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See You At the After Party

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It felt weird to be back in New York.  Not a bad weird, nor a good weird, just weird.  

He’d been touring for the better part of the last six months and the six months before that, he’d been in the studio upstate recording the album he just toured with.  So New York City just felt ... odd.

His friend Darcy had been housesitting for him while he’d been away, so he’d come home to a decently clean place with no new lifeforms evolving in his refrigerator - a welcome change from the last time he’d let Clint house sit for him.  No doubt his old pal would be happy to share some pizza and beer now that Bucky was back, but it would be fresh and hot, not old and moldy. Clint never cared, but Bucky did.

He just had to get used to thinking of the place as home.  He’d gotten it just over a year ago, right before he’d started work on his latest album.  He preferred to think of it in terms of the album, and not his failed relationship.

But for now, he was happy to be ambulatory, moving under his own steam rather than cooped up in a tour bus or stuck in a seat between roadies on a plane.  Just being by himself was a balm to his tattered nerves.

Bucky loved what he did.  He loved making music and bringing it to his fans.  But sometimes he just needed to exist in his own little world and not have to be on for everyone.

So he’d dug out his most comfy jeans and a worn Clapton concert hoodie, snagged his favorite ball cap, shoved his feet into his most broken-in sneaks, and now he was wandering his neighborhood in search of the pulse, the rhythm of Brooklyn.

The day was warm, but it hadn’t descended into hell yet.  It was early spring, and the roadways hadn’t built up enough latent heat to fry the soles of his sneakers. That day wasn’t far off, but for now, he could enjoy being out and about, taking it all in, and letting the melody start to play in his head.

There was definitely a song forming there, something about coming home, of finding who you are ... it felt good, the beginnings of something.  He knew never to force it, that the best music came together when he let himself be used by the universe as its conduit. As he wandered, he started humming along with the music writing itself in his head, imagining a rhythm section here, a little base undercurrent there, maybe a piano riff right ... there.  Vocals overlaying the whole thing, low and throaty and raw.

He felt a kind of grief well up inside, and realized it was a song not of homecoming, but of loneliness.

And yeah, he was lonely.  His boyfriend of over five years, Brock Rumlow, had been unable to take the long weeks apart.  Oh, who was he kidding? Brock was just a flaming pile of shit. He’d taken the first excuse he could find to start whoring around, culminating in Bucky finding him bent over the couch while his gym rat buddy with a big dick pounded into him.

Bucky had tossed him, and with Nat and Clint’s help, the entire apartment.  She’d helped him find his current place, a place he loved with no associations.  No memories, either. Six weeks later he’d had an album’s worth of songs. Then those six months in the studio outside of New York, followed by the tour that just ended.

He guessed he hadn’t given himself the time to mourn the relationship.  He didn’t miss Brock, or the toxicity, masculine or otherwise, that he’d grown into. But he missed having somebody there, someone to cuddle at night, someone to share coffee with in the morning.  Someone to make plans with. Someone to come home to. Someone who saw him.

Once upon a time, Brock had been all Those things.  And yet, they’d ended in ugliness, and Bucky couldn’t help but wonder if it was fault.  If somehow he’d ruined everything, with his neediness, his career, his just being him.

And as he rounded the corner and found himself face to face with a standee of one of his favorite comic heroes, he realized that’s why he couldn’t stay in his apartment.  There was no one to come home to, and he didn’t really want to be alone, despite his need to not be on. He needed someone to be himself with, and for that to be okay, to be enough.  He smiled wanly at the cardboard cutout of Captain America, flipped it a salute and a blew it a kiss, and slouched into the comic store.

It was only Monday, so the new titles weren’t out, but he’d been away for months, and his subscription had been accumulating the whole while.  At least he could have a little pity party over a tub of ice cream and some excellent superhero storylines and some even better drawn superhero asses until he either got over it, or had enough ideas for another album. Maybe even an EP.  Hell, he could do a mini-concert on YouTube if his label agreed to it.

Yeah, he needed something to keep him busy.

He nodded toward Spike, the owner of the store, as he came through.

“Welcome back, dude.  I’ll get your sub ready.  And hey, there’s a new book in the gold room you may wanna take a look at.  Fine copy of ‘Agent Carter vs. the Red Skull’. It’s a beaut.”

Agent Carter vs. the Red Skull was one of his top wanted comics, a classic tale of Captain America’s partner, Agent Peggy Carter of the SSR.  Agent Carter had been right up there with Moulton’s Wonder Woman during World War II, a role model and hero to girls, a lesson to boys who might discount them.  Only she’d been real, a major in British Intelligence, the liaison between the US Army and the scientists who developed the super soldier serum that made Captain America. Bucky had a reprint from the ‘70s resurgence when Peggy Carter had had her own TV show, but he’d always wanted an original.  And like most comics from the golden age, copies were always in short supply, and decent quality even rarer. A fine copy was a grail of rare and wondrous joy. And to be in a position financially where he could actually buy her? Priceless.

Grinning, he hurried into the gold room, a walled off part of the store that Spike had to buzz him into.  He was so intent of putting his hands on Peggy that he barely noticed the wall of muscle standing between him and his quarry.  “‘Scuse me, fella -“

The guy straightened, one hand moving over his face while the other clutched Peggy.  He was holding Peggy in his sweaty damned paw! Without thinking, Bucky made a grab for her, only to find a slab of a hand flattened against his chest.

“That’s my -“

“I’ve been hunting for this for a long time.  I’m sorry, it’s mine.”

“No the fuck it isn’t!  Spike’s been on the lookout for me for the past year -“

The guy shook his head, pulled his hand back, and moved past Bucky, muttering, “Sorry, I’ve been searching longer.”  

Bucky whirled to follow him, and suddenly realized he was an absolute brick shit house, with an old Brooklyn Dodgers ball cap pulled down low on his head, a baggy hoodie over a skin-tight tee, and incredible legs hermetically sealed in tight jeans.  And oh, what an ass - angels wept over its sculpted perfection. His brain fritzed out, giving the guy a chance to get to Spike at the counter, whip out a black Amex, and have the book scanned before Bucky could move.

“No!  I -“

“Sorry, Buck.  First come, first serve.  I’ll check my contacts to see if I can track down another, okay?”  He handed the credit slip over to be signed, and the guy who was stealing Peggy right out from under his nose bent down to sign, and quickly handed it over.  Spike slid the Precious into a paper bag with the store logo printed on it and handed it to the Peggy Thief.

The guy turned and favored Bucky with a sad smile, a brief lift of the corners of his mouth before he turned to exit the shop.

Okay, so first of all, the Peggy Thief was gorgeous.  Bucky wasn’t usually into beards, but this guy’s was beautifully maintained, and looked to be soft as spun gold silk.  And his lips ... ugh. Bucky immediately had ideas for those lips! He’d only caught a glimpse of shimmering blue eyes under the bill of the cap, but they were arresting just the same.  His nose wasn’t perfect, a little bump that looked like a break at some point, and that just made him look even more attractive. And when he turned to go? Yeah, Bucky would be lying to himself and God if he didn’t admit that pert ass gave him ideas.  And the start of an inappropriate boner that he immediately quashed with thoughts of the first concert he gave at an elderly care facility.

But he was getting away with Peggy!  Bucky suddenly found himself in control of his body again, and he rushed out of the shop as Spike called, “Don’t you want your sub?”  He wasn’t letting Peggy go without a fight. Or at least a counteroffer.

“I’ll pay you double what you just paid,” he shouted.  And the guy stopped, just stopped. Bucky thought he might have a chance.  He’d have to drag the man to an ATM to grab the cash, maybe even the teller at the branch, but he knew he was good for it.  He rarely spent much on tour since the label picked up the tab for everything. So his bank account was feeling pretty damned healthy right now.

Peggy Thief turned his head and said, “You don’t know what I just paid for it.”

“Don’t care.  I need that comic.  I can pay.”

“I’m sorry.  I need her more.”

He started to walk away, but Bucky found a well of energy and darted forward, grabbed him by the wrist to spun him around.  “You don’t understand, I need that comic. I’ve been waiting -“

And then he realized that what he’d assumed was an embarrassed blush was actually the heightened color of an ugly crier.  “Dude, what’s wrong -“

“I’m sorry.  She’s not for sale.  I have to go,” he added, shrugging off Bucky’s grip like it was smoke, and then he was hurrying away through the crowd until Bucky could only see his head towering over the populace.

“Shit,” Bucky swore, then went back into the shop to collect six months’ worth of subscriptions.  At least he wouldn’t lack for things to read while he burritoed himself away and sulked.

&&&

“What the hell?”

“Nice to see you again, James.  You’re looking well.”

“And you’re looking out of place, Coulson.  I repeat, what the hell?”

Phil Coulson stood in Bucky’s doorway, looking as put together and unflappable as always.  He looked like an uber-bland accountant type, but he was in fact one of the sharpest intellects Bucky had ever known.  In his previous life. The life he left behind before he met Brock, before he devoted himself to music. Before he decided he wanted a life worth living.  Before the Incident.

“You gonna let me in?” Phil asked with a vague wave toward the interior of Bucky’s apartment and a hopeful arch of his eyebrow.

“Why would I be doing that, Phil?”

“You know why.  I have a job for you.”

“I don’t do that anymore, Phil.”

“Understood.  This one’s different.  It needs your current skill set.”

“Repeat, I don’t -“

“Do that anymore.  Yeah. I got it. And I’m not asking you to do it anymore.  I’m asking you to help me get someone in who will.”

Bucky stared at Phil for a beat longer, then stepped aside, throwing his arm up in capitulation.  “You’ve got five.”

Phil breezed in, looking unruffled in his suit and tie, then stood in front of the sofa awaiting an invitation.  Bucky nodded and waved him into the seat.

“Thanks.  I like your music, by the way.  Audrey wants me to take her to your next performance here in town.”

“Thanks.  Remind me and I’ll have the venue set aside tickets for you both.  Give my love to Aud. How is she?”

“Still remarkable and amazing.  And I still can’t believe she married me.  She’s on tour right now with the orchestra.  She’ll be back in a few weeks.”

“That’s good.  She’s talented.  But you didn’t come here to talk music.”

“Actually, James, that’s exactly what I came here to talk about.  We’ve picked up chatter that a billionaire with more money than morals wants to reboot the planet with a mutagen that will reverse the effects of the industrial revolution.”

“Well, that’s a good thing?  No?”

“Not when it wipes out human life in the process, no.  Not really.”

“Ah.  And on repeat, I don’t do that anymore.”

“Not you.  I need you to help us get near him.  Or more specifically, my operative. This eco-terrorist is hosting a big music festival on his private island off the coast of England -“

“You’re talking Nash Weldon’s SlayerFest,” Bucky surmised.  “Weldon’s an eco-terrorist?”

“All that money from his vampire TV shows, the residuals, his directing and writing gigs - he’s invested his money well.  In companies that develop cutting edge technology to repair the environment. Which is proving to be a lucrative business model in itself.  But what we’re hearing is that the current technologies and policies are moving too slowly to suit him.”

“So he’s going to hit the reset button and start over?  Won’t it defeat the purpose if he’s caught by the mutagen, too?”

“Well, we suspect he’s got some kind of antidote or counteractive for himself and his followers.  We also suspect his base of operations is right there on his island. The one that’s withstood invaders for over a thousand years.”

“So why me?”

“He’s a fan.  And you’ve been invited to perform at his festival.”

“Um, no I haven’t.”

“Yes, you have.  You just didn’t know it yet.”

“Nat.”

“Your agent was my best agent, James.  You both may have gone public sector, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the occasional chat.”

“Chat.”

“Yes, chat.  Sometimes over coffee.  Maybe a drink. Audrey loves having her over for dinner, you know.  Enough to put up with Clint.”

“Is Clint narking on me, too?”

“You know the only way Clint keeps a secret is under torture.  Offer him pizza and he’ll tell you more than you want to know. Even Nat doesn’t tell him anything unless she wants it to get around.”

“Yeah, true.  Okay, so you want me to get your guy onto the island.  What then?”

“Then you play your set, make nice, schmooze, do whatever it is you do at these things.  My operative - and I - will take care of the rest.”

“You?”

“New tour management.  Can’t send my guy in without support.”

“You’re asking a lot.”

“I know.”

“This could be dangerous.”

“I know that, too.”

“I’m really serious about not doing that anymore.”

“I am aware.  And I am not asking you to.”

“Okay.  So long as it’s clear,” Bucky said doubtfully.  Seriously, he didn’t trust Phil Coulson in this regard.  With his life in a fire fight, yeah. But to be honest about hoodwinking him badk into the field?  Not a chance. And he and Nat were going to have to have words. Big ones. Possibly angry ones. Definitely words.

“Crystal.  I suggest you talk it over with Nat,” Phil added with a raised eyebrow.  Damn him and his pseudo psychic mind powers.

“Yeah, I will.”

“Oh, and Weldon’s going to vet your team, so you’re going to have to go back on the road for a bit so me and my guy can integrate into your team.”

“I just got home.  I don’t have any other tour dates.”

“Well, that’s not exactly true.  Nat will provide the itinerary.”

“Phil, you need to stop fucking around with my life.”

“You’re already showing signs of separation anxiety and depression, James.  Getting back on the road for a couple of weeks before the festival will be good for you.  Plus, I suspect you’re already tinkering with new song ideas. A mini-tour is just the thing to give you some space to try out some new material.  Am I right?”

And yeah, the rat bastard was right.  “My band, my support team - they deserve a break, though.”

“I know.  Your next tour date is in two weeks.  Little festival in Pennsylvania.”

“You got us onto the Billy Penn Folk Fest?”

Phil shrugged.  “I know that not all your music falls into that category, but enough that you qualify.  You’ll do an acoustic set on the Moffitt Stage on Sunday night.”

“That’s a prime slot.  That’s ... Jesus, that’s amazing, Phil.”

“I have access to some connections even Natasha hasn’t cracked yet.”

“There are intelligence people involved in the Billy Penn Folk Society?”

“No.  College roommate.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.  He usually let’s me hang backstage anyway, so I’m just going to put that to work.  They’re really excited to have you.”

“Wow.  Okay. Well, I guess I need to break it to the team -“

“Natasha’s on it.  James, I don’t want to disrupt your life any more than necessary.  I get that you’ve retired. You earned it. And you certainly deserve it.  I wish there was some other way to launch this op, but you’re our best hope of getting in.”

“And getting out?”

“There’s a plan for that, too.”

&&&

“Seriously, Nat?”

“This one counts, James.”

“Counts for what?”

“The red in both our ledgers.”

You work together long enough, you get to know enough about someone’s back history, their concerns, their worries, and it can all get distilled into a few words that sound simple to an outsider, but convey a lifetime of pain and regret to someone who knows.

Bucky knew.  He had red of his own.  And he knew how deep Natasha’s red ran.  This was important to her.

“Do you trust this operative Coulson wants to put in?”

“He’s never shown me any reason not to trust him completely.  More importantly, Coulson has faith in him. Enough that he’s going on the op with him.”

“That could be he doesn’t trust him to behave without oversight.”

“No, he trusts him with his life.  With our lives.”

“And the festival goers?”

“Them, too.  Stark’s on the tech side.”

“Not on the ground.”

“No, he’s too variable for an op like this.  But his tech is sound.”

Bucky drew a deep breath and nodded once.  “I trust you. If you’re okay with this, I am, too.”

“Okay.  So the mini tour has four stops over two weeks - we start with the Folk Festival, then up to Rochester for a two-night gig that’s part of a fundraiser -“

“We donating the gate?”

“We can, if you approve.”

“I’ve got enough from the tour.  Let’s do that. The team gets paid, the band, the money from the venue goes to the fundraiser.”

“Good.  I was hoping you’d agree.  Now ...”

&&&

The band got together the following weekend to dust off their instruments and jam a little.  Nothing rigorous and nothing demanding, just making some tunes together in the comfort of the recording studio attached to Bucky’s loft.  Soundproofed to avoid ticking off the neighbors, it was light and airy and nothing like the crowded, funky confines of a tour bus. And it held no memories of Brock because he’d never been there, and he never would be.

Pietro was on drums, that look of a manic glee in his eyes that always promised trouble.  Bucky shook his head and reminded everyone that the Folk Festival was going to expect folky stuff, not heavy metal.  They could break loose the catalogue at the next venue, but for the Festival, they needed to keep it down.

Sam was on keyboards where he was running scales to loosen up his fingers.  Scott sat in the corner, holding his violin and bow loosely, waiting on the cue to start.  Loki stood with his base, swaying slightly as he listened to whatever soundtrack was playing in his head.  Over at the soundboard, his brother Thor frowned over the tablet, gently adjusting levels on the touch screen.  Thor took care of the tech side and commanded the crew that helped them get from venue to venue.

“We’re not really gonna record anything today,” Buck said as he slung the strap for his guitar over his shoulder.

“I know.  It’s just that we’re going to very different venues over the next couple of weeks.  I want to get a sense of how I need to adjust for each space. We’ll have a quick rehearsal in place, right?”

“Well, won’t the acoustics change as soon as you put people into the space?” Loki asked as he let his hand slide down the neck of his base.

“Yes, of course it will, but I don’t want us to sound too loud, too out of balance for the volume in the space.”

“Okay, well, yeah, I’ll ask Nat to make sure we’ve got what - half hour? to rehearse and calibrate at each place.  You’re worrying about this more than usual, Thor.”

“Being invited to two world class festivals in the same 30 day period doesn’t make you nervous?”

Bucky smiled.  “Can’t let it. You do you, but I gotta focus on the music and nothing else.  And we got three other tour dates before we fly to England. They’re all important ‘cos people are coming to hear us play.  What makes me nervous is anyone thinking it wasn’t worth coming out to hear us.”

“Well, all right then,” Pietro replied and clapped his sticks together.  “Let’s folk this rock!”

No one ever really knew what Pietro was talking about, so everyone just smiled and started playing.

&&&

A few days later, Coulson walked up the ramp to the loading dock and thrust out his hand to Bucky.  “We’re here to help.”

“We?” Bucky asked, took Phil’s hand and gave it a single shake.

“Me and you know who.  He’ll pitch in and help with packing up the gear, make himself useful.”

And just then, long muscular legs topped off with a chest to die for and shoulders Bucky had the urge to drape his legs over came surging up the dock.  An old Brooklyn Dodgers Cap was pulled low over his face, and Bucky recognized that body, that wheat colored hair, that silky beard. “Him?”

“He” looked up, and removed his sunglasses with a groan.  “Shit,” he swore softly.

“You two know each other?” Phil asked.

“Guy stole Peggy right out from under me,” Bucky groused, tossing the guy the stink eye.

“A, that comic was not set aside for you personally.  And B, I paid good money for it, so there was no theft involved.”

“Peggy?” Phil repeated, and there was an odd gentleness in the way he repeated the name.  Peggy Thief nodded once, and Phil’s expression morphed to something that looked ... sad. Well, this conversation just kept getting weirder.

“Well, I’m glad you two have met, but I’m sorry you met competing for a grail.  That gonna be a problem?”

“Well ...”

“We haven’t formally met, actually,” Peggy Thief corrected, and he came closer with his big meat slab of a hand stuck out for Bucky to take.  “Steve Carter.”

“Carter as in Peggy.”

He shrugged, a light blush dusting his cheeks - right below the illegally long lashes Bucky could now see.

“No shit - are you related?”

“Let’s just say that Steve’s connection to Director Carter is more personal than not,” Phil put in, glancing back and forth between Steve and Bucky, and then pointedly at Steve’s outstretched hand.

Bucky took the hand then, noting how big and warm it was, smooth in some places, but mostly calloused on his fingers and thumb.  Working hands. This guy did more than ops for Coulson and comic store theft. A sad little smile twitched at Steve’s lips when Bucky squeezed back, and when Bucky let go, he stepped back, almost falling into parade rest before he caught himself and deliberately adjusted to a civilian posture.

“Okay.  Welcome to the crew, Steve.”

&&&

Chapter Text

The band almost always handled their own instruments, but Thor maintained control over the tech and the gear.  That meant not just physically moving the stuff, configuring everything in place, but standing guard as well. Depending on their availability, he usually had either Fandral or Hogun pitch in, but both of them had picked up other short-term gigs after the end of Bucky’s official tour.  So Thor had secured the services of his pal Volstagg for this early leg of the festival and charity tour. Fandral would join them before they left for England, but Hogun wouldn’t be available again until after they returned.

So finding some big tall blond stranger loading luggage in the bus cargo section on the morning they were scheduled to pull out for the Billy Penn Folk Festival was a surprise.  There was no one else in the loading dock at the time, so Thor went over to find out who the interloper was.

“Hello, friend.  I see you’ve made yourself useful.  I don’t recall seeing you at any of the recent union events.  Do you hail from a different local, perhaps?”

The guy, who could give Thor some competition in the muscles department, straightened and had the good grace to look abashed.  “I, uh, no, sorry. I’m not a member of a union. Is that a problem?”

“It depends.  On who assigned you to work my crew,” Thor smiled, but he knew it was the smile that made lesser men want to shit their pants. Points to the other fellow for standing his ground, and not giving in to the terror.

“My boss. Phil Coulson?”

“I do not know this Phil Coulson. Who is he?”

“Management?”

“Hmmph.  We shall see.  Come with me.”

Thor led the nice young man through the loading dock into the elevator and up to the studio below Barnes’s apartment.  While it wasn’t strictly necessary for roadies to be part of the union, it was his preference that they be, and he always preferred to have friends work with the band - friends on whom he could rely, and whom he knew would fit in with the band.  

“Um, where are you taking me?”

“To meet the team.”

“I’ve already met -“

“Mmm-no.  You hadn’t met me, and I’m in charge of the team.  So, no.” The elevator cranked to a halt, and Thor beamed at Blond Guy again.  “Shall we?”

The door slid open and Thor waved the guy into Barnes’s studio space.  Barnes was there, along with the rest of the band, the agent Natasha, and some older guy in a suit.

“I found this one messing around with our stuff,” he announced to the others assembled there.  “He’s not one of mine. He doesn’t belong to the union like the rest of my team. Anyone care to explain?”

“Uh ...” Barnes replied with a blank look.  

Natasha, looking lovely as ever in a tight black sheath dress with a red scarf clasped at the shoulder, waggled her fingers and said, “Hi, Steve.”

“So you know him, Natasha.  Well, that’s something. Do you know why he was mucking about with my gear?” Thor challenged.

Natasha exchanged a glance with Barnes, but did not answer.  Thor was becoming tenser as no one provided an answer explaining why a stranger was handling his gear when the suited one smiled and spoke up.

“That’s Steve.  Bucky’s new boyfriend.  We thought it was better to hide him in the crew so the paparazzi wouldn’t bother him or Bucky.”

“Uh,” Barnes said again, this time with a blush to match the blond stranger’s.  

“Is this true?” Thor asked said blond stranger.

“Um, yeah.  It’s kind of new, we didn’t want anyone to know about it -“

“You’ve only been home two weeks, Bucky.  I applaud you for finally getting your head out of your ass,” Thor observed with a chuckle, then clapped Steve on the shoulder.  “Thank you for your assistance, but it is not necessary at this time. I appreciate that you are not so reptilian as Bucky’s last boyfriend, that you are willing to get your hands dirty and help.  We will discuss your cover for during the tour once we are underway. Gentlemen, Natasha,” Thor grinned at everyone and stepped back into the elevator.

&&&

“Hey, great, Barnes!  Looks like you finally got over that douche, Rumlow,” Sam said as he clapped a hand on Bucky’s shoulder as he went to replenish his coffee.

“He’s better looking, too,” Pietro commented, looking Steve up and down with a waggle of his eyebrows.

Scott came over and put out his hand, a welcoming smile on his face.  “Hi, I’m Scott. Violin and fiddle. Welcome to the family.”

“Thanks.  It’s nice to be, um, a part of the family.”

“Uh, guys, thanks for welcoming my, uh, boo, huh?  Hadn’t planned to break it to you like this,” Bucky said, tossing a quick glare at Coulson.  “Doin’ okay, babe?”

“Um, yeah, um, doll.  I, uh, I stowed the luggage, at least.  I wanna make sure I pull my own weight around here, y’know?”

“Definitely better than Rumlow,” Sam commented as he sipped from his coffee cup.  “Hey, Steve, you want something to drink? Hungry? We always have something to nosh before we take off for a gig.”

Steve glanced over at Coulson, who nodded slightly, so Steve relaxed a little and nodded, smiling.  “Yeah, I could eat something.”

“He’s your boyfriend and you didn’t feed him?” Pietro demanded.  “Dump him, come with me. I’ll show you a good time and feed you properly.”

“You’re not even gay, Pietro,” Scott laughed.

“Look at him.  I can be gay for that.”

“Um, fellas, come on.  Don’t scare ‘im off!” Bucky protested with a laugh.

Coulson shook his head, his equable demeanor not slipping a whit.  “Yes, this is why we’d planned to hide Steve on the crew for a bit, let you get to know him before Bucky announced their status.”

Sam snorted as he handed Steve a plate and waved to the munchies and real food laid out for everyone to share.  “Well, you spilled the beans.”

“I didn’t want Thor to hurt him.”

“Hah!” Scott exclaimed.  “Thor’s a pussycat. He’s just very protective of his people.”

“I’ve always thought of him more as an overgrown puppy. A mastiff perhaps.  Or maybe a Saint Bernard,” Loki said lazily from where he was sprawled on one of the couches.  “All drool, no cool.”

Steve huffed out a laugh at that.  “Wow, you must really dislike him.”

“He is my brother, after all.  I can say anything I like about him.”

“But no one else can?”

“Oh, you can.  But you’d regret it, I promise you.”

“Noted.”

Natasha smiled, glancing around the room as she stood up.  “Well, it looks like you fellas have everything under control.  I need to get back to the office - I do have other clients, you know.  Text me when you get there. Hey, Steve, you any good with taking video with your phone?”

“Um, not bad, I guess.  Why?”

“How about you capture these guys on stage for me? Do me a video, we’ll do an upload to the guys’ YouTube channel.  And James, you can do a video diary segment, too. You guys are camping at the Folk Fest, so maybe you can do a thing around the campfire or something.”

“Campfire?”

Bucky jumped in then.  “She means kicking back with a cooler full of beer and a coupl’a joints.  This is a folk fest, after all. Nothing hard. But, you know - August. Hey, can you cook?”

“Do all your boyfriends get so many jobs?”

“Only the ones who stick around,” Bucky answered with a grin.

“Noted.  Yes, I can cook.  I noticed the bus has a little kitchen.  That where you putting me to work?”

“Nah, we actually have a grill we can use to make burgers and stuff.  It’ll be fun.”

“Fun.”

“Yeah, fun.”

Sam sipped from his mug thoughtfully.  “Oh, hey, we’re gonna have to switch up the reservations.”

“Huh?”

“Well, we had you and me bunking in when we get to Rochester.  But you’re gonna want to share with your boyfriend, Buck. So I guess you and me are rooming, Phil.”

“Right, I’m gonna wanna share with my boyfriend.”

“Of course.  Looking forward to it.”

&&&

The band breakfast broke up shortly after, with everyone going to do their pre-tour rituals before boarding the bus.  Coulson waved Steve over while Bucky hovered uncertainly.

“It’s okay, Ja-Bucky.  I just wanted to go over some tour etiquette with Steve here.  He’ll join you in a couple of minutes.”

“Oh, uh, yeah.  Interesting choice, by the way,” Bucky replied with a sour glance at Steve before he replaced his game face and went up the open spiral staircase to take care of his own business.

When they were alone and they could hear the apartment door close behind Bucky, Coulson did a rapid circuit of the room, checked to make sure the two doors on this level were both securely closed, and only then did he turn to face Steve.

“You’re welcome.”

“For what?”

“I heard how you talked about him. I see the way you look at him.”

“I felt bad.”

“Not bad enough to sell the comic to him.”

“It was Peg.  You know I’ve been looking for that since I came out of the ice. I couldn’t believe my luck.”

“And what are the odds you and the guy you’re gonna have to work with would be going after the same thing, huh?”

“You knew.”

“I follow specific merchandise, yes.  As you know, I’m a collector, too. It was one of the things James and I could talk about when he was an agent.  I knew you were looking for that comic. I knew, once upon a time, so had James. Didn’t know he still needed it.  And how would I know he’d be hitting the comic store at the exact moment you were there? I’m good, but I’m not that good.  Now, Natasha ... she’s that good.”

“But why set us up to meet like that?  And why tell his band we’re dating?”

“I think we were hoping for a more rom-commy first meeting.  As for the dating thing? Is that going to be such a hardship?”

“Yeah, he hates me.  Now it’s going to be awkward, uncomfortable, and soul-destroying. So yeah, thank you, Phil.”

“Since when does Captain America give up?”

“Cap doesn’t give up.  But it’s Steve Rogers you just put in Bucky Barnes’s bed.”

“Okay.  And there’s a reason for that.  James was an outstanding agent, one of the best.  But his injury did more than affect his arm, it eroded his confidence to the point where he was vulnerable in unexpected ways.  One of them was his love life. Rumlow, the douche everyone dislikes? We have suspicion he may be involved in this situation. And that could compromise James.”

“And springing this on us without any warning?”

Phil’s bland smile grew mischievous.  “Well, I’ll admit to enjoying the shock on both your faces.  But I also don’t think James would have agreed otherwise. And if you’d known in advance, he would’ve held it against you.  This way, you’re bonded in your dislike for me, while still meeting the requirements of the op.”

“So putting me in as his boyfriend ...?”

“Provides an added layer of security.  Rumlow can’t get to him as easily if there’s someone already in his bed, and someone who has a legitimate reason to be close.”

“Is this fair to him?  Maybe he’s not the right entry into this op.”

“Steve, James Barnes the singer songwriter is our only entry into this op, short of a full scale assault that could get people killed, or even worse, trigger the mutagen.”

So now Captain America was going undercover as Steve Carter, impersonating Bucky Barnes’s boyfriend while masquerading as a roadie, all so he could get into the industrialist’s home during the benefit concert Bucky would be doing at his home.

Yeah, nothing could go wrong under that scenario ...

&&&

The band expected Steve to join Bucky in his apartment, so Steve followed the singer up in the stairs and knocked.  He was going to have to find a way to make this assignment work. And if he was going to be visibly cozying up to Barnes, he needed to make it not suck.

The lock clicked and Steve opened the door and slipped inside.  He came into the apartment and found Barnes sitting in his living room, arms crossed over his chest, feet resting atop his coffee table, packed suitcases sitting beside him.    

Bucky’s expression matched the stormy color of his eyes.

His jaw bunched and tightened before he gritted out, “Did you know?”

“Know what?”

“That you were assigned to me.  When you stole that comic.”

“For the last time, I didn’t steal the comic.  I bought it, fair and square.”

“How’d you know it was there?”

“I didn’t.”

“So that’s your regular place, huh?  How come I never saw you there before?”

“Not my regular place.  I don’t have a regular place.  I ... Phil recommended it.”

“So it was a set-up after all.”

“Yes.  But I didn’t know about it in advance.”

“Carter’s not you real last name.”

“No.”

“So you’re not really related to Peggy Carter.”

“Not that way, no.  But she is very important to me.”

“Phil said you had a connection.  Are you going to share that with me?”

Steve stared at Barnes for a long moment, considering his options.  Phil didn’t say he couldn’t tell him his real name, but he’d gone through some fairly convoluted hoops to keep his identity from Barnes.  He’d have to trust there was a reason, so he shook his head. “Not relevant to the op.”

“Afraid I’ll drop character?  Please, I was a pro.”

“It’s not that.  I need to stay in character.”

“So it’s true.  You’re a rookie.”

“Not a rookie.  But being a spy isn’t something I like to do.”

“Then why you?”

“I have a specific skill set that’s needed for this op.  Look, I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot, but I’m not going to apologize for buying that comic.  But we’re stuck with each other for the next six weeks, until we’re done with the festival and Weldon.  And thanks to Phil, we’re supposed to be more than boss and employee.”

“More than friends, apparently.  Yeah, okay. We’d better get our stories straight before we pull out then.  Take a load off. Time to debrief.”

&&&

By the time Bucky and Steve joined the rest of the gang in the bus, they’d worked out details of how they met, what they saw in each other, and some rudimentary rules for PDA.  Steve’s cover story was that he was a professional artist who made his own hours, and he and Bucky had decided they didn’t want to be apart for such a long period while their relationship was so new.  So Steve would travel with the band, and try to keep up with clients and such remotely.

They agreed to keep the PDA light, just simple hand holding and semi-longing glances.  If anyone asked, they were taking it slow because they both thought this relationship might have some legs to it.  No public kissing, at least not yet. As the tour progressed, they might need to introduce some kisses, some more specific touching, to sell the ruse.  But for now, nothing people couldn’t take their kids to.

With their luggage stowed in the cargo hold of the bus, pre-tour rituals observed, and everyone present and accounted for, the band and crew settled in for the fairly short trip to Nowhere, Pennsylvania and the epic Billy Penn Folk Festival.

“Is everyone ready?” Thor called out, to be met with a barrage of jeers and catcalls.  “Excellent! To Lansvale!” he roared, and guided the bus out of the loading area and out into the street.

Bucky immediately put his ear buds in and listened to music on his phone, while Steve did whatever Steve wanted to.  Bucky closed his eyes and settled into his seat, letting the music drain away the tension and put him in a zen state.  He floated there for a while, half smiling to himself, as the music filled his senses.

So this Steve person.  As seat mates went, he wasn’t bad.  No jostling, no impatient shifting around.  No elbows to the ribs, no manspreading so Bucky felt crowded.  No demanding attention, unlike Brock had. He sat quietly doing whatever he was doing, in his own space, letting Bucky be.  Finally, Bucky couldn’t take it any longer, and cracked open an eye so he could see ...

Steve was drawing.  Well, hell, the guy actually was an artist, and a pretty good one at that.  He’d drawn a damned fine sketch of Thor in Viking regalia, looking every inch the Norse god after whom he’d been named.  Steve had a sketch pad balanced on his knees, pencil in one hand, and one of those rubber erasers that looked like Silly Putty in the other, another couple of pencils shoved behind his ear, and one held between his teeth, making him look like he was wearing a bit.  And oh, the image that suddenly conjured, one that Bucky needed to put out of his misery ASAP.

Objectively, Bucky acknowledged that Steve was attractive.  He really did have pretty eyes, and his mouth inspired all manner of sinful thoughts.  He blushed a sweet shade of pink, and it looked like the blush went down his neck onto his chest, and Bucky really needed to stop thinking of where that blush led!  But if he was cataloguing ways in which Steve Carter was attractive, he didn’t have to stop at that blush. His body, even hidden in clothes, was intriguing to say the least.  Wide, powerful shoulders, muscles that made him weak, a massive chest with rounded pecs that looked like they’d be a great place to take a nap, or take a nip, whichever came first ... and oh, Bucky needed to not think about cumming.  Because Steve’s jeans might not be painted on the way Bucky liked to wear his, but they hugged Steve’s body in all the right ways - tight, pert ass, thick, muscular legs. The hint of a package that just might be droolworthy - or massively disappointing, but what was he thinking about Steve’s crotch for, anyway?

Yeah, this op just might be the death of Bucky Barnes.

&&&

It took a little over two hours to get to Lansvale, the rural home of the Billy Penn Folk Festival.  The Fest was famous for the music played on its stages, the vendors and food tents, and especially the camping that had grown up around the Fest.  Over 50 years of music and folky traditions paved the way for a weekend that promised to be as much fun as it was work. They’d get to hang around the Fest all weekend, listening to music, eating food, shopping among the artisan vendors, and then they’d have their chance on the Moffitt Stage on Sunday night.  Bucky had heard about the acoustics of the natural dell of the stage, but he’d never been to this particular festival before. He was kind of looking forward to it, actually, especially where the agency was picking up the tab for everything.

Thor maneuvered the bus into their assigned section of the campgrounds, and once he turned off the ignition, everyone leapt to action.  There was unpacking to do, hookups to secure, small tents to set up, along with the grill, some lawn chairs, and a portable fire pit. It might be August and the temperature in the 80s, but there were camping traditions that just could not be denied.  

Phil organized everyone getting their passes, and some of the gang decided to check out the talent on display that evening, while others set about organizing their first meal on the campgrounds.  True to his word, Steve took on grill duties, while a couple other of the guys went into the festival itself to check out what they could get to supplement the meal.

It was really kind of pleasant, everyone doing their thing, Steve falling into place to play his role, the friendly fest goers stopping by to say hello, inviting anyone who wanted to come to share in their bounty, the ebb and flow of the team.  There was a decidedly positive vibe to the whole thing, and Bucky began to feel if they had to be on the road again so soon, it was nice to start with a gig that just made them all feel good.

Steve had been grilling anything anyone handed him, and he was still going.  The sun had dipped low toward the horizon, turning the sky a brilliant orange, red, and yellow, edged in a darkening blue where stars just started to wink on. The night sky was already ablaze with more stars than they would ever see in New York City.  The sounds of the performers on the main stage drifted on the night, over a low undercurrent of conversation and locally made music. The air was cooling, a gentle breeze that carried the scents of various cook fires around the camping area. It was pretty nice, actually.

“You gonna make him work all night?” Pietro demanded from where he was sprawled on the ground, resting against a cooler that held beers, water, and soft drinks.

Steve looked up from where he labored over the grill, and he grinned.  Bucky felt his insides turn to water, with a corresponding heat flare up from his groin.  “Just tryin’ t’do my part,” Steve answered. “But, yeah, think it’s time for last call. Who else needs something grilled before I shut this down, huh?”

That’s when Pietro chose to pull out the bag of marshmallows, and at that point, every last one of them was a kid again.

&&&

Quiet conversations were accompanied by various of the band tinkering with guitars and fiddles, a little bongo drum set, the top of a cooler.  Finally everyone was starting to nod off, with some of the guys crawling into sleeping bags right there in the open, a couple going into the little tents they’d set up, and then Sam stood up and started toward the door of the bus.  “You two taking the big bedroom? Scott and me, we’re taking the bunks. Right?”

Steve was poking at the fire in the grill, prepping to douse it with fine sand, but he didn’t look up until Sam cleared his throat, and asked, “Steve?  You’n’Buck are taking the big bedroom, right?”

“Uh,” Steve answered.  This was one of the things they’d forgotten to talk out before they left New York, and Buck cursed it for a rookie mistake, and too many years out of the field.  

He answered for both of them then.  “Yeah, we’ll take the bedroom. We, we’re taking it slow, so we haven’t, um, had any sleepovers yet. You don’t snore, do you, Steve?”

“Guess you’re gonna find out,” Steve answered with a smile, recovering.

So yeah, there was that.  Sharing a bed. On a bus. With his band right outside ...

Fuck his life.  And Coulson, too.  He was still sitting around the fire pit, smiling faintly to himself.

Bucky vowed to remember every little thing he endured on this op.  And then he’d make Coulson pay three times over for it all.

“I, on the other hand, am not only a perfect gentleman, but I have no bad habits.”

“Uh-huh,” Steve agreed dubiously.

Well, might as well bite that bullet.  Bucky stood and extended his hand to Steve.  “Shall we?”

“Uh -“

“I’ll take responsibility for the grill.  You two boys get some rest,” Phil offered with a mild smile.  His mild smiles were always unnerving, and this one was no different.  Bucky knew that Phil knew things that he didn’t. It shouldn’t bother him, he was out of the field, out of that life.  But Phil had brought that old world back into Bucky’s life. And with it, the exasperation over Coulson’s know-it-all look.  It was only one step down in annoying from Nat’s “I know everything, I’m Russian” act.

Bucky shrugged, and led Steve onto the bus, and to the bedroom at the back of the bus.  It was gonna be a long tour ...

&&&

The bed was surprisingly large for the small space, and Bucky shrugged, a small smile lifting the corners of his mouth.  “For the really long distance hauls. It sucks to get to a venue and be too tired to sing.”

“No, it’s nice.  I mean, I know they can do some amazing stuff with making vehicles into homes and all.”

Bucky snorted.  “Yeah. There are pull-out beds just outside, enough for the guys. But they’re cramped, so that’s why a coupl’a the guys are doing the camping thing.”

“Not for you?”

“I’m a city boy.”

“Yeah, me too.  Brooklyn, born and raised.  I’ve done my share of roughing it, though.  A bed is, well, it’s kind of nice. But ...”

“Neither of us signed up to share.  But if we don’t ...”

“The cover is compromised.  I get it. I was going to suggest I sleep on the floor, but -“

“There really isn’t much of one.  Look,” Bucky added, dropping his voice low so no one outside of the small space could hear, “I’ve had to share on an op before.  It’s no big. You don’t sleep commando, do you?”

Steve did a double-take at the question, frowning his confusion.  Commando? Did Barnes suspect? “What?”

“In the buff.  Birthday suit? Sky clad?  Naked.”

“Oh.  Um, no, I don’t have to.  I brought pajamas. Is there a place I can change?”

“Bathroom, dude.  Although, you might wanna use the shower space - not sure you and a change of clothes would fit in the can.”

“Yeah, thanks.  I’ll go get my bag and get changed.  I’ll, um, I’ll be right back.”

“Go for it, tiger,” Bucky grunted as he turned away to grab some clothes from the built-in cabinets and start changing himself.  

Steve glanced back just in time to see Bucky pull his tee over his head, revealing that his metal arm extended all the way up to his shoulder, the metal embedded halfway into his shoulder blade.  Scarred flesh fanned out from where metal met skin, a tracery of pain and conflict. Steve couldn’t help the sudden, “Stark’s?” that he blurted out.

Bucky spun back at him, frowning.  “Shit, I thought you left. Yeah. Stark’s.  Better than the passive prosthetic I got after my last op.  Tony took it as a personal insult, and started development of this one before I even got out of rehab.  This one works like the real thing, mostly. Not a lot of fine sensation, but I was able to start playing again with it.  In fact, I picked up the guitar again as physical therapy. Now look where I am.”

“Now look.  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude -“

“Nah, it’s all right.  All the guys have seen it.  Hell, I did shoots for Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone with it.  Gotta own it, right? Otherwise it gets bigger than it should.”

“That’s a ... that’s a really good philosophy, actually.  I might have to adopt that.”

“Yeah?  Good enough to sell me that comic?”

“Nah.  Sorry. Nothing’s good enough.  Peggy ... Peggy is ... finally home.  I ... y’know, but maybe I can make it up to you.”

“If you’re offering a blow job, that’s gonna make things weird.”

Steve’s brain sputtered at the thought.  By force of will he kept the blood flow from shooting south.  He blinked and shook his head. “No, um, not offering a blow job.  But how about I do a portrait of Peggy for you? A Steven, ah, Carter original.”

“Will you be able to sign it with your real name?”

“No now.  Maybe later.”

“Lemme see it first.  Then I’ll let you know.”

“Okay.  Deal.”

&&&

Bucky watched Steve exit the bedroom, mentally cursing himself.

What the hell was he thinking, mentioning a blow job of all things?  They were going to share a bed together. All night. And no way could either of them slip away to sleep somewhere else, not with Scott and Sam in the bunks.  This was Bucky’s life now until the op in England was done.

It wouldn’t be so challenging if Steve really was an asshole.  He wasn’t. In fact, he was shaping up to be a genuinely nice guy, and fuck, he was attractive.  And talented! And he fit in with the guys better than Brock ever did, and it wasn’t even 24 hours.  If they weren’t on an assignment, he could see himself falling for this guy. Like, genuinely catching feelings.  

But this was a job for Steve, and Bucky knew it was all for show.  Everything for the mission.

So he quickly got changed himself, then went out into the bus to slip into the bathroom to brush his teeth and take a leak.  By the time he was back in the bedroom, he found Steve standing there uncertainly, dressed in shorts and a painted on t-shirt.

“I, um, didn’t know what side you slept on.  So, uh -“

Bucky smiled.  “You always this considerate?”

Steve blinked and frowned.  “Well, I guess. I mean, it’s your room, your bed.  I’m the guest, I gotta respect your space.”

“Humph,” Bucky replied, shaking his head.  “Interesting perspective,” he said, and pointed to the right side of the bed.  Steve nodded and crossed over, pulling the covers down so he could climb into bed.

“Why’s that an interesting perspective?” Steve asked, curious, as he settled in.

Bucky climbed in the other side, and shook his head again as he made himself comfortable on his side of the bed.  “Not used to it, I guess. Last guy I shared a bed with didn’t give a rat’s ass about my space or what I liked. Not very respectful toward my space or me, actually.  Not toward the end, anyway.”

“That would be Rumlow,” Steve guessed quietly.  “The guy the others mentioned this morning.”

Bucky held his breath for a moment, counted off, and then let it go slowly, a controlled release.  Then he nodded. “Yeah. The guys pretty much hate his guts.”

“And you?”

Bucky turned to look at Steve, and was surprised at the sincerity looking back at him.  He seemed genuinely interested, maybe even concerned. But he was also a pro, and having some context for Bucky’s last relationship would help him avoid potential triggers for Bucky, and thus benefit the op.  So, in the interest of the mission, Bucky chose to answer. “It’s complicated. We were together for over five years. Before and after this,” he held up his cybernetic hand. “He stuck with me through the recovery, the rehab, the passive prosthetic, the trials for this.  Thought we were endgame, you know? Hell, this bed is here because he’d come with us on tour sometimes. Didn’t want to be separated the whole tour.”

“You were with him when you were an agent, then.”

“Yeah.  He never knew what I did, just knew I had a government job.  He thought it was CIA, I think. Not sure if knowing it was SHIELD would’ve made much difference.  We were good together. At least I thought so. Then I got hurt, it took a while to put me back together. Like I said, I started playing again when I had to do PT with the arm.  He supported me when I tried to launch my musical career. The guys ... they never really liked him. They kept it to themselves because they knew I really loved him. But I could tell.”

Steve nodded solemnly, but he didn’t ask another question, just let the silence play out until Bucky was ready to say more. And Bucky felt the need to finish the story, more for himself than for the mission; he didn’t normally talk about this, and to have someone who seemed both interested and hadn’t been involved ... that was surprisingly cathartic.  “Things were great until they weren’t. We had a string of shows on the West Coast, a whole tour from Vancouver to San Diego and then across the Southwest. It was amazing. But I ... I was missing him like crazy. All these amazing places, incredible food, local music ... I just wanted to share it with the guy I loved, right? So I hopped on a plane and came home between gigs, to surprise him and to try to convince him to come out with us for a week or so.  Romantic, right?”

“Wow.  A guy flies across the whole damn country just ‘cos he wants to be with me?  Yeah, as gestures go, that’s pretty amazing.”

“Yeah.  I was so excited.  Just the idea of seeing him again took my breath away - made me dizzy!  I landed at JFK, hopped in a Lyft, took the stairs two at a time, and when I unlocked the door ... he was bent over the couch, his gym buddy Rollins balls deep up his ass.  They didn’t even notice me at first. The next thing I know, I’m screaming at them both, demanding they stop, demanding they leave. Brock ... he acted like it wasn’t something he asked for, acted like Rollins was some kind of rapist, but I’d seen his face before he knew I was there. I heard him begging Rollins to ... do what he was doing.  Brock lied about not wanting it. i don’t know what else Brock lied about, but I have my suspicions.”

“I’m sorry you had to go through that.  I ... damn. That’s just messed up.”

“Yeah.  So I told him to have his stuff out of the apartment by morning, to leave his key and never come back.  He begged for a second chance, but shit, he was still naked, lube leaking out his ass and his dick swinging free.  And Rollins was standing there still at half-mast, like he liked watching us fight. I called Nat, and she came over with Clint and her friend Val to make sure Brock left with only his own stuff and he really left.  Val is a gorgeous woman who works as a bouncer, always has the best gigs. Then I went over to Nat’s to spend the night. Moved out of the apartment, sold off all the furniture, and got the place I’m in now. Wouldn’t’ve made it through without Nat.  Or Clint.”

“She’s good people.  So’s Clint, even if he is a bit of a disaster.”

“I didn’t realize you knew them both.  Professionally or socially?”

Steve drew a deep breath and tilted his head slightly as he considered his answer.  “Let’s just say they helped me get oriented. I value their friendship. So you kicked him out.  That was the last you saw him?”

“Oh, no.  He kept sniffing around, begging for me to take him back.  He wore me down. We were both at a New Year’s Eve party this past year ... a little too much to drink, a little too lonely, a little horny ... next thing I know I’m waking up in a hotel room, his jizz dried on my stomach, and he’s passed out cold, snoring loud enough to launch Ragnarok.”

“What’d you do?”

Bucky turned then, and grinned ferally.  “Got dressed, tossed a hundred dollar bill on the dresser, and got the fuck out of Dodge.”

Steve choked on his laughter.  “You left a hundred dollar bill -“

“Like he was a hooker, you got it.  Needless to say, he didn’t call me. Wasn’t the last I heard from him, but I never succumbed to his ‘charms’ again.”  Bucky picked at the sheet drawn up to his waist. “Finished the album, and off we went on tour. But the guys ... they worry.  They’re really excited to see me ‘dating’. They’re gonna be in your face, y’know. You’ll probably hear five different versions of the shovel talk.  You’re gonna wanna punch Phil Coulson in the nose every other hour -“

“Who says I don’t already wanna do that?  I work with the guy, I know what he’s like -“

“Y’just wanna haul off and bash that stupid smile off his face -“

“Exactly!  Frown, laugh, cry, scream - do anything but that goddamned generic smile!”

They laughed a bit, until the laughs died out in a series of chuckles that ended in a sigh.  “A man’s gotta dream,” Steve said with a grin.

“Damned straight.  All right, we got a big day of festival going to get ready for.  Better get some sleep. We’ll need to figure out some pet names for each other tomorrow -“

“Are we that kind of couple, the one with the cute names and shit -“

“Yeah, and we totally need a ship name.  But not tonight. Tonight we need sleep,” Bucky declared, thumbing the remote to turn off the lights.  He slid down in bed and rolled over, facing the wall. He could feel Steve following suit. Bucky could feel the heat coming off Steve, even though they were separated by a couple of feet.  “G’night Steve Carter.”

“G’night Bucky Barnes.”

&&&

They were both tired enough from the day that they both dropped off quickly, despite any misgivings about sharing a bed, or the situation Phil had placed them in.  Waking up, however, was a different story. Despite the early August heat, Bucky had migrated toward the source of blazing heat in his bed, and found himself starfished around Steve, his face smushed into one glorious pec, while Steve’s massive arms had gone round Bucky, holding him firmly in place.

And that wasn’t the only thing that was firm.  Bucky could feel the hot stretch of flesh around Steve’s hip pressing into Bucky’s groin.  Or rather, Bucky’s dick was pressing against Steve’s hip, and it was all Bucky could do not to move, to generate friction, to take that delicious pressure and make it ... more.  Jesus, he was a creeper!

But he was pinned in place by those arms, which only made his imagination more fraught - and he couldn’t even pull his pelvis back without making his condition obvious.

He cracked an eye open and noted he wasn’t the only one, and like he’d suspected, Steve was packing.  The prodigious tent that rose up under the covers over Steve’s groin was .. wow. Bucky usually topped, but the hint of that monster had him thinking about switching it up for once.  Combined with the muscles and the obvious strength Steve possessed - everyone had been slack-jawed with awe and at least a bit of arousal at the sight of Steve tossing bags and gear out of the cargo compartment - well.  Bucky would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit - internally at least - that being held down and fucked by this surprisingly sweet blond mountain had its appeal.

And he really, really needed to stop thinking like this!  He caught himself rutting forward, rolling his hips so his dick slid deliciously along the curve of Steve’s hip bone.  His skin was so soft, so warm. So solid. And frankly, so there. It’d been a while since Bucky’s done anything but solo self-care.  

He had to get out of this bed.  Like, pronto. And right now.

There was nothing for it.  He lifted his head and slid his hand up over Steve’s glorious tit and tweaked the nipple hard.

“Owww!” Steve shouted, letting go of Bucky, limbs flailing in all directions.  It was really pretty funny, and it gave Bucky a chance to roll away before he had to explain his ... situation.

“Damn, Steve, I gotta take a leak.  Thought you were gonna crush me in your manly embrace!” Bucky teased, turned away carefully so Steve wouldn’t see his erection.  But Bucky had to laugh at Steve noticing his own, the squeak that sounded so incongruous coming out of that big body, and the way those beefy hands suddenly slammed down over Steve’s “problem” - hard enough he uttered another heartfelt, more guttural, “Owww!”

“Yeah, I’ll leave you alone so you can take care of that.  Gotta say, Carter, you’re full of surprises. Might give a guy a complex.  Or ideas.”

Steve grabbed the pillow on Bucky’s side of the bed and tossed it at his head as he exited the bedroom, muttering, “Asshole!”

Huh. This op might end up being fun after all.  If it didn’t kill him first ...

&&&

Bucky assumed that Steve took care of his dick as thoroughly as Bucky took care of his own.  When Bucky had finished in the can and then took his shower, he came back in the bedroom to find Steve had made the bed but was nowhere to be seen. Shrugging, Bucky got dressed quickly, and made his way out of the bus to find the gang gathered around the grill, where Steve was serving up grilled ham steaks and biscuits toasted in foil.

“Grab a plate,” Steve ordered, no hint of embarrassment or discomfort.  

Well, okay.  He wasn’t above allowing a pretty man feed him.  And Steve was already proving to be an asset - a decent cook, and smart and funny company.  The guys looked like they’d accepted him fully - feeding them went a long way for that - and Steve had slid into the group pretty seamlessly.

“Nice to see you’re not stuck on a type, Barnes,” Phil said softly over his shoulder.

“What the f-.  Phil. What’s that mean?”

“If this were a Disney film, you’d have bluebirds and tiny Cupids winging around your head.  The pair of you ... you both could do a lot worse.”

“Didn’t peg you for a matchmaker.”

“I’m good at putting together teams.  Always have to look out for my team. How’s that different?”

“This is an op, remember?”

“Could be more.  Think about it.”

Then he moved away and Steve was standing there with his brow furrowed and a small smile on his stupid handsome face.  Bucky thrust his plate forward and commanded, “Feed me!”

&&&

Chapter Text

Saturday was really the first truly full day of the fest, as most festival goers were there for the duration, not just stopping by after work like on Friday. It was a day full of sun, music, food, and camaraderie.  Steve gravitated toward the artisans, happy to sit for hours watching the glass blowers and the metalworkers. The midway portraitists and the jewelers. He was still watching one of the artisan booths, rapt, when Bucky breezed through in the approaching dusk.  Bucky paused for a moment, taking in the way Steve leaned in, so enthralled by someone else’s act of creation. He looked so young, boyish. And tantalizingly sweet. Bucky sidled up to him and nudged his shoulder. “You been here all day?”

The smile that Steve turned on him was positively beatific.  “I love it,” he gushed. “I don’t get much chance to just watch artists at work.  But I’m really here right now to establish the cover, so I don’t have to do anything mission related.  I don’t know when I’ll have an opportunity like this again.”

It was charming.  And disarming. He wondered just how someone with an artist’s soul became an agent for Phil Coulson.  Then again, Bucky’d had a musician’s soul, and he’d been one of Phil’s best operatives. He shook his head to clear the thought.  “You eaten yet?”

“Oh, shit, I should get the grill going -“

“Not tonight.  The boys can fend for themselves.  Come with me - let’s go check out what’s on offer here.  I hear the foodie experience is something you don’t wanna miss.  Come with me, fake boyfriend - let’s eat and drink together tonight, like we’re on a real date.”

“Yeah, okay.  That’s a good idea.  Sell the cover.”

“Yeah.  Or ... we could just get to know each other better.  We’re stuck with each other for another six weeks. Like you said, you don’t have to do anything mission related this weekend.  C’mon, Carter - let me buy my best fake guy some festival food? A drink or two?”

Steve huffed a laugh and smiled.  “Yeah, sure. Let’s try it. Gotta warn you, I have a big appetite.  Oh, and who’s gonna tell the guys I’m not cooking?”

“I’ll text Sam.  He can tell the vultures.”

&&&

Steve and Bucky ended up wandering the food stalls, sampling the brews, and even sat on the grass for a while just listening to music - just two normal festival goers, enjoying all it had to offer.

“I dunno, I guess I expected more political music, y’know?”

“Political?”

“Yeah.  You know, protest music, proletariat stuff.  I mean, a lot of folk music is storytelling, but a lot of it is political, too.  Only we’ve lost the context over time.”

“Yeah.  I guess.  I mean, early days of the fest, they could pull in folks like Seeger and Baez.  The Weavers. Okay, yeah, I see your point. So what - you think modern folk music’s lost its edge?

“Maybe not its edge.  But maybe a bit of its purpose?”

“All right.  How about we write a song together, then?  A political song.”

“You don’t even know what my politics are.”

“I’m betting you’re a liberal.”

“Liberal Socialist is probably closest to what I am.  I believe the community should take care of its own - y’know, like the Amish do.  Only without some of the sketchy animal practices.”

“The what?”

“Never mind.  But yeah, I like the way the Scandinavian countries organize their social services.  Everybody pays in, everybody benefits. Not a free ride, but the result of paying in, y’know?”

“Yeah.  Okay. Maybe we go with something a little easier to put to song, huh?  I don’t think social economics has a good enough hook to make air time.”

“See, that’s what I mean.  Worrying more about getting on the radio or the podcast or whatever, less about the message.”

“Okay.  That’s fair.  So all right. I’m well positioned right now. I have a couple of songs that are usually in rotation.  I have an audience. What do you think I should do with that audience?”

Steve thought about it in silence for a moment, then he smiled.  “Kindness.”

“What?”

“Write a song about kindness.  Kindness to people less fortunate.  Kindness to kids who are confused. Kindness to people who are aging.  Kindness to the trans, the gay, the ace, the fulll spectrum. Kindness.  It’s the simplest solution to everything, and the hardest thing for some people to share.”

Bucky let it sink in, and then a slow smile spread across his face.  “I think I can work with that. Okay. Yeah. We’ll write a song about kindness together.”

&&&  

Finally, the last performers of the night took their bows, the last notes of music ringing out on the clear night air.  Bucky scrambled to his feet, and then stood there smiling softly, prosthetic hand outstretched to Steve.

“Uh -“ Steve said, glancing at Bucky’s hand.

Believing that Steve was disgusted by the limb Bucky had worked so hard to accept, Bucky’s smile collapsed in on itself, and he started to pull his hand away.  But Steve caught it, wrapping his around Bucky’s. Steve’s thumb moved gently over the back of Bucky’s metal hand as he shook his head. “Sorry. I’m not used to people reaching out to me ... that way,” he said as he levered himself up off the ground.  “Usually I’m the one offering his hand. It just caught me off guard for a moment, sorry.”

“Big guy like you doesn’t need a hand now and again?”

“It’s not that.  It’s that no one thinks I do.  So no one offers,” Steve explained with a sad smile.

And didn’t that break Bucky’s heart a little more.  “Huh. Well, that’s gonna change,” Bucky declared, and threaded his fingers with Steve’s.  “Boyfriends hold hands. Boyfriends help each other. This is a relationship built on equality, okay?”

The corners of Steve’s mouth quirked up and he leaned in to whisper, “Even if it’s fake?”

“Y’gotta believe to make it real, babe.  Not fake for the duration, right?” Bucky answered airily, and lifted their joined hands to his lips, which he pressed lightly against Steve’s knuckles.

Bucky couldn’t be sure, since there was so much noise as people packed up their blankets and left the reserved seating, but he could swear he heard Steve whimper then.  A curious sound coming out of a guy so big and gorgeous. He put it aside, figuring it was just his imagination, and instead suggested they head back to the camp. “We’ll probably do some more jamming tonight, maybe sing a bit.  Think you could join in?”

“Singing?  I, ah, well.  Yeah, I guess.  Been a while.”

“You sing?”

“I did, yeah.”

“Lemme guess.  High school chorus?”

“Barbershop quartet, actually.”

“Oooh, so the boy knows how to harmonize!  Well, that gives me some ideas.”

Steve stopped then, pulling back on Bucky’s hand, his eyes wide with what looked like actual fear.

“Nothing weird,” Bucky chuckled.  “Ever perform in front of a crowd?”

“Once or twice.  It’s been a long time.”

“Geeze, you make yourself sound so old!  C’mon, singalong around the fire - it’ll be fun.”

&&&

It was fun.  Unlike the night before when the guys had tinkered and played relatively quietly, tonight everyone was riding high on a day of music, marinated in the festival spirit.  Other campers dropped by and joined in, and before long they had quite the collection of performers, musicians and singers alike.

There was lots of laughter, plenty of music, a good share of alcohol, and a joint or three shared around the campfire.  Different people would call out songs or music prompts. Then they settled into a kind of relay, where each person would announce a song, and the others would join in, and then the “stage” would pass to the next person in the circle.

When it got to Bucky, he smiled, his fingers gently forming chords on his guitar as he strummed quietly.  “Steve here thinks that folk music has lost some of its purpose. Not just storytelling, but political action.  For so many songs, their political roots are lost in time. But not this one, I don’t think,” Bucky concluded, launching directly into Bob Dylan’s iconic Blowin’ in the Wind.  Someone cracked out a harmonica to accompany him, and everyone joined in quietly, harmonies knitting together seamlessly as voices lifted in song. Steve was seated next to Bucky, and as Bucky played, he looked up and gave Steve a glorious smile, nudged him and tilted his head expectantly.

Steve swallowed once and nodded.  He knew this song, one of his favorites of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. He’d learned about it as he’d researched that movement, more interested in what SHIELD hadn’t included in their dossier than what they had.  The song had been a commercial success, but it had also inspired both dialogue and activism. And it was no less topical now than it had been in 1963 when it was first introduced. He joined in on the second verse, combining his tenor with Bucky’s baritone, and the result was a pleasant blend that made Bucky smile more broadly.

When the song was over, Bucky leaned over and kissed Steve lightly on the lips, to the delight of his band mates and the collected festival goers.  “We sound good together,” he said.

“You guys make beautiful music together!” Pietro crowed.  “We keep him, yes?”

“Yeah,” Bucky agreed with a light in his eyes that made Steve’s heart stutter like it hadn’t in more than 70 years, “We keep him. Okay, Steve.  You pick the next song.”

Steve thought a moment and then nodded to himself.  The song he chose was one he remembered hearing before Project Rebirth, before the front and war and ice.  But he knew it was a song that had survived into the future.

“This land is my land, this land is your land -“

Applause flickered fast and hot around the group, and everyone joined in with voice and instrument.  Soon the crowd grew as other festival goers in the campgrounds heard the group belting out one of the most famous American folk songs of all time.  Bucky played enthusiastically as the song wound round and round, repeating the chorus again and again, people clutching hands and swaying from side to side.  It was almost an ecstatic experience, the sheer communal joy of singing Woody Guthrie’s masterpiece. Finally, Bucky stopped playing and put both arms up in the air, hands closing into fists to signal the end of the singing.  Then he turned to Steve and nodded.

“This land was made for you and me,” Steve sang again solo, his eyes closed as he savored the sentiment and the music itself.

Bucky reached over and squeezed his hand, grinning widely.  “That was great, babe,” he whispered, and then he stood. “And on that incredible note, we bid you good night,” he announced, tugging Steve to his feet.  “Okay?” he whispered.

“Okay,” Steve replied softly and let himself be led back to the bus as the crowd whistled, catcalled, and even shouted out wishes for pleasant dreams or at least a good time had by all.

Once inside the bus, Bucky was still energized from the music, and Steve wasn’t far behind.  “That was amazing,” Steve breathed, his hand still in Bucky’s.

“We really do sound great together.  We’re gonna write that song, Steve. And you’re gonna perform it with me.”

“Buck, I’m not a singer -“

“Sorry, pal, it’s too late to claim that.  I heard you. Everybody did. It’ll be great, trust me.  Now, I gotta take a leak. You get ready for bed, I’ll join you in a minute.”

“Uh, sure.  Okay.”

&&&

Steve got changed quickly and then sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for his turn in the bathroom.  His lips still tingled from where Bucky had kissed him. And his fingers ... they felt like electricity was buzzing under his skin where Bucky had touched him.

Only two days into the mission, and Steve was already compromised.  He was definitely attracted to Bucky, and he was having a hard time keeping track of what was cover and what was real.  There were moments that felt genuine. But Bucky Barnes had been one of SHIELD’s top operatives, he knew how to sell a character, knew how to be convincing.

And Steve was here to complete a mission.  It didn’t matter what he wanted. Didn’t matter that Bucky touched him so often, so casually, so affectionately.  Didn’t matter that Steve felt like a plant who’d been dying of thirst, only to suddenly find himself in the presence of life-giving water.  There was a word for how Steve felt. He’d learned it since the ice. Touch-starved.

And the feast he wanted to devour just came out of the bathroom looking like everything he’d ever wanted.  He stood as Bucky hooked his thumb back toward the bathroom. “‘S’free - better grab it before the guys do.”

So sue him if what he heard was a little different from what Bucky said.  He got himself under control and nodded, slipping past Bucky without touching him.  Without giving in to the want.

&&&

Bucky watched Steve go down the little hallway toward the bathroom, feeling nervous and excited, and a little scared.  He didn’t really understand what was happening here, but whatever it was, it felt incredible. He couldn’t remember ever making connection with someone the way he and Steve had clicked today.  Had it really only been two weeks since he’d first stumbled across him at the comic shop? And not even two days since they’d been formally introduced. And yet Bucky felt like Steve was the puzzle piece he’d been missing his entire life.

And the music they made together!  Brock had always existed on the periphery of his music, an observer who would sometimes come along for the ride, but who didn’t connect to the music, didn’t feel it moving through him.  In retrospect, Bucky thought that Brock probably felt excluded by the music. Whatever the reasons they failed, Steve ... well, watching Steve among the artisans today, he’d seen someone unexpected and extraordinary.  And he wanted more. And tonight, at the campfire ... he felt that was possible.

He felt his breath catch as Steve came out of the bathroom, swiping his hand through his hair.  It looked soft, touchable, and Bucky’s fingers itched to find out for himself. Instead, he arranged himself in bed, the covers drawn up to his hips as he sat there, back against the headboard, waiting.

God, he was beautiful.

“Hey, so, Nat texted.”

“Just now?”

“Earlier this afternoon.  When I was wandering on my own.  Forgot to tell you. She and Clint are coming tomorrow.  They’ll be here for the set, will probably stay over.”

“That mean we’re giving up the bedroom?” Steve asked as he closed the door to the bedroom behind him.

“Aren’t you the chivalrous one. Nah, think they’re bringing their camper.  Yeah, can you believe it, Nat likes to go camping. Well, she likes to go climbing, actually.  The pair of them like it up high. So they have a camper that sleeps two. So, to answer your question, no, we don’t get evicted by the boss lady.”

Steve had slipped under the covers on his side of the bed, hands folded primly in his lap.  “I knew Clint liked the high ground. I swear, he sees better at a distance. He’s backed me up a couple of times, and -“

“Wait, Clint’s an agent?”

“You didn’t know?”

“Clint can’t keep a secret to save his life or anyone else’s.  So how’d I not know this?”

“It’s Clint.  He lives on a different plane of existence.  When he shows up, ask him.”

“‘Clint, are you an agent?’ Yeah, that’ll work.  Well, that explains a lot.”

“Like?”

“Like how the pair of them met.  They’re not exactly an obvious pairing, y’know?  Not like us.”

“Oh, we’re obvious, huh?”

“I got it!  Barter.”

“Huh?”

“Our ship name.  Barnes and Carter - Barter.  It’s perfect.”

“Eh.”

“Think you can do better?”

“Beeve.”

“That’s stupid.”

“At least it’s not a verb.”

“Carnes, then.”

“Eh.”

“Change your name then, so I have something better to work with.  Or tell me your real name.”

“Coulson’s got a reason for holding back on that.  And I gotta say, it’s kinda nice to not be me for a bit.”

“Like being you is a hardship?”

“There are pressures I could live without.”

“Lemme guess. You’re the bastard son of POTUS.”

Steve practically choked laughing at that one.  “Nope, not anyone’s secret love child.”

“I’ll figure it out, Steve.  I was SHIELD’s best, you know.  It’s only a matter of time.”

“So you say.”

“In the meantime ...”

“Yeah?”

“In the meantime, I think we should practice.”

“Practice what?”

“Kissing.  You looked surprised when I laid one on you out there.  If we’re gonna sell that we’re together, we gotta look more like we really are together.  Like we’re used to kissing. That touching isn’t a shock. Don’t you agree?”

“Um, yeah.  That makes sense.”

“So, um ...”

“What, now?”

“We can only practice and flub it up while we’re here, out of sight of anyone else.  So, um, yeah. I’m gonna ... yeah,” Bucky said, then shifted so he was half facing Steve, and lifted his right hand to run his index knuckle along Steve’s cheekbone, down to his jaw, and then caressed his chin.  He tilted his face to slot their lips together without knocking noses. “This okay?” he breathed softly.

“Yeah,” Steve breathed right back.

Then their lips were touching, gently, chastely, but touching.  Electric current seemed to pass between them on a continuous circuit.  “Still okay?” Bucky whispered.

“Still yeah,” Steve whispered back, but his voice sounded more strained, almost wrecked.

With a smile, Bucky pressed his lips against Steve’s again, this time with a little more pressure, a little more intent.  Steve pressed back, sliding his hand onto Bucky’s nape, fingers threading into Bucky’s hair. Without breaking contact, Bucky shifted closer, deepening the kiss.

Next thing Bucky knew, he’d kicked off the covers and had shifted up onto his knees so he wasn’t twisting himself into a pretzel. Then Steve’s hands slid down and settled in the small of Bucky’s back, pulling him closer as Steve sat up taller in the bed.  Bucky’s hands drifted to Steve’s shoulders, and then Steve did something ... wonderful.

Instead of leaning toward the center of the bed to kiss each other, Steve slid his hands even further down, grasping the meat of Bucky’s ass.  And then he just lifted, like Bucky weighed nothing, turned at the waist, and planted Bucky across his lap, all without breaking the kiss or even grunting in effort.  And that’s how Bucky found himself straddling Steve’s glorious thighs, his knees to either side as he opened his mouth hungrily to Steve. He wasn’t sure who whimpered then - pretty sure it was him, because being picked up like that was beyond hot - and then there was tongue, and heat, and desire, building and building until -

“Oh, oh God, I’m sorry -“ Steve flinched away, his eyes wide with horror, the sweet blush of arousal giving way to the blanching of mortification.  He jerked his hands away from Bucky, and Bucky fell backward, landing with an uncomfortable thump on Steve’s thighs.

Bucky had a sudden fear that Steve was going to fling him away, adding actual injury to insult, and held up his hands placatingly.  “Whoa, whoa, there, Tex. No need to be sorry. We’re consenting adults here. I dunno about you, but I was enjoying that -“

“Oh!  Oh, but consent -“

“Freely given.  I mean, there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy working together.  You know, colleagues with benefits and all.”

“I ... you ... you’d want that?”

“I ... why are you so surprised?”

“I thought you hated me.”

So they were going to have a Conversation.  Bucky sighed and levered himself off Steve and then settled in beside him, a respectable distance between him as he considered his response.

“I was mad.  Grumpy. I’ve been hunting that comic a long time.  And I was depressed, I guess. Coming home from the tour to an empty home.  Empty life. It just felt like the universe was taking another big dump on me, y’know?  And I took that out on you.”

“You’re not just saying that because you’re hoping for visitation rights, are you?”

“Oh, yeah, it would be such a hardship to kiss that ugly mug of yours just so I can visit with Peggy.”

Steve huffed out a laugh, but he wasn’t smiling.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“No.  It’s just that everyone always reacts to how I look -“

“Got some news for you, pal.  We’re a shallow society. And there’s no way to hide that you’re a good looking man.  But I’ll tell you something ... today, with you? Listening to music, hanging out watching the artists?  Trying new food and beer, just going with the flow, no judgment? Best date ever. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun with a guy I found attractive.  And the way our voices blend? I think we got possibilities. But even if we don’t ... we don’t have to do anything. In fact, probably better if we don’t yet ... cos that would just make Phil that much smugger.”

“Is smugger a word?”

“I dunno. But it describes Phil to a T, don't you think?”

“Yeah.  And wow.  There goes my inappropriate boner.”

“Thoughts of Phil will do that to a guy. Fortunately he’s happily married to an incredible woman -“

“Audrey, yeah.  I’ve met her. And why are we still taking about Phil?”

“Because we’re dancing around the serious questions here, Carter.  But cards on the table. I’m attracted to you. More importantly, I’ve discovered I actually like you.”

“Okay.  You are ... attractive, yes.  And I enjoy spending time with you, too.”

“Well, that’s a ringing endorsement.  But let’s agree to see how this plays out, huh?  I’m single, you’re - you are single, right?”

“Yeah. Yes.  I, uh, I don’t really know how ... how to flirt, how to ask people out.  And the whole nobody sees beneath the whole,” he waved his hand to indicate his body, “makes me hesitant when people come on to me.  So, uh, yes. I’m single.”

“Steve, we don’t have to be anything other than colleagues if you’re uncomfortable -“

“It’s not that.  I do, I’d like to be more, y’know, do more.  I just ... I just don’t really know how, y’know?  Never had a real ...”

The implication hung silently in the air between them, until finally, Bucky smiled gently and shook his head.  “Steve, you’ve never had a real relationship before? Then, yeah, slow it is. As slow as you need it.”

Steve let out a pent-up breath, smiling faintly.  “Good. That’s good. Cos I’d like that - to try to have a relationship.  How is it you’re so confident? I just get so far in my head I stumble around -“

“I’m not usually all that confident.  In relationships, at least. In the field when I was an agent, yeah.  Arrogant even, so I’ve been told. And when I’m playing ... the music makes me bold because it just takes over.  But in relationships ... not so much. I just ... once we got past the whole bullshit with Phil, being around you just felt ... right.  Like we were meant to meet each other or some such shit. I dunno if that makes sense -“

“No, no it does.  That’s the way it feels for me, too.  So, maybe ... maybe it’s worth giving a shot.”

“Good.  Cos I wouldn’t mind kissing you again.  If it’s okay with you, that is.”

The smile that Steve gave him then was sweet, open, and very real.  As was the kiss that followed.

&&&

Chapter Text

Bucky stretched languorously, wiggling his toes and reaching over his head.  

“Morning,” a deep, gravelly voice chuckled beside him, and Bucky smiled to himself.  He laughed as he rolled over, bracketed Steve’s head on the pillow with his forearms, and lowered himself to kiss Steve’s smiling lips.  

“Morning,” he agreed.  “Is it a good one?”

Another kiss.

Steve’s hands were warm as they smoothed up and down Bucky’s sides.  “It is now.”

Another.

“Oh?  What makes this one a good one?”

Another.

Steve slid his hands over Bucky’s shoulders and kneaded them gently.  “Any morning I wake up to a vision like you is a good one.”

Bucky tilted his head and considered Steve with mock-sternness.  “Just like me?”

“Just you.”

And another.

“Well, then. I guess that deserves a reward.”

Another.

“Yeah?”

Another, this time longer, deeper, hotter.

“Yeah.”

Another, a peck at the corner of his mouth.  Steve moved to recapture Bucky’s lips as Bucky lifted himself back up, looking down fondly at Steve.  “Your reward for today is you get to make me breakfast.”

“So, just another day at the office, then.”

“Then I’m gonna let you feed me.  And I’m gonna feed you.”

Bucky smiled at the way Steve’s pupils suddenly darkened, his lips falling open on a small gasp.  “Yea-ah?” Steve breathed shakily.

“Did I just uncover a kink, Stevie?  Do you like the idea of feeding me? Is that why you’ve been so good about cooking?”

“I like the cooking.  But I love the idea of feeding you.  Only ... in here. Not out there. So ... maybe today’s not the best time to start that.”

“When we get back to New York, then?  Think I can persuade you to have a sleepover with me?  Think your Mom would approve?”

The smile Steve gave him then was fond but sad.  “Ma’s been gone a long time. I wish she could’ve met you.  Have a feeling she definitely would’ve approved.”

“I’m sorry, babe.  When you’re ready, I know my Ma’s gonna love you.  My sisters will interrogate the shit out of you, so you best have a good story ready to tell.”

“Met a guy who made my heart flutter.  But he thought I was a nutter. Then he kissed me and I melted like butter.  That do?”

“I’m not letting you write the lyrics to our kindness song, Steve.”

“I’ll have you know I write good.  The goodest.”

“Good thing you’re pretty.  And you have a voice that complements mine perfectly.  And you put up with my batshit crazy band mates. And I think you may be the best thing that’s happened to me in a really long time.  I’m still not letting you near my lyrics, though.”

Bucky kissed him again then, and rolled away.  “Day’s a-wasting. I got nervous energy I gotta burn off before the set tonight.  Let’s get the hordes fed, and then go wander. Okay?” he asked, extending his metal hand to Steve.

Steve looked at the hand and grinned, grasping it firmly and letting Bucky drag him across the bed to him.  “Dibs on the bathroom!” he cried, sliding off the bed to take off down the hallway.

“You fucker!” Bucky shouted after him, laughing.

&&&

“Hi, fellas.”

Steve and Bucky had been joking around as they came off the bus, shoving and grabbing at each other when they came up short, facing the neutral face of Judgment, aka Natasha Romanoff.

“Nat,” Bucky greeted warily.

“Hey, Nat,” Steve waved with a confused smile.  “You guys got here already, huh?”

“All set up. The guys are waiting for you to feed them, Steve.  Another hidden talent, huh?”

“Um, yeah, I guess.”  Steve put his hands lightly on Bucky’s shoulders and leaned in to give him a quick kiss on the lips.  “Guess I should go make sure they don’t start eating the tires, huh?”

“You do that, Steve.  James and I, we need to have a conversation.  Shall we?” she gestured toward her camper, which had miraculously gotten a berth right next to the bus.

“Wait, wasn’t there some old hippie couple parked there last night?””

“I can neither confirm or deny.  But if they were, they got a season pass to the Keswick for their trouble.”

“Nice one.  Now what did you want to talk to me about?”

“In my office, Barnes,” she commanded, arching her eyebrow pointedly toward the camper.

“Hey, Buck,” Clint greeted from where he lounged on the hood.  “How’s it hanging, bro?”

“Um, pretty well, actually.”

“I’m glad to hear that.  Get in. You,” Nat pointed to Clint, “guard.”  Then she smiled and leaned in to give him a quick kiss.

“Wish is my command and all that shit.  Don’t let her make you change your mind. You and Steve?  You look good together.”

“Um, okay?” Bucky replied as he got in the front passenger’s seat, and Nat slid into the driver’s seat.  After both doors snicked shut, Bucky turned toward Nat and said simply, “Spill.”

“You and Steve, huh?  That didn’t look like acting to me.”

“It’s not. We, uh, we agreed to give it a try.  For real.”

“Interesting.”

“You don’t approve.”

“No, I didn’t say that.  You’re both grown men. And you both deserve some happiness.  It’s fast. For both of you.”

“Maybe it’s time.”

“Well, I can’t argue that.  Again, for both of you. I assume you’re taking it slow?”

“Hands above the waist, ma’am,” Bucky chuckled, raising his hands and waggling them.

“I’m not policing your bedroom, James.  In fact, this makes the op easier to sell.  I just want to make sure you’re going to be okay through this.”

“Is there some secret about Steve I need to know?”

“Everyone’s got secrets, James.  Steve, you, me. Even Clint.”

“Yeah, since when is Clint an agent?”

“Since before he brought me in.  Have I never told you the sweet, tender story of how we met?  Clint was sent to kill me. He kissed me instead. We’ve been together ever since.”

“Okay.  Wow. And no, all the years we’ve known each other, neither of you ever shared that.”

Nat giggled then.  “I think we both thought the other had told you!  I never meant to keep it from you, James. Just thought you knew.  So if we didn’t tell you, how -“

“Steve mentioned going on ops with Clint.  He assumed I knew, too.”

“Well, now that you do, does it change anything?”

“You two make more sense.  I never could figure out how you met.”

“Well, now you do.  Let’s hope you have as good a luck with your mission romance.”

“Is that what you wanted to discuss?”

“I really just wanted to make sure you were okay.  Coulson sprang the whole fake romance thing on all of us.  I helped arrange your initial meet, but he never said anything about you cohabiting.  I wanted to check in with you before I cornered him. I really had to leave the other day, but I’ve pencilled an entire block for torturing Phil today.”

“Nice to know you’re in my corner.  And yeah. We started off on the wrong foot, but spending time with him ... whatever ops Phil has Steve going on, they aren’t good for him.  But here, away from all that? I’ve gotten to know a really sweet guy with a big heart and an even bigger -“

“I don’t need to know, thank you very much.  And I thought you were taking it slow.”

“We are.  There’s such a thing as morning wood, Nat.  It can be very revealing.”

She snorted at that.  “Okay, get back to your Prince Charming.  I really do want to see you both happy, James.  So you take care of him, and I’ll talk to him to make sure he promises to take care of you -“

“Nat, don’t.  No shovel talk, okay?  Bad enough the teasing he’s getting from the guys.  I want this to develop on its own. I have a good feeling about us, y’know?”

“Even though you don’t know everything there is to know about him?”

“That’s what a relationship is, isn’t it?  Getting to know each other? I want the slow reveal, the discovery.  I don’t want a dossier and a data dump. I want real.”

Nat leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek.  “I’m rooting for your ever after, James. Now go. I need to interrogate Coulson.”

&&&

Bucky came up behind Steve and slipped his arms around his waist, pressing against his back.  “Hey, babe,” he whispered in Steve’s ear.

Steve turned his head so he could kiss Bucky’s cheek.  “Glad to see you got out of that in one piece. Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, just Nat making sure her chicks are making nice.  She’s going after Phil next.”

“Should we warn him?”

“Hell, no.  Now, that smells great - got any left for me?”

&&&

Phil wasn’t staying at the campsite, and Ubered in and out each day to stay at one of the hotels near the Interstate.  So Nat and Clint had time to have breakfast a la Steve (surprisingly good), hang out with the band and get a sense of how they were accepting Steve (all were prepared to adopt him, and several noted that if it didn’t work out with Bucky, they’d take him), and see how the music was feeling (all agreed Nat and Clint had missed out on an epic jam session the night before).

Nat had a good feeling about the fest, and thought it might be a good option to make sure James and the band had a couple of festivals in their tour next year.  The energy level was infectious and thrilling, the people felt comfortable and welcoming, and the venue was great. She was genuinely looking forward to the set tonight.

She asked Sam to text her as soon as Phil was sighted, and she and Clint went off to take in the festival offerings for a bit. They were heading back to the campsite when Sam texted, “Suit’s back. Dude’s weird.”

Nat had to smile at that.  She suspected that Phil wasn’t actually dressed in a suit, but something about him always made it seem like he was.  She swore he could show up in board shorts, a tank, and flip flops, and people would assume he was in Brooks Brothers.

Nat took one last sip of her lemonade, handed the cup off to Clint, and nodded as she got up to corner Phil.  Clint downed the lemonade in one gulp, crunched the cup to add it to the trash bag they’d pack out, and got up to follow.

Sure enough, Phil was dressed casually - for him - in a polo with chinos and Birkenstocks.  And his pricey shades. Nat chose to shadow him for a bit to see how Phil celebrated fest, and she was highly entertained to see the booths he stopped at, the food he chose to buy, and the soft serve ice cream monstrosity he topped it all off with.  She was not at all surprised to find him waiting for her at a table for the midway, a second ice cream monstrosity held out for her.

She took the offering and sat down, while Phil settled himself in a seat next to her.

“We’re not going to have this conversation where civilians can hear.”

“Agreed.  Come back to my trailer and discuss this like civilized spies.”

“Finish your ice cream, Agent Romanoff.”

“Not that kind of agent anymore, Phil.  But nice try.”

&&&

Clint perched himself on the hood of the camper, sunglasses settled on his face, arms crossed over his chest.  To the world, he looked like he was asleep. In point of fact, he was aware of everyone within a twenty foot radius of the camper, his bow resting under his back and ready to draw in the space of a breath.

Inside the camper, Nat was seated in the driver’s seat, still working away at her ice cream, while Phil sat in the passenger side, chasing the last of the confection with his spoon.

“How did you know?”

“Know what? Phil asked, concentrating on that last ... little ... bit.

“That Steve was gay.  I keep trying to set him up with nice young women. He even went out with a couple, but nothing worked out.  It never occurred to me that he wasn’t interested.”

“He’s unfailingly polite, isn’t he?  As for knowing, I didn't. Not for certain.  But there were oblique references in Director Carter’s personal files. We know now that she herself had been in a polyamorous bisexual relationship with Angie Martinelli and Daniel Sousa.  She’d known about Steve’s preferences, and had not only protected him, she’d tried to help him live his best life. But he’d downed the Valkyrie before he’d had a chance to take her up on it.”

“So, you -“

“Knowing his preferences, I of course tried to gently guide him toward his options in this century.  Cap is all about service, about the greater good. At the expense of Steve Rogers. I think he works for SHIELD because he doesn’t recognize he has other options.  I’m hoping that traveling with James’s band - seeing how an ex-agent has reinvented himself and found a satisfying, worthwhile life - may help Steve finally integrate into the 21st century as more than a soldier.”

Nat stared at Phil in disbelief, surprised at Phil’s sensitivity.  “Wow, Phil. Who knew? You really do have a heart. I agree, though - I don’t think Steve recognizes he has options outside of serving in Peggy Carter’s army.  What I see between him and James after only two days - it’s like he’s a completely different person. James, too. It’s ... surprising. So yeah, I’ll do whatever I can to support that agenda.  So long as the focus is their mutual benefit.”

“Of course, I do need them both to finish this op.”

“I thought James wasn’t going to be part of the op.”

“You know Barnes.  He won’t be able to help himself.  And now, if he and Rogers really are becoming involved, I don’t see him leaving Steve to go in alone.  We don’t need Barnes to be part of the op. But I think we need to be flexible enough to factor him in if he reacts the way I expect he will, given the updated parameters.”

“This isn’t a setup?”

“No.  But you try telling Barnes he can’t protect the man he’s falling in love with when the time comes.  I’m just making sure we can adapt the plan if necessary. Otherwise, Rogers goes in, I’m his sole backup.”

“No.  Clint and I will be there, too.”

“Natasha -“

“James is family.  Steve ... Steve has the potential.  And you, God help me, you’re family, too.  We go in as a team. Stark’s tech, Banner’s analysis, the five of us on the ground - yes, Clint will find a high altitude vantage point, but you know what I mean.”

“You’re sure about this?”

“If we’re not needed in the moment, that’s fine.  But we’ll be prepared to go in. Weldon won’t question us being there.  I’m James’s agent and manager. And Clint can pitch`                         in as part of Thor’s team.  He’s done it before, Thor won’t do what he did with Steve.  It’ll work.”

“All right.  I wasn’t going to ask, you know.  And I wasn’t hoping you’d offer. I really had meant to keep all of you off the board.”

“I know.  We stand a better chance of success - of all of us coming home alive and unmutated - if we work together.  But let’s not tell Steve or James right now. Let’s let them enjoy their little honeymoon period.”

“Understood.  They really are cute together.  Everyone totally ships them.”

&&&

Chapter Text

Once Nat’s interrogations were complete, the afternoon seemed to move in high-speed.  The band sat around outside the bus, jamming and tinkering.  They were joined by Nat, Clint, Steve, and even Thor.  The set list was an evolving creature, based on what felt right, and what sounded best.  Once or twice, Bucky had to ask the support team to sit out a verse or two so he could really get a handle on how the band sounded, but then he waved everyone back in to just sing along and enjoy the music.  Finally Bucky seemed satisfied that they had a solid line-up, and the band was mellow and comfortable with how they were all sounding.  They just kept noodling around on their instruments, so everyone just hummed, scatted, or sang along.

Bucky leaned into Nat’s space and asked quietly if they could talk privately.  She gave him a curious side-eye, but agreed, and the pair of them excused themselves and made their way back to Nat’s camper.

“If you’re telling me you and Steve are eloping, I’m going to have to pull the adult card and talk you out of it.”

Bucky snorted at that, saying, “Well, that’s oddly specific.  It is about Steve, but not eloping.  When I get married, I plan to be an absolute hubzilla, complete with tuxedo fitting meltdowns, diva walkoffs, and outrageous venue requirements.”

“Honestly, James, I think you should skip the tux and go straight for a corset with white lace-up leather breeches.”

“You’ve given this some thought.”

“I am always focused on spotlighting your best assets.  It’s what a manager does.”

“Somehow, I think sexy lingerie and BDSM apparel is more Steve’s territory than yours.”

“Well.  He may need some reference material, and I’m nothing if not helpful.  So what did you want to ask me?”

“You know how you asked Steve to video our performance tonight?”

“To stream on our YouTube channel.  Yes.  So?”

“So ... could Clint do it instead?”

“Why-y?”

“Because Steve is going to be busy.  Singing with me.  As my boyfriend.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, James.”

“Why?  He and I have talked about doing this for real.  And y’know, it’ll sell the relationship for the op.”

“Yes, that’s true.  You two seem to be so real -“

“We are real -“

“That I almost forgot the relationship is part of the op.  He’s not out, you know.  Not at work.  And he doesn’t really have any friends to speak of outside of work.  Until now, I guess. I had no idea he was interested in men.  I’ve been setting him up on blind dates with women from work for months.”

“Oh?”

“Don’t worry.  He went out on a couple of dates, probably to be polite, but he’s managed to dodge me for the past couple of months.  I thought he was shy.  It never occurred to me that I was picking the wrong options.”

“You’re not going to do that anymore, are you?”

“Yes, James, I’m going to matchmake the man of your dreams right out of your life.  Seriously, falling in love doesn’t have to decrease your IQ.  Of course not.  That was a personal project, it had nothing to do with any mission or cover.  Now I know he’s interested in you - and you are interested right back - I will retire as his personal yenta.”

“Good. Cos I’ve got a good feeling about him.”

“Even though you can’t know everything about him yet?”

“It’s early days, Nat.  We got a whole future to learn about each other. It’s not like he’s deliberately keeping something from me just to be an asshole.”

“No, he’s definitely not.  I just wanted to make sure.”

“You know what it is.  His secret.”

“I do.  But until Phil agrees to release the info, I’m going to honor the mission secrecy.”

“Does Clint know?”

Nat was silent.  Everyone knew that Clint couldn’t keep a secret to save his own hide.  Except when, inexplicably, he did.  Finally, she asked, “Do you really need to know?”

Bucky considered a moment in silence, then he shook his head.  “No.  It’s good to know that if I really wanna know, I can bribe Clint, though.  Call it a contingency.”

“All right.  You’re going to be great tonight, you know.  The band sounds terrific.  You’re not half bad, yourself.”

“Good thing you’re my best friend, Nat.”

“Good for you, you mean,” she countered with a grin.

He leaned over and placed a kiss on her temple.  “Hell, yeah.”

&&&

There was nothing pathetic about watching your ex perform on YouTube.  As he took another swig from his bottle of Michelob, Brock Rumlow reassured himself that what he was doing was perfectly normal, perfectly macho.  Streaming James’s band performing at the fucking Billy Penn Folk Festival was surveillance.  On his ex.  

Because he was totally going to win James back.  They were meant to be together.  He was a better person when he was with James.  He could quit Jack, he knew he could.  For James.  For them.  They were good together once. Great, even.  He wasn’t even sure why he got so stupid, throwing away the best guy to ever come into his life. 

And he had to admit that James looked good.  Really, really good.  Relaxed, in the moment.  Happy, even.  And that gave Brock pause.  Because how could James be happy without him? 

His brain veered away from that question, because it wasn’t something he wanted to examine too closely.  The plan was to get James back.  He had to focus on that.  And James’s music was important to him.  So it had to be important to Brock, more important than he’d treated it before.  He had to show James that he was committed to them, to him, to what James wanted and needed.  So Brock focused on the music, finding he kind of liked this sound.  He hated James’s band mates, but the music was decent.  And James sounded amazing, like always.  Hell, just the sound of his voice was enough to make Brock hard.  

He palmed himself through his jeans as he watched James get lost in the music.  James’s face when he played was more an O face than his actual O face, which Brock found confusing.  How could music be more of a turn-on than Brock himself?  

The camera work was actually pretty decent, and the sound quality was excellent.  He could hear the power in James’s voice, the yearning.  He had to believe James was yearning for him, for what they had.  He’d already bookmarked the stream so he could watch it again and again.  James looked so good.  Good enough to eat.  Damn, but he missed his dick.  He’d be jerking off to this stream until he saw James in the flesh again, but that wouldn’t be too long.

He’d already checked the band web site, and saw they were going to a gig in Rochester next weekend.  He couldn’t be bothered with a field full of unwashed hippies, but he could get it together to drop in on a proper gig, show off his assets and put his seduction on.  He was going to get James back, he just knew it.

The band finished their song, and the audience applauded enthusiastically.  He felt proud of his boo, showing the hippies a good time.  Then James snagged a stool and brought it center stage to the microphone, while the rest of the band waved and started breaking down their instruments with the help of two blond behemoths.  He recognized Thor.  He hated Thor.  Almost as much as he hated Thor’s brother Loki.  He didn’t know who the other guy was, but he was sure ripped.  He picked up Pietro’s drum kit and carried it off-stage like it was a tinker toy.

No matter.  They’d all have to go.  James didn’t need them.  He could make it on his own and make it big.  And Brock despised them every bit as much as they hated him.

“Let’s hear it again for the guys - Sam, Scott, Loki, and Pietro, everybody!” James called out as he settled himself on the stool, smiling as he tuned his guitar.  It still weirded Brock out to see that metal monstrosity pretend to be a real hand, but even he had to admit that James was doing pretty good with it nowadays.  But fuck, he looked good, and Brock couldn’t help himself - he just had to take hold of himself as little Brock stood up to salute James.  He had his hand down his pants and wrapped around his dick before he decided it was a bad idea.  So, fuck it, he was committed.

“So I wanted to thank everyone here at the Fest for making me and the gang feel so welcome.  This is our first time here, but I guarantee you we will be back!  We’re camping, and we have really been enjoying the opportunity to jam with our fellow fest-goers.  It’s been especially nice, because I have a new fella in my life.”  Brock’s hand stilled where it had been working over his dick, and he grit his teeth, leaning forward in his chair.  He had to rearrange himself, since that kind of pinched his junk, but he was paying very close attention to James’s announcement of his betrayal.  “And it turns out he has a pretty decent voice.  Even better, it sounds really good blended with mine.  Folks, he might be a little shy, so I’m going to need you to help me make him feel welcome here on the Moffit Stage - how about a round of applause for my amazing boyfriend, Steve Carter!  C’mon, Steve - just for you, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’!”

The audience began to clap in time, chanting, “Steve!  Steve!  Steve!”

Brock hauled his hand out of his pants and balled it in a fist.  Boyfriend?  James had a new boyfriend?  No, that wouldn’t do.  He leaned forward further, elbows on his knees, craning for a good look at the fucker James was cheating on him with.  One thing he knew for sure, it was going to end, and soon.

Then “Steve” came out on the stage, the blond hunk from the drum kit.  He was blushing and shaking his head, but Brock knew from experience that James could be persuasive.  He made a show of resistance, but he ultimately caved and leaned in close to share the microphone with James.  

Whoever was recording this had the good sense to zoom in so Brock could get a good look.

“Well, fuck me sideways,” he swore under his breath.  Then he grabbed his cell and dialed.

“Yeah, Pierce?  I’m in.”

&&&

“Geeze, Buck!  Warn a guy next time, huh?” Steve was laughing as they left the backstage area to walk back to the campsite.

“What, so you can escape first?  Not a chance, pal!  We’re joined musically now.  Think you might even be my muse, which means I’ll need you close by whenever I sing.”  Bucky slid his arm around Steve’s waist and pulled him close, dropping a sweet kiss on his lips.  “We sound awesome together.  I’m so glad Clint got that recorded - you really need to hear us to believe how good we sound together.”

Clint took a flying leap off the stairs and stuck the landing right in front of them.  “Over six thousand live views, and now three thousand hits on the recorded stream and climbing!  Comments are off the chain.  Lotta folks offering to marry you if it doesn’t work out with Bucket here.”

“Um, thanks?”

“Clint!  Tell me you didn’t transmit that last song,” Phil demanded stridently as he marched - literally marched, in Birkenstocks - up to them.

“Transmitted, streamed, saved.  It’s blowing up YouTube!” Clint replied gleefully.

“Take it down.”

“It’s part of the entire performance.  The band and Buck solo with Steve.  I can’t just take down one song -“

“I don’t care. I didn’t authorize the transmission of Steve’s face onto the Internet -“

“You didn’t authorize?  Phil, since when do you have control over how my face gets used?” Steve demanded.

“We can’t have the wrong people seeing you too soon -“

“Well, then maybe you should’ve thought about that before telling everyone I was Bucky’s boyfriend.  It’s too damned late - leave the video where it is, Clint.  People watched it live, and they’re still watching the recording.  That horse has bolted, Phil.”

“Steve, it’s for your protection -“

“It’s too late.  We’ll deal with it.”

“Weldon may figure out -“

“I said it’s too late, Phil. Let it go,” Steve ordered tersely.

“Yes, sir,” Phil replied automatically, drawing his shoulders back into military stance.  He barely stopped himself from saluting Steve, immediately pinking up in embarrassment.

“I knew it!  Captain Carter?” Bucky guessed with a grin.

Steve glanced at Phil, then turned to Bucky and nodded. “Captain Something, anyway.  I can’t tell you anymore than that.”

“Classified, I get it.  Now, let’s go celebrate your stage debut -“

“Not actually my debut -“

“Third tree from the left doesn’t count, Steve.”

Steve just looked at Bucky for a long moment, then smiled brightly.  “No, of course, you’re right.  Yeah, so festival debut, YouTube debut.  Reviews are good, Clint?”

“Here, look,” Clint replied enthusiastically, shoving his phone into Steve’s hand.  Steve spared a glance back at Phil, whose lips were drawn in a tight, worried line.  Then his eyes dropped to the phone, and steadily increasing numbers attached to the performance video.  “I - wow. This is good, right?” Steve asked, tilting the screen so Bucky could see.

“Damned good.  People like looking at you.  Can’t imagine why,” he teased as he leaned in to steal another kiss.  Only he didn’t have to steal, because Steve turned to freely give it.

“You fellas are sorta trending,” Natasha announced with a grin as she walked up to join them.  “You sounded good, Steve.  Might have to make you a permanent part of the band.”

“Natasha, we need to talk -“ Phil tried to interpose, but she glanced at him and arched an eyebrow expectantly.

“Phil’s afraid my cover’s blown.”

“Not after that performance.  You not only sold that you two are for real, but you showed why. I think you should make that a part of the show, James.  Invite Steve up to sing a song with you. Maybe next time, something a little more romantic, though?  Oooh, Everly Brothers.”

“Let It Be Me,” Clint completed with a wild-eyed grin. Natasha pointed to him and smiled.

“Am I the only one who sees this as a problem?” Phil asked plaintively.  

As one, they all turned to him and said, “Yes.”

“Fine.”

&&&

 

Chapter Text

Bucky settled with Steve cuddled against his chest, skin warm and soft against his.  The euphoria of the set was still fizzing in his blood, alongside the want the man in his arms inspired.  He nuzzled his cheek against Steve’s hair, inhaling the scent of him.

“Tomorrow we’ll be back in civilization,” he murmured against Steve’s ear.  Just the idea of having Steve alone, no one nearby to hear or walk in on them was enough to make Bucky start to chub up.  The things he wanted to do with this man!  

Steve’s hand rubbed along Bucky’s forearm, holding it in place across Steve’s chest.  “This is civilization compared to some places I’ve been.  New York today ... that’s just ... crazy,” he giggled, an oddly endearing sound coming out of such a big man.

“Don’t go casting aspersions on my town, buddy,” Bucky warned, nipping at Steve’s ear. “And besides, we get back to New York, we won’t have these yahoos sitting right outside the bedroom door.  Come to my place, stay over. We can finally spend some quality time together, just the two of us.”

Steve’s hand paused then, his fingers light against Bucky’s skin. But Bucky could feel the sudden tension running through Steve’s body like a live current.

“Steve?” Bucky asked softly, suddenly apprehensive. Had he been reading more into this than he should?

“Yeah.  About that.”

Bucky closed his eyes, preparing himself for the rejection he was sure would follow that simple phrase no one ever wanted to hear.

“About what?” he asked, anxiety tightening its hold on his chest, an ache already radiating out from his heart.

Steve slid his hand down to lace his fingers with Bucky’s, and shifted so he was lying on his back and able to turn his face to look directly in Bucky’s eyes.

That ache turned cold, and Bucky felt his world crumbling in the furrow of Steve’s brow and the suddenly tight line of his lips.

“I get it.  This has been nice.  This weekend has been ... magical, I guess.  But when we get back to New York -“

Bucky pulled his hand away and rolled onto his back, drawing his arms in close so he was no longer touching Steve. 

“Yeah, okay,” Bucky said hollowly, laying there staring at the ceiling for a moment before he huffed and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.  “I get it, too,” he added, not even trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice.  “Mission protocol.”

Steve scooted up and put his hand on Bucky’s arm, pulling Bucky back toward him.  “No, you don’t.  I’m not saying I don’t want to spend time with you.  I’m saying I want to take it slow.  Spend some time getting to know each other in the real world.  Date.  I want to court you, Bucky Barnes. I don’t want to jump into bed - sex, I mean. Cuddling is aces, and I love waking up next to you.  I haven’t slept this well since ... well, in a really long time.  But I want the long haul with you.  Not just this weekend, but the next and the next and the -“

Bucky couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  He’d braced himself for a brush off, a solid rejection.  Instead, Steve was offering commitment, a future together.  He felt the cold shatter and his heart nearly burst with what he could only call joy.

Bucky turned around and surged up against Steve, shutting him up with a kiss filled with all the promises he could offer.  Steve’s arms wrapped around him, solid and warm and there.  So much there.  When they finally had to break to breathe, Bucky whispered, “Yeah.  I want that.  I want it all.  I wanna date you.  I want cuddles.  I want waking up next to you on a snowy morning.  I want you to meet my folks and I wanna write that stupid kindness song with you -“

“There is nothing stupid about kindness.  And I think we should plan to have a chorus of kids to sing it with us -“

“As long as there’s an us, I’m happy.  As slow as you want to go.  Together.”

Steve took Bucky’s hand in his and brought it to his lips, where he placed a very deliberate kiss to his knuckles.  “Together.  Now I’d better get up and feed the hordes.  When we get back to New York, I’m gonna go back to my place, and make a reservation at a nice restaurant.  Then I’m taking a proper shower, and I’m putting on my best suit.  Then I’m coming back to your place to take you out the way you deserve.  Is it a date, Bucky Barnes?”

“God, you sap.  Yeah, it’s a date.  And if you wanna stay over, I promise no funny stuff.  Unless you want it.  Then I’m all in.  I’m all in with you, Steve.”

&&&

“Happiness is a good look on you.  Who knew?” Nat told Bucky as they sat next to each other digging in to the breakfast that Steve was serving up.

“Don’t think I’ve ever been this happy before. Never really knew how it felt.”

She took a few bites of her food, chewing thoughtfully.  Then she said softly, “I’m happy for you both.  Maybe we should double some time.”

“Double with Clint?  Do you think I have a death wish?  Finally found the guy of my dreams, I’m not looking to get blown up or anything.”

“It was just that one time.  Clint isn’t so good at metric conversions.  He lets me do the calcs now.”

“Wait, that was planned?”

“Oh.  Hmm.  Need to know, Barnes.  Need to know.”

“I have the weirdest fucking friends.”

“Yeah, but your life is never boring, is it?”

“Never,” he agreed, and leaned over to buss her cheek.

“Not that I’m complaining, but what’s that for?”

“I dunno.  Being a good friend when I needed it.  Keeping Clint from detonating my bus.  Looking out for Steve until I could meet him.”

“Oh, is that all?  Seriously, I’m hoping that boy will develop a sense of self-preservation if he’s getting some nookie.  Some days he’s almost as bad as Clint.  Almost.”

“He takes chances?”

“Have you met him?  Steve ... well, I guess that’s his story to tell.  Y’know, I’m gonna have another talk with Phil.”

She got up, taking her plate with her, and Bucky looked up in alarm.  “Nat?”

“You stay, you could use some fattening up.  The way R, er, Steve cooks, gotta feeling you’ll be trading up your skinny jeans,” she told him with a smile, then slipped away in search of Phil Coulson.

R?

&&&

The team broke down the camp site and loaded the bus with their usual smooth cooperation.  Bucky was proud of the band and the whole support team.  And the way that Steve had fit himself in seamlessly was nothing short of a miracle.  Even Thor, who’d been so suspicious of him when they’d first met, was completely on board the Steve-Train, the two of them working to load up the cargo space like they’d been partners for years.  In fact, when the rest of the team formed a sort of crowd, the two of them started acting up, literally tossing the bags and instruments back and forth like they were doing a juggling act.  It was hard to believe they hadn’t been practicing for months.  By the time they stowed the last piece, they’d attracted a much bigger audience, who all applauded, whistled, and hooted their appreciation of two blond, buff guys tossing shit and showing off their muscles.  

Grinning cheekily, Steve and Thor linked arms and bowed to their audience, then collapsed into laughter.

Bucky felt blessed to be surrounded by such idiots and assholes.  The easy, buoyant mood continued into the ride home, with Clint and Nat following along behind the bus.  Phil disappeared to Uber back to his hotel, where presumably he had his own mode of transport back to New York.  The gang sang, made their own instruments out of hands, seat backs, their own mouths, even combs and tissues.  

“Geeze, this is like camp, y’know?”

“What, sleepaway camp?  Never got to go.”

“No?”

“No.  Too sickly.  No money, either.”

“Man, you’d think somebody woulda gotten you out of the city in the summer for your health if you were that bad off.  But sickly, huh?  You’re okay now, right?”

“Oh, yeah.  I, um, had some treatments in my early twenties.  Fixed me right up.”

“What, experimental shit?”

“Yeah, I guess you could say I was a lab rat.”

“Well, I didn’t notice any glow when the lights were out.  I guess you’re safe to be around.”

“Well, the radiation wore off years ago.”

“I never know when you’re shitting me and when you’re serious.”

“That’s a good thing, I guess.”

&&&

Saying goodbye once the bus was unpacked and the gang started to awkwardly drift away was ... well, it was kind of traumatic.  It shocked Bucky how much he’d come to depend on Steve’s presence over the past couple of days.  He realized that Steve’s idea to go slow, to live separate lives, was probably a good one.  A healthy one.  It didn’t mean he had to like it.

So when they parted, he made sure to give Steve a kiss worth remembering, and knew he was being a brazen asshole when he stepped into Steve’s space and pressed their crotches together shamelessly.  He swallowed down the involuntary moan that escaped Steve’s throat, and smiled against Steve’s lips when they finally parted, gasping.

“Buck, I gotta go,” Steve practically whined.

“I know.  Just remember who you’re coming back to.”

“God, as if I could forget.”  Licking his lips as he stared hungrily at Bucky’s mouth, Steve shook his head.  “I really gotta go, you asshole.”

“So go.”

“Kinda think I’m gonna get arrested as soon as I turn around.”

“Not really sorry.”

“I can see that.”

“Think puppies.  Here, give me your phone,” Bucky ordered, taking a step back to put out his hand.  He smirked at the tent in Steve’s trousers, proud that he could do that to him with just a kiss.  But Steve did as he was told, his expression dazed and his lips gloriously spit-shiny and kiss-swollen.  Bucky pulled up YouTube, keyed in “best cat videos” and handed the phone back to Steve.  “You’re welcome. Just don’t forget to come up for air.  You owe me a date.”

&&&

“I don’t remember giving you a key.”

“Hmm.  Me, neither.  Must’ve been an oversight on your part, Captain.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Hmm.”

“So, why are you here, Coulson?  Didn’t we have enough of each other this weekend?”

“I mostly stayed out of your way while you established your cover.  Now it’s time to debrief.”

“It’s not a cover.  I really like him.  And he really likes me.  I’m taking him out on a date tonight.  And I don’t get why I can’t tell him who I really am.”

“Because your survival, the survival of Captain America, is not publicly known.  For now, it’s a government secret.  James isn’t an agent anymore.  He doesn’t have a need to know.”

“He’s my boyfriend.  He has every right to know.”

“You spent a weekend, a magical weekend sure, together.  That’s not a relationship, Steve.”

“How long were you and Audrey together when you realized she was the one?”

“About five seconds.  But I’m not the only survivor of a secret government funded project.”

“I’m not property.”

“No.  But you are an asset.”  

“So what - I have to sue the government to get control of my own person?”

“You won’t have to go that far.  I’ve already made the case that after this op, you should be released as a free agent.  But Steve, keeping your survival under wraps also keeps you safe.”

“You’re sending me on missions, but you’re keeping me safe?”

“Your blood makes you valuable to some pretty unscrupulous people.”

“Fine.  So Captain America dies on this op.  For good this time.  The only place Steve Rogers is connected to Captain America is in the records.  Strike my name, redact it, whatever.  But I tell Bucky the truth.  I’m not building a relationship based on lies.”

“Withholding information because it’s need to know isn’t lying.”

“You’ve been a spy too long, Coulson.  It damn well is lying, whatever the intention.  Now, you came here to debrief me - get it over with because I have a date to get ready for, and I’m not gonna be late this time.”

Coulson asked his questions - mostly about the band, Thor, his impressions on Bucky’s mission readiness, and Steve answered succinctly.  On that last question, he pushed back at Coulson, stating that Bucky was no longer an agent and shouldn’t be considered an asset for the mission.

“You’ll realize as you get to know James that he may be retired, but he’s not about to let someone he cares about get in the line of fire without him backing them up.”

“Did you plan on that when you put me in this position?”

“It was in the back of my mind.”

“You’re a screwed up fucker, Coulson.”

“And I thought Captain America had a cleaner vocabulary.”

“Oh, suck my dick, Phil.  I’m not the squeaky clean Boy Scout the propaganda machine made me out to be. I can swear in seven languages, eight if you count ASL.”

“When did you learn ASL?”

“Clint.”

“Oh, of course.  Well, as entertaining as it would be to test your polyglot cursing acumen, you have a date to get ready for.”

“Get the fuck outta here, Phil.”

&&&

“Well, don’t you clean up nice.  You look beautiful in that suit.  I’d really like to peel you out of it sometime.”

“Sometime.  And I’m looking forward to it.  But not tonight.  Tonight, I get to show off my guy, and show him a good time.”

“We could stay right here and have a good time.”

“Buck.”

“I know.  I’m just flirting.  Can’t blame a guy when you’re all .. you.”

Steve’s smile could only be termed sappy, and he was not in the least ashamed of it.  He’d waited his whole life - plus 70 years - to meet someone like Bucky Barnes.  That he got to have this incredible future, with this beautiful man ... there were a lot of days where he missed his old life, his old friends, his old world.  But looking at Bucky, feeling the heat that coursed through him at just the thought of doing more than look ... In just a couple of days, his life had been upended and made more meaningful.  All because of the dancing gray-blue eyes looking back at him, wreathed in laughter lines, and full of mischievous promise.

Hell, yeah, he’d take it.

“C’mon, the Lyft is waiting.”

&&&

The restaurant was small, cozy, unpretentious.  It wasn’t a paparazzi spot, and people didn’t come here to be seen.  People came to have good food, excellent service, and a memorable evening.

It would’ve been memorable if all they’d done was hit the local burger joint for pre-fab food and gassy milkshakes.  Instead, Bucky felt like Steve had upped the date ante to the point where he’d be spoiled for anyone else.  Ever. And he was okay with that.

Mama Rose didn’t quite hover, but she did stop by frequently to beam at the pair of them, urge more wine on them, and drop off plate after plate of tempting dishes.

“I don't know where you put it all.  You got a waist like Vivian Leigh, and you eat like King Kong.  Your workout regimen must be something else.”

“Huh, I got those references.  And yeah, I like to run. And I’ve got a fast metabolism.  Side effect of the treatments.”

“Okay.  Well, I like having a taste, but there’s no way I can eat all of this.”

“Tasting is good. And I’d really like to feed you, but, um, we’re in public.  But sometime soon, Bucky Barnes.  I’m gonna cook for you, and I’m going to enjoy feeding you.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I’d like that.  When we’re alone.  But for now ... tell me about little Stevie Grant.  Leave no embarrassing details out.”

&&&

The week proceeded in that manner, with the boys hanging out, separating briefly while Steve went home to prepare for their date, and then returning to collect Bucky to take him out.  It was all kind of magical.

And Steve had started to work on a piece of art for Bucky, as promised.  He refused to show it to Bucky, claiming it was bad luck to see the art before it was done.

“Pretty sure that’s brides and weddings you’re thinking of there, pal.  But whatever.  Why don’t you put that aside for a while and come over here and cuddle me, big guy?”

&&&

Finally it was time to pack up the bus again and head up to Rochester for their gig there.  Bucky was already getting excited and a little drunk in anticipation of the energy that would be part of the show.  As much as he’d loved the festival, it was a different kind of vibe vs. a small venue where people were within reach.  The feedback loop with the audience was intense and addictive.  He always came out of a show like that practically incandescent, he was so amped up on what the audience gave him.  The potential for arenas was daunting and exciting, but the truth was Bucky didn’t want to lose the intimacy of the small venues.  And a lot of what made the Billy Penn Folk Festival fun wasn’t the Sunday night performance - as amazing as it was - but the moments in between, the sing-alongs in the campgrounds, the duet with Steve ... just Steve, really.

The past week with Steve had been fun and comfortable.  Easy and natural.  Like they were meant to be together.  So packing up their gear and loading it on the bus Thursday morning was just one more thing they did together in a weird sort of synch, like they’d been doing it for decades, not just ... less than a week.

The realization brought Bucky up short.  He and Steve had been together less than a week.  Shit.

Was he falling too hard, too fast?

He glanced over to where Steve was horsing around with Sam, both of them relaxed and at ease with each other.  Sam had never made any effort to engage with Brock at all.  Ever.  But Steve?  It was like they were already best buds.  And Thor, whose sunny disposition masked an acute intelligence and remarkable judge of character, he’d made clear that after that awkward introduction, he thought the world of Steve.

And Nat.  Nat was rooting for them.  She hadn’t warned him about moving too fast.  She hadn’t warned him about not knowing enough.  She’d given her blessing.  And Clint clearly loved the heck out of Steve, and the sentiment was mutual.

Okay.  It wasn’t always going to be perfect.  But already, Bucky believed it had the potential to be very, very good.

The gear and instruments were stowed, the bus gassed up, and everyone was in their seats.  Steve was nestled against Bucky, his bulk solid and warm.  Bucky pressed his cheek against Steve’s soft hair and smiled.  

Let the adventure begin!

&&&

They settled in at the motel, and the entire team agreed they’d go over to the bar to check it out.  They’d be playing in the charity concert, raising funds for local LGBTQ services and organizations.  Steve seemed especially excited about the event, and asked what he could personally do to contribute.

“We’re doing another duet, babe.  If that’s okay with you.”

“Yeah, sure.  It was fun before.  But that’s not gonna do anything to help raise cash.”

“Well, how about art?  Can you do quick sketches?”

“Yeah.  You think people might be interested?”

Bucky shrugged.  “Let’s ask the organizer when we get there.  Worst case, they say no.  Best case ...”

“I end up with artist’s cramp and I raise a few bucks for the kids.  Sounds good.”

&&&

“Steve, I really don’t think you understand the concept of being undercover.”

“Phil, I really think you worry too much.”

“One of us has to.  You have no sense of self-preservation.”

“You would not be the first person to say that about me.  But if you feel that way, why’d you put me in as boyfriend to someone famous?”

“James isn’t that famous.”

“He’s famous enough.”

“He’s not Lady Gaga famous.”

“Then what does it matter if I do some art for people at a fundraiser in Rochester, New York?”

“How are you signing the art?”

“SGR and the date.  Just like always.”

“Somebody might put it together with your earlier art.”

“You mean my pre-war art for ad agencies and Tijuana Bibles?  Or my comic art of the ‘40s?”

“It could happen.”

“How many people would notice?”

“There are people.”

“Your online buddies don’t count, Phil.”

“My online buddies are good folks.”

“Then there’s nothing to worry about, is there?”

“You make my head hurt.”

“Funny.  I heard Hitler said the same thing about me once upon a time.”

&&&

They hit the art supply store on Friday afternoon so Steve could stock up on supplies.  The event organizer was thrilled with his offer, and promised to have a table set aside near the stage so Steve could watch the band - and be close enough for his duet with Bucky - and still do his art.  They agreed that a limited number of tickets would be sold at the door for art by Steve, and people would come to him to turn over their tickets and put their requests in.  If he had more slots, he’d let them know, and they’d make an announcement that more art tickets were available for sale.

Steve was excited about doing something good, something that was important to him, not some general or politician.  Bucky was equally excited to get in front of a small crowd and lock into the energy feedback loop.  They were laughing and holding hands as they made their way from the bus to the main entrance to the bar.  They were nearly to the door when a gravelly voice greeted them from the shadows at the entrance.

“Cap.  James.”

&&&

Chapter Text

Bucky froze while Steve took a step closer to peer into the darkness, inserting himself between his boyfriend and the imminent threat.  He recognized the guy as code name Crossbones, a STRIKE team leader who’d been assigned to support Steve on one of his early missions.  The guy was brutal and undisciplined, a loose cannon more likely to compromise a mission than contribute to its success. Damage always followed him, and Steve hadn’t been convinced it was unintentional.  Steve had requested he be reassigned, and he hadn’t seen him since Coulson had acted on the request.  That was over a year ago.

“Crossbones, what’re you doing here? This isn’t part of an op, and even if it was, I don’t need STRIKE’s support -“ Steve protested at the same time Bucky reacted to him.

“Brock, what the actual fuck -“

Steve turned from Crossbones to Bucky and asked worriedly, “Brock?”

“My fucking ex from hell,” Bucky practically spat, glowering at the man.  He turned back to Steve then, and asked, “How do you know him?”

“Five years together, and you never knew we worked for the same organization, James.  Sloppy. But I understand - love’ll do that to a guy.”

“You’re with SHIELD,” Bucky said flatly.  “Were you assigned to me?”

“No, baby.  We’re the real thing.  Not like what you got with Cap here.  You were never an assignment to me. And I forgive you.  I’m ready to take you back.”

“Forgive me?  Take me back? I’ve done nothing to forgive.  And I’d never go back to you Brock.  You’re a cheating, lying creep.  Not at all like Steve here -“

“You mean Cap?  Good old Cap.  He tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothin’ but the truth, James?  Huh?  You know everything there is to know about your new boo?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Steve tracked Nat, Clint, and Coulson.  They’d all traveled on the bus, but had held back to let Steve and Bucky go ahead.  Now they held the rest of the band back while they quietly and carefully got off the bus and circled around.  Steve could see Nat holding a small revolver, the shift of Coulson’s jacket covering his own weapon. Clint was an improviser of the first order, and would no doubt be able to make a weapon out of whatever was close at hand.

He had no question about Bucky’s ability to defend himself.  But there were civilians in the bar, and more cars pulling into the parking lot.  Not to mention the band itself.

This had the potential to go sideways fast if they didn’t contain this guy before he decided to get physical.  And given a choice, the man he knew as Crossbones looked for reasons to get physical, and had never concerned himself with collateral damage in the form of civilian injury.

“Ah, fuck it,” Steve muttered, and reached out to grab Crossbones by the back of his neck, jerk him downward, and smash his face against the knee he thrust upward.  There was a sickening crack, a spatter of blood, an animal howl, and then Steve brought down his elbow across his back to seal the deal.  Crossbones fell in a silent lump to the ground.

And suddenly Nat, Clint, and Coulson were there.  From some impossible pocket, Coulson drew out a set of cuffs, and with Clint’s help, had Crossbones locked in restraints within seconds.

Nat laid a hand on each of their arms, asking Steve and Bucky, “You two okay?  Where the hell’d he come from?”

“Band itinerary is posted on the web site,” Bucky shrugged, then turned to Steve, his face a mask of barely contained rage.  “Cap?”

Steve felt himself blush as those blue-gray eyes turned on him.  “That’s my rank, yes.”

“That’s not why he called you Cap.”

“No.”

“Steve, you don’t have to -“ Nat warned him.

“No, Nat, I really do -“

“Captain, this is need to know -“ Coulson protested even as he was texting something on his phone.

“This guy made it Bucky’s need to know,” Steve held his ground, looking into Bucky’s eyes, willing him to accept him even once he learned the truth.  “But even if he hadn’t shown up, it’s time Buck knew.”

“There were rumors, but I thought they were just people huffing too much crap coming out of R&D.  You’re him, aren’t you.  The real deal.”

“Captain, you’re with me for the debrief with Rumlow,” Coulson tried to interrupt.  “I’ve got a car coming to take us back to the closest field office -“

“Answer me, Steve.  Why did Brock call you Cap?”

“Captain,” Coulson’s voice took on a hard edge.

Steve stepped closer to Bucky, took his hands in his, and leaned in close so only Bucky could hear when he whispered in his ear, “My name is Steve Grant Rogers.  In 1943, I became Captain America when Dr. Abraham Erskine’s super soldier serum was injected into my body by hundreds of needles.  And in 2011, SHIELD found me in the Arctic, frozen in the Valkyrie.  They’ve kept me a secret so no one would know I was alive.  So no one would try to take my blood.”

Bucky took a step back and gasped, his eyes wide.  With fear? Anger?  Disgust?  Steve couldn’t tell, and he felt his heart breaking in the eternity between breaths.  Then he turned toward Coulson.  “You’ve got to bury him so deep, he’ll never see daylight again.  The Raft.  He’s a vicious bastard -“

“We need to find out who he’s told.  We need to contain this.  Captain.  Steve -“

Bucky hadn’t let Steve’s hands go, so Steve squeezed them then, drawing Bucky’s attention back to him.  “The show.”

“I’m not letting these people down.  And I’m not letting Brock Rumlow ruin another second of my life.  We’re performing, and we’re donating the gate to the charity.”  Then he paused, waiting for Steve’s reaction, and Steve felt the thing that squeezed his heart loosen.  Bucky was giving him a chance.  

Steve smiled. “I’ve got a prior commitment, Phil.  You can interrogate this lowlife without me,” he said without breaking eye contact with Bucky.  “I have some art to do and some money to raise for a good cause.”

Clint patted Steve on the shoulder, and turned toward Coulson.  “Nat and me - we’ve got this.  Get that creep outta here before he starts scarin’ the punters.  And oh, hey - there’s your ride,” he added, nodding toward the unmarked sedan that pulled up to the door.

Within moments, Crossbones - Rumlow - still unconscious and oozing blood from the ruin that had been his nose, was bundled into the backseat, with an agent on either side, while Coulson slid into the front passenger seat.  Before he closed the door, he warned, “Need to know. Steve.  Remember that.  Need to know.”

Steve held Bucky’s hand and answered, “The man I’m gonna share my life with has a need to know, Phil.  All of it.  Try to get back before we finish the last set, huh?”

“I hope you know what you’re doing, Steve,” Coulson answered as he closed the door and signaled for the driver to pull out.

“I’d better let the guys know they can leave the bus.  At least none of them will complain that Rumlow was taken away. And you?  You got some ‘splaining to do, punk.”

&&&

The bar was packed, by locals, by fans of the band who, like Rumlow, followed their scheduled appearances on the band web site, and by fans of the other acts on the bill.  Bucky and the gang were kicking the fundraiser off tonight with a set, and would relinquish the stage to the next act, returning to the stage for the last set before closing time.  Tomorrow, they’d play in the afternoon at the local bandshell, with a longer set to follow around dusk.  Then back to the bar for an after-midnight session.  Technically, they were back on the bus and en route to New York City Sunday morning, but Bucky had floated the idea of putting in one more day with the fundraiser, and playing Sunday afternoon at the bar.  The gang had been supportive of the idea, and when Bucky mentioned it to the organizer, they’d been thrilled at the idea. So they wouldn’t be returning home until Sunday evening at the earliest.

All in all, it meant that there wasn’t going to be a lot of down time, and even less private time, while they were at this gig.  But Steve knew that the conversation that had been looming over their relationship had come at last.  One way or another, it was time for total honesty.  And the sooner the better, considering the glances that Bucky tossed his way - curious, a little hurt, braced for impact, vulnerable, prepared for the worst.  His face was an ever-changing kaleidoscope of emotions.  Steve thought his probably wasn’t much better.

Then he was too busy to be concerned about words and feelings, his attention narrowed down to art and music.

&&&

“C’mon.  I need some air,” Bucky said abruptly, snagging Steve’s upper arm and tugging him up and away from the table where Steve was working on a charity commission.  The first set had gone well, and the evening had proceeded with some great music, a lively and enthusiastic audience, and a constant stream of commissions for Steve.  The band had just finished their last set, and the emcee was totting up the night’s proceeds and introducing the beneficiaries of the night’s donations.

“Wait, lemme clean up first -“ Steve started to say as he glanced up at Bucky, then closed his mouth with a snap.  He hastily tidied his workspace, stuffed everything haphazardly into his portfolio, and stood, wiping his charcoaled hands on his pants.  “Okay,” Steve acquiesced, smiling encouragingly at Bucky.

Bucky looked wild, fey, and damn if that look didn’t do something to Steve.  Bucky’s eyes were dark and he was practically vibrating with ... something.  Nerves? Excitement?  Lust? The way he was looking at Steve, his hands clenching and unclenching, the way he kept catching his lower lip between his teeth, letting it pop out again to run his tongue over it ... yeah.  Air.  Air is good.

Steve let himself be towed through the crowd, Bucky’s fingers wrapped around his bicep, then trailed down his arm to tangle his fingers with Steve’s.  

Steve loved holding hands with Bucky Barnes. It might be one of his all-time favorite things about the 21st century.  More than the relative lack of polio and TB, but not as much as kissing Bucky Barnes.

Truth was, all his favorite things about the modern era revolved around Bucky Barnes.  He just hoped he didn’t have to learn to live without them.  Or him.

They finally shoved their way out through the crowd, reached the entrance, and Bucky practically kicked the door open, yanking Steve behind him as he stalked across the parking lot toward the bus ... the bus?

Then Bucky spun Steve and shoved him up against the bus, his mouth suddenly taking possession of Steve’s.  Steve felt his portfolio slip from his fingers, and then he had no bandwidth to register anything but Bucky.

Bucky seemed to grow eight arms, all of them groping, pulling, touching, worshipping.  It was unlike anything Steve had experienced with Bucky so far.  So far, there had been boundaries, conventions, promises to go slow.  Patience, gentleness, even humor.  Now, though ... now all the brakes were released, and Steve was drowning in a maelstrom of want and need and hormones and desperation.  Bucky shoved his thigh between Steve’s legs, and Steve could feel the hard line of Bucky’s dick pressing urgently against his own as Bucky mouthed and nipped his way down Steve’s neck. Steve’s hands shifted to Bucky’s hips of their own accord, tugging him closer as they panted and moaned and rutted against each other.

“God, Steve!  You really piss me off.  Fucking secrets!  Fuck, biggest fucking secret of the century,” Bucky muttered as he bit down on the join of Steve’s neck and shoulder.  Then he giggled, pressing his nose against Steve’s skin.  “Fucking biggest fucking secret of the last fucking century.  Geeze, I’m in love with a geezer.”  Then Bucky bit Steve again, and Steve groaned at the sting, and then the hot, wet open-mouthed kisses Bucky placed there as he pulled Steve’s shirt collar aside.  “Fuck, you’re so goddamned sexy and fucking infuriating.  When we fuck, do I break federal law for defiling a national treasure?”

That ... didn’t sound right.  Steve struggled to clear his lust-addled brain, to slow Bucky’s advance from his neck to his dick.  Steve pawed at Bucky’s shoulders trying to push him away, but Bucky doubled down, body pressing closer, arms winding tighter ... and wow!  Steve didn’t realize Bucky was so strong, and boy, that was doing some stuff to Steve.  But ... “Buck!” he breathed urgently.  “Buck -“

“There they are!” Steve heard Nat say - distantly, through the haze that was rising again as Bucky’s arms bracketed him, pressed hard against the bus, making him feel small in a way he hadn’t in a lifetime.  “Oh, shit.  Clint, call a car.  We gotta get James out of here.  Steve, too.”

Steve craned his neck to look at Nat, but Bucky grabbed his face between both hands and hauled him back into a searing kiss.  “God, baby, what you do to me.  Shit, baby - that serum.  What you could fucking do to me!” Bucky growled and practically launched down Steve’s tonsils.  Because yeah, they grew back after the serum.

Then there was the whine of energy, an arcing blue light, Bucky was suddenly shuddering as Nat’s taser short-circuited whatever was happening to his boyfriend. As Bucky’s eyes widened, coherence seemed to dawn again.  He whispered, “Oh God, Steve, I’m sorry -“ before he passed out and pitched forward into Steve’s arms.  He was already drooling against Steve’s chest by the time Steve turned toward Nat, who was still holding the taser.

“Sometimes he gets like this in the clubs.  It’s like he’s drunk on the energy.  Hasn’t happened in a long time, so of course tonight. And I’ve never seen him so bad.  Look, Steve, Clint’s gonna make sure you both get back to the hotel okay, and I’m going to head over to the office and check on that Rumlow interrogation.  Clint’ll meet me once you’re settled.”

Steve felt a flare of annoyance even as he shifted his grip on Bucky so he could carry him bridal style.  Interesting.  He felt ... denser ... than other people. Steve set the thought aside and glared at Nat instead.  “I don’t need to be managed, Nat -“

“Not saying you do.  But James is better off being somewhere with minimal stimulation until he equalizes. And he’s going to need your support during that process.  It’s kind of a perfect time for the two of you to talk.  I know you haven’t liked keeping secrets from James, but he’s got stuff he needs to tell you, too.  So take him back to the hotel, feed him fluids - actually, feed him, period.  I don’t think he’d done much but Gatorade the past few hours.  Get him stabilized.  Talk.  Cuddle.  Clear the air.  You’re good for each other, Steve.  Take care of each other, okay?”

“Is he sick?” Steve asked worriedly, glancing at Bucky, whose head lolled against the skin he’d bitten earlier.

“Not sick. Sometimes his body reacts in weird ways.  Surely you must remember how your body worked before the serum.”

“It didn’t.  Much.  Okay.  Is that the car?” he asked, nodding toward the Prius that pulled up to where Clint was standing.

“Yeah.  Get some rest and relax.  Got a long day tomorrow, too.”

“Will he be able to do it?”

“We’ll need to make sure he eats and stays hydrated.  And it might be a good idea for you to check in with him, break the cycle, every so often.  This isn’t dangerous, just inconvenient. He’ll likely be embarrassed he was dry humping you in a public parking lot - unless that’s something you’re into?”

Steve felt the flames lick up his cheeks.  He just might be.  Nat grinned predatorily, then nodded toward where Clint stood at the car.  

“I’ll check in after I talk to Phil.  And Steve?  I’m glad it’s you.”

“Me?”

“The guy for James.  The guy with James.  He’s needed someone in his corner for a long time.”

“Yeah. I get that,” Steve answered as he walked across the macadam, carrying Bucky like the precious cargo he was.

“And Steve?”

“Yeah?” Steve asked as he gently settled Bucky into the backseat while Clint held the door steady.  The driver seemed unfazed by Bucky’s condition. Steve spared a fleeting thought toward the idea that there must be many patrons who had to be decanted out of the bar.

Steve stood and turned to look at Nat expectantly. She’d waited silently, watching Steve care for Bucky.  Now she looked up at him with a soft tenderness as she lifted her hand to touch his cheek gently.  “You’re one of the good ones.  So is James,  But he doesn’t believe it.  You’ve got to help him understand that. This may have started out as an op, but I really think that it was fate.”

“You believe in that shit?”

“Steve, please! I’m Russian! Now go, get him back to the hotel and start hydrating him. And then sit him down and have a serious, honest talk.  It’s about time for the pair of you.”

“You know all the secrets, don’t you, Nat.”

“I didn’t know you were gay - bi, yeah, I get it.  I don’t know everything, even if I let you think I do.  But I know enough - you’re good for each other, and you could be even better with all your truths on the table.  Now, get outta my face - I’m itching to play bad cop to Phil’s nice guy.”

“I don’t think that’s the way it goes -“

“Go!” she insisted, laughing.

&&&

Back at the hotel, Clint ran interference through the lobby and up to the room Steve and Bucky had booked together.  Bucky was just coming around when Clint got back with a couple bags of groceries from the 24-hour convenience store.

“Ensure?” Steve asked doubtfully, holding up the four-pack in the bag.

“Better nutrition than that Gatorade shit.  Less sugar, more stuff the body can use.  It doesn’t suck too bad.”

Steve continued pulling provisions out of the bags to arrange on the desk, nodding thoughtfully at a couple, and frowning at some others.  “Four boxes of Bugles?”

“Oh, shit, those are mine.  Can’t find ‘em everywhere, so I stock up when I see ‘em. Toss one over,” he asked with a grin, holding up his hands interception style.  Steve shrugged and did as he was asked, grinning when Clint had to duck to avoid a box in the face.

“Sorry, football wasn’t my game,” Steve apologized without an ounce of sincerity, which only earned hi a bigger grin from Clint.

“Lemme guess - rocks and clubs with dinosaurs?” he asked as he tore into the box and shoved a fistful of cone-shaped stuff into his mouth.

“Hah-hah.  You and Nat and your fossil jokes.  Nah.  Stickball and baseball.  Would’a ended up in a coffin if I’d’a played football. Back in my day, helmets were leather and no one had ever heard of padding.  Then again, players didn’t try to kill each other on the field, either.”

“Yeah, I guess.  Hey, toss me one of those Mountain Dews, willya?”

Steve hefted one in his hand, debating, but instead, walked it over to Clint and handed it to him without jostling the carbonated beverage.  “You sticking around for the big reveal?” Steve asked then.

“Nope.  Just a little bit of junk food refuel before I hafta go face Nat.  She never lets me have this shit.  So okay if I leave my stash with you?”

“So long as you don’t show up in the middle of the night with the munchies, sure.”

“Hell, Cap, you take all the fun out of illicit gnoshing, you know?”

“Do you really wanna walk in on Bucky’n’me ... you know?”

Clint blanched at the question, then started to redden, then tilted his head thoughtfully as he shoved another handful of the orange cones into his mouth.

“You show up when we’re canoodling, and I swear, Clint - “

“God, you’re just too easy, Rogers.  Not that I wouldn’t enjoy that fine ass in action, but no.  I’m no creep.  Canoodling, huh?  You’re a card, Rogers.  I can see why Nat thinks you’re so good for Buck there.  He needs some good in his life.  You, too.  Kinda perfect that you can both be the good for the other.”

“Think so?”

“Know so.  So, hey, lemme get outta your hair.  When he comes round, feed ‘im the protein goop and a lotta water.  Shower might be a good idea for him then - wash all the toxins off, y’know?  And then talk.  Cuddle, too.  Can’t beat the healing power of a good cuddle.  Be honest.  Most important thing, though?”

“Yeah?”

“Be good to each other.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I can do that.”

“Good boy.”

&&&

When Bucky came to, he was mortified by his behavior, sore all over, and kind of nauseous from whatever imbalance had fucked with his system earlier.  Steve urged water, nutrition, and ibuprofen on him, trying to touch Bucky with reassurance, but Bucky was just ... he just felt like shit and didn’t want to be reminded what a fucking nut bar he’d been.  He mumbled out an apology and slunk off to the bathroom as quickly as he could get his noodly legs under him.

What he really wanted was to be held by his boyfriend and be told that everything was going to be okay.

But after what happened earlier, he worried that he couldn’t be trusted with his boyfriend, and might do something against Steve’s will.  The last thing he wanted was to ignore Steve’s wishes.

But Crazy Horny Bucky hadn’t been overly concerned with consent.  And that scared the crap out of him.

Almost as much as what he’d heard Nat say to Steve.

Revealing his secrets.  Telling Steve the truth.  The truth he preferred to ignore, the truth he chose to forget.  The truth he was going to have to unburden, dredge up from the place he’d buried it, and share with Steve.

And hope that Steve didn’t choose to get up and walk out the door and out of his life.

He’d always known, somewhere, that he’d have to tell Steve.  At least once they decided to be real rather than an op.  But he’d been happy with it as an abstract rather than his immediate reality.

And what the fuck, Steve was really Captain America?  Like, born in 1917, got hopped up on super soldier serum in 1943, and downed his plane in 1945 Captain America.  He was the top secret op SHIELD went all tizzy over while he was still with the agency.  So strictly need to know, only the smallest circle of operatives on the ground ever knew about it.

Which meant Phil.

And Nat.  And Clint, for fuck’s sake.

And Brock.

Shit.  Brock. He’d been with STRIKE the whole time they’d been together, and Bucky hadn’t known?  Helluva operative he was.  Observant much?  Then again, at the outset there’d been attraction, outright lust, and a surprising amount of affection and humor in their relationship.  It was only later that it became such a burden, such a sour and debilitating experience.  Bucky hadn’t had the resources to see who Brock was beyond a terrible boyfriend.

And Steve ... Steve really was Captain America.  Which meant that his connection to Peggy Carter had been remarkably special.  No wonder he’d wanted that comic -

Bucky had finished in the shower, and was absently toweling himself off while he thought through the events of the evening.  The last several years of his life, really. And yeah, he was putting off going back out to face the man he’d nearly fucked in a public parking lot.

But the Peggy comic. Something had been buzzing in his head all night, and he finally had an inkling of what it might be. Every time he’d looked at Steve’s art, he’d felt some weird sense of familiarity, like he’d seen something like it before.

He grabbed the doorknob and wrenched the door open, striding back out into the hotel room.  He grabbed his phone and started searching.  He didn’t even register the fact he’d come out of the bathroom buck naked until a pair of boxers slapped him in the face.

“Not that I’m not enjoying the view, cos I am - and let me just say day-um.  That’s what the kids say, right?  But I’m betting you hadn’t planned to flash me and whoever the fuck you’re texting.”

“Not texting.  Searching.”  He’d found what he was looking for, and he pinched and zoomed until he could highlight the evidence he’d sought.  He paused to step into the boxers with a nod at Steve, and then strode over, holding the phone out for inspection.

“It was you,” he practically spat, thrusting the phone into Steve’s face.

Steve looked at the image on the screen, his expression morphing from snarky to shocked, and then suddenly melancholy, sad even.  He reached out hesitantly to take the phone from Bucky, a fine tremor in his fingers as they closed around the case.  

“For years, there’s been debate about the artist of this cover.  No one published comics with art like this back in the ‘40s.  Hell, not until the dawn of the graphic novel in the ‘70s.  No artist ever copped to doing the most beautiful cover of all time, and Director Carter refused to identify them, only said that the art was very personal to her, but she thought that people needed to see how talented the artist was.  People guessed who SGR was and what he meant to Peggy Carter, but the mystery was never solved.  Until now.”

Steve cradled the phone in his hands, dwarfing it in the size of his mitts as he stared down at it with an expression both fond and impossibly sad.

“I was a commercial artist before the serum.  Any downtime i got, I drew, even in the field.  I did portraits of all the Howlies, and every one of them sent their drawings home to their families.  But this ... I drew it for her for her birthday. It was a rare moment when we were on R&R, but between the blackout and the Blitz, we were all but confined to quarters. I’d managed to find some nice paper and some decent pencils. Stubs mostly, but good quality. We sat hunkered down in the SSR bunker, and I drew her by candlelight. When I finished and I showed her, she started to cry. Said I made a dull old thing beautiful. She kissed me then. It was sweet and tender, but I knew as much as we cared for each other, as much as we loved each other, we weren’t each other’s future.  Pegs found her soulmate.  Took me a little longer, but I think I might  have done, too ...”  Steve wrenched his eyes away from the phone screen and the lovingly rendered image that had confounded the comic world for so long.

Bucky blew out a breath, slow and low, and felt conviction seep into his veins like ice and fire, swirling in a heady mix of fear and elation.  Steve had kept his secrets because of need to know.

Bucky had, too.

Now they each needed to know.

Because this?  This was the real deal.

And Bucky needed to know that Steve accepted him, body and soul.  The way that Bucky knew he accepted Steve.

He reached for the phone, letting his palm cradle the back of Steve’s hand and just hold it for a moment while courage and determination gathered and solidified.  Then he squeezed, and Steve looked up, his blue eyes centered on Bucky with such love and focus that Bucky felt himself suddenly lighter, filling with light.  And love for this man, this impossible man.  Then he spoke.

“You’re not the only super soldier in the world, Steve.”

&&&

Chapter Text

“Erskine’s formula was never written down that anyone could find.”

Steve nodded slowly.  This he knew.  He remembered each and every vial of blood the Army had taken of him, all to try to unlock Abraham’s secret through Steve’s own DNA.

They hadn’t succeeded, at least as far as he knew -

“Hydra infiltrated SHIELD in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but they were discovered in the ‘70s and apparently routed out.  Not destroyed, but removed from SHIELD.  But not before they managed to ‘liberate’ a cache of your blood.”

Steve stared at Bucky in dismay.  “My blood?  But that’s what’s got Coulson all twisted up -“

“With good reason, I’m sorry to say.”  By now, Bucky was dressed comfortably in sweats and an old band - not his - tee, his feet shoved into fuzzy Stitch slippers.  He leaned against the hotel room desk, ankles crossed, and arms held so they hugged his biceps, like his was trying to hold himself within.  Or keep something out.  It was the most guarded and tense Steve had seen him since they’d made their way to the festival.  

“I’m listening.”

“Efforts to extend the supply only end up in degrading the sample to the point it’s unusable.  So SHIELD and Hydra both have exhausted their supplies trying to make more.”

“SHIELD took samples when I was first recovered.  I don’t know how much before I put an end to it.”

“Yeah, they can be bastards.  While you were unconscious?” Steve nodded tersely.  “And without consent.”  Again, Steve nodded, feeling the muscles in his face tighten.  The memory still made him angry, the way his own people treated him like he was nothing more than a walking blood bag.  Bucky snorted.  “Me, too.  Until I put a stop to it.”

“SHIELD experiment?”

“Hydra.  I was captured on an op in Italy, me and a couple of guys on my team.  They didn’t make it - early casualties to whatever shit Hydra was doing to us.  They had me for a couple of months, long enough to dose me with their version of the serum, and do some creative experiments on me.  Fucked up my arm enough that even the serum couldn’t heal it.  So they tried some more Frankensteining on me, amputated the arm and installed rudimentary prosthetic.  I think they actually expected the arm to grow back or some shit.  Nat led the rescue mission that got me out of there.  Burned the facility to the ground.  I remember watching this horrible smoke swirling up in the backdraft of the helo taking me outta there.  Pretty sure she hadn’t bothered to evacuate the site before she torched it.”

Steve had the urge to go over to Bucky and fold him into his arms, but the tense way he held himself, the tightness of the skin on his face, the white welts his fingers where pressing into his arms ... all screamed stay away.  So Steve honored that even as it physically hurt not to offer comfort to Bucky.  

Finally he resumed his story, his voice level even as his body radiated anxiety at the memories.  “Stark took one look at that monstrosity attached to my shoulder when I got evacced out and started designing the first version this on the spot.  But while I was in recovery, the SHIELD boffins kept coming back to milk more and more blood outta me.  Until I practically broke one of their backs throwing them offa me.  That’s when Phil finally told me part of what was done to me.  I mean, I knew what they did to me physically, but apparently they’d managed to cobble together a semi working version of the serum, and something about my genetics meant it worked on me rather than killing me like my team.  SHIELD hoped they could recreate the serum from my blood now.  I gave my resignation that day.  And I demanded they return and destroy all the blood they took without my consent.”

“Did they? Destroy it?”

“I saw something destroyed.  Whether it was my blood or not, I can’t verify - I’m not sure I trust that it was.  I lost a lot of faith in SHIELD after that.  And to find out Brock worked for them and I didn’t even know ... I just can’t help feeling that I’m still being manipulated.  That the organization I put my trust in wasn’t worth it, you know?”

Bucky turned anguished eyes toward Steve then, and Steve couldn’t help himself - he stood up and took a faltering step toward Bucky.  Bucky looked at him with both hope and fear, but when Steve opened his arms and took another step forward, Bucky practically fell into those arms, and Steve was able to cradle Bucky against his chest, Bucky’s face tucked into the warm curve of his neck and shoulder.  

“Mmmm,” Bucky hummed.  “You keep me warm.  I run hot, too. But you feel good,” he added, pressing closer.

Steve closed his eyes as he rest his cheek against Bucky’s damp hair, and felt himself breathe again when Bucky’s arms moved to hold Steve tight.  He couldn’t remember ever feeling so ... complete, he supposed.  Like his whole life had been leading up to this moment, holding Bucky Barnes in his arms.

And he realized, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, that that was exactly how he wanted to spend his life.  Holding Bucky.

“Fuck Hydra,” Steve said softly, stroking his fingers gently against Bucky’s scalp. “And fuck SHIELD, too.”  And then he added, “The serum ... it amplifies things.  Sensations.  Sensory input.  Sometimes emotions and hormones.  Is that what happened to you tonight?  Too much input, amped you up?”

Bucky shifted slightly in Steve’s arms so he could pull back and look directly at Steve.  “Yeah.  Yeah, these episodes started after all this,” he waved his prosthetic arm.  “It doesn’t happen often, but when it does ...”

“Maybe it’s build up - maybe you need to blow off steam more often.  So it doesn’t get ahead of you.”

“Do you?  Do that?”

“Before I met you, I spent a lot of time in the gym taking my frustrations out on a number of punching bags that didn’t live to tell the tale,” Steve answered ruefully.

“I suppose I could do that,” Bucky replied hesitatingly.  “I could set up something in the apartment.  But now that you met me ... what do you do to blow off steam?”

“I’ve started running, actually.  It feels good to get out of the apartment and into the city, you know?  Phil would have a fit, but I’m tired of living like I’m someone’s dirty little secret.  You and the band have a lot to do with that, you know?  You all helped me feel like I’m part of the world again.  That there’s a place for me that doesn’t have to include the shield.  That Steve Rogers has a place in this world, with or without Captain America.”

The smile that Bucky gave him then was breathtaking.  Open, joyous, loving.  “Yeah?”

“Yeah.  And I think ... I think it’s time I give my notice, too,” Steve added, feeling a certainty bloom in him that was unexpected and profound.  He’d stayed with SHIELD because it had seemed the only option for him.  It was Peggy’s legacy, a way to connect with who he’d been.  But the truth was SHIELD was connected to Peggy in name only - they didn’t have her soul, and they didn’t have her integrity.  They might think they were doing good in the world, but considering how they’d treated both Steve and Bucky, he questioned if their motives were pure - their methods certainly weren’t.

“What does that mean?” Bucky asked then, lifting his arms to encircle Steve’s neck and shoulders, relaxing into an easy embrace as Steve’s hands instinctively ran down Bucky’s sides to rest on his hips.

“It means I finish this op, we take down Weldon and his thugs.  And then I retire.  Walk away from SHIELD.”

“Hmmm.  Okay.  I’m in.”

“You’re in?”

“I’m in on the op with you.  You’re going to need backup.  I’m not precisely like you, but I’m the closest you’re gonna find.  So yeah.  I’m with you.  Til the end of the line.”

“Okay.  Phil’s not gonna like it, but he doesn’t own me, and neither does SHIELD.  We finish the op as promised, we save the world one more time, and then we get on with our lives.  Together.”

“Together,” Bucky agreed, and leaned in for a soft kiss.  Steve liked the feel and taste of Bucky’s kisses - soft, hungry, chaste, or demanding.  This kiss felt like a promise.  “I like the sound of that.”  He kissed Steve again, and Steve pulled him closer to deepen the kiss.  To keep the promise.

They traded lazy kisses for a while, each more perfect that the last, until finally they broke apart to catch their breaths.  Bucky leaned his forehead against Steve’s eyes closed, just breathing, his kiss-red lips curved in a gentle smile.  Then his smile broadened, and he chuckled.  “But you’re keeping the outfit, right?”

Steve felt something like joy bubbling up inside as he grinned back and kissed Bucky soundly.  “Yeah, you know what?  It’s kinda growin’ on me.”

“Yeah?  Wait’ll you see me in my tac gear.  Those pants do wonders for my ass.”

“Oh, honey, your ass doesn’t need any help.  It’s perfect just the way it is.  Just like you.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asked, smiling.  “Why don’t you show me how perfect I am?”

Steve just grinned, feeling that sense of home and joy burst in his chest into full blown happiness.  And then he grabbed Bucky by the ass, lifted him up so Bucky had to wrap his legs around his torso, and walked the pair of them toward the big bed that dominated the room.

“Let’s hear it for Captain America,” Bucky whispered, grinning.

“Yeah?  Well, lemme tell you something, Bucky Barnes.  I can do this all day,” Steve added, dropping Bucky on the bed and then crawling up his body to kiss him into next week.

And then he did.  

The world still needed to be saved, villains still needed to be vanquished, and music still needed to be written.  But for the moment two boys with broken edges found that together, they made a helluva perfect whole.

END