Steve was late. He was so, so late.
Really, it wasn't his fault. He'd stubbed his toe on the bed post, he'd spilled coffee all over his favourite shirt, and his car had refused to start for a good ten minutes. It was fair to say that today was not his day.
Unfortunately for him, the sad reality of this rather irritating series of events wasn't going to magically transport him to Sam's on time, but he'd be damned if he let his beat up Chevy get the better of him. Although Steve knew that Sam took their morning runs very seriously, he certainly did not deserve to pay for breakfast every time he was late. So in that regard, Steve thought he deserved to push the speed limits a little.
The law enforcement, apparently, did not share this sentiment.
He cursed viciously as the blue and red lights flagged him down, but pulled his car over nonetheless.
Now, it wasn't like Steve was a criminal or anything. He just had a bad habit of not knowing when to keep his mouth shut and a thirst for justice that ran deep in his blood, so this certainly wasn't his first rodeo with the cops. He plastered on a respectful smile and prepared himself to sweet-talk his way out of a ticket.
"I'm so very sorry, officer I-" he began as he noticed the figure approaching in his peripheral vision. He expected the policeman to be one of the usual Brooklyn officers (balding, overweight, racist - it was like they were bred in a factory, and boy, did Steve have a thing or two to say about that), but apparently someone had forgotten to tell him that the force had started hiring actual gods instead. Steve's jaw dropped open. The man he was faced with had a mop of chestnut hair that reached his ridiculously defined jawline, and was lit up from behind by the morning light, giving the illusion of an angelic presence. Steve didn't even doubt that this man was descended from the heavens, because surely a face like that wasn't humanly possible. The man crossed his arms (God, his arms) and rested them on the open window, grey eyes softly looking him over. "Holy fuck," was all Steve could force himself to say, and he visibly cringed when he heard the words that had left his lips. "I mean, um, I..."
The man's brows furrowed. "Do you have any idea how fast you were going?"
"I'm gonna go with over the speed limit?"
"Good guess. I'm gonna need to see your driver's license."
"Oh, yeah, sure, no problem, I'll just, uh, find it. In my wallet. Which is here. And also... stop talking." Steve was digging through his wallet, trying not to let the ridiculous blush on his cheeks show as he handed over the card. The officer nodded with a small smirk at his antics and backed away from the car. Steve watched him go in the side view mirror, practically drooling at his ridiculously muscled physique. This guy was an absolute dream, with broad shoulders and runner's thighs. It was so distracting that Steve practically jumped out of his skin when his phone started ringing. He picked it up without looking at the caller ID, which admittedly was a mistake.
"Oh, so you're not dead. Good to know," Sam said before Steve had a chance to speak.
"Hi, Sam, I'm fine, how are you?"
"Whatever. What's taking you so long? Did you get lost on the same route you take every Thursday?"
"You know, your sarcasm isn't really making me want to get to your place any faster. And actually, I'm getting a speeding fine right now, so it's not really a great time-"
"Damn, Rogers. Is this your rebellious phase?"
"I've been rebellious since the day I was born and you know it," said Steve matter-of-factly, glancing in his mirror. The policeman was apparently rooting through the backseat of the car for god knows what, and Steve would be lying if he said the view from where he sat wasn't downright delicious. "Sam, oh my God, you have no idea how hot this police officer is, he's like a damn-"
"Yeah, okay, I'm out. See you at breakfast, you filthy criminal." And on that delightful note, Sam hung up, which was rather convenient for Steve considering the officer was approaching him again.
"So, apparently it's your lucky day, pal," the man started, and God was he right if the way he looked in that uniform had anything to do with it. "My radar gun is broken, so you're off the hook."
"Damn. Okay. My bank account thanks you."
The man chuckled, and it was probably the best sound Steve had ever heard. "Just don't dob me in to the chief and we're even."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Steve said with a grin.
The officer smiled back, passing Steve's license through his open window. Steve's heart only fluttered a little. "Pleasure doing business with you, Steven Grant Rogers."
"The pleasure is all mine," replied Steve. "And just Steve is fine."
"Alright, just Steve. Try not to speed anymore or I'll get in trouble." He turned to walk back to his patrol car, pulling a pair of sunglasses from his pocket.
"Don't I get to know your name? It's only fair," called Steve from his window.
The officer smiled again, and slid the glasses onto his face. "Sergeant James Barnes, at your service."
It was quite possibly the hottest thing Steve had ever seen, so sue him if he maybe talked Sam's ear off at breakfast (which he paid for, thanks for nothing Sam) brainstorming ways to see the officer again.
"You're a dumbass," Sam said. "Why didn't you just ask him out like a normal human being?"
"Because," Steve huffed, as if that answer was in any way satisfactory.
Sam sipped his coffee, one eyebrow raised in judgement. "Just be careful, dude. This feels like it's going to backfire quickly and spectacularly."
"My plan is just fine, thank you very much," protested Steve. He crossed his arms across his chest and met his friend's challenging gaze.
"Okay, so, new plan," Steve said a month later as he slapped the stack of speeding fines onto the counter.
"You're going to lose your license at this rate! And there's no way in hell I'm driving you around for six months." Sam flicked through the stack of paper, eyes narrowing further with each page.
Steve rolled his eyes and dropped onto one of Sam's kitchen stools. "That's why I'm making a new plan, obviously."
"Here's a new plan: stop being dumb and meet someone at a bar like a normal person."
"I don't want to meet someone at a bar! I want to meet Sergeant James Barnes of the Brooklyn police force."
"Are you seriously telling me that you knew his name this whole time and instead of internet stalking him you decided to periodically push the speed limit?"
"No one said my plan was foolproof," said Steve. He spun around on his chair happily, a giddy smile on his face. "Plus, I did see him two out of seventeen times, so."
"Well, well, well," the officer - James - had said, a smirk on his handsome face. His long brown hair was pulled into a bun on the back of his head and his vest was too tight and his sleeves were rolled up to expose his muscular forearms and Steve was already absolutely gone on him. "Didn't I tell you to stay outta trouble?"
"Maybe I like trouble," grinned Steve. He was pointedly not dwelling on the fact that the segeant remembered him.
The officer shook his head, smile not fading. "At least it looks like you're finally getting your due."
"You gonna charge me double, Sergeant?" Steve asked with a dramatic pout. When they'd first met, Steve could admit he was a little shellshocked, but he was ready now. He'd had time to prepare. And maybe that preparation consisted of a few rehearsed conversations in the mirror, but that was nobody's business but his own. He was going to ask the policeman out and make Sam proud.
James laughed. "Maybe it'd teach you a lesson if I did."
Steve's mouth went cotton dry at the playful smirk he received. Every ounce of confidence he'd worked up floated away like smoke in the wind. He just couldn't help it. His mind immediately supplied him with images of the man saying that in a different context, and nope, that was not what he needed to be thinking about right now. So much for making Sam proud.
"Unfortunately, I can't legally do that, so I'm afraid it'll be the regular rate."
Steve handed over his licence with a small smile and a nod. Then he accepted his fine, bid the officer a good day, and cursed himself as he drove off.
The third time they met was just as pitiable, if not more, because Steve had been unintentionally speeding (for once) and was absolutely covered in paint. As in, it was in his hair, on his clothes, his hands, probably his face too. And it was all Clint's fault for bringing Lucky to Steve's apartment while he was working (though he suspected Clint was worse off - getting paint out of fur was impossible). That dog was out of control when it was excited.
"Oh wow, Rogers," James said, eyebrows raised and grin untamable. "You accidentally drive through a rainbow?"
"Very funny, Sarge," chastised Steve with a grin. "I actually got into a pretty serious fistfight with a unicorn. I'm lucky to be alive."
"Thank God you made it, otherwise I might've had to fine a stranger instead of you."
Steve smiled and blushed, because he couldn't tell if this was banter or flirting. "It's, uh, actually... I'm an artist. So. Paint."
"An artist, huh? You're full of surprises. Woulda picked you as a football player or something."
Steve blinked blankly for a moment before shaking himself off. "You judging me based on my appearance, officer? That doesn't feel very righteous."
"That's coming from the guy who's driving around beating up mythical creatures," chuckled the policeman. "Anyway, stop distracting me. I'm supposed to be fining you."
Steve mimed zipping his lips shut and tossing away the key, a gesture that was probably weakened by the starry expression he was looking at the man with.
"You're ridiculous," Sam groaned, snapping Steve from his reverie. He pulled the tray of muffins he was baking out of the oven, making a bad decision by placing them before Steve. "Seriously. Just Google him."
"No way! The second I do that I become creepy." Steve sprung from his chair, snatching a hot muffin from the tray. It burnt his fingers a little, but he took a bite anyway as he headed for the exit. "And besides, I have a better idea."
"You're already creepy, idiot."
"Hey, all I've done is drive my car. 'S not my fault I'm a reckless bastard."
"Don't get yourself arrested," warned Sam. Steve had already slipped out the door with a devilish grin when his friend shouted out "hey! You forgot your goddamn fines!"
Unfortunately, the speeding tickets were the least of Sam's worries.
"Steve," Sam said, and the humour had left his voice a long time ago. "I'm telling you, this is a very bad idea."
"Lighten up, Sam," hummed Steve, shaking the can of paint vigorously. He haphazardly sprayed a dash of purple onto the white brick wall. "Either he shows up and turns out to be a homophobe, in which case I can forget about him and move on, or he instantly falls in love with me and we ride off into the sunset together."
"Or, literally any other officer shows up and you get a hefty fine and a criminal record."
"Oh, Sam. It is very bold of you to assume I don't already have a criminal record." Steve stepped back for a second to check his work. "Can you pass me the yellow?"
"God help me," muttered Sam, but he passed the can of paint to his friend anyway. Honestly, for someone so against this idea, he sure was being helpful.
"Quit whining, I'm almost done."
"Yeah, well, you better be." Sam nudged Steve's calf with his foot and whistled lowly. "Incoming. Angry looking police officer."
Steve spun around, hoping the shock in his eyes looked real enough. He tried not to smile when he saw that it was James that was approaching them, despite the disapproving glower in his eyes. He looked to Sam, communicating with his eyebrows, and Sam nodded. He approved.
"What the hell are you doing, Rogers? I thought even you would have more sense than to-" the officer froze mid-stride, studying the wall intently. "Is that... is that a rainbow?"
"It is. And it's not about sense, it's about justice and moral," explained Steve, leaning against the wall nonchalantly. He was practically covered in spray paint, but he didn't care. This issue really did matter to him, it wasn't just about the cute policeman (and it wasn't like James hadn't seen him like this before). If he was arrested for standing up for what he believed in, then so be it. "You and I both know that this church practices conversion therapy. I get that you can't do anything about it because of freedom of speech and all that crap, but I can."
The policeman's jaw dropped open. He watched as Steve and Sam removed the stencil from the bricks, eyes widening as he took in the image before him. The pair worked quickly, and once the paper was clear of the wall, the two took a few steps back to admire the work. "Okay, I'll admit, that is pretty awesome," Sam reluctantly sighed. Steve gave him an enthusiastic high-five in return and turned to the sergeant for approval, expression doubtlessly hopeful.
James was still gaping at the mural, expression unclear. His eyes were following the outline of the artwork, tracing the colourful depiction of two men kissing. Steve had thought the idea was pretty genius, really. What better way to send a message to the discriminatory Christians of New York than to leave a blatantly gay mark on their place of worship? If the couple wasn't good enough, the rainbow colour scheme certainly tied it all together. James seemed to think so too, because he looked at Steve with a new emotion, something like respect shining in his stormy blue eyes. "You know what, Steve? You're not half bad."
"Thanks, Sarge," beamed Steve, and his heart was beating a little irrationally. "How long do you reckon before it gets painted over?"
"A good few days, at least. Enough time for photos to immortalise it." James flicked his gaze from the wall to Steve, arms crossed and a glint in his eye. Steve found himself once again rendered speechless by this man, at least until Sam cleared his throat from beside him.
"Not to ruin the moment, but won't you get in trouble if you let this slide?" Sam challenged, and the policeman looked at him in surprise, as if he hadn't noticed his presence.
After a second of thought, James looked around himself and snatched up the spray cans from the ground, shoving them into Steve's discarded backpack. He rolled up the stained stencil and stuffed it in too, pushing the bag to Steve's chest once he'd zipped it up. "Just... pretend I was never here. I saw nothing. And I'll do my best to stop the council from painting over it."
"Thanks, James. Really." Steve tossed the backpack at Sam, who caught it instinctively but did not look happy about it.
The officer shrugged. "It's a beautiful work of art with a beautiful message. The world deserves to see it." Steve smiled so deeply that it reached his eyes, and it apparently came off genuine enough that it rubbed off on James. He grinned shyly as he backed away. "I'll see you later, Steve. Now get out of here."
"Sure thing, Sarge," Steve saluted. Then he followed Sam around the corner, pointedly not looking back as the mural and the officer drifted out of sight. He let out a happy sigh once he was sure he was out of earshot and playfully punched Sam in the arm.
"Yeah, yeah," Sam said with a roll of his eyes. "I hate to say it, but that went shockingly well."
"He said he'd see me later. Does that mean he wants to see me later? I mean, he didn't have to say that, but he did. I-"
"Shut up, Steve. You're giving me a migraine."
"Some best friend you are," grinned Steve, shoving Sam off the curb. Though he complained often, Steve knew Sam would be there for him when he needed it. Even if that meant staging ridiculous ways to seduce the local police force.
That did not, however, mean that Sam would refrain from making fun of Steve in front of their friends.
"This idiot," Sam began, pointing enthusiastically at said idiot. "Has been breaking the law on purpose. For a guy."
"A bad boy, huh? Way to go, Cap," Tony said, impressed. He thumped Steve on the back as Pepper rolled her eyes.
"Nope, that's the best bit. The guy's an officer!"
The booth went silent, before erupting with laughter. Steve groaned and slumped onto his fist, but he was smiling. His friends were simultaneously the best and worst people had had ever had the misfortune of meeting, and he was damn lucky to have them.
"Laugh all you want, 'cause you won't be laughing when my super hot policeman boyfriend arrests you for bullying me," joked Steve. "Seriously though guys, it's really not a big deal. I've just copped some speeding fines-"
"And graffitied a church," Sam interrupted unhelpfully.
"That was you?" Clint gaped.
"Please, that had Steve written all over it," Natasha said, looking bored as she stirred her drink absently.
"You don't need to keep committing crime to get his attention. You're a handsome guy, I'm sure he'd love it if you just asked for his number," Pepper supplied sweetly. Sometimes Steve wondered how she ended up with a guy like Tony, but then she grinned conspiratorially as she sipped her martini and it made sense again. "Or, you could just get more creative."
"I like the second option," beamed Steve, sitting up straight. Sam groaned. "What did you have in mind?"
Apparently, what she had in mind was a really, really old stereo and a handful of Tony's rock CDs.
"You sure the neighbours won't be mad, Pep?" Steve asked, looking at the CD player nervously.
Pepper scoffed. "Of course I'm sure. I'm a CEO, I'm the most responsible friend you've got."
Steve could hear the clicking of her heels through the phone, and the task she calmly assigned her assistant. He supposed he should trust her - after all, she was as organised as they got. And maybe the least chaotic of his immediate circle.
"I've warned all of your neighbours already. Besides," continued Pepper, attention back on Steve. "Clint's your landlord. Which means pretty much anything goes."
"Yeah, I guess. Doesn't this seem a little extreme, though?"
"Steven, my husband got me a twenty-foot tall stuffed rabbit for my birthday. This is nothing."
"Okay, good point. But-"
"Just play the music, Steve. You'll be fine. I've got to go now, but call me when you've got his number," Pepper ordered, promptly hanging up.
Steve sighed dramatically and tossed his phone to the couch, kicking the stupid stereo. That, it seemed, was the wrong thing to do, because AC/DC started blaring throughout his apartment and he had absolutely no clue how to turn down the volume. He supposed that was the point, but Pepper's plan was seeming worse and worse the longer the music droned on.
When a second and third swift kick didn't shut the machine up, he let out another sigh and resigned to his fate. He tried to work on his latest commission and pointedly not think about how ridiculous this all was while he waited.
He almost didn't hear the knock on his door, because of the obnoxious intensity of the music, but he wasn't disappointed when he opened it. James was standing there, looking as gorgeous as ever, arms crossed and stern expression rapidly fading as he realised who stood before him. "Steve?" he said, head cocked. At least, that's what Steve assumed he said. The music was too loud for the words to be audible.
Pepper's ridiculous idea actually seemed to be worth the trouble, if the way Bucky's eyes skated over Steve's body was anything to go by. He usually painted in sweatpants and today was no different, but he knew that the white shirt he was wearing was tight enough to leave almost nothing to the imagination. He bit his lip to stop himself from grinning as the officer looked away, not blushing, but almost.
James' mouth was moving, but all Steve could hear was guitars and drums and thrashing. "What?" he yelled in reply.
"I said," James shouted. "Why on earth are you having a house party at two in the afternoon? On a Tuesday?"
Steve bashfully scratched the back of his neck, so focussed on ensuring his acting was believable he missed the way the policeman's eyes were glued to his bicep. "It's just me here, no party. I think I just broke my stereo. I don't know how to turn it down, let alone off."
James laughed, and Steve wished he could hear it. "Come on, then," the man yelled. "I'll help you shut it off."
Taking a step back to allow James into his apartment, he thanked his lucky stars he'd remembered to clean up. Apart from the paint that doused his living room, he thought his home made him seem like a perfectly well put-together piece of boyfriend material.
It took the sergeant about half a second of analysing the device before he yanked a piece of the stereo off, causing the music to halt and the batteries to come tumbling out. As the silence rang in the air almost as loud as the music had, James looked at Steve with a judgmental eyebrow raised. "Was that really so hard?"
Averting his gaze, Steve shrugged. "I'm not the best with technology."
"I figured as much," James responded. "I can't even imagine how long that must've been going on to piss off your landlord that much."
"Oh, man," groaned Steve, because Clint had flair for the dramatic. Most likely he'd laid it on so thick on the phone to the cops that James' punctuality was due to a legitimate concern for the hearing of the apartment block's occupants. "I bet he quoted Die Hard, didn't he? He's been wanting to do that since college."
"You went to college with your landlord?"
James laughed, and this time Steve could hear it in all its glory. Steve watched as he looked around the living room/makeshift studio, a small smirk on his face. His eyes caught on the commission piece Steve had been working on, and he approached it with an air of wonder. "Jesus, Steve, I knew you were a good artist, but this... this is incredible."
"Really?" Steve asked hopefully. Then he cleared his throat, shuffling his feet awkwardly. "I mean, thanks. That's just a draft of the mural I'm doing for the library. Legally, this time."
James chuckled. "That's good to hear. We should have you do something for the station, make it seem less intimidating."
"I, uh..." Steve stammered, not sure if he was being serious or not. "I'd be happy to."
James grinned as he walked back over to the door. "Well, I'll see what I can do. But, now that your domestic disturbance is sorted, I best be on my way." He lightly slapped Steve on the arm, touch lingering and smile lopsided. "It was good to see you, Rogers."
Steve almost forgot to reply, let alone ask to see him again, and James was already halfway down the hall when he remembered how to interact like a normal human. "Thanks for your help!" he called, earning a wave from over James' shoulder.
He sunk back through his doorway, back slumped against the wall. There was no reason to call Pepper, really, because he had no number to prove it.
"He said it was good to see me, though," recounted Steve optimistically. His friends all looked varying degrees of disappointed by the news, with Tony blatantly not listening and Sam taking a shot.
"Sorry, Steve. I did my best," Pepper said with a sympathetic pat of his shoulder.
"I have an idea," piped Clint. Everyone turned to look at him in surprise. He slumped slightly, poking at his glass of lemonade with a toothpick. "Okay, no need look so shocked about it. I expected this from you, Sam, but Nat? That hurts."
"Alright, genius," Natasha said. "What's the plan?"
"Well," he began with an extravagant gesture, and Steve knew he was in for something.
"You sure Lucky will stay quiet in there?" Steve asked a week later, peering with furrowed brows into the closet where the dog sat, tail wagging furiously and tongue lolling out of his mouth.
"Of course he will. He's very well trained," replied Clint, and that was a flat-out lie. But it was too late, because Clint had already called the police in distress, just as dramatic as ever.
"I don't think the police are even supposed to deal with lost dogs," commented Steve. He was questioning his life choices, honestly, because what could he possibly have done to deserve ending up here?
"Correct. But they do deal with stolen dogs."
So that was what Steve had gotten himself into. Fantastic. But before he could protest, or maybe call the station and warn them that the call had been a prank, the doorbell rang, and Clint was running to the entrance like an overexcited child. Steve shook his head and closed the closet door.
"Hello, sir, you reported-" James began, then he spotted Steve lurking hesitantly past Clint's shoulder. He grinned widely, and his posture relaxed. "Right. I should've known it'd be you."
Steve's heart skipped a beat but he ignored it. "This one's on him," he insisted, pointing at Clint, who was glancing maniacally between his friend and the officer. Steve tried not to visibly cringe, because his friend could not be any more obvious if he tried. "Meet Clint, my dumbass landlord."
"And dumbass friend," claimed Clint proudly. Then he scratched at his ear absently. "That sounded better in my head. But that's not the point! My dog has been dognapped."
James looked as though he didn't quite know what to address first. "Okay. When and where did you last see the dog?"
"Here, about three hours ago. He was eating pizza with us on the couch."
"You feed your dog pizza?" James asked, astounded, and Steve motioned for him to not go into that. Clint had the tendency to ramble, and he could talk about Lucky for hours. The sergeant seemed to get the message just as Clint opened his mouth. "Actually, nevermind. What makes you think he's been stolen? Did you see someone else here?"
"No, just us. But he's a very handsome dog, officer. Personally, I suspect the mafia abducted him for their underground dog shows."
Steve groaned aloud. He didn't know why he ever thought that Clint could come up with a coherent idea. "I think you mean dog fights, Clint."
"No, I mean dog shows. He's got what it takes to be a prize showdog."
"He's only got one eye," reasoned Steve. He refused to make eye contact with James, because he could already imagine the twist of confusion on his face.
"It didn't stop Ziggy Stardust, so it sure as hell won't stop Lucky."
The dog in question, upon hearing his name, barked enthusiastically.
"I think I solved the case," James said, stifling a laugh as the dog bounded through the apartment.
"Huh. He must've gotten stuck in the closet again," grinned Clint. He knelt down to be level with the dog and let Lucky lick his face relentlessly. "Who's a good boy?"
"I am so sorry," Steve began with an embarrassed chuckle.
James started to laugh, lightly at first, then heartily with his head thrown back, until he was keeled over and wiping tears from his eyes. Steve couldn't help but laugh along, a warm feeling gushing through his veins. "God, Steve, you never disappoint. The boys at the station are gonna love this."
"Well, anytime you need a ridiculous story, you know where to find me," Steve said, face burning hot.
"And anytime you need to report a real crime, you know where to find me," the officer responded, giving Steve a flirtatious wink and a series of heart palpitations before he departed.
Clint got up off the ground, holding the seventy-pound golden retriever like a baby. "He was like, hardcore flirting with you."
"He was not," dismissed Steve, though he couldn't keep the hopeful note out of his voice.
"He totally was," Clint reiterated to the group, emphasizing his point by sloshing his beer around precariously. "And this fool did nothing about it."
"He wasn't flirting, he was just doing his job," Steve said. He could tell from his friends' faces that most of them were inclined to believe Clint over him, which was honestly more insulting than anything they could have said. "And in my own defence, Clint's idea was dumb and made me look like an idiot."
"That's your problem. All your other plans make you look like reckless dimwit rather than a desirable date," Natasha said, and she kind of had a point. "I have a better idea."
Steve, stupidly, agreed to see what she had in mind, but raised a sceptical eyebrow at the golf club she held in her hands. "If your plan is to hit me with that, I'm out."
Natasha rolled her eyes. "Don't be stupid."
She raised the club to take a swing, and Steve could do nothing but gape in horror as he watched her smash his taillights to smithereens. Little pieces of plastic and glass rained over the road and footpath as she beat his poor Chevy until the lights were well and truly out of business. He didn't dare to stop her, because there was a glint in her eye that said she was actually enjoying this, and Steve would much rather it be the car than him baring the brunt of her disturbing display of brutality.
"Nat!" Steve exclaimed once she'd lowered the weapon, rushing to his car's aid. "What the hell?"
"You're welcome," she said, swinging the club around as she waltzed back into her house. And yeah, maybe Steve should have seen it coming, she was always the first to resort to destruction and violence, but he certainly hadn't thought that when he'd driven over to Clint and Nat's little house in Queens, his car wouldn't make the drive back.
He didn't even know how this was supposed to help him, until he got pulled over by a couple of beat cops about five minutes after he left.
And then another ten minutes after that.
By the time the third cop car flagged him down, he sighed and slumped his head on the wheel, which only resulted in the horn honking ridiculously loud.
"Y'know, Rogers, I'm starting to think you like being on the wrong side of the law," drawled an unmistakable voice from the window, and Steve couldn't help but groan again. James raised an eyebrow. "Rough day?"
"You're the third cop in an hour to pull me over," Steve replied, because that was answer enough.
"You'd think you'd learn after the first one," the sergeant teased. "Seriously, though, what on earth happened to your taillights? They look like they were bashed in with a baseball bat."
James raised both his eyebrows at that.
"You really don't want to know. But I'm on my way to the mechanic's now, and don't worry, I'm well aware that driving without the proper tools of indication is illegal. I've even got two fines to prove it."
James smiled lopsidedly. "Well, I better escort you there, huh? Don't want you getting pulled over again."
"That would be really helpful, actually," said Steve shyly, his own smile more tentative. Clint's certainty of the policeman's interest had done nothing for Steve's self-confidence, only succeeding in making him much more nervous.
"I'll be right behind you," grinned James, unphased, and he thumped the roof of Steve's car before retreating to his own. Steve watched him go because he was pathetic and hopeless and the view was very hard to tear his eyes away from.
As promised, the cop car trailed after Steve the whole drive to the garage, and Steve spent the trip brainstorming ways to just ask the man out already. Dinner would certainly be less expensive than getting his car fixed.
But when they arrived, and Steve had the words queued on his tongue, he swallowed them right back down again as he watched James pull his hair back into a loose bun as he leaned against his police car. He looked like a damn supermodel, all sharp cheekbones and long eyelashes and tight pants. There were strands of hair dangling in his face that Steve's hands itched to tuck behind the man's ear, or maybe just draw, or do something. Either way, his train of thought was completely derailed.
"You need some help, Blondie?" a voice from behind Steve said, causing him to jump. He turned to find a blonde woman in greasy overalls watching him intently as she chewed her gum, arms crossed and a silver wrench in her hand.
"Yeah, um, my car..." he gestured vaguely. The mechanic looked unimpressed, so he pointed at the boot. "Taillights."
"Right. I kinda meant help with tall, dark and handsome over there who's eyein' you like a piece of meat, but whatever. I'll fix your car." And on that note she walked off to evaluate his vehicle, tossing her wrench and catching it with an eloquent pop of her gum.
Steve blushed profusely and scuffed his shoes on the concrete as he reluctantly made his way over to James.
"Jesus, what did she say to get you to blush like that?" the sergeant enquired, a slightly sour note to his voice.
"Don't know if you've noticed, Sarge, but I blush at just about anything. Damned Irish skin."
A grin spread across James' face as he pushed off the car and took a step closer. Steve gulped. "So, Steve," purred the officer, brushing his fingers against Steve's. "I'd love to take you home."
"Oh wow, you weren't kidding," he laughed, leaning back against the door. Steve looked away, trying to will away the heat from his cheeks. "I can drive you home though, if you need."
"It's okay. I'd need to come back to pick up my car anyway, so I'm fine with waiting. Thank you, though."
"Alright," James said with a soft smile. He paused for a beat, then hopped into his car, waving at Steve through his open window as he pulled out of the garage.
"See ya, James," he said, although he was almost certain that the man in question didn't hear.
The groan that chorused around the table like a ripple across water when Steve recounted the story was ridiculous and over the top, in his opinion.
"You're saying that he offered to take you home, and you declined? You're dumber than you look, Rogers," sighed Sam, biting mournfully into a chip. "You shoulda asked him out months ago. Like I told you to."
Natasha scoffed. "Come on, Sam, he can barely order a cup of coffee. What makes you think he could ask a guy out? I gave him the opportunity and he blew it. I pity the guy."
"No need to talk about me like I'm not here," huffed Steve.
"Hey, this means it's my turn!" Tony beamed, clearly basking in Steve's failure.
"No, enough with the plans," the artist groaned. "I'm done."
"Come on, Cap, it's my turn. You know you owe me for those speeding fines."
"I never asked you to pay them!"
"Not in so many words-"
"Not in any words!"
"Well don't leave unpaid bills lying around if you don't want me to pay them!" Tony exclaimed, which was an absolutely ridiculous, albeit heartwarming, argument. "And my idea is so good! I've been voted Genius of the Year six times in a row, you know."
Clint loudly slurped the bottom of his orange juice. "He's got a point. You took advice from someone who didn't even graduate high school."
Steve stared at Clint blankly. "How the hell did you get into college if-" He paused, thinking the better of it. Clint and Natasha were two halves of one, terrifying, odd-defying enigma, and it was best not to ask questions about things like high school and how the hell Clint owned an apartment building (also why Clint owned an apartment building - he had a lovely home in Queens) and why Natasha wasn't allowed within a mile of Washington. He shook his head. "Fine. Tony, what've you got."
Tony grinned like a shark.
"Nope," Steve muttered to himself, tossing the packet of cigarettes into the trash. He'd been willing to do almost anything to get Tony off his back - and, admittedly, see James again - but smoking in front of a 'no smoking' sign was juvenile and stupid and Steve was not going to stoop to that level. Plus, he had asthma, so.
"Aw, c'mon, it was a great idea," whined Tony. "You didn't even give it a chance."
"I didn't need to," said Steve, crossing his arms over his chest defiantly. "And I'm officially done now. No more breaking the law to get his attention."
"Then what are you gonna do?" Pepper asked.
"Nothing. It's no big deal, it's not like I'm in love with the guy. I'll just... move on, I guess."
"After all that you're just gonna give up? Your criminal record must be enormous," Sam pointed out with a judgemental eyebrow.
"It's honestly a wonder you haven't done jail time yet," said Natasha with a yawn.
"Yeah, yeah," said Steve. "Like you're one to talk, Miss I-Didn't-Stab-Him-The-Knife-Fell-Into-His-Thigh."
And thankfully for Steve, that spurred a whole new conversation about who in the group deserved the longest jail time. They laughed and drank and reminisced until the bar staff decided to close up shop, despite Tony's attempts to bribe them to stay open just a little longer. Pepper had to physically drag him out of the establishment to stop him from tossing wads of cash at the bartenders.
"I don't wanna stop drinking," Clint whined, leaning heavily against Natasha. His eyes lit up and he looked up at his girlfriend hopefully. "We should go to a club!"
Tony grinned impishly. "Barton, that is the best idea you've ever had."
Sam eyed Steve warily. "Maybe-"
Shaking his head adamantly, Steve squeezed Sam's shoulder in reassurance. He appreciated the concern, but he couldn't stand being the reason his friends stopped having a good time. "It's fine. Let's go."
It had been years since Steve had gone clubbing, so he'd almost forgotten about the suffocating heat and the heavy crowding of bodies around his own. The club wasn't small, but that didn't stop the sweaty press of strangers against his skin. They were everywhere, and certainly not afraid to feel him up in passing. It was sticky, loud, and far, far too much.
Sam was right, this was a bad idea. He should have gone home when he'd had the chance. The claustrophobia was choking him, dragging his mind back to the warzone he'd been in five odd years ago. The shouting, the stiff beat of the bass, the intoxicated bodies stumbling all over each other. He couldn't take it, he was drowning, he had to get out. Now. He grabbed Sam's arm loosely - careful not to latch onto him like he used to, nails digging into anything that would ground him like a startled cat - yelled something about getting air, then promptly fled the building.
The cool night air was like a splash of icy water, and he gasped for breath like he was still a tiny asthmatic teenager. He could hear the gunshots, see the bodies, feel the fear. His mind grew foggy as he hyperventilated. Leaning against the dusty red brick and hands covering his face, he breathed deeply like Sam always told him to. It usually worked, and he knew that, but at the moment he felt like a bundle of live wires.
It took a good fifteen minutes, but he got there. He rested his head against the wall and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Steve?" a voice beside him said. Steve jumped and opened his eyes to see James standing before him, concern painted across his features. And wasn't that just fantastic, his first panic attack in months and his... whatever James was ('crush' sounded too middle-school, but 'love interest' sounded too rom-com - there was really no winning option) appeared. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, yeah, peachy," replied Steve. He winced at the strained sound of his own voice. "Just, uh..." he vaguely gestured with his hand. "Me and crowded spaces don't really go together."
The officer nodded in understanding, which is not what Steve was expecting. "Yeah," James said softly. "Me too."
Steve peered at the man curiously. "You a vet?" He winced at his own forwardness. "Sorry, I don't mean to pry. Just... y'know."
James sighed, moving to lean against the wall beside Steve. "Yeah, I do. Two tours of Afghanistan. Honourably discharged. You?"
"Three in Iraq. Signed up the second I turned eighteen."
"Takes a really special kind of person to sign up when you're still a kid, you know that?" James commented.
"Thanks." Steve couldn't help the blush that crept across his cheeks and down his neck. "But I just did what I had to."
They stood in companionable silence for a minute or so, which was soothing to Steve. He wasn't used to being around other people in the aftermath of a panic attack, people who really understood what it was like, but he felt comfortable and at ease as the tension oozed from his taut body. Sure, Sam was great, but Steve felt guilty calling him every time he had a relapse. He always said it was fine, but Steve just couldn't live with himself burdening his best friend like that. Sam had his own stuff to deal with.
Just knowing that someone was there was enough for Steve to push the war out of his mind, at least for the time being.
James spoke again. "You here by yourself?"
"My friends are inside, I didn't want to bother them," Steve breathed. "Most of them don't really get it."
He nodded again. "Do you-" He hesitated. "Do you wanna get out of here? I'll buy you a coffee, we can just sit until you feel fine enough to go back to your friends."
"Are you sure? Aren't you on duty right now?"
James shrugged. "I get an hour's break in about fifteen minutes, and I'm just on patrol unless something gets called in anyway. Plus, it's always nice to have some company."
"Okay," smiled Steve. "Yeah. I'd like that."
"Great," the policeman grinned. "I know a place just a few blocks from here. It's open twenty-four hours, God knows why. Sure helps when I've got the night shift, though."
"Sounds perfect," said Steve. He shot off a quick message to Sam saying he'd be back in an hour before shoving his phone into his pocket. Then he fell into step beside the officer, trying not to think too hard about how compassionate and lovely James was. It'd be far too easy to get caught up in the charm of the man beside him, so he pushed it aside and settled for small talk. "So, how long have you been in Brooklyn for?"
"My whole life, save the few years in the army."
"No way," Steve said excitedly. "I grew up on Carlton."
"Seriously? My house was that little red one on the corner."
"You're telling me that you're the one that stuck those terrifying silhouettes on the windows every Halloween."
James laughed heartily, eyes closed and head back. "Guilty as charged, I'm afraid."
"Do you always talk in police jargon or is it just 'cause you're technically still on the job?"
The officer laughed again, and Steve thought he'd be able to die happy with that sound ringing in his ears. The pair spent the whole walk to the cafe chatting easily about their shared childhood experiences. It was a wonder they'd never met before, really, because they'd practically been neighbours growing up. Still, Steve was somewhat glad that they hadn't, because he had been the scrawniest teenager the world had ever seen. He said as much to James once they were sat in the shop, coffees before them. He merely laughed in return. Steve gave him an odd look.
"Wait, you're not joking? You were actually short and skinny?" James looked out of place in the quaint cafe, his navy blue uniform - which did wonders for his arms, Steve noted - clashing with the yellow sunflowers that decorated the walls.
"Yeah," Steve prickled. "So?"
"Nothin' wrong with it. Just..." The man's gaze swept lazily up and down Steve's figure, as if slowly drinking him in. "Can't imagine you being small."
Steve felt his face flush and looked down at his lap. "Yeah, well, I was. Had just about every illness known to man. Took part in an experimental drug trial when I was seventeen and haven't looked back since."
"So that's why a big fella like you keeps sticking up for the little guy," said James. He looked up at Steve with a devilish expression. "I may have looked through your file at the station."
Steve grinned. And could he blamed, really, for the way his heart fluttered at that? It meant James was thinking about him, enough to want to learn more. "Why, Sergeant Barnes, isn't that illegal?"
"Bucky," he smiled, stirring his coffee. He took his coffee black with two sugars, and Steve engraved that into his memory. "My friends call me Bucky."
"Oh, so we're friends now?"
"I just bought you a coffee, didn't I?"
"I suppose," said Steve with a half-hearted roll of his eyes. "So, Bucky, you find anything interesting in my file?"
"Wouldn't you like to know," he countered. "All I can say is that for someone as morally centred as you, your police record is enormous. And you've copped a lot of speeding tickets recently."
The last comment flustered Steve, and he hastily changed the topic with a blush that Bucky raised an eyebrow at. He didn't protest when Steve steered the conversation though, easily chatting about work and life and art and whatever else sprung to mind. It was breathtakingly natural, the way they just clicked. Like they'd known each other for years. James - Bucky - grasped Steve's forearm when he laughed, and kicked him gently under the table when he said something stupid, and ordered them a second round of coffees despite the late hour. It felt so much like a date that Steve was left wondering if it was, and the heady rush of happiness that idea gave him was almost ridiculous.
He didn't allow himself to ponder it too deeply. Instead, he lost himself in the melodic sound of Bucky's voice, and the brush of his fingers against his hand as he told a story passionately. Then Bucky leaned back, arms crossed and sighing contently. "God, this is just what I need. It's been so hectic lately, y'know? You don't really get many chances to unwind on shift, and then when you get home it's just sleeping. This week especially has been absolute hell, but sitting here, talking to you, this is exactly what I need."
"This is exactly what I need too," Steve smiled shyly. "What was so bad about this week?"
A grumble left Bucky's lips. "Goddamn paperwork. Plus, it doesn't help that I always have to pick up the field jobs."
"Hope I haven't caused you too much trouble, dragging you out of the office all the time," said Steve, looking intently into his empty coffee cup.
Bucky chuckled, a sweet smile on his face that reached his eyes. "Honestly, it's actually a relief when I show up somewhere and it's you. I don't want to encourage crime here, but the days that I see you are my favourites."
Steve's eyes flicked up, surprised, and he opened his mouth to speak, but-
There was a loud crackling sound that stopped him short. Steve jumped in surprise, but Bucky didn't seem bothered. He plucked the strange little walkie-talkie device that Steve wasn't sure even had a professional police name off his chest pocket and listened to the torn up voice on the other end of the receiver, so warped and disfigured that it was barely understandable. Bucky replied in some sort of code, and shared a short and completely foreign exchange that Steve could never even dream of deciphering with whoever was talking to him.
The policeman turned to him once he had clipped the device back to his jacket, an apology in his eyes. "I'm really sorry. I have to go. Possible attempted murder on the outskirts."
"Jesus, Bucky, that's much more important than sitting here comforting me. Go, I'll head back to the club."
"You sure you'll be okay?" Bucky grasped Steve's wrist loosely, and Steve gulped.
"Yeah," he said with a sincere - if a little weak - smile. "Yeah, of course I will. Go catch a killer, Sarge."
With one last lingering squeeze of Steve's shoulder, Bucky departed, and Steve watched him go.
"I'm so screwed," he groaned, leaving a hefty tip for the waitress that gave him a knowing smile.
He was in trouble, Steve reluctantly admitted to himself. Because after tonight he was certain that this was more than just a passing fascination. Now that he'd talked to the guy, felt their obvious chemistry and easy banter, he was in far deeper than preferable.
"'Not in love with the guy' my ass, Rogers," grinned Tony, not looking up from the toaster he was fiddling with. At least, Steve assumed it was a toaster - with Tony, it could really be anything. "You're head over heels."
"I know, Tony. This is very bad," Steve sighed, draping himself across the table dramatically. "Just as I vow to get over him, he shows up, and now I can't stop thinking about him."
"Tragic," Tony replied, without even an ounce of sincerity in his voice.
Steve let out an exaggerated groan. "You aren't even trying to make me feel better."
That seemed to make Tony's ears prick up. He straightened from where he was crouched over the workbench, eyes full of something very dangerous that Steve did not want to get involved with. "What's his name again?"
"James Barnes," said Steve cautiously. "Why?"
Tony's face took on a devilish expression.
"Tony-" Steve warned.
"You know," the billionaire interrupted, and Steve had a very bad feeling about this. "Trespassing is the number one crime in New York at the moment."
Steve's jaw dropped open. "That is definitely not true, Tony, what-"
"Jarvis!" Tony shouted. He grinned at Steve evilly. "Get security up here. I have no idea who this man is or what he's doing in my tower."
"On it, sir," responded Jarvis.
"Oh, and make sure to request Officer Barnes when you call the police, would you?"
"I hate you," growled Steve, though he didn't resist too much when Happy took him by the arm and guided him down to the ground floor (though he hoped it was clear that that was out of respect for Stark's employees, not Stark himself). He did resist, however, when he was told there had been orders to handcuff him with cable ties. Which is exactly how Bucky found Steve lying on the pristine tiles of the lobby, Tony Stark's head of security on top of him with a knee pressed to his spine.
"Do I even want to know why you were harassing Tony Stark?" The sergeant asked, and it was clear he was stifling a laugh.
"Because he's an asshole," said Steve, though his words were slightly muffled due to the floor he was pressed against. "Happy, tell him he's an asshole."
"I'd be glad to remind him, Captain."
"Captain?" Bucky asked, replacing the cable ties around Steve's wrists with a cold pair of cuffs.
"Tony likes nicknames," Happy helpfully supplied.
"Right," said Bucky. He hoisted Steve from the ground (and good God, did that make Steve feel some kind of way) and started to guide him to the door. The confused grin on his face almost made Steve want to thank Tony. Almost. "Thank you for your help, Mr Hogan. I'll take him back to the station for questioning, and my associate will take a statement from you shortly."
It was a little embarrassing that Steve hadn't noticed the second police officer until he was mentioned, but to be fair, he was a little distracted by the hot brunet handcuffing him. It was perfectly plausible.
Happy nodded before pressing a button on his earpiece. "The targets have left the building, I repeat, Project Matchmaker is a success-"
Steve was sure the head of security had more to say, but he was glad to be out of earshot when it happened. The blush that painted his face and crept down his neck was enough, thank you very much.
"So, you've got some explaining to do," Bucky chuckled once Steve was securely contained in the backseat.
"Would you believe me if I told you I got kicked out for whooping Stark's stupid ass?"
The laugh the officer let out then was surprised, but genuine nonetheless. Steve felt his heart pound hard in his chest. "Y'know, I probably would. But that's not the truth, is it?"
"Nope. The truth is Tony is the worst friend ever."
"We were. But this is the third time he's gotten me arrested for fun, so either he buys me a new car or I'm blocking his number permanently," Steve said, only half joking. Tony was a loyal friend most of the time, but he could be a real pain in the ass when he wanted to be. "As for the Captain thing, that was my rank in the army."
"And it doesn't bother you? Being reminded like that?"
"Nah. I'm not super sensitive about my army days. Not anymore, at least. Tony's an asshole but he's a good guy once you get to know him, and he wouldn't call me anything I wasn't comfortable with."
"Huh," Bucky said eloquently. He looked thoughtfully out the windscreen as he drove. "Once again, Rogers, you're full of surprises. Would never have expected you to be friends with a billionaire."
"How did you think I paid all those speeding fines?" Steve smirked playfully. It shocked another laugh from Bucky, and something warm bubbled in Steve's veins when he laughed along. "You just wait. Tony'll let me sit in a cell for a few hours, then decide not to press charges and drive me home."
"And he just does this whenever he feels like it? I could arrest him for misuse of justice, you know."
"That's very noble, Sarge, but I'm good. He gets enough shit from the media as it is."
"How about we just mess with him, then? Pretend like you're in real trouble."
A wide smile stretched across Steve's face. "I like the way you think."
Some three hours later, Steve had gotten to know his cellmates pretty well, save for the guy in the corner that refused to do anything other than grunt. They were starting to become sceptical, though, that Tony was going to bail him out at all, because the man sure was taking his sweet time (most likely due to his negligible knowledge of the justice system - he probably thought Steve and Bucky were hanging out this whole time). When Bucky finally strolled over to the barred entrance, keys swinging on his finger, Steve let out a sigh. "'S about time."
"Chill out, Captain. We had to wait for your story to check out first," he said with a wink. Steve's heart may or may not have stopped then. "Now come on, it's showtime. Luckily for you, I'm an excellent actor."
"Lucky me," Steve replied wistfully. He let Bucky gently cuff his wrists and struggled to keep his mind blank at the press of the policeman against his back. It was excruciatingly difficult, and if Steve didn't know any better, he'd think Bucky was plastering his lean muscles flush against him on purpose.
When they exited the holding cell, Bucky mouthed 'sorry' before shoving Steve through the bullpen. "Come, on Rogers. I don't have all day," he growled. Steve would be lying if he said he wasn't a little turned on.
"Hey, what's going on? I said I'm not pressing charges," said Tony, brows knitted in confusion. He half-jogged after Bucky as he dragged Steve along, making a beeline for the door.
"Do you really think this was his first offence? It's not about you, Stark."
"Thanks a lot, Tony," Steve spat bitterly.
Tony gaped for a moment, and it was the second time Steve had ever seen the man speechless - the first being when Pepper proposed. Steve was positively elated by the response.
"I have money!" Tony eventually declared, as if it wasn't common knowledge. "I'll pay however much you want, just don't put him in jail."
Steve was almost touched by that. Bucky, however, was not having it, and halted in his tracks. The sudden movement caused Steve to all but crash into the sergeant, but Bucky just stood perfectly still with a cold glare directed at Tony. "Did you just try to bribe a police officer, Mr Stark?"
The temperature in the room seemed to drop ten degrees, and for the third time ever, Tony was rendered silent. His jaw dropped open, and Steve's eyes darted between him and the policeman rapidly. Bucky was sporting a challenging expression, and once he felt he'd intimidated the billionaire enough, he turned on his heel and continued his path to the door. A blank look occupied Tony's face, and Steve watched him stand frozen in place as Bucky dragged him out of the precinct.
Once they were in the safety of Bucky's police car, the officer removed the handcuffs from Steve's wrists, his lips twisted into an impish grin.
"That was amazing! Oh my god, Bucky, I'm gonna get years of mileage out of that one," Steve gushed, unable to stop the almost hysterical laughter that escaped his throat. "Seriously, his face was priceless. I could just kiss you, thank you so much," he blurted thoughtlessly. Then he cut his rambling short and focussed on pointedly not blushing, because that was far too close to home.
"Happy to help," said Bucky, but the smile he was wearing had darkened to something sadder. That sobered Steve up slightly, and he tilted his head in confusion. The officer clearly didn't want to talk about it, though, because he just sighed and plastered on a fake smirk. Steve didn't question it. "C'mon, hop in the front. I'll drive you home."
Steve did as he was told. "This is the first time I've gotten to ride shotgun in a cop car."
Bucky laughed at that, and the genuine sparkle in his eyes was back. "And it'll be the last time, too, if you keep getting arrested like it's going out of fashion."
"Well someone's gotta keep you busy, Sarge."
They bantered easily the rest of the ride to Steve's apartment, and the artist was reminded of how effortlessly natural it was between them. He hoped that Bucky felt the spark too, and the little side glances the officer was giving him had him almost convinced.
Though the conversation was constant and light, Steve could feel the tension building between them. It was as if now that they were trapped, alone, in a confined space, there was no room to hide from the obvious anymore. By the time they pulled up out the front of Steve's apartment, the air was thick enough to cut with a knife, and Steve thought maybe this was the moment he'd been waiting for. Bucky was looking at him with an open, unguarded expression that was rare for the officer, and his unwavering attention made Steve gulp and freeze.
"What are you waiting for, sweetheart?" Bucky all but whispered, hand hovering tentatively in the air a few inches from Steve's face. His actions were nervous, but his words were confident, and Steve's stomach flipped giddily and the oxygen rushed from his lungs.
Just as he was about to lean in, his phone rang obnoxiously, and Steve felt the atmosphere in the car shatter like broken glass.
"You better get that," the officer said softly.
Steve frowned but did as he was told.
"I'll admit, you almost had me, Jailbird," drawled Tony. "But you forget I can and will track your phone."
Steve hung up instantly with a roll of his eyes. "Stupid Tony." He turned to look at Bucky again, opening his mouth to say something, but his words didn't seem to come. "I..."
"Well, stay outta jail, Captain," Bucky dismissed instead, a smirk on his face but eyes trained straight ahead.
Steve sighed and exited the car.
When he entered his apartment, he promptly dropped his keys with a graceless clatter, because Tony was lounging in his armchair, sipping champagne from a flute.
"Jesus, Tony, you almost gave me a heart attack!" Steve grumbled, but he shut the door and poured himself a glass regardless, collapsing onto the adjacent sofa.
"It's what you deserve! You already gave me one today."
Steve chuckled. "You should've seen your face, though. Totally worth it. I'm gonna see if Bucky can get me the security footage."
Tony hummed in response, sipping his drink idly. His eyebrow was raised playfully, but Steve knew that Tony would change the subject if he asked. "Bucky, huh? I must say, he's quite the catch."
"I know. He drove me home," Steve replied solemnly. "I almost kissed him."
"Yeah? What stopped you?"
"You did. When you called."
"I'm sorry, Steve. There's always next time," Tony said, pity in his eyes. Steve was somewhat taken aback - Tony never apologised, at least not with words. His despair must have been ridiculously clear on his face for that to have happened. Which was dumb, and he knew he shouldn't be so hung up, but Bucky was special. He was gorgeous and funny and kind and passionate and Steve liked him so much, and he couldn't really figure out how to stop.
"It's fine. He told me to stay out of jail, so I guess that's my next in, huh?"
Tony tilted his glass towards Steve. "I'll cheers to that."
True to his word and despite Bucky's parting sentiment, it was just over a week later that Steve ended up back in that holding cell.
"You know, Rogers, one of these days you're gonna get arrested for real, and I won't be there to stop your sorry ass from ending up in the cooler," Bucky said when he spotted Steve sitting on the bench with his chin resting on his fists. He knew he probably looked like he was stewing in his own anger, which in all fairness, he was. "What did you do this time?"
"This time it wasn't my fault," mumbled Steve, still enraged. Even though the man of his dreams was standing there, playfully teasing him like an old friend, he was so wound up that his ridiculous crush was pushed to the back of his mind.
The officer laughed. "Sure, Cap. That's what they all say."
"I'm serious," he replied, springing up from his seat. He hoped his eyes contained all the fire he felt within, because he was positively fuming. "I was at the transgender rights protest downtown, and one of your officers pepper-sprayed a teenage girl who approached him to ask for directions. I can only assume it's because she was black. What, was I supposed to not clock him? I'm not gonna stand by and let a young woman get hurt for being black."
Bucky's smile fell and his eyes darkened. "Which officer?" he asked, voice authoritative and stern and Steve fell a little bit more in love with him.
"I think his badge said Rumlow? Can't be sure, I was seeing red."
"That bastard," the policeman said, before storming off without another word.
Steve slumped back onto the bench, watching the hands of the clock tick by. He wondered if she'd gotten to the hospital okay. If it wasn't for the policeman shoving him into a car, he would have given her money for a taxi, but her friends seemed to have it covered.
It took about two hours for Bucky to return, but when he did, he unlocked the cell and freed Steve for a second time.
"You're free to go. Your charges have been dropped courtesy of Captain Danvers. There's no room in this precinct for racism, and now there's no room for Rumlow either," he said, a proud grin on his face and a fierceness in his eyes that Steve recognised in himself whenever he witnessed an injustice. "This isn't the first time he's been accused of something like this, but I've been building a case against him for a while, and though we can't get him fired instantly, this certainly helps."
Steve gaped at him for a moment. It was rare that he met someone with an intolerance for inequality that matched his own, and the goodness he saw in Bucky was so attractive that he forgot himself for a second. He took the policeman's face in his hands and pressed a passionate kiss to his sinfully pink lips.
Now, while Steve was persistent, and ridiculously hopeful, he wasn't stupid. If he sensed any resistance from the sergeant, he would've cut his losses and maybe cried a little when he got home, but eventually he'd come good and move on. But Bucky didn't resist. In fact, he did the opposite. He melted against Steve's mouth, one hand gripping the lapel of Steve's jacket tight enough to crease. Steve felt weak in the knees, eyelids fluttering and grip tightening around Bucky's jaw as the other man parted his lips with a content sigh.
"Barnes! I've got some papers for you to sign," called a woman from the bullpen.
Bucky jumped back a foot, startled out of his haze. He looked around himself for a second, regaining his bearings, before making eye contact with Steve and yelling out, "coming, Danvers!" He straightened Steve's jacket with a small smile, and pat him once on the chest. "See you later, Steve," he said softly, before disappearing into the captain's office.
Steve stood very still for a very long time before he managed to make his way home.
"He's just so confusing," Steve whined a few days later. "He kisses me back, then walks away? What am I supposed to do with that?"
"You could grow a pair and actually ask him out like I've been telling you to from the very start," suggested Sam. Steve threw a peanut at his forehead.
"Right. I'm just gonna march into the station and ask him on a date," Steve said with a sarcastic roll of his eyes.
"Yes, exactly," replied Natasha and Clint in unison. It was slightly terrifying how in sync they were, especially since Clint seemed to be fast asleep with his cheek pressed to the sticky table only seconds before.
Natasha grinned with a nonchalant shrug, as if reading Steve's mind. "It's not that hard."
"You guys are the worst. When does Bruce get back from India? He might give me actually useful advice."
"Harsh," Tony said, hand on his heart like he was actually offended. "Honestly, Captain, you should trust what I have to say, as someone who's actually met the guy."
"I have too, Tony. You're not special," piped Sam.
"Me too!" Clint grinned.
"Shut it, both of you," dismissed the billionaire. "I think it there's no way he's not smitten with you. No one 'accidentally' brushes up against your ridiculous muscles as much as he did because they want to be friends. How he hasn't gotten in your pants yet, I'll never know."
"Wow, Tony, thanks for your valuable and totally unique opinion," Sam said, and then the table was bickering like children. Steve sat back in his chair and smiled, because who needed to worry about spontaneous kisses with police officers when his friends were as hectic as this. He could just sit back and relax for a moment, God knows he's earned it. As long as he was left out of the chaos, he was happy.
So it was pretty unfortunate when Sam turned to him, an idea is his eyes and a smirk on his lips that Steve did not like at all. "Everybody, shut up. I have the best plan of them all."
The group drifted into a reluctant silence and Steve's uneasy feeling grew.
Sam paused for dramatic flair, grinning from ear to ear. "I dare you to ask him out next time you see him."
Natasha swore and slammed her whiskey sour onto the table, Tony and Pepper started arguing about how they didn't come up with it first, Clint's mouth fell into a small 'o', and Steve knew he was screwed. He had never turned down a dare in his life, and goddamn it, he wasn't planning on starting now. But this was a risk he was not willing to take lightly, so he chewed on his straw with furrowed brows while he thought.
Sam watched him with a shit eating grin, well aware of the legal (practically legal) bind he'd put his best friend into. It was horribly cruel, because everyone knew how much Steve prided himself on his impeccable dare record.
Eventually, he gritted his teeth. "Fine. But who knows if I'll ever see him again, huh?"
"Oh, you will," Sam insisted, leaning back in his seat and basking in the annoyance of everyone else around the table.
Sam, it turned out, was right. Which Steve was beginning to find very irritating, because that man was damn near always right. Unfortunately, the circumstances under which they met again were - arguably - not the best.
"Steve?" came Bucky's panicked voice, and Steve pried his eyes open to see the officer rushing into the alley with a terrified expression.
"Bucky," breathed Steve, moving to get up. He winced at the pain that shot through his chest, and didn't resist when Bucky's large hands gently pushed him back down. The sergeant knelt down before him, brows knitted with worry.
"God, you look terrible," the policeman said, and Steve didn't look away from his stormy grey eyes as they studied him. He felt hands on his face, thumbs softly moving across the bruises and scrapes, and he leaned into the touch.
"You shoulda seen the other guy," replied Steve, with a brief smile that did not seem to ease the officer's nerves.
"What the hell happened?"
"I was-" He coughed, and doubled over at the ache that coursed through his body in response. Bucky steadied him and firmly gripped his biceps. "I was just walkin' home, and I saw this guy who was followin' this girl, and she was alone and scared so I... so I stopped him, and she got away, but he had like, four friends that I didn't see..."
"You took on five guys by yourself? You're an absolute idiot, Steve," chuckled Bucky, although Steve could tell it wasn't a real laugh.
"Tell me something I don't know," mumbled Steve, letting his eyes fall shut again. "'S been years since I've lost a fight, though."
"Morita, call an ambulance, now!" Bucky yelled. Steve didn't even realise there was another officer there until he heard the other man on the phone, but he supposed he'd never really been very good at paying attention to anything that wasn't Bucky. "Help's on the way, Steve, you're going to be alright. Just - open your eyes, and keep talking to me."
"Well, 'm feelin' a little dizzy, Buck, but I could talk to you all day."
"That's good to know. Why don't you tell me about your art, okay, doll? Like... what's your favourite thing to draw? I wanna hear all about it."
"I like when you call me that. And I like drawing... people," Steve said, furrowing his brows as he thought about the contents of his sketchbook. "I draw my friends, strangers, anyone. I've drawn you a heap of times. You've got good... good bone structure."
"Oh, yeah?" Bucky asked, amusement easing the tight, anxious set of his handsome face. "You'll have to show me sometime."
"Only if you model for me sometime. It's hard doing it from memory, even though I think about you all the time."
"All the time?"
Steve nodded. "You're very pretty. And kind. And basically my dream fella."
"I think you've got a concussion, Captain," noted Bucky, tilting Steve's head in his hands to observe his temples. "There's no way you'd be sayin' that in your right state of mind."
"Maybe. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't be thinkin' it," Steve said, eyes focussed on the tight line of Bucky's lips. He thought about how it had felt to kiss him, how he wanted to do it again, how Sam had dared him to. So in his pain-hazed delusional state, he opened his mouth again. "You busy Friday?"
Bucky let out a startled laugh. "Not after work, I'm not. Why?"
"I wanna take you out to dinner. Like a real date, not just runnin' into each other whenever I get into trouble."
"Yeah, alright, Steve," Bucky said softly, fingers carding through Steve's hair as he brushed back the stray locks. "If you're better by Friday, we'll go out someplace nice."
"What if I'm not better?"
"Then we'll go out Saturday."
Steve smiled, and Bucky smiled back, and for a second the pain in his ribs and face and stomach and everywhere else he'd been hit seemed nonexistent. He kissed Bucky's thumb as it brushed across his lips, and was so entranced by the fond look on the officer's face that he didn't even notice the sirens of the approaching ambulance.
Bucky combed back Steve's hair one more time, briefly pressing their foreheads together, before getting up to make way for the ambulance crew. Steve wasn't really listening, but he noticed absently that Bucky was informing the medics of his state.
"You gonna be alright to go to the hospital by yourself?" Bucky asked as the paramedics lifted him onto a stretcher. Steve nodded through gritted teeth, eyes squeezed shut. He could hear Bucky's quick steps alongside him. "He'll be okay, won't he?"
"We won't know until we get him back to the hospital to run some tests, but if he's talking that's a good sign," one of the medics said calmly. Steve peeled his eyes open to find he was already in the ambulance, and gave Bucky a crooked grin from the bed.
The policeman crossed his arms, tone firm. "You better be back on your feet by Friday, you hear me?"
"Got it, Sarge," Steve said, and the intent to salute was honestly there, he just got lost on the follow through. The medics were telling him not to move anyway, so he just watched as the ambulance doors were closed on Bucky's nervous posture and worry-riden face.
He didn't remember much of the drive to the hospital, drifting in and out of consciousness from a mixture of pain and medication, but when he came to for good - after all the scans and check-ups and whatnot, which was a bit excessive if you asked Steve - he was in a private room with Sam by his bedside.
"What time is it?" Steve croaked pathetically. Really, he felt fine, if a little achy, but his throat was scratchy and dry. Sam passed him a cup of water knowingly, and Steve sipped it as he prepared for the lecture he knew was coming.
"You're the worst, you know that?" the man said ignoring Steve's question and staring up at the muted hospital television. "I haven't gotten a call saying you're in hospital since high school. I thought you were having a damn asthma relapse."
"I don't know if you consider this to be better or worse than that," Steve joked, shuffling in his hospital bed. The sheets and the gown he wore were scratchy, which he took as a good sign because he didn't have the highest health insurance cover, and certainly didn't have an abundance of money lying around on an artists' salary. There was always Tony, but Steve would never ask for the sake of his pride.
"Well, you don't have any broken ribs this time, just some bruising and a heavy concussion. You're lucky, man. I would have kicked your ass if you died in an alleyway."
Steve laughed, and sat up so he could whack Sam across the back of his head.
"Seriously, though. If those officers hadn't found you, who knows what would've happened," Sam said, punctuating his point with a stern finger.
"Oh, god, the officers," groaned Steve. If he'd been standing, be would have dramatically draped himself across an armchair. He'd almost had the pleasure of forgetting about the ridiculous things he'd said when he was under the influence of his concussion. "I called him my dream fella. To his face."
Sam barked out a laugh.
Steve ignored him. "This is all your fault, Sam. You and your stupid dare."
"Nope, this is all you. You're the one that can't turn down a challenge."
"I asked him on a date. I was beaten to a pulp in an alleyway and I asked him on a date."
"You forgot the part about how I'm your muse," came a new voice from the doorway, and there was no mistaking it. Steve wanted to burrow through the floor and die, but settled for gaping at the policeman as Sam smirked unforgivingly.
"I'm gonna go get... I don't know, something," Sam excused himself eloquently, giving Bucky a pat on the shoulder as he squeezed out the door.
"How're you feeling, Captain?" Bucky asked with a grin, but his eyes were studying every inch of Steve that he could see for visible damage. Steve flushed and looked down at the sheets.
"Better than yesterday. I'm so sorry-"
"Don't apologize," he interrupted. "You're a reckless idiot, Steve, but you're a good person."
Steve smiled shyly, still not looking away from his lap. "So, you here to ask some follow-up questions or something?"
"Nah, I'm off duty," Bucky responded, and that was enough to make Steve look up. It was only then that he noticed the worn black jeans and soft leather jacket that adorned the officer, not to mention the messy ponytail that failed to contain most of his hair. Steve tried his best not to physically drool when the man looked at him through his lashes and shoved his hands into his pockets. "I came to make sure we're still on for dinner Friday."
Steve's jaw dropped open. "What?"
"Well, and to make sure you're okay, of course," Bucky said quickly, tucking some escaped hair behind his ear endearingly. "But I knew you would be. My main concern was the fact that I don't even have your number. How am I supposed to know where to pick you up from if I can't even text you?"
It took Steve a few more moments of gaping dumbly to snap out of it and say something. "You actually want to go out with me? After I waxed poetic about you like a drunk teenager?"
Bucky humoured Steve with a laugh, but his eyes gleamed with an unusual seriousness. "'Course I do, Steve. I'm kinda crazy about you. Thought it was just me that felt this way, pining over a damn criminal."
"Are you kidding? I've been wanting to ask you out for months."
"I guess we're just a couple've fools, then, aren't we?"
"I guess so," hummed Steve. Then he crossed his arms and raised a serious eyebrow, so Bucky knew he meant business. "Also, I'm the one that asked you out, so I'll be the one picking you up."
"In your condition? I don't think so," Bucky teased, flashing that lopsided grin that Steve had come to adore. "Plus, if this goes well, I plan on takin' you upstairs, and I have a really mean cat that would probably beat you back into hospital."
"You really think I'm gonna put out on the first date, Sarge?"
"Who said anything about sex? I was talking about cuddling on the couch with a movie," Bucky said, grinning slyly. "You are filthy, Rogers."
Steve rolled his eyes. "Whatever. See you Friday?"
"Friday," Bucky said sincerely, giving Steve a gentle kiss on the cheek before making his way out. Steve brushed the flushed skin with his fingertips, unable to stop the wide smile that stretched across his lips. Especially when the sergeant rushed back into the room not a minute later, face red and embarrassed. "I, uh... I didn't actually get your number, did I?"
Steve laughed hard enough that he felt it in his bruised ribs, but he couldn't find it in himself to care. He felt giddy enough with happiness that he even excused Sam for high-fiving Bucky as he departed a second time (and when he received the most thorough I-told-you-so of his life).
He didn't even begin to have a crisis about it all until a few hours before they were supposed to meet, elation carrying him through the week. But now, as he stood in front of the mirror in his best jeans and button up, he was freaking out.
"No need to look so nervous," Sam said, stretched out on Steve's bed and reading a trashy gossip magazine nonchalantly. Steve narrowed his eyes at his best friend, but the man didn't even look up to notice. "He's already into you; that's the hard part done. All you need to do is show up."
"That doesn't make me feel better," mumbled Steve, brushing the invisible dust off his dark blue jeans for the millionth time. He spun around to face the jury gathered in his bedroom, hands on his hips. "You guys sure about this outfit?"
"Yes," they groaned collectively. Originally, Steve had only invited Pepper (for her expensive, tasteful eye), Natasha (for her brutal honesty), and Sam (for moral support). But then Tony caught wind, he'd dragged Bruce along too, and Clint had just shown up in an unrelated search for food. Now there were four people crammed horizontally onto his bed, with Clint laying across their laps and Bruce perched on the corner precariously close to Tony's feet, all looking equally fed up with Steve's fretting.
"How many times do I have to tell you that your ass looks good in those jeans before you believe me?" Tony said. His wife nodded in agreement beside him.
"And that your shirt brings out your eyes," Clint commented, smiling contently as Natasha ran her fingers through his hair.
"And your muscles," she added.
"Although-" Bruce started, and Tony promptly (and predictably - Steve knew that had been a bad place to sit) kicked him off the bed. "Hey!" the doctor cried, now sitting on the floor and rubbing his wounded back. "I was going to say he'll look even better with his leather jacket on!"
Tony opened his mouth - definitely not to apologize for assaulting his dearest friend - but quickly his expression morphed into a deadly smirk, because there was a soft series of knocks on the door.
"Oh god," stressed Steve, looking around his room frantically. His heart was pounding a mile a minute, and he wasn't sure yet if that was in a good or bad way. "Which jacket?"
"The brown one," said Bruce, pointing at where it lay, discarded in a pile of rejected outfits that Steve quickly kicked into his wardrobe as he shrugged the jacket on.
"Thanks, guys," he said, taking a deep breath before heading to the front door.
"Knock 'im dead!" Clint cheered, and Steve could only pray that Bucky didn't hear that.
When he opened the door he couldn't help the smile that bloomed on his face, because Bucky looked just about as nervous as Steve felt, rocking back and forth on his heels and grinning shyly from behind his hair. Which was ridiculous, because he looked like an absolute knockout with his hair down and his sleeves rolled up (his goddamn arms, Steve was losing his mind) and a stupid black tie hanging from his neck. Steve thought Bucky could be silent the whole night and it would still be the best date of his life, and maybe that was a little dramatic, but Steve was also a little smitten, so he felt entitled.
"Hey," he said, a little breathlessly.
"Hi," Bucky replied, tucking his hair behind his ears. He looked like his anxiety was melting away by the second, because he didn't even try to hide the fact that he was absolutely drinking Steve in as his eyes slowly roamed up and down the artist's body. "You look fantastic."
"Thank you," Steve blushed, shutting his apartment door behind him. "You scrub up pretty good too, Sarge."
"It's probably just my excellent bone structure," Bucky teased, bumping his shoulder against Steve's as they wandered down the hall. Steve laughed and bumped him back, and they were scuffling like schoolkids by the time they got outside.
"Have fun, boys," drawled a voice from above them, and Steve seriously considered moving continents to escape this very moment. He watched Bucky raise an eyebrow at Natasha hanging out his window, five faces behind her fighting to get a peek of Steve and his date. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Hi, Sarge!" Clint called, waving obnoxiously beside Natasha.
"If we ignore them and keep walking, maybe they'll fall out the window," Steve said, face beet red and pace hasty. Bucky laughed heartily as he walked alongside.
"Have him back by midnight, Prince Charming!" Tony shouted. Steve grabbed Bucky's hand and sped up even more.
"I am so, so sorry about them," Steve apologised once they had rounded a corner.
"Nah, don't worry about it. Your friends adore you. It's cute," Bucky said. He was drawing gentle circles with his thumb against the back of Steve's hand and Steve looked down, only just realising that their fingers were entwined. "Plus, now we're holding hands, and I can't complain about that, can I?"
"Guess not," Steve said with a squeeze of Bucky's hand. "Still. They can be a lot to take in."
"I'm sure I'll get used to them," responded Bucky, as if it wasn't a big deal. Steve gaped at his shoes with a goofy grin that didn't fade the whole walk to the restaurant. Or through the duration of dinner either, because what could he possibly do other than smile when Bucky was right there, joking and laughing and telling stories about his family and his life and his job and-
Steve felt a bit giddy, and a little ridiculous, but he also believed Bucky felt the same way, if his heated stares and suggestive smirks were anything to go by. Which in turn made him feel even more fluttery and wound up, to the point where he could hardly sit still. Bucky seemed to notice, because he trapped Steve's ankle between his own and looked at him with those big blue-grey eyes. "You wanna get out of here?"
The walk back to Steve's was far too short, and Steve found himself drifting off thinking about how to go about asking the policeman out again as soon as possible. His track record for asking the man out was not great - some (pointedly Sam) might even say pitiable - but he was feeling good. He was just going to come out and say it, before he could lose his nerve, before-
"Steve? You've been awfully quiet. Everything okay?" Bucky asked, stopping on the step below Steve out the front of his apartment building. He sounded and looked more nervous than he had all night, and Steve couldn't help but tuck that distracting loose hair behind Bucky's ear with a fond smile.
"Never been better. I was just thinking about how to see you again tomor-"
And he didn't get to finish that sentence, because Bucky stretched up onto his toes and pressed his mouth to Steve's. He had to crane his neck to get the angle right, and Steve had to hunch over and grasp Bucky's biceps (his biceps! Oh God) for support, but it was still the best damn kiss Steve had ever had and his knees were buckling from the intensity of it all. Bucky's hands slipped under Steve's jacket, drawing him in closer, and his tongue swiped against his sealed lips as his fingers pressed into the muscles of Steve's back. As Steve opened his mouth with a stupid whine that he would absolutely deny producing, Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve's waist so they were chest to chest. The kiss was slow, sweet, exploring tongues and wandering hands, and it was absolutely perfect.
Bucky pulled away, a dopey look in his eyes and a goofy grin on his lips.
"Hngh," Steve said, and it definitely wasn't a real word with any meaning. "I mean, uh... cool."
"Cool?" smirked Bucky, stepping up onto the same stair as Steve so they were level.
Steve shrugged, face flushed. "I really don't know. I'm havin' a hard time thinkin' at the moment."
"Good," Bucky purred (purred). His mouth was far too close to Steve's ear, lips brushing softly against his jaw. "Good and cool."
Steve laughed, then pressed a hand to Bucky's firm chest, listening to the sharp exhale the other man let out. "You wanna come upstairs?"
"Stark's not gonna be there, is he?"
"He better not be," Steve said, thinking about how Tony was probably joking about the whole curfew thing, but one could never really know with him. He couldn't give it too much thought, though, because Bucky was already yanking him enthusiastically into the elevator, and every worry regarding the billionaire dissolved instantly.
The second Steve shut the door to his apartment, Bucky had him crowded up against the wall, eyes dark and arms braced on either side of Steve's body, and yeah, Steve certainly wasn't prepared for that. He whimpered involuntarily, causing the policeman to laugh and place his hands softly onto Steve's abdomen. He gently moved them up Steve's chest, as if memorising every curve and contour of his body, eyes not straying from Steve's for a moment. "Been wanting to put my hands on you since that first goddamn speeding ticket," he whispered.
"No need to be so careful about it, then. Touch me all you want," responded Steve, punctuating his point with a brief open-mouthed kiss.
"Don't think I've forgotten about your injuries, Rogers. I'm not about to play rough with an injured man," he said, but he used a little more force than before when he pushed Steve back against the wall.
"But what if I want you to be rough-"
"Nope," Bucky grinned, popping the p. "Not today. Next time, maybe..."
Bucky licked at Steve's lips until he parted them, this time not so languidly as he slipped his tongue into the other man's mouth. Steve groaned, heart pounding as he kissed Bucky as passionately as he could manage with the distraction of Bucky's wandering hands.
"That's an awfully bold assumption, Sarge," panted Steve, as Bucky moved to nip and suck at Steve's jaw. "Especially - fuck - especially for someone who said they just wanted to cuddle after dinner."
"Touché," chuckled Bucky, voice vibrating pleasantly against Steve's throat. Steve arched his neck shamelessly, allowing Bucky better access. "But how am I supposed to just cuddle when you're here, lookin' as good as you are?"
Steve's knees wobbled, and he threw his arms around Bucky's neck for stability. The man continued working at his throat, biting and drawing out breathy moans every so often. Steve's brain more or less shut down, focussing only on the waves of pleasure coursing through him. As those hands started to work on the buttons of his shirt, Steve managed to tilt Bucky's head up with one finger to kiss him again, dragging him towards the bedroom with his thumbs in Bucky's belt loops.
By the time the back of Steve's knees hit the bed, his jacket was long gone, as was Bucky's tie, and he was shrugging his shirt off his shoulders while Bucky watched with bated breath. Those grey eyes dilated until they were almost completely black, jaw open and lips swollen. Steve smiled at the reaction, and started attacking the buttons that stood between him and Bucky's bare chest.
Bucky froze, hands grabbing Steve's wrists quickly. "Wait," he said, a little desperately. His demeanour had completely changed, startling Steve from his lust-fueled haze.
Steve stopped instantly, leaning back as not to crowd the man before him. "What's wrong? We don't have to-"
Bucky shook his head. "I want to. It's just, I haven't... haven't told you about..."
He trailed off, and started unbuttoning his shirt instead. Steve watched, trying not to follow the deft movement of his fingers too hungrily. But by the time the soft fabric was a forgotten pile on the floor, Steve was a mess, fingers twitching at his sides with indecision, unsure if he wanted to touch Bucky or draw him first.
Bucky cocked his head expectantly, eyes searching Steve's face. When Steve did nothing but gape, he sighed and pointed to his left arm, gaze immediately dropping to the floor.
"Oh, Bucky," Steve said sadly, studying the scarred skin that knotted over Bucky's shoulder and down his upper arm. Steve's fingers hovered over Bucky's arm as he looked, not quite touching in case Bucky didn't want him too. There was a red star tattooed on the gnarled skin, but it did little to cover the fact that something terrible had happened to the sergeant. It wrenched Steve's heart to think about it.
"I told you I was honourably discharged. This is why. I was shot at, and they missed by about ten inches. Could barely save the arm, and don't get me wrong, I'm grateful I lived, but I'm reminded of it every single day when I look in the mirror and see this horrible-"
"Stop," Steve said softly. He slowly raised his hands to cup Bucky's face, seeing the fear in the other man's eyes. "It's not horrible. It's you. And you are beautiful, Bucky, scars and all." He reached down and held the dog tags that dangled around Bucky's neck, bringing them silently to his lips. Bucky watched with wide eyes as Steve left a delicate trail of kisses across his chest to his left shoulder, slowly making his way down the scarred skin. From the look in Bucky's eyes, it was clear that no one had ever taken this much care in making sure he felt loved, which was ridiculous. Bucky deserved the world, deserved to be worshipped, and Steve planned on showing him that.
Bucky stared at him, mouth open and eyes watery. "Steve, I..." He pounced on Steve, the pair falling onto the bed as Bucky kissed Steve like he was the air he needed to breathe. Steve could feel the meaning of the words Bucky left unspoken in the sweet brush of his tongue and the careful manner in which he touched the man that lay beneath him. It was affectionate and deep, and Steve didn't think he'd ever felt closer to someone. He moaned into Bucky's mouth as they got impossibly closer, at the heady rush he got as the officer slid a muscled thigh between Steve's. "You're so goddamn gorgeous like this," Bucky breathed against Steve's lips. "'M so lucky I met you."
"Y'mean lucky I liked you enough to break the law for you," Steve blurted.
Bucky drew back slightly, eyes dancing with amusement. "You mean you were doing it on purpose?"
"Uh..." Steve replied, face flushing against his will. "Maybe?"
Bucky laughed, heartily and loud, hands planted on Steve's chest for support. Steve smiled involuntarily, because even though his mind was occupied with the fact that there was a gorgeous man on top of him in his bed (not to mention the embarrassment of said gorgeous man finding out about his less than conventional flirting tactics), he loved that laugh, and the squinting of those eyes, and the way he threw his head back and that long hair fell into his face, framing it like-
"Who knew I'd fall for such an idiot?" grinned Bucky, bringing one hand up to absently finger at Steve's jaw. Steve's eyes widened, as did his smile. "You coulda just asked me out."
"That's what Sam said," Steve sighed with a roll of his eyes. "And you could've asked me out too, y'know."
"'S a bit unprofessional, don't you think, sweetheart?" Bucky said, voice low and suggestive. Steve groaned at the pet name, couldn't help it. The air was electric with anticipation, and he yanked at the officer on top of him, hands tangling in that long hair, swallowing down the moan that escaped Bucky. Sucking at Bucky's tongue, he released him with a wet pop after a long, heated kiss. "Jesus, Steve. Can I-"
"Yes," panted Steve. He had no idea what Bucky had been about to say, but he didn't particularly care either. "You can do whatever the hell you want to me."
Bucky hummed as he kissed Steve again. His fingers travelled down Steve's chest and his heart rate quickened. "'M still not gonna be rough, though."
"The bruising isn't even that bad-"
"Shut up, Captain," ordered Bucky, pressing his thigh down and eliciting a low groan from Steve. He'd never been called that in bed before, nor had he ever really wanted to be, but he'd be lying if he said it hadn't done anything for him (although maybe that was just Bucky). "You're wearing too many clothes," he whispered, voice still thick with authority and hand sliding down the back of Steve's boxers. Steve mewled and stretched like a goddamn cat, which would have been embarrassing had it not been for the lust in Bucky's eyes.
"Then take them off," Steve managed to reply, and Bucky did exactly that.
Later, when they were both sweaty and panting, Steve was toying absentmindedly with Bucky's hair from where his head was resting on the blond's chest, while the other man smiled contently. "Y'know, Steve, if you're gonna be a long-term pain in my ass, you might have to cool it on the criminal activity. Don't think it's a good look for a sergeant to have a boyfriend in jail."
Steve laughed. "You make a good point. But I don't really need to break the law anymore, do I? Plus, we both know you're the pain in my ass. Literally," he said with a dirty grin, letting a scandalised Bucky yank him down for a soft, sloppy kiss.
There were, however, a few times after that when Steve found himself on the wrong side of the law.
He was kicked out of a bar, along with his boyfriend, when they were caught heavily making out in the hallway near the bathroom, on the night Steve took his Bucky to meet his friends. (Bucky had just fit into the group as if he'd always belonged there, and Steve was so sure that this man was his other half that he couldn't wait until they got home to show him how much he loved him.)
He and Tony were fined for painting an entire street rainbow for pride month. (But Bucky had loved it so much he didn't stop kissing Steve until his lungs were screaming.)
He was arrested for sneaking into a private NYPD award ceremony, where Bucky was being honoured for taking down a major black market weapons dealer. (He didn't regret it - he was damn proud of Bucky, and he wasn't afraid to show it.)
And he was pulled over for another speeding ticket (though he was sure he was travelling under the limit?), because Bucky thought that would be a cute way to propose.