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Making A Splash!

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Eighteen years ago

 

When Steve was eleven years old, his mom had taken him on a boat ride off Catalina Island, on the Californian coast. It'd been kind of a present because Steve had missed so much school, being a sickly, frail kid growing up. He was doing better, he just wasn't all the way there yet.

Steve had hung out at the bough of the small ferry, avoiding other holiday-goers and sketching the small islands on the horizon as they passed. His mom was chatting to another single parent, so she let Steve be.

Too long under the sun had made him feel light headed, but just as he was about to seek the shade, he saw a flash and a shadow in the water underneath him. Maybe it was a dolphin; there'd been sightings of them earlier off in the distance. Steve leaned between the railings to peer down... and that's when he fainted. He tumbled overboard, sketchbook too, with a small sploosh.

Steve wasn't sure that what happened next wasn't simply a delirious dream, a hallucination. 

All Steve remembered, vividly, was coming to with a pair of warm lips on his, and strong arms holding him. Steve opened his eyes, instinctively went to push at whoever was kissing him –and even in his panic, Steve knew it was a boy, and how that sent a thrill through him– but the boy hung on, holding Steve still. He was impossibly strong, Steve realised, so there was no point struggling.

Steve stilled, blinked in the water as the bubbles cleared. He saw was another face up close, and felt smooth skin touching his as air was blown steadily into his mouth. Steve blinked again.

The boy was giving him air, Steve realised. Then the boy pulled back to look at Steve, shoulder length brown hair lifting and floating with the current. Steve held his breath, tried not to breathe in with shock; this boy was beautiful. Pale, iridescent skin, dark brown hair, a perfect face with plump pink lips, and blue-grey eyes that shone at him.

The boy smiled. He was still holding Steve, holding them underwater like the current wasn't pulling at all, and they simply floated. Steve felt anchored, safe. The boy moved one hand up to Steve's face, gently touched his fingers to Steve's cheek, then traced the line of his jaw. His eyes followed the movement, studying Steve's face, before looking back up and smiling again.

Steve had never felt so very seen by another person. It made him shiver, his hands gripped tight to the boy's very strong and defined arms. He was perfect, clearly athletic, and maybe older. The most beautiful person Steve had ever seen.

Some perfect fantasy created by Steve's oxygen starved brain, his therapists would later dismiss. Steve couldn't remember much more than that anyway, not for certain. He was sure that the boy kissed him again, passing air through his mouth and into Steve's weak lungs.

Steve wasn't sure how it happened but he was moved through the water, back toward the boat and the drop down steel ladder that was attached to its side. Steve found himself breaking the surface, sucking in sweet fresh air, his arms already looped around the ladder's rungs. The boy pulled away, and even in his delirious state Steve knew he wouldn't see him again.

The shadow of a large tail was all Steve saw, and he hoped it was a dolphin, not something else chasing the boy. Someone on deck noticed Steve clinging to the ladder, and called for help.

They fished Steve up into the boat, gave him an oxygen mask. “Did you see him?” Steve gasped at his mother between breaths.

“Who, Steve?” she sobbed with relief, wiping her eyes.

“The boy in the water...” Steve tried to explain. Maybe the boy was a diver? Maybe he was lost?

His mom alerted the crew and they put out a search, even called in the Coastguard with scuba divers, but no other boy was found that day. They said it must've been a hallucination, and even though Steve was at first so sure, as the years passed by he figured maybe they were right after all.

There was no mysterious boy in the water who had saved his life.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Present day

 

“Steve,” Sam said, “we got trouble coming.”

Steve lowered his binoculars and looked across the rescue boat to his friend and colleague, Sam Wilson.

Sam was looking into his binoculars calmly, the corner of his lips inching into a smile.

“Don't tell me Stark's here,” Steve replied, going back to search the horizon.

“Yup,” Sam said. “Yacht just came into view.”

“His timing is terrible,” Steve muttered, mostly to himself.

Sam started laughing. “Steve, man. If you don't want to go to the guy's incredible party on his luxury yacht, all you gotta do is say.”

“Natasha wants me to go,” Steve said. “She's determined for me to have what she considers a normal social life. Like yacht parties are normal.”

“They are for Malibu.” Sam shook his head. “Maybe you shouldn't write it off before you've even been. You never know, you may even have some fun.”

“It's not that, Sam. Stark's offshore parties are notorious, none of the guards will resist, and they'll all have hangovers for the entire week Stark is here, on summer break when the beaches are crowded and they need to pay full attention to their jobs.”

“Wow,” Sam said.

Steve lowered his binoculars to look at Sam again, who was giving him a look right back.

“Someone needs a vacation.”

Steve raised a brow. “A vacation from you.”

Sam snorted, not taking Steve's sass seriously. “Or you need to get laid, man.”

Steve turned away. He was done with this conversation. “I'm calling base.” He went over to the radio. “Wherever those reef divers went, they're long gone now.”

“Okay,” Sam said, then lowered his voice to sing-song, “they're probably on Tony's yacht.”

Steve ignored him, picking up the radio. “KMF two-nine-five. HQ, this is Scarab one, do you copy? Over.”

“Ten-one, Scarab,” Phil Coulson's voice crackled over the radio. “Any news for us? Over.”

“That is a negative,” Steve said, “no sign of any boat matching the description given. No divers either. Do you want us to keep searching the area? Over.”

“Negative, Scarab. I'll notify Coastguard from here. Come back to base. Over.”

“Roger that,” Steve said, about to put the radio back. It crackled to life again.

“Oh, and enjoy Stark's party,” Coulson said.

Steve pressed his lips into a thin line and frowned in the general direction of Stark's luxury yacht, much to Sam's amusement.

 

~ ~ ~

 

It wasn't that Steve disliked Tony Stark. Yes, the guy was a royal pain in the ass, but he had a good heart, and Steve could deal. His business partner and fiancée, Pepper, was really nice.

Natasha had known Pepper, while Steve had known Stark's father, Howard, back when Howard was teaching marine biology at Steve's university, so they had ended up knowing Tony.

Tony, an only child much like Steve himself. Both of them had studied marine biology, but the similarities ended there. While people like Tony Stark studied science, invented ground breaking marine technology before the age of twenty and generally made a name for themselves... Steve had lost focus on his studies, dropped out of marine biology and joined the army and marine corps instead. Only to come back state-side even more disillusioned than his Uni days, move out to California, get his sports and waterside qualifications, then join the L.A. County Lifeguards.

Only then did Steve start to feel any semblance of peace come to him, being close to the ocean every day. He could do good work out here, help people, watch out for them.

It had absolutely nothing to do with the strange pull Steve felt from the ocean, especially late at night, when he'd remember that boat ride in Catalina. Steve would be lying to himself if he didn't admit he hoped to catch a glimpse of someone in the water, that diver again, every day he was near water. But who was he kidding. It'd just been the hallucination of a panicked and very lonely young boy. Anyone he'd ever told had said so, and Steve didn't talk about it any more. He didn't see any therapists either. He'd had about all he could stand of other people telling him what to do and what to think.

“What's eating you?” Natasha side-eyed him.

Steve was sitting up front with her as she drove them to the marina.

“What? Nothing.”

“You were a million miles away, Rogers.”

Steve didn't try to fake a smile. “Just tired,” he said honestly. He never slept great, but she didn't need to know that.

“He needs to get laid,” Sam offered from the back.

Steve rolled his eyes, while Natasha smiled. “You do need to loosen up, Steve.”

“I'm plenty loose,” he told her. “Let's see you let your hair down, Romanov.”

This earned him a challenging glance. “Do shots with me later. We'll see who cuts loose.”

“Oh, man, you are toast.” Sam laughed at him.

 

Stark's yacht party had wait staff. Actual black tie wait staff, breezing back and forth with trays of canapés and flutes of bubbly champagne for the guests.

Steve wasn't really one for champagne. He hung back with Sam and Rhodey for as long as possible, sipping on a cold beer while they got caught up.

The music was loud. There were lots of people Steve didn't know, and only a few he did. Clint was off doing some drinking game with Thor. Scott, Wanda and Pietro were dancing on the make-shift dance-floor, fairy lights and lanterns hanging overhead.

Steve wasn't sure where Natasha had gone.

Tony was making the rounds at regular intervals, with Pepper at his side and generally being a lot more polite to the guests than Tony was when he mixed with alcohol. He'd already accosted Steve earlier, starting off pleasant and charming, then making some barbed comment about Steve's career choice. That was, before Pepper swooped in with damage control, saying how nice it was to see Steve again.

Steve had told her he was very happy for them both and asked about the upcoming wedding. Privately, he hoped for her sake that Tony was easier to get along with in private than he was in public.

They certainly seemed fond of each other, Steve thought, watching them share a glass of champagne across the room, gazing into each other's eyes.

“Apparently there's a rec room,” Sam said, nudging Steve out of his thoughts. “We gonna go check it out. You coming?”

“Rec room?” Steve was interested. A quiet game of pool would be good about now.

“Video games,” Rhodey said. “Although Tony also has some vintage pinball machines too. Which no one's allowed to touch, except him.”

“Uh... it's okay, I'll come find you later,” Steve said. He wasn't in the mood for video games in what would no doubt be another loud room. “I'll hang out here for a bit.”

“Okay, dude.” Sam clapped him on the shoulder. “Don't be too long, unless you get lucky of course.” He did an over-exaggerated wink.

“Sure, Sam.”

Steve hung back on his own, nursing his beer. He leant against the wall, edging along a few steps every minute or so, trying to find a quieter spot where the bass wasn't quite so rattling to his ears. Surely this was above regulated noise level, Steve thought, even for offshore.

He watched the dance floor. He sipped his beer. He glanced at a table nearby which boasted freshly made cocktails and its own bartender. Maybe he'd have a cocktail.

Natasha appeared out of the crowd, sliding in beside him. “Hey, Steve.”

“Oh, hey, Nat.”

“So how are things?” she asked.

“Fine.”

“Just fine?”

Steve gave her a look. “Yes, things are just fine.”

“Having fun?”

“Oh, definitely,” Steve quipped.

She smirked. “I thought so. C'mon, let's get a cocktail. You can have an Old Fashioned.”

“Gee, thanks.” Steve let her lead him to the table, where they ordered from the bartender and watched their drinks being made. Steve relented, and had an Old Fashioned. He made sure to order a Moscow Mule for her, though.

“Cheers, Rogers.” Natasha held up her drink to him with a smile.

“Cheers to you, too.” Steve carefully clinked his glass to hers and took a sip. “Wow, this is certainly stronger than beer,” he exclaimed at the liquor.

“When was the last time you actually partied?” Natasha asked.

Actually partied?” Steve laughed a little. “Hell if I know. But I have been a bit busy, Nat.”

“Too busy for dates too, I suppose?”

Steve looked away awkwardly. “Well, not always...”

“That's what you told the cute surfer I tried to hook you up with last month,” she reminded him.

“He wasn't exactly my type, Natasha.”

“Tell me about your type, Rogers.”

Steve didn't feel like having this conversation again. “Can we talk about something else?” he pleaded.

Natasha sipped her drink, watching him over the rim of her glass. “What would you like to talk about?”

“I dunno.” Steve cast about for a topic, sighed. “How about anything but my personal life?”

“You got it.” A beat passed, then she said, “I hear Thor is single now.”

“Natasha.”

“What?” She smiled. “Not into blonds?”

“Quit it.”

“Okay, okay,” she said. “We won't talk about your love-life, we can do shots instead.”

“Deal.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

Steve stepped out into the night. Most of the other revellers were below deck, the music pumping out from below. Steve wandered over the deck, leaned on the railing and gazed up at the stars.

He was getting a headache. Maybe he should call it a night, order in one of the hired speed boats Tony kept on call, with his own staff no less.

How many staff did Tony have? Some were temps, Steve knew that. He wasn't jealous of Tony's wealth, no. Steve loved his job as a lifeguard, he did. But... he was a bit jealous of Tony, or of anyone who'd found their special someone.

Since his mom had passed away five years ago, Steve had felt even more alone. With no other family to speak of, and his army days long behind him, Steve only had his friends. On nights where he was surrounded by happy couples or single people just looking for a hook up, Steve felt a little awkward.

Okay, a lot awkward.

“Never do shots with Romanov,” Steve said to himself, looking down at the water. He always ended up feeling morose with alcohol. The water was dark and still, reflecting the light of the moon and stars. Steve wished he were sitting on the beach instead, by himself. He wasn't one for parties, what was he even doing here?

It'd be ridiculous for him to request a speedboat all to himself at this late hour. He didn't want the fuss, his drunk brain supplied. He didn't want Natasha or Tony or anyone else to know that he wanted to go home early. He just wanted to be back on the beach, or in his own bed...

Before he registered what he was doing, Steve had vaulted the rail.

He could swim back to shore! They were only a mile or so out, Steve could swim it easily. He covered his ears as he plunged into the water feet first, his body giving over to muscle memory as he began to swim.

The water was so much colder than he'd been expecting, and it was strange swimming in the dark. Maybe this hadn't been such a great idea after all.

As he pushed through the water, his wet clothes feeling heavy, Steve grew tired and almost nodded off a couple times. He floundered over direction, too drunk to keep a track of where he was, and too tired to care if the current pulled him out to sea.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Steve woke blearily, with a splitting headache, and still damp and salty from the ocean. He was on a beach of golden sand, the sun blazing down on him.

For a moment Steve assumed he'd made it back to Venice beach like he'd planned, except when he squinted against the sun and looked around, he saw the beach was deserted.

Steve gazed in bewilderment at the unfamiliar surroundings; sand and rocks, still cradling water from the tide.

One of the small islands, had to be. Steve had patrolled the waters countless times as a lifeguard, he could surely get his bearings.

Steve sat up, holding his head. He could do with some Advil, a coffee, and about a gallon of water. He was so thirsty.

He quietly vowed never to drink with a Russian again as long as he lived. Especially on a yacht, of all places.

Steve patted his pockets. Well, his wallet was gone. That was just great. His cell phone was still in his pocket. Steve opened his phone up piece by piece, and laid its parts out carefully on his thigh, hoping to dry it out in the sun.

He sat there quietly, not feeling any particular worry about getting back. Either he'd find a way or they'd notice he was gone and send a boat out for him. It was only a matter of time, and he couldn't be that far out. It wasn't like he was about to star in his own version of Castaway.

All Steve was doing right now was wasting his day off, but then he had wanted to be on his own.

Here he was, on his own...

With a hangover.

Before Steve could piece his phone back together, he heard the engine of a speedboat. He stood up and walked to the water, ready to flag it down. It was one of the lifeguard Scarabs, a rescue boat, and they spotted him. Steve waved, relieved to see Sam and Clint as the boat approached.

“Jeez, Rogers,” Sam greeted him as Steve waded out into the water. “Give a brother a heart attack.” They helped haul him aboard.

“Yeah, how'd you get out here?” Clint asked, checking him over.

Steve waved him off. “I'm fine. Sorry if I worried you.”

Sam handed Steve a bottle of water. “We had no idea you'd even left, or when. You some sort of ninja when you're seeing someone, huh?”

Steve chugged the water, then frowned at Sam. “What?”

Clint was looking at Steve dubiously, like he didn't believe him. “Uh huh. So where's your secret man now, Steve? Does he need a ride back to Malibu or what?”

Steve echoed, “What?”

Sam gestured at the small island they'd collected Steve from. “We can't see him here, he must still be in the water. He diving or some shit? Keeps disappearing.”

“What are you talking about?” Steve didn't understand. Was another of Tony's guests around? “I haven't seen anyone.”

“So who was the guy that led us to you?” Clint asked. “He was in the water, waved us down and kept disappearing then popping back up. Led us straight to you.”

“We should haul his ass in too,” Sam said. “Dude shouldn't be out here on his own like that.”

Steve's heart thudded. “What-- What did he look like?”

Sam and Clint exchanged a look. “It was definitely a dude,” Sam said.

“Dark hair,” Clint said, “but he kept his distance. We couldn't get close enough to dive for him.”

“So you don't know who he is?” Sam studied Steve carefully, but Steve had already checked out. All Steve saw in his mind's eye was that perfect face from so long ago. Dark brown hair. Pale blue-grey eyes.

“Oh, God,” he gasped, rushing to the side of the boat, but both Clint and Sam stopped him from going over. “We have to find him!” Steve was frantic, searching the water with his eyes. “Please! Find him!”

“Steve, hey, Steve.” Sam had hands on his shoulders, talking calmly. “It's okay, Steve, we've already radioed for back up. We'll widen the search, get the scuba gear, and find your friend.”

“You don't understand,” Steve said, admitting defeat and slumping down. “I have to find him.”

“Steve, you're dehydrated, okay? You can't swim right now.”

“Okay,” Steve mumbled, head in his hands. He was far from okay. Could it be? Was someone –that boy, the diver– really out there right now? Did he really exist?

Steve felt sick, too much sun and not enough water.

“We'll find him, Steve,” Sam promised.

 

~ ~ ~

 

They didn't find anybody else in the water. But Steve had already known that'd be the case. It was like Catalina all over again. All he'd ended up doing was worrying his friends and somehow made them think he was seeing some mystery man. Steve kept waiting for one of them to tell him there was no mystery swimmer, no guys hanging out in the sea saving his life.

Steve'd had the rest of his day off at home, trying to sleep. When he couldn't do that, he tried distracting himself with chores or studying his lieutenant manual. When those didn't work either, he took out the most recent scrapbook he'd made of underwater photography and surf scenes, just soothing pictures he tended to hoard and keep in notebooks. Sometimes he tried to sketch from them, but often he lost patience before he could properly finish anything.

Story of his life.

Steve picked at his dinner, then took himself for a walk down to the beach as the sun set. He avoided the lifeguard towers set all along the beach, waiting for the crowds to leave and the guards to lock up and head back to base before taking off his shoes and going down to the shoreline.

Steve paddled through the evening surf, gazing out to sea. Any time his heart hoped to see a dark head of hair appear above the waves, his head told him that he was being ludicrous. There had to be a perfectly logical explanation. Some sort of skilled, lone diver had helped Steve out today. No more, no less. Could even be one of those reckless reef divers they'd been trying to catch in the conservation areas these last few months.

That was the logical explanation. And what'd happened back in Catalina was still just a hallucination.

As much as Steve didn't want to believe it. You know what you saw, his gut told him, you know he was real.

Steve sighed at the ocean before him. “If you're real, then where are you?”

 

~ ~ ~

 

A night and a day had passed. At sunset, Bucky slowly came out of the water, standing up to full height on his legs. He'd already willed his tail to turn to legs as he swam through the shallows to get to the beach, and the pale glimmer of scales to fade from his skin. Observation of humans had shown him their skin wasn't pearlescent like his, underwater or on land, and he understood to an extent about blending in with his surroundings.

He flipped his wet hair back and waded forward with confidence. In his hand he clutched the wallet and photo card that'd belonged to the guy Bucky wanted to see. Stubborn human was going to throw himself into water, Bucky was going to have to watch him on land.

At least now he had a way to find him.

Bucky stepped onto sand, walking up the beach still dotted with people.

“Dude,” a younger man said, eyeing Bucky's naked form. “Cops don't go for that on this beach. There's kids around.”

A group of girls were staring openly at Bucky, one with their jaw dropping.

Bucky sensed there was some sort of issue, but he didn't understand what. A glance at the humans around him confirmed they all had bare skin on display, albeit with decorative material here and there.

“Take this, dude.” The man handed a piece of material to Bucky, soft and sun-warm. “Round your waist,” the man told him, when Bucky made no move. “Make it quick, beach patrol are right over there.”

 

Further along the beach, T'Challa spotted a nude male loitering at the shoreline. Shaking his head, T'Challa went to contain the situation. They were lucky it was the end of the day, and most people with young children had gone home already.

T'Challa didn't get paid enough for this crap.

 

~ ~ ~

 

The sun was setting but the light was still good. Steve, Clint and Natasha were setting up the lifeguard training for their newer recruits. Pietro and Wanda were lending a hand, and Clint was talking them through what to do before the other rookies arrived.

Steve and Natasha were doing equipment checks, ready to start the haul down to the rescue boat. Natasha was still trying to pry information from Steve about the other night at Stark's party. Steve had felt somewhat ridiculous for his dramatic exit, and it'd been easier to go along with everyone's assumption that he'd met a mystery date who had a mystery mode of transport, and that Steve hadn't actually jumped off a boat a mile offshore while intoxicated. Which was thoroughly irresponsible for a potential lieutenant lifeguard to do.

No, it was much more acceptable to have gone off with a mystery date, even though Steve hated lying.

Natasha seemed to be getting suspicious. Or maybe she felt bad for getting Steve drunk, he wasn't sure. He deflected her questions as best he could and tried to concentrate on equipment checks. Scuba gear was his main priority.

That and avoiding Natasha Romanov's piercing gaze.

“I only want to know how he got you off Stark's yacht,” she said, heaving oxygen tanks, passing one to Steve. “Was it romantic? Did he pick you up in a row boat?”

“You know, Nat,” Steve avoided looking at her, “I was pretty drunk, it was dark...”

“Yes,” she said, an edge in her voice. “Not ideal conditions.”

Steve sighed. “I know. I know. I've already disappointed myself, okay? I won't do it again.”

“Even if a hot guy begs you?”

That surprised a laugh out if Steve. “Even then,” he promised. Although the likelihood wasn't exactly high, he thought.

Steve's phone started to ring. He didn't recognise it at first, as his backup cell had a different ring tone to his former, now thoroughly ruined, phone. Steve looked at the screen, saw it was the beach sergeant. “Hey, T'Challa. What's up?”

“Steve,” T'Challa's voice greeted. “Are you still at tower twenty-seven?”

“Yeah, just on the sand,” Steve replied. “We haven't started the training yet. Why?”

“I have a man who has your wallet.”

“Oh?” Steve was surprised. He'd assumed it'd been lost to the ocean. Maybe a diver had happened upon it. “Well, that's great. Has he turned it in?”

Probably wanted a reward.

“We presume so,” T'Challa said. “He hasn't spoken, only pointed to your photo ID. We thought you may know who he is?”

“Me?” Steve didn't understand. “He hasn't said anything to you?”

“Not one word. And another thing...” T'Challa paused. “When we found him on the beach, he was walking around naked.”

“Naked?” Steve repeated dumbly, as Natasha looked over in question.

“Yes,” T'Challa said flatly.

“Why would he...” Steve trailed off, the image floating into his mind's eye of that perfect boy in the water at Catalina with pale, smooth skin. “Does he...” Steve swallowed hard. “Does he have brown hair?”

“Yes,” T'Challa replied. “Dark brown. Shoulder length.”

“Shit,” Steve breathed. “Where are you? Is he with you?”

“I brought him to headquarters,” T'Challa said. “He's waiting here for you.”

“Okay, okay, hold on,” Steve said, all in a rush, “I'm coming in. Don't let him leave. Thank you!”

Natasha watched him as he ended the call. “What's going on?” she asked.

“I have to go,” Steve told her, already moving. “You and Clint start the training, call in Scott if you need to!” He charged to the jeep and started the engine.

From their spot on the beach, his colleagues watched him drive off in a hurry.

“Something important?” Clint asked.

“Someone has Rogers' wallet,” Nat explained. “From the sounds of it, a naked man.”

Clint barked out a laugh. “His swim buddy from Stark's party. Bet you any money.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

It was lucky the beach had emptied out, as Steve drove fast, his heart thudding. He bombed it over the sand and made it back to base in record time. He killed the engine, bounding from the jeep and running up the steps to headquarters. Hope flared inside him, but Steve almost didn't dare believe until he could see with his own eyes.

The main office was quiet when Steve burst in. Sam was at the front desk, along with T'Challa. Steve rushed up to them. “Has he gone? Where's he gone? Where is he?”

“Relax, man.” Sam stood up and pointed across the office. “Your boy is right over there.”

Steve whirled around and, sure enough, sitting in the small waiting area and wearing an oversized L.A. County Lifeguards t-shirt, was a young man about Steve's age with shoulder length brown hair and pale, flawless skin. As soon as he spotted Steve, he unfolded long bare legs from under him and stood up, facing Steve with a smile.

Steve moved toward him, mesmerised. He could hardly believe what he was seeing. This man... he was like something conjured from Steve's dreams.

They stepped closer, and in his presence Steve felt a bone deep recognition. He couldn't look away, couldn't stop the answering smile on his face. “Uh... hi,” he said, still in disbelief. “You, um. I...”

The brunet reached out. He carefully touched a hand to Steve's face, guiding him closer. Steve leaned in instinctively, their lips coming together. Steve closed his eyes and let himself be kissed, circling his arms around the man. For the first time in years, Steve felt safe, anchored.

He got a bit lost in the kiss, only coming to awareness and pulling back when Sam cleared his throat. “Steve, I take it this is your mystery man.”

Steve grinned in response, still holding onto his new companion and looking into his eyes. “I sure hope so,” he breathed quietly.

 

~ ~ ~

 

“Here we are.” Steve stopped the jeep and got out. It was dusk now, the street lights all flickering on. Steve went around to the passenger door to retrieve his guest, who was still looking curiously at the interior of the jeep like he'd never been in a vehicle before.

“Lemme help you out there,” Steve said, guiding his guest out of the jeep. The borrowed shirt he wore rode up his body, giving Steve a good view of very shapely thighs. Steve swallowed. “I'll, um... lend you some of my clothes when we get in.”

Standing on the side-walk together, the brunet simply smiled at Steve, seemingly in no hurry. Steve smiled back, unable to look away. He loved this man's smile; his whole face just lit up, pale eyes fixed on Steve like he was the only thing they saw. In front of his colleagues Steve had felt a little bashful, but now they were alone, he wanted to lose himself in that gaze forever.

Except, he didn't want his guest to catch cold. In his shorts and t-shirt, even Steve felt the cooler night air blowing in from the ocean.

“So, here we are,” Steve said, “this is my place. Well, I share it with Sam, but he won't be back for another few hours.”

His guest continued to smile at him. He was still holding onto Steve's hand.

“You can stay with me,” Steve added quietly, hoping he understood. The brunet's eyes flicked lower, watching Steve's lips, then up to his eyes. “You, um... You speak English?” Steve asked, but the man was looking at Steve's lips again before tugging him closer.

Steve closed the distance, his body thrumming with desire. They came together in a kiss, bodies pressed close. This time the kiss was more heated, open mouthed and deep. Steve breathed in, tried to break it off. “Wait, wait a sec...” He scrabbled for his keys and the auto lock button for the jeep. The brunet clung to him, mouthing wetly at Steve's neck, and now Steve was fully hard inside his shorts. He closed his eyes a moment and buried his nose in the dark head of hair, just breathed in his scent. It was the smell of salt, fresh air and sunshine, like the open sea; calming and exhilarating all at once. Steve pressed a kiss to his hair.

They could've stood there making out all night, but Steve didn't want to give his neighbours a show. “C'mon,” he said gently, half guiding and half carrying his guest up the path to his door. “Let's just... get inside first.”

He managed to get his front door open, and hauled his guest over the threshold. They knocked into the wall and the side table that contained spare radios and some of Steve's paperwork on top of it. Steve didn't care, he kicked the door shut and plastered himself against the gorgeous man who was hell bent on kissing him. Steve pressed him into the wall, kissed him back deeply.

The brunet responded with little huffs and gasps of pleasure, hanging onto Steve's shoulders and parting his legs to let Steve even closer. He hooked one leg around Steve's hip, his shirt riding up and his hard cock nudging at Steve's leg.

“Oh, God,” Steve gasped, pushing forward for more friction through his clothes. They weren't quite the right height, Steve a little taller. He pushed in, grinding their erections together as best he could, kissing hard and deep. The brunet moaned low in his throat, urging Steve on.

Without breaking the kiss, Steve swept his hand at the contents of the table to push them off, then grabbed his partner under his ass and hoisted him onto it. Now they were a perfect height, and the brunet gave a low hum of approval, and spread his legs readily for Steve to slot himself in.

They made out as they pressed together, both hard and desperate. Steve's shorts were damp from his own pre-come and the other man's cock rubbing over him. He fumbled at his shorts and pushed them down his thighs to free his erection. When their bare skin touched they both gasped, hard cocks meeting and sliding together.

The brunet tipped his head back on a moan, and Steve sucked a bruise onto the bare expanse of his throat.

“God, who are you?” Steve murmured, kissing down his shoulder. He thrust his hips forward. “I want you, I need you.”

The other man reached down, circling his fingers around Steve's cock. Steve groaned at the pressure, more when the man lined Steve's cock up to his own, holding them both in a firm grip.

Steve thrust into that grip, slowly gaining speed and clinging onto this incredible guy he'd only just met but already felt so close to.

None of this made any sense, and yet it did. This felt right, like coming home. Steve felt safe in his arms, striving closer to a completion he'd never felt before, thrusting harder, straining toward orgasm.

The brunet came first, tensing and then shuddering against Steve, come spilling from his cock. He cried out softly, and it was the first almost-sound of his voice Steve had heard, and it pushed him over the edge. He came hard, crying out himself, his come splashing between them.

“Oh, my God,” Steve gasped, still clinging to the other man. “Oh, God.” He sucked in huge gulps of air, trying to regulate his breathing. “You... I...” He noted the mess they'd made of themselves. “We should shower.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

Bucky allowed his mate to lead him, content and happy as he was. He approved of the dwelling, it seemed clean and safe. Aesthetically pleasing, in cool neutral shades and bare floors. His mate led him to a blue and white tiled room, turned on an overhead light. Bucky saw the stall with the shower in it. He'd seen similar instruments on beaches busy with humans; for some reason they always wanted to wash the seawater off.

Bucky deduced that their skin was too delicate.

He tried not to jerk in surprise when his mate switched the water on, and concentrated on his current human form, willing it to stay the same; no scales, no fins. Definitely no tail, thanks. It wasn't too tricky now, Bucky had practised his shifting.

“Do you want to shower?” His mate gestured at the running water, and started to mime washing himself.

Bucky smiled, amused.

His mate gave a wry smile in return. “Okay, wise-guy.” He opened the sliding door. “Here ya go. Call me if you need any--”

Before he could leave, Bucky caught his hand, tugged him close.

“What?” he asked, trying to read Bucky's face. “You want to go in together?” He gestured at the stall again. Bucky nodded. “Well, okay.” He began to strip off his garments.

Bucky raised his arms, waiting for his mate to assist.

He chuckled. “Now you're just messing with me. But all right, I don't mind undressing you.” He lifted the clothing over Bucky's head and off, then guided Bucky into the stall with him, and shut the door after them.

It was like being inside a glass tank. Bucky felt a little hemmed in, tried to tamp it down and concentrate on the big blond Adonis taking up all the room with his obscenely broad shoulders. Bucky snaked his hands up those shoulders, tracing their contours and the muscles on his arms. Bucky leaned in to kiss him, but his mate had other ideas, positioning them under the warm spray of water.

“Which body wash do you want?” The blond spoke, grabbing a small bottle. “What's this one... Oh, sea breeze and bergamot. That's a good one.” He squeezed a dollop into his palm, then transferred it to Bucky's chest, lathering him up.

Bucky was transfixed; the smell was rousing, and feeling his lover's hands as they spread the sweet smelling suds over his skin... it was such a turn on. He was hard again almost immediately, and pressed himself to his mate's body.

“Oh, you like that, huh?” His mate seemed pleased. “I'll wash you all over if you want.”

Soapy hands massaged down Bucky's arms, across his middle and around his back. Bucky nuzzled into a sculpted shoulder and hummed with pleasure as his mate washed them both.

When soapy hands trailed down his sides to his hips, Bucky gladly pressed closer, rutting his cock into the slippery wet grip of strong, callused hands.

Bucky had definitely decided he loved showers, this was to die for. He let the dextrous hand of his mate grip and tug on his cock, the other hand slipping lower to cup his balls. When Bucky felt soapy fingers seek out his entrance, he eagerly hitched a leg up to jump his mate, almost knocking them off balance in his haste.

“Whoa, hang on,” the blond gasped, laughing. “Too slippery for that. Let me just...” He rinsed them both clean, then used another bottle to wash his hair quickly. Bucky watched him, then he was carefully turned around and had his hair washed too. His mate said something about the scent, but Bucky couldn't concentrate, his eyes drifting closed with bliss.

Okay, he could definitely get used to this. Having his hair washed was divine, Bucky didn't want it to end.

All too soon he was rinsed clean, ushered out of the stall and the water turned off, much to his dismay. His mate wrapped them both in fluffy white towels, gently patting Bucky dry. He was talking quietly, and laid a smaller towel around Bucky's shoulders to catch the remaining drips from his hair.

“...wonder what language you speak,” his mate was saying, as Bucky zoned back in. He was a bit out of practise listening to human speech.

“What about written words?” The blond raised his hand to the mirror, using his index finger to spell out, S-T-E-V-E. He pointed to the finished word, “Steve,” he said, then pointed to himself. “Steve. Can you say that? Steve.”

Bucky grinned. He knew what the word was, recognised it from his mate's lost wallet. Now he was reminded what the sound was to go with it: Steve. Bucky liked the sound of it.

Smiling, he wrote on the mirror in reply.

His mate, Steve, seemed very pleased, babbling excitedly, “You understood? That's great! Is this your name?”

He watched Bucky spell out the letters that he'd thought of as his own for so long, since he'd seen them printed on a small plaque inside a cabin of a shipwreck. He'd just seen it and liked the shape of the word, so had named himself.

Steve stared at Bucky's word underneath his on the mirror a little dubiously. “Uh. Bucky?” He side-eyed him.

Bucky tapped on his chest to indicate himself, just in case Steve was slow.

“Bucky?” Steve sounded sceptical.

At his tone, Bucky levelled him with a look.

“I love it,” Steve amended quickly, “It's terrific. Everything about you is terrific. I'm kinda concerned I'm already head over heels for you, and I have no idea where you came from or if you actually understand a word I'm saying.” He breathed in deep, searching Bucky's eyes. “I talk when I'm nervous. I say stupid things. Please don't hold it against me.”

Bucky only smiled and stepped close to nuzzle Steve's neck, mouthing kisses onto his skin to soothe him.

“Okay, this is good,” Steve said, wrapping his arms around Bucky. “This is great. Thank you.”

Bucky responded by rocking his hips forward, nudging his hard cock at Steve's hip. He wanted attention.

Instead of staying in the tiled room, Steve guided Bucky back along the hallway to his bedroom. Bucky hadn't been on a human bed for some time. Steve's bed was huge, soft, but bouncy and firm.

Bucky definitely approved.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Steve dozed heavily, sated and happy. He'd gone to sleep wrapped around the warm body of his lover as they sprawled in bed. Usually sleep was a struggle for Steve, but tonight he was exhausted after two more rounds of love-making, and he felt safe cradled in Bucky's arms.

It shouldn't make any sense, he barely knew the guy... but Steve had never felt happier.

He was roused from sleep with the sensation of Bucky's hand stroking his thigh, his mouth sucking bruises at the sensitive juncture of Steve's neck and shoulder. He stirred awake with a smile, and turned to the brunet to return sleepy kisses.

Bucky's fingers found the tip of Steve's half hard cock, squeezing gently before taking a firmer grip. Steve hummed in pleasure. “You're gonna put me in a hospital,” he teased, rocking his hips into Bucky's hand.

He hadn't had this much sex since...

Well, ever.

Steve hadn't felt all consuming lust like this before, it was mind blowing. He sought out Bucky's mouth and kissed him hungrily, pressing their bodies close. Bucky kissed back, and before Steve could get his brain properly into gear, Bucky rolled them so he was on top, pinning Steve beneath him.

Steve was momentarily stunned, not only because Bucky's sheer strength was a bit of a shock, but also he was distractingly gorgeous. To think that someone so intense and beautiful wanted to focus entirely on Steve was more than a little mind blowing.

As if reading his hesitation, Bucky raised his eyebrows slightly, checking if Steve was okay.

Words might've been beyond Steve in that moment, gazing up at Bucky straddling him, but he nodded vigorously.

Bucky's plump, kissable lips curved into a grin, and he sat up to position himself over Steve's cock, now hard and eager to plunge back inside his lover's body. Steve held his erection steady as Bucky raised up on his thighs, then lowered himself down. Steve's cock slid between his cheeks, his ass still slippery with lube from their fucking earlier. The head of Steve's cock nudged Bucky's hole, eased inside, and from there Bucky took control, sinking down onto Steve's thick cock, impaling himself on its length.

Steve groaned in pleasure, hands gripping Bucky's hips as he helped lift him up, then sink back down on Steve's cock. Up and down, again and again. He locked eyes with Steve, pinning him with his half lidded gaze. It was like staring into his own soul, Steve thought; everything he'd so dearly wanted, a companion, a soulmate, and here he was and he was beautiful and perfect, bouncing on Steve's dick like he owned it.

Steve was close to losing it, everything far too intense. He moved one hand from Bucky's hip, and took hold of his bobbing cock to jerk him off.

Bucky's mouth opened on a wordless cry, and he sped up his movements, thrusting himself through Steve's hand faster and faster. He groaned long and loud when he came, spilling between them and clenching down on Steve's cock.

Steve's hips stuttered, slamming hard into Bucky two, three more times, then he came with a choked off moan and Bucky's name on his lips. Steve clung to him through the orgasm that rocked his body and left him breathless. He clung on still when Bucky tried to move, and instead rolled them so Bucky was now on his back under Steve, with Steve's cock still buried deep in his ass.

Bucky looked at him and raised a brow. Steve smiled at the challenge, settling on his elbows as he pressed closer to Bucky, pushed deeper into him. Bucky grunted as Steve thrust in, and wrapped his legs around Steve's waist with the force of a steel trap. His strong thighs pulled Steve forward into Bucky's waiting arms, snatching him into a kiss.

Steve moaned into Bucky's mouth, felt like he was tumbling further into the abyss each moment with this man, but he wasn't going down without a fight. He righted himself enough to get a purchase, and started thrusting hard into Bucky, his ass wet and filled with Steve's come. Bucky grunted softly, became pliant as Steve ploughed into him, mouth opening in surprised little huffs.

“You want another round with me?” Steve husked near his ear, bit at his skin.

Bucky shivered, but then his nimble fingers brushed Steve's chest, seeking out his nipples to pinch and flick them.

“Jesus, fuck,” Steve gasped, losing his rhythm for a moment. He slowed his thrusts and pushed in deeper, grabbed Bucky's wrists to pin his hands above his head. Steve gazed down at him, still fucking slowly and steadily into his ass. “You're amazing,” he breathed, watching Bucky's face and then his cock between them as it bounced with each thrust. “I'm not sure if I'm dreaming all this. If I am, it's the best dream ever.”

Bucky was staring up at him with something like wonder, letting Steve fuck him how he wanted. And Steve was pretty sure that Bucky yielding like this was a big deal for him, that if he wanted to he could crush Steve with his thighs alone. He trusted Steve like this.

Steve felt overwhelmed, and too close to the edge again. He bent down, intending to kiss his lover, but in that moment of distraction Bucky surged up, flipping Steve over. It was an impressive and yet carefully calculated show of strength. Steve's reflexes got the better of him for a moment, and he counter manoeuvred as they were mid flip, used Bucky's momentum to his own advantage. Their tussle for the top landed them too close to the edge of the bed, and they tumbled over onto the floor, along with most of the covers.

At the last possible second, Bucky changed tact in order to land first, taking the brunt of the soft fall in order to protect Steve. He looked a little put out when Steve asked if he was okay, then grinned deviously.

“Jerk,” Steve told him, “I'm not done with you yet,” starting their tussle anew.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Elsewhere in the apartment, Sam Wilson was getting in from his late shift, noting the uncharacteristic mess in the hallway, and the damp towels littering the bathroom. He raised an eyebrow at the thumps and bumps coming from Steve's bedroom.

Sam made a mental note to personally thank whoever had designed the apartment so that the bedrooms did not share a wall.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Despite being exhausted, it was perhaps too good to be true that Steve could have a peaceful, dreamless sleep. He was always so worried what a potential partner would think of his nightmares and restless nights. Sam knew, of course. They'd been room-mates for a couple years now, but Sam had also served; he understood.

Steve was asleep, and felt a familiar anxious dream set in. He was back in the army, worrying for his squad. Sometimes it was his lifeguards. Sometimes it all blurred together. Anyone Steve felt responsible for; his team-mates, his mom, his dad. His few ex's who hadn't worked out. Anyone who got too close to him seemed to end up leaving one way or another.

Just as the dream began to grow darker and more menacing, Steve was pulled back from the edge by a voice singing softly, and a hand caressing his hair. The sensations were completely new yet so soothing, Steve drifted past the awful dreams and into a deeper sleep. He'd never felt so relaxed.

 

The morning sunlight warmed Steve's face, as it did every morning. As he came awake, he heard someone humming gently, the same melody as the song he'd heard in his dream; timeless words murmured by a soft, low voice.

Steve blinked his eyes open, lifted his face from the pillow. Firstly, he was a little shocked to see that his mystery brunet, Bucky, was real, and still in bed with him.

“Uh,” he said unintelligently, “h-hi.”

The humming ceased, as pale eyes slid over to meet Steve's, watching him closely.

“You're... you're real,” Steve mumbled. “Unless I'm still asleep.”

Bucky's lips twitched into a smirk, eyes flashing with mirth.

If Steve didn't know any better, he'd swear his new... acquaintance understood him. “Er... So.” Steve sat up against his pillows, rubbing his face and smoothing down his bed hair. He hoped he looked decent. “Can I make you breakfast? Eat?” He mimed eating.

Bucky watched him, smiling, before inching closer and folding himself all along Steve's side.

“Or we can cuddle first,” Steve said.

This was surreal. He hadn't woken up with a date and felt this at ease in... He couldn't remember. Steve wasn't great at mornings with other people, or at relationships in general, really. His awkwardness always managed to bleed out. He was tensing even now.

Bucky must've noticed, as he snuggled closer into Steve and resumed humming softly. Steve felt the vibrations of his voice, chest to chest as they were.

“Very nice.” He closed his eyes, giving in and curling an arm around Bucky. “I had a dream about this song. Don't recognise it though.”

The humming stopped. “Sailor's song,” came the reply, as Steve's eyes flew open in surprise. The humming resumed. Bucky hadn't moved, and Steve was left staring up at his own ceiling in utter confusion.

Finally he said, “Um, did you just...? Did you...? Can you understand me?”

The humming stopped again. Bucky raised his head, looked at Steve calmly. “Yes,” he stated, like it was nothing of consequence.

Steve felt his cheeks flush, and he made to disentangle himself and sit up. “You speak English?” he said in disbelief.

Bucky considered, then shrugged one shoulder, nonchalant. “Some.”

“Oh,” Steve breathed. “Some, huh? Some. Okay, great. Well, thanks for letting me know.”

Wow, how embarrassing.

Exactly how much nonsense had Steve uttered last night, thinking Bucky couldn't understand him? Now he was blushing hard, his face burning with shame. Steve scrambled out of bed, searching for clothes to pull on, making some excuse about fixing them food.

As he tugged a t-shirt on he dared a glance back at the bed, asking, “What do you want for...?” He trailed off. Bucky was watching him with quiet amusement, laying on his side with one arm bent behind his head like an artist's model. Steve had the urge to sketch him, and he hadn't drawn from a model in years.

“Uh, Bucky?” He cleared his throat. “What do you fancy for breakfast?”

Bucky appeared to consider for a moment, then he pushed the sheets aside and reached for his cock, wrapping a hand firmly around its length.

“Um,” Steve said, eyes nailed to his lover, slowly jerking himself off in Steve's bed. “Uh... Bucky?”

Bucky twitched an eyebrow at him, uncurled his bent arm and beckoned at Steve with a finger.

“Yeah, okay.” Steve threw off his clothes again and hurried back to the bed, his lover receiving him with open arms and a small chuckle.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Sam Wilson considered himself to be a pretty decent room-mate. He'd known Steve for years, lived with him for a couple now, and they'd never had any problems. Steve was considerate to a fault; the man would hardly leave a dirty mug out of place, let alone leave a mess in his wake.

That was why Sam had overlooked the random mess last night, even tidied it all up as he got ready for bed himself. And maybe put his earbuds in with some relaxing ocean waves to fill his ears, instead of the rhythmic bumping and the occasional crash coming from Steve's room. Steve was getting the workout of a lifetime from the sounds of it.

That'd teach Sam to nag the man about getting laid.

But really, Sam was pleased for him. Steve hardly dated at all, especially lately, so this sort of behavior was a first as far as Sam was aware.

Steve had to have met his mystery man some place and kept it on the down low.

Long walks alone on the beach at night, my ass, Sam thought.

He smiled to himself when Steve finally emerged in the morning, tumbling into the kitchen looking all kinds of dishevelled, and sporting more than one major hickey on his neck.

“Morning.” Sam grinned wide. He'd never seen Steve look so disoriented. Normally he was a morning person, up before everyone else.

“Hey, Sam,” Steve mumbled, grabbing for a mug and the coffee pot. He poured half a cup, splashing some on the counter and grunting in annoyance.

Sam sipped at his own coffee and tried not to laugh.

Steve laid a dishcloth over his spilled coffee, then picked up his mug. “Gonna take a shower,” he yawned out.

“Steve. Go back to bed. I already got Clint to cover your shift today.”

“No, it's fine.” Steve yawned again. He fumbled his way to the hall, bumping into the door jamb along the way and knocking coffee to the floor.

Sam shook his head at Steve's departure, and went to mop up the mess from the floor.

 

When Steve re-emerged from his shower, his tan office shirt with the L.A. County Lifeguards patches on the shoulders was buttoned lopsidedly. He only looked slightly more awake than before.

At least he had his pants on, Sam mused. “Steve,” he said gently, “take the day off, man. It's cool. You haven't had a personal day in, like... ever. It'd be better than Fury or Hill spotting you like this.”

“No, I'm going in, Sam.” Steve may have been half asleep, but he was determined. The look on his face said it all. “My, um... ah...” He struggled for a moment, trying to locate his keys. “My... I mean, Bucky is... if he wakes up--”

“Hold up.” Sam grinned, leaning back against the counter. “Bucky?

Steve wouldn't look him in the eye. His cheeks were tinged pink. “Yeah. His name is Bucky.”

This was too much.

“That a nickname? Like those Bucky Bears they made back in the fifties?”

“Uh...” Steve floundered. “Just... if you see him, tell him I'll be back after my shift. I left him a note but... I don't know if he can read much English.”

“Don't worry, man. If I see him I'll tell him. I'm going down the beach later.”

“Okay. Okay, thanks, Sam. Have a good day.”

“Steve.” Sam stopped him before he could leave, gestured at his lopsided shirt. “You might wanna...”

Steve flushed harder, and hastily re-buttoned his shirt. “Thanks, Sam. See you later,” he said, as he flew out the door.

“Drink more coffee!” Sam called after him.

The apartment was quiet in Steve's absence, until about an hour later when Sam heard the shower in the bathroom turn on. That'd be Steve's date, then.

Sam busied himself getting ready to go out. He had errands to run on his day off, then he had plans to whoop Scott's ass at volleyball, along with Pietro and Wanda.

Thirty minutes later, Steve's date was still in the shower. Sam didn't want to intrude, but he couldn't help wanting to check that everything was okay.

“Hey, man.” He knocked on the bathroom door. “You all good? I'm Sam, Steve's room-mate.”

The water turned off.

“We met briefly yesterday,” Sam went on, as the door swung open to reveal Steve's playmate, Bucky; naked and dripping wet.

“Whoa.” Sam averted his eyes. “Aaaaand you're naked again. Why don't you grab yourself a towel...” He pointed at the clean stack of towels on the hamper. “Was just checking you're okay an' all.”

Bucky was clearly a man of few words, observing Sam in silence.

“Okay, well... I'm headed out.” Sam backed away.

Bucky merely raised an eyebrow.

“You good here? You need anything before I go? Steve will be back at some point. Help yourself to coffee, food...”

He retreated to the kitchen, looking over his shoulder as Bucky trailed after him. Thankfully the guy had wrapped a towel round his hips.

“Good, that's good,” Sam said. “See? You're learning. Don't you want another towel for your hair though?” He gestured to Bucky's wet hair. “You're dripping all over the--”

Bucky pulled the towel from his waist and lifted it to his hair.

Sam swivelled around, averting his eyes from the man's junk yet again. “Aw, hell no, man. That is not what I meant! Cover your package.”

Sam missed the sly grin on the other man's face.

“I'm leaving,” Sam grouched, picking up his keys. “I'll be having a talk with Steve about the amount of nudity around here. New house rule, underpants on in all common areas.”

Bucky stepped in front of him as he tried to leave. “Steve?”

“Uh, Steve went to work.” Sam carefully looked Bucky in the face, definitely not down at the rest of him. “Work,” he repeated. “Be back soon.”

But when he tried to leave again, Bucky repeated plaintively, “Steve?”

Against Sam's better judgement, he relented. “All right, all right. If you come with me I'm headed to the beach, I can drop you there after my errands.”

Bucky stared at him blankly.

Steve,” Sam said. “But you gotta put clothes on, man. We ain't a nudist colony.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

Turned out that running errands with Bucky was both hilarious and nerve-wracking, even for someone as calm and collected as Sam Wilson.

If he didn't know any better, he'd say that boy was punking him most of the time, but Bucky had enough wide-eyed innocence about him to get away with it. Sam had managed to get him into clothes at least; a pair of Sam's multi-coloured beach shorts, and a t-shirt. Any of Steve's clothes had been too tight.

Sam had leant Bucky some flip flops too, only for Bucky to stare at them like he didn't know what they were, and do exaggerated tip-toe walking in them until he kicked them off somewhere when Sam wasn't looking.

They were at Logan's scuba diving shop when Sam noticed Bucky was barefoot. “Did you...?” Sam looked around for the sandals. “Man, you better not take your clothes off,” he admonished. “Go barefoot if you want, but you better keep the damn clothes on, or the cops'll be busting your ass for real this time.”

Logan watched them both with a wry look. “New friend?”

“Not me,” Sam scoffed. “This is Steve's friend, and I plan on reuniting them soon as.”

“If you say so, Wilson.” Logan waved them off.

Sam was loading his new gear into his jeep when he realised Bucky wasn't next to him. “Bucky?” Sam looked around the small lot, spotted him a ways off about to cross the busy intersection. “Hey! Hey, stop!” Sam sprinted, waving his arms, frantic. He caught Bucky's attention before he stepped into traffic. “Aw, no, man. What you doing?” Sam held onto Bucky's arm to tug him back to the car. “Put a damn leash on you,” he muttered.

Bucky pointed at the ocean in the distance. “Steve?”

“Yes, Steve.” Sam rolled his eyes. “Tell you what. I can do errands another time. Let's go get Steve right now.”

He hauled Bucky back to the jeep, hustling him in at the passenger side. “Get your seatbelt on, man,” he instructed. He got out his cell phone and called Headquarters. “Clint. It's Sam. Is Rogers there?”

Sam rolled his eyes at the news; Steve was secretly napping in the back office. Clint had put him there so Fury wouldn't see him half asleep if he happened to drop by.

So, if Sam put a curious, pain in the ass Bucky in Steve's charge right now, they could both be a hazard. Steve was up for promotion, he didn't need the distraction when there were too many superiors watching his step.

“Never mind, then,” Sam told Clint. “Tell Steve he's a big blond pain in my ass, and to call me.”

“Roger that,” Clint answered with a chuckle.

Sam ended the call and got in the driver's seat. His phone started to ring, but it wasn't Steve like Sam had hoped, it was Wanda.

“What now,” he muttered, accepting the call. “Yo.”

“Sam!” Wanda exclaimed. “If you haven't left yet, can you come pick me up?”

“What am I? Taxi service?” he mocked. “Yeah, all right. You better be ready to go. I'll be there in twenty.”

“Twenty minutes? Sam, I need to plait my hair and--”

“Twenty minutes!” Sam ended the call. “That's why I keep my hair short,” Sam said to himself, side-eyeing Bucky.

 

~ ~ ~

 

In the end, Sam took Bucky into Wanda's apartment while she finished getting ready. He made sure to lock the front door so Bucky wouldn't disappear off, then he sat on the couch with his feet up and breathed a sigh of relief.

Wanda made them coffee, which Bucky inhaled three cups of before Sam noticed and cut him off. “Nuh-uh, nope. Seriously, I do not need a caffeine frenzied version of this guy.” He ignored Bucky's frown as he wrestled the cup away.

“Why are you spending the day with Steve's date anyway?” Wanda smiled, braiding her hair into its usual plait.

Sam threw her a look. “I'm just the delivery man,” he said. “Soon as we can I'll drop home-boy off with Steve, let him take care of his own date.”

“Oh, Sam, seriously,” Wanda said, “he can't be that...” She stopped when she realized Bucky was rifling through her kitchenette. “Maybe he's hungry?” She finished her French plait, and got up to join him. “You want breakfast?”

“Breakfast?” Sam chuffed a laugh. “It's past one.”

Wanda ignored him. “Let's make breakfast,” she said to Bucky.

 

Forty-five minutes later, they parked at the beach, with Wanda complaining to Sam about how much food Bucky had eaten (“Send the bill to Rogers!” Sam had said) and Sam complaining about Pietro being late for the volleyball game.

Sam had to nudge Bucky awake in the back-seat, in a pancake induced food coma from earlier, then they left the jeep together, making their way onto the beach.

“Listen,” Sam said to Wanda, as they stepped onto warm sand, “Steve hasn't called me yet, but if Pietro isn't down by the nets ready to go, then I'd better drive the human locust here up to HQ where Steve is.”

“Why can't Steve come here?” Wanda spun the volleyball in her hands.

“Good question,” Sam huffed. “Because he's busy and I'm a glutton for punishment, that's why.”

They passed sunbathers and kids playing in the sand, Sam keeping a close watch on Bucky, and headed to the volleyball nets not far from the Bay Club.

Scott was already there, on a beach towel along with his young daughter, Cassie, under the shade of a large parasol. Cassie was busy making a sandcastle of epic proportions. Scott got up to greet them.

“Hey, Tic Tac.” Sam fist-bumped him. “Hey there, Cassie!”

As Cassie waved hello to them, Scott gestured to Bucky with a not so subtle, “Uh...?”

“Tic Tac, Bucky. Bucky, Scott Lang.” Sam introduced, then added to Scott, “He don't speak much.”

“Okay,” Scott said. “Well, where's Pietro?”

Wanda checked her phone. “He says he'll be here soon.”

Sam snorted. “Man, that boy's attention span is worse than his.” He pointed at Bucky accusingly.

Scott shrugged. “Why doesn't he play instead?”

“Yeah, join in!” Wanda urged to a nonplussed Bucky.

“This is gonna go well.” Sam took the ball, and went to give Bucky a demo as they stepped up to a vacant net. “Okay, the rules are... No, don't touch the net, man.” Sam pulled Bucky away from the net, and held the ball in Bucky's direct eyeline to get his attention. “I hit the ball to Scott over there, he hits it back to me. It can't touch the ground. Got it? Watch.” He expertly bopped the ball over the net, and Scott sent it straight back over.

Sam caught the ball. “Nice. Okay, Bucky, next time you try to hit it. Over it goes...” He bopped it over to Scott again, then stood aside. “Here it comes... Okay, hit the ball.” Sam pointed as it came sailing overhead.

Bucky gazed up at it, looking hilarious in a pair of Wanda's pink sunglasses, and his hair tied back in a messy braid, but he adjusted his stance and got ready to hit the ball. When he hit it, he sent it flying high over the net, far out of reach of Scott or Wanda.

“Oh, man...” Scott watched the ball land and bounce off in the sand.

Sam blinked in amazement, then pointed at Bucky. “Okay, he's on my team.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

When Steve woke up he was sprawled over the desk, drooling into his own paperwork with a spreadsheet stuck to his face. His pained groan was answered by a chuckle, so he peeled the paper from his face and sat up.

Carol was in the other seat, reading through a training manual with her feet up. Steve would've told her to take her feet off the desk, but he'd just been drooling onto it himself. He cleared his throat. “Carol.”

“Steve.” She smirked at him. “Feeling better?”

“Uh, apart from a crick in my neck.” He smiled back, embarrassed. Carol was a lieutenant, and had been the person to recommend Steve for lieutenant as well. “I don't usually...”

“Relax, Rogers. We got you covered today.” Carol closed the manual and took her feet down, leaning forward on the desk. “Those are some impressive hickeys.”

“Um...” Steve's hands went to his collar to straighten it up. He tried not to look embarrassed. He knew his neck had bruises over it, that's why he'd opted for office based work today with a shirt, instead of his usual open necked t-shirt on the beach. “I, um... I should get back to work.”

“If you insist.” Carol grinned wickedly. “But Clint said to tell you to knock off early and go find Sam. He's got your boy-toy with him.”

Now Steve was really blushing. “His name is Bucky. And I don't need to skip out early, I can catch up with them later.”

Carol was unperturbed. “Alright. I'm sharing the office with you for the rest of the day, too. You can tell me all about him.” She nodded at his neck. “I've got a concealer which should be about your shade. Yours, if you spill the beans.”

Steve blinked at her in amazement, then stood up and started to collect his things. “Y'know, on second thought, tell Clint I said thanks.”

“You sure you don't want concealer?” Carol laughed at Steve's retreating back.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Steve changed into his regular clothes in the locker-room; shorts and a t-shirt. He was a little self-conscious about his neck, especially when Natasha strolled in to find him, a knowing grin in place. She held up a small stick of make-up. “Carol and I decided you were either a nude, or ivory.”

Steve wasn't sure what to say, but he took the concealer with a quiet, “Thanks,” and went to the mirror above the sink to apply it.

Today couldn't get any more mortifying, as far as he was concerned.

When he went back to his locker, Steve had hoped Natasha would be gone. She was on duty after all. But she was waiting for him on the bench, standing up when he collected his things. She was in her red bathing suit, sports bag and red floatie in hand, sunglasses on a clasp around her neck. “I'll walk down with you. Tower twenty is empty, so I'm covering until close.”

“Ah, right. Where's Sam and Bucky?”

“They're playing volleyball by the club,” she said. “Sam sent me a Snap.”

“Oh.” Steve processed that information as they left the lockers. Sam and Bucky were sending Snaps to Natasha now? “That's... that's great.”

“Are you relieved, or jealous?” Natasha asked. They exited headquarters and walked down its steps onto the beach.

Steve wasn't sure what he was. After a few strides over the sand, he shrugged. “Both?” He laughed. “Which feels pretty dumb.”

Natasha was quiet as they walked, both scanning the dwindling crowds and the bathers in the surf.

“It's nice when someone you like also gets on well with your friends,” Natasha said finally.

“Yes,” Steve agreed. “You're right. I'm pleased. I just wasn't expecting... I mean, it's all a bit sudden.”

Now Nat was watching him. “How long have you known each other?”

Steve should've kept his big mouth shut. After an awkward pause, he decided to stick to the truth. “We've only be reacquainted recently.”

“I see.” She smiled. “And before? How well did you know him?”

Steve gazed ahead as the volleyball nets came into view in the distance. “Not very,” he replied. “And it's not what you think, either.”

“What do I think?” Natasha was enigmatic as usual. They were approaching tower number twenty.

“You think I'm just hooking up with him,” Steve said.

“Do I?” Natasha didn't give much away, and Steve squirmed under her gaze.

Finally she relented. “Steve, I think if you really like someone, then try not to overthink things, and just see what happens.” She stepped up onto the gangplank, already looking out at the swimmers in the waves. Steve wasn't sure how to respond, and hesitated. “Go find him,” Nat instructed, shoving him in his shoulder. “Enjoy a day off for once, Rogers.”

“Yes, ma'am.” Steve saluted with a smile as he walked away. He made his way down the beach, tension mounting as he approached the volleyball area. He spotted his team-mates, along with Bucky, playing a vigorous game.

Bucky and Sam were playing side by side, giving Pietro and Wanda a run for their money. Scott was sitting under a parasol with Cassie, both yelling out helpful advice for the game.

As Steve neared them, he saw that Bucky had his hair tied back, was wearing pink sunglasses, and what looked like a pair of Sam's shorts as he played volleyball. He smiled, and said a soft hello to Cassie and Scott, crouching down with them. “How long have they been playing?”

“Hours,” Scott said. “Cassie had time to do a sandcastle extension.”

“That is a pretty neat sandcastle,” Steve admired, while Cassie preened in delight.

“Steve, how's it going?” Sam called out. Steve waved back and, casually as he could, walked up to the net. “You want to play?”

Once Bucky's laser focus was off the game and he noticed Steve, he bounded over. “Hey,” Steve began, expecting maybe a shy hello or... Well, he wasn't sure what he'd expected, but it sure as hell wasn't for Bucky to launch at Steve, arms thrown around his neck and lips on his for a kiss.

Steve stumbled on the sand but managed to right himself, holding onto Bucky as he pulled back to grin broadly. “Steve!” he declared happily. He set his feet back on the ground, but didn't relinquish his hold of Steve.

“Hi,” Steve said with a bashful smile. He gently lifted the shades off Bucky's face, pushing them up to rest on his head. Blue-grey eyes shone back at him, and Steve lost himself in their depths.

“Yo, Rogers,” Sam interrupted, “you're distracting my best player here.”

“Sorry,” Steve replied, trying to separate himself from Bucky, who clung on like a limpet. “You can play on.”

“I need a break!” Wanda called, headed over to Scott and Cassie's beach towel.

Pietro threw his hands up. “We had a break half an hour ago!”

“I want another break.” Wanda sat under the parasol and got out a bottle of sun-tan.

“I want to play with my beach ball now, Daddy!” Cassie declared, brandishing her inflatable, polka-dot ball.

“She has been patient,” Scott said, getting to his feet. “We'll go take a paddle.”

Sam laughed. “Well, that's game over!”

“We can play in the water!” Pietro took off on a run, kicking up sand as he went. Cassie squealed and charged after him on little legs, Scott following her at a slow jog.

“I'm taking a break first,” Sam said, joining Wanda under the parasol and opening a bottle of water. “Steve?”

“Uh...” Steve looked to Bucky, still holding onto Steve but watching Pietro and Scott splashing about with Cassie in the water.

“Bucky?” Steve asked gently, getting his attention. “You want to go in the water too?”

Bucky looked at him, then back at the water. Cassie was swimming in her arm bands, Scott wading after her with her ball, while Pietro thrashed around to splash them. Cassie squealed with laughter. Bucky glanced back at Steve, looking torn.

“You can if you want.” Steve gestured at the water. He hadn't meant to interrupt Bucky's fun with them.

As they parted, Steve thought Bucky would go to them, choose them over Steve. Bucky was clearly drawn to the water play. But he hesitated, and with one more glance at Steve he slipped away and started walking in the opposite direction along the beach.

“Bucky?” Steve followed him, concerned.

“Tell him I need those sunglasses back at some point!” Wanda called after him.

Steve caught up to Bucky, fell into step beside him. “Hey,” he said quietly.

Bucky glanced up at him, smiled, then looked down to watch his feet as he walked.

Steve went quiet, worrying over what to say. They strolled along the sand, Steve following Bucky's lead; not too close to the shoreline. The sound of the waves filled the silence. Bucky seemed somewhat muted, so Steve nudged him.

“Did you have a good day?”

“Yes,” Bucky answered, but didn't elaborate any further.

“Everything... uh, okay?”

“Yes.”

“Er, great. That's great.” Steve swallowed. Was he getting ditched? Did Bucky want him to leave?

Just as Steve was about to worry himself into knots, Bucky looked over at him, and carefully laced his fingers into Steve's, slotting their hands together. He held Steve's gaze, and smiled. And just like that, Steve felt safe and at ease once more.

“I'm really glad you're here,” Steve blurted out.

Bucky smiled back at him, but otherwise gave no indication he'd understood. He did squeeze Steve's hand though, so on some level Steve was certain Bucky got what he was saying.

He smiled back. “So... you didn't tell me where you're from?” Steve asked, one of the many, many burning questions he had.

Bucky blinked at him. Wisps of dark hair had come loose from his braid, and brushed across his face in the sea breeze.

“Where are you from?” Steve pressed on. “Your home?”

Bucky seemed to understand that word, and he nodded out to sea.

“Home?” Steve said again.

Bucky pointed with his free hand at the ocean.

“Um, Hawaii?” Steve wasn't sure what else Bucky meant. Maybe he lived on a boat, or an island. That could explain the... lack of communication thing. “How long are you staying for?”

Bucky bit his lip and looked away.

Steve held onto his hand. “You can stay with me,” he offered. “As long as you want. Bucky? Do you want to stay with me?”

Bucky stopped walking. He searched Steve's face for a long moment before tugging him close, wrapping his arms around Steve's shoulders. “Home?” he asked.

Steve hugged him back, kissed him on his neck. “Yeah, Bucky. Home.”