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“Hey, Natasha,” Steve says, coming out of his bathroom and holding up a small, black tube. “You left your-” he checks the tube, “mascara here?” He’s a little confused, and he’s hoping Natasha will have a reason she left her makeup in his bathroom. He doesn’t even remember her going in there, and he’s never seen any of her makeup before. There’s debates amongst their team members on whether she actually wears any, or she’s just naturally that gorgeous. Personally, he’s argued for the latter.

She gives him a small grin from her place on the sofa, just a quirk of the lips, and answers, “Not mine.”

“Oh.” He does a quick mental check--Pepper and Darcy were there a few days before for dinner, along with their respective partners, but certainly he would’ve noticed the tube on the bathroom counter before then. Wouldn’t he?

“Maybe ask James.” Natasha says, cryptically, and Steve raises an eyebrow at her, not really getting why Bucky would know something about the mascara that he didn’t. He and Bucky have been reunited for a month now, and it’s been nearly six since the HYDRA showdown. He knows Bucky isn’t cheating on him, so he’s not sure why Natasha thinks Bucky would know more about women being in the apartment than he would.

“I guess.” He agrees, and despite being subtle, he still notices Nat hiding her smile behind her coffee mug.

---

“Hey, Buck.” Steve says, smiling as his boyfriend throws his jacket on the back of the sofa. “Dinner’s in the oven, should be ready in about five.”

Bucky nods, and sits down on the sofa, curling into Steve’s side. He tucks his head into Steve’s shoulder and sighs. Steve wraps an arm around Bucky’s back and holds him close. He huffs a little breath of relief, because having Bucky so close feels like coming home, every fucking time. He’s noticed the dark circles under Bucky’s eyes have faded out, and there’s healthy color in his face. He likes the outward signs that he’s making progress.

They sit for a minute, watching Parks and Recreation-- a show Steve inexplicably loves--on Netflix; when the small mascara tube catches his eye from its place on the coffee table. He leans forward, just an inch, not enough to displace the soldier at his side, and picks it up.

“Hey, do you know whose this is?” he asks, curiously, holding up the black tube with the little red “X” on the side. “I found it in our bathroom this morning. I asked Nat, and she told me I should ask you.”

He feels Bucky tense up, just a fraction, and then relax with a sigh. “You said dinner was going to be ready soon?” he asked, sounds weirdly defeated, and Steve nods, more than a little confused.

“Yeah, in a couple minutes. The roasted chicken and vegetables in the oven have been cooking for nearly half an hour now.”

Bucky seems to steel himself and pulls away from Steve, sitting up and placing a hand on Steve’s knee. “We’ll eat and then I’ll explain, okay?”

Steve hesitates, wanting to know what in God’s name there is to explain. Did Bucky bring someone home? Is there actually someone else? His thoughts are interrupted by the timer’s shrill beeping, and despite his preoccupation with the mysterious mascara, he has a dinner to serve his lover.

--

They eat in relative silence. Apparently neither of them are sure what to say and Steve never thought a tube of makeup could cause so much tension, and with no real conversation to slow them down, they finish relatively quickly. As Steve loads the plates into the dishwasher, he glances over to the table, where Bucky is slowly turning the mascara over and over in his fingers. Steve can tell Bucky’s nervous and he wishes he could say he wasn’t nervous himself, but he does not understand what’s going on.

He sits back down at the table when he’s finished, and after a moment of silence has passed, he raises a hand to gesture at the tube and asks, “Well?”

There’s another moment of silence, like Bucky’s judging his next sentence, and finally he speaks up.

“It’s mine.”

Steve’s sure he heard wrong. He’s positive. Because it sounded like Bucky just said the mascara was his, and that’s ridiculous.

“I’m sorry, what?” And Bucky cracks a tiny grin.

“It’s mine, Stevie.” Bucky looks caught between nervous as hell and slightly amused at the gap-mouthed reaction he’s earned. “I bought it. I use it. It’s not Nat’s or any girls’. It’s mine.”

“But you’re a guy,” is the first brilliant statement out of Steve’s mouth when he’s presented with the unexpected fact his boyfriend wears makeup.

“Yes.” Bucky confirms with a nod.

“I don’t understand,” Steve admits, leaning back in his chair and running a hand through his hair. “Why would you wear mascara?”

Bucky heaves a deep sigh and says, a bit tiredly, “It... Listen,” he starts, staring at a spot on the table in front of him, “if you can just… let it go,” and Steve starts to speak, but Bucky finally looks up at him, and he stops, shuts his mouth and nods, “Tomorrow morning, I’ll explain everything, okay?”

“Why tomorrow morning?” Steve can’t help the question, “Why not just explain it tonight?”

Bucky closes his eyes, and says quietly, “Just trust me, okay? It’s nothing bad.”

Steve nods, unsure, but if there’s one thing Bucky’s proven in his time back, he’s worth trusting.

---

The next morning, Steve wakes up to the sound of Bucky rummaging around in the bathroom. He remembers the conversation they had the night before, and almost literally jumps out of the bed, hoping this is the explanation he stayed awake for for hours the night before, trying to figure out.

He approaches the bathroom door, already slightly ajar, and knocks on it, swinging it open just a fraction more.

The door opens, to reveal a tired-looking, nervous Bucky on the other side, and an array of bottles and tubes and whatnot on the counter. He notices the dark circles under Bucky’s eyes aren’t faded like they normally are, and he wonders if he lost sleep this last night, too.

“Okay,” Bucky says, sounding determined, “go ahead and go to the bathroom so you don’t interrupt me halfway through,” he says, and when Steve starts to protest, Bucky just raises an eyebrow, silencing him. Bucky steps out and shuts the door behind him.

Steve’s pretty sure it’s been years since he peed that fast, and he washes his hands, pointedly ignoring the products spread out on the counter.

He opens the door and Bucky steps back in. He straightens his shoulders and nods, like he’s just accepted a mission briefing. “Let’s get started.”

“All this stuff is yours?” Steve asks, carefully, gesturing vaguely at the counter as Bucky steps around him to stand in front of the mirror.

“Yes.” Bucky confirms, and Steve suddenly realizes this whole situation is a lot more in-depth than a simple tube of mascara.

Bucky starts by picking up a small plastic tube, full of light beige cream. “This is concealer,” he states formally, unscrewing the cap and pulling a small wand out, with a sponge-like tip. He efficiently uses the wand to apply the concealer in small upside-down triangles under his eyes. He picks up a tan, teardrop-shaped sponge, and starts patting the area under his eyes. Steve watches, having a sudden epiphany about Bucky and the fading of his under eye circles.

“Now, that looks weirdly light compared to the rest of my skin, right?” he says, and Steve notices his hands shaking slightly as he picks up a small pump bottle, pressing on it, and depositing a small pile of cream onto his fingers. “Foundation,” he continues, holding up his fingers. He carefully dots the cream all over his face, going back to the bottle for a little more. He picks up the sponge again, and Steve watches as Bucky carefully blends the foundation over his face. It’s a close enough match, so close that Steve understands why he never noticed Bucky was wearing any before. He watches as Bucky blends the foundation up into his hairline, and at the edge of his short, scruffy beard. When he’s done, the dark circles have almost completely vanished.

Steve nods. “What next?” he asks, crossing his arms in front of him and leaning against the door frame. He’s only ever seen woman do their makeup and he can’t help but wonder if Bucky’s planning on busting out bright red lipstick before this is over.

“Uh,” Bucky hesitates, looking over his small hoard. “Blush.”

Steve almost says something, but holds back. He watches as Bucky picks up a small, thick rectangle of  plastic with the letters “NARS” across it, and idly wonders what “Nars” means. Bucky flips the top open and the pressed powder inside is a muted, dusky pink color. Bucky picks up a fluffy brush, dabs it into the powder, and dabs the brush to his cheeks, giving them the healthy flush of color Steve’s grown so fond of and so used to seeing. Little did he know the true origin of it.

Bucky stops for a second when he’s finished and closes the pan. He turns to Steve, “I’m freaking you out, aren’t I?” he asks, flatly.

Steve just mutely shakes his head and gestures for Bucky to continue. Steve’s still mildly uncomfortable and a bit nervous to see how far this will go.

Bucky sighs, and picks up another plastic rectangle, that looks identical to the one before it, except when he opens this one, it contains a light brown powder.

“Um, Bronzer,” Bucky says, using another brush to lightly apply the powder along his hairline and temples. “Makes it look like I see the sun more than I actually do,” he jokes, and Steve cracks a grin, for Bucky’s benefit, if nothing else. He watches Bucky lightly brush some through his beard, giving it a slightly fuller look. Steve can’t help but feel slightly betrayed. Every time he looked at Bucky and thought about how much better he was looking, how much healthier, it was a lie.

Bucky sets the bronzer down and picks up a square package with the letters “UD” embossed on the top. Bucky opens it to reveal a light, shimmery powder and Steve tenses. It’s noticeably more glittery, even as subtle as it is, and he’s wary of this one.

“Highlighter,” is Bucky’s explanation, and he applies it with a smaller, but still fluffy brush, onto his cheekbones. It’s a light dusting, barely noticeable and the shimmer is subtle. “It just looks… healthier.” When Bucky says this, he deliberately avoids eye contact, and closes the box.

“What else?” Steve asks, trying not to sound too tense, even though he’s getting twitchy. He doesn’t like how much of Bucky’s appearance is being altered with this. Just how much of what he sees when he looks at Bucky isn’t real, and he shouldn’t judge, but…

Bucky looks over his small hoard again, and picks up the tube of mascara. He doesn’t say anything, knows Steve’s seen girls apply a shitty version of this way back when, just coats his eyelashes, and blinks a few times to help it dry quickly.

Before Steve can say anything or ask any questions, Bucky picks up a small bottle, similar to the nail polish bottles he’s seen Darcy giving herself manicures with. It’s filled with a thin, dark pink liquid, and Bucky unscrews the cap. He swipes the brush on his fingertip and presses it along his lips. It’s far more subtle than any lipstick ever could be, just adding a hint of color. He screws the cap back on and immediately starts packing everything up into the black shaving bag Steve had always assumed contained actually shaving supplies.

He waits until Bucky’s finished packing everything up before he starts to speak. But he’s cut off with a kiss. Bucky’s sliding his hands up to Steve’s neck and Steve kisses back, a soft chaste thing. A pleasant reminder that despite what he’s just seen, it’s still Bucky, his Bucky, in all of this.

Bucky pulls away and sighs. “Coffee, then questions, okay?”

“Okay.” Steve agrees, and they go to the kitchen where Bucky, wisely, already has a pot of coffee waiting for them.

Steve pours them each a cup and they sit down on the sofa, and the silence is freakishly deafening.

Bucky takes a long drink of his, sets the cup down and turns to Steve. “Okay. Go ahead. Ask me.” He says, and Steve can tell he’s still jittery with nerves.

There’s a silent beat and then, “I guess the first question is ‘why?’ Steve says, with a carefully small, nonchalant shrug. He sets his mug down on the table in front of him.

“Because people treat me differently when I wear it,” Bucky says, and then hesitates before adding, “Including you.”

“Me?” Steve asks, taken aback. That was not what he expected. “Wait, what?” But Bucky ignores him and just starts talking. Steve quickly shuts up because it’s still rare for Bucky to speak unprompted.

“It started when I went to go see Natasha about a book, and I found her in her bathroom putting on makeup.” Bucky says, cracking his knuckles nervously. “I picked up a tube, and I asked what it was for and she said it was concealer and it’s for covering up her undereye circles. Which, frankly, I don’t even think she actually has.” He pauses and looks at Steve for the first time since he started talking. After a moment, he continues. “I guess I hesitated putting it down just a second too long, because she asked if I wanted to try it.” He gives Steve a small shrug. “I said yes.

“But how did it go from that,” he gestures vaguely at Bucky, “to that?” He points back at the bathroom they just left

“The concealer worked,” Bucky says, matter-of-factly, “and I liked what it did. So I asked what else she had.”

Steve remains silent until Bucky finishes.

“The eyeshadow and the lipstick were a joke, but it was fun.” He mentions off-handedly with a smirk, and Steve is secretly relieved he won’t have to ask if Bucky was planning on wearing either in the future.

“But, the rest,” He says, trailing off. “I went to a store in the mall that Nat told me to try. She bribed a girl to stay an hour late to help me so there wouldn’t be anyone else around.” Bucky grinned at the memory. “She helped me pick out the stuff you saw and showed me how to put it all on.”

“I thought Nat…?” Steve asks, confused.

“She just put it on me. She didn’t explain why or how.” Bucky clarifies. “Amy did. She showed me a bunch of different stuff and helped me pick out what I wanted.” He finishes with a muttered, “That woman had the patience of a fucking saint.”

“I still... don’t get why.” Steve admits, feeling vaguely uncomfortable with the whole thing.

Bucky sighs, and tries again. “Look, before, when I wasn’t wearing this shit, people looked at me, and they knew I was broken. Sickly. We both know that. It was almost literally written on my face. I started wearing this stuff and suddenly people were treating me like I was okay. Like I wasn’t so fucking fragile, you know?” He rubs his arm, looking small and self-conscious. “I needed that. I needed people to stop tip-toeing so much.”

Before Steve can comment, Bucky plows on. “And then I realized it made me feel better about myself. I’d look in the mirror and somehow it was like I was fooling myself into thinking, ‘maybe I really am okay.’” He gives a shrug. “So I wear it. I don’t give a shit it’s marketed at women. It helps. And hell, maybe it should be marketed to men, too.”

“But do you have to wear it all the time?” The words are out of Steve’s mouth before he even realizes he’s said them.

Bucky looks slightly taken aback. “When… would you want me to wear it?”

“I don’t know,” Steve fumbles his words slightly, picking at a loose thread o his jeans, “I mean, around the others, I get; and I mean, we all wear it when we have to do interviews and things... but this is me. It just kind of feels like you’re hiding.

“In a way, I basically am.” Bucky says, blunt, not unkind, “Maybe that’s just what I need to do right now.”

“Okay,” Steve acquiesces, “But, what if,” he’s still fumbling but he manages to get out, “what if you didn’t wear it around the apartment. When it’s just us?”

Bucky heaves a small sigh and moves closer to Steve, pulling his hands away from the loose thread and holding them between his own.

“Stevie, look at me.” Steve raises his eyes and finds himself staring into beautiful brown eyes. “I’m not asking permission and I’m not offering to compromise on this, okay? I’m telling you what I do and why I do it. It’s my choice.”

Steve’s not happy with it, he’ll be totally honest, and he knows Bucky knows him enough and can read him enough to see it on his face. He doesn’t like Bucky hiding from him, even something small like tired eyes, and pale skin, but he understands. In a way. Sort of. Enough to know he needs to step back. Enough that he pulls his hands away from Bucky’s, reaching out to pull him close and press a kiss to his temple.

“You’re right.” he admits, albeit reluctant and slightly miffed, “It’s your choice, and I shouldn’t stand in your way.”

“Thank you.”

A beat of silence passes and then,

“Just… give a guy some warning if you ever decide to wear lipstick, okay?”