The worst part of picking road cycling as a hobby, Steve sometimes thinks, is that it’s fucking impossible to practise in New York City. Sure, he can always go ride around Prospect Park for shit and giggles, or risk his life in the city traffic, but it’s a lot more fun to do it in the countryside, preferably on quiet roads cutting through fields and forests.
Unfortunately, finding a quiet road means hours worth of driving time first, and there are times when Steve, stuck in the weekend traffic, wonders why he didn’t pick up crossfit, or stamp collecting, or folding plastic bags into tiny triangles or whatever those Konmari people even do. It would certainly be a damn lot easier.
Road cycling races are a good way to get a sneaky weekend getaway, though, and that’s mostly the reason Steve’s ended up in upstate New York on a beautiful May morning, stretching for his first individual time trial of the year near the Canadian border.
The ITT is organized by a local cycling association, and Peggy knows most of the guys from her brief stint as a lab assistant in the nearby city after she graduated from nursing school. She agreed to volunteer as the race medic when the club asked her and ended up ‘dragging’ both Steve and Sam upstate with her, as if Steve could pass up an opportunity for countryside racing. Sam’s along as Steve’s mental support and to fuel his own love for photography by taking photos of people in tight cycling suits.
“Your league is very tiny,” Sam says as he appears next to Steve, his camera bag securely on his shoulder, gesturing towards somebody behind Steve’s back. “Just you and number 107, whoever the hell he is. Apparently this spandex club isn’t exactly a popular hobby around here.”
Steve turns to look at the direction of Sam’s pointing finger. There’s a tall guy standing with his back to them, tattooed arms gesturing as he talks to a sleepy-looking man who’s nodding along. The guy is in a summer cycling suit: black shorts and a wildly-colored t-shirt top, every inch of the fabric clinging to his body.
Race number 107 is sitting nicely on the curve of the guy’s back just above his ass, and Steve can easily pretend to look at the number when he’s actually appreciating the beauty in front of him. 107 is the perfect ITT type, Steve thinks as he tries not to ogle: all lean muscle, slick and aerodynamic, legs for miles and thighs Steve wouldn’t mind having wrapped around his waist, and a round, perky ass he’s pretty sure he’s gonna fantasize about later in the shower.
107 and his assistant - judging from all the chain grease on him - are standing next to one of the sickest ITT bicycles Steve’s ever seen. It’s matte black with silvery details, and the solid disk wheel is painted to look like it’s made from interlocked metal plates, much like the tattoo on 107’s left arm. It’s definitely custom work, and probably expensive as hell.
“Earth to Steve,” Sam says, waving his hand in front of Steve’s eyes. “Stop ogling, you need to leave for the warm-up.”
As if on cue, 107 bends over (Steve nearly swallows his tongue) and picks up the aerodynamic full helmet resting against his foot. He puts it on, claps the mechanic on the shoulder, and grabs his bike. Steve hastens to do the same, almost tripping on his own feet. Sam heaves a put-upon sigh somewhere behind him.
Steve’s been doing a lot of spinning during the winter, but he still feels a little rusty, staring enviously at how effortlessly 107 jumps on his bike and spins off to do his warm-up. It feels good to be on his ITT bike, noticeably different from the bicycle Steve rides around in his daily life, and it doesn’t take long until he finds the right position on the bike and starts to feel the thrill of the upcoming trial. It’s gonna be a full 15-mile sprint; a familiar setting, not a problem after all the workouts, and Steve’s confident in his skin, ready to kickstart the summer cycling season with a good base time.
Once the warm-up is done and Steve’s gearing for his start, Sam pats him on the back and wanders back to his photo spot a few hundred yards away from the finish line.
Steve’s setting off a full two minutes before 107, and he knows his own endurance well enough to be able to pace himself so that he doesn’t use up all his energy right away, or end up riding slower than he had the means to. The first half of the sprint passes in a pleasant haze: Steve’s gotten into the zone, and is spinning on in a steady, brisk pace, enjoying the breeze and the fresh air. The roads are quiet but for a random tractor idling at the crossroads where it’d been stopped by a race volunteer to let Steve pass, or people walking their dogs on the side of the road.
Then, around the 10-mile mark, something purple, pink and black whips past him. Steve’s left staring at 107’s back, his mouth gaping open, before his brain kicks back online and he speeds up, too.
107 is freakishly fast and focused, and watching his perfect form and powerful thighs makes Steve’s knees feel a little weak. Steve manages to stay right behind him easily, and if it was any other race, he would be doing his damndest to try to get ahead and clock a better time. But it’s the first ITT of the year - a test drive, to be honest - and Steve admittedly is a little distracted by 107’s ass and rather enjoys watching it from behind, so what’s the hurry, really.
They’re nearing the goal, Sam perched on a rock on the side of the road, clicking away with his DSLR camera, when suddenly a voice yells in the distance, “Moose!”, and something brown and huge appears on the road.
Steve watches in mute horror, his mouth hanging open, as a full-grown moose barrels across the road, hits the bicycle, and sends number 107 flying into the tarmac. 107 doesn’t manage to twist his pedal locks open quickly enough, so the bike flies with him. He lands hard, skidding a little on the pavement in a pile of carbon fibre and spandex.
Steve winces before his brain comes back online and he brakes hard enough to almost launch himself over his tri-bar, too. “Shit,” he says, barely managing to get his pedal locks open and scrambling off the bike, letting it crash to the side of the road. “Holy shit.”
Sam slowly lowers his camera on the other side of the road and blinks, his mouth open. 107 looks a little stunned as he slowly sits up, and then kicks the locks open, grimacing. There’s some really nasty road rash on his left arm and his legs, and his mouth is pained as he moves his left ankle, probably sprained, but his expression turns into horror as he sees the mangled mess of his bike.
“What the fuck,” 107 shouts, his head whipping towards the moose that’s standing on the road a little further away, looking like an idiot. Steve’s not sure if it even realized it collided with something. “What the fuck, do you fucking know how much customizing that frame cost? I’ll send you the fucking bill, bitch, watch me! I’ll fucking hunt you so I can shoot the bill in your ass!”
Sam and Steve gape a little. 107 pulls off his scuffed, cracked helmet and throws it at the moose, making it hoof it back to the forest. He has incredibly good aim. Steve is a little impressed.
107 is also insanely pretty under that helmet: sweaty dark hair in a French braid, wild and furious grey eyes, a straight nose and an angry, wide mouth. Steve takes it in, his gaze sliding slowly down at the very, very clingy spandex suit and the lean body under it, and suddenly not getting hard in his bike shorts is really damn difficult.
107 screeches as he notices the road rash on his arm: a mess of bloody scrapes, mangling the tattoos on his arm. “What the fucking fuck,” 107 screams in baffled fury, ripping his gloves off and throwing them in the direction the moose went, too. “Come back you fucking glorified forest cow, I will turn you into a fucking fur coat! Do you know how much this tattoo cost, you motherfucking flea nest!”
Sam makes a weird, winded noise, like he’s choking on something. Steve can’t stop staring at the furious, injured man spewing profanities at forest animals while wearing the colors of the bisexual flag on his torso, and a huge Barton’s Bi&Cycle logo across his chest.
Steve’s pretty sure he’s a little in love.
“Steve!” Sam hisses as he scuttles off the rock, putting the camera into the bag on his shoulder. “The dude just collided with a goddamn moose, don’t just stand there making gooey eyes at him! Take him to the medic, damn it.”
“Yeah,” Steve says, blinking, stunned by the moose of love Cupid just launched his way.
Sam groans in a long-suffering way.
Steve feels like he’s in some wild fever dream as he walks closer and says, “Hey, you all right?”
107 looks up. He looks even prettier up close, even (or especially, Steve’s mind supplies unhelpfully) with his cheeks flushed with the exercise and sweat beading on his forehead. He does look a little crazy, though.
“Huh,” 107 says, looks down Steve’s body, then up again. “I know we just met, but your dick looks like it’s getting strangled.”
Sam makes a warbling sound somewhere behind Steve. Steve looks down at his dick, suddenly very, very self-conscious, and yeah. 107 kinda has a point. Steve’s never gonna wear anything but black bike shorts again. The red spandex definitely isn’t working for anybody with a penis.
“Uh,” Steve says, smooth as always. “Can I take you to the first aid?”
“You look like the American flag,” 107 replies, looking a little concussed but regarding Steve’s suit critically. “We’re gonna clash, and my flag is cooler. But okay.”
“You’re bleeding pretty badly,” Steve says, zeroing on the angry and really fucking painful-looking road rash on 107’s left thigh. “Fuck. Uh.”
“It’s all right,” 107 says, but he looks like he might be going into shock, and Steve panics a little, grabs the hem of his t-shirt and pulls it over his head; wraps the gross, sweaty shirt around the wound to stop the bleeding. He tries to position it so that the one dry patch of the fabric is against the wound, just to make it marginally less yucky.
“Oh my god,” Sam says, sounding like he’s trying to hold his laughter, and Steve ignores it, his ears heating up. “Steve. Steve, please. That’s so unnecessary, Jesus fuck.”
“Shut up,” 107 says to Sam, staring at Steve’s pecs, glistening in the sun. “It’s very, very necessary. Go find my moose.”
Sam snorts with laughter and gives up. Steve pulls 107’s legs gently from the wreckage of the bicycle, mindful of the sprained ankle, and then very carefully scoops the man up into a bridal carry; bisexual flag shirt and all. 107 promptly burrows closer and lays his sweaty head against Steve’s bare shoulder, and suddenly everything feels a lot more intimate than it was supposed to.
Steve desperately tries to think about the moose.
“You got a name, Cycling Patriot?” 107 asks in a low voice as Steve starts to carry him towards the first aid tent behind the next bend in the road. His breath is hot on Steve’s neck.
“Steve,” Steve says, canting his hips back to put some distance between their bodies while trying to balance a grown man in his arms. He’s fairly sure he looks mildly constipated.
“That’s a very wholesome name,” 107 agrees, hissing as Steve accidentally jostles his banged-up leg. “If you see that fucking moose on your next hunting trip, Patriot Steve, tell it that I have some unfinished business with it.”
“I’m a vegetarian,” Steve says.
“Good,” 107 says, and there’s a little crazy look in his eyes again when Steve glances down. “More blood for me.”
As they round the bend, there’s a red-haired woman running towards them. “James,” she yells as soon as she sees them. “Care to explain why the fuck a volunteer came running in and told me you’ve been hit by an animal and that your bike is a fucking wreck?”
“Nat,” apparently-called-James-107 says, “Be a sweetheart and pull out all your fancy black ops knowledge, I need you to track a moose.”
“I’m not gonna track anything, except your stupid ass down to the nearest hospital,” Nat replies, then zeroes in on Steve. “And who the fuck are you?”
“Uh,” Steve says. “Steve. I was behind him when the moose turned up.”
“Hmm.” Nat narrows her eyes at him, then whips around. “Come on then. Clint’s going to get your bike, James, and he’s probably gonna cry. Just so you know.”
“What the fuck do you think I’m gonna do once I get over this shock,” James mutters under his breath, clinging to Steve. He’s very warm, and Steve tries to think about anything else but that.
Toilet paper. His late mom’s terrible cabbage casserole. Arizona ice tea. Cats doing The Loaf. The smell of bike shorts after a race.
That one works almost too well.
Nat leads them into a small party tent with a hand-written first aid sign. When they enter, Peggy looks up and makes a put-upon face at the sight. “Steve,” she says. “What the hell? Why are you shirtless.”
“Don’t look at me,” Steve exclaims, clutching James tighter. “It was a moose.”
“And that moose will be dead as soon as I can walk,” James adds in a cheerful but borderline hysteric voice.
Peggy looks at them for a long time, gaze slowly moving between Steve and James, and then she looks at Nat, brows raised. She shrugs in response, and Peggy narrows her eyes.
“All right,” she says slowly, gesturing at the cot put up in the corner. “Put him down, I need to take a look.”
Steve lowers James on the cot and steps back, but James grabs his wrist and looks up with wide eyes. “Avenge me,” he says, his expression daring Steve to laugh.
“I’ll try,” Steve promises solemnly, and proceeds to hover as Peggy peels off the nasty shirt and whistles at the damage, impressed. Steve stays until James’s ankle has been bound, iced and elevated, and Peggy’s done a head exam. Nat is eyeing Steve with a thoughtful expression, and her scrutiny is starting to make him so uncomfortable that he starts inching towards the door.
“Go get a fresh shirt, Steve,” Peggy says pointedly as she’s cleaning the abrasions on James’s arm. Then she says to James, “You should go to the hospital to get checked just in case, but it looks like you just have a mild concussion and a sprained ankle.”
“We’ll take him there, as soon as Barton comes back with the bike,” Nat agrees, and Steve takes that as his cue and ducks out of the tent, casting the last longing glance towards James. James looks back, eyes huge in his pale face, and Steve thinks that his heart might be breaking.
James is going to the hospital, and then god knows where. Steve has to drive back to NYC as soon as Peggy is cleared to leave, and it’s very likely that he’s never going to see James again, unless they happen to bump into each other in some other race in northeast US. The thought makes him droop; usually he doesn’t crush on anybody this fast or this hard, but there aren’t any moose or beautiful, furious road cyclists involved usually, either.
Steve wanders off to find Sam, who’s thoughtfully brought Steve’s bike back from the accident site and is eating trail mix, sitting on Steve’s overnight bag next to their car.
“Hey,” Sam says when he spots Steve, and digs a dry t-shirt from under his ass, throwing it to Steve. “What’s with the long face? You look like that moose kicked your puppy.”
“His name is James,” Steve says mournfully as he tugs the shirt on. “And he’s going to the hospital to get checked.”
“Ouch, but that’s probably for the best after the flight he took,” Sam agrees. “You gonna swoop into the hospital, sweep him off his feet, and go make six thousand two-wheeled babies with him?”
“No,” Steve says, thinking longingly about all the Ben & Jerry’s he’s gonna buy to survive the heartbreak. “He could live anywhere, Sam. He could be from Vermont, or Maine. Or Canada, god damn. I’ll never see him again.”
“Steve,” Sam says, looking thoroughly done. “That motherfucker had the thickest New York accent I’ve heard in my life. I’ll eat my camera bag if he’s from fucking Vermont, and there isn’t one single Canadian in existence as mean and angry as that guy.”
“That doesn’t mean a thing,” Steve laments. “He could be from Jersey. He could be from the Bronx.”
“Stop being overdramatic, you baby, the Bronx is literally a part of New York City,” Sam says, but Steve shakes his head sadly at him.
“Do you even know how long it takes to get from south Brooklyn to the Bronx, Sam? Hours.”
“I give up, man,” Sam says, heaving a deep sigh and getting up to open the trunk of the car. “I hope you die alone.”
Steve thinks it is a very likely scenario.
Two weeks later, Steve’s standing at the crossing of Flatbush and Cortelyou, waiting for the light to change. It’s late afternoon, and he’s dangling a CVS bag full of beer in his hand, feeling guilty for taking the complementary plastic bag instead of bringing his own. He’s vowing to focus on his recycling better, when suddenly a car horn blares right next to him, making him jump.
“Watch it, asshole,” somebody yells, and Steve looks up, because the voice sounded weirdly familiar.
107 - James - is standing at the curb, bicycle between his legs and both middle fingers up at the driver who’s cut right in front of him and is already speeding to make it through the changing traffic lights. He’s wearing bike shorts and a black compression shirt, his helmet the standard model instead of a fancy competition one. He looks tired and pissed off and so beautiful that Steve momentarily forgets how to breathe.
James mutters something at himself as he lowers his hands and settles in to wait for the green light. Steve should be crossing the street already, but it’s like his feet are glued to the pavement, people weaving effortlessly around him as he stands there, spellbound.
“James?” Steve asks, timid, disbelieving, but James hears it, looks up, and meets Steve’s eye.
He frowns a little, then his eyebrows arch higher in surprise and recognition, and he asks, “Patriot Steve?”
“Yeah,” Steve says, and then blurts out the first thing that comes to his mind, right after are you France, because I’d like to do a Tour in you. “Did you ever find that moose?”
James barks a laugh, dismounts the bike and lifts it onto the sidewalk to get out of the traffic, leaning the bike against a lamppost. He unclips the helmet and hangs it on the handlebar like he’s prepared to talk with Steve for longer than fifteen seconds; his hair looks really soft to touch, and his eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles. Steve wants to have his babies.
“No,” James says. “But I’m prepared to hire Barton for a hunting trip come fall. He does archery.” He extends a hand towards Steve. “The fucking fur cow prevented me from actually introducing myself. Bucky Barnes.”
“Bucky,” Steve repeats, pretty sure he can hear angels singing, and shakes Bucky’s hand. “Nice to, um, meet you. Again. I’m Steve Rogers.” He should probably let go of Bucky’s hand. “How’s your leg?”
“Good as new,” Bucky says, smiling crookedly. He’s not letting go of Steve’s hand either. “But my tattoo’s fucked to hell.”
Steve glances down, and sure enough, there’s still some scabs on Bucky’s arm; the new, pink skin ruining the lines of his tattoo. “You seem pretty chill about it,” Steve observes, carefully.
Bucky snorts, but his eyes go a little crazy again. “Trust me, I might seem chill, but if I see a motherfucking moose ever again in my life, I’m gonna flip a fucking table and kill it with my teeth. If you know taxidermy, now would be a great time to tell me. I want to send the head to its family as a warning.”
Steve nods fervently, then shakes his head when he realizes what he might be implying about his hidden skills. Bucky grins at him, glances down and seems to realize that they’re still holding hands, standing in front of the convenience store like a pair of idiots. Steve is pretty sure his beer is already lukewarm, and he couldn’t care less.
Bucky lets go, and Steve might mourn the loss of contact, if Bucky weren’t blushing. Sure, it’s faint and it also might be from the cycling, but the almost bashful duck of his head is most definitely not something Steve made up, and that’s when he realizes he’s in trouble. Because Bucky?
Bucky is fucking adorable.
“Hey,” Steve blurts, “are you the yellow shirt?”
Bucky looks up, taken aback, and opens his mouth as if to say something, but Steve powers over him. “Because I’d love to have you wrapped around me.”
There’s a heavy, pregnant silence for long enough that Steve starts to wish he could liquefy and drip down into the drain, and then Bucky starts laughing, and just. Doesn’t stop. He bends over, holding his stomach, and laughs and laughs and laughs, until he’s red-faced and wheezing, trying to wipe tears from his eyes.
Steve falls in love all over again.
“Oh no,” Bucky says, voice breaking with mirth, “oh fucking no, you have to be good-looking and a fucking dork, oh my god. I’m in so much trouble, Jesus.” He wipes his eyes again, straightens up, and takes a deep breath. “Steve, wanna come over and get a pizza?”
Steve’s pretty sure that his soul has left his body. “Yeah,” he manages. “Yeah. That sounds great.”
Bucky’s face splits into a huge smile. “Really?”
Steve shrugs, awkwardly. “I lost the opportunity when we were upstate,” he says, “but I don’t wanna moose you now.”
Bucky loses it again, flailing a hand at Steve’s direction as he cackles, until Steve steps closer and Bucky’s hand lands on his chest. Bucky bites his lip and inhales audibly to calm down, then slides his hand up to cup the side of Steve’s neck, his mouth still twitching with suppressed laughter.
“That’s good,” he says, mouth tugging helplessly into a grin, “because I can wheel the love tonight.”
Seriously, what else is Steve supposed to do after a pun like that? “Can I kiss you?” he asks, his hands already settling on Bucky’s waist, trim and warm under the compression shirt.
“You fuckin’ better,” Bucky says, smiling, leans in and tugs Steve down into a kiss. When Steve kisses back, Bucky presses closer, one hand on Steve’s neck and one still clutching the bike in case some opportunistic asshole decides to ruin the romance and steal it.
Bucky kisses like he cycles; focused and making Steve’s knees feel like jello, and Steve can’t help but feel grateful for the moose that made all this happen. His hand slips down a little, coming to rest on top of the curve of Bucky’s ass.
It’s a very, very nice ass. Steve maybe - just maybe, he admits nothing - squeezes it discreetly.
A guy manning the fruit stand next to CVS applauds them, and Steve thinks that Bucky laughing against his mouth is worth every single second of the excruciating car ride back to NYC with Sam and Peggy, and the ten tubs of ice cream he’s eaten in the past two weeks.
They get a pizza. Tour de Bucky turns out to be the best sex Steve’s had in his life, and Bucky himself turns out to be smart, hard-working, funny as shit, a little insane, and pretty much perfect. He even uses his own recyclable shopping bag at Whole Foods.
For Steve’s birthday, Sam gives him a big hug, and a handmade accordion album with an eight-photo series of Bucky colliding with the moose. Bucky’s eyes go unfocused with rage when he sees it, so Steve hides it in his office, where he can gaze at it adoringly whenever he pleases.
Bucky gives him an official Barton’s Bi&Cycle cycling shirt, and ties him to the bedpost. Steve’s never had a better birthday.
He sort of wishes he could send that moose a fruit basket, though.