“Hey, man, will you watch my stuff?”
Steve looks up from where he’s been studying. When he sat down, his table was empty. Then, about an hour in, he showed up. Tall, with wide shoulders, a narrow waist, and thick, dark hair piled up on the top of his head. He looks fantastic in soft, worn jeans, and dark red Henley that stretches across his chest in ways that make Steve go a little cross-eyed.
(Of course, Steve’s favorite is the slate blue cardigan, the one that he wears on what Steve imagines are his lazy days – when he’s unshaven and looking deliciously scruffy on blue cardigan days.)
“Sure,” Steve answers, and watches the way the other man sucks his bottom lip into his mouth, biting before releasing it. It’s red and shiny and Steve catches himself touching his tongue to his own lip, before he flushes scarlet and looks away.
“Appreciate it,” the man says, rising. “I’ll be right back.”
Steve nods, but doesn’t think much more of it.
He’s had a crush on the guy - Bucky - since last year, when he’d looked up and across the quad and saw Bucky gliding past him on a skateboard, longish hair flowing in the breeze, body swaying and looking like absolutely everything Steve ever wanted in a boy. A man.
Bucky is definitely a man.
Sighing, he rolls his eyes at himself. Never gonna happen, Rogers, he reminds himself.
He’s tucked into one of the back tables at the library, desperately trying to cram the last few facts about Mannerism vs. Romanticism in art history into his brain. He reaches out and pulls the guy’s laptop a little closer, just into his sightlines, and goes back to his homemade flash cards.
After about twenty minutes though, he starts to wonder. Bucky hasn’t turned up again, and Steve’s beginning to worry. He’s supposed to leave in the next half hour. What if Bucky doesn’t come back?
He could pack up Bucky’s things and drop them by the Student Resource Center. He knows that Bucky works at the Vet’s Center, and that his friend, Natasha, works at the International Student Center. Of course, Steve probably can’t confess to knowing any of this without looking like a stalker. Which he totally isn’t, no matter what Sam says.
It’s just...Bucky must have come in as a transfer student, because Steve would have noticed him earlier, of course he would have.
But he didn’t see Bucky until the start of his junior year, and then? He saw Bucky everywhere.
Bucky was at the food court getting a green smoothie. He was at Starbucks, stuffing a sandwich into his backpack. Sitting in the front row of HST 362 - The Lasting Legacy of World War II. Steve took it as part of his breadth program, but from the way that Bucky and the professor interacted, Bucky was either majoring or minoring in History.
Steve had been working up the nerve to talk to the guy one day - he wasn’t trying to be a stalker - shut up, Sam - when he’d looked up from his desk at the Queer Resource Center where he works as a student assistant, and saw Bucky walk into one of the ACE/Space monthly meetings.
When Steve was hired on at the resource center, they’d done a full three-day training event going over the best ways to support students, how to use gender neutral language, appropriate pronoun use, how to be generally mindful of various sexual and gender identities, and above all, how to hold confidential anything that a student might disclose. The entire concept of someone being aromantic or asexual was baffling to Steve, so he’d assigned himself some extra homework – reading a few blogs and talking with his boss, Maria.
He knew enough to understand that some people who identified as asexual still wanted romantic relationships, and that some were sex-positive and didn’t mind sexual touching now and then.
But he also knows himself. He knows he has a high sex drive, he knows he’s a very tactile person, and he knows he would hate himself if he’d ever put any undue pressure on a partner.
So he stopped. He stopped trying to come up with clever ways to talk to Bucky. He stopped detouring past the History department in hopes of bumping into Bucky, and he stopped looking for Bucky everywhere he went on campus.
If sometimes he studied under the tree that had the best view of the Vet’s Center, well, that was his business and his alone. The point is that he knows it isn’t ever going to go anywhere. A fella could still dream.
Steve’s just about at the end of his rope. He’s so distracted waiting for Bucky to come back that he’s not getting any studying done. Looking around the library, he doesn’t see Bucky anywhere.
He’s just about to pack everything up when a tall blonde guy starts walking over with purpose, headed right for Steve. He’s wearing lavender shirt and has a band-aid across the bridge of his nose. When he stops at Steve’s table, Steve’s on full alert.
“Hey, man,” the guy says. “Just picking up my friend’s stuff.”
“What?” Steve gapes. Who the hell is this guy? He can’t just - he’s not letting this guy just take off with Bucky’s stuff.
“Yeah, he sent me over to grab his laptop and stuff.” The guy seems like kind of a mess, and Steve thinks he can see this guy and Bucky being friends, but he’s certainly never seen the guy before in his life. It takes him all of ten seconds to decide he’s not having it.
“I’m sorry,” Steve says, placing one big hand over Bucky’s laptop. “I can’t let you do that.”
The guy goggles for a moment, but then moves forward anyway. “Yeah, no. It’s cool. He asked me to come grab his stuff.”
“Not happening” Steve asks, feeling testy and protective at once. “I don’t know who you think you are,” he says, rising, “but you’re not walking out of here with Bucky’s stuff.”
“I’m his - his boyfriend,” the guy says. “Who the hell are you?”
A short, derisive laugh leaves Steve’s mouth. “I’m the guy he asked to watch his stuff,” Steve says. “And you are definitely not his boyfriend.”
The guy’s mouth drops open for a moment before he snaps it shut. “I….”
“That’s what I thought,” Steve says. “Beat it.”
Mr. Purple Shirt takes a step back, but then surges forward again. Steve wouldn’t have thought twice about taking on the guy back when he was a hundred pounds of righteousness, so he sure doesn’t think twice now. He draws himself up to his full six-feet-two height, takes a deep breath and sets his shoulders back.
Blinking up at him, purple shirt holds his hands up in surrender. “Look,” he says, “I really am supposed to pick up his stuff.”
“Yeah?” Steve asks. “Why not call him? If he tells me to let you have his stuff, then fine.”
The blonde guy quails a moment. “I don’t have my phone on me.”
“That’s fine - use mine,” Steve says, fishing his phone out of his pocket.
“I...uh, I don’t remember his number.”
Steve laughs, short and derisive. “Sure, pal. Now get out of here. If you are his friend, you can let him know I’m dropping his stuff off where he works. He can pick it up there.”
Standing back the guy looks Steve up and down, eyes widening. “Holy shit! You’re hot queer guy! Oh my god, this makes so much more sense now.” He runs a hand through his hair then across his face, wincing when he hits his nose.
“I’m what now?” Steve asks, because none of that made any sense.
“You work at the Queer Resource Center, right?”
“I...do,” Steve says, giving the guy another look up and down,
“Yeah,” the guys says. “Yeah, of course. “Listen,” he says, and walks over to the table, swinging Steve’s notebook over and picking up his pencil.
Steve blanches because, well, there’s a small sketch of Bucky in the upper corner of the page, and for a moment he feels like all of Sam’s teasing has come back to bite him.
“Nice work, by the way,” the guy says, tapping the end of the pencil against the drawing. “This is perfect.” He writes something down and hands the pad over to Steve, along with the pencil.
“What…?” Steve ask, looking down at the address penciled in there.
“That’s Bucky’s address. You can drop his stuff off there.”
Steve looks at the pad, and it’s an off-campus address only a few blocks from his place.
“I”m Clint, by the way,” he says, and holds his hand out.
“Steve,” he says slowly, and shakes Clint’s hand.
“It is so good to finally meet you,” Clint says. “Gotta run,” he says, and walks away, leaving Steve to wonder what the hell just happened.
It only takes him a few more minutes to realize that a) he’s not getting any more studying done and b) Bucky’s probably waiting for his things. With a sigh, he packs everything up and heads out.
The apartment door is nondescript, and Steve double checks the address on the notepad to be sure before knocking.
“‘Bout fuckin’ time you assh- oh.”
Bucky opens the door and stares at Steve, gape-mouthed and looking gorgeous. His dark hair is piled up on top of his head and strands of it fall down, framing his sharp jaw. His eyes are a mix of blue and gray, but they’re leaning bluer right now. When Steve glances down, he sees that Bucky’s changed into the blue cardigan, and that he’s removed his fancy prosthetic.
“You’re not Clint,” Bucky says, and Steve smiles.
“He came for your stuff, but I wouldn’t let him have it. You asked me to watch it, and I didn’t know him, so...he gave me your address.”
“He -” Bucky sighs and swears softly under his breath.
“Hey,” Steve says. “Sorry, I’m not trying to intrude, I just - I didn’t want to let someone steal your stuff. Here.” He holds out Bucky’s backpack with all of his things stored safely inside. “I didn’t, you know, go through it or anything.”
“No,” Bucky says. “It’s - God, it’s so nice of you to do this. You want...you wanna come in? Have a beer?” There’s something in his face that’s sweet, and hopeful.
Steve can’t bring himself to say no.
Four hours later, they’re in stitches on Bucky’s couch. The movie Bucky’d put on was long forgotten as the two of them started talking about, well, everything. They order pizzas, a large each, and proceed to demolish them. Steve eats his and is eyeing the last quarter of Bucky’s when Bucky pushes it over toward him.
“Go on,” he says and Steve flushes.
“Nah, I’m fine. I’m not even hungry. It’s just…” he shrugs.
“Pal, I can’t eat another bite, so if you want it, you should eat it.
Steve vacillates for a moment before reaching for a slice.
“You absolute garbage truck of a human being,” Bucky says and Steve’s blush goes two shades deeper.
“Fuck off,” he says, when he sees the grin Bucky’s fighting back, and the two of them dissolve into laughter all over again.
“How have we never hung out before?” Bucky asks. “You’re hilarious.”
“I have no idea,” Steve answers. “And you’re the only one who thinks so.”
“Well, I do have a broken brain, so that might explain it.”
At that, Steve sobers, and the mood turns somber. Steve knows he’s a vet, and that he was probably combat injured.
“I’m fine now,” Bucky says. “Really. I have to take a lot of notes,” he says, “and sometimes I have to take my tests orally, but I’m fine.”
“Okay,” Steve says, easy as that, because if Bucky says he’s fine, then he probably is. And if he’s not, he sure as hell doesn’t want to talk to Steve about it.
“Okay,” Bucky says, his voice soft. He looks up at Steve from under his lashes and oh, hell. He is not prepared for this. Not at all.
Over the next few months, Steve and Bucky become damn near inseparable. Steve meets Nat and Clint (again), and Kate and America, who work at the Vet’s Center with Bucky. Steve introduces him to his best friend Sam, Sam’s boyfriend Riley, and Tony and Pepper and Rhodey and Bruce, Steve’s friends from freshman year.
Bucky listens one night when Steve tells him about delaying the start of college to take care of his mom, who passed three years ago from cancer. He takes Steve’s hand and gives it a squeeze and Steve’s heart does that fluttery thing behind his ribs. He ignores it.
When Bucky has blue cardigan days, Steve shows up with pizza and ice cream, and sometimes a fifth of Jack, and sits quietly at Bucky’s side, listening when Bucky needs to talk, sitting in silence when he doesn’t, and one night, holding Bucky as he cried himself out, leaning into Steve’s chest, before falling asleep there, his breath puffing soft against Steve’s neck, and all Steve could think was that he is so, so fucked. So fucked.
It’s just - he wants Bucky. He wants him. He wants to hang out with him after class and study for exams and eat so much pizza that they both have food babies. He wants Bucky falling asleep on him every night, snuffling against Steve’s skin, fingers digging into his shirt, holding on, even in dreams. He wants to look up from his desk and see Bucky gliding by on his skateboard, hair blowing in the breeze like he’s some kind of super model, and more than any of that, above any of that, he wants to kiss him. He wants - god, he wants to get his mouth all over Bucky. Wants to hear the sounds he’ll make and swallow them, wants to make him breathe hard, make him whine, make him cry out, and do it again and again and again.
But that’s not what Bucky wants.
So Steve tamps down that desire, turns it off as best he can, and instead works at being the best friend he can be, because that’s something Bucky does want, and Steve would give him anything.
They’re celebrating finals - one more semester down - at the pizza joint that’s halfway between Steve and Bucky’s places. There are three pies and two pitchers of beer between them. Nat and Clint are there, and Sam and Riley, and when Steve looks around the table, they all seem coupled up, and a flash of loneliness hits him, hard and fast.
Eventually, he’s going to have to let go of this thing with Bucky. He knows it’s true, but it’s the last thing - the very last thing - he wants to do. Next to him, Bucky snorts at something Nat says and leans into Steve’s side. Steve brings a smile up and looks over at Bucky, who’s watching him with a curious look on his face.
“Later,” Steve mouths, and concern flickers over Bucky’s face before he goes back to listening to whatever Nat’s talking about. In a few minutes, he slips back into the conversation, going on as though it’s just another day.
And it is, until later that night. They’d ended up at Bucky’s place, where Nat made lethal margaritas and Clint set to work trying to explain to them all how Mulan was the most underrated of the Disney films of the 90’s.
“Little Mermaid,” Bucky pipes up.
“Not underrated, and not the 90’s,” Steve answers.
“Tarzan,” Riley says, and yelps when Sam pokes him. “What? He’s hot.”
“Why am I with you?” Sam asks, pinching the bridge of his nose.
Eventually, everyone heads home, filled with pizza and booze and freedom from academic oppression, at least for the next ten weeks.
Steve stays behind to help Bucky clean up, because Bucky is downright sloshy with margaritas and he looks so soft that Steve can’t help but want to bask in his glow, just a little bit longer.
“You don’t gotta do that,” Bucky says, grinning up at Steve from the couch.
Steve ties off the trash bag he’s holding and sets it beside the front door. “I’ll take that out when I go,” he says.
“You don’t gotta do that, either,” Bucky says, and the way he’s looking at Steve, up from under his lashes, that soft smile on his mouth, god, it makes him want and want and want .
Closing his eyes, Steve pushes down his frustration and finds a smile for his friend. “Yeah, Buck, I do.”
He turns around to grab his jacket from the back of a chair at the kitchen table when he feels Bucky come right up behind him.
When he turns around, Bucky’s staring up at him, eyes soft and wide and he’s - god, Steve can’t stop looking at his mouth.
“No,” Bucky says. “You don’t.” He reaches out and takes Steve’s hand in his, and Steve, god, he’s aching with how much he wants this, but he knows it would never be enough.
“Come on, Stevie. I’m dyin’ here.” Bucky leans up and presses his mouth against Steve’s, light and soft, just a brush of lips and it’s perfect. It’s soft and sweet and Steve finds himself fisting Bucky’s shirt in one hand, and that’s what makes him push away.
When he does, he sees, just for a second, the shattered glimpse of rejection on Bucky’s face, and for just that second, he hates himself.
“It’s not - Bucky, come on. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. I have. Of course I have. You’re - you’re gorgeous and hilarious and you’re - Jesus, Buck, you’re perfect. You’re perfect,” he says because he might as well. He might as well spill his stupid guts, because this might be the only time he gets to tell Bucky how much he cares about him.
“Then I don’t get it,” Bucky says, and he’s pulled far enough away that Steve misses his body heat, here in the balmy May evening. “You want this,” Bucky says. “I know you do. Jesus, Rogers, I can practically smell it on you, and I thought maybe you just wanted to go slow, but you’re - I don’t know what you’re waiting for anymore.”
“It’s just - I…” Steve fumbles for how to say it. “I want – I just…I can’t, Buck.”
“It’s not - I want to, I do, it’s-”
“Is it because of the arm?” Bucky says, and pulls away, a scowl deep on his face.
“No!” Steve practically yells. “Jesus, Buck, no.”
“I like sex, okay? It’s - Jesus, I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about it so much, but I know who I am, and, and I can’t - I’m gonna want to have sex, a lot of it, and I can’t - I know you don’t, okay? I know.”
Bucky leans back, looking at Steve like he’s grown another head.
“I don’t want to have sex,” he says, slowly and eyeing Steve. “And you think this because…”
“I saw you. I was - I was helping set up for one of the ACE/Space meetings and I saw you go in. I’ve seen you go to a couple of the meetings, actually. I figured if you wanted to talk about it, you would, so I never brought it up. You didn’t either, so….”
Bucky starts giggling and the he starts laughing. “So you thought -” he says, and cuts himself off with a deep, booming laugh. “Oh, shit,” Bucky says, almost doubled over with laughter. “No, Stevie, wait. You don’t - oh, my God.” Bucky leans over, hands on his knees and tries to bring himself under control through his giggles.
“Well fuck me for trying to be supportive,” Steve says, scowling.
Steve’s still scowling when Bucky straightens up.
“No, fuck you for making assumptions. Look,” he says. “It’s not my story to tell, but please believe me when I say I was literally going there for a friend. They were trying to figure themselves out and I thought those meetings might have some good information.”
Bucky steps closer, and Steve lets him, trying to make sense of what Bucky’s just said.
“Believe me, sweetheart,” Bucky says, and Steve shivers all over. “You wanting sex? That is not a problem we are going to have.”
“Shut up,” Bucky says, and seals his mouth over Steve’s. It’s - oh, Christ, it’s wonderful. Steve makes a noise as he fists his hands in Bucky’s shirt, pulling him closer, and Bucky makes a low noise in the back of his throat and yes, yes, yes, all of it yes.
“God, I didn’t know,” Bucky says, pulling away and gasping for air. “I didn’t know you could kiss like that.” He dives back in for more of Steve’s mouth, and Steve draws himself up a little higher.
“You got no idea,” Steve says, and dips his head to suck a mark on Bucky’s neck. Bucky whimpers, and Steve feels him wrap both arms around Steve’s neck, and it’s - yes. This is exactly what he’s been wanting, been needing.
“Christ, Buck,” he groans, and Bucky’s trying to climb into his arms. “Hey, wait,” he says, and Bucky actually whines. Yes!
“Steve,” he says. “Come on.” He hooks a leg around Steve’s thigh and levers himself up a little more. “I’ve waited enough. Christ. ”
“How drunk are you?” Steve asks, because he can’t - he won’t, please don’t let Bucky regret this.
“Not,” he says. “I’m not. Had Nat take it easy on mine. Knew I was gonna - Steve, I’ve been waiting for so long.”
“Come on then,” he says, and reaches down to pick Bucky up. “So help me Barnes, if you regret this in the morning….”
“Yes,” Bucky says, holding tighter. “The only thing I’m gonna regret is waiting so long. Jesus, Steve, you have muscles on your muscles.”
“That’s not all I got,” he says, into Bucky’s mouth.
“Oh, fuck, yes.”
“Don’t wanna,” Bucky says, as Steve reaches over him to turn off their alarm.
“I know,” he says. “But we gotta.”
“This is dumb. No one even cares. Let’s just stay in bed.”
“Buck,” Steve says. “C’mon, your folks are probably driving down as we speak.”
“So. C’mon, Stevie, stay in bed with me.”
“Buck,” Steve says, and presses kisses down Bucky’s neck, and across his shoulder, right over the scarring, right up to where the cap that protects the ports while the arm’s off. It took six months before Bucky would sleep without it when Steve was there, and another two before he’d accepted that Steve really didn’t care one way or another - arm or not, he’s still Bucky.
“We should just skip it,” Bucky says. “Stay in bed. C’mon, Steve. It’s not a big deal.”
“Buck, it’s our graduation. Your folks will be there. Becca will be there. All of our friends will be there. It’s kind of a big deal.”
“You’re the worst, Rogers.”
“Learned from the best,” he says, swatting Bucky’s ass. “Now c’mon. There’s coffee in the kitchen and if you get up now, there’s still time for blowjobs before we have to head out.”
Bucky squints one blue-gray eye open, evaluating the offer.
“Blowjobs?” he asks.
“Yes, and I’ll even do that thing you like.”
“Oh, Christ, with your tongue?”
“Uh huh,” Steve says and slides out of bed. “You coming?”
“I will be,” Bucky says, but kicks off the covers.
“You’re the actual worst,” Steve says.
“Yeah, but you love me anyway.”
And he does. He loves Bucky with everything he has, all the way. He loves him through his histrionics, his blue sweater days, and his friends (why can’t Clint use the front door like a normal human? And why does his dog only eat pizza?). He loves Bucky enough to know that no matter what, no matter where their lives take them, they’ll be going together.
Steve gets under the spray and adjusts the temp, warming it up just the way Bucky likes it. Later that afternoon, Bucky will keep his fingers laced with Steve’s, never letting him feel alone, not for a moment. “My family is your family,” he’d whispered once, and set about doing everything to prove it.
Bucky slides into his arms, naked and already growing hard, nestling his face against Steve’s neck, letting the warm water wash over them both.
“I’ve got you,” he says, his voice low and soft. “To the end of the line,” Steve whispers, and feels Bucky smile against his skin.
“To the end of the line.”
They’ve got each other, they’re with each other, to the end of the line.