"Does your friend still need a job?"
"And hello to you, too, Sam." Natasha smiled up at him and pushed his coffee across the table. "My day's been great so far, thanks for asking." Her tone was teasing and Sam sighed as he sat down and gratefully clutched at his coffee.
"Sorry," he said. "But Steve's driving me nuts. He's going to kill himself trying to do this on his own and trying to get him to advertise for someone is like pulling damn teeth."
"Bucky's still moping on my couch." She hummed thoughtfully. "What sort of job is it?"
"Steve's a wedding photographer. He needs someone who can carry all his extra equipment and keep up with him, because he may look like he'd break in a strong wind but he's like the Energizer bunny. Someone to ride herd on him a little bit, make him take a break now and then, someone to organise appointments and clients and do some of the driving. You know, assistant stuff." Sam sipped his coffee. "Someone to keep an eye on him so I can stop worrying."
"Bucky could do all that, but." She spun her coffee cup.
"But he got screwed at his last job, Sam. He put his heart and soul into it and they screwed him. I'm not sending him somewhere that's going to happen again."
Sam shook his head. "Steve can be an asshole, and a pain in the ass, and the most stubborn human being on the planet, but you can trust him to the ends of the earth. He's one of those people, you give him two choices: the one that's going hurt him and the one that's going to hurt someone else, he'll pick the one that hurts him every time."
"In that case," Natasha said. "I think we can solve both of our problems."
Steve looked up from his laptop. He'd been editing photos, because if he didn't work on them even while he waited in the coffee shop for Sam's friend's friend and his possible future assistant (not that his hopes were high), he wasn't going to get them done on time. The man standing next to the table was very tall and very broad and had dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. Steve blinked once in surprise, because he hadn't been expecting someone quite so large or attractive. "James Barnes?"
He winced. "Bucky. Call me Bucky," he said and held out his hand.
Steve shook it and gestured for him to sit down. "Sorry, Sam did mention that but I didn't want to presume." It got him a faint smile. "Just give me a second." Steve saved his work and closed the lid of the laptop, pushing it to one side.
"Natasha said you're a wedding photographer." Bucky had taken a seat while Steve dealt with the laptop and was watching him expectantly. "You're looking for an assistant?"
"Yes to both of those."
"I don't know anything about photography."
It wasn't exactly how Steve would have started off a job interview, but he could appreciate the honesty and these weren't exactly normal circumstances. Steve decided to return honesty for honesty. "I don't need someone who knows anything about photography. That's my job. I need someone who can help me do everything else."
"What's that going to involve?"
"Honestly? It's going to vary from job to job. Carrying my gear, organising people, driving sometimes, setting up lights and breaking them down, but it could also mean riding herd on people, getting them to behave for ten minutes at a time, and that's not as easy as it sounds. Looking after the website and probably some of the requests for quotes, liaising with clients. There's going to be more than a few overnight trips. Does any of that sound like something you'd be interested in?"
The corner of Bucky's mouth pulled up in a smile. "Depends on what you're offering to pay me."
Steve huffed a laugh and named a salary he thought was fair. "Full medical as well, of course." That was something he'd never let someone he was responsible for go without. Not a chance in hell.
"In that case, I'm definitely interested."
"Have you got any references?"
Bucky's face closed down, Steve saw a flash of pain in his eyes before they went opaque, and he slumped in his chair. "Only personal ones. The last place I worked, it didn't turn out so well for me."
Steve looked down at his hands, tapped his fingers on the table. He'd gotten screwed by his last assistant. An answer like that should have him saying thanks for your time, but no thanks. He glanced across at Bucky, who looked small, somehow, something that should have been impossible given his size.
He sighed internally. He was such a dumbass.
"Okay. How about this. We'll start on a trial basis. I've got two weddings this weekend, one on Saturday, one on Sunday. Why don't you come with me as my assistant, paid assistant, I don't expect you to work for free, and we'll see how it goes. If it all works out, I'll hire you, even without any references."
Bucky's expression was surprised, and more than a little confused. He searched Steve's face, like he was looking for the catch. "Seriously?"
"Yes, seriously." Steve started to pack up his laptop. "If you're not doing anything now, come back to my place and I'll run you through some stuff."
"I have literally no plans for the rest of the day."
"Come on then." Steve went to sling his laptop bag over his shoulder and stopped when Bucky held out his hand.
"Hand it over."
"If I'm your assistant I'm supposed to be assisting." He wiggled his fingers. "So hand it over."
It felt strangely like a test. Steve hesitated, then slowly passed Bucky his laptop bag. Bucky gave him a small smile and hung it off his shoulder. "Lead the way, Steve. Or should I call you Mr Rogers?"
"Please don't," Steve groaned. "I don't even own a cardigan."
There was beat of silence, then Bucky grinned. "I could change that."
Steve laughed and led the way out of the coffee shop, feeling oddly light-hearted.
By halfway through the wedding on Saturday, Bucky thought the biggest challenge of this job was going to be keeping Steve from giving in to the urge to upend a drink on someone's head. Bucky had only been to one wedding before this, and since he'd been five at the time his memories were of running through people's legs and eating so much he'd made himself sick. Sure, he'd heard the term Bridezilla, which he'd always thought was more than a little ridiculous, but now that he'd been to this wedding, he thought there needed to be a Groomzilla and a Mother-of-the-bridezilla...basically, everyone was a monster.
By halfway through the wedding on Sunday, he figured his biggest challenge was going to be getting Steve to slow down and take a break for five minutes. Steve was short and skinny and Bucky knew his health wasn't perfect, since he had Steve's inhaler in one pocket and two bottles of his pills in the other, but Steve was starting to look paler than Bucky was comfortable with.
He was torn, because he needed this job. He couldn’t believe Steve was going to give it to him, no references required, if he didn't fuck up this weekend. Maybe, part of him whispered. Maybe he just wanted a weekend's worth of cheap labour. At the end of the weekend it'd be: So sorry, Bucky, guess it didn't work out. Bucky pushed the thoughts away.
Forcibly making Steve stop and take a break to eat was something he was pretty sure was going to fall into the fucking it up category.
As he watched, Steve stumbled a little, caught himself, and Bucky scowled and leaned the tripod he was carrying against the wall. He walked over to stand near Steve, waited for a lull in the activity, when nothing interesting was happening, and planted himself in front of Steve.
"No. You need to sit down for five minutes and eat something before you pass out."
Bucky folded his arms. Steve's eyes narrowed. Bucky pulled himself up to his full height. Steve may have had the energy of a ferret on speed, and Bucky was tired from keeping up with him for two days, but nothing was going to change the fact that Bucky was bigger than him, big enough to block Steve's view of the reception-goers' antics. "Five minutes, eat something, drink something. Please?" he added. "If you fall over I'm going to have to take the rest of the pictures and then it'll be nothing but thumbs and ceiling."
For a minute, he thought it wasn't going to work, then Steve slumped. "Okay, five minutes."
Bucky smiled approvingly. "Sit right there," he pointed at a chair and was surprised when Steve sat, "you can still take pictures," he said, and came back with a plate of food, charmed out of the people working the buffet line, and a bottle of water. Much to Steve's apparent amusement, he stood over Steve until he was done eating.
"Thrilled," he deadpanned in response, and Steve shook his head, went back to capturing the increasingly drunken antics of the wedding guests.
Hours later, they were in the car, Bucky driving them back to the city. Steve was making a valiant attempt to stay alert, but Bucky could see he was on the verge of losing the battle. He hadn't said anything about the job. It was eating away at Bucky. "Hey," he said. "Sorry if I overstepped."
"What?" Steve sounded confused and he straightened in his seat, turning to face Bucky. "With what?"
"With making you eat."
Steve waved a hand. "Don't worry about it. Actually, I should be thanking you. I'm an adult, reminding me I have to eat's not part of your job." Bucky briefly glanced at him. "Uh, if you want the job?"
"I don't mind." Bucky smiled. "And yeah, I want the job."
"Then you're officially hired. We can do the paperwork on Monday."
Steve may have said making him eat wasn't part of his job, but Bucky unofficially added it to the list of his duties, along with charming the more difficult clients. Turned out, he had a gift.
It was easy, being Steve's assistant (well, not the making him take a break part; that was always a tussle). Bucky took over the website after Steve had caught him wrinkling his nose in disgust at it. His last assistant had been overly fond of pink and Bucky wasn't having it.
Steve didn't expect him to clock in, or fill out a timesheet, or jump to his orders. Steve just wanted Bucky to help him. To see when something needed to be done and do it. To, as far as Bucky could tell, have his back at weddings, to be alert for photo opportunities at the receptions and to help with wrangling the wedding parties and guests at organised shoots.
Bucky had had zero interest in photography before he took the job, and he still had zero interest in photography now that he was doing it, but to his surprise he discovered he was interested in making it easier for Steve.
The Screeching Bride of Doom, as Bucky had christened her, was insisting that every single person in her gigantic wedding party be in one photograph. Steve had been patiently explaining that it wasn't possible, not with the space he had available and the laws of physics, Bucky was pretty sure he'd heard Steve mutter, for some time now, but that he'd be happy to take sequential shots and stitch them together.
That wasn't good enough, she insisted. People would know. It had to be natural.
Bucky could see tension building in the line of Steve's back. He looked around and spotted the large tree. It looked sturdy, readily climbable, branches thick enough to hold their weight. Even if Steve was shit at climbing trees, Bucky knew he was strong enough he'd be able to get him up there. It overlooked a patch of grass, dotted with wildflowers.
"Steve." He pitched his voice to cut through the bride's demands and Steve's increasingly less placating explanations. They both turned to face him and Bucky pointed his chin at the tree. "We've got this." Steve followed his gaze and his eyes widened. "Set them up under there."
The bride put it together and started gushing excitedly, turned to start herding her people towards the grass like colourful sheep.
Steve's eyes narrowed and Bucky gave him a challenging look.
Which was how they ended up perched on a wide branch, staring down at the carefully arranged wedding party. "I'm going to have to lean right out to get the shots," Steve said.
"I won't let you fall. Trust me."
Rubbing his face with one hand, Steve muttered something Bucky didn't quite catch, then said, "Let's do it."
Bucky wrapped his hands around Steve's waist, holding him securely, as Steve leaned out into space. He did it without question, trusting himself to Bucky, and Bucky shook his head, amused, because he should have at least hesitated, but no.
When they were finished, Bucky pulled him in, holding him tight against his body while he made sure Steve had his balance. Steve beamed up at him. "That was brilliant. Seriously, Bucky."
The praise sent a flutter of surprised warmth though him, and he found himself smiling back. "Just doing my job."
"No, this one was way beyond the call of duty." Steve patted his arm. "Thank you."
What they hadn't known, because the Screeching Bride of Doom had been at pains to conceal the fact, was that she was an incredibly popular wedding blogger. The review she gave Steve—and the colour commentary of how adorable the two of them were, Steve hanging safely off the tree branch in Bucky's arms—sent Steve's business into overdrive.
Except everyone wanted the same thing. They wanted Steve to climb up something high and take an aerial shot of the bride and groom, or the bride and bride, or the groom and groom, or the wedding party and their dogs, or the mother of the bride and her seventeen cats.
Regardless of what the photos ended up being of, they all wanted Steve (and Bucky) to climb something to take them.
Bucky edited the website's enquiry form to specifically ask what and how high, just for his own peace of mind.
"You're going to get all of us, right?" The groom had a voice like corrugated iron in a blender.
"Yes, sir," Bucky called back while Steve gritted his teeth. They'd been over this five times so far. Bucky had long since learned Steve's tolerance for unreasonable behaviour had a shelf life. Bucky had almost completely taken over interacting with Steve's clients, and in most cases charming the heck out of them. "We're just getting set up now." The groom went back to fussing with the bride's veil. "Ready?"
Steve clambered up onto the gazebo and Bucky climbed after him. There wasn't much flat space to stand on, so they were squeezed together. Bucky wrapped a hand in the back of Steve's shirt and he leaned out, feet braced against Bucky's so he wouldn't slip.
The bride, the groom, and the rest of the wedding party were dancing and playing keep away with the bride's veil. Steve was snapping photos and occasionally calling out instructions as he leaned out over empty space. Everything was going smoothly. There was no warning as Steve's shirt suddenly gave way at the sides, just a sudden tearing noise and Steve was falling forward. Bucky lunged and snatched his waistband, hauling him back and into his arms. His heart was pounding now that it was too late, now that there was no point, and he clutched Steve tightly. "Shit, Steve. Are you okay?"
Steve was clutching his camera. "I'm fine, I think." He blinked a few times, then laughed shakily. "Good catch."
Bucky hugged him tightly and Steve didn't try and pull away. They might have stayed that way, except the groom started yelling at them to hurry up. "You going to be all right to do that again?"
"I'll have to be." He looked down at his flapping shirt and started tucking it in.
"Don't bother," Bucky told him. "I'm not hanging onto you by your clothes anymore. Nothing that can slip or tear. One scare was enough."
Understanding crossed Steve's face. "Okay." He turned, once more braced his feet against Bucky's, and Bucky flattened one hand against Steve's chest and one hand against his stomach, under his shirt, against his skin. Steve leaned out against them and Bucky was satisfied he couldn't fall. Steve finished taking the photos and Bucky pulled him in.
Which was how Bucky ended up with his hands all over Steve on a regular basis. Steve didn't bat an eyelid, not even when Bucky ended up with one hand down the back of his pants (the less said about that wedding, the better). Bucky kept waiting for Steve to object, or tense up, when Bucky had to put his hands on him, but he never did, just let Bucky decide where and how to hold him so he wouldn't fall.
Steve's office was in his apartment. Or that might once have been the case. It was a lot more accurate to say that Steve's apartment was his office, and he happened to live there. The business had spread into the living room years ago and was making a valiant attempt to take over the kitchen, having colonised the dining room table some months past.
It meant Bucky spent a lot of time at Steve's place. He spent a lot of nights there, since it was easier to stay if they ended up working late. Steve was always good about feeding him when that happened.
Bucky didn't look up from the diary as Steve put a plate of pasta on the coffee table next to Bucky's feet, frowning as he tried to figure out how to fit two weddings located two hours apart on the same day. "I don't think there's any way to make this work unless John and Mike are happy to skip having photos of anything before the ceremony. Even then it's going to be cutting it close." Steve didn't reply, was looking down at Bucky, hands in his pockets. Bucky glanced up. "You don't think they'll go for it?"
"No, they probably will. They're pretty laid back."
"Then what?" Steve shifted from foot to foot, which was so unusual Bucky lowered the diary. "Okay, you're kind of freaking me out. What's going on?"
"Sorry." Steve pulled a key out of his pocket and thrust it at Bucky. "Here."
Bucky took it and turned it around in his hands. He looked questioningly at Steve.
"It's to the apartment. This apartment. My place. So you can get in if I'm not here, if you need to work."
Bucky eyed him, then held up the key. "Are you sure you want give me a key?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're acting weird."
Steve ran a hand through his hair. "It's not you, Bucky." Bucky continued to look at him expectantly. "My last assistant? I thought they were my friend. But they stole a bunch of my gear and a bunch of my clients and smeared my name in a lot of places. That's why it took me so long to actually hire someone else to help me." He huffed a laugh. "I'd still be doing this all on my own if it wasn't for you."
Bucky held out his hand, the key resting on his palm. "You don't have to give me this if it makes you uncomfortable."
Steve reached out to fold Bucky's fingers around it. "No, you need it. You should have it." He smiled. "And I trust you."
The sound of the water was peaceful. The water and the seagulls were the only sounds, since Steve and Bucky were checking out the location for the post-ceremony photos before they actually had to be taken. It was something they'd started doing at Bucky's insistence. Too many people wanted Steve to climb up on too many things that were going to get him killed, even with Bucky there to try and keep him safe. After the rickety water tower that had collapsed twenty minutes after they'd climbed off it, Bucky had insisted that Steve build pre-photo inspections into his quotes. And a hazard surcharge.
The private wharf where the brides and the wedding party were going to be standing for their photos ran underneath a narrow cement ledge, a ledge with a three bar metal railing intended to keep people from tumbling onto the wharf.
Bucky eyed the bars, realised exactly how and where he was going to have to hang onto Steve if he was going to be perched on the top railing, and said, very firmly, "Steve?" Steve had never yet objected to anywhere Bucky had needed to grab onto him, but this was going to be a little different.
Steve, feet on the second railing, Bucky's hands on his hips to steady him, was caught by Bucky's tone and looked down. "Yes?"
"I'm not going to grope you."
Steve kept looking at him, eyes serious, then said, "Let me down." His tone was almost painfully neutral. Bucky moved his hands so Steve could climb down to the ledge. As soon as his feet touched down, Steve backed up, putting as much distance as he could between them.
"Bucky." He stopped, seemed to be looking for words, went on, "I don't know what I did to make you think that's what I wanted from you, but I don't. I don't expect anything like that from you. I know it's maybe a bit strange or uncomfortable with how much you've had to touch me to get some of these photos, and we can stop if you want to, but I will never expect anything sexual from you." Bucky's brain stuttered to a halt as he realised exactly where Steve was going with this, why he'd backed away. "If you can tell me what I did or said to make you think—"
He burst out laughing. He didn't mean to, but Steve looked so solemn, so troubled, and Bucky appreciated it, he really did, but he was so far off the mark Bucky couldn't help laughing.
Steve's face was a study in confusion.
"Steve," he got out as he pulled the laughter in, got it under control. "No. No, that's. I'm touched, I really am, but I was trying to tell you that I wasn't about to grope you. Because to keep you from falling off this thing I'm going to have to get up close and personal even by our standards."
"Oh." Bucky could see the relief flow into him. "So I didn't?"
"No." Bucky's smile was fond. "Steve, as if you ever would." He was surprised to realise he trusted Steve, in a way he hadn't thought he'd ever trust any boss ever again. Not just in the wouldn't ever grope me sense, but completely.
"Oh," he said again, and smiled. "Good. I was getting scared for a minute there."
"Scared I was going to sue you?" Bucky teased.
"No." Steve was still smiling, but his voice was absolutely serious. "Scared I did something to make you feel pressured."
"Well you didn't, so stop worrying. If we can get back to the original problem? I'm not going to grope you."
Steve scoffed and waved a hand, walking down the ledge towards Bucky. "I'm not worried about that."
"Why not?" Bucky was genuinely curious, had been for a while, as he once more steadied Steve as he climbed up to balance on the bars.
It was said so simply, Bucky felt warmth rush through him. "Spread your legs," he said, hands wrapped around Steve's hips as he climbed to the top bar, steadying him. Steve did, and Bucky put his right arm between Steve's legs and pressed his forearm just to the right of Steve's crotch, barely avoiding his dick, and pushed his hand under Steve's shirt to flatten his palm against his abdomen, giving Steve something solid to lean against. There was a beat of silence.
"I suddenly see why you felt the need to reassure me," Steve said, sounding amused.
"Not groping, just making you sure you don't fall." His shifted his grip from Steve's hip to wrap his left arm around Steve's thigh and leaned his head against Steve's hip. "Feel secure? Feel safe?" Steve shifted, mimicking the movements he'd make if he was taking photos. Bucky tightened his grip.
"This'll work. This'll work perfectly." Bucky tilted his head back so he could see him. Steve was nodding, looking pleased. "Your idea of adding the hazard surcharge was genius."
"Maybe a bit," Bucky said modestly and Steve grinned.
"Get me down?"
Bucky pulled his arm out from between Steve's leg, wrapped both hands around Steve's hips, pulled him against his body, and swung him down. He barely seemed to notice, his attention still on the photos he was going to take, and Bucky set his feet on the ground, didn't let him go until he was sure he wasn't going to fall over. "Come on, we'd better get going. Ceremony starts in a few hours and the brides want photos of them getting ready."
Three weddings in a row—Friday, Saturday, Sunday—was becoming the norm. It made Bucky glad they didn't have to keep normal hours. Their Sunday night routine had turned into: drive to Steve's place from wherever the last wedding was, Bucky would crash on his couch, they'd sleep in until at least ten on Monday morning, then start sorting through three weddings' worth of photos. Steve was coming to rely on Bucky more and more, told him he had good instincts for which photos worked and which didn't. It made him feel strangely proud.
He could feel Steve's eyes on him as he drove. "Shouldn’t you be sleeping?" Steve usually passed out about half an hour into the drive home and they still had a good three hours to go until they made it back to the city.
"Any reason you're not?"
"Just wondering about something that's none of my business."
Bucky flashed him a grin. "Now you have to tell me."
"It's really none of my business."
"Just ask what you want to ask, Steve. If I don't want to answer, I'll tell you."
"What happened at your last job?" The question was like a kick in the guts from out of nowhere. Bucky's hands tightened around the steering wheel. "Never mind, Bucky. I shouldn't have asked."
"No, it's fine. I'll tell you if you want to know." He glanced at Steve, who was watching him, concerned.
"Only if you want to."
He turned it over in his head, thinking about it. Found himself speaking before he'd really decided. "It was my own fault," he said with a small puff of laughter. "I wanted to work in logistics. Shield's the best, I was supposed to have a job lined up with them, but it kept getting pushed back to some time in the future. So I went over to Hydra on a temporary contract. I didn't know Hydra was a black hole in the industry. They were a mess, running their systems off old code from the seventies. Everything was a patchwork, temporary fixes on top of temporary fixes, so I figured why not try and help? See if I could make it better. I figured out what I could do: wipe it and start again. I managed to get in to see Pierce, their VP, explained what it could mean to them, and he gave me the go ahead, extended my contract, kept extending it while I rebuilt the foundations into something new, moved everything into it, got it humming along."
"Did it work?" Steve asked.
"It revolutionised their operations. Turned all that chaos they'd been working with into order. And then." His smile was sad, resigned. "And then when I was finished, Pierce was all sorry, Bucky, we don't have a permanent place for you here. Oh, and we're terminating your contract. Friday's your last day. Pick up your paycheque from HR." His voice was tight with the memory. "I heard later the bastard took credit for my work. For all of it. That's why I couldn't give you a reference. And I can't even get a job in the industry, not with Hydra's reputation. Nat tried to get me a job at Shield, the one I was originally supposed to get, and they're not interested. Hydra leaves a taint on you, one that doesn't wash off."
He could feel the anger radiating from Steve, filling the car. It felt good. "There's nothing anyone can do?"
"No, there's no proof I did the work, only my word, and who's going to believe me?"
"I do." Steve's voice was warm and strong and certain and it sparked something inside him, a little wave of happiness that pushed back against the memories.
"I know you do. But it doesn't matter now. All I can do is let it go. And hey, I'm happy. In a million years this is nowhere near where I thought I'd end up, but I'm happy. You're a good boss, you know?"
"Oh god, don't call me that. It's weird."
Bucky's eyes cut to him briefly. "You are my boss, though."
Steve's mouth opened, then closed, as if he'd been going to say something and thought better of it. "I know. And you'll tell me if you're not happy?"
"You saw the staff complaint form I drafted, right?"
"Very funny," he said dryly, then tentatively reached over to rest his hand on Bucky's arm. "I'm sorry, Bucky. I'm sorry that happened to you."
"Me too, Steve." He took one hand off the steering wheel to touch Steve's hand. "Thanks."
Steve had a wedding proposal spread out on the table in front of him. Bucky peered over his shoulder. "I'm not wearing makeup," he said firmly.
"Come on, Bucky, you'd look cute as a zombie." The proposal was for an entirely zombie themed wedding.
Bucky shot him a glare. "One, no one looks cute as a zombie. And two, do you know how much that stuff itches?"
"No. How do you?"
"Nat. She insisted on full makeup one Halloween. And no, you can't see the photos."
Steve grinned at him. "You know me way too well. But it's fine, we don't need to be in makeup. But are you going to be okay carrying me around on your shoulders for an hour or so? The groom's family and friends are going to be humans and the bride's family and friends are going to be zombies and they're going to go out into a field for a zombie versus humans showdown."
"... pitting the bride's side against the groom's doesn't seem like the best idea."
"I know, but it's what they want to do and they want us to preserve the carnage for all eternity. Can you carry me for that long?"
"That's easy," Bucky said, waving a hand dismissively. "I can't believe someone's having a zombie themed wedding."
"This isn't even the strangest wedding I've ever been asked to shoot."
"What's the strangest?" Bucky asked curiously.
"Huh. Good question." Steve pondered it for a few moments. "I think one of the naked ones."
"One of the naked ones. There's been more than one?"
"Oh yeah, naked weddings? Actually pretty popular. I'm surprised we haven't done one yet."
"What makes one naked wedding stranger than all the others? And I freely admit I might regret asking that question."
"Where they decide to hold it," Steve said after a minute's thought. "You haven’t seen anything until you've seen a naked groom goosed by an actual goose."
Steve was working on his laptop, the remnants of dinner beside him. Bucky was doing paperwork across the table, his feet on the chair next to Steve. It was eight pm and they'd probably both be at this for at least another hour.
Since Bucky had hauled him up a tree and hung him off a branch to satisfy the Screeching Bride of Doom, aka incredibly popular wedding blogger, demand for Steve had almost quadrupled. He was booked up solidly into next year with a waiting list almost as long and his fees had doubled. That was down to Bucky. Bucky, who spent a lot of his time hanging Steve off of things, with his hands in places you'd wouldn't normally have to touch someone you weren't sleeping with, and never complained. Bucky, who was amazing at his job, who always seemed to know what needed to be done and did it, without Steve ever needing to ask. Bucky, who he couldn’t do any of this without.
Steve had managed on his own before Bucky, but that had been when he'd been just busy enough to make enough money to live comfortably. With the increased demand, he was making a lot of money, more than he'd ever made in his life. And it all traced back to Bucky.
He wasn't really an assistant; he was more like a partner.
Steve sat up straight and stared at him. Bucky noticed. "Everything okay?"
"Everything's good, Bucky. Just had a thought."
"Don't get into bad habits there, Steve," he said with a grin.
Steve snorted and shifted his gaze back to the laptop screen, brain whirring like crazy.
Three days later, Steve was once more sitting at the dining room table, working on the laptop, and he looked up as Bucky came in the front door. Bucky waved vaguely at him but kept going into the kitchen to get coffee. When he came back, Steve smiled at him. "Bucky, can you sit down? I need to talk to you."
Even though Bucky trusted Steve, maybe more that he'd ever trusted anyone, fear roared up inside of him, spurred by the voice of memory.
Bucky, just sit down. I need to talk to you. We don't have a position for you. We're terminating your contract. Friday's going to be your last day. See HR for your final cheque.
Anger chased the fear. He set his coffee down on the table. "If you're going to fire me, just do it."
Steve's jaw dropped. "What?"
"Don't bother sugar-coating it, just get it over with." His voice was harsh. "I've been through it before, I know how this works."
There was silence after he spoke, Steve staring at him. Then his eyes went soft and Bucky had to look away. Steve didn't say anything, simply stood up and closed the distance between them, grasped Bucky by the arms and pushed him backwards until his legs hit a chair. It would have been easy enough to fight Steve, easy enough to resist, but he didn't. He sat when Steve pushed down on his shoulders. Sighed and closed his eyes when Steve gently rubbed the back of his neck. "Better now?"
"Yes," he said quietly as the memories faded under Steve's touch. "Sorry."
"It's fine, Bucky. I'm not going to fire you. The only way I can see you leaving is if you want to, but I should have thought about what that was going to sound like. That was a stupid way to start this conversation."
"It kind of was," Bucky agreed, a smile flickering across his face.
Steve flicked his ear and Bucky grinned as Steve backed away, moving to lean against the table. "I do want to talk to you about something, though."
This time he stayed calm, because it was Steve. "What's up?"
Steve picked a large envelope up off the table and handed it to Bucky. He was nervous, biting his lip and fidgeting. "You don't have to say yes. We can just keep on the same way we are. It's up to you. If you say no, nothing has to change between us."
Curious, Bucky took the envelope and opened it, pulled out the sheaf of papers. Flipped through them, trying to make sense of what he was reading. The papers were a partnership agreement for half of Steve's business. He wasn't giving it away; Bucky would have to pay a whole dollar. He looked up at Steve.
"You're the reason the business is making so much money. Those high shots that got all this attention, they were your idea. I couldn't get them without you. Literally, I couldn’t, you're the one who makes it possible. You do as much work as I do, sometimes more. You've got almost as good an eye for what's going to work as I do and you're better with clients than I am. You can charm anyone when I want to toss them down the nearest stairs."
"It's not necessarily better for you. It means you'd be taking more risk. Right now, no matter what happens, you get paid the same. I might not eat, but you always will. I'm making a pile of money at the moment, but it won't always be like this. But it would mean you'd be part of it, not just working for it."
"You can't be serious."
"Yes I can. You're not my assistant, you don't act like my assistant. You act like my partner. You should be my partner."
"Buying into a business costs money. You can't just give it away." When Steve opened his mouth to protest, Bucky said, "Sorry, sell it for a dollar."
"You've already paid more than it would cost with what you've brought in, Bucky, with the work you've done. This is fair, and you know it." Steve's face was stubborn. "It's yours if you want it."
Steve offered him a tentative smile. Bucky's brain felt like a flock of birds in panicked flight. Steve must have seen it, or sensed it. "Talk to Natasha, see what she says. I had my lawyer draw it up. I should tell you to see a lawyer of your own, and you can, but I would never screw you over. I made sure you were safe. My lawyer was kind of pissed at me, said it wasn't her job to look after you."
That was so Steve, Bucky felt the birds settle. The panic faded away. This was insane, what Steve was doing. He'd talk to Natasha, but he wasn't worried. If there was one person in the entire world he could trust not to hurt him, to look after him, he knew it was Steve.
He carefully put the papers back in the envelope. "Whatever I decide to do, thank you." He kept his eyes on the envelope in his hands. "This is...this is incredible."
"Nothing more than you deserve, Bucky." The way he said it, so matter of fact, was like a balm, washing away the last of the poison from what had happened at Hydra. He felt lighter, as if he could finally, finally let it go. "Let's talk about next week. We're going to have to do some serious planning to get between these three weddings."
It wasn't often he saw Natasha surprised, but when he showed her the papers, she was surprised. And pleased. Unknowingly echoed Steve when she told him it was no more than he deserved.
Bucky slept on it overnight then signed the papers and paid Steve the dollar. He still felt like he was taking advantage of Steve, at least a little, but when he thought about it, really sat down and thought about what Steve had said, part of him realised Steve was right.
The two of them together had gotten the business to this point. He couldn't wait to see where the two of them could take it from here.
It was a tiny bit scary, being officially a business owner, but not much really changed. He hadn't realised just how involved he already was. There were a few moments of tension, a few occasions where they had to stop and work things out, a few teething pains as they adjusted to the changed dynamic, but again, it hadn't changed all that much.
He hadn't realised just how much Steve already treated him like an equal.
"I'm not your boss anymore."
"I guess not."
"You'll have to complain to yourself."
Bucky laughed and shoved Steve, who grinned at him, so bright and wide it was practically incandescent.
When they got to the bar, Sam and Natasha meeting up with them to celebrate Steve and Bucky's new partnership, the only table available had three chairs. They grabbed it, triumphing in a momentary battle of wills with another group of latecomers, and Sam said, "I'll go find another chair."
Bucky and Steve looked at each other and Bucky shrugged. "Don't bother." He sat down and reached out to tug Steve down to sit on his lap. Steve elbowed him until he shifted back from the table, giving him more space, and Bucky slung an arm around his waist so he wouldn't slip off.
Sam and Natasha slowly took their seats, sharing a confused look. "Is there something you want to tell us?" she asked
Steve looked blank. "No?"
Bucky frowned, then his expression cleared. "Yes. Nat, I know I said I'd go with you to that work thing but I'm going to have to cancel. We have to go out of town for a wedding."
"No problem. Sam, feel like being bored to death over canapes and free drinks?"
"When you put it like that, how can I say no?"
The bar eventually cleared out enough they were able to shift to a bigger table and Steve got a chair of his own. Neither he nor Bucky seemed to think there was anything odd about where he'd been sitting up until that point.
Something Sam and Natasha, sharing a taxi, couldn't help but discuss.
"It's like they didn't even notice," she said.
"It was weird."
"Maybe they just spend too much time together."
"Maybe. It's still weird. We spend too much time together, you don't see me sitting on your lap."
Natasha raised an eyebrow at him. "Since when do we spend too much time together?"
Sam sighed. "Don't give me the eyebrow of death, Nat. You know what I mean."
"I know," she said, grinning at him. "But if you ever start acting like that with me I'm checking you into the nearest clinic for help."
"Yeah, that goes both ways."
"I don't understand what's so hard about 'we booked a room, here's my credit card, please give us our room'," Steve grumbled as he followed Bucky into the hotel room. "You'd think we were trying to invade a small country or something." He just about ran into Bucky, who'd stopped just inside the door.
"There's only one bed."
Steve thought about it, because this was supposed to be a double, not a single. Thought about going all the way back downstairs and getting into another argument with the harridan at the front desk, and then shrugged. "I don't feel like arguing with them about it. As long as you don't kick me I don't care."
"If you snore, I'm smothering you with a pillow," Bucky warned.
"Right back at you."
They dumped their personal gear, loaded up Steve's gear, and headed back down to the wedding.
When they returned it was after midnight. The reception had pushed on hours later than they'd quoted for. The bride's father had been happy to pay for the extra hours, everyone involved in the wedding had been so refreshingly charming neither of them minded staying on, but it didn't mean he and Bucky weren't exhausted.
"Do you want the right side or the left?" Steve asked
Steve stumbled into the bathroom, changed into his pyjamas, brushed his teeth, then crawled into bed with a groan. The bed shook as Bucky flopped down a few minutes later and half-heartedly pushed at the covers. "Steeeeve," he whined.
"I'm not tucking you in."
Bucky wriggled around, managing to get under the blankets. He immediately shoved his cold feet against Steve's legs. Steve yelped and kicked him. "I'm not a foot warmer."
"No, you're not," Bucky muttered. "You're freezing."
Steve could hear Bucky muttering something he couldn’t quite make out, then he shoved his hand against Steve's back, pushing his shirt up to feel his skin. "Are you always this cold when you go to bed?"
"Most of the time," he said with a shrug. "I'll warm up eventually.
More muttering and then Bucky slid across the bed, threw his arm around Steve's waist, and wrapped himself around him.
"Why are you spooning me?" Not that it particularly bothered him, he was just curious.
"You're cold, I'm warm, problem solved," he said around a yawn.
Steve was too tired to argue and Bucky was warm. He could already feel it seeping into his skin and into his bones. "Thanks," he said closing his eyes.
He drifted off to sleep tucked in the curve of Bucky's body, with the sound of Bucky's breathing in his ear. It was strangely comforting.
After that, they just took whatever hotel room was cheapest, regardless of whether it was a double or a single. Whenever it was a single, and it was usually a single since they were almost always cheaper, Bucky—apparently taking deep offense at how long it took Steve to warm up on his own—would insist on spooning him. Steve got used to being warm; it was a nice change.
Of course, Sam had looked at him strangely when Steve had mentioned it, a little wistfully, after falling asleep on Sam's couch and waking up with blocks of ice where his hands and feet had been. But Sam looked at him strangely a lot these days, so Steve chose to ignore it.
The wedding ceremony had been simple, the reception simple—food and drink and not an over-the-top theme in sight. There was, however, a lot of purple. Bucky and Steve were donating their time as a favour for Natasha. Her friend Clint's niece was getting married and there'd been some unpleasant family issues (Steve had not asked for details) when Kate, the niece, had announced her intention to marry her girlfriend, so the Bishop-Chavez wedding was getting their services free of charge.
Sam and Natasha were both guests and the table they were sitting at had a seat spare, so when Bucky put his foot down and insisted it was time for a break, that’s where they headed. Bucky had a drink in one hand and a plate of food in the other. When he dropped to sit in the spare chair, Steve sat on his lap and set a bottle of water on the table.
Neither Sam nor Natasha batted an eye. They were used to this by now. "How are things going?" Natasha asked.
"Good. It's nice to be at a wedding where everyone's reasonable."
"Hard to yell at you when they're not paying you," Bucky added with a grin.
"This is true."
They ate quickly, Steve guzzling down his water while Bucky sipped his drink. Bucky could make him take a break, but he could never make him take a long one.
Now that they weren't moving, Steve shivered in the chill. Bucky frowned. "I told you that sweater wasn't going to be enough."
"I'm fine. You're like a mother hen sometimes."
"Cluck cluck," Bucky said sarcastically and Sam and Natasha both laughed. "Take my jacket."
"I'm not taking your jacket." Steve craned his head around to frown at Bucky.
"I don't get cold the way you do." They locked eyes, neither willing to give in, and Bucky raised both eyebrows.
"Fine," Steve finally said with a sigh. "Give it here."
Bucky handed Steve his drink and took off his jacket, holding it out for Steve to put on. Steve put one arm in, shifted Bucky's drink to that hand, and put his other arm in. As Bucky adjusted the jacket, settling it on Steve's shoulders, Steve took a sip of Bucky's drink before handing it back. "Can I roll up the sleeves?"
"Go for it." As Steve started rolling up the sleeves, Bucky took a sip of his drink, picked the second-last appetiser up off the plate and held it in front of Steve's mouth. Steve automatically took it, chewing and swallowing, and Bucky took the last one for himself; as Steve finished rolling up his sleeves, Bucky handed him back the drink and Steve finished it, set the empty glass on the table, and stood up. "Okay, better get back to it. See you guys."
Bucky stood and followed him, giving them a little wave.
Natasha and Sam watched them walk away. "Do you think they have any idea?" she asked.
"No clue. They have no clue."
"I don't know whether it's cute or I want to bang their heads together. They'll never figure it out on their own."
"How much?" Sam asked.
Natasha slowly smiled. "Ten bucks says they never figure it out, not without help."
"And ten bucks says they do." Sam held out his hand and Natasha shook it.
Why someone wanted to get married on ice skates was beyond Bucky. Of course, he hadn't understood why anyone wanted to get married on the back of a camel, while bungie jumping, or on a roller coaster, either.
It was all baffling. Luckily, nothing fazed Steve. Not even when the camel had decided to try and get frisky with the priest. Disturbingly enough, those photos had been the groom's favourites.
At least all the other strange weddings had been warm.
There was a lull in the proceedings and Bucky, standing off the ice where it was slightly warmer, beckoned to Steve. "Come here, will you?" When Steve was close enough Bucky reached out, took the camera out of his hands, put the strap over his own head, and shoved Steve's hands under his shirt. He couldn’t help flinching when Steve's fingers hit his skin. "Jesus, your hands are cold."
Steve tried to pull his hands away but Bucky held onto them. "You don't have to—"
"Nope, leave them there. Your fingers are going to fall off and then we'll starve." Steve looked amused but he pressed closer and snuck his hands farther up until they were pressed against Bucky's chest. Bucky shrugged and wrapped his arms around Steve, pulling him in. He knew Steve would be feeling the cold.
"Seems fair. I'm not sure there's an inch of your skin I haven't had my hands on."
"Yeah, but your hands are at least warm."
"Give it a minute and yours will be, too."
The stars had aligned, or at least everyone's work schedules, and Sam, Bucky, and Steve had converged on Natasha's for a pizza and movie night. The weather outside had turned increasingly poor as the night progressed, sleet threatening to turn into snow, and Natasha told them all to, "Just stay. If you try and get home in this someone's going to get stranded somewhere."
Bucky said, "Me and Steve can share the couch."
Natasha eyed both of them. "Can you."
"Yeah, it's fine. I'll just grab some blankets, I know where you keep them. Sam can have the spare room." Bucky wandered off and came back with an armful of blankets that he dropped on top of Steve, who was half-asleep and protested half-heartedly.
There wasn't really room for two people to lie side by side, even when one of them was as skinny as Steve. Which was why they shifted in the night so Steve was lying on top of Bucky. Bucky's arms were around him, holding him securely in place, and Steve's head was pillowed on his chest.
"They really are kind of cute," Sam said in the morning, sipping his coffee. He and Natasha were sitting at the dining room table with an excellent view of the couch.
"Sam. They're grown men. Grown men who are idiots. They're not cute."
"Yeah, but look at them." Natasha looked. The corner of her mouth turned up a little. "See?"
She simply shook her head and continued to drink her coffee.
Bucky woke up and stared blearily at them over the top of Steve's head. "Coffee?"
"In the kitchen, in the pot," Natasha said calmly.
Bucky groaned. Steve made a small noise of protest and he automatically soothed him, patting his head. "Come on, you don't want me to wake up Steve, do you?" he asked, much more quietly.
"In the kitchen, in the pot," she repeated.
"Do I look dumb enough to cross her?"
Bucky sighed and gently poked Steve. "Time to wake up."
Steve curled up more tightly and grumbled. Bucky poked him again and his eyes opened. Neither of them seemed to find it at all strange that Steve had been sleeping on top of Bucky. Bucky kept prodding him until he rolled off and stood up. Bucky followed, steering him into the kitchen. Sam and Natasha could hear the sounds of coffee being poured, of the fridge opening, of quiet talking.
Sam tilted his head towards Natasha, eyebrows raised. Natasha sighed in defeat. "Yes, fine. They're cute. You're going to lose, though. If they can't figure it out after that? They never will."
"You may have a point."
The city was slowly surrendering completely to the grip of winter, the morning air carrying the promise of future snow.
"Damn, it's cold." Steve rubbed his arms and shivered. Even inside the coffee shop the air was chilly. "Why are we meeting so early?"
"Because between how busy you two are right now, Sam's impossible hours, and my normal hours, this is the only time we can meet."
Bucky was eyeing Steve. "Steve?" He held open his jacket. Steve moved from his chair to the bench seat next to Bucky and pressed himself against his side. Bucky closed his arm and his jacket around him and Steve sighed in relief.
"Do you two even have personal space anymore?" Sam asked, sounding highly amused.
Steve and Bucky exchanged a confused glance. "What are you talking about?" Steve asked.
Natasha shot Sam a warning glance. "Never mind," Sam said.
Bucky shrugged and handed Steve his coffee, even though Steve's was sitting on the table in front of them. Steve took a long sip then handed it back. "Mine's better. You never get yours strong enough."
"You always say that and then you always end up drinking half of mine."
Steve shrugged and pressed closer to Bucky. "I don't know what to tell you. You're the one who keeps letting me drink it." He ignored Bucky's indignant huff. "Nat, how's work going?"
Natasha and Sam shared a long look before she answered.
Steve was vaguely aware there was maybe something to Sam's question. He was also aware he didn't really care. Bucky had put his hands on just about every inch of Steve's skin, had wrapped his arms around just about every part of his body you could wrap arms around, and held him just about every way you could hold a person. He had to, to keep Steve from tumbling off of all the things Steve had climbed on in a quest to please often unpleasable brides and grooms. Steve had had sex with people who'd touched less of him than Bucky had (and he was aware that said more about his past relationships than anything else), but it meant personal space just wasn't something that existed between him and Bucky.
Even with Steve's vague awareness, neither of them realised they no longer had any idea of what constituted ordinary behaviour. When they went out for drinks with friends, Steve would sit on Bucky's lap if there wasn't a convenient chair. Bucky would rest his chin on Steve's shoulder and sling an arm around his waist so he wouldn’t fall off. Whenever Steve's hands were cold, Bucky would shove them under his shirt. If Steve was cold, Bucky would wrap him up in his arms or his jacket. They shared drinks and food and utensils without batting an eye. When weddings took them away overnight, they almost always ended up sharing a bed. It was behaviour that had become so automatic, so ingrained, they didn't even notice they were doing it.
One night when they were waiting for a taxi, Steve exhausted because he'd been up most of the previous night editing a video, he'd plonked down on Bucky's feet and leaned on his legs. It had gotten some strange looks, and Sam and Natasha had exchanged a glance when Steve had closed his eyes and rested his cheek against Bucky's thigh. Bucky had smiled, amused and fond, and leaned over to rest a hand on his head.
Natasha sidled up to Sam. "Care to increase it to twenty?"
"You're on. I have faith in my boy."
She shifted her gaze sideways to where Steve was practically curled against Bucky's legs. "Really?"
They shook on it.
The bride had more enthusiasm than aim and the bouquet flew at warp speed and smacked into Steve's head, bounced off his camera, and lodged part of itself in his eye. Only a desperate leap backwards kept him from disappearing under a pile of frantic bridesmaids. He was a goddamned professional, so he kept shooting even as one eye was watering, tears streaming down his face. He was pretty sure about half the bridal bouquet was currently lodged in his eyeball. He was going to keep it quiet in case one of the bridesmaids who hadn't emerged triumphant from the scrum decided he was fair game.
As things quieted down and he could take a break, Bucky appeared in front of him. "Let me see."
"I think there's a whole flower in there," Steve muttered as he lowered the camera, obediently tilting his head back. Bucky's hands were on his face, fingers delicate against his skin. Steve didn't flinch when Bucky pushed his eyelid back and, moving Steve's head to catch the light, brushed the piece of petal out of his eye.
"There," he said, sounding satisfied. His hands were gentle on Steve's face, thumbs tracing the line of his cheekbones, and Steve was smiling up at him.
"No problem, Steve," he said, then dipped his head to kiss him and Steve leaned up into the kiss. He was smiling when he lifted his head and gave Steve's face a little shake. "Watch out for wild bouquets." He dropped another quick kiss on his lips, then stepped back, letting his hands fall.
Steve huffed in amusement and started to make his way to where the father of the bride was toasting the mother of the groom, camera at the ready, then froze.
Bucky had kissed him.
He had kissed Bucky.
He slowly turned around.
Bucky was standing, face blank, staring at him. Their eyes met. "What was that?" Steve mouthed.
"I don't know," Bucky mouthed back.
They shared a look of confusion, but there was no time to deal with it. They had a job to do.
They had the briefest moment to talk when Steve was perched on top of a ladder, Bucky on the rungs below, his hands underneath Steve's shirt, fingers splayed across his skin, cheek pressed into his side, holding him securely while Steve captured the entire wedding party.
"Shouldn't this be awkward?" Steve murmured as he waited for the family to rearrange themselves in order from oldest to youngest.
Bucky tipped his head to see Steve's face. "I don't know. But it isn't."
He was right, it wasn't awkward, but for the first time Steve was very aware of Bucky's hands on his skin. For the first time, he wanted to shiver under Bucky's touch. For the first time, his heart beat faster. He swallowed hard and focused on the job.
The reception was finally over and they were back in their hotel room. Their hotel room with its one bed. Which was what they usually ended up with, but tonight it seemed to be more obviously one bed.
Bucky pushed the door shut and sighed. "I'm calling dibs on first shower," he said, striving for normal.
"That's fine," Steve replied and frowned.
Bucky leaned on the door and studied him. "What's wrong?" It was a stupid question, because he knew exactly what was wrong: he'd kissed Steve. He didn't know why; it had just felt natural, it had just felt right. It had happened without him even thinking about it.
"I still don't feel awkward."
It wasn't what he'd been expecting Steve to say. Maybe he didn't know what was wrong, not exactly. "Want me to do it again, see if that helps?"
Steve looked over and met his eyes, held them. "I think you'd better."
Bucky's heart kicked up a gear. Steve didn't move, his eyes never left Bucky's, as he slowly crossed the room to stand in front of him. Bucky could see his pulse beating in his throat. He lifted one hand to touch Steve's cheek, curled his fingers to trail down his neck and let them rest in the hollow above his collarbone. "You sure?"
"Bucky." He lifted his hands to press against Bucky's chest. "I'm so damn sure."
He bent his head and met Steve leaning up to kiss him. Steve's lips were warm, he felt electricity spark as they touched, shivering across his skin, but their kiss was sweet and soft and gentle. Bucky could feel more underneath, could feel something hot lurking under the curls of warmth swooping through him, but right now he wanted this. He felt Steve sigh against his mouth, felt him sway forward to lean against him.
He'd wasted so much time not kissing Steve, he didn't want to stop, but he pulled back, lifted his head. They were both wide-eyed, both a little dazed.
Bucky's fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of Steve's neck, one arm holding him tight. Steve's fingers crept under Bucky's shirt to press against his skin, stroking gently. Bucky's hands had been all over Steve, Steve's skin under his fingers was familiar, but Steve's hands on Bucky? Bucky shivered under his touch.
There was a hum under his skin, an awareness of Steve that felt like something that had always been there but he simply hadn't quite noticed before now. "Is it possible we've been...dating, or something like it?" Bucky asked. They both contemplated that in silence. "I've had my hands all over you how many times?"
"Those were all professional," Steve pointed out.
Bucky grinned. "You might want to rephrase that." Steve huffed and dug his fingers into Bucky's side. Bucky caught them with a soft laugh, held them tight against his chest. "We've shared a hotel room, hell we've slept together, how many times?"
"Again, those were all work related," Steve said, but he didn't sound convinced.
"Again, you might want to rephrase that." Bucky bent his head until he could touch the tip of his nose to Steve's. "And I'm not sure you can call you falling asleep in my arms most of those times work related." Steve smiled ruefully in acknowledgement. "I think we were doing something like dating."
"Were?" Steve's face fell.
"I didn't mean it like that," he said and kissed Steve very softly. Steve chased after him to return the kiss, then leaned his head against Bucky's chest, arms looped around his waist. Bucky ran his fingers through Steve's hair.
"I'm gonna call Sam, see what he says," Steve said after a few minutes. Bucky extracted himself from Steve's arms long enough to scoop Steve's phone out of his bag and hand it to him. As Steve hit Sam's number he wound his arms around him again.
The noise that came out of the phone could have been hello. It also could have been a sincere wish for Steve to go to hell. "Sam." The noise repeated. "SAM."
"Are Bucky and me dating?"
Sam started laughing. "Hell yes, you're dating. You've been dating for months, or doing whatever weird-ass thing you two have going on that passes for dating. Now, it's one o'clock in the morning and if you two idiots finally figured it out, congratulations and tell Nat she owes me twenty bucks. I'm going back to sleep." He hung up.
"Sam says yes."
"I heard." He lifted the phone out of Steve's hands and gently lobbed it onto the bed. "What do you think?"
Steve looked thoughtful. "I think he's mostly right?"
"No, what do you think. Do you want this? You and me, dating or whatever it is we've been doing, but...more?" Bucky could see warmth flare to life in Steve's eyes at the question. He dipped his head to kiss him, but Steve pressed a finger against his mouth.
"I've got some questions first," he said, voice rich with warmth and affection and something else Bucky couldn't quite identify, something that made his heart beat faster.
"That's fair," Bucky said and nipped his finger. Steve flashed him a grin.
"Can we upgrade almost always sleeping together to always sleeping together?"
He let his hands settle at Steve's waist. "I think we can manage that."
"And the kissing, that's going to be a permanent thing, right? Not just a one-off?"
Bucky had to fight to keep a straight face. "Yes. If you want it to be." Steve leaned up into him, wrapped one arm around Bucky's waist, and kissed him, hot and determined, taking Bucky by surprise, and he couldn't help the small noise of happiness that escaped as he pulled Steve closer to return the kiss with enthusiasm. "Okay," Bucky said, a little dazed as Steve pulled back. "I guess you want it to be."
"Yes I do," Steve said firmly, before continuing. "And there's a bit of unfairness. You've had your hands all over me. Are you going to give me a chance to return the favour?"
"Definitely." He said it so fast it almost ran over the end of Steve's question and Steve laughed softly.
"So you're asking me if I want to keep everything we've had, but I also get to kiss you, sleep with you, and get my hands on you?" Steve pressed one hand over Bucky's heart and curled the other around the back of his neck. "Yes." He brushed a soft kiss against Bucky's mouth, pulled back just enough to speak. "I'm pretty sure somewhere along the line I started falling for you and I just didn't know it. Well, now I know, and yes, I want this."
Bucky felt something an awful lot like love bubbling up inside of him. "Well, when you put it like that," he teased and Steve's smile was warm and wide. He touched Steve's hand where it rested over his heart. "I'm not sure there's anything I want more, because when you started falling?" Bucky kissed him lightly, smiled against his mouth. "I'm pretty sure you took me with you."