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The guy comes in during Bucky’s Wednesday shift.

He’s on the short side. Definitely shorter than Bucky, but it’s hard to gauge how much so because of the elevated platform he’s obligated to sit behind when he’s working the counter -- but more importantly: he’s hot. Bite your knuckles and swallow back a whine hot. Something Bucky almost, almost does because god damn. The guy’s wearing a slouchy red and white beanie that’s doing a terrible job of hiding the shock of blond hair valiantly escaping to his forehead, brown combat boots, and a gray cardigan. The sleeves are pushed up to his elbows. His eyes are a gorgeous blue, too. To top it all off, his right forearm is covered in bright, geometric-looking tattoos, and he has a lip ring. A fucking lip ring.

Jesus Christ, is Bucky’s first thought. His second is FUCK. The only thing that can surpass the creeper threshold of customers asking him out (which, seriously-- just because he works in a sex shop doesn’t mean he is free and easy, not that there’s anything wrong with that) is him asking a customer out. And he totally would ask this guy out, if. But he can’t. Because Hot Guy is rummaging through the toy section, ergo: he’s a customer. Fuck, indeed.

He texts Natasha.

I see you’ve met Steve ;) is her infuriating response.

??? STEVE?

he’s a regular. be nice

He scoffs at his phone. He’s always nice. He drums his fingers on the counter, thinking; he doesn’t have anything constructive to say back except for, maybe, why the fuck have you been hiding the hottest patron ever from me all this time or I hate you with every fiber of my being. The latter would be a lie, of course, but it might make him feel minutely better. He sighs and decides to try his hand at the newest level of Angry Birds. Best to get out of his head, when he’s spiraling like this.

After twenty minutes, Hot Guy-- Steve-- returns with two boxes tucked under his arm. He places both on the counter, and gives Bucky the kind of look that’s more daring than friendly.

Bucky, a total professional, asks, “Did you find everything okay?”

Steve’s expression thaws, just a little. “Yeah,” he says, and when Bucky starts to ring him up, he lobs a question of his own, “Is Natasha working today?”

Something like disappointment settles in Bucky’s stomach, which is fine. Not every cute guy is gay or bi or pan, though Bucky was really, really hoping this one was some variation of not-straight. Natasha is amazing, and, based off recent text conversations, she, too, is acquainted with Steve. The fact that she didn’t mention the guy before, actually, is a good sign. She rarely kisses and tells when it’s serious. “Nah, Wednesday’s are mine now. She opened that new venture she’s been jawing about forever a month ago,” he says, “so she’s been splitting her time between here and there.”

“Oh,” Steve says, “Red Room?”

“Mm, that’s the one,” he replies, a little more curious than before. Red Room is, more or less, a specialty BDSM club. The clientele are all vetted by Natasha herself, and getting an invitation is no easy feat. “You go?”

Steve shrugs. “Nah, not really my scene,” he says, and pays for his purchases with a shy smile.

Bucky’s never been accused of being a romantic. He’s the older brother stereotype through and through, and much more pragmatic than people give him credit for-- but Steve’s smile… it’s the type that could put a wobble in the strongest of knees. It’s like a dose of pure sunshine. He bundles Steve’s freshly-bought vibrator and the anal plug up in a discreet black bag, and tells him to have a great rest of his day. Once alone, he covers his face with his hands and groans, long and tortured. Bucky Barnes: Romantic, no. Dramatic? Oh, hell yes.

 

-

 

For the next week, Bucky tries not to fixate on he’s a regular (what does that mean, Natasha?) and whipping his head around to watch the front door every time it jingles open when he’s on counter duty. It mostly works. His neck is only a little sore.

By the following Wednesday, he has what he would consider a strong grasp on his reactions-- but that control splinters spectacularly when it is, in fact, Steve who shuffles through the front door next. His blond hair is uncovered, and he runs a hand through it; fingers fluttering across his forehead like a nervous habit. The t-shirt he’s wearing is splotched with colored dots that Bucky thinks might be paint.

“Hey, you’re back,” he says, trying and clearly failing miserably at playing it cool.

“Yup,” Steve replies, easy, “can’t stay away.”

“Good. We’re all about satisfied, returning customers,” comes out of his mouth before he can rein his flirting back, but Steve laughs and his cheeks flush a little, and Bucky cracks a pleased smile. “Can I help you find anything?” he asks, back to business.

“Um, actually. Natasha said a new shipment came in yesterday?”

Oh, Bucky thinks; he almost forgot about the Natasha-Steve variable. He shuffles the mild disappointment in his gut to somewhere else, and vows to bribe Natasha for confirmation on the ‘are they?’ question next time they get drinks. “The boss knows her stuff,” he says, keeping his tone light. “Need me to show you--?”

“I got it,” Steve says, jerking his head to the left, his body following along to the back room. His shoulders are drawn together, like he’s trying to decrease his target size. Bucky doesn’t know Steve at all, but it looks-- wrong. Unlike him.

It takes Bucky a minute to realize his blunder; that is: the mild hint that, maybe, Steve was grasping for a conversation, and he just shut it down. He chews his lip, and shoots Natasha a message much, much sooner than he was planning.

Give it to me straight. r u and Steve a thing?

straight isn’t a word i’d use, she sends back a few minutes later, and quickly follows up her vagueism with a straightforward: and no we’re not. go for it!

Bucky’s breath comes out in a relieved woosh. The exclamation point is very telling.

When Steve comes back from browsing-- with a variety pack of lube and anal beads-- Bucky gives him his best smile. “So, uh,” he starts, because he used to be a smooth talker but isn’t so much anymore, “this might be really inappropriate, but--”

“Do you want to get coffee--”

They blurt the words out at the same time, and stare at each other like lovesick losers for a beat. Bucky licks his lips, Steve rubs at the back of his neck, and it’s so rom-com meet-cute Bucky wants to puke. It’s the best.

They go to coffee the very next day, and dinner the following, and before Bucky knows it, he’s got a boyfriend of two months and an expanded circle of friends. Sam is Bucky's favorite new person (borderline antagonistic friendships always are, for him), and he learns exactly how Steve and Natasha became acquainted. It’s all very new and tentative, but he’s never quite found anyone he clicks with quite as well as he clicks with Steve. It’s kind of gross, how well they get on, but Bucky’s well on his way to being head over heels in love with the guy-- so he tolerates Natasha’s not-so-subtle primping (because she has to take credit for any little match-matching she does; it’s like her catnip or something) and enjoys the ride.

 

-

 

“Oh fuck me,” Steve moans.

For reasons that, in hindsight, make absolutely no sense, Bucky didn’t expect Steve to be so bossy in bed. But he is; oh, he is. Bucky fists his hands in the sheets and snaps his hips up, panting like he’s running a marathon when, in reality, he’s being ridden to the edge of his sanity. “I’m tryin’!” he gasps, and nearly blows his load when Steve shoots hot and sudden, all over his chest, like Bucky's sexual effort is the hottest thing.

“Buck,” Steve sighs, satisfied, and proceeds to smear his cum into Bucky’s skin, still rolling his hips in time with Bucky’s frantic thrusts. His black-framed glasses slip down his nose, and he’s flushed all the way down to his chest; it’s the best image Bucky has ever seen. He still can't believe Steve is his to have.

Christ,” he wheezes, hands darting to Steve’s hips and squeezing as hard as he dares. This is too much, he thinks; he’s going to die like this-- and when Steve’s soft, pink tongue darts out to taste his own index finger, Bucky comes so hard he’s sure he blacks out for a second or two.

After discarding the condom, and cleaning up as quickly as possible, he and Steve settle down in bed. Bucky dozes, running his fingers up and down the knobs of Steve’s spine. Maybe it’s his imagination, or the post-coital high, but Bucky feels golden. Warm. Loved. For the first time in a very long time. He rubs his fingertips into Steve’s scalp, and swallows back the heavy feeling that threatens to spill over into the goodness he’s built up these months by Steve’s side-- the tiny voice that reminds him that good things never last for long. The voice that’s been there since he came back.

Steve reaches out then, like he knows exactly what’s eating at Bucky, and runs his fingers along the seam of Bucky’s shoulder-- the place where mottled, scarred flesh meets metal. “You’re beautiful,” he murmurs; “can I paint you?” His lifts his eyes to meet Bucky’s. “I-- if that’s alright.”

Bucky curls up to give Steve a kiss, sweet and lingering. “I don’t mind,” he says. It’s not a lie.

 

-

 

Steve’s an artist of the struggling kind, though Natasha’s been vigorously campaigning for the struggling tag to turn into profitable, which is how both Steve and Bucky find themselves poured into tuxedos they would never, ever be able to afford on a good day, and hustled inside Stark Towers. It’s a Friday, and Natasha made Bucky switch shifts with Wanda so he could go as Steve’s date. They’re patted down by severe-looking security guards, and ushered into a room that’s as ostentatious as it is as large as Tony Stark’s purported ego.

“I have a crystal champagne flute in my hand,” Bucky marvels. He’s not even sure where it came from. The night feels like a dream; a weird, obscenely rich dream. Steve plucks one of his own from a tray that floats by and declares, “We match.”

“We could steal them. We should steal them.”

“Sell them on Craigslist?”

“Maybe if we got Tony Stark to touch one, or breathe on it…”

They both ‘hmmm’ at one another, because all of this feels like one giant what the fuck moment. How did an unknown artist from Brooklyn and a disabled vet who works in a sex shop come to party it up with the likes of Tony Stark and his ilk? Well: Natasha. Always Natasha, and a healthy dose of Pepper Potts-- who’s currently gliding towards them in an emerald-colored dress and killer stilettos. She’s striking, and Bucky just barely keeps himself from tugging at his collar. His hair is slicked back and, though he passed Natasha’s scrutiny, he still feels completely out of place.

“Mr. Rogers, Mr. Barnes--” Pepper says, touching a personable hand to Steve’s elbow, “thank you both for coming tonight.”

“Call me Steve,” Steve says, and Bucky offers his own nickname up for use as well.

“Steve,” she says, “could I have a moment of your time?”

It’s a request that can’t be denied, and Steve obediently follows her to a group of fancy-looking men and women by the indoor fountain (a motherfuckin’ indoor fountain); he glances over his shoulder to pin Bucky with a wide-eyed, patented ‘what is my life even?’ look. The Rogers Special.

Bucky, being Bucky, hams it up with a thumbs-up and a giant wink. Solidarity, fuck yeah.

 

-

 

“Pepper wants me-- me -- to paint the mural for Stark’s lobby,” Steve explains, when he’s released from the clutches of affluence. He dragged Bucky outside to tell him the news; the New York lights sparkling in the distance is the perfect backdrop for it.

Bucky kisses the top of Steve’s head, and wraps his arm around Steve’s shoulders. “You deserve it, kid,” he says, heart swelling with pride; Steve’s art is amazing, and he’s not just saying so because Steve’s his boyfriend.

Steve leans into his side with a pleased sigh. “Couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Nah.”

“Uh, yeah. That portrait I painted of you was my ticket. Pepper told me so. In nicer words, of course.”

“Of course.” He shuffles, weirdly embarrassed, flattered. “You put that in your portfolio?”

Steve stiffens. “Was that--”

“It’s fine,” Bucky hastens to say, because Steve gets in his own ass about his art all the time, especially when the subject of said art happens to be Bucky, “I’m just surprised is all.”

“Why? You’re gorgeous, Buck. It was some of my best work.”

Bucky laughs, “God, I think I’m in love with you,” and maybe it’s too early to be sure, but he is, he knows he is. And Steve, his beautiful face illuminated by the obnoxious Stark marquee above, smiles and says, “Me too.”