting it, and drops to his knees to roll them and pin her.

Bucky’s eyes flick up and find Steve’s reflexively. They flit over to Maria and Fury immediately, where the pair is approaching to congratulate him, but it was enough for Bucky to see the dark look clouding Steve’s features. Natasha is smirking as he takes her hand and hauls her up to her feet, her eyes snapping to Steve and back to Bucky meaningfully. He ignores her.

Bucky wonders about that look on Steve’s face though, even as Natasha and Steve gather on the mat next to him, conspiring to go out for beers to celebrate his passing score. Wonders if Steve was repulsed to see the violence of the metal arm against a woman’s skin, or if he was excited by the strength coiled in Bucky’s body.

Natasha set the meeting time at the bar for 8 p.m. so she could go home and change, but she shows up at Bucky’s door at 7 o’clock anyway.

“How do you—no, never mind, just come in. What are you doing here?” he asks when he opens the door to find her standing there looking bored. She’s wearing red leather leggings, a black tunic and boots with some aggressive-looking jewelry. Those spikes can’t be very comfortable against her collarbones, but if she's looking to scare away would-be suitors, she'll succeed.

She follows him into the kitchen, “Just came to hang. Pre-game. Dress you, or whatever.”

“I’m a grown man. I don’t need to be dressed.”

“Is that what you’re going to wear?” she asks pointedly.

He refuses to be ashamed of his jeans and T-shirt.

“You need help,” she says, and proceeds straight into his bedroom closet, like she’s ever been in his apartment in her life. She throws a green sweater and black pants at him, and tosses black combat boots at his feet.

“My mom gave me this sweater; it makes me look pretentious.”

“I saw you in that at the Christmas party. It makes you look hot. Just put it on.”

This is wildly out of character for her, Bucky thinks. Though on second thought, he might just not know her character in the first place. She did offer to help him when he first started working with Steve, and she did keep him updated on his field training progress.

“Why are you doing this?” he asks, because staring at her face is not getting him any answers, just the stink eye.

“We’re going out. You should look good. Maybe St—someone will notice.”

Bucky’s been told his glare could level buildings, but Natasha Romanov just smiles sweetly back at him.

He opens two bottles of beer and hands her one. They stand at the kitchen counter trading gentle ribbing for twenty minutes. She waits until his back is turned, rinsing out the bottles for the recycling bin to say, “You’ve come really far. I know you don’t always see it, but you have. And we’re glad for you. We want you to be happy.”

He’s not sure if there really is a ‘we’ or if it’s just easier for her to say than ‘I.’

“Ready?” she asks brightly before he can say anything, and that’s what makes his heart soften for her.

They meet Steve, Sam and Clint at the bar. Seeing that big blonde head talking and laughing with friends makes Bucky’s heart sing. He’s done his job, helped Steve navigate a foreign culture— though he’s still not sure Steve even needed his help at all. But to see him thriving is good for his soul. It’s gotta be good for everybody’s soul within a hundred yard radius; his laughter booms, floats under the heavy beat of the loud speaker in the corner and brightens the dark room.

“Come on,” Nat says, shoving him with her shoulder. She’s smiling at him softly, and he can’t help but think it’s beautiful on her. Of course he’d always thought her beautiful, objectively there’s no question, but this is Natasha now. 

She drapes herself over Clint —which, ok, that one’s a surprise—and Steve buys everyone’s next round because of ‘75 years of back pay.’

It doesn’t take long for other people to notice Steve. It's a wonder they went as long as they did without an interruption.

Steve has already turned a woman away gently when a smallish man with sandy blonde hair taps his arm and offers to buy him a drink. His features are delicate and almost feminine; he’s truly a beautiful man, and he looks a bit nervous to be approaching 6’ of beefcake. Bucky feels a little sympathy for him, but not much.

“Thank you, but I’m just here with my friends. Have a nice night,” Steve says apologetically.

“You should’ve talked to him,” Bucky says when Steve turns back. Steve gives him a shrug and a sidelong look.

“I like brunettes, anyway.”


“Well you’re a picky asshole, aren’t you?”

“Can’t I afford to be?”

What the fuck is this? Bucky’s never seen that particular look on Steve before, eyes half-lidded, smirking. Bucky's in too deep to objectively analyze anything Steve does anymore, so he's stopped trying. His hindbrain is trying to tell him Steve is flirting, but Bucky's far too rational to allow that thought to fully formulate. He only has one real arm and hasn't slept through the night in 14 months like a fucking infant; and Steve, sure he's got his issues too, but he's still Captain America, the paragon of everything good in this world.

“Besides,” Steve carries on while Bucky’s head spins trying to come up with a witty reply, “tonight’s about you.”

Steve flags down the bartender and Bucky squeezes his hands into fists to stave off any impending inappropriate touching. It wouldn’t do to get kicked off the team for sexual harassment before their first mission.

Steve can’t even really catch a buzz, but he drinks with them anyway. Natasha threatens to make Steve dance with her, but he pulls his best wounded baby duck impression, which apparently works on even the blackest of hardened hearts. She turns her threats on Bucky, while Sam and Clint hover in her peripheral, proclaiming their proficiency in made-up dance styles.

Bucky pulls the PTSD card—“crowded spaces, loud music”—but Natasha is ruthless and pulls him onto the floor with all her stealthy Black Widow strength anyway. He's surprised when she gets all up in his business, grinding on him like they're going home together. But there's nothing flirtatious in her eyes, only laughter, and he shakes his head at her.

"C'mon, Bucky," she says in his ear, "St—someone's watching." He's moderately concerned about what she's seen to make her think these innuendos are justified, but Natasha's a world-class spy, so he holds onto the hope that he hasn't been too obvious to anyone else.

He grabs her hips and leans in close, sliding a leg in between hers, and that earns him a real laugh. If Steve is watching, Bucky's not going to pass up the chance to show off a little. 

Bucky stops drinking after his third bourbon, the pounding music and the crowd that presses Steve against him as they stand at the bar makes him feel drunker than it should. Sam, Clint and Natasha spend most of the night on the dance floor, rotating in and out at the bar while Steve and Bucky lean close together, people-watching and laughing. It’s a surprise to him when the house lights come on and they start hustling people out.

“Hey Bucky, let’s take them to Mrs. Montenegro’s,” Steve suggests when their group is huddled on the sidewalk in the crisp night air, not ready to break up just yet, letting the rush of party people break around them.

The restaurant is called Tamales Tamales Tamales, emblazoned in red with dancing tamales across the yellow canopy, but to Steve, because he is adorable, it’s Mrs. Montenegro’s. Bucky spares him a smile for that.

And he really could go for some tamales right about now.

Chapter Text

Steve hands him a piece of lined paper with his small, neat script covering the front and back. He looks nervous, so Bucky scans the page for flag words first. Though ‘death’, ‘murder’ and ‘goodbye cruel world’ are all thankfully absent, ‘LGBT’ sticks out like a laowai in China.

It’s an open letter to the LGBT community.

“Hill’s gonna wanna approve this,” Bucky says.

“I know. I wanted you to approve it first.”


Bucky has to pace around the apartment while he reads. He bites his lower lip to stop it from trembling. Steve mentions Peggy; he really did love her, but she was the only woman he ever felt that way about, and he never even got to find out what it really was. He writes that it’s ok not to know, that you don’t have to fit yourself into a box or a label. That you can just be who you are, and Steve Rogers will love you no matter what.

“Jesus, Steve, I wish you were around when I was a kid.”

“Me too,” he says softly. “You think it’s ok?”

“Yeah, Steve. I think it’s great. It’s gonna mean a lot, to a lot of people.”

Steve blows out a breath. “Not all good, though.”

“Yeah, but those assholes don’t matter. You know what really matters.”

Steve is smiling at him like he’s the sun rising, which is hilarious really, because Bucky’s pretty sure that look is semi-permanently attached to his own face after all the time he spends with Steve. To see it reflected back at him when all Bucky’s done is be his friend seems a little ridiculous. But he soaks it in for a minute, before he clears his throat and hands Steve his paper back.

Steve’s coming out goes about as well as anticipated. His thoughtful and heartfelt letter is published in the Huff Post (after being enthusiastically approved by Maria Hill, who, turns out, does have a heart—Steve has a knack for bringing that out in people). He’s been adopted as the son of the LGBTQIA community as a whole and Captain America merchandise has been flying off the shelves again, either by proud hipsters or angry manbabies for the purpose of burning it in effigy. Bucky wonders if they know a percentage of that money still goes to Steve’s bottom line.

Bucky was even mentioned in the aftermath, in an article titled ‘Does Captain America Have a Boyfriend?’ that he and Steve have resolutely not spoken about. It even contained a montage of pictures of them together that Bucky had no idea were being taken (so much for being a highly trained covert operative). One of them is from the Montenegro girl’s phone. They’re all pretty damning when taken out of context, with one of them looking earnestly at the other, standing close together, or laughing. Bucky may or may not have taken a screenshot to save in a hidden folder on his computer.

Bucky knows Steve saw the article, because Darcy is a terrible busybody, and Steve couldn’t look him in the eye for an entire day and a half after it was published.

“How could you not have told me,” Becca demands instead of saying hello when Bucky answers her call, then nearly interrupts herself carrying on, “I knew—“

“Becca, Steve and I are not dating.” He tugs at the collar of his shirt, something tight and uncomfortable clawing in his chest.

“Oh.” She sounds crestfallen.

“The press is just capitalizing on him being in the news with anything they can scrounge up.”

“Oh,” she says again.

Maybe Bucky should set the record straight somehow. Go on a date with a woman or something. If Steve wrote that letter because he wanted to come out, it means he wants to get back into the dating pool. And he probably doesn’t want everyone thinking he’s already got a boyfriend. Not that a little something like that would stop the hoarding masses.

Steve finally brings the article up, because he is incapable of not apologizing for anything remotely negative that he was even vaguely involved in.

“I’m sorry, Bucky,” he spills, when they have to take evasive maneuvers to lose the paparazzi who materialized on the street outside their favorite Starbucks. Bucky shrugs.

“’Sfine. I’m getting my 15 minutes. I knew you had to be good for something,” he says, knocking their elbows together. Steve tries not to grin.

“You’re such an asshole.”

“Yeah, it’s part of my charm.”

Bucky’s in the locker room, about to change out of his sweaty clothes when his ears pick up a conversation clearly not meant for him to hear. Steve’s still in the gym after their workout, talking with some other agents, and Bucky’s glad.

“Dude’s been pushing papers for a year, and now he’s suddenly on Captain America’s strike team? I’m just saying.” It sounds like Hendricks.

“Saying what?”

“I’m saying maybe he sucked some dicks to skip a few rungs on the ladder. You know Cap’s always all over him.”

Bucky appears in the mirror behind them. Hendricks drops his deodorant stick in the sink and spins around. Bucky crowds him against the counter.

“Got something you’d like to say to me?” he growls. Hendricks’ eyes are wide, and his companion—Bucky’s not sure he’s met him before—is backing slowly away. Bucky’s mostly gratified by the fear in the man’s eyes, but also slightly disgusted with himself. His metal hand is twisted in the man’s shirt and he wants so badly to slam him into the mirror, bloody his mouth, break his nose, because if they want to think he fucked his way onto the A-team that’s fine, but to implicate Steve?

“Man, I didn’t mean—“ Hendricks goes tense, his eyes flicking over Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky glances up in the mirror to see Steve standing behind him in the doorway, scowling with arms folded over his chest in his most threatening stance. Good timing, buddy, thanks.

“Man, I’m sorry.”

Bucky shoves off Hendricks and spins to grab his duffle from the bench. He stalks out without bothering to change, Steve following behind.

“What was that about?” Steve asks in the hallway. Bucky looks at him.

“You didn’t hear?”

Steve shakes his head.

And he was ready to dive in anyway, always on Bucky’s side, backing him up. A little of the tension in Bucky’s jaw loosens.

“They think I fucked you to get on your team.”

Steve chokes a little and stops dead in his tracks, a pretty pink working its way from his cheeks down his neck. “That fucking—“ then he turns around, like he’s going to go back to the locker room to beat some asses. Bucky snags his arm.

“Steve, you already scared the shit out of him, I think that’s enough,” Bucky laughs, all the anger sucked out of him and into Steve’s righteous fury.

Bucky tugs on Steve’s arm to get him to start walking, but he takes two steps and stops again. “That asshole’s off the team.”

“Steve, Steve.”

Steve heaves a sigh. “You’re right, I wouldn’t do that. But that’s such bullshit. You worked really hard to get here, I know how important it is to you,” he says, brows pinched in steely wrath. “I’m sorry.”

“Steve, this is 100% not your fault.”

Steve ducks his head. “Well, I’m sure it doesn’t help that I—” he waves his hand obscurely over Bucky’s person, then the elevator at the end of the hall pings open, so Bucky never gets to know how Steve would have finished that sentence.

Natasha strides off and down the hall toward them, wearing gym clothes, a black and red duffel bag slung over her shoulder.

“Hey, boys,” she says, somehow managing to put innuendo into two innocuous words. “Too bad I missed you. Call me next time.”

Steve waits until the elevator doors close before asking, “Were you and Natasha ever…together?”

“Ha, no. The other night she just thought she was being funny.”

“Funny,” Steve mutters.

“We actually didn’t talk much until recently, but I think we’ve been friends for longer than I realized.”

“Did you ever work on the same team with her?”

“Yeah, we did some missions together, before.” Before everything went to shit.

“Is that why you two didn’t date? Because you were on a team and it’s against the rules?”

When Steve asks so many questions in a row, it usually gives away he’s in interrogation mode. But Bucky’s not sure what he’s really trying to figure out.

“Ah, no. I don’t think it’s strictly against the rules anyway, more like a case-by-case basis. But I wouldn’t have minded not going on missions with her actually. Fury always sends her on these social political things that usually involve black tie and champagne.”

Steve smiles. “Did you ever go on those with her?”

“A couple times. I’m no spy, but my facial symmetry makes people want to tell me their secrets. Plus, y'know, the metal arm.”

Steve looks at the buttons on the elevator for a minute, then chuffs a soft laugh. “Sorry, I’m just picturing you in a bow tie.”

“I look damn good.”

Steve grins his familiar sarcastic grin, though it seems a little weak around the edges. “I have no doubt.”

Bucky wakes with a start. That’s not unusual, but what woke him is. He reaches for his phone without thinking.

Steve answers on the second ring.

“Hey,” he says softly, because if it's not the middle of the night, it's close enough to it. His voice in Bucky's ear is like balm on a wound, like he's right there with him.

“I had a dream,” Bucky says, and the sound of his voice surprises him. Rough, desperate. “I was falling, like the snow.” And it doesn’t make any sense, he knows that, but he just has to say it, get it out of his head. He knows, too, that Steve won’t mind.

“Where was I?” Steve asks, assumed that wherever Bucky is, even in dreams, Steve will be nearby.

“Reaching for me.”

“And did I catch you?”

Bucky squeezes his eyes shut tight and there it is again, Steve’s hand outstretched toward him, so close, then slipping further and further away.


“There, see? Just a dream,” Steve says. Bucky can hear his smile, can see it, sympathetic and understanding, and it wipes away the fading image of his dream. Bucky bites hard on his lip to keep the tears from falling. “I’ll always catch you.”

Fury calls them both to his office for a mission briefing. Somehow, without anyone telling him, he’s become Steve’s second. Their team will be different for each mission, based on the agents’ strengths and mission objectives, but Steve and Bucky are the constants.

“An extremist faction is trying to create a civil war in Guyana with stolen American guns,” Fury says, throwing a folder in front of them. Steve opens it and Bucky looks over his shoulder. “Their base of operations is situated hidden in the rainforest. Our satellite surveillance identified General Rodrigo Garcia there two days ago; his capture is top priority.”

Bucky’s blood is thrumming with nerves. Is he ready? What if something goes wrong?

They suit up at the base and will take a jet to Venezuela, where they’ll hop a helicopter to the site.

Bucky can’t properly appreciate the sight of Steve in his suit up close. He’s in his mission mind, but when he’s dressed and turns to find Steve staring at him, he’s jerked back into his body again.

Steve looks at his black combat boots, black canvas pants, black vest, before resting on his face. The back of Bucky’s neck starts to sweat.

“Did you…cut the sleeve off your jacket?” his voice is carefully even, but there’s a sarcastic smile starting at one corner of his lips.

Bucky looks down at the silver arm gleaming under the fluorescent lights.

“Yeah. The plates tear the fabric.”

It’s not strictly true. The first model had snags and tore everything he wore, but Stark put an end to that immediately. This one is seamless. Bucky’s even tried cutting himself on it to make sure, but it’s as smooth as his own skin. But Bucky knows the gleaming metal is intimidating, and he’d already cut the sleeve off his jacket, so he left it.

“You mean because it looks cooler,” Steve says.

“Well yeah, I mean, mostly that. But also, the plates,” he waves at the arm weakly. Steve laughs at him and Bucky bumps their shoulders together as they head out toward the hangar.

“You think it’s cool.”

Steve shakes his head, grinning. “I didn’t say that. I said cooler.”

They have four agents on their team. Bucky slips back into mission mode easily. With Steve in the sights of his rifle, it’s easy to tune everything else out. He has an important objective, here. The most important thing in the world.

The extremist's compound is hidden away in a tangle of viney trees, the metal painted green, smooth and unbroken. The security cameras and door all but invisible.

Bucky takes high ground in a tree, slippery with wet moss and crawling with wildlife. A spider the size of his hand crawls next to his head, but Bucky’s breathing sniper breaths, and he’s sure— pretty sure, like 89% sure— the thing doesn’t even register him as a threat.

Steve takes his agents inside silently. Bucky scans the area through his scope, but visibility is a nightmare here.

Six minutes in, he hears a scuffle through his earpiece, and things start to go pear-shaped real fast. A shot rings out, and with the trees so close around them, it would be hard to tell if it came from outside or within, except that it tears straight into the meat of Bucky’s thigh.

He loses his rifle falling from the tree, but identifies the shooter northwest and heads straight for him. This is not what the shooter was expecting, and he takes off running, leaving Bucky with an easy trail to follow. He hobbles along, leaning against trees to take a shot, not intending to hit, only slow his target down.

In his earpiece, Steve & Co. are being pursued out to their extraction, so Bucky turns and heads back toward them. But as soon as his back is turned, another shot zings past his head and thuds into a tree. It didn’t come from behind though—he’s got another shooter.

“Bucky,” Steve’s voice crackles in his earpiece. “Get over here, we gotta take off!” He hears bullets pinging off metal, someone cursing.

“Negative, go. I’m too far, got two tails.” He spins and takes a shot in the direction of the second shooter, and gets another bullet splintering into a tree by his shoulder. He shoots again, and there’s a muffled cry.

“I’m not leaving you.” Steve sounds desperate, but not angry. That’s good, if he’s not ordering Bucky to stay put so he can haul him over his star-spangled shoulder and carry him to the chopper, Bucky at least has a chance to make him see reason.

“Just come back for me later, god you’re so dramatic.”

Bucky pulls a piece of gauze from his belt and tightens it around his thigh. It’ll have to do for now, he can’t be bleeding all over the place and leaving them a trail.

“You’re such an asshole,” Steve mutters, under the sound of chopper blades.

Bucky slinks through the jungle for the next hour, then climbs a tree to wait. He dresses his wound a little better; it’s not pretty and it hurts like a motherfucker, but it was a through-and-through and didn’t hit any bone or major arteries. When it gets dark he pulls on his night vision goggles and his ears twitch at the sounds of predators, natural and otherwise; snapping twigs, bugs clicking.

When they creep into his line of sight, he shoots the two scouts one right after the other, and rests a little easier after that, but doesn’t sleep. He climbs down out of the tree when a snake twice as long as he is tall slithers in the branches above him. Fuck that shit.

He moves 100 yards north and waits. He’ll give Steve another 8 hours, then he’ll have to take action. Bucky nestles in between two recently fallen trees. The moss is soft and cushy, and Bucky tries not to think about all the things that could bite him that are probably crawling right next to his face.

Two hours later, just as the humid morning air is rising in mist around him, he hears the crunching of boots on the vegetation. He leans his pistol around the tree to see Steve’s big stupid shield heading toward him. He lets out a heavy breath and slumps back against the tree. Thank god, thank god, thank fucking god.

Steve hits his knees next to him and grabs Bucky’s face in his hands.

“Jesus, Bucky. Thank God.” Steve wraps one hand around the back of his neck and pulls him forward, pressing their foreheads together. It occurs to Bucky, somewhere at the back of his brain, that not once in all his life have any of his friends done this. Not even in the pearest-shaped situations his unit got themselves into. Is this a thing friends did in the '30s? Because it's not really a thing just-friends do these days. But it feels so good at the moment he can’t bring himself to care.

Steve’s eyes are screwed shut tight and his lips part on a sigh. His head slips down so their noses brush, and for one insane moment, Bucky’s sure Steve’s going to kiss him. But Steve just clenches his teeth together, so Bucky says, “What took you so long?”

Steve, still tilted into Bucky’s space, laughs. It’s a different kind of laugh than Bucky’s heard so far; a little cracked, a little desperate. “You’re such an asshole.”

“It’s part of my charm.”

“Yeah,” Steve says, hauling him up, “I guess it is.”

They limp south, where a stealth jet is waiting for them.

Once he’s strapped down to a gurney and the doctor Steve’d brought for him is cutting his pant leg open, Steve briefs him on what the fuck happened.

The compound went underground, housing dozens more operatives than they anticipated. From what they saw, much more advanced tech too, which may have explained how they seemed to know they were being attacked before the attack. Either the team tripped a motion sensor on the way in, or they had the tech to scan for their jet’s approach.

Their four agents file on board once the jet's prepped for take-off, giving Bucky high fives as they pass. He’s glad Hendricks isn’t on this mission because honestly, the guy made a good point about he and Steve being all over each other. Bucky’s not sure when or how that started. They weren’t always so touchy with each other, were they? Bucky tries to recall the way Steve acts with Clint, or Sam, but the pain in his leg prevents focused thought.

They give him some rad painkillers, and he drifts in and out of consciousness on the 6-hour plane ride. He wakes intermittently, groggy. At one point he looks over to see Steve in a seat next to his gurney, asleep. His head is tipped back and he looks like an angel, all soft eyes and lips, with dirt still smudged around his chin. He has one elbow on the gurney, his hand resting on Bucky’s leg just above his knee, close enough that Bucky can reach down and put his hand over it, then fall seamlessly back asleep.

Chapter Text

Bucky’s only in the hospital for a few days, but is on med leave for four weeks. He doesn’t even have any reports to file, and feels strangely bereft.

Fury is currently on his shit list, because he sends Steve on two missions without him. Bucky puts up enough of a fight that they pull Clint off whatever he was doing and give him to Steve instead. Bucky feels only slightly better.

Two weeks in, Bucky loses track of the days. He does a lot of sleeping, T.V. watching and even starts a journal like Dr. D’s been trying to get him to do for a year. The lady knows her stuff; he might consider taking her advice on a regular basis. Starting and ending each day by recounting the things he’s grateful for does wonders for the spirit, especially when laid up.

It’s 5:45 p.m. and Bucky’s finally gotten himself out of his blanket cocoon to brush his teeth when there’s a knock at the door.

As he limps to answer it, he throws his hair into a messy bun at the nape of his neck that immediately starts to come out again. He figures it’s only his mom anyway, since she’s still trying to discreetly move in with him until he’s back on his feet. Nat and Becca have each dropped by once to check up on him already, though they showed their concern in polar opposite ways. Nat was actively dismissive of his completely legitimate condition, while Becca was annoyingly intrusive. Bucky was pretty touched by both.

But it’s Steve standing outside his door this time, holding a plastic bag of takeout food. Bucky’s only seen him once since he was shot, just before being discharged from the hospital, and he was still on morphine, so the exchange is pretty hazy. He thinks Steve might have been embarrassed about the whole thing. They’ve texted regularly though, which is how Bucky knows Steve was just sent on a mission a few days before.

“You’re back,” Bucky says, then rubs his eyes as he steps aside to let him in. These painkillers are awesome; he’s slept more in these two weeks than in the last six months, and hasn’t even had any nightmares. He’s started weaning himself off them before his prescription runs out though, because it would be pretty easy to get attached.

“Yeah, sorry, I texted you this morning. Figured I should come make sure you weren’t starving to death.”

“I must’ve slept through that. And thanks, it’s not like I’ve been functioning on my own for the past two decades.”

He limps toward the kitchen but Steve cuts him off and shoos him toward the living area. Bucky directs him to the plates and silverware from over the back of the couch.

After they eat, Steve putters around, not-so-subtly giving himself a tour of Bucky’s apartment, poking his head in the bathroom and Bucky’s bedroom. He cleans up their dishes, brings Bucky a glass of water, a flannel from his bedroom, his laptop.

Bucky says, “You don’t have to do that,” only once, because otherwise his grandmother’s ghost will show up in his mirror, but he doesn’t even listen to Steve’s answer. He knows what he’s going to say, and if he gets some free help and Steve doting on him, he is not going to look that gift horse in the mouth.

Bucky’s choosing their second movie while Steve does some more puttering, humming to himself. He’s smiling when he brings them both full glasses of water back to the couch.

“You’re awful chipper that I’m laid up,” Bucky says.

“Sorry, I probably shouldn’t be. But it is kind of nice.” Bucky makes a face at him, and Steve laughs, entirely unapologetic. “Just, taking care of you for a change.”

“I have never had the pleasure of being your nursemaid.”

Steve smiles softly, “No, all the other ways.”

Goddamn, he’s really good at creating charged moments. It can’t be accidental, can it? Bucky’s felt it so many times now, the magnetic force pulling them together. What if Steve feels it too? What if…what if Steve wants him?

A sudden panic slices through him. He wants Steve so bad his lungs ache with it, but the prospect of it actually becoming a reality fills him with fear. What would he even do with Steve Rogers if he got him?

Well… he has a few ideas, but all the ways it could go wrong are too many; the distance too wide between them. If Steve wants him now, he wouldn’t possibly after seeing the ugly scars holding his metal arm onto his chest, after waking up for the two hundredth time while Bucky thrashes with a nightmare; the odds are too great for Bucky’s heart breaking into a million pieces.

Good thing Bucky’s become proficient at deflating the charged moments Steve creates. He digs his toes into Steve’s thigh and gets whacked with a throw pillow for his efforts.

He doesn’t remember the ending of the last movie, so he must’ve dozed off. His apartment is dark but for the T.V. screen on the Netflix home page. It casts a red glow over Steve’s features, soft in sleep.

He takes a brief moment to war with himself over how much of the tension he felt between them last night was real and how much was a result of narcotics and wishful thinking. But only a moment. He's not ready to make a move, either for Steve or away from him, and conjecturing will only drive him crazy. He tries to put it out of his mind and simply enjoy the sight before him. 

Steve has slid down a little, one leg stretched out onto the coffee table. Bucky has the afghan from the back of the couch thrown over his legs, which he definitely didn’t have before. Steve has a corner of it draped over his lap, and that shared body heat, plus falling asleep in his jeans, has Bucky overheating.

He reaches down to tug the afghan a little more onto Steve and a less on himself. Steve snuffles and shifts, lifting one knee onto the couch, pinning Bucky’s legs. The weight feels nice, even on his bandaged thigh. Bucky slouches a little further down, a little closer toward the middle of the couch, and falls back asleep.

When he opens his eyes, grey light is slanting through the kitchen windows, and the smell of coffee fills his apartment. There’s a glass of water, his Captain America mug that Becca gave him as a joke and a bottle of painkillers sitting on the coffee table in front of his face. He pulls himself up and looks over the back of the couch to see Steve moving about his kitchen.

He’s whisking eggs in a bowl and they crackle as he pours them into the pan. He has Bucky’s Hangover Helper mug for himself, the one with the big cartoon owl on it. Steve snags a piece of bacon from the plate beside the stove, shoves the whole thing in his mouth, then looks over to the couch and freezes.

“Oh,” he exclaims around a mouthful of bacon, “You’re awake.”

Bucky has a surreal flash: A year ago he had depression and dissociative episodes and today he has Captain America in his kitchen, hair still messy from sleeping on his couch, cooking him breakfast. How did this happen?

He knows what he's going to write about being grateful for in his journal today. 

“Gonna save some of my bacon for me?” he says.

“No,” Steve says, pointing at the plate of bacon with the spatula, “these ten pieces are mine. I made you coffee, if you want bacon you gotta make that shit yourself.”

Bucky groans and flops back down on the couch to hide his grin, goofy and too big.

Steve does share the bacon in the end, but he’s stingy about it. He cleans up the dishes again, and Bucky manages to hobble over to the counter to help a little. He mostly ends up getting in the way; his kitchen’s really made for one at a time, but Steve doesn’t make him move.

Steve hovers a little, once everything’s dry and put away.

“Sorry I crashed on your couch last night. I was wore out.”

Bucky waves him off as he hobbles back over to the couch, “Did you catch the end of the last movie?”

“Uh, I may have missed a little.”

Bucky turns the T.V. on. “Good, me too.”

They rewatch the ending, and Bucky introduces him to It’s Always Sunny. If Steve hadn’t promised Sam he wouldn’t skip his VA meeting, Bucky gets the feeling he’d have stayed all day.

Steve’s just left when Bucky’s phone pings. He still gets Google alerts when Steve’s name comes up in the news. He doesn’t strictly need to anymore, since he’s no longer Steve’s keeper, but he likes to stay apprised of the public opinion. Plus, a lot of times the articles include him. And speculation on whether he and Steve are dating. It’s a little bit masochistic, but the pleasure that people think he could get Captain America outweighs the discomfort that he doesn’t actually have him.

The general population have been mostly chill with Steve’s coming out. The press, on the other hand, have been hounding Steve like there’s no tomorrow. Bucky’s tried telling him to do a couple interviews to dispel the mystique and get it over with, but Steve can’t bring himself to do it. So there’s usually a crowd loitering around the S.H.I.E.L.D. building at all hours, so much so that Fury’s been letting Steve and Bucky use the side entrance. 

Steve tries not to even read about himself in the news; it makes him uncomfortable to see pictures of himself and to be referred to as a ‘hot bod.’ So Steve probably won’t see this article either. The picture is of Steve at a deli, talking with another male patron. The man has his hands on his hips; welcoming, open body language, and Steve’s looking down at his shoes, his hand at the back of his neck. The text interprets this as flirting, wondering if Steve will brave the dating scene in this wide new world and what he thinks of the future’s stance on casual sex and one night stands.

Bucky experiences a jolt of betrayal, quickly followed by sadness, then rounded out with anger. Which is ridiculous. Steve’s not his. He has no right to this jealousy.

He takes a closer look at the picture. It was taken yesterday afternoon; Steve’s wearing the same clothes as he was when he left Bucky’s apartment a few hours ago. He has a plastic bag in one hand, squared off by the Styrofoam takeout containers inside. He was picking up dinner for Bucky.

Bucky wonders if anyone noticed he had enough food for two, and that it certainly wasn’t for that guy he was talking to at the deli.

His smug satisfaction is a hollow victory that quickly fades. It’s poisonous, this feeling, this wanting. It’s twisting him up. The solution is flashing like a neon sign in front of his face, and he briefly entertains the idea of just telling Steve, Hey pal, I want to climb you like a tree and it’s all I can think about.

The same panic he felt the night before rushes back to him, so he turns the T.V. on to drown it out.

Once he’s in fighting condition again, they actually have several missions that go off smoothly. So smoothly that Bucky feels a little prickle of pride when bodies fall in Steve’s path and he salutes over his shoulder; when Steve beams at him afterward, dirty and sometimes a little bloody, the adrenaline high making his eyes more black than blue.

That is, predictably, when it goes to shit. They had such a nice streak going, too.

The complex is sprawling, four levels with criss crossing stairwells, hangars at each corner, pathways and tarmacs. The metal is a light grey, the details nearly blending into the snow behind it, the snow that drifts lazily down into Bucky’s hair, because of course things would go to shit in fucking Russia.

Bucky picks off the guards at the main booths and Steve takes two agents inside. But the agent going around the back trips an alarm. The whirring siren cuts through the crisp air like a jackhammer.

Bucky hears shuffling on the comms, bodies dropping heavily. Snow crunches behind him and he whirls around. He pulls the pistol from his thigh and dispatches the operative, whose gun was trained on him twenty yards back. He rolls back to his position and sees more operatives swarming from the upper level of the building, boots clanging on the metal grating. Bucky picks off the last two. These assholes really know what they’re doing.

“Steve, six more coming your way. Abort.”

“Negative,” he says breathlessly. “We’re setting the explosives.”

He sees movement at his right. A stream of black-clad agents with assault rifles, swarming toward the building like ants. There are too many and not enough time.

“I’m coming in,” he says. He almost doesn’t hear Steve’s reply—he knows what he’s going to say, and he’s got gunfire ringing in his ears besides—but his voice is steely and low: “Absolutely not.”

Bucky keeps going anyway. He pulls a grenade from his belt and lobs it in their general direction then runs toward the building, firing as he goes.

“Done,” Steve says in his ear, then there’s a grunt of pain and the distinct sound of bullets thudding against vibranium. “All agents meet at rendezvous.”

Bucky takes the stairs two at a time and creates a nice pile of bodies at the lower-level door before a bullet cuts through the metal railing and sprays shrapnel into his leg. He goes down on one knee but keeps shooting. He’s actually had worse, and the adrenaline makes it sort of easy to get up again.

Agent Caldwell skids past him, then spins to grab at his arm. Bucky shakes him off. “Go rendezvous. I’m going to get our Captain,” he says in a voice that sounds oddly cold to his ears.

“Sir,” Caldwell says, and sprints away.

Bucky checks the monitor strapped to his flesh arm for Steve’s position and makes his way there.

Steve is cornered in the warehouse, behind some machinery in various states of disarray. Bucky’s got the high ground on the stairwell above them all, and picks off the three men firing at his Captain, before the explosives go off.

The grated metal stairwell Bucky’s standing on gives way, and he snags the floor with his metal arm as the steps fall away from under his feet. He has a brief flash of lurching nausea; the snow still in his hair and the pitching sensation of falling is like déjà vu, but at this particular moment he can’t stop to wonder about it.

The building is shaking around him, glass falling from the ceiling. He lets go and rolls as he lands. Sharp bits—metal, or glass, it doesn’t matter—cut into his legs. With his eyes and pistol up, he skids around on debris as he runs to Steve, who’s crouched under his shield.

They wind their way through the building, doubling back a few times when a passage has collapsed. It probably only takes them three or four minutes, but it feels like a lifetime. Each groan and snap of the metal girders around them and Bucky’s sure it’s the end of them. He pushes harder.

These fucking Russian guys don’t give up though, Bucky’s gotta hand it to them. Shit’s falling apart around their ears and they’re still shooting.

When they slip through a doorway, a bullet pings off Bucky’s left shoulder and he swings back, pushing Steve backward against the wall. Then a small black object thuds and rolls at their feet.

Bucky lunges for it, grabs it with his metal hand and flings it back out the doorway it came through. It explodes a moment later, blowing shrapnel into the room. Bucky spins into a crouch to curl himself around Steve, which is kind of superfluous in retrospect. He tucks his head in front of Steve’s and blocks most of the shrapnel from his face with the metal arm. 

Papers are fluttering in the air like butterflies, and Steve hauls Bucky up by his collar and pushes him toward the exit.

They make it to the chopper and take off under heavy fire, but the bird sustains no damage. The whir of the chopper blades is quiet compared to the ping of bullets on metal in close confines. Their team is whole and unhurt, though stony and silent under the weight of a mission gone awry.

Since it doesn’t seem like Steve is going to, Bucky reaches up to open a comm link to Fury, but Steve rips the piece out of his ear and throws it somewhere on the floor.

“What—” Bucky bites, but one look at Steve’s face and he snaps his mouth shut. Steve is furious, positively shaking with it, that cut-marble jaw clenched tight and Bucky lets himself be shoved into a seat. Steve buckles himself in across from Bucky and doesn’t look at him as they fly a hundred miles north to catch their quinjet.

Steve calls Fury in the jet, his voice even and low, going over the mission details briefly before they can have a full meeting at base. Bucky's legs have stopped bleeding; they were superficial wounds, though there's a shit ton of them, and Caldwell helps him bandage them loosely at the back of the jet. 

The adrenaline is oozing out of him, leaving him heavy and tired. But the anger and anxiety keeps him from nodding off on the two hour plane ride home. 

He checks out for a while, then realizes he’s followed Steve back to the locker room at base. He grabs his duffle out of his locker, his movements sharp and jerky with exhaustion and restless anger. The sooner he can get home and sleep this disaster away, the better. He’s able to peel off his Kevlar vest before Steve grabs his shoulder and spins him around.

“What the hell was that?” he demands.

“What, me?” Bucky shoots back, fully alert again and livid in the face of unwarranted reprimand. “You should’ve retreated the second that alarm tripped. You almost got yourself killed!”

“You disobeyed direct orders.”

“I saved your ass.”

Steve’s crowding into his space, eyes flashing with fury as he seethes, “Pull a stunt like that again and you’re off the team.”

Bucky pushes him back with both hands on his chest. He doesn’t go far, the guy’s a fucking brick wall, and it only serves to piss Bucky off more.

“If you think I’m gonna let you throw your life away you are wrong. I’m there to keep you safe. And I’m going to do my job no matter what it takes.”

Steve’s still got that steely look on his face, his lips pressed into a tight line. He takes a sharp breath in, not giving up, that scrappy bastard, but there's a sudden anguish pulling at his eyebrows. 

Then, instead of yelling at him some more, Steve grabs Bucky’s face with both hands, crowding into him and pressing their lips together in a bruising kiss.

Bucky’s thrown off balance and his shoulders crash back against the lockers behind him, completely at Steve’s mercy. Bucky kisses him back feverishly, deeply. It’s the best thing he’s ever tasted and he wants as much as he can get before Steve comes back to his senses. Steve is unrelenting, licking into Bucky’s mouth and nipping at his lower lip, kisses hot and wet. He’s still wearing his red, white and blue suit, and Bucky’s fingers pull at the canvas, searching for an opening, itching to feel his skin.

Steve yanks one of Bucky's knees up around his hip so he can fit himself between his thighs and press him against the lockers with the length of his body. He gets a hand under Bucky’s compression shirt, over the skin on his back, fingertips digging hard enough to bruise. Bucky’s hips jerk and he makes a breathy noise into Steve’s mouth.

“Whoa, sorry Cap, sorry!” an agent whirls around in the doorway in a flash, but it’s enough to break the moment. If that was Hendricks, Bucky’s going to have to eat some words. And then punch him in the face.

Steve drops Bucky back onto both feet and takes a step back. He looks utterly divine, lips red and wet, sweat and grime still clinging around his hair, eyes blown black with lust.

“Holy shit,” Bucky whispers, slouched back against the lockers. He licks the taste of Steve's kiss off his lips and Steve’s eyes track the movement.

“Sorry,” Steve says, still breathless. “I have to go…report.”

Then he turns on his heel and retreats.

Bucky cleans up and somehow floats home in a daze, feeling Steve's handprints on him like a brand, and tingling from his head to his toes.

Chapter Text

They have a meeting with Fury again the next morning.

The team gathers in a conference room, and from a surreptitious glance it looks like Steve didn’t get much sleep either. Bucky’s not enough of an asshole to be gratified by that. It was Caldwell who walked in on them in the locker room, judging by the exceptionally uncomfortable look on his face.

The team functioned as they should have; Jackson tripped the alarm and he’s in a little bit of hot water. After the team debrief, Fury sends their agents away and keeps Steve and Bucky behind. Bucky feels absolutely no remorse for his insubordination and isn’t about to take a punishment for it.

He gets only a stern warning from Fury, who, if Bucky’s not mistaken, actually seems a little amused—as much as a man with an eye patch can—by the two stony-faced soldiers sitting before him stalwartly not looking at each other.

As they file out of Fury’s office, Steve grabs Bucky’s arm and pulls him to the elevator. He pushes the button for his floor and they ride up in awkward silence. Bucky spent most of the night reliving that kiss, wondering what might have happened if they hadn’t been interrupted, then going over every possible outcome. There’s a 79% chance Steve will apologize and blame it on the adrenaline, say it was just a mistake. The other 21% is mostly indulgent fantasies of Steve tearing Bucky’s clothes off and ravishing him on the floor, which, despite the simmering something Bucky still might have made up in his head, he knows is a long shot.

He’s a goner either way.

“I’m sorry, Bucky,” Steve says, when they’re in his apartment. Bucky’s heart sinks down into his shoes so fast it shatters on the floor.

But it’s ok. It’s ok, really. It’s for the best.

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” He tries to smile casually, show Steve that no matter what they’ll still be friends. If that one kiss is all Bucky gets, it’ll be enough. It has to be.

“No. No, it’s not. I shouldn’t have…done that first.” 

Bucky wants nothing more than to get this over with so he can flee and lick his wounds for the next fifteen years or so, but Steve is fidgety and hesitant, so he asks, “First?”

“Before telling you how I feel.”

Bucky would save him from his embarrassment if he had any idea where this conversation was going. Steve is blushing madly, and he continues,

“I don’t want to make it weird; you’re the best friend I’ve ever had and I don’t want to lose you. But you should know. I want…this. You.” He’s searching Bucky’s face, but Bucky’s still frozen, so Steve wets his lips and presses on. “Would you have dinner with me? I mean, come out with me, on a…on a date?”

Bucky blinks. “You want… to go on a date.” A long pause. “With me,” Bucky repeats, for clarification. This possibility crossed his mind, in a theoretical kind of way, but it feels like someone just elected him President, or decided he should go to the moon. He might need to ask Steve to put it in writing.

Steve squints. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?” Bucky’s not the one being absurd here.

“Act like I’m so far above you. Bucky, you’re absolutely—amazing and—and stunning, and—“

As Steve struggles to find fitting words to describe him, Bucky experiences a full-body convulsion that takes him two steps toward Steve and into a kiss on the mouth. Steve melts into it without hesitation, his hands sliding up the sides of Bucky’s neck, and Bucky has to pull away quickly, or he’ll be fucking him in the kitchen and that’s not the way he wants this to go. Really, it’s not.

He wants to do it right.

“Of course I’ll go out with you.”

Steve grins, bright and beautiful and breathtaking. Bucky is powerless against it; he leans in and kisses Steve again. His lips are— his tongue— his body—Bucky pulls back abruptly again, vividly aware of his cock, already fully hard and trying to put itself in Steve’s way. Some of his thoughts must be written across his face because Steve says, “I’ve never… not with a man.”

Bucky rattles his head, to shake the dirt from between his ears. “Don’t worry, Stevie, I’m not gonna jump you right here.”

Out of nowhere, Steve smiles wickedly and Bucky’s body reacts by clenching up everywhere.

“What, don’t you want me?” he says.

The dirt’s back. “You’re fishing for compliments, Rogers. You know I want you. But I’m a sniper, I can be patient.”

Steve smoothes his hand down Bucky’s back to his ass. He tips his chin so his lips are ghosting over Bucky’s as he speaks.

“I’m not sure how patient I can be.”

“Christ, Rogers, I’m trying not to fuck you on the kitchen floor, you really wanna talk like that to me?”

Steve makes a sound somewhere between a groan and a whimper, then says, “I wanted you the minute I opened my door and saw you standing there." Then it’s Bucky who whimpers like a crying puppy, leaning in so he can get into Steve’s mouth again. Every nerve is exploding at once. He’s so warm, and solid, bruising touches too eager to temper. There's nothing but Steve, Steve who took the first jump, who saved Bucky from himself, new to everything in this world; the brave one.

Steve has somehow backed him up against the counter, and he’s practically bent backward over it. He pushes Steve back with one hand on his chest.

“We gotta…we’re gonna have to tell Fury.”

Steve crowds over him again and murmurs, “Just shut up and let me kiss you for a minute.”

Bucky manages some miraculous willpower and doesn’t rut against Steve’s thigh, but it’s a close call. He winds his fingers into Steve’s short hair to keep them from tugging his shirt away. Steve, however, appears to be on a mission to shatter Bucky’s tenuous control, getting his hands on skin, tracing the contours of Bucky’s back up to his shoulder blades, then back down, dipping his fingertips into his waistband.

“Jesus, Bucky,” Steve mutters, like he's the one who's drowning here, before pressing his tongue into Bucky’s mouth again. Another blast of adrenaline and arousal shoots through him, and he yanks Steve against him hard with both hands on his hips, desperate for friction.

When his lips are swollen and tender, they tip their heads down to rest together, panting into the space between them. Bucky can feel Steve, hard and throbbing, pressed against his thigh. It would be so easy to reach down and pop the button on his jeans. Slide his hand in and touch. He’s pretty sure Steve wouldn’t protest.

When he leans back and opens his eyes, Steve’s watching him carefully. His pupils are blown, his hair standing up every which way, cheeks flushed.

“God you’re beautiful,” Bucky blurts, and would almost regret it, but it makes Steve smile brighter than he’s ever seen.

“You should see yourself right now,” Steve says, dipping to press one chaste kiss to his mouth. “Never seen anyone look so good.”

Bucky’s breath catches in his throat. He wants to say something smart, but he’s honestly afraid if he opens his mouth I love you is going to come out, so he just tips his chin up to ask for another kiss.

Steve brings that bright smile down to Bucky’s mouth and shares it with him.

It’s the most awkward conversation Bucky’s had since he came out to his family.

Once Bucky found the willpower to extricate himself from Steve and stared at the refrigerator long enough for his erection to subside, he’d all but dragged Steve down to Fury’s office.

It’s all gotta be aboveboard. He won’t have anyone thinking Steve used his rank or Bucky used his position to take advantage of anything. He might get taken off Steve’s strike team—Aha! That’s what Steve was getting at that day asking about Natasha—but it’ll be worth it.

Fury looks up, from Bucky to Steve, then back down at the file on his desk. “Didn’t I just send you two away?”

Bucky’s too busy trying not to look at Steve and pushing down white hot embarrassment to notice Fury’s reaction beyond that he doesn’t seem to have much of a reaction at all. Not that Bucky’s embarrassed that he’s about to be doing Steve on every available surface. He’s fucking ecstatic. He wants to show it off, kiss him on the street, dance with him in bars and drive every other poor sap in the world crazy with jealousy. He’d just rather not have a clinical discussion about it with his boss, who happens to be a terrifying SOB.

“You’ll have to sign some paperwork with Human Resources,” Fury says as he picks up his phone. “I’ll tell her you’re coming down.”

And that’s it?

“You’re not gonna take me off the A-team?”

“Only if you keep calling it that. Janice, I’m sending Barnes and Rogers down to you for a PBR disclosure.” Fury winces at Janice’s shrill and enthusiastic reply. Bucky sees Steve duck his head in his peripheral. He’ll have to ask him about that later. “If that’s all, Captain Rogers,” Fury stands to signal the meeting is over. Bucky follows Steve out, but pauses with one hand on the doorframe. Fury’s calm is not his usual stoicism. He’s completely unsurprised.

“Did you know this would happen? When you assigned me to him.”

“You can never know, but you can hope.”

Huh. He had way more people watching his back than he thought.


Fury looks back down at whatever he’s pretending to be engrossed in on his desk. “Go on now.”

Bucky taps the doorframe. “Yes sir.”

He and Steve make their way back up to Steve’s apartment in a slightly hesitant silence. Bucky’s not sure where this leaves them, but he knows what he wants. The thought of it terrified him in the abstract, but now that he’s allowed to put his hands on Steve, they never want to touch anything else again.

When the apartment door closes behind them, Bucky presses up into a kiss, sliding his hands around Steve’s back to his ass. Steve’s arms around him, pressing them together, his hands on Bucky’s hips; it feels like he’s dreaming. When he slides his tongue into Steve’s mouth, Steve jerks back.

“Wait, wait,” he says, breathless, “a date was mentioned.”

“Steve, we’ve been going on dates for almost a year.”

“That was different. We were friends.”

“We still are friends.”

Steve kisses him once, and Bucky chases after it when he pulls away, but Steve just laughs. He puts one of his big hands on Bucky’s jaw.

“Yeah, but it’s more now.” The way Steve looks at him, like he’s something precious, Bucky all but melts into a puddle at his feet. “I want to do right by you, Bucky.”

His heart thuds; he feels like a princess in a high tower. This is ridiculous.

“If you really wanna do right by me,” Bucky says, and Steve rolls his eyes because he knows what’s coming, “you can take me to your bedroom and fuck me until the weekend.”

Steve’s eyes drop to Bucky’s lips and for a moment Bucky thinks he’s won, but Steve clenches his teeth and shakes his head. Bucky groans. He wants to taste all that skin with a vicious force, but he’s secretly kind of pleased.

They decide on a date for that night, because it seems neither of them can wait any longer than that, which pleases Bucky too.

Chapter Text

Steve texts him with the address of the restaurant and he meets him out front on the sidewalk. He’s changed into a light blue button-down that makes his eyes glow, tucked into his jeans because he is a nerd. Bucky’s wearing the black jeans and green top he’d worn on the night of his clearance exam party because it’s already been Natasha approved. He was always pretty good at this; never had any trouble getting and keeping dates, but this is different. He wishes too late that he’d called Natasha for a second opinion anyway, since his objectivity is completely lost.

But his worrying goes to waste. Steve’s grinning broadly, and as Bucky approaches, steps up to place one hand on his jaw and press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. Before Bucky can chase after it, Steve tips his head toward the restaurant and Bucky follows him in.

The front window has ‘Calypso’s’ printed in big serif typography. The canopy is maroon with scalloped edges, and the maitre’d is wearing a three piece suit. Steve has made reservations under the name Peterson, and Bucky glances discreetly at the other patrons as they’re shown to a table in the back. Every single one of them looks up as they pass. Some even turn in their chairs to gawk openly.

Bucky is outrageously self-conscious as they sit with the menus, which are mostly in French and don’t even have prices listed- never a good sign. Steve smiles at him over the small candle in the center of the table, but it looks as strained as Bucky feels.

Somebody tips somebody off and within twenty minutes, there’s a crowd around the front window and the background conversations of the restaurant have grown to a dull roar. The wait staff shuffle around nervously and every so often a curious head will pop over the dividing wall separating the back copse of tables from the rest of the place.

They haven’t said much to each other, as they’ve both been glancing around furtively, until Steve blurts, “God, Bucky, I’m so sorry. This is awful.”

Oh thank God. Bucky leans forward and says in a whispered rush, “Let’s go somewhere else.”

Steve throws a bill on the table as they stand. Bucky’d bet his right arm that it’s a $100, even though all they ordered was two bourbons that haven’t even come yet. Bucky leads them toward the kitchen and their waitress nods them discreetly through to the backdoor.

There are a few people with cameras waiting at the mouth of the alley, but he and Steve are two of the best secret agents and tactical minds in the country, and they slip down the alleyway, unnoticed at first. Steve, with this enhanced senses, hears footsteps coming so he takes the lead, clambering noisily up a fire escape and across the rooftop. Bucky almost can’t keep up he’s laughing so hard, but luckily the buildings are close enough together to leap across. Steve doesn’t even look back, trusting Bucky to follow. When they slip back down to the street, they’re a good eight or nine blocks away. Bucky peers around the corner.

“Ok,” he says, his breath coming back to him, “there’s a pizza place a couple blocks down or—“

When he turns around, Steve is already pushing into a kiss, backing him up against the cool bricks. Steve’s tongue curls into his mouth and he pulls away only a fraction of an inch to say, “I have a better idea.”

Heat shoots straight to all of Bucky’s best parts, and Steve takes his hand again, leading him like they’re still being chased, though they left their pursuers confused four blocks back. Bucky doesn’t ask where they’re going, but when they get close, he figures it out.

Under the yellow canopy and dancing tamales, Bucky stops Steve with a finger through his belt loop. He steps in close, tipping his lips up tantalizingly close to Steve's, but doesn’t kiss him. Instead, he pulls Steve’s shirt out from where it’s tucked into his jeans.

“There,” he whispers, “that’s better.”

Steve tries to snag him back as he turns toward the door but Bucky slips away, laughing. Steve follows him in, where the place is packed full of late 20-somethings in groups of twos and threes. They get some looks and some smiles of recognition, but no one bothers them.

This is where they came on their last first date; Steve wants to say it so bad, Bucky can see it in his eyes, can hear it, like he’s inside of his head with him, and Bucky’s so happy that he starts to laugh. It makes Steve laugh, too.

The Montenegros have upgraded their sign from a white board with messy green marker leant against the wall to a trendy chalkboard posted above the window where Mrs. Montenegro is sitting, taking orders with efficiency. According to the artistic block script, their price has gone up a dollar, probably because the secret has got out about the best tamales in New York (or that Captain America is a patron), but when she rings up their combined order, it comes to exactly as much as it always has.

Steve takes the cash from his wallet, happily oblivious, while Bucky has a staring contest with Mrs. Montenegro. He loses.

A table in the corner opens up and they eat their tamales as the din of voices, grease sizzling and pans clattering increases with time. Steve’s foot is resting against his under the table that’s small enough for them to loosely link their fingers over. They don’t linger, so someone else can take their table, which is just fine with Bucky. As at home as he feels here, there are other places he thinks he’d feel even more so.

When they head back out into the warm night air, Steve takes his hand again and they start walking back toward the SHIELD building— toward Steve’s apartment— by wordless agreement, talking and laughing the whole way just as they always have, but with a warmer undertone, full of promise.

At the door to the building, Steve asks, “Comin’ up?” and doesn’t wait for an answer as he pulls Bucky in by the hand.

Bucky ignores him in the elevator, arms crossed over his chest as Steve crowds him into the corner, kissing his face, under his ear. Apparently a rushed, cobbled-together first date is all Steve needed to appease his old-fashioned sensibilities before getting fresh.

Bucky can see his own stupid grin in the reflective wall, and can feel a matching one on Steve’s face as he presses into his neck. Steve’s fingers toy with the button on Bucky’s pants, and he’s half hard again by the time they reach his floor. Steve all but tows him down the hall while Bucky pretends to drag his feet, laughing.

“Easy, Rogers, you don’t think I’m fast do you?”

Steve turns and crouches, pressing his shoulder into Bucky’s stomach and wrapping his arm around the backs of Bucky’s knees, intending to lift him up over his shoulder, but Bucky yelps and pushes him away. Steve catches his wrist and yanks, spinning him around so his back hits his door. There, he steps in and hovers his mouth an inch over Bucky’s.

They’re perfect, Steve’s lips. Curvy and plump, red and shiny now from kissing. Bucky wants to worship them. Steve licks his upper lip and Bucky looks up to find Steve watching him carefully again, gauging him. It’s almost unnerving, to be the recipient of the full power of his attention. But, Bucky realizes, he’s been getting most of Steve’s attention for ages now, almost since the moment they met. Why did it take him so long to see it?

Steve leans in incrementally and kisses him slowly, softly. Bucky sighs into it, reaching up to cup the back of Steve’s head, keeping him right where he is.

Steve opens the door and pushes Bucky inside, not letting him get out of arm’s reach as he herds him to the couch. Bucky sinks down in the corner and Steve sits turned toward him, taking the opportunity to get his hand under Bucky’s shirt again.

He moves to pull the hem up and Bucky freezes, all the heat in his veins turns to ice. Steve feels it and pulls back to look at him.

“What’s wrong?”

“I just—it’s—there’s a lot of,” he clears his throat. Get it together Barnes— “scarring. The arm.”

Steve actually fucking rolls his eyes and leans back in, picking up where he left off, mouth on Bucky’s neck, hands pulling at his shirt.

“You think I care?” he mumbles against Bucky’s neck, then leans back so he can strip Bucky’s shirt up and off his head, then dives back in to kiss him on the mouth.

It’s slow, and deep; Bucky can feel it all the way to his toes. Steve shifts on the couch, leaning over Bucky, pressing him backward into the cushions. This is actually happening. Bucky feels like a live wire, like a goddamn bolt of lightning, lit up from the inside out. 

Bucky tips his chin up to break the kiss abruptly in an effort to get his heartbeat under control. Steve doesn’t back off too much, and Bucky’s eyes zero in on his lips again. Which isn’t a great idea if he’s trying to not come in his pants. As he stares, Steve’s lips curve into a smile that’s entirely too self-satisfied.

“Shut up,” Bucky slurs, “I’m gonna make you forget your name.

“Big talk.”

Bucky's heart is hammering with desire and exhilaration—and a little bit of fear. Fear of—of what? Of disappointing Steve? Of ending this delicious torture they’ve been putting themselves through; of venturing into something new; of opening up again, being vulnerable in that way? He’s had sex since the accident, but that’s not what this is about. This is different, and they both know it.

But Steve’s even more unsure than he is, having never done this before, so Bucky puts on a brave face and pulls Captain America’s shirt off, tossing it behind him on the floor. The man is a feast; rich, too decadent for a common man like Bucky. And yet here he is, giving himself up.

What the fuck was he so afraid of? He gets his mouth on Steve’s neck as his flesh hand maps out the sharp edges and valleys he’s just exposed. Steve is breathing hard in his ear, then moans above his head as Bucky moves lower. Steve keeps his hands on Bucky’s shoulders as long as he can, then fists them in the pillows behind his head when Bucky pops the button on his pants.

He’s hard and sticky, the head of his cock—just as big and beautiful as the rest of him—all shiny with precome, and Bucky takes it in his mouth.

“Jesus Mary and Joseph,” Steve gushes, hips jerking. Bucky wants to torment him, make him beg, but he’s too eager for it, and sucks hard and fast. Steve is crying “Ah, ah, fuck, Bucky,” and Bucky could come just from listening to him, to the sounds of what he’s making him feel.

He’s not sure if Steve forgets his name, but he certainly seems to lose his grip on the English language pretty quick, reduced to combinations of g and n with the occasional u as Bucky takes him apart.

After Steve comes, instead of going boneless and sleepy, the man grabs Bucky by the arms and hauls him up onto his feet. He kisses him, hard and deep, making a surprised noise in the back of his throat at the taste of himself on Bucky’s tongue.

Then suddenly the back of Bucky’s knees hit the edge of Steve’s bed and he falls backward onto it. Steve puts to work this new experienced knowledge, pulling Bucky’s pants off and sinking to his knees on the floor.

Bucky groans before Steve even touches him; the sight of Steve kneeling before him, it’s too much; he throws his elbow over his eyes. It’s as good as any blow job he’s ever gotten from guys who’ve done it all their adult lives; better, maybe. A little sloppy, but god, sometimes that’s just what you need.

“Steve,” Bucky breathes, intended as a warning, but Steve just takes him deeper. Bucky arches up off the bed, screwing his eyes shut tight and holding onto the comforter for dear life as he peaks and crashes.

Steve crawls up over him, dropping kisses along his body up to his lips. Steve kisses him once, then pulls back only far enough that their noses still touch and just looks at him, a grin spreading over those sinfully perfect lips. He’s propped himself up on his elbows, bracketing Bucky’s head so as not to squish him completely, but they’re pressed together ankle to chest. Steve’s still hard and Bucky manages a wicked grin through his fucked-out, ecstatic, head-over-heels delirium.

It’s gonna be a long night.

How could you not have told me,” Becca demands when he finally answers. He’s lying in the middle of Steve’s bed while the man himself is in the kitchen, rustling them up some more calories to burn.

“How do you get this news so fast?” he replies mildly.

“I have the internet. Is it true?”

“Yes, Steve and I are dating.”

There’s a whoosh that sounds like her letting go of a breath she’d been holding. “Good. I already told my friends they could meet him at Thanksgiving.”

“I’m glad I could be implicit in your lie.”

“It’s not a lie anymore,” she sings happily.

“Here,” Steve says, coming back with the carton of orange juice and a bag of granola, looking a little wild-eyed. “Fuel up, soldier.”

Oh my g—“ Becca says as she hangs up.

Steve grimaces, “Oops, who was that?”

Bucky just shakes his head, "Doesn't matter," then takes the proffered food.

Steve’s blood is buzzing. His whole body is vibrating because Bucky wants him.

They had the horrible, awkward talk with Fury four days ago, and Bucky has left his apartment exactly twice. Today is thankfully a Saturday and they have no commitments but Steve’s internal mission to taste every inch of Bucky’s body.

Bucky’s talking about something, moving through his kitchen with a grace and ease that Steve has tried and failed to copy. Steve’s not paying much attention to what he’s saying though. He’s more interested in the way his lover’s body moves; he likes to talk with his hands, gesticulating in the air, and the contrast between flesh and metal is one Steve has yet to tire of studying. His fingers itch for a pencil; he hasn’t had much time to draw him, their down time is spent exploring, but soon, maybe, Bucky will sit still and indulge him.

Bucky catches onto him quick—sharp as a tack, he is—and grins the way that makes Steve’s knees go to jelly. Though to be fair, that could be said for most of Bucky’s looks.

Bucky gestures toward himself for Steve to come take what you want. He’s standing facing the counter, leaning his weight on it on his hands, so Steve comes around behind him, presses up against his back. He bows his head to Bucky’s neck, but doesn’t kiss him, just drags his lips up from his shoulder to his ear. Steve places his hands on Bucky’s hips, pushing up under his shirt slightly, fingertips trailing low on his belly, just above his waistband.

Bucky has shown Steve some pretty neat tricks, and Steve’s eager to turn them around on him. Bucky has seemed to enjoy being in charge, given that Steve’s never done any of this before, but he melts pretty quickly when Steve spins him around and directs Bucky’s hands to grip the edge of the counter and stay there.

His moans are music as Steve licks down his neck and pushes a hand into his pants. Why the hell had he put his clothes back on in the first place? Tactical error.

Steve strips Bucky of his shirt and then there’s a whole new expanse of skin to devour.

Bucky had warned him of the scarring on his shoulder, and it was hard to look at, at first. Steve had felt it down to his bones, that Bucky had been hurt in this way. But the fact that he’s here at all after what happened, that he’s stronger than he was before, fills Steve with a pride he’s not sure is his to have.

He’d left it alone until now, since Bucky seemed more uncomfortable with it than Steve was, but he kisses along Bucky’s shoulder now, gently, the scars hard and raised under his lips.

Bucky’s breath is coming quick, so Steve tilts his head so he can get a look at his face, while still worshipping as much of his body as he can get his mouth on. Bucky’s brows are creased, those perfect lips parted, watching Steve with an intensity rarely seen.

Bucky gets a handful of Steve’s shirt and pulls him in to his mouth again, kissing him desperately. Steve’s whole body sings: Yes.

He lets Steve walk him backward to the bedroom, where the sheets are still a mess. He lets Steve lay him down and cover him with his body. Lets Steve strip him of the rest of his clothes and suck him off. He’s getting pretty good at it, if Bucky’s moans are anything to go by.

After Bucky comes, Steve kisses up his body again, paying special attention to the V of muscle at his hips. Bucky plucks at Steve’s shirt with two metal fingers.

“You’re still wearing all your clothes.” His voice is low and rough and it does things to Steve’s cock that he didn’t know the mere sound of a voice could do. “This is a travesty.”

“I know. Whose idea was it to put clothes back on anyway?”

“It was a terrible idea. Must’ve been yours.”

They rectify the situation immediately, with agreeable results.

Bucky’s back fits just right against Steve’s chest, slotting like puzzle pieces when he leans his head back onto Steve’s shoulder. They’ve tested it out, with several variations.

It’s a particular kind of torture for Steve, then, to be standing behind Bucky in line at the coffee shop and know. He steps a little closer, his shoes bracketing Bucky’s, and Bucky leans back against him, merciful.

Bucky will take his hand on the street, lace their fingers together like it’s the easiest thing in the world. And it is. Loving Bucky is the easiest thing Steve’s ever done; it comes to him like second nature, like breathing. But he still has to figure out how to toe the line between casual affection and public indecency. Because with Bucky anywhere within a 20 foot radius, all he wants is to get his hands on him.

Steve dips his head to Bucky’s neck and says against the skin just under his ear, “Can I kiss you?”

“Literally anytime,” Bucky says, bemused, so Steve presses his lips to the back of Bucky’s neck and feels the goosebumps rise on his skin.

There’s a high-pitched squeal somewhere to their right and he’s sure this will wind up online within the hour, but he also doesn’t care.

He takes Bucky’s hand in his and is rewarded with a smile as they order their drinks. The barista is glowing at them, grinning about as wide as Steve is, and it makes him blush.

When they step aside to wait for their drinks, Bucky tucks up into his chest again.

“Would it be obnoxious if I asked you to kiss me again?” he says, tipping his lips up like an invitation.

Steve doesn’t even answer, just presses their lips together softly, mindful of all the eyes on them. When he pulls back, they can only grin at each other for a moment. Steve’s brain, his entire body is a drum pounding I love you I love you I love you I love you, and maybe Bucky can see it in his face, because he starts to laugh. So Steve laughs too.

Chapter Text

They make no announcement, act no differently, at least Bucky thinks, but somehow (Darcy Lewis) word gets out.

When he passes by her in the hall, on his way to the weekly strategy meeting, she gives him a sly knowing grin and raises her hand for a high five. Bucky shakes his head, but gives it to her.

Natasha waits until she’s got Bucky’s head locked between her thighs to say innocently, “So, Steve’s into you, huh?”

Bucky can be glad that she sounds at least a little bit out of breath, while he flails between her thighs of steel, trying not to suffocate. He spins and lifts her up, then slams her back against the mat. Her leg lock slips and he twists her around, but she knees him in the face and leaps gracefully to her feet.

“How surprising. I would never have guessed,” she intones dryly.

Bucky wipes the blood from his upper lip with the back of his hand, “Ugh,” then lunges for her.

Janice in HR had been particularly effervescent. Steve blushed the whole time as they signed the paperwork they should have gone to sign a week ago. She’s not even mad they left her hanging that day.

She’s totally professional, if a little fidgety holding back her grin, until she can’t anymore.

“We’re just so happy for you,” she gushes. Bucky’s face is burning up— honestly this is horrible— but he can’t help shooting a grin at Steve because the woman is delightful. Steve’s head is bent over the paper he’s dutifully reading before signing, but there’s a goofy grin on his lips, too.

Steve douses his eggs in hot sauce; they ran out of salsa two days ago and they prefer to spend their free time in bed rather than doing anything as mundane as grocery shopping. Steve’s finally consented to allowing Bucky to put clothes on long enough for full meals instead of granola bars on the fly, so they’re sitting across from each other at the kitchen table with scrambled eggs, bacon and orange juice.

Steve is shaking his head at his plate, so Bucky says, “What.”

“I’m just mad at myself for waiting so long.”

“Yeah asshole, how dare you deprive me?” Bucky says around a mouthful of eggs.

Steve doesn’t bother to turn it around on him; it’d be too obvious. Instead he says, “We’ll just have to make up for the lost time.”

“Hm. Any ideas as to how?”

“A few.”

They leave the remainders of brunch at the table in a rush to the bedroom.

“I’m gonna need a nap,” Bucky laughs afterward, still trying to catch his breath, when Steve settles himself between his legs and kisses him again, hot and slow and deep.

“Bucky,” he growls under his ear, “Can I…”

Yes, for chrissakes,” Bucky gasps, his tired cock twitching in anticipation, “Whatever you want, yes.” They've been fooling around for almost two weeks, have been fucking for half that. Bucky's told him he has unequivocal carte blanche, but Steve still asks, each and every time. 

“Can I…borrow some money—“ Steve starts, and Bucky smacks him. Always a little shit, even naked and hard. He carries on, snickering, “because I need a loan for—“ Bucky smacks him again and he finally shuts up.

Steve rustles around in the blankets for the bottle of lube and presses a slick fingertip against Bucky’s hole. Bucky gasps and Steve hesitates; a little uncertain still, even though he knows pretty well by now what Bucky likes.

“Is it—“

“Yes yes yes yes,” Bucky says, so Steve carries on, one finger, slowly, then two. It's been a relatively frenzied storm these last few weeks. A whirlwind of tearing clothes and not enough; not hard enough, not deep enough, never enough, after spending so long unrequited, but now Steve takes it slow. Torturously, terribly slow. Bucky’s nearly in tears as Steve tucks his face into Bucky’s neck to kiss and whisper exultations against his skin.

"Please," is all Bucky can say in return. "Please."

When Steve pushes his cock inside, his eyes go unfocused with dizzying pleasure.

Bucky’s the one who loses his grip on language, then. The only word he knows is Steve. The only word he’ll ever need to know is Steve. There’s nothing else; only this.

After three weeks together, their relationship hasn’t changed much, except that when they go out together, they touch and kiss, and oh yeah, they have a lot of great sex. But on the night when Bucky follows him home after a mission and they’re both so bone tired that they fall asleep on separate sides of the bed without so much as a kiss, Bucky wakes up in the morning slightly terrified.

What is this? This domesticity, this sense of belonging? What does he do with this bubbling frantic happiness, threatening to bust out of him like a shaken-up beer can. Can he marry a National Icon? Is that allowed? How can he keep him, this flawless bliss, forever?

He starts cleaning the apartment; god knows why, his hands just need to be busy and Steve’s still sleeping. He makes quite a racket and wakes him up in short order anyway. He has a bottle of Windex he found in the closet and is washing the decorative mirror above the couch.

“What are you doing?” Steve asks through a yawn, rubbing his eyes. His hair is squashed to his head and sticking up in the back from going to sleep right after his shower, and he’s wearing nothing but red plaid pajama pants low on his hips.

“I don’t know,” Bucky admits to his reflection.

Steve comes up behind him and takes the cleaning supplies, sets them on the coffee table, then turns Bucky around to face him. He kisses him once, sweetly, then pulls him into a hug. For nothing but the sake of a comforting touch. They’ve done a lot of touching in these few weeks, but an innocent hug is somehow different.

“It’s fine,” Steve says over Bucky’s shoulder. “whatever it is. I don’t care about anything else, I just like having you close.”

He leans back, smiling and Bucky blurts, “I love you,” then panics. “Y’know, just…FYI. So you know.” And it feels so good to say that he can’t seem to shut up. “I love absolutely everything about you.”

Steve looks a little surprised, but a pinch forms between his eyebrows and he says earnestly, “I love you too, Bucky. If it wasn’t obvious by now.”

Bucky feels tension drain out of his limbs and out of his heart in a sigh. Steve cants his head.

“You weren’t…afraid I wouldn’t say it back, were you?”

“I guess I was, a little bit,” Bucky confesses.

Steve shakes his head and takes Bucky's face in his hands, “Bucky, you idiot, I’m so crazy about you they could declare me legally insane.” Bucky laughs, loose with relief, but Steve goes on, “You’re perfect and amazing, and I love you so much I can hardly speak.”

The edges of Bucky’s grin get a little wobbly, so he leans in to kiss Steve gently. Steve’s laugh is a little wet too, and Bucky’s anxiety settles into quiet contentment.

They work together just fine, except that Steve’s a little less friendly to him on missions. He shows no favoritism, even when things get hairy. He trusts Bucky can take care of himself.

On the next mission Hendricks is on, as they board the jet to take off, he juts his hand out to Bucky; an apology, a truce. Bucky shakes it.

Afterward, when the jet lands safely back at base, Steve snags Bucky's arm to let the other Agents off first. Steve’s been nothing but professional with him as soon as the suit goes on, more’s the pity. Bucky's been trying to figure out how to ask Steve to bring it home sometime, but maybe it’s too soon for that kind of truth.

It takes him by surprise then, when Steve grins crookedly and places a hand on his ass, and leans in to say lowly in Bucky's ear, "What say I bring the suit home tonight?" He nips at Bucky's earlobe, "If you promise to leave yours on too." His grin when he leans back is devastating and he knows it, but Bucky is simultaneously hit with a surge of lust and amazement that somehow this man must be sharing the same brain as him, and he cannot think of a single thing to say.

"C'mon, time to debrief," Steve says in a low voice, then slaps his ass, “Hup to, soldier," and laughs at Bucky’s choked sound of surprise as he trails his Captain off the jet. 

Their next mission takes them into the mountains of Europe, high up, where a train carrying enough explosives to level a city is on its way to do just that.

They’ve been running around Europe for a week, chasing a short man with big plans, and it’s led them here. Hendricks, Caldwell and Monroe climb on top of the train as it roars down the tracks, making their way up to the engine to see if they can stop it. Bucky and Steve drop inside the cars, trying to find the cache of weaponry.

Most of it is C4, but there’s an ominous looking contraption with black wires and a screen with red symbols flicking what appears to be a countdown, if Bucky could read Cyrillic, or whatever the hell it is.

“There’s no red wire, how do you know what to cut if there’s no red wire?” Steve says, gloved hands fluttering over the device.

A bullet pings above them, giving Bucky enough time to turn toward the shooter, shouldering Steve behind the bomb. The second bullet thuds into Bucky’s right arm and he cries out; goddamn motherfucking gunshot wounds again. Steve fires from around the bomb, and the shooter’s third bullet hits the wired-up device dead center. A small explosion blasts a jagged hole in the door of the car. Bucky takes advantage of this distraction to lean around some crates with his pistol in his metal hand and dispatch the shooter in the doorway.

The train rolls around a curve in the tracks, going too fast, and Bucky slides toward the brand new opening in the car. His legs and hips slip out of the car and he snatches a warped railing with his metal hand, his damaged right arm curled uselessly into his chest.

Steve skids over to the gnarled metal hole and climbs as far out as he can.

“Hold on,” he shouts over the sound of the train wheels screeching against the tracks.

Bucky slowly reaches up with his right hand, pain shooting white-hot down his right side. He ignores it, he has to; it’s this or death. His legs are dangling off the edge of a mountain, nothing below but clouds and snow. The train barrels onward, and the wind whips around the mountain, blowing snow in his face unmercifully.

Steve stretches down, to the edge of his balance and Bucky has a flash of dissociation, or maybe insanity, because he knows he has to let go. Steve is going to fall trying to reach him; he’s too far, past the point of no return already. He can’t take Steve with him. What kind of monster would he be?

But before he can make that decision, before Steve can lose his balance and slip, the rail under his left hand gives way, and Bucky falls.

Chapter Text

There’s snow, all white, snatches of blue, lots of red, but above it all, the only constant, is a pain with no source; everywhere, all-encompassing. He searches for darkness, wishing to disappear into it, but there’s something stopping him. Something bright. Something he needs to get back to.

Steve is losing his mind. He can’t do this. He can’t be alone. Not again.

Hendricks met him on his way out of the French Army base and insisted on coming with. Caldwell joined outside the door with someone’s armory key card. It worked better than busting the door down, as had been Steve’s plan anyway. They’re smart enough to know what this could mean for them both, so he doesn’t bother saying it, and he’ll take all the help he can get.

But both of them are about to lose a couple toes at least, and hypothermia is becoming a real threat, so he sends them back.

“Come on, Cap,” Caldwell shouts above the screaming wind, shoulders pulled up to his ears against the freezing cold.

“He’s gone,” shouts Hendricks, not unkindly.

Steve himself is still burning hot with the deepest hatred he’s ever felt after the French denied him the proper team and supplies for this mission— they don't know Bucky, don't think he could've survived, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. backup he'd called is still an hour away— so he just turns away to trudge through the thigh-deep snow. His men return to the tank he’d borrowed. The sensors in Bucky's suit are either bashed to pieces or the signal is being blocked by the mountains rising on all sides, and Steve is relegated to a visual search; couldn't even scrounge up a metal detector in the French munitions warehouse.

He won’t leave Bucky. Even if it’s only to bring his body home to Becca and his mom, Winifred, who he’d have met at Thanksgiving. The thought of not being there with the Barneses for the loud, chaotic family dinner Bucky’d promised him makes him ache in a way he hasn’t for a year and a half, since they met. Maybe they’ll take him in anyway, like the stray he is.

But there’s still a chance. It’s been nine and a half hours; the snow is soft and deep, if he fell just right, it could have cushioned the blow at the ground. That is, if he didn't get stuck in a crevasse somewhere along the way down. Steve will comb every inch of mountainside if he has to. Who's going to stop him? If S.H.I.E.L.D. decides they want to give up the search, Steve will leak it to the press, and they'll have to extend the search or be subject to as fiery of a shitstorm as Steve can whip up. He'd have fans migrating en masse to France with their mother's metal detectors in any case; everyone loved Bucky, loved the way he made Steve smile. 

Steve can’t—won’t be without him, his core, his heart. If he’s gone, truly gone, Steve won’t last in this world. He’ll make sure of it. He’s been selfless for long enough; he deserves one act of supreme selfishness, spare himself a lonely agonized life of undetermined length.

Maybe he’s weak, or maybe it’s only despair making him dramatic and desperate, but it’s so much worse, knowing how good he had it. He had the best guy in the whole world; the best, and Steve knows it. Knows it, because Bucky was going to let go. Steve could see it in his eyes; the certainty, the peace. He would have willingly let go so Steve wouldn’t fall. And yeah, Steve would’ve fallen. His grip was slipping, he was losing his balance. He’d have jumped after Bucky anyway, would have followed him into the ether, except that the train was on its way to level a city, and Bucky’d kick his ass if he let that happen.

But now he’s losing his mind. After having it, that it, whole, complete flawless ecstasy and then let it literally slip through his fingers— The panic grows with every step, every second that ticks by, thinking of Bucky lying somewhere, broken. His beautiful body cold, those fathomless grey eyes empty. Thinking of passing by him, buried, unseen in the snow.

Thinking of Bucky’s dream, that wretched prophecy, that night he’d called Steve at 2 a.m., when Steve had been dreaming of him anyway. His voice, haunted with knowledge he wasn’t meant to have.

Steve stops, for just a moment, to catch his breath, the thin air and anguish making it hard to breathe.

And there, through the wind and tears in his eyes, and the snow drifting in the air, Steve sees a slash of red against the white.

Is he breathing? Is he breathing? Where’s all the blood coming from? Don’t move the arm too much, keep him still. Caldwell, for fuck’s sake, get in the fucking seat and move this boat.

Please, please, please, please, Bucky, please.

Hendricks is putting the weight of his entire body onto a ragged tear in Bucky’s right side and Steve is tying a tourniquet around the open wound in his leg.

The blood, frozen black, makes his clothes stiff and Steve cuts most of it off. They transfer him to their jet, locked down on the tarmac, and after a brief scuffle with their French counterparts they fly to Paris, where Steve's red, white and blue suit causes a riot at the hospital.

But once he hands Bucky off to the nurses, and calls Fury to demand that S.H.I.E.L.D. fly in the best surgeon anyone's ever heard of, he finds himself at a loss.

He's in the hall, staring at the framed picture of the ocean that’s probably supposed to be soothing when Caldwell presses a styrofoam cup of bad coffee into Steve’s hand. Steve looks at him; his youngest Agent looks like he's aged years tonight, lines of exhaustion around his brown eyes, and knowing that he is cared for that way, that Bucky is cared for that way makes Steve's throat tight. He drinks the coffee in two gulps; it burns his tongue and throat, but the sting fades too soon.

Hendricks sensibly brings him some civilian clothes, and the nurses let him use their sleeping room to change. They watch him from the corner of their eyes, pitying and suspicious.

He uses the opportunity for privacy to call Becca; her voice goes high and squeaky with tears and panic. It breaks Steve’s weak resolve, and they sob together for a moment, before Becca rushes off the phone to call her mother. He gets a call from a number he doesn’t know ten minutes later; Winifred. It’s not the way he wanted to speak to her for the first time, to tell her that her son is in critical condition, but c’est la vie, this is the life that he chose; couldn’t leave the war behind after all.

Her voice is thick with emotion, but she asks clear and concise questions about location, condition and circumstance. He doesn’t have many answers for her; they won’t tell him anything, he’s not family, and his Captain America voice doesn’t have the same weight here, not that he could muster it at this point.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Barnes, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s ok,” she clips sternly. “He’s going to be fine.”

She disconnects and Steve looks at himself in the small wall-mounted mirror; sallow, frantic. Bucky’s in surgery, in far more capable hands than his own. He smiles suddenly, then laughs, frenzied and delirious.

He found him. Bucky was alive when they arrived at the hospital, anyway, and he’s strong, so much stronger than Steve could ever hope to be. It’ll be alright. He’ll be ok. He has to be. Has to be.

When Bucky wakes up, Tony Stark is sitting in the chair beside his bed, legs crossed casually, flipping through a People magazine with some amount of disdain.

“Stark?” he rasps. His throat feels like it’s on fire. He’s no stranger to intubation; something terrible must have happened. Did they crash? Where is his team? Is Maggie ok? It was hot, burning hot. She wanted to propose to Syl, they were going to retire early and be bike-riding hippies in some little Colorado town.

“BuckyBot, thank God you’re up,” Stark says, tossing the magazine onto the end table, “they haven’t updated the reading material in here for years.”

“What’s?” he says, to get his point across in as few words as possible. Tony hands him a glass of water and babbles about something as Bucky sips slowly, every muscle and nerve ending sore and raw, feeling too light and listing to one side.

“—something like a thousand feet, bouncing off rocks and trees like a pinball. It was the heating element in your arm that saved your life, you’re welcome, your new one is already almost finished,” Bucky looks down and is surprised to find his left arm missing— “once they let you out of here you’ll have to come to the Tower to get hooked up—“

They spent a lot of time together didn’t they? At Stark Tower, for his arm. He lost it, in the crash, an explosion, Maggie’s dead. The Tower, Pepper Potts—Tony’s manic energy draining and addictive, too smart for his own good, spewing theories Bucky could barely understand but made him dream of flying cars, affordable synthetic organs and artificial intelligence—

“—he’s gonna be so mad he wasn’t here, but he’s busy getting his court martial apparently, if meeting with two Directors and five Generals is any indication. If I stole a tank and half the French Army’s munitions supply for an unsanctioned rescue mission they’d have my ass in jail, and all he gets is a court martial. Honestly the guy—”

“What? Who?” Bucky says, his eyes closing. He’s tired all of a sudden. And cold. He’s off balance without a left arm, and this madman is wearing him out. Tony hates hospitals, he was kidnapped and tortured a few years ago, he was still pretty twitchy about it even when attaching Bucky's arm.

“Steve,” Tony says, flippant, like it should be obvious. Bucky cracks his eyes open a slit.

“Who the hell is Steve?”

Chapter Text

He’s missing something important, but Stark’s eyes had gone wide and he’d buzzed for a nurse, then kept right on prattling.

“Been out for two weeks, buddy, Becks has been here most of it, but she finally had to go back to work.”


Tony’s eyes widen again. “Your sister.”

“Yeah, I know, why are you calling her that?”

“Saw a lot of her around here.” The implication that Tony has been around a lot goes unaddressed. “Romanov knows you’ll be fine so she didn’t bother staying. Barton popped in with a dog somehow, and Fury’s been here a few times. I tried moving you to the Tower, but your mom is a wolverine.”

The thought of his mother meeting Tony Stark fills him with anxiety.

The nurse comes in, and a doctor a moment later, and then another nurse. They prop him up, take his vitals, swap an IV bag, help him drink some more water. The doctor asks him a lot of strange questions.

“Do you know where you are?” “What year is it?” “What’s your full name?”

His answers seem to bother them.

“What’s going on?” he finally has to ask. “Tony, call my—“ Tony’s already halfway out the door. He waves his hand behind him, “—sister, yep on it.”

The doctor, a handsome Indian man with greying hair and a slight accent says, “Mr. Barnes, you’re experiencing some short-term memory loss. We’ll get you down for a CT right away, and then we’ll—“

There’s a scuffle outside, Tony’s voice and another man’s, shouting, “Goddammit, let me by! I need to see—“

And suddenly, as if he wasn’t feeling lost enough, Captain America busts into the room. His footsteps falter when he catches sight of Bucky, but then he rushes forward. He hits his knees next to the bed and collapses over Bucky’s legs. He’s trembling so hard the whole bed is shaking.

“Thank god, thank god, thank god,” he mutters into Bucky’s blankets. When he lifts his head, his breath seems to stop. There are tears in his eyes, falling down his cheeks and he looks utterly wrecked. He’s rumpled, obviously hasn’t slept in days, and whatever he sees in Bucky’s face makes him choke.

“Bucky?” His voice is small and frightened; this can’t be Captain America. Bucky’s read about Captain America; he was a rock, unshakable. Bucky’s never met this man before, but the fear written across his handsome features makes him want to cry.

The doctor grabs the Captain’s right arm and Tony grabs his left and they haul him up. Tony whispers something in his ear and the Captain sags back against him, letting himself finally be pulled out of the room, anguished eyes locked on Bucky’s the whole time. Bucky himself can’t look at him for long, and instead decides to stare at his one remaining hand, which is scratched and bandaged from the fall he apparently took.

Bucky doesn’t ask any more questions; he’s not sure he wants to know the answers. He’s forgotten something important; many somethings. There are great holes in him. His right arm is sore from a bullet wound, lacerations and contusions from his forehead to his feet, and something jagged in his heart begging him to remember.

He doesn’t see the Captain again—Tony assures him it really was Captain America, Steve Rogers, found in the Arctic ice and defrosted two years ago. He won’t go into any more detail than that.

Rebecca and his mom fling themselves at him in much the same way, sobbing in thankfulness.

His brain scan doesn’t provide much in the way of hope.

“The brain is a complicated organ,” says a different doctor—a middle-aged woman with blonde hair, “and much of it is still unknown. Some of the memories you’ve lost of the past two years may return as your body heals; perhaps all, perhaps none. The best course of action is rest and recuperation.”

“What about trying to jog my memory? Places and…people I may have forgotten?” Bucky asks. He’s sitting in a hospital gown with his mother at his side—she refuses to leave—and he’s had about enough of sterile crinkly paper, fluorescent lights and all this white.

The doctor nods. “It can’t hurt to try. Your brain hasn’t blocked these memories because of their traumatic nature, it’s simply lost them due to physical trauma, so if they all come rushing back at once it’ll only be overwhelming, not damaging. I’m recommending a psychologist who might have more ideas on how to trip that switch and bring those memories back.”

His mother takes the card from the doctor, since she’s holding onto his only arm with white-knuckled fingers, afraid that if she lets go he might slip away again.

Two days later, his mom wheels him out of the hospital in a wheelchair, to his utter dismay, and Bucky insists on going back to his own apartment. Familiar things, he thinks. Except half of them aren't familiar anymore.

His mom stays with him for three days, waiting on him hand and foot and generally making herself a nuisance, which Bucky loves. She doesn’t try to fill in the past two years that he’s missing, and he’s eternally grateful. She’ll wait until he’s ready to ask.

She leaves him at the front door of the bustling Stark Tower with a hug and tears in her eyes. Bucky takes the elevator up; he remembers the way like he was here only yesterday, though they tell him it was over two years ago. Stark is much the same, but apparently Pepper has finally given in to him and being loved by her has slightly tempered his mania.

He’s there all afternoon as Stark rewires him with a new arm. It’s lighter than the previous, sleeker, and Tony threatens to paint it red and gold again.

“Nah, I dig the silver,” Bucky says, and Tony’s face falls, disappointed somehow. He clears his throat.

“Pardon me, sir,” JARVIS says from the ceiling, and the familiar voice is nice, until he says, “Captain Rogers is here to see you.”

Tony glances at Bucky from the corner of his eye.

“You know him?” Bucky asks.

“I didn’t before. We met at the hospital. Hit it off.”

Bucky doesn’t like that, and he doesn’t know why. He gets that feeling more often than not; like déjà vu, or a dream just beyond his reach. It’s frustrating, to say the least.

“Well, if we’re done here, I’ll take off and leave you guys to it.” He feels snappish and mean all of a sudden.

Tony rolls his eyes. “I told him you were coming today. He’s here to see you.”

This is…pleasing. And a little terrifying for reasons he can’t understand.

He loiters in the workshop for a moment while Stark putters around, setting a wrench on a table, then picking it back up, babbling about his projects all the while until the door slides open with a futuristic whoosh and Captain Rogers steps in.

He’s wearing a grey T-shirt and jeans with brown boots. He looks a little better than he did at the hospital, but not by much. Even so, he’s still just as handsome as he was in the history books, like a marble statue.

The Captain just looks at him for a minute, his face carefully blank. Bucky extends his hand. His bullet wound is still bandaged, but no longer pulls when he moves. Captain Rogers shakes his hand.

“Steve Rogers. Nice to…” he trails off.

“Nice to…you too,” Bucky says wryly. Steve laughs, and a nice pink blush dots his cheeks. He has a good laugh, and the way those lips curve, Bucky wants—

Tony clears his throat again, “I’m going to not-at-all-awkwardly leave and go somewhere else.” And then Bucky’s alone with the Captain.

“We knew each other?” Bucky says, because he’s not an idiot. Steve nods mutely. “How?”

“Um, after S.H.I.E.L.D. found me in the ice, you helped me…adjust to the future.”

Still not an idiot.

“And after that?”

Steve shifts on his feet, shoves his hands in his pockets. “We were together.”

Bucky laughs, a bitter, sarcastic thing. “The fuck you say.”

Steve takes a strange ragged breath, like he’s been punched in the lungs, and can’t meet Bucky’s eyes.

“Huh,” Bucky says. “No kiddin’?”

Captain America’s into guys? That must’ve caused quite the shitstorm. If he was open about it, that is. Maybe he kept his alleged relationship with Bucky a secret. A quick Google search would tell him, but he’s not ready to go there yet.

Steve nods. “Yep.”

“I wish I could remember that,” he mutters.

When he looks back at Steve, the heartbreak written all over his face surprises Bucky. He smoothes it out quickly with an awkward smile, but it’s deep and fraught and Bucky wonders at it. What could he have possibly done to have sparked such devotion from Captain goddamn America?

“Thanks, by the way. I hear you dug me out of the snow.”

Steve nods. “You’re my friend. Couldn’t…couldn’t leave you.”

“Appreciate it.” Bucky identifies guilt, sitting uncomfortably in his stomach. Steve sacrificed for him, went AWOL, stole a tank, if Stark is to be believed, and Bucky can’t even remember him. He wants to know if Steve really got court martialed, but Bucky’s not sure he could take it if he did.

“Are you hungry?” Steve asks suddenly. “We could go…eat.”

Bucky kind of wants to escape the national icon, this handsome man with his sad eyes, but if they knew each other, if they were together, which he’s still not sure he believes, being with him might jog those memories. Plus, he’s nice to look at and also Captain America. So Bucky nods.

Steve, all excited, strides down the street and through the subway, chattering. People part for him like he's Moses standing in front of the Red Sea, even if they don't know why.

“You showed me all about the subway system. When I first came out I was holed up, kind of captive, mostly self-imposed, and you showed me everything. You took me here, one of the first times I saw you,” he says, as they come up to the shitty tamale place Bucky likes. It’s all changed, now.

Steve orders for them both in Spanish, which surprises Bucky for some reason. The old lady who runs the place looks suspiciously at Bucky, then at the Captain before shouting their order over her shoulder. Bucky looks down; more holes, even here, things he didn’t know he didn’t know.

“This place is different,” he remarks as they sit to eat. It makes Steve sad.

He makes Steve sad a lot. After they eat, they walk down the street to get coffee at the Starbucks he always went to before the accident. The first accident. He can’t think of much to say, and all this guilt is heavy to carry around. It makes him tired. He tells Steve so.

“Of course! You should rest. Um, is it ok if I call you? This weekend, maybe, we could get lunch or coffee or something?”

“Sure,” Bucky nods, and makes his escape.

Steve texts him that night. A simple, “Good to see you today. Glad you’re doing well.”

Bucky can’t think what to say, so he doesn’t say anything.

Chapter Text

He’s on med leave, so he does a lot of walking around the city. He’d sat inside for the first two days, Netflixing, but all the shows on his Watched list didn’t look familiar, and it made him antsy. So he walks around, mostly aimless. He finds himself at that tamale place again, so he takes it to go and sits on a bench a few blocks away to eat.

He gets well-wishing texts from Clint and someone called Sam who he can’t remember.

He forgets his sister’s name; only for a few minutes, but he has to look at her picture in his contacts to remember. That's particularly disconcerting. He can't stand to lose any more than he already has.

He has the feeling of six steps and one giant leap backward in terms of progress. Last thing he remembers, he’d just gotten his metal arm and was learning how to use it, fighting off nightmares and survivor’s guilt and PTSD up the wazoo. He was excited for the prospect of getting back to work and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to therapy.

It seems like yesterday, and yet he feels the years that have passed, even if he can’t remember them. It’s just a big blank space.

Apparently, he’d been voluntarily going to group therapy, which makes him break into a sweat to just think about. He’d been back in the field for six months and he’d been fucking Captain America.

And now he’s back to zero, with nothing—no. Less than nothing.

Romanov surprises the hell out of him by dropping by his place.

“What shit luck, huh?” she says in his doorway. They’ve had probably three conversations in his life, and she’d been shooting daggers at him out of her eyes for all of them, what the fuck is she doing here?

The elevator pings and Barton runs down the hall, looking a little older but still as bright as ever. Romanov rolls her eyes as he approaches slowly and says, “Hey, man, I’m Clint.”

“I remember you, dumbass. I just lost the last two years.”

“Oh, good!” He holds up the French press Bucky hadn’t noticed him carrying in his hand. “Want some coffee?”

Clint boils water in the kitchen while Romanov and Bucky watch. There’s a quip on the tip of his tongue about suddenly being a coffee snob—seriously the guy would drink rocket fuel if he thought it contained caffeine and now he’s carrying around his own French press?—but the implications of the change are a little too uncomfortable.

“You’re one lucky bastard, you know that, Barnes,” Barton says. Bucky glances at Romanov, but she’s just smiling fondly, if a little disbelieving, at Clint and when the hell did that happen?

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” Bucky says.

Clint looks up from where he’s stirring the blackest coffee Bucky’s ever seen. “No? You fell a thousand feet off a mountain last month and here you are,” he gestures with his the spoon toward Bucky, “drinking shitty coffee— or about to— in your kitchen with friends, not a broken bone to show for it.”

Clint raises his eyebrows to underscore his point as he depresses the plunger and Romanov rifles through his cupboards for mugs.

Steve texts him, asking to meet for coffees and lunch every other day. Bucky sits, mostly quiet, while Steve makes somewhat stilted small talk. He’s unflaggingly kind—to everyone. The waitresses get sunny smiles and big tips, he holds open doors for people behind him, picks up a scarf a woman dropped and runs it back to her. Bucky didn’t know people like this existed. Steve’s probably the only one; last of his kind, like a unicorn. And he looks at Bucky like he’s the sun rising.

Bucky is civil, for the most part, but the dissonance is overwhelming, both within himself and between he and Steve. At a diner, across from Steve with the smell of maple syrup heavy in the air, he loses a chunk of time. He’s not sure how long, Steve won’t tell him, but when he comes back to, Steve looks panicked.

“Hey,” he says gently with a wobbly smile.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky says. “That happens sometimes.”

“It’s ok, really. You don’t ever have to apologize.”

Becca, and a quick Google search, confirmed what Steve had said; they were together. There’s a nice picture of them kissing in a coffee shop that’s pretty devastating. He can’t really believe he had that, something that good. He can’t believe he lost it.

“You’re nuts for him,” Becca said. Present tense. “And he’s just as nuts for you.”

“I don’t remember,” he said softly.

They don’t mean to pressure him, but he feels it all the same. Becca and his mom aren’t so bad; he remembers them. But Steve, the oppressive hope and sadness that rolls off him in waves when they’re together is honestly exhausting.

He has dinner with his family a lot. The train and bus rides are a little inconvenient, but he doesn’t have much else to do anyway.

They do their best to carry on with business as usual, but it seems subdued; they tread gently around him. Except one night when Becca has her panties in a wad and snaps at him.

He’s pushing his potatoes around on his plate while his mom talks to Aunt Tilly about the Thanksgiving menu and tries to elicit his opinion. He doesn’t have much to say on the matter. Becca slams her fork down on the table.

“Goddammit Bucky.”

“Rebecca Eleanor!” Mom gasps, but Becca ignores her.

“No. You mope around here all day like your life is the pits, like… like you drew the short end of the stick. But you have so much.

He glares at her. “Yeah? Should I be doing cartwheels because I can’t fucking remember some of the most important events of my life? Because I’m…different now? Is it any less shitty because I have a roof over my head and food to eat?”

Becca explodes, “You have family. You have friends who love you. Tony f—“ she’s calming down a little bit at least, because she has the wherewithal to censor herself, “Tony Stark sat with you for hours so Mom and I could shower and sleep. Clint brought me coffee almost every day, and sent Natasha when he couldn’t. And you know Steve would’ve been there every minute if he could’ve.”

“Yeah. Steve,” he says flatly. He’s mostly just trying to spite her now, because Becca doesn’t know shit about it. But honestly, he’s starting to grow used to Captain America lurking around him like a shadow, haunting him like a ghost. It’s... actually comforting. As alone as he feels in this life he doesn’t remember building for himself, Steve at least is constant.

Becca grits her teeth and opens her mouth to tear him a new one, but Mom cuts her off.

“Sweetie,” she reaches her hand toward him across the table and pats the wood, “Of course you’re allowed to be sad. Becca only means that you still have so many good things. People who love you. Don’t forget that.”

Steve counts himself lucky that Bucky lets him hang around. He knows he makes Bucky sad; uncomfortable even. But he’s agreed to spend time with him. Even if it is mostly in hopes he’ll jog some memories, Steve’s grateful for it.

All Steve wants is to take care of him, but Bucky doesn't trust him and it's like a twisting knife in his heart, ever-present, no reprieve. It seems worse sometimes even than waking up alone in the future. But even if he doesn't have Bucky now, he checks in with Becca a few times a week and he has Sam and Clint and Nat, and even Tony Stark. He really shouldn't feel so alone, but he still does; hovering by the phone like a pathetic mess, prevailing upon Bucky to come out for coffee, lunch, any excuse just to have him near.

They’re walking together after dinner; no real destination but in the direction of Bucky’s apartment. When they reach it, Bucky surprises Steve by asking, "Wanna come up?" Steve tries not to seem too excited, but he feels like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Square at Christmastime as they climb two flights of stairs.

Bucky has a few more painkillers left from the fall. They rattle forlornly in the bottle as he takes one from where they sit in their little orange bottles, lined up on the windowsill, and pops one in his mouth. Then Bucky sits heavily on the couch and plucks at the cuff of his red Henley. Steve sits on the opposite end of the couch and racks his brain for a way to broach a subject—any subject.

“Hey, Buck, I’m moving out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. building.” It’s way past time he got his own place, but he’d gotten complacent, and then Bucky fell and there were other more important things to think about. “I’m going to look at some places this weekend. D’you wanna come?”

“Sure,” Bucky says mildly with a shrug. Steve is still so glad just to be spending time with him that he can’t be all that bothered by his lack of enthusiasm.

When Steve gets up from couch for something from the fridge, he says, “Want anything?” 

“I could go for a beer.”

Steve hesitates. “I don’t think you’re supposed to mix alcohol with those painkillers.”

Bucky sighs, “If you don’t bring it to me, I’m just going to get up and get it myself.”

Well, ok then. Steve sets the cold bottle on Bucky's shoulder from over the back of the couch, then comes around and sits again.

“Thanks,” Bucky says.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Steve says, and takes a drink of his own beer.

Steve can see it when it hits Bucky; his eyes get a little glazed and he laughs more often and louder at the T.V.

“Hey,” he says suddenly, turning his body and leaning toward Steve.

Steve knows that look, even if Bucky is half a stranger to him these days, and his body responds on instinct with an excited twitch.

“You should kiss me,” Bucky suggests with a wolfish grin.

“Bucky, you don’t…I’m not going to…”

But, god, he wants to. He misses those lips, the warmth of his body, the hardness of the metal arm, the—

“You’re not taking advantage of anything, I’m asking you,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes. “If we were together before, maybe it’ll jog some memories.”

If we were together. Like he still doesn’t believe it. Self-deprecating, humble, too-modest idiot.

But…what if it does jog some memories? He’s got Steve there, and he knows it, his eyes, foggy and unfocused from an ill-advised narcotic combination lighting up with excitement. And that does Steve in, that excitement, that Bucky wants to be kissed, wants Steve to touch him.

“Okay,” Steve says, scooting a little closer to him, so their knees touch. He leans forward and Bucky meets him halfway. Steve lifts his hand to Bucky’s jaw the way he always liked, resting fingertips on the side of his neck and behind his ear. Steve hovers there, his lips an inch from Bucky’s, to give him a chance to back out, but Bucky’s eyes are heavy-lidded, watching him.

So Steve kisses him. Softly at first, just a peck—but god, his lips. He tilts his head to slot his lips over Bucky’s at a more desirous angle and Bucky opens his mouth to him eagerly. Steve almost moans; he’s a glass overflowing, a shooting star, this big new heart still too small for all the love in it.

Bucky’s got his hands on Steve’s thighs, shifting ever so slightly upward. When Bucky’s tongue slides into Steve’s mouth, Steve pulls back. Bucky is warm and pliable with sleepy drugs and sways toward him, but Steve holds him at arms length.

“Anything?” he asks, searching his face.

Bucky’s brow creases, “Huh?” then he shakes his head, as if to clear it. “Uh, no. Sorry.”

It was a long shot, Steve knew, but he’s a little disappointed all the same, then feels a fresh wave of guilt crash over him for it. He’s lucky just to get this, to be allowed a part in Bucky’s life, as small a part as it is.

“Don’t—don’t apologize. Never apologize.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” he murmurs, but his heart’s not in the quip. He combs his hand through his hair, not quite meeting Steve’s eyes, “I’m gonna…turn in.”

“Yeah, okay,” Steve says, his heart pounding, sure that if he could just find the right thing to say, he could put him at ease, make Bucky love him again, but that kiss just fried his brain and all he can say is, “Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

Bucky wakes up with a groan. He didn’t have any nightmares the night before—nothing but blissful unconsciousness— but it came at a price.

He thinks he may have asked Steve to kiss him, but can’t remember if it paid off. What fucking irony.

They have a lunch and park-walk date— meetup?— hangout?— the next day and as they’re strolling after they eat, Bucky says, “Sorry about last night. Why’d you let me mix alcohol with painkillers anyway?”

“I—“ Steve starts indignantly, but chances a glance at Bucky, who’s smiling sheepishly, so he elbows him instead.

There’s some sort of street festival going on down the road; it’s blocked off for pedestrian traffic and even though they just ate, the smells of various deep fried food wafting on the late-summer air is tantalizing.

“Hey, do you wanna—“ Steve starts.

“Sure,” Bucky says, because no matter what he’s about to suggest, it’ll probably be nice. It usually is, with Steve. At Steve’s questioning look, Bucky shrugs, “Whatever you want.”

Because this is good; the sun is shining, but there’s a crisp in the air. His long-sleeved shirt isn’t too hot today, and he’s walking around with the most attractive guy in the Northern hemisphere, who also happens to be Captain America. Their hands will brush every so often; Steve wants to take it, lace their fingers together, Bucky can tell. Bucky’d let him, if he made that leap, but he doesn’t.

Steve smiles at him beguilingly. “Do you wanna volunteer with me at the old folks’ home? They make you change bedpans but it’s not—“

Bucky laughs. It’s a little rusty, but it feels good. He smacks Steve’s arm, “You are an asshole.”

Steve leans in close and says in a low voice like a secret, “It’s part of my charm.”

Bucky laughs again to cover the beating of his heart. “Sure it is.”

Steve really was going to suggest going to the fair, though it takes him a while to give up on the joke. They wander through the white-tented booths each holding a plate of fried, sugar-covered dough.

It doesn’t take long for Bucky to realize they’re being followed. He ditches his half eaten confection and slips through the crowd. Steve follows on his heels without question. He ducks behind a delivery truck, yanking Steve behind him, and peers around the corner.

“It’s just paparazzi, people want to take our picture,” Steve says in his ear from behind.

Bucky watches the crowd, his fingers longing for a trigger and a scope, keep a path clear of targets for a blonde in blue and red, scenery flashing in and out, lush green vines, endless miles of sand, metal against white snow.

“Do you want to go home?” Steve asks; his voice close in Bucky’s ear, breath against his neck. The sensation is familiar somehow too, like a long-forgotten dream.

Bucky nods and Steve takes the lead. The end of the sectioned-off area is in sight when a man pops through the crowd with a large camera held up in front of his face, the flash bursting at them.

Steve doesn’t break stride as he bats the camera down out of the man’s hands; it’s around his neck on a strap thank goodness or Steve’d have a lawsuit to deal with. Steve spins the man around by his shoulders and shoves him back into the crowd, then carries on quickly with Bucky close behind.

When they’re safely tucked away in Bucky’s apartment, he goes straight into his bedroom. He sits on his bed for a few minutes until his hand stops shaking.

His eyes catch on the framed sketch sitting on his bureau. He takes it in his hands and looks at it for a moment. He can recognize it as his face, but it still feels like a stranger looking out at him. His hair is longer now, just brushing his collar, and he hasn’t shaved in two weeks. The happy guy immortalized on the ivory paper by careful pencil strokes isn’t him anymore.

Steve has made coffee in the kitchen. At Bucky’s dubious look—caffeine is probably the last thing he needs right now—he says, “Decaf.”

“I don’t have any decaf.”

“I brought it,” he says, stilted, “a while ago.”

“Oh,” Bucky says. An awkward silence settles over them; fraught with things forgotten and longed for.

“Hey,” Steve says, grinning brightly, for once without the melancholic tinge around the edges, and it’s so beautiful Bucky’s breath catches, “There’s this new show, you’ll like it, come on,” and he sits on Bucky’s couch and works his T.V. like he’s done it before.

Bucky does like the show, and it’s strange, the way Steve knows him. But a good kind of strange, like getting a gift you didn’t expect, wrapped up a pretty red white and blue package. It makes him want to return the favor, to make Steve feel special and wanted too. Because he is.

But Bucky isn’t who Steve wants, not the way he is now. Someone that good deserves better; the best. And Bucky’s far from it.

After a full day of lugging around the weight of missing pieces and jealousy for the man he was two months ago, he falls asleep on the couch quickly.

He jerks awake, heart hammering. There’s a thud in the dark as Steve slips off the couch and lands on his ass on the floor. The T.V. screen has gone grey in sleep mode and the sun has set.

Bucky stands up out of some half-remembered duty, blinking the smoke and snow out of his eyes.

“Bucky? Are you okay?”

Bucky lets out a heavy breath and as the adrenaline pumps through his blood, he starts to shake.

“You can’t stay here,” he says gruffly.

“I’m not leaving you,” Steve says, getting up from the floor. Bucky takes a step back.

“I’ll only keep you awake or…or I could accidentally hurt you.”

“You can’t hurt me.”

Bucky holds up his metal arm and spits, “Look at this thing. Yes I could.”

“Bucky I’m not going to leave you.” He has the Captain America steel in his voice, but it wavers, “I’m with you. To the end of the line.”

“Steve. I’m not a charity case or a….an obligation.” That would be the worst of all; Steve sticking around just to love his ghost.

“No,” Steve says, just as offended as Bucky by the idea. “You’re not.”

“I don’t remember you,” Bucky blurts. What the fuck is this brilliant guy hanging around him for, all lovesick and miserable. It’s not right. Bucky’s started having nightmares again, since dropping the dosage of painkillers. They're worse than before, with the blank spaces; he doesn’t feel safe anymore. He’s half a person, and Captain America is trying to pull him up from the darkness with his bare hands, but they come away dirty and red.

“I’m not the same as I was before; that guy you knew. There’s something wrong with me, I can feel it.”

“Not wrong,” Steve says, a little affronted. “Just different.”

“How long are you going to keep doing this? Give it up. I don’t know you.”

That pinch between Steve’s eyebrows will be the death of him. “You do now. I’m Steve,” he says with a strained smile. “I don’t care if you never remember how we were before. I just want to know you now, whoever that is.”

Bucky wants to remember what it felt like to be loved by him so badly and he knows that he never will and when Steve leaves it’s going to destroy him.

Something wells in Bucky’s throat and behind his eyes. He needs strong arms to hold him together, he wants to be kissed, but he doesn’t know how to ask.

So he sighs, “I’m sorry for… You can stay here if you want,” he gestures to the couch. “I’m going to bed.”

“Bucky,” Steve says, when Bucky’s half turned toward his bedroom. “Can I?” he steps up slowly and puts his arms around Bucky’s shoulders gently. Bucky’s eyes slide shut as he leans into the hard bands of Steve’s chest and arms and feels safe.

I love you.

The words stick in his throat and Steve leans back and smiles gently at him through the darkness.

“Goodnight,” Steve whispers, then crawls back onto the couch.

Bucky lays in his bed for a while. Usually after a nightmare, sleep for the rest of the night is shot, and with Steve in the other room it should be even more so, with Bucky fearful of hurting him while stuck in a dream. But it actually puts him at ease, knowing Steve is there. That if he starts to thrash and scream, Steve won’t leave him to suffer. He’ll wake him, and if Bucky lashes out, Steve is strong enough to stop him.

Bucky and Steve quietly skirt around each other in the morning. Steve drinks half his coffee before making his escape with a hesitant "See you later."

“Steve,” Bucky says when he’s at the door. Steve turns, eyebrows up in question. Bucky sets his coffee cup on the counter and can’t look him in the eye as he walks into a brief hug. He chances a glance at his face when he steps back, and Steve’s eyes are wide with happy surprise.

“See you,” Bucky says.

“Yeah,” Steve laughs a little, then clears his throat and makes an effort to look less excited. Bucky has to bite the inside of his lip to stave off a smile; in addition to being sexy as hell, the man is actually adorable. “See you later.”

Bucky’s phone pings not long after Steve leaves. He hadn’t turned off the alerts for news articles with Steve’s name, but he hadn’t been reading them either. But this time he does. Steve is getting a little flak for being gruff with the paparazzo at the street fair the day before. 

S.H.I.E.L.D. had kept the details of what happened to him under wraps, classified as it is, so the general public doesn't know anything has changed. Apparently he and Steve must've been all over each other before, because their recent lack of PDAs is ‘suspicious’ to the masses. They speculate whether Steve’s gruffness with the paps is a direct result of ‘trouble in paradise’ since he’d been nothing but polite with the vultures up to that point.

And Bucky, they say, usually charming and smiling, looked agitated and uncomfortable. How insightful. 

He tries not to let the glaring comparison get him down, but seeing it there in black and white; shortcomings, weaknesses, disappointments, it’s difficult not to be discouraged.

“How’s the star-spangled man?” Natasha asks Bucky as they sit in the S.H.I.E.L.D. cafeteria. She caught him on his way out of a therapy session, when all he wants is to go home and not talk to anyone for the rest of the day. But somehow he wound up with a latte in his hand sitting in a cushy booth in the corner. She slid into the chair, giving him the bench seat, his back to the wall, easy lines of sight through the open, steel-and-glass lobby.

Bucky shrugs, “How should I know?”

Natasha rolls her eyes, “You two are basically dating again.”

Bucky glares at her, “I don’t even know him.”

She cants her head. “Don’t you? You’re together all the time, and I have it on good authority you kissed him.”

Bucky’s coffee stops at his lips. “He told you that?”

“In his defense, I’m very good at what I do. He didn’t even realize he told me until after I left.”

Bucky pauses, but not for long enough and still sounds too eager when he says, “What did he say?”

“Nope,” Nat says, “I’m not gonna be the middle man again. I did that enough the first time around. Although,” she says slyly, “being in the middle between you two doesn't sound so bad.”

Bucky’s bark of laughter is wrenched out of him without his permission. “Oh my god,” he exclaims, and it feels so good to laugh that he doesn’t even try to stop it.

Natasha just shoots him that smug not-smile she has that Bucky hates to admit he actually loves.

Chapter Text

Bucky runs up four flights of stairs, wincing. He hears the realtor’s cheerful tone before he opens the door, and Steve’s low rumbling voice asking questions.

“Hey,” he ducks his head sheepishly when he finds them in the kitchen.

He’d been to physical therapy this morning, which is almost as bad as the mental kind, and he’d been icing his leg and feeling sorry for himself when he remembered he was supposed to be looking at apartments with Steve, for whatever reason.

He’d texted him as he grabbed his keys and scrambled out the door:


omw, sorry, totally spaced

you can’t be mad at me I have short term memory loss


Steve: Not that short. No worries, take your time.

Steve: But hurry up. I want you to see this place.


“Check out these windows,” Steve says to Bucky’s greeting.

It’s a quaint brick row house with big windows in the living room.

Bucky nods, “Good light for drawing.” Steve glows at him, and Bucky ducks his head again.

“Not as much room for two, but cozy,” the realtor says to Bucky.

“Oh I’m not going to be living here,” he says immediately. He chances a glance at Steve, who is suddenly very interested in the countertops.

They look at two more places, but the first is obviously superior to the rest.

“So which one do you like?” Steve asks, when they’re sitting on a patio having coffee after lunch. The sun peeks out intermittently from behind wispy clouds, and the breeze is stiff enough that Bucky had to pull his hair back into a bun. Steve had watched him do this with an artist’s interest.

“The first one,” Bucky says easily.

“It’s a little smaller than the rest, though.”

“What do you need space for? You have like, one suitcase of things.”

“Yeah, but,” Steve arranges the jellies on the table idly, “it’d be nice to have a little extra room.”

Bucky signals the waitress for the check as he and Steve avoid each other’s eyes. He wonders if the extra room is meant for him or someone else in the future; he’s not sure which is more terrifying. They walk back toward Bucky’s place by wordless agreement, which honestly is just fine with Bucky. He usually has Steve around anyway, and it’s especially nice on phys therapy days.

Steve seems to not have much else to do these days; Bucky’s sure he got court martialed, or at least suspended, and that guilt still sits uncomfortably with him, though not as painfully these days.

But he’s also sort of glad for it, because while his right arm and leg are fully healed, the range of motion is still not completely there, and he wants nothing more than ice and a couch after getting punished by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Dr. Pain, and then running all over the city with Steve.

They sit on the couch and scroll through Netflix, but never end up deciding on anything to watch. They talk instead. Bucky hadn’t thought he’d have enough in common with Captain America to hold a conversation and had been actively avoiding it, but somehow they have enough to talk about for several solid hours.

They order dinner in and eat it sitting on the couch with their plates on their laps, because Steve apparently doesn't eat out of plastic containers. Afterward, Steve cleans up the dishes and Bucky limps in the kitchen to help, stiff from therapy and house hunting.

There’s a blush on Steve’s cheeks as he runs water in the sink, and Bucky wonders what he’s thinking about, so he asks.

Steve’s eyes widen for one panicked moment, then he deadpans, “That great joke I made the other day.”

“Yeah, the one good joke you made this year?”

“How would you know?” Steve quips, then freezes, afraid he’s gone too far, but Bucky throws his head back and laughs. Because ok, that was a good burn. And it’s about time Steve stopped treating him like he was made of glass. Clint was right; he got blown up, then fell off a mountain and lived through it; he’s made of pretty strong stuff.

“Sure you weren’t thinking about me?” he teases.

Steve scoffs. “Wow. Vain.”

“You were blushing,” Bucky points out.

Steve blushes some more at the sudsy water. “Yeah alright,” he admits, “I was thinking about you.”

“Something lewd I hope.”

Steve looks a little surprised at his teasing, but gives it right back to him with a flirty, “It usually is.” Then he chuffs a soft laugh and grows serious. “I was just thinking how proud I am of you, for persevering.” He swallows hard, then presses on, “How much I love you.”

Bucky’s heart gives a traitorous little flutter. “Even now?” he asks, slightly incredulous.

“Especially now,” Steve says, unequivocally.

Bucky realizes Steve has stopped trying to jog his memory. For the past week there’s been no mention of before. It’s all been here and now.

Steve is standing at the kitchen sink, hands stilled in the sudsy water, and Bucky steps up to him, pressing up against his side. He vacillates between extremes; wanting to push Steve away one day, and lock him in his bedroom the next. He’d come willingly, Bucky knows, but whether it’s for want of the man he was before or who he is now is still unclear.

Either way, Bucky can’t ignore the heat that blooms low in his belly when Steve smiles at him, when he brushes past, at the smell of him, the simple touch of his hand.

So Bucky leans up and kisses him. Steve has frozen, scared to disrupt this moment. But when Bucky parts his lips to kiss him again, Steve drops the forks into the water and turns to face him. He puts his wet hands around him, pulling them together and kissing him softly. Bucky melts against him, the touch of his tongue short-circuiting all coordinated movement, and one of Steve’s wet hands moves up to cup his face, hold him still.

He turns Bucky’s back to the counter and having Steve pressed up against him is…it’s…delicious. He doesn’t deserve it, but selfishly, he’s going to take it anyway.

Steve presses kisses against his jaw and down his neck under his ear, then just rests his face there while his breath comes back to him.

“That was…” Steve trails off.

“Yeah,” Bucky breathes.

When Steve steps back, he searches Bucky’s face for a moment. Bucky smiles and a slow grin blooms across Steve’s beautiful lips in return.

Bucky takes his hand and tugs him toward the couch, abandoning the forks in the soapy water. Steve sits near the middle of the couch with his arm slung over the back. Bucky laughs at him, giddy and loose, and plops down, nestling up to his side. Bucky puts on the first movie he sees, but they don’t watch most of it anyway. Steve can’t seem to take his eyes off him, and Bucky’s trying and failing to suppress a happy grin.

“What was our last first kiss like?” he asks on a whim.

Steve laughs, “It was…really, really good. But this one was better, I think.” Then he says mostly to himself, “How lucky am I that I get to do this twice?”

“And all I had to do was fall off a mountain.”

“Yeah, thank you for that.” Bucky laughs while Steve carries on. “No, last time, I was mad at you for…something, it doesn’t matter—and I was scared and so crazy about you I just kind of sprung it on you and then ran away.”


“I don’t think you minded it too much at the time,” Steve says, leaning down to steal another kiss. Bucky tips his lips up to receive it, but when Steve leans in for more, Bucky leans back. It would be easy, so easy, to fall into bed with him, but he just can't. Not yet. He'll probably regret it in the morning, or maybe even five minutes from now, but he'll err on the side of caution with this, the most important thing in his life.

He asks more about how they were before. He thought it would hurt to hear about, but it’s nice. Some of the stories ring distant bells, but he’s not sure if it’s because he actually has a ghost of a memory or if it’s just because it sounds like something he’d do.

Steve slouches down on the couch so it’s him who’s nestled against Bucky’s side, and Bucky wraps his arms around the breadth of his shoulders, carding his fingers through his blonde hair, twirling the longer locks at the top around his finger.

Steve’s breath gets deep and slow and Bucky peeks down to find him fast asleep, those long eyelashes fanning across his cheeks.

This is madness, Bucky realizes, grinning. Complete and utter madness; Captain America, Steve Rogers, chivalrous and honorable, sweet yet salty, built like a tank, eyes like diamonds, is curled up in his arms.

It doesn’t take long for the warm weight of Steve and the excitement of the day to start pulling him under. Before he falls asleep, he nuzzles his cheek against the crown of Steve’s head and presses a kiss there, because it just feels like the right thing to do.

He’s standing in the dark apartment, hazy moonlight slanting in. The glint of sharp knives on a magnetic strip on the wall, heavy porcelain lamp; he has to get out, it’s closing in on all sides, he’ll be trapped.

“Bucky?” a soft voice says from behind and he whirls around, grabbing the outstretched wrist and throwing the body to the ground with a heavy thud. He lands one right hook, a knee on the man’s chest. He pulls his arms up to block Bucky’s next blow and knees him in the back, throwing him up over his head. Bucky rolls into a crouch, but something hits his head. Knocked off balance, he falls back onto his ass, looking around for the second threat, but there’s no one there. Then he realizes the blow didn’t come from outside, but within.

“Bucky,” Steve groans, coming up on one elbow, outstretching his hand.

“Steve? Shit.” Bucky shuffles closer and touches his face, the cut on his lip that’s starting to bleed. “Oh god, Steve, I’m sorry, I don’t know what…”

A wave crashes over him, heavy and cold; it nearly knocks him down again. He’s in the S.H.I.E.L.D. building sparring with Steve, and just decked him in the mouth. No wait, that’s not right— they’re in his dark apartment and Steve is scared.

Bucky leans in to press their lips together, like he’d wanted to that day he made Steve bleed in the gym. Steve’s hand comes up to touch his face, softly, like he’s not sure he’s allowed. Bucky parts his lips further, chasing the pounding something that he knows is there.

Graphite on paper, onions in a pot, Billie Holiday, Sam, Sam Wilson, coffee shops, gunfire, the jungle, the snow, oh god, oh god. How could he forget?

“Bucky,” Steve is sobbing between kisses, “Bucky.”

Bucky can’t speak, he just wraps himself around Steve, kissing him hard and deep, trying to climb inside of him, where he knows he’ll be safe.

Steve is trembling, trying so hard to keep it together, but he buckles and breaks anyway, under the weight of the world. Bucky kisses his face reverently, across his nose and eyelids.

“I remember,” he murmurs, hot, silent tears cutting down his face, “I remember. I love you. I love you.”

They sit on the floor, wrapped tightly in each other for long moments, until Steve scrubs his tears away with the back of his hand and pulls Bucky up onto the couch where they can sit wrapped tightly in each other more comfortably.

“What do you remember?” Steve whispers. Bucky kisses his lips.

“Everything, I think. Meeting you, I was so star struck, both times.”

“Really? You seemed a little annoyed with me this last time.”

“I was afraid I’d never remember,” Bucky whispers.

Steve shakes his head, “I didn’t care if you never remembered.”

“I know. I know that now.” He kisses Steve again briefly, then says, “I remember you taking me to the VA, training with you, I hit you right here,” he thumbs Steve’s lip, then kisses it. He laughs, “Steve, you crazy bastard. Did you really get a court martial?”

Steve laughs too, hiccupping in the middle, “No, I’m just suspended for another few weeks.”

They talk quietly for another hour, then Bucky gently cleans the blood from Steve’s lip—the cut is already healed—and they curl up together in Bucky’s bed.

“I’ve never been so scared. I’d have been ruined, if I hadn’t found you,” Steve confesses.

He went AWOL, nearly got frostbite himself, serum be damned, searching for him. Crazy asshole. Bucky really has him, hook, line and sinker. And it’s a good thing too, because Bucky’s just as gone.

It feels like double vision. He remembers the curious weight of those missing memories, feeling the edges of a big blank space, a void. Remembers how it felt to meet Steve for the second first time, see him with new eyes and fall in love with him all over again.

He thinks he’s too wired to sleep, but when the room lightens to grey with the coming dawn, his heavy eyelids drift closed.

“I don’t want to go to sleep,” Bucky murmurs, an inch away from Steve’s face, so he won’t have to move far to kiss him when the feeling strikes, as it does now. “What if I lose it again?”

“Sleep, Buck. If you forget, I’ll make you remember, no matter how long it takes. And even if you don’t, you’re stuck with me. To the end of the line.”

“Only that far?” he murmurs sleepily, smiling, even as he drifts off.

Steve presses a kiss to his forehead and murmurs fondly against his skin, “And beyond, you greedy bastard.”

Chapter Text

He never was able to wake up before Steve; the man is a morning person to a fault. But when Bucky wakes up, Steve is still sleeping peacefully beside him, which is how Bucky knows the punk probably stayed up way too late watching him sleep like a creeper. He takes the opportunity to look at Steve's face, the sweep of his eyelashes, the curve of his lips, the line of his nose. The ink on his shoulder, a little faded now.

It feels like a gift, just this, seeing him this way; a privilege. But he can't wait anymore to look into his eyes, so Bucky wakes him up with a kiss.

“Bucky?” Steve murmurs against his lips.

“Still me,” he says, grinning happily, then kisses and licks and sucks his way down Steve’s body. He has 39 days of lost time to make up for. He hums when he strips Steve of his jeans and underwear, “Hello there, I’ve missed you.”

Steve, fully awake now, barks a laugh, “Are you talking to my dick?”

“Sh,” Bucky says, “We’re having a reunion here,” and then swallows it down.

Bucky doesn’t even bother to leave the bed to call Fury that afternoon. He’ll go in to meet with him tomorrow, but the Director is glad to be apprised of the situation.

“Thank you, sir,” Bucky says to disconnect, then instantly wraps himself around Steve again. They’re both still naked, and have no plans to change that anytime soon, and Bucky rolls on top of Steve.

“I wouldn’t have blamed you if you didn’t like two-years-ago me,” he says, folding his arms over Steve’s pecs and setting his chin on them. “I’ve matured a lot since then. Gotten past a lot of stuff; with your help, actually.”

Steve runs his hands over Bucky’s back. “Of course I liked you. You were different, sure, but the basics were the same. Sense of humor, great ass.” Bucky laughs. “Compassion, kindness.”

“I wasn’t very kind to you.”

“Sure you were, when it mattered. You helped me pick out an apartment,” he offers.

“You didn’t need my help, you were just trying to seduce me.”

Steve laughs, “Well that’s half true. I was trying to seduce you, but I did appreciate your help. Speaking of which, since I own next to nothing, I will have plenty of space. Will you move in with me?”

“Yes. Honestly, you’ll be lucky if I ever let you out of my sight again.”

“Oh, good,” Steve says, before rolling Bucky under him again.

Bucky manages to surprise the Black Widow by wrapping her up in a hug in the hallway.

He’s meeting with Fury to discuss his reinstatement, and he spotted Natasha’s red hair sticking out in the sea of black and blue suit-clad drones and agents on the ground floor. He touches her shoulder first, because he’s not an idiot. Surprising the Black Widow too much would be a death sentence rather than a badge of honor. When he tucks her into his chest, she wraps her arms around him and squeezes him fiercely.

“Good to have you back,” she says.

He seeks out Caldwell and Hendricks to shake their hands. He’s going to be late for his meeting with Fury, but honestly, the guy can wait five minutes. Caldwell and Hendricks were both suspended as well, but not for as long as Steve was. Bucky wouldn’t be alive if not for them both, and he tells them so. Caldwell’s eyes get a little misty, and Hendricks gives him a bro hug. Bucky feels pretty good about it.

Fury wants him to run the gamut of psych tests and evals before even coming back in for office work, which is understandable. But the thought of going back to grunt desk work makes his skin crawl.

“I can transfer you to surveillance, or tactics if you’d rather, but in the long run, you’ll be most useful in the field.”

Oh, he gets a choice now. One of the perks of being a veteran of the A-team, he supposes.

“I’ll be ready to get back out there,” he vows. Considering his pretty rotten luck with gunshots and y’know, falling off mountains, he is a little scared. But so are the rest of them. All of their team—and Steve— they put themselves at risk every time they go out. Bucky’s got no right to do any less.

He goes through scans, therapy and exams for two weeks. Scared every night to close his eyes, but it sticks. He’s whole again. He still loses a few minutes every now and then, his brain still healing. Some memories Steve reminds him of aren’t there, but he’s suspicious that Steve might just be fucking with him.

They pool their belongings into Steve's—their new apartment. It’s nice, falling asleep next to him every night and waking up next to him every morning. Nice—the understatement of the millennium.

Steve’s off the bench after a three month suspension and going on missions again without him, while Bucky’s stuck in psych evals and brain scans. The minute Dr. D gives him the green, he schedules his field test. Again.

“No,” Steve says instantly when Bucky tells him after dinner at their apartment. Bucky's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline.

“Excuse me? I wasn’t asking your permission.”

Steve sighs and hesitantly puts his hands on Bucky’s arms. “You’re a magnet for trouble.”

“Pot, kettle?”

“Bucky I just…I can’t…” can’t lose you. Bucky can hear the unspoken words. But Steve just sighs again and forces a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Of course you should go back to work. Whatever you want.”

It feels good, the weight of a rifle in his hands, watching Steve’s back. It feels right. Steve is tense and anxious before and after missions, quiet and pensive, but it gets better with time.


There’s been some asshole flying around in a metal suit, meting out justice vigilante style, and come to find out it’s Tony fucking Stark, who Bucky and Steve just saw the other day for dinner with him and Pepper, and he didn’t even say anything. Of course, what can a person say about something like that, but still. Bucky feels a little betrayed.

Just before Thanksgiving, Fury calls Steve into a meeting. Bucky’s at the apartment, but gets a text not long after Steve leaves to meet them immediately.

Fury looks peeved that Steve insisted Bucky come in. They’re gathered in a conference room; Stark is there, fucking Iron Man—Bucky glares at him and is met with a wink and a kissy face—along with Romanov, Barton and some beefcake with long blonde hair who is introduced as Thor. Fury dismisses them once Bucky has been introduced to the strange man, the only one he doesn’t already know, then he jumps right into his spiel.

Fury wants to put together a team, with Steve at the head. Bucky listens to Fury’s pitch, a little rushed and monotone—he already said all this to Steve—with Steve watching his face the whole time. When he’s done, Fury turns an expectant look at Steve, who returns it.

“I’ll give you a minute,” Fury says.

As soon as the door is closed behind him, Steve looks at Bucky. “What do you think?”

“What do I think?”

“Yes, what do you think,” Steve says impatiently. “What are your thoughts?”

Bucky struggles to speak under the weight of Steve’s explicit trust. “I think it’s good. A team of people like you? It could be really good.”

Steve nods. “Ok. I’ll do it, but only if you join up, too.”

Bucky leans back. “You didn’t want me in the field at all, and now you want me on the most dangerous team on the planet for the missions no one else can do?”

Steve nods. “Yes.”

“You don’t make any sense.”

Steve takes a deep breath. “I want you to be safe, but I know you want to be out there, making a difference. I respect that. And there’s no bigger difference you can make than on this team. Plus this way, I can keep an eye on you.”

“Yeah, except I wasn’t invited.”

“I’m inviting you.”

“I don’t think it works that way.”

Steve quirks a brow. “I think it does.”

Steve opens the door for Fury and says, “I’ll do it, if you put Bucky on the team too.”

“Fine,” Fury says immediately, unsurprised as usual.

And that’s how Bucky becomes an Avenger.

Thor, as it turns out, is an actual fucking god, as in Norse mythology. He lives in Asgard, which he can reach by a…rainbow bridge…using his…magic hammer.

Steve takes it all in stride, which leaves Bucky even more flabbergasted. The guy goes from the smallness of the world in the ‘40s to the technology age to whatever the hell this is and he accepts it and moves on while Bucky gapes like a fish.

The team practices together in a bulletproof room Stark designed at the Tower to project random villainous simulations. They all have their roles; Nat slips through the cracks, Clint watches from the rooftops, Tony flies around in his gaudy red and gold suit, he and Thor blasting shit out of the skies with repulsor beams and fucking lightning bolts and Steve directs them all around, while deflecting bullets and throwing punches and his shield with perfect aim and Bucky sticks to their leader’s six, sniping anything he can get his sights on.

They’re a funny bunch. Funny as in hilarious (Tony has always been a wisecracker but who knew Thor was an understated comedian?) but also one helluva hodge-podge. With the truckloads of baggage they're all carrying around and wildly different personalities, it should be a shit show. But somehow, it works. They move around each other with ease, on the battlefield and off. Bucky attributes it mostly to their leadership, their keystone, their Captain.

The quinjet takes them on missions all around the world. Insane objectives that should be impossible for anyone else fall under their feet, and then Stark forces them to come to the Tower for team dinner afterward. Fight aliens in the morning, shawarma in the evening. It's madness. Bucky loves it.

They’re in the elevator at the Tower after a mission with the Avengers—a way cooler name than the A-team, by the way—and Bucky turns to Steve to say, “I love you,” simply because the feeling strikes him anew every now and then.

Steve kisses his lips sweetly, “I love you too.”

When the doors slide open—so smoothly he hadn’t noticed them stop—they’re still standing close together and Tony lobs an egg roll at them. It breaks on Bucky’s hip and covers the floor in cabbage.

“Ew, come on,” Tony says. “No kissing National Treasures on Stark property.”

They head toward the kitchen, where Tony’s ordered both Thai and pizza and Bucky throws his arm around Natasha’s shoulders. She hip-checks him away then hands him an egg roll, and it’s good.

Everything is good.

Becca barrages them at the door of Bucky’s childhood home. She’s 27 years old, but regresses to 7 at holidays. Her two friends are at her flanks, stars and hearts practically floating above their heads as Bucky and Steve struggle to take their coats and shoes off in the now-crowded foyer.

“Steve, these are my friends Jamie and Erin.”

“Hi Becks,” Bucky says, “Good to see you.”

She ignores him completely as Steve goes about charming everyone. Winifred has already adopted him— apparently they talked on the phone all the time while Bucky was ‘out’— and she treats him no differently than she treats Bucky. Well, maybe she’s a little nicer to Steve, but she still gives him chores; uses him to help set the table, fetch this or that from the kitchen and wash dishes afterward.

It doesn’t take long for Steve to make a connection with all the Aunts and Uncles and cousins too. He spends a long time sitting on the couch with Uncle Herb, who’d served in WWII. Both their eyes get shiny at intervals, and Bucky brings them both glasses of bourbon. He slides his hand along Steve’s shoulders as he walks away, and Steve snags his hand to press a kiss to his knuckles before he slips away.

Steve sits on the floor building block towers with Benjamin and Maya, 2- and 3-years-old, respectively. Bucky’s good luck and good taste in boyfriends is the hot topic in the kitchen amongst Mom and her sisters.

“Isn’t he the sweetest?”

“Earnest and kind—“

“And handsome!”

Bucky rolls his eyes, but he also can’t stop this stupid goofy grin that’s plastered all over his face. Mom grabs his arm and pulls him in for a squishy hug, kissing his head.

“We are so happy for you, sweetie.” He makes no move to extricate himself.

“Thanks, Momma. I’m happy too.”

Becca’s screech draws everyone’s attention to the patio door, “Look! It’s snowing!”

The back floodlights illuminate the tiny flakes that are floating down through the crisp air. Becca and her friends stand in it for a moment before it gets too cold and they go back inside. Steve and Bucky stand on the back porch a moment longer, in the still silence. Steve could stand there for hours, no doubt, but Bucky won’t last much longer. Steve wraps his arm around Bucky’s shoulder and pulls him into the warmth of his body. Bucky wraps his arms around Steve’s middle, huddling against him.

He puts his cold fingertips under Steve’s shirt, and Steve hisses a little, but otherwise doesn’t protest.

“You have a really nice family,” Steve says after a moment. Buck pulls back so he can look at him.

“We have a really nice family.”

Steve smiles and drops him a kiss, then tucks him back against his shoulder, which probably means he has tears welling in his eyes, the big softie. Bucky squeezes him tighter.

Steve gets invited to 25 charity galas a month, and he’s declined each and every one with a handwritten note, but he’s finally broken his streak because Pepper Potts is hosting a benefit for veterans at the Tower, and paid him a personal visit to deliver his invitation, so it’s not like he could have said no, even if he’d wanted to.

“Of course I’ll go,” Bucky says when Steve tells him all this in one long run-on sentence.

Steve sighs, “Thank you.”

“Like I’d pass up the chance to see you in a suit up close,” Bucky purrs, eyeing Steve’s frame like he can already see it on him. Steve’s eyes light up like he hadn’t thought of that perk until now.

The night of the gala, Bucky takes his suit into the guest bathroom, because he has a tiny flair for the dramatic and doesn’t want Steve to see him getting ready. Steve is waiting in the living room, looking like sex on a stick, when Bucky comes out.

“God damn,” Bucky says. His suit is a tailored delight, simple black with a black skinny tie.

Steve looks him over for a moment, from his hair to his shoes, before coming over to kiss him. “Yep, I was right.”

“About what this time?”

“You looking extra fuckable in a bow tie.”

Bucky gasps, “For shame, Captain America! The mouth on you!”

Steve just nods proudly, damn straight.

Pepper somehow spots them the minute they enter the ballroom and greets them with hugs each.

“Bucky, it’s so good to see you.”

“Thank you, Pepper, you too,” he says sincerely.

Pepper tows them around, making introductions.

“Where’s Tony?” Bucky asks her, between small talk with patrons of her foundation.

“Oh, he’s hiding,” she waves toward the corner, where Tony is actually pouring drinks behind the bar.

Pepper has asked Steve to say a few words after dinner, and he read Bucky every draft of the speech, written on an index card that’s now tucked in his breast pocket. He’s been sweating about it since this morning, but Bucky’s not worried. He knows what Steve is capable of, and this is a drop in the bucket. His certainty on the matter even helps Steve chill out a little, he thinks.

Pepper has a microphone at the front of the room and introduces him when the guests are halfway through their first after-dinner drink, to roaring applause.

Steve doesn’t even take the index card out of his pocket; he doesn't need it. His tender sentiments are sincere, his jokes well-timed. He’s got them all wrapped around his finger, Bucky most of all.

Bucky still thinks of Steve as Captain America sometimes, someone separate; above. But he realizes now that there is no distinction. Sometimes Steve puts on the Captain America persona, but he’s always Steve Rogers, and Bucky fell in love with both. The paragon of everything good in this world, truth and honor, someone for Bucky to look up to, and the little shit who likes to fuck with people and tell dirty jokes he learned in the war, the one who Bucky can get in trouble with. They’re not separate. Steve fucks with people when they disrespect others. He holds truth and honor so highly because of the way he was treated when he was a boy; they’re intertwined, inseparable, as much as Steve likes to pretend they’re not.

“What’s it like?” a woman suddenly beside him asks. He turns to look at her. “Dating Captain America?” She tilts her champagne glass to where Steve is shaking hands, making his way through the crowd. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a coif at the back of her head and she’s wearing a sparkling purple dress that ends at her knees with black high heels. She asks it conversationally, but she has a hunger in her eyes that screams reporter.

He’s not sure which paper she’s with. They’ve all been trying to get in contact with him for months with the same exact angle: What’s it like dating Captain America?

Bucky blows out a breath, as if he has to think about his answer. “It’s awesome,” he shrugs. “Steve is incredible. In every single way. It can be a little annoying; we walk out our front door and everyone wants his attention, but it’s a small price to pay to be with him.”

Our front door? Are you living together?”

That’s what she gleaned from his answer? Bucky laughs, but there’s no malice in it. “Have a nice night, ma’am.” He heads for the bar to find Steve already there, watching him.

“Great speech, babe.”

“Thanks. Who was that?”

“Some reporter. Wanted to know what it’s like dating Captain America.”

“And what did you tell her?”

“Ugh,” Bucky groans and rolls his eyes. “It’s terrible. You hog the covers and the bacon, and you never—“

Steve is smiling happily and he interrupts with, “Will you marry me?”

Bucky is stunned into stillness for a moment, then says the only thing he can say: “Yes.”

Steve seems to realize what just happened and he laughs in a bit of disbelief.

“We need to get out of here,” Bucky says. Steve nods, but first, he steps in and graces Bucky with an absolutely filthy kiss, licking into his mouth with so much promise for things to come. Then he grabs his hand and tows him toward the elevators.

Pepper intercepts them with another hand to shake.

“Steve, I’d like you to meet—“

“Ms. Potts, I’m so sorry, I have to take my fiancé home, he’s had a little too much to drink,” Steve says earnestly, barely slowing his stride. Bucky’s snorting into his free hand, and waves apologetically at the two of them. Pepper’s a sharp lady, her face lights up with delight and she calls after them “Of course! Of course, oh! I’ll talk to you later!”

Bucky’s eyes are watering with the force of his joy and the effort of holding it back; he feels like a kid on Christmas morning, he feels like, like… he’s all out of words, he can’t think. He didn’t know a person could be this happy.

They’re alone in the elevator, thank God for small favors, and Steve pins him to the wall to kiss him.

“You will?” he asks again, as if there’s anything else Bucky would rather do. “You’ll marry me?”

“Yes,” Bucky whispers, “Yes.”

Chapter Text

Bucky takes the elevator up to the common area of the Tower after a practice session, where he plans to loiter until someone suggests dinner. Steve’s still finishing up in the locker rooms, but Clint and Nat are on their laptops at the table by the window. Nat looks up and smirks at him, which should be his first clue, but his brain doesn't register it fast enough.

“Y’know,” Clint says, “I’m ordained to perform marriages in the state of New York.” Then he twitches, as if someone just kicked him hard under the table.

“That seems like a random—“ Bucky cuts himself off to glare at his friend. Pepper didn't tell a soul, she swore up and down she'd let them make the announcement on their own time. There's only one other person who knows, and it's the man who made the proposal.

“What?" Clint exclaims, "I just did it. It takes like ten minutes,” he says, gesturing at his screen.

The stairwell door slams open and Steve skids to a stop in front of them all, hair wet from the shower and shirt on inside out. Bucky glares at him too. “What did you do?”

Steve grimaces. “I may have spilled a few beans. Out of a usually very reliable container.”

From his back pocket, Bucky’s phone starts to vibrate, just as Steve’s phone starts ringing in his pocket too.

Bucky glares harder, “How many beans, Steve?”

“Mmm. All of them? Darcy got it out of me, and then, you know.” Then he lifts his hands and shrugs. He looks so much like an emoji that Bucky almost laughs, except he’s still mad that Steve ruined their announcement. Bucky had a plan; there was going to be cake. 

“Ooh, what about June? The flowers will be in bloom,” Natasha says. Bucky comes around behind her and puts his hands on the table on each side of her. He leans his chin down on the top of her head and peers at her screen.

She has about sixty tabs open; vineyards, Google maps, caterers, florists, Pinterest. She gives him a minute, then reaches up and slaps at his face, so he straightens up and says, “We were kind of thinking about going down to the courthouse, actually.”

For the past four days, Steve has said "Let's get married today" the minute Bucky opened his eyes. But he's been enjoying this week of quiet, easy bliss before making the announcement and riding out the storm that’s sure to follow.

Tony literally pops up from behind the kitchen counter, gasping, “No! No, no, no, Buckybot what is actually wrong with you?”

“What were you doing back there?” Clint asks mildly.

“Courthouse weddings are for poor people and pregnant teenagers. No. You’ll have it here, where Jarvis and I can keep track of everything and make sure it’s perfect.”

“No, Tony,” Bucky sighs, “You’ll just go overboard.”

Tony gasps, “Over—overboard? That’s preposterous. That’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard, when have I ever gone overboard?”

Bucky looks at him staunchly for a moment. “Do you really want me to answer that?”

“So, I can…?” Clint says, pointing from his laptop to Bucky and Steve.

Yes, fine, you can marry us,” Bucky says, and Clint punches the air. “I wouldn’t want to undermine all your hard work.”

“Ten whole minutes!”

“That’s not fair! You can’t give him what he wants and not give me what I want,” Tony complains.

“Children,” Bucky mutters. “You’re all children.”

“Don’t lump me in with them, I’m being very respectful,” Natasha sniffs, then says, “We have a cake tasting tomorrow at ten.”

Bucky sighs and looks at Steve, who’s making the most idiotic face in his attempt to hold back his giddy smile, and Bucky finally cracks.

He’s actually pretty delighted that they can talk about it with their friends now, but he grouses in the elevator anyway.

“I can’t believe you spilled. I was going to order cake. And balloons. Thor would've loved it.”

“I’m sorry honey,” Steve says, but he’s grinning as he steps in close and runs his hand slowly, slowly down Bucky’s chest. “Can you forgive me?”

Bucky pouts. “I don’t know, maybe. You’ll have to work for it.”

Steve licks his lower lip in a way that makes Bucky's heart beat faster, even after all these months together, and says, “I’m a very hard worker.”

Steve is standing at the counter pulling apart a roasted chicken, putting the meat in one bowl and the bones into another, because throwing away chicken bones is apparently some form of Depression-Era blasphemy. Bucky is leaning back against the counter next to him with his arms crossed over his chest, watching.

Steve looks up at him and chuckles. “What’s that look for?”

Bucky checks in with his features and realizes he’s scowling. “It’s freaking me out.” That floppy carcass, its little dead legs, yuck.

Steve laughs. “I thought you cooked?”

“Why, because I made stew for you one time when I was trying to get in your pants?”

“Is that what that was? Here I thought you were trying to make me feel at home in this century.”

Bucky shakes his head. “No, I wanted your dick. I’m glad that stew made me look like I knew what I was doing, though. Otherwise I don’t actually cook.”

“Well, I guess I will be able to teach you something.”

“Honey you’ve taught me plenty,” he says saucily, pressing up against Steve's back and smoothing his hands down his chest to his crotch.

“Ah!” Steve exclaims, “C’mon, I’ve got chicken innards on my hands.”

Steve’s phone vibrates on the windowsill so Bucky grabs it. It’s been vibrating all day— Bucky’s too— with well-meaning intrusions, but this time it’s an actual voice call, which is just odd enough to intrigue him.

“Natasha,” Bucky announces, then answers, “Steve’s phone.”

“Steve’s fiancé,” Natasha greets. “Roses or peonies?”

“Natasha, you know I don’t care.”

“I told you—“ Natasha says, presumably to Pepper, as she hangs up on him.

“Sorry, did you have an opinion?” he says to Steve.

“Nope,” Steve says happily. “I am a tiny bit worried about the circus we’re going to find ourselves in next month. But as long as we’re married at the end of it, I guess a circus wouldn’t be so bad.”

Bucky struggles not to fidget while Natasha has her hands around his neck.

“Why am I so nervous?” he blurts, angry with himself for it. He knows this is the right thing, the best thing, so why are his hands shaking?

“There’s a big-ass tent full of people out there,” Nat says sensibly.

“It’s my family,” Bucky argues.


It’s a somewhat small affair, given that Steve has no family. The bulk of the guests are Bucky’s relations, Avengers and Avengers-adjacent, like Sam and Clint’s family, whose land they’re using, and quite a lot of Pepper’s family for some reason. But it’s still under 250. There are almost as many security as there are guests.

Clint’s cousins own a farmhouse on a large plot of land outside the city and were all too happy to lend it to them for the Wedding of the Century, as it’s been dubbed since the announcement two months ago. Wedding planners, bands, florists and caterers have been clamoring to offer their services. But it's Natasha, whose soft nougaty center has been on prominent display for the last few months, who's been arranging invitations, centerpieces and favors, with help from Pepper and Thor, who has an undisputed eye for color.

“Did I ever tell you how happy I am that you had to fight Steve for me as your Best Woman?”

This is not a thing she wants to give up, but she’s trying to distract him, and it makes him so sentimental along with the stress of the day that his face crumples a little.

“Natasha, I—“

“Do not,” she says, yanking on his tie, “You’ll smear your mascara.”

“Fuck you.”

“There we go.” She smoothes her hands over his lapels and reaches up to kiss his cheek. “C’mon, lover-boy.”

His mom and Rebecca are waiting in the living room of the farmhouse. Rebecca has an arm around Mom, whose eyes are red and is clutching a wad of tissues in her hands.

“Oh, Mom. Already?”

“My boy,” she hiccups, reaching for him. They hug each other tightly for a minute.

“Pull it together, lady. This is a happy day,” Bucky says, all of his nerves somehow gone in order to reassure his mother.

“That’s the problem,” Becca says flatly.

“It’d be nice if you’d cry a little,” Bucky says dryly.

“No chance, I’m furious. I’m her baby girl and she’s not going to be near this emotional at my wedding.”

“That’s because you’re never going to get married.”

She curls her lip at him in disgust, “No. It’s because there’s only one Steve Rogers in this world and you got him.”

“I did, didn’t I?” he says happily, and Mom sobs anew. “Mom, really?”

Natasha puts her arm around Winifred’s shoulders and gently pulls her away, saying, “Did I ever tell you about the time Tony destroyed an entire museum’s worth of ancient artifacts in Thailand?” Winifred gasps. “True story. Thousands of years of history—“

Natasha horrifies Winifred out of her tears and Becca hugs Bucky before going to find her seat. Bucky peeks out the window.

The guests have their backs to the farmhouse under a big white tent with the side panels tied back to let in the summer breeze. Steve is standing just outside the farmhouse back door, waiting for him.

He looks up when he hears the screen door squeak. Bucky crosses the porch and at the bottom of the steps, stops in front of Steve. He’s wearing a black suit and blue tie and is probably sweltering, like Bucky is already, but damn he looks good.

“Oh my god. Hi,” Bucky says in a rush, grinning, nerves and excitement rushing back to him.

“Hi, love,” Steve says. “How ya doin?”

“I’ve never been better in my entire life.”

“Just wait,” Steve says with a grin, then holds out his hand. “Well, whaddya say?” They walk hand in hand toward the tent together and the music cues up.

Thor and Bruce (who doesn't practice with them for obvious reasons, but has been around for hangouts and for some of the worst missions) served as ushers. Natasha and Rebecca are standing up for Bucky, and Sam and Tony stand for Steve, with Clint in the middle, looking pretty good in a suit himself, though he does still have a bandage across the bridge of his nose from their last mission. He does a damn good job with the ceremony too, actually. Steve had been skeptical, but he’s solemn without being dry, with just the right touch of humor and tenderness.

Natasha hands him a ring to slip onto Steve’s finger, and Sam gives Steve the metal/rubber alloy ring to slip onto Bucky’s metal finger. It stretches like rubber but looks like titanium, without the creepy scratch of metal on metal. Tony’d designed it just for him.

They hold hands throughout the short ceremony, squeezing each other’s fingers at intervals to get a smile or as a silent I love you.

They say I do and kiss, and Clint pronounces them married. They go back into the farmhouse to the room where Bucky’d changed, to have a minute to breathe and sign the marriage certificate.

Steve pulls Bucky into his arms and holds him tightly. “I never thought, when I woke up from the ice, that I’d ever get here.” He leans back and puts his hands on Bucky’s face. “That I’d ever be this happy.”

“Steve, I love you so much,” Bucky says desperately, like it’s the first time. Steve kisses him.

There’s a knock on the door a minute later. “Everybody decent in here?” Sam calls.

“Just gimme a minute to put my dick away,” Steve replies.

Three voices groan variations of, “Oh my god,” from outside the door.

“Ok seriously I’m coming in,” Sam says, and opens the door. Clint, Sam and Natasha pile in, and they all sign the marriage certificate. Clint folds it up into the white envelope and hands it to Steve, who puts it in his breast pocket, then laughs as Clint gives him a big hug.

“Thanks, pal,” he says quietly.

“It was an honor,” Clint replies.

Hugs abound, and they head back out to the tent, which has been re-arranged with a wooden dance floor in the middle, and tables for dinner. The wedding party sits at a long table at the front. The speeches are hilarious and sniffle-inducing and dinner is wonderful. Bucky’d floated the idea of catering tamales, but the Montenegros have already benefitted from their patronage and Steve wanted to share the love with some other small businesses (though the Montenegros are in attendance as guests).

After their first dance (“I’m still terrible at this,” Steve had said. “Just follow my lead, husband,” Bucky had replied.) Steve dances with Bucky a few more times, slow songs only, and even asks some of the ladies to dance with him if they’re not engaged. Some leftover 30s thing about it being rude to leave a lady sitting without a partner.

Bucky barely leaves the dance floor all night. He and Steve make their way around the tables to say thank you and hello to all their guests, but otherwise Bucky’s breaking out all his best moves. He dances with Natasha and with Clint, who also never leaves the dance floor, Sam, Becca and a dozen cousins and friends. Montenegro junior (Alison) shyly asks him for a dance and he happily obliges.

Bucky’s getting a drink at the bar when he notices the young journalist he’d invited standing at the bar, getting a drink as well. The tips of her long blonde hair are curling softly about her shoulders, and she's wearing a classy black and white dress with black pumps.

“Congratulations, Sergeant Barnes,” she says.

It’s a press-free affair, Tony’s security makes sure of that, but Ms. Page is just starting to make a name for herself, and she’s never once hounded them for an interview, or followed them around with a camera. Her articles are personal-interest mostly, but she has a hard nose for journalistic truth. Bucky’d asked Pepper and Natasha for suggestions for a good person to give an exclusive, and she’d been high on both their lists. She’s been jotting notes in a small black notebook and he’s given her free reign with the camera around her neck, but he’s yet to see her take a picture.

“Thank you Ms. Page. And please, call me Bucky.”

She smiles. “Only if you call me Karen.”

“Deal. Are you having a good time?”

“Really good,” she says earnestly. “Everything is gorgeous.”

“They really did a great job. Steve and I were pretty hands-off. Pep, Nat and Thor, actually, did most of it.”

“Pepper Potts and Natasha Romanoff?” she repeats, for clarification.

“The very same.” Two of the most respected and feared women in the Western hemisphere and a Norse god planned his wedding to Captain America. Bucky shakes his head. He'd never say he's getting used to the insanity, but he is learning to roll with it.

Karen seems to know what he’s thinking. “Pretty insane,” she agrees, “Kind of like you inviting me to the wedding of the century out of the blue.”

Bucky shrugs, “You’ll tell a good story about it.”

“It certainly won’t be hard.”

A slow song starts playing and Bucky holds his hand out to her, “We should probably dance, huh?”

She nods, smiling a lovely bashful smile. “Probably should.”

Fury watches the proceedings stoically from his table, having been abandoned in favor of the dance floor by his table-mates Hendricks and Caldwell. Their adopted Aunt Janice from HR, who almost spontaneously combusted when Bucky gave her an invitation, is still sitting at the table with him though, talking with Winifred, who seems to have found a friend. They cried together for a little while, but now they’re throwing back shots and making Director Fury fetch them more. Bucky’s not sure which is worse.

Tony has pushed the DJ out of his booth and is now playing Neil Diamond probably ironically, but it’s actually amazing. As the older guests filter out, it’s turning into a group karaoke party.

They’re at the bar getting drinks when a Miley Cyrus song comes on, and Steve lip-synchs it tenderly to Bucky as though it were a powerful love ballad, caressing his face gently. The video will gain over a million hits on YouTube by the next morning.

The Bartons have given them the farmhouse and land for the whole night, but around 3 a.m. the party breaks up. More hugs abound, manly confessions of love and Natasha, who’d drank more than everyone, neatly walks on 4” heels through the grass and helps them all get into the shuttle.

The shuttle drops them all at a hotel a short drive from the farmhouse, and Steve and Bucky take the elevator up to their suite, kissing lazily.

“Well, husband,” Steve says slyly when they step inside their door, “where should we consummate our marriage? Bed? Floor? Countertop?”

Bucky punches him in the shoulder—“Spousal abuse!” He’s not sure why, but this happiness is making his brain do funny things. Then he yanks on Steve’s tie and pulls him in for a kiss.

“I like this,” Bucky murmurs, tugging on Steve’s tie, “You should leave it on.”

Steve’s mouth drops open. “I will if you will.”

Bucky winds up on his back on the table, his blazer long gone and his shirt unbuttoned from the collar down. Steve’s pants are still around his ankles and the table is banging embarrassingly loudly against the wall as Steve fucks him.

“Forever, Bucky,” Steve pants, “Forever,” and even though it’s a fragmented thought, Bucky understands.

“Yeah, baby,” Bucky agrees, yanking on his tie to reel him in for a messy kiss, “Forever.”

Bucky wakes up, but doesn’t open his eyes, gauging his state of being. His mouth’s a little dry and his head’s a little fuzzy. Nothing a big glass of water and a greasy breakfast can’t fix. He’s still glad their flight isn’t until the afternoon though, to give them (mostly Bucky) time to sleep away the alcohol from last night.

From their wedding.

When he married Steve Rogers.

Bucky rolls over to kiss his husband, only to find the other side of the bed empty.

“Goddammit Steve,” he calls to the suite at large, then hears the scrape of a chair against the tile floor and footsteps thudding into the room. Steve vaults himself onto the bed.

“Finally,” Steve gripes. “Good morning, husband.”

“Good morning, husband. Where’s my morning-after breakfast?”

“No breakfast, we’re married now. Get ready for the doldrums.”

“But the honeymoon stage isn’t even over yet! The honeymoon literally hasn’t even begun,” Bucky protests, then he sniffs the air pointedly because the smell of bacon has started wafting in.

“Damn,” Steve says, “I’ve been made.”

Bucky puts underwear on, but doesn’t bother with anything else, and he sits at the table while Steve cooks eggs in the hotel suite’s kitchen.

Steve's hand looks good with a wedding ring on it. Bucky can't stop looking at it, especially when he's in the shower after breakfast and Steve steps in with him and puts those hands all over him.

As Bucky’s drying his hair and throwing clothes on, Steve rifles around in his duffel bag in the bedroom.

“I have something for you,” he says. He hands Bucky a leather-bound journal. “I noticed you were almost at the end of yours.”

Bucky still journals every day, writing down the things he’s thankful for, things he wishes for himself, his life, his loved ones. He’d been using a stupid spiral-bound notebook he found in the SHIELD office supply cabinet. But this one is a rich, dark brown leather with a wrap-around tie closure.

Bucky kisses him. “Thank you. I love it.”

“What do you write about, anyway?” Steve asks. He's seen Bucky writing in his journal every morning and every night for months and has never asked.

“Things I’m thankful for. It’s mostly just pages filled with ‘Steve’s ass.’”

Steve laughs and kisses him lightly, fingertips brushing over the ring on Bucky's metal finger. His other hand slips down over his ass with a suggestive squeeze and Bucky laughs against his husband’s lips.

“We have a flight to catch.”

“Why don’t we just have our honeymoon here?” Steve suggests, pulling at Bucky's hips to press them together.

“At a Marriott in Poughkeepsie?”


“C’mon, Steve,” he admonishes. “Let’s go rock climbing in Chile. We can fuck for the rest of our lives.”

Steve grins. It's so beautiful that a lump actually rises in Bucky's throat. “I like the sound of that.”

“Me too, husband,” Bucky manages to say, “Me too.”