There were strict rules about music in Avengers Tower now that Bucky had been moved in. Gone were the days where Tony cranked classic rock in the garage and just let it blast for anyone and everyone to hear.
The first and very important rule to be set was: no dance music allowed in the workout room. This rule was established after one day Sam had put on some Black Eyed Peas as a joke. He found it hilarious that Bucky would start moving to the beat unconsciously whenever he was in the proximity of dance music. Add to that, dance music seemed to confuse the hell out of Steve’s star-spangled mayonnaise ass.
So the first part of the song found Sam sitting on the pilates ball in the corner, quietly snickering to himself as Steve tried to decide if he should be lifting to the beat, while Bucky’s feet and hips started to move on their own. Then will.i.am dropped the beat and Sam fell down laughing, because all of a sudden Bucky was ass-clapping and booty-popping like a pro. Poor Steve nearly swallowed his own tongue and managed to drop a 5k dumbbell on his throat, and that was that. No more dance music in the workout room.
Of course Steve was perfectly fine. Bucky was utterly mortified and hid in his room for a week. Tony was intrigued. With Bucky sulking, there was nothing stopping him from analyzing the video footage from every angle, and replaying it over and over on the Tower’s intranet channel for everyone’s viewing enjoyment. At least until Steve hunted him down and disapproving-dad-glared him into shutting it off.
There was no denying music had an effect on Bucky. Sam had already started sending him every playlist he could think of when Steve mentioned to him in passing one day that Bucky had been an amazing dancer in the 30’s and 40’s. Then it clicked. Two creative therapy sessions later, and Bucky was on a new prescription, Sam’s orders: dance at least twice a day.
Though he started out hiding in his room, it quickly consumed him. There was rarely a moment Bucky was to be found without earbuds in. Sam said it helped him be present physically, but Steve wasn’t so sure. Bucky always looked distant now, and he didn’t like it. He also didn’t like the way Tony’s eyes followed Bucky around a room as he stretched and moved, like a predatory thing.
Then came the gifts: first, Bucky’s exclusive right to turn on whatever music he wanted in whatever part of the Tower he wanted. It wasn’t always Big Band anymore, thanks to Sam’s interfering, and Steve had a hard time loving most modern music. Not to mention it was disconcerting to be in the middle of a briefing and have Average White Band suddenly blast your hypersensitive eardrums to dust.
Tony was endlessly amused by what music Bucky would put on. Steve couldn’t help but notice it started off with an awful lot of 1970s music, which was Tony’s favourite decade. But it quickly grew more eclectic. Steve grinned and bore it, because Sam said Bucky was progressing by leaps and bounds. Dancing gave him an outlet to express himself that didn’t require words, didn’t require him having to face anyone or struggle to connect, which was his main challenge apart from remembering.
And then, all of a sudden, he was connecting. It was Nat first.
Nat had always had a soft spot for Bucky. They’d served the same master for years, after all. When Sam suggested that jogging Bucky’s linguistic memory might help open up closed-off parts of his brain, it was Nat who sat with him for hours, switching from language to language, relentlessly attempting to engage Bucky in conversation. That was no easy task, even for Steve. It got to be a semi-regular occurrence at the Tower to find Nat curled up in a chair talking to Bucky, who wouldn’t look at her and only gave one or two word answers, but nevertheless stayed until she was finished trying. Steve was so grateful to her for putting in so much time. He knew Bucky was nothing to her except Steve’s old pal who had consumed his nearly every thought night and day for two years between D.C. and Vienna.
Then he caught them holding hands, and nearly blew a gasket. It was Tony who calmed Steve down long enough to actually talk with Bucky about it before going on the attack with Nat, who’d promised. She’d promised he could trust her.
But when he found Bucky later and asked about it, Bucky explained that he felt safe with Nat. Because she understood. A little.
That broke Steve’s heart. “I wanna understand, Buck,” Steve told him. “Some days...I’d give anything to understand.” He leaned his forehead against Bucky’s, resting a gentle hand on the back of his head.
“No,” Bucky told him vehemently. “You don’t know what you’re sayin’, Steve. I never want you to know what this is like. Never.”
There was a painful lump in Steve’s throat. “I just wanna help, Buck. Sometimes you feel so far away… Is she there? She’s there and I’m not--” Bucky covered Steve’s mouth with his palm.
“She understands a little, Steve. And I understand that part of her. But she’s not there in that place you keep tryin’ to find me. No one’s there. Just me.”
“I hate it, Buck.” Steve was close to tears, gathering Bucky in his arms and holding him close. “I hate it so much. Don’t want you to be alone.”
Bucky sighed. “I’m not alone, Stevie. Not anymore.”
So Steve let it go. When he really looked at it--and after a few hours of Tony replaying video footage for him and pointing out minutiae that only Tony would fixate on--Steve realized the hand-holding, it was really more of a Hansel and Gretel wandering through the forest thing. They didn’t hug. They didn’t even sit together on the same chair or couch. If Steve wanted to get jealous, he had the main perpetrator of Bucky-touching standing right next to him. But that was a lost cause, and a difficult enough relationship without taking his insecurities out on Tony.
He made the mistake of mentioning it one morning over coffee with Sam as they sat together near the Mall. Sam had continued his work with the VA in D.C., and Steve liked to fly down with him for a competitive morning run and real talk with his best friend at least once a week.
When Sam’s reaction was to smile, Steve wanted to punch him a little. “Okay, so who reached out first?”
Steve blinked. “I...have no idea. Whaddayou mean?”
“Whose idea was it to hold hands? The Tin Man or Red-hot Riding Hood?”
Steve scowled into his latte. “Well how should I know?”
“Well it sounds like you’ve been putting a lot of research into this.”
“I dunno.” Steve shook his head. “I guess I could have Tony check the footage.”
“Steve.” He looked up. Sam’s expression was concerned. “Why is this so important to you?”
“He’s my best friend, dammit,” Steve grunted. “He’s my lifeline, not everyone else’s. Bad enough I gotta share him with Tony, but Nat?” He ran fingers through his hair. “How am I supposed to compete with Nat?”
“She is gorgeous,” Sam nodded. “But we really need to stop treating her as this unknowable sex object instead of a person.”
Steve was shocked and offended. “I never treated her that way!”
“No, you didn’t.” Sam held up a finger. “Until she started getting close to your buddy.” Sam leaned closer. “Steve, you’re assuming that she’s connecting with Barnes on a romantic level. Now think about it: is that how you connect with Nat?”
“No.” Steve was still feeling indignant.
“Okay, so if Bucky is taking his socialization cues from you , why would he be connecting with her that way?”
“He--” Steve pursed his lips. “I guess--I don’t know.”
“Right.” Sam sat back, looking self-satisfied. It pissed Tony off no end when Sam got that look, but he had a bad history with psychologists. Steve was always grateful for Sam’s insights. And all the work he’d been doing to help Bucky.
“But Nat--” It was still bothering Steve. “Why wouldn’t she be…you know. Women love that wounded puppy thing, don’t they?”
Sam just stared at him. “You did not just say that.”
“Okay, hold on.” Steve raised his hands in surrender. “Just. Talk to me like another guy and not like a counselor right now.” Sam looked wary, but he was also grinning. “Girls...okay, women. Bucky is really attractive, right?”
“I don’t know, Steve. You tell me.”
“Okay, just. Shut up.” Steve threw a napkin at him. “I said turn off all that psychological mumbo jumbo stuff.”
Sam was grinning from ear to ear. “Sure. Okay, but let’s say I was still a mental health professional and not just your best friend. I might tell you you’re projecting.”
Steve snorted, half considering just getting up and walking home. He was helpless when Sam started teasing him like this. “Come on, man.”
Sam leaned his elbows on the table. “Okay, fine. Have you talked to Romanov about it?”
Steve looked indignant. “Pff. No!”
“Look, I’m not gonna walk up to Nat and ask her is she stealing my boyfriend.”
“Oh, so he’s your boyfriend now.” Sam smiled, fluttering his eyelashes. It was like having a conversation with a sixth grader sometimes.
“Shut up!” But Steve wasn’t really steamed, more embarrassed.
Sam was having the time of his life. “Steve and Bucky sittin’ in a tree…”
Steve hid his face in his hands. Good thing they weren’t in a public place or anything. “Can you please stop?” Sam knew damn well who Steve slept with at night.
Sam laughed. “Okay, okay. But seriously. You need to talk to people before you fly off the handle, alright?”
Steve groaned. “Fine.”
“And stop taking advice from Tony. That guy’s the posterboy for mental health awareness.” Steve gave him a look. “Don’t look at me like that. You know I’m right. Just because he’s your super-husband…”
“Tony is not my husband.”
“No, he’s just the guy who pays for everything, cleans up the messes you make, and enables all of your self-destructive behavior.” Steve was clenching his jaw so hard, his teeth were groaning. “And don’t act like that bedroom is soundproof. Everyone in that Tower knows how the three of you go at it.”
He’d pulled the rug out from under Steve, who was suddenly beet red, and looking for the morning paper to hide behind.
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with having a healthy sex life.”
“Sam, please stop talking.”
“I mean, I’ve gotta hand it to you guys that you can even keep a polyamorous relationship going. That’s not easy.”
“Sure, Stark’s had years of practice, but let’s face it. He was never successful before n--”
“Sam!” Steve slammed his hands down on the table.
Sam just sipped his coffee, staring meaningfully at Steve. He took a deep breath. “You’re not suggestin’...” He couldn’t even look at Sam. “I should let Buck go…”
Sam’s eyebrows rose. “Maybe you should talk that over with Tony before you actually consider giving your boyfriend away to a person who’s become a pseudo-sibling to him. And really screwing things up.”
Steve’s brow crinkled. “Okay, so don’t do that.”
“Don’t do that, Steve.”
“Alright.” Steve nodded, reassuring himself. “I just need a straight answer sometimes, so. Thanks.”
“My pleasure.” Now why was his voice dripping sarcasm? Sometimes Sam was just so hard to comprehend.