Bucky was minding his own business in the library café when the stranger sat down across from him without asking. To an extent, he understood. It was ten in the morning so the undergraduates with morning classes had just been freed and the cafe was crowded and overrun and the other side of his table was one of the only empty spots in the place. But at the same time, he had his laptop open, the stupid biometric sensors Tony wanted him to use at least once a day attached to his arm, which made him look like a cyborg, and his “don’t fuck with me” headphones and glare on.
And the woman sitting across from him was just...staring at him. Unblinking.
“Can I help you?” he asked, raising an eyebrow and hoping it would make the “fuck off” glare even more pointed.
“Is that your breakfast?” she asked nodding at the half-eaten bagel and cup of coffee on his table.
Bucky frowned at her. He couldn’t eat meals at his apartment that week since his roommate had a week off and was always there during meal times and had decided for lack of anything better to do to be the therapist Bucky didn’t actually need. And because while he was eating Bucky couldn’t talk back, Sam tended to take the opportunity to strike.
“Who are you?” Bucky asked, picking up his coffee gingerly so he didn’t disturb the wires.
“Natasha Romanoff,” she said like that was supposed to be an answer. “You’re James Barnes? PhD candidate in the math department?”
“Are you an undergrad?” he asked because if this was yet another undergrad Richards was trying to foist on him for tutoring, Bucky was going to manifest in his supervisor’s home at three in the morning and loom over his bed until Richards was cursed with nightmares for the next two decades.
“Yes, but I’m doing Slavic studies,” she replied.
“And you’re...failing grad-requirement pre-calc?” he guessed, because it wasn’t like he had a sign on his table that said “Single, lonely, please take pity” and if he did, the rainbow flag Sam’s sister had slapped onto his laptop would theoretically deter terrifyingly pretty women.
“No,” she said and then didn’t elaborate. Instead, she stared at his half-eaten bagel until he started to feel protective of it. When he pulled it closer to his half of the table, she finally looked back at him. “Sorry, we can’t keep bagels in the house since my roommate and I are both from New York.”
“Did you want something, or…”
“Yeah, I want to be able to spend uninterrupted time with my boyfriend,” she said, again with that accusatory tone that seemed to suggest Bucky should know what the fuck she was talking about.
“Is he in a class I TA and I gave him too much homework or something?” he asked.
“No,” Natasha said. She pulled out her phone and tapped a few things on the screen, pulling up some app or another. Maybe Instagram so she could show him her boyfriend and explain why it was apparently his fault they weren’t getting to spend time together. “The problem is our other roommate is single.”
Bucky squinted at her across the table. “And they’re in one of my classes and you want me to give them more homework so you can have a sex life?”
“No,” Natasha repeated. “My algorithms clearly indicated that you’d be the best match within the campus population to date our roommate and actually make him leave the house.”
When Bucky had woken up that morning, the weirdest thing about his day had been Sam leaving a drying rack of socks and underwear in the middle of the living room since all the dryers in their building were busted. That in itself wasn’t weird, but Sam’s sock collection was a thing to behold and when they were all strung out in public spaces, it made for the sort of eye-catching horror of a train wreck and Bucky had nearly been late to his first meeting of the quarter with Richards because he was stuck staring at the juxtaposition of Sam’s Batman socks and boxers that were a close-up of Michelangelo’s David ’s dick.
And now his day was that much weirder because an undergraduate he absolutely did not know and as far as he could tell had zero connection to had decided he needed to date her roommate.
“So this is for some like Punk’d style show or whatever, right?” he asked.
“Jesus, how old are you?” she shot back, giving him a worried look.
“I’m going to go back to my life now,” he replied, pulling his headphones back up over his ears and staring at his laptop. Natasha didn’t move, so he gave up, unplugged his arm from his computer, closed the screen, packed up his materials and his bagel, and then picked up his coffee with the metal hand. The third time he’d given himself second-degree burns to the roof of his mouth because he’d held a beverage with the hand that couldn’t feel temperature, Tony had fixed the palm up so it would change colour to warn him.
“He’s really hot!” Natasha called after him while Bucky stalked out of the café.
“Then you fuck him!” Bucky shouted back, drawing the attention of the cluster of frosh huddling by the bagel pickup window.
He found his way to a quiet corner in the basement journal stacks where cell service and even wi-fi didn’t reach so, hopefully, Natasha couldn’t track him there.
He made it through the rest of his day unmolested by strange women and was almost willing to count it as a day salvaged until he got home and found Sam in a panic throwing the sock stand into Bucky’s room while at least three pots bubbled on the stove. Bucky paused in the doorway and watched Sam’s frenzy as it stretched to include neatening up the weight stand, plugging in the PS4 controllers, and removing the empty container of orange juice from the coffee table.
When he finally noticed Bucky standing in the entryway, he straightened up and tried to play it cool. “How long have you been standing there?” he asked.
“Long enough,” Bucky replied, kicking off his shoes and heading for his room. Sam’s sock stand was in the way. “Wilson, if you don’t get your fucking socks out of my doorway in the next ten – nine – eight – “
Sam tackled the sock stand and dragged it back into the living room before he started compulsively folding them at the newly clean coffee table. At one point during the summer, they’d decided it was seasonal to infuse a watermelon with a handle of vodka and had drunkenly binged all of Marie Kondo. Most of the lessons had not stuck (see: handle of vodka consumed between two people in four hours) but Sam had definitely started folding his socks.
“Is it a girl or did you do something impulsive and stupid like ask that RD you’ve been crushing on over for dinner?” Bucky asked once he’d put his laptop away and ducked into the kitchen to try and save whatever it was Sam was trying to cook. Sam was an admirable chef of breakfast foods. He made better hash browns than any line cook Bucky had ever encountered in his life, pancakes from scratch, was a wizard with eggs, but if it wasn’t a breakfast food, he was useless.
“The second one,” Sam said, taking his stack of socks back to his room.
Bucky weighed his options. He could stick around and hide in his room while Sam attempted to woo the RD of Dearling Hall and be potentially subjected to any chaos that might ensue, or he could flee before this Riley character got there and find something else to do with his time.
His stubbornness won out and he spent the evening watching Netflix in his room. He had mixed feelings when Riley left at a reasonable hour. On the one hand, he didn’t have to try and block out Sam having sex, but on the other, it meant Sam’s crush was just going to continue unabated and Sam with a crush was insufferable.
Against his will, he was reminded of Natasha Romanoff and her determination to somehow set him up with her roommate. The only positive thing about the interaction was that Natasha did not look like a freshman, so at least she probably wasn’t trying to fix him up with an eighteen-year-old.
And it wasn’t like it had been that long. Sure, the third year of his PhD was keeping him busy, as was the time he spent in Tony’s lab, but that accident with he-who-could-not-be-mentioned had been less than six months ago, so he wasn’t that pathetic. Or at least, not pathetic enough.
Fortunately, Natasha Romanoff did not track him down on campus again for the rest of September. Bucky was able to spend the following two weeks working on his dissertation and TAing classes for Richards and avoiding Sam’s attempts to therapise him.
“You do understand your master’s is in public health, not psychiatry?” Bucky scolded him in the first week of October when Sam decided to lurk outside the bathroom door psychoanalysing him while Bucky shaved.
“My BS is in psych,” Sam replied.
“Yeah, and the initials work very well,” Bucky replied.
Sam swore at him but left him alone, at least until lunch when he materialised at the brewery where Bucky was meeting with Tony.
“Is that something you should be doing in public?” Sam asked, lowering his sunglasses to get a better look at the plate Tony had removed from Bucky’s arm. The sunlight glinted off the metal and Sam hastily put his sunglasses back up.
“Worried about indecent exposure?” Tony asked. “All the sexy wiring and synthetic nerves?”
“You are not putting synthetic nerves in my forearm at a brewery,” Bucky said, suddenly worried that was exactly what Tony was doing.
Tony straightened up to give him an offended look. “Okay, first thing – when we give you nerves, it’ll be in your fingers first, and second – I’m not the nerves guy, take that up with Bruce.”
Bucky rolled his eyes and picked up his beer with his other hand.
“Remind me why you volunteered for this?” Sam asked, looking between Tony and Bucky with nothing but concern on his face.
“After the tragic bowling ball return accident,” Bucky started and Sam scoffed at him in irritation but didn’t repeat the question.
Sam had ordered food before finding them in the beer garden and the waitress brought him his cubed and breaded slices of macaroni and cheese and took their collective order for a second round. Bucky was fighting him for a slice of the mac and cheese when a stranger sat down next to Sam. The hand he lifted in greeting was wrapped in a dog leash and a one-eyed golden retriever lay down in the shade beneath their table while the strange man clambered over the picnic table’s bench.
Bucky, Sam, and Tony looked around the beer garden for a moment and counted the three completely empty tables and four tables with bare halves. The guy either didn’t notice or didn’t care because he smiled at them and set his beer down on the table.
“Is your arm supposed to look like that?” he asked Bucky after a second. Bucky raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t like Tony had his welding torch out. “What happened?”
“Sea lions,” Bucky replied. “Can we help you?”
“Don’t be a dick, Barnes,” Sam said. “Maybe he doesn’t have friends.”
“But I’m the dick?”
“Mine’s a supposition of fact, yours was confrontation.”
“This is the second time this quarter a rando undergrad has shown up to stalk me,” Bucky said.
“How do you know he’s here for you?” Tony asked.
Bucky turned to the stranger. Now that he was looking closer, it might be that the dude was not an undergrad because he looked a lot closer to thirty than Bucky did.
“Do you know a woman named Natasha Romanoff? Pretty? Red hair?” Bucky asked.
“Yeah!” the guy said. “Yeah, she’s my girlfriend.”
Bucky turned back to Sam and Tony. “Undergrads. Stalking me.”
“Who the hell is Natasha Romanoff?” Sam asked. The stranger opened his mouth. “Aside from this guy’s girlfriend?” The stranger closed his mouth.
“Did I not tell you about the undergrad who tracked me down in Zoe’s Bagels?” Bucky asked.
“You did not,” Sam replied.
“Your life is so interesting, it’s like a soap opera,” Tony muttered.
“So aside from being Natasha Romanoff’s boyfriend, who the hell are you?” Bucky asked, turning to the stranger.
“Clint Barton,” he said, extending his hand across the table to shake Bucky’s.
Wary, Bucky took it. Tony declined the honour since he had a small laser and a set of pliers out and both hands buried in the innards of Bucky’s forearm. Sam shook Clint Barton’s hand with the firm, amiable grip of a man who’d been student body president in both high school and college.
Bucky and Sam had not been friends when Sam was student body president of their high school. Mostly because Sam had been student body president and a three-season athlete and Bucky had been that weird kid with the long hair and the eyeliner and the really broken closet doors and on the mathletes team. And then they’d been the only people from their high school to move to this particular west coast city for college, ended up in the same dorm building freshman year, and Sam had had his Big Damn Bi Crisis on Bucky’s shoulder halfway through winter quarter and they’d been friends since.
“Nice to meet you, Clint Barton,” Sam said. “I’m Sam Wilson.”
“Why are you and your girlfriend stalking me?” Bucky asked.
“Stalk is an ugly word,” Clint replied.
“Ugly and accurate often go hand in hand,” Bucky said.
“We’re not stalking you any more thoroughly than any other member of the student population,” Clint said like that was supposed to be comforting. “But Nat’s algorithms were really clear about the fact that you are hands down the ideal match for our roommate romantically.”
At that, Tony put down his tools so he could stare at Clint. Sam lowered his beer.
“I’m sorry, you and your girlfriend are stalking Bucky so you can set him up with your roommate?” Sam asked. “Does he know your roommate?”
“No,” Clint said. “At least, not that we know of, and I’m pretty sure Nat knows the romantic history of every individual human on this campus.”
“Bullshit,” Tony said.
“We have an app,” Clint replied, unlocking his phone and launching something. “What’s your name?”
“Tony Stark,” he said. It clearly meant nothing special to Clint, and Bucky could see the slightly offended look Tony gave him.
“Let’s see…” Clint typed into his phone and waited a second. “Says here that in the past six months, the only person you’ve slept with is a woman named Pepper Potts, who has apparently agreed to marry you, but there’s a note in the file that’s just a question mark in brackets.”
“That’s – that’s fair, actually,” Tony said.
“What were the conditions she gave you, again?” Bucky asked.
“In my defence, none of them were like ‘change yourself Tony and then I’ll marry you,’ they were all things like she needs to be independently making 75k a year and I have to have made good on my promise to actually found that robotics company,” Tony said. “And we both need to have finished the degrees we’re currently working on, which is kind of cheating since she’s only working on one and I’m doing three, so if you think about it—”
“You’re the worst person I know,” Sam interrupted.
“Also fair,” Tony said, and went back to fucking with Bucky’s arm.
“You’ve really got an app that shows all of the connections between people on campus?” Sam asked.
“All of them,” Clint said, nodding solemnly. “It’s got more data than that, but that’s just the fun part. Nat can use it to give her pinpoint accurate matchmaking suggestions, which is why we’re trying to fix our roommate up with James Barnes, here.”
“Do me,” Sam suggested, nodding at Clint’s phone. “Let’s see how accurate it is.”
Clint typed Sam’s name into the phone and waited.
“Okay,” he said. “Looks like in the past six months, you’ve been with a Maria Hill, a Sharon Carter, and a Riley Trw-Trew-Tryw-nope, I cannot pronounce that.”
Tony fumbled his tools, sending an unpleasant electric jolt up Bucky’s arm and into his spine. Bucky nearly dropped his beer while he turned to look at Sam in betrayal.
Sam didn’t show a blush easily. It took a lot of embarrassment for it to turn up on his face, and in this particular case, it did, the red creeping up his neck and around his ears.
“You lying bastard,” Bucky said.
“Their app’s busted!” Sam insisted.
“If their app was busted, you wouldn’t be bright red!” Bucky said. “I thought you normally got less panicky and stressed once you’d slept with them!”
“I spent the whole summer listening to you complain about how hot he is and how endearing it is that he was good with kids at the fucking summer camps you were running, and that was after you’d already slept with him?” Bucky demanded.
“Three months of my life, Sam!”
“Well, maybe I’m low-key in love with him!”
Bucky exhaled sharply and rested his forehead on his functioning hand. He didn’t even know if Riley was allowed to spend nights away from Dearling Hall or if that violated his position as Resident Director. He didn’t know how serious this was going to end up being. He could, technically, make rent on his own, but it was with an uncomfortable margin in his budget. He didn’t need to be catastrophising about what Sam’s love-life meant for his day-to-day just yet.
Clint looked between them with a raised eyebrow and typed something else into his app.
“And you ,” he said to Bucky, “the last person you slept with, five and a half months ago, was Johnny – is that really his last name?”
“Yeah, it really is,” Bucky said, slightly nauseous at the reminder.
“Huh,” Clint said. He frowned at the screen. “When you slept with him, did you know he was your thesis advisor’s—”
“No,” Bucky interrupted. “No, I did not. Thank you for bringing that back up.”
Clint whistled lowly. “See this is why you need Natasha. Our roommate is absolutely not affiliated with your thesis advisor since he’s an arts student.”
Bucky stared at him across the table, wondering if his “fuck off” expression would work better on him than it had his girlfriend. “You guys are creepy and weird,” he informed him. “Please leave.”
Clint shrugged as if to say this was Bucky’s loss, picked up his beer, and steered his dog away to a distant – empty – table and pulled out a stack of homework. Bucky kept a wary eye on him the entire time they stayed at the brewery.
They were settling their tab – Tony was paying because he was Tony – when a lightbulb went off in Sam’s head.
“Hey wait,” he said.
“Oh god,” Bucky muttered.
Sam grabbed his shoulders and tried to squeeze them, made a face when he utterly failed to compress the metal of Bucky’s left arm, and then shook him a little.
“Do you understand the implications of her database?”
“That she social-engineered her way into the local Tinder databanks?” Bucky guessed. “Cross-referenced that with Lyft fares at disreputable hours of the morning, mined people’s credit card purchases for condoms?”
“Oh my god,” Sam breathed, entirely unrelated to Bucky’s list. He craned his neck to try and see over Bucky’s shoulder out into the beer garden. “He’s still here, thank god.”
He let go of Bucky and sprinted to Clint’s table, promptly sat down across from him, and struck up conversation.
“You ready to go?” Tony asked, sticking his wallet in his pocket. “What happened to Wilson?”
Bucky pointed at Sam’s new obsession.
Tony rolled his eyes and leaned through the door. “Sam! We’re leaving!”
Sam waved him off and Bucky shrugged. Tony shrugged back and they left him there.
Sam didn’t turn back up at their apartment until much later that night and he was still wearing an expression like he’d just been clocked between the eyes with a wiffleball bat. He flopped onto the couch next to Bucky and stared blankly at the TV without speaking, mouth still slightly agape.
“What’s wrong with you?” Bucky asked.
“I just got approved for a PhD,” Sam said.
“Why would you do that to yourself?” Bucky asked, like he wasn’t halfway through one himself.
“Nat’s data makes it possible to map the sexual interactions of the entire campus,” Sam said.
“‘Nat’?” Bucky repeated.
“She can accurately map the exchange of bodily fluids across campus,” Sam continued, ignoring Bucky’s question. “I thought the health centre’s director was going to kill me for the rights to use it. Do you even understand what this means for our ability to curb outbreaks of chlamydia and the clap and shit?”
Bucky did not, although he did understand that this was all incredibly personal data with serious potential to get people into trouble if various facts came to light. It would have to be kept entirely confidential, and highly secured, to keep from accidentally outing people. Without meaning to, Bucky found himself dragged into helping Tony build the network for Natasha’s data/Sam’s PhD. Fortunately, this didn’t necessitate actually speaking to Natasha, so Bucky managed to avoid both her and Clint until it was almost Halloween.
At which point Natasha found him in the library café again and sat across from him.
“Please, god,” Bucky said.
“Don’t you even want to know about him?” Natasha asked.
“Your weird roommate who can’t find a guy on his own?” Bucky asked. “No.”
She shrugged. “To be fair, you can’t find one either.”
Bucky glowered at her and slammed his laptop shut. He forgot to unplug his arm first, though, and the whole thing went dead. For a second, he weighed the strength of making a dramatic exit with his left arm hanging limp like a dead fish versus sucking it up and restarting his laptop so he could reboot his arm.
He couldn’t decide if it was a good thing his pride lost or not.
While he waited for his laptop to restart and relaunch the boot programme for his arm’s diagnostic software, Natasha watched.
“Where did that even come from?” she asked. Bucky groaned, but it bothered him less when people asked about the prosthetic itself instead of asking why he had one in the first place.
“Tony’s lab,” Bucky said. “The synthetic skin that covers the rest of my body won’t grow over it for some reason so the mothership’s going to be really disappointed when I get re-assimilated into the Borg.”
Natasha flicked her eyebrow at him, the programme started up, Bucky unplugged his arm, and then he fled the café. He made the horrible error of going straight home where he found Sam and Riley cuddling on the couch.
He didn’t snarl out loud, but he felt it on the inside.
“You look rough,” Sam informed him.
Bucky flipped him off and stalked into his room. He didn’t slam the door because he was not twelve – but mostly because he didn’t think the construction of their shitty apartment would hold up to particularly disruptive things like that.
By the time Sam came in to check on him, Bucky was stretched out on his bed with a pillow over his face.
“Nat texted me,” Sam said.
“Great,” Bucky grumbled.
“The way I figure it, you have two options,” he said. “Suck up your pride or whatever this hang-up is and meet Nat and Clint’s roommate, which should get her to leave you alone, or find yourself a boyfriend so that you can prove her wrong.”
Bucky pulled the pillow away from his face to glare at him. “We both know how well that went last time.”
“Yeah, but Richards doesn’t have any more brothers-in-law for you to accidentally sleep with and you know what Johnny looks like,” Sam replied.
“Exactly my type?” Bucky suggested.
“There are more six-foot-something built blond men in this city than Johnny Storm,” Sam said. He patted Bucky’s foot. “Go get ’em, tiger.”
“You’re the devil,” Bucky replied.
“The devil is white,” Sam said. Bucky groaned. “And if you keep lying there I will start reciting every single one of Dulé Hill’s iconic lines from both Psych and West Wing , so that’s your option.”
Some combination of Sam’s threat and proving Natasha wrong got him into the shower and nicer clothes. As soon as he was headed downtown, Sam texted to let him know Riley would be spending the night and Bucky should factor that into his plans for the evening.
This was his comeuppance, he decided, for setting aside his high school era dislike of jocks.
There was really only one bar in town he could go to for this purpose. Despite their university being in a dark blue west coast city, it still required caution to approach strangers when gay, and Bucky sure as hell wasn’t going to use a leaky app that Natasha could get into.
It was mid-week and Wednesday was not a popular bar day, even the week leading up to Halloween, and so there were slim pickings available when he got there. Barely able to believe he was actually doing this, he sat at the bar and ordered, trying to scope out potential candidates. There was a visiting professor who worked in the earth sciences department, which was a no-go for a whole lot of reasons. There was a kid sitting at the bar who definitely didn’t look old enough to be in a bar and was trying to make eyes at him, which was also an absolute non-starter. There was a would-be greaser making friends with the jukebox. Everyone else in the bar was either there with someone or a woman, neither of which helped him.
Bucky finished his drink and was about to leave, had his jacket back on and one foot off the stool, when the door opened. As the man walked in and looked around the bar with something between fear and resignation in his eyes, Bucky returned his foot to the stool.
The man was not a professor, he was not a baby-faced undergrad, and he wasn’t a would-be greaser. He wasn’t looking for a pre-arranged meeting because he sat at the bar two down from Bucky. His shoulders were so stupidly broad they just about got into Bucky’s personal space from two spots away.
Bucky ordered another drink.
The bartender handed the new guy a beer in a bottle, and Bucky would’ve questioned his taste if it hadn’t meant the man was holding a phallic object to his lips every few seconds while he scribbled on a bar napkin. What was his approach here? What was he supposed to say to start a conversation that would end with a very different and much less symbolic phallic object near the guy’s mouth? Bucky had no idea how people did this, not really. The last time he’d met someone in a bar, he’d been the one approached rather than the other way around.
And look how well that had turned out , the traitorous part of his brain reminded him.
“So do you come here often?” Bucky heard himself say and only narrowly avoided the impulse to bash his head against the surface of the bar.
“Really? That’s your line?” the unfairly hot stranger asked without looking up from the sketch he was doing on his napkin. The corners of his mouth curled. “Hottest guy in the place and that’s your go-to?”
Bucky stalled for a second on the compliment and cleared his throat to buy time. “No, see, I was the hottest guy in here until you showed up.”
“Agree to disagree, I suppose,” he said, finally looking over at him. His eyes – blue – met Bucky’s for a second and then flicked over his mouth and jaw and down his neck to the open buttons at the top of his Henley.
Bucky was unprepared.
While he searched for the correct response to the blatant check out, the unfair stranger raised an eyebrow and sighed in disappointment. “Oh no, are you one of those guys where you’ve always been hot so you never had to develop a personality?”
“No, actually, I have most of a PhD in math,” Bucky said. The minor aspersion on his character snapped him out of it just enough to function again. “I circled all the way around from pretty and brainless to too much brain to, like, function. Socially.”
“Math?” the hot guy asked, managing to look simultaneously interested and pained.
“It’s fun,” Bucky said.
“But there’s no creativity in it,” the guy replied, but with no vehemence. It was a friendly debate, apparently. “There’s a fixed answer. You can’t invent your way to different solutions.”
“You never got farther than freshman year calc, did you?” Bucky guessed.
“Worse, pre-calc,” he replied.
Bucky shook his head in mock disdain. “There’s plenty of creativity in higher math. Probably not enough to satisfy someone who can do a picture-perfect sketch of the entire bar with his back to it on a cocktail napkin with a ballpoint pen, but…”
The guy looked down at his napkin, a little surprised. Bucky couldn’t imagine he was surprised at the content of the drawing since he’d done it, but maybe just that Bucky had noticed.
“Art major,” he said, shrugging.
“Do you have a name or is it just Arthur Major?” Bucky asked, and then immediately had to stop himself from faking a short circuit in his arm and fleeing.
“It’s Steve Rogers,” the very hot guy replied.
“Steve rogers what?” Bucky asked without taking a moment to let his mouth and brain conference on their course of action. His eyes were also not taking direction from his brain, apparently, since they drifted over the collar of Steve’s white t-shirt where a flush was creeping up his neck and then down to the faint outlines of muscle visible through his indecently tight shirt.
“That depends,” Steve said, taking an obscene sip of his beer. “What’s your name?”
“Bucky Barnes,” Bucky replied. He could feel the blood running into his own face.
He and Steve stared at each other, their matching blushes starting to clash, and unexpectedly, Steve burst out laughing. Before Bucky could begin to feel offended, Steve said, “Oh my god, neither of us has any fucking clue what we’re doing right now, do we?”
“Nope,” Bucky said, and laughed as well.
When Steve stopped laughing, the smile stayed on his face and Bucky was pretty sure he was going to just spontaneously combust if Steve kept looking at him from under his ridiculous eyelashes like that.
“A PhD in math?” he asked, but now he was smiling like it was endearing.
“I dunno,” Bucky said. “I was a mathlete in high school and applied for the funding because I didn’t want to go back to fucking Indiana, so, here I am.”
“That is totally fair,” Steve said. “I wouldn’t want to go back to Indiana either.”
“You local?” Bucky asked.
“Brooklyn,” Steve said. “Don’t really want to go back there either, honestly.”
“To Brooklyn? Why not?” Bucky asked. When Steve’s smile dimmed, he swore internally. He had a rule about asking people invasive questions since he knew exactly what kind of shitty that was on the receiving end.
“I’m pretty sure the answer to that is the sort of thing you’re not supposed to tell someone you just met at a bar who you’re hoping to go home with,” Steve replied.
“I won’t tell the hook-up police if you don’t,” Bucky said. “Obviously, if you’re not comfortable talking about it, I’m sure as hell not gonna pry, god knows I know what that feels like.”
Steve glanced down at Bucky’s left hand where it rested on Bucky’s knee and then nodded.
“There’s just no point in going back to Brooklyn,” he said. “Mom died when I was eighteen, dad died while she was pregnant, my only remaining family member is here. And I was too sick to even be a mathlete in high school, so it’s not like I had any friends.”
“Well, you certainly don’t seem sickly now,” Bucky said.
“No, and I’m not, but I’m also a twenty-four-year-old junior, so trade-offs were made,” Steve replied. He glanced at Bucky’s arm again and Bucky flexed his fingers.
“I fell out of – I got pushed out of a train when I was eighteen,” he said, taking a quick gulp of his drink and avoiding Steve’s face. He didn’t remember the last time he’d told someone the truth about why he had a prosthetic arm. He wasn’t sure why he’d started with Steve Rogers, of all random people, but now it was out.
Now that he thought about it, he wasn’t actually sure he’d told Sam the truth. It hadn’t been written up in the paper in their hometown so it wasn’t like Sam could’ve found out other ways.
“Oh my god,” Steve said. To his credit, as horrified as he looked, he also didn’t seem like he was about to do a runner.
“It’s fine, it was seven years ago,” Bucky said.
“Does the prosthetic feel anything?” Steve asked.
“Pressure,” Bucky said. “But ‘feel’ is a strong word? The guys in the robotics and neuroscience programme who built it are working on synthetic nerves, which is another reason to keep hanging out around here. Not that anything they’ve done to me is approved by the AMA or the NIH or anything, but whatever.”
“Throwing yourself at the mercy of unstable post-docs for untested medical treatment?” Steve asked, eyes comically wide in dismay. “My god, what a foolish idea, you must be one of the only two people in this bar who’s done that!”
Bucky raised his eyebrows.
“I was very, very sick,” Steve said, just a little sheepish. “In my defence.”
Bucky couldn’t help the way his eyes trailed over the muscles in Steve’s chest or the way his jeans strained against the muscles in his thighs. Steve grinned when Bucky looked back at his face. Bucky’s skin burned where Steve’s eyes fell.
“You really don’t look sick anymore,” Bucky said.
Steve shrugged and slid off his barstool. For a heart-stopping second, Bucky thought he was going to leave. Instead, he hopped back up onto the stool that had stood between them. Now he was so far inside Bucky’s personal space Bucky could feel the warmth coming from his arm, was acutely aware of the spot Steve’s knee was touching his leg. It had been an exceptionally long time since Bucky had touched someone.
“No, that was one of the best parts, right?” Steve said. “Used to be my cardiovascular system was so fucked up I couldn’t breathe under normal day-to-day circumstances, let alone exertion.”
“That must’ve sucked,” Bucky said.
Steve nodded solemnly and lay his hand palm up on the bar between them. Bucky allowed himself a second to appreciate the corded muscles in Steve’s forearm and then looked back at his face to see what exactly it was Steve meant by putting his hand out. Did he want Bucky to take it?
“Now I’ve got some ridiculously low resting heart rate,” Steve said, tipping his head sideways towards his wrist.
Taking the hint, Bucky pressed his fingers to the pulse point below the base of Steve’s thumb. Maybe he did have a low resting heart rate, but if he did, Steve was not currently at rest. It made Bucky feel a little better, knowing that for some reason – Bucky? – Steve’s heart was racing.
“Do you want to, um,” Steve started. When he paused, unsure, he touched his tongue to his bottom lip before chewing on it and something in Bucky’s body short-circuited. He just hoped it wasn’t the actual mechanical hardware attached to his left side, because that would be ill-timed.
“Go home with you?” he suggested quietly.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “That.”
“Yes,” Bucky replied.
He had to let go of Steve’s wrist to find his wallet and discovered he didn’t like not touching Steve. He also discovered that Steve lived around the corner in the upstairs apartment of an old Victorian house. The view from the stairs pointed all the way to the harbour and there was something unexpectedly beautiful about the lights twinkling in the marina.
But then Steve got the door open and pulled Bucky inside. His apartment was tidy – no roommate had left a drying rack covered in explicit socks in the middle of the living room – but was clearly occupied by students. A few stacks of textbooks covered the coffee table and the dining table and a desk someone had shoved in a corner. There weren’t dishes in the sink, but only clean in the dish drainer to the side. The most obvious personality in the place came from a pair of toe shoes hanging from a wall hook, the shoes absolutely ruined from blood, and the easel propped next to them with a half-finished still-life painting of the shoes.
“Sorry about the mess,” Steve said, suddenly embarrassed and gesturing off-handed towards the textbooks.
“My roommate leaves his laundry in the living room,” Bucky told him. “At least once a week. And he’s super into novelty socks and boxers and that’s what he hangs to dry next to the couch.”
“Also, his textbooks are all about public health stuff which is a lot more immediately scarring at a glance than, uh…” Bucky paused to pick up a Russian copy of The Master and Margarita and a sociology textbook. “…any of this.”
Steve laughed and hung his jacket next to the door. Bucky followed suit, and again when Steve unlaced his shoes and set them on the shoe rack. Or, at least, he also took his shoes off. Unlike Steve, he just stepped on the heels like he was still in high school. It was only a little because Tony insisted on Bucky slapping a biometric scanner on his arm when he did intricate things like tie and untie knots and he hadn’t brought a chip with him.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” Steve offered, meandering over to the kitchen. His slightly nervous fidgeting made Bucky feel a little more at ease. Not because he was glad Steve was nervous, but because he was glad he wasn’t alone.
“No, I’m good,” Bucky said, following him into the confined space. There was no way to be farther than elbow’s reach from each other in the kitchen. “Can I – can I kiss you?”
Steve’s demeanour changed immediately. Instead of answering, he closed the already minimal distance between them and paused only for a second to run his thumb along Bucky’s jaw. They were nearly the same height so he barely had to tilt his head down to press his lips to Bucky’s.
Bucky was pretty sure he stopped breathing.
He didn’t believe in bullshit and nonsense like love at first sight or Disney’s magical true love’s kiss or, if he was being honest, true love in general. And even if such concepts did exist in the real world, they definitely didn’t come wrapped in a neat, coincidental package of the hot guy from the bar. That wasn’t how life worked.
Except for the part where Steve’s tongue was tracing along the edge of Bucky’s lip and Bucky couldn’t breathe. Bucky opened his mouth to try and gasp in a breath and instead found his tongue brushing against Steve’s. The problem forming in his jeans was clearly made acute only because it had been more than six months since Bucky had touched another person, rather than anything exceptional about Steve or this situation.
Bucky had encountered his fair share of bad kissers: guys who were determined to use their tongues as a second dick and try to jam it into his mouth; guys who bit his bottom lip too hard or sometimes tried to bite his top lip which was just kind of weird; guys who, through no fault of their own, produced way too much saliva and who made kissing them feel like he was holding a mouthful of flavourless cough syrup he didn’t want to swallow.
Steve was not a bad kisser. Steve was very, very good. It was distracting enough that Bucky didn’t realise he was leaning against the fridge with a magnetised bottle opener jamming itself into his kidney until Steve started kissing along his jaw and down the side of his neck and Bucky let out an overblown and premature whimper, followed by a squeak of pain as the bottle opener stabbed him again.
“Sorry,” Steve said, snapping out of whatever fugue state he’d been in and looking worried. “I didn’t mean to—”
“It wasn’t you, it was the magnet,” Bucky said, trying to pull it off the fridge and away from his back. As he tried to do it, he noticed that his right hand was firmly clasped to the back of Steve’s neck because it couldn’t decide if it wanted to bury itself in Steve’s hair or try and tear open the collar of his t-shirt.
Which meant he was pulling the magnet off the fridge with his metal hand and now there was a bottle opener stuck to his thumb.
“Oh, god, is that fucking with circuits and shit?” Steve asked, helping him pry it off.
“Nah, my arm isn’t full of memory chips,” Bucky assured him. “But, uh, do you have somewhere more pleasant than the kitchen where we could be doing this?”
Steve took him by the hand – the metal one, Bucky noted, which was sort of funny since the last guy he’d slept with had done everything he could to avoid touching it – and led him into one of the bedrooms. When the door was closed behind them, Bucky really registered for the first time that other people lived in this apartment.
“Is your roommate—”
“No, they had a society event they were hosting on campus,” Steve said. “Won’t be back until tomorrow, probably after breakfast.”
Bucky didn’t know if that meant Steve had multiple roommates or just one who used they/them pronouns, but either way the important part was there was no one else there. No one to feel awkward when Bucky kissed Steve hard enough to back him into the closed door and make him groan when he pressed his thigh between Steve’s legs.
Steve let it stand for a minute or so before grabbing Bucky by the hips to flip them around. Bucky grunted when his back hit the door and Steve smirked against his mouth before kissing his jaw again and then down his neck towards his shoulder. One of Steve’s hands was under his shirt, pushing it up and away from his abs, his thumb stroking lines across his lower abdomen that kept dipping below the waistband of his jeans. The only reason Bucky noticed the button on his pants was undone was because of the sudden release of pressure.
“Oh, god, wait, one more question,” Bucky managed to say.
Steve took a second to lean away from the mess he was making of Bucky’s throat and stared at him with pupils blown and lips swollen and cheeks flushed and Bucky couldn’t make himself not grab Steve by the shoulders to kiss him again for a moment.
“Sorry,” he said, pushing him slightly away. “I just – are you –”
“Oh!” Steve said, snapping out of it just a bit. “I have been tested since the last time I had sex and I am completely clean.”
Bucky blinked in sudden shock. “That’s – that’s actually not what I was going to ask.”
Even realising it, he was sure Sam was going to manifest in Steve’s apartment banging a wooden spoon against a frying pan and shouting at him.
“But since you are smarter than I am, same,” Bucky continued, shoving Sam far away from his mind’s eye. “No, I was going to ask – do you have any association with a guy named Reed Richards?”
Steve raised both eyebrows. “Ex-boyfriend?”
Involuntarily, Bucky shuddered. “No, he’s my thesis advisor. And the last guy I went home with from a bar turned out to be his brother-in-law.”
“Yikes,” Steve said, in a tone that suggested he was razzing him just a little. “No, I have never even heard of Reed Richards.”
“Cool,” Bucky said, which was probably the least cool thing he could’ve said in the situation, but Steve was kissing him into the door again so he didn’t care.
Steve followed his stealth unbuttoning of Bucky’s jeans with a very un-stealthy unzipping and slid his hand down the front of Bucky’s pants. Bucky found himself panting into Steve’s mouth and pulling desperately at the hem of his t-shirt.
With great reluctance, Steve took a half step back to pull his shirt over his head. Bucky didn’t let him take the return step. He got his hand on Steve’s side, the muscles just above his hip shivering beneath his touch, and pushed him back towards the bed. Steve went willingly enough, but grabbed at Bucky’s shirt as they went down, pulling it up over his head and promptly running his tongue over the left side of Bucky’s neck towards his metal shoulder.
“Is it okay if I touch it?” Steve asked, pausing to search Bucky’s eyes.
“The, uh, the scars just feel sort of numb? And I can’t feel the metal at all,” Bucky said. “But, like, if you get off on licking batteries, knock yourself out.”
Steve laughed and kissed him, inching backwards up the bed towards the pillows and pulling Bucky with him. Bucky’s jeans slid halfway down his hips in the process and Steve was more than happy to help them along in their journey. When Bucky had successfully abandoned them somewhere on the floor, Steve grabbed the back of Bucky’s thigh and pulled him closer. Bucky couldn’t decide what he wanted most in that moment – to stick his hand down Steve’s pants (how was he still wearing jeans, buttoned at that?), to get his mouth on the pieces of Steve’s chest he hadn’t touched yet or maybe around his cock, or to get Steve to fuck him into the mattress.
Mostly he wanted all of the above.
He unbuttoned Steve’s jeans to start and leant away so Steve could shimmy them down his legs and fling them somewhere into the room. Steve was just as hard as he was and when Bucky kissed him back down into the pillows, he pressed their hips together. Steve made the same strained noise against Bucky’s lips that came from the back of Bucky’s throat and when Bucky slid his hand under the fabric of Steve’s briefs, Steve exhaled sharply.
If he’d had better ability to think coherently at that moment, Bucky would’ve found it remarkable that Steve was letting Bucky pin him to the mattress and stroke him all at once. But no sooner had he thought it than Steve hooked his leg around Bucky’s hips and flipped them over, rolling his own hips downwards. It made Bucky see stars and effectively stopped any attempts he might have made to reverse their position. Steve ran his hand up Bucky’s side, the slight scrape of his nails against Bucky’s skin sending goose bumps across his chest. He reached towards the bedside table and fumbled with the drawer for a moment, dropping a few items on the top. Bucky glanced at them to establish they were exactly what he assumed they were and then went back to kissing Steve.
Or, at least, he tried, but Steve was busy kissing down Bucky’s throat and across his chest, and laving his tongue across Bucky’s nipple and then down across his abs towards the currently very taxed waistband of his briefs.
“Can I?” Steve asked, looking up at Bucky from under those fucking eyelashes while he diligently attempted to suck a hickey onto the hollow between Bucky’s hip and abs.
Bucky barely managed the brain function to say yes, please, fucking god yes. Steve’s responding grin was a little closer to wicked than it was divine.
He rolled Bucky’s briefs down his hips and when his cock pulled free of the fabric, Steve pressed a kiss to the base that made Bucky gasp. Harried, he fumbled for the condoms Steve had put on the bedside table and offered one down to him. Steve took it and pulled it out.
It was all good and fine to say they’d both been tested, Bucky reasoned, but they were essentially strangers and either or both of them could be lying. Besides, getting a stranger’s come in your mouth was entirely different than that of a loved one, and Steve seemed like he might be a bit of a neat-freak, if he was apologising about the mess of textbooks. And anyway, Bucky wasn’t going to last long once he was in Steve’s mouth and anything that could be used to draw it out was for the best. It might keep him from embarrassing himself.
Steve rolled the condom down and looked back up at Bucky through those fucking eyelashes again as he took the head of his cock into his mouth. Bucky couldn’t breathe and it took all of his currently lacking self-control to keep himself from grabbing Steve by the hair and pushing him farther down. His metal fingers made a horrifying creaking noise while he flexed them to try and stop himself from gripping Steve’s comforter hard enough to rend it in two.
Steve noticed and grabbed Bucky’s normal hand, bringing it down to his shoulder and neck. Bucky scraped his fingers through the short hairs at the nape of Steve’s neck and tried to figure out a way to breathe normally.
It went poorly and he finally had to gasp out, “Steve, stop, I’m gonna—”
Steve pulled his mouth away and held himself up over Bucky, the muscles in his arms popping out. More often than not, Bucky was more turned on by a powerful core than heavily defined arms, but with Steve, he really didn’t need to choose.
“Isn’t that the point?” Steve asked. The front of his undercut fell into his eyes and Bucky brushed it back.
“Yeah, sure, but I’d rather it be while you were fucking me,” Bucky said.
It was impossible to tell if the flush on Steve’s cheeks was just because of the situation or because of Bucky’s statement.
“Okay,” Steve said, dropping down into the more difficult part of a push-up to kiss him. Bucky wouldn’t have minded if Steve had just dropped all 200+ pounds of himself onto him, but Steve seemed politer than that.
Bucky tried to push Steve’s underwear away with just his normal hand for a minute, delighting in the revelation that was groping Steve’s ass, but it turned out to be a difficult prospect.
“I don’t get off on licking batteries?” Steve said finally, his lips pressed against the junction between Bucky’s jaw and neck. “But you can absolutely use your other hand too.”
“You mean don’t spend your time wishing for sexbots?” Bucky asked, taking him at his word and using both hands to push Steve’s briefs down his legs.
“I mean, I grew up a sci-fi fan since there were usually reruns of something fun on the public access channels in the hospitals, but…” Steve said, shuddering a little when Bucky took advantage of his grip to press Steve’s hips back into his own.
“But you’d rather fuck a skinjob than a toaster?” Bucky said, rocking his hips up against Steve’s. Steve panted against his neck and Bucky grinned.
“I’d rather fuck whatever you count as,” Steve said.
Bucky pulled his head up so he could kiss him. Steve went willingly, and he was just starting to taste like salt from all the exertion he hadn’t been able to handle before he too had thrown himself at the mercy of experimental medical procedures. He could die happy, kissing Steve Rogers.
The thought surprised him. It startled him enough that Bucky broke away from the kiss and traced his metal hand down Steve’s side, squeezing the taut muscles of his thigh while Steve put a definitive hickey on the side of his neck.
To distract himself from the traitorous, Disney-romance thought that had absolutely zero place in his current situation, Bucky tried to roll them over.
It nearly worked. The problem was, he overestimated the width of Steve’s bed and while Steve was making a grab for the lube and another condom, Bucky rolled them over and they went right off the side of the bed and onto the floor. And even then, Bucky had overshot because Steve was still on top of him.
He couldn’t say he minded. He liked having Steve between his legs, and he appreciated that when they hit the ground, they both burst out laughing.
“Sorry,” Bucky said, laughing into Steve’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean to throw you onto the floor.”
“I don’t spend enough time on the floor, honestly,” Steve said. He knelt up high enough he could put his own condom on. The problem with Bucky’s arm was – it became an incredibly delicate situation to try and apply something as tearable as latex to any given object. The edges of each plate on his fingers and arm had been polished down to as blunt as possible and that bluntness worked just fine on skin so long as it didn’t get pinched between two of the plates, but if it was something as fragile as a latex condom, it was bad news. Bucky would’ve loved to put Steve’s condom on for him, if for no other reason than he wanted to touch his dick, but he also wanted it to still be an effective piece of plastic.
“It’s good for your back, right?” Bucky said, running his hand down Steve’s back and grabbing his ass. Steve hummed in approval.
“You’re going to get rug burn,” Steve said. “All over your back. I’m going to get it all over my knees.”
Bucky rolled his eyes and was rewarded with Steve pressing quick kisses over the side of his face.
He wasn’t sure how it happened, or why it was easier than getting back onto the bed, but somehow a blanket ended up between them and the floor and Steve’s fingers pressed into him.
Bucky had gone to the bar that night fully intending to go home with someone. He’d done some preparation in the shower to ensure it wouldn’t be a weird, belaboured process if he did end up in someone else’s bed – or on their floor. The sorts of things that were normal and expected in a long-term relationship – or so he’d been told by Sam – never really applied to one-offs.
As soon as he had the thought, Bucky shuddered. The very notion that this might be the only night he spent with Steve Rogers made him anxious and nervous. It was a bad thought to bring into being fingered and he tried to focus instead on the sensation of Steve inside him, even if it wasn’t the part of Steve’s anatomy he craved.
“Please just fuck me,” he breathed into Steve’s ear.
Steve kissed his neck and pulled his fingers away. There was a moment of rearranging while Steve redistributed the lube and Bucky canted his hips up from the floor, and then Steve was pressing into him and sliding home and for the third time that night Bucky couldn’t breathe in the best possible way.
To give him a better angle, Bucky hooked his leg over Steve’s hip. Steve’s thrusts made Bucky moan, and before he could control himself, play it cool, he had both arms thrown across Steve’s shoulders, pulling him closer. Steve worked a hand into Bucky’s hair, sliding his hand in flat and then curling his fingers against the roots of the hair at the back of Bucky’s head. That alone would’ve been enough to make him insensible, but he used this grip to tip Bucky’s head back and position his neck for best ravishment.
With Steve’s cock inside him and his lips and the gentle scrapes of his teeth at Bucky’s throat, it didn’t take long for Bucky to finish. He was overwhelmed, overstimulated. He gripped Steve with both sets of fingers, aiming for the points where each hand would cause the least real damage. He let the metal fingers curl into the robust flesh of Steve’s ass, and had his normal person fingers fitted between the slats of Steve’s ribs.
“Steve,” he just barely managed to breathe out. “Steve, please.”
Steve called out his name as he came, and slumped limply against Buck’s chest. Almost as soon as he realised where he was lying, Steve started trying to extricate himself and Bucky had to grab him and hold him close to convince him he preferred to have Steve lay atop him and squish him into the floor.
Later, maybe after they’d lain on Steve’s bedroom floor for half an hour, they took the time to venture to the bathroom and clean themselves up. There was no discussion of Bucky calling a Lyft to go home; it was simply assumed he’d stay there that night.
For reasons Bucky assumed neither of them understood, they spent the night sprawled out on the floor atop the blanket that had come from Steve’s bed. While he drifted in and out of consciousness on Steve’s bedroom floor, Bucky tried to look around and get a better sense of Steve as a person.
His bed was full-sized, which for a man of Steve’s size was essentially like having a twin bed, and his bedside table was connected to a drafting table, pinned down with a sketch or two. There were more sketches along the walls, and all of them had the same quality of line as the napkin sketch Steve had been doing at the bar. Bucky didn’t know fuck all about art, but he was a mathematician and he was therefore very good at patterns and he could recognise the similarities. The same hand had drawn the dancing monkey, had drawn the little old babushka feeding the pigeons in an urban square, had drawn the random stranger at a bar sucking down a bottled beer.
“Who was that?” Bucky asked sometime around five in the morning when he had been staring at the sketch for a solid ten minutes. He wouldn’t have made noise except Steve rolled over and mumbled into his chest that sounded like it was halfway between conversation and unconsciousness.
“I dunno,” Steve said, following Bucky’s pointed finger at the drawing. “Guy I saw at the bar and thought was hot. To be honest, he’s the reason I drink bottled beer when I try to pick someone up. I’d much rather go for whatever’s on tap.”
Bucky nodded, making sure Steve saw his reaction before he stopped. It shouldn’t be surprising. Of course Steve went to bars to pick up guys. Probably the same bar where he’d found Bucky. Of course that was a common occurrence for him. That was what men who looked like Steve did.
On days where Bucky felt better about his physical appearance, and was willing to acknowledge how he looked to other people, it was what guys who looked like Bucky did. When you had defined muscles and low body fat count on all the major muscle groups, it was the sort of situation where you were supposed to be able to wink at someone across the gym and there: you were fucked for the night. In his experience, amputee and prosthetic limb possessor since freshman year, Bucky had never had that ease. He had assumed that Steve, chronically ill until the age of 21, had also not had that experience. They both just looked like it now, in the aftermath.
And curled up together on Steve’s floor in the haze of the afterglow, Bucky couldn’t stop himself from asking.
“Do you use that bottle trick often?”
“I've tried? But it's never actually worked. I don’t bring guys home from bars, ever,” Steve said. He was stretched out on his back, one leg draped over Bucky’s.
“You don’t bring guys home? Or you don’t bring people home?” Bucky asked.
He didn’t care if Steve was bi or pan or anything that fell somewhere between hetero and gay. Steve had blown him and banged him into the floor. Steve was very certainly not a heterosexual, so whatever degrees of difference he felt between those labels didn’t really matter so far as Bucky was concerned. He did wonder, though, if Steve brought women home on a regular basis and Bucky was the first guy.
“I don’t bring people home from bars,” Steve said. He started idly tracing a pattern on the inside of Bucky’s thigh while he spoke and Bucky moaned. His skin was sensitive, as a rule.
“Me neither,” Bucky said. “But I appreciate being special.”
“Oh, you’re definitely special,” Steve said, looking over so he could kiss him. Bucky melted into the kiss.
For the second time, he had the thought that he could die happy kissing Steve Rogers. Bucky wasn’t sure he’d ever had that thought about a guy before, let alone twice. But here he was. And he wasn’t even in a bed experiencing a cuddly embrace. They were on a floor in a shitty college apartment.
He fell asleep at some point, his face pillowed against Steve’s pecs there on the floor. When he woke up, he was in desperate need of coffee and grabbed a pair of briefs off the floor. Some distant part of his brain told him Steve’s roommate/s wouldn’t be home until post-breakfast, which should give him leeway to make coffee without having to face the world.
He staggered into the living room and towards the kitchen, but to his dismay, Steve’s roommate was sitting on the kitchen counter eating Cheetos from the bag with a pair of chopsticks despite the fact it was before eight in the morning.
And to Bucky’s great, horrible dismay – he knew Steve’s roommate. He’d met him.
“’Sup,” Clint said, clicking his chopsticks in Bucky’s direction.
Bucky found he was incapable of doing anything more eloquent than staring at him. Clint accepted this as normal and continued using the highly processed, hydrogenised food-ish product as breakfast.
While Clint watched him, Bucky filled the coffee pot and considered Clint from the corner of his eye. It was while the coffee was brewing that Steve exited his bedroom and wrapped Bucky in a hug from behind. Unlike Bucky, Steve had not deigned to put on clothes of any sort and had stayed naked. He pressed his bare pelvis into Bucky’s ass and unwillingly, Bucky considered the fact they were roughly the same height and they wouldn’t need to make any adjustments to have sex standing up.
“Morning, Steve,” Clint said and Steve yelped, grabbing Bucky by the hips and using him like a modesty pillow while he turned to look at Clint.
“Morning,” Steve said and started blushing so badly that even though Bucky couldn’t see him, he could feel the heat radiating off his skin. “Um, Buck, this is my roommate Clint.”
“We’ve met,” Bucky said, voice flat. Clint grinned at them both and pulled another Cheeto from the bag.
Saving them both from any more seconds of awkward, the coffee pot stopped burbling.
“I’ve got it,” Clint offered, hopping off the counter and pouring two cups of coffee for them. He handed them both to Bucky and as soon as he was holding them, Steve retreated, dragging Bucky along with him while he moved backwards. They very nearly went down when a cold dog nose introduced itself to the back of Steve’s thighs, but the dog was avoided, and then they were in Steve’s room with the door securely fastened.
Embarrassed to have suddenly presented himself naked to his roommate, Steve pulled on a pair of sweatpants before sitting down on his bed. Bucky handed him one of the cups of coffee and sat down next to him. In the harsh morning light and sudden realisation of what it meant that Clint Barton was in Steve’s kitchen, it was awkward.
“You know Clint?” Steve asked finally.
“We’ve met once,” Bucky said. “Wouldn’t say I know him.”
Steve nodded. “He and our other roommate, Nat, have been trying to fix me up with some guy for the entire quarter. Because I am apparently incapable of finding one on my own.”
“Yeah, I – uh – I know,” Bucky said.
Steve winced. “Come on, I wasn’t that awkward, was I?”
“I think we were the same level of awkward,” Bucky said, exhaling and drinking his coffee to try and kill time before he admitted to it. “I know that Clint and Natasha have been trying to set their roommate up with some guy all quarter.”
“Oh my god, are they going around telling people about it?” Steve asked, voice tinged with despair and embarrassment.
“Not so far as I know. Just, uh, me,” Bucky said.
Steve frowned at his mug for a second and Bucky could see the exact second he understood. “Oh my god.”
“I told them to fuck off because I could absolutely find a guy on my own, and here we are,” Bucky muttered.
Steve whistled lowly. “She’s gonna be unbearable.”
“Unquestionably,” Bucky agreed. But even in the certain face of Natasha Romanoff annoying the shit out of him for however long this thing with him and Steve was going to last, Bucky couldn’t bring himself to regret it.
“Oh, no, I’m going to have to tell her she was right,” Steve said, staring into the middle distance in horror. “I swore I’d never do that again when we were ten.”
“When you were how old?” Bucky asked, blinking at him. A couple half-remembered facts snapped back into place: Natasha had told him they couldn’t keep bagels in the house because she and her roommate were from New York and Steve only had one remaining family member who lived here on the coast.
“Ten,” Steve repeated. “I think there were, like, five years? Where we didn’t live in the same apartment, and it was back when she was still dancing and I was in the hospital.”
“She’s the family you have who lives here, right?” Bucky interpreted.
“Yeah,” Steve said. He shrugged. “I mean we’re obviously not biologically related or anything, but our moms were both pregnant immigrants when they came to the US and had a similar sort of vague and hazy legal status and ended up in the same tenement. And because they were both single working moms, they more or less co-parented us.”
It was, more or less, the exact opposite of Bucky’s family. He’s grown up in a picket fence sort of situation that could’ve been the die-cast for a mass market reproduction of stereotypical ’50s Americana, down to and including the homophobia.
“So, uh, how does Natasha’s matchmaking app thing work?” Bucky asked, rather than pry into the tragic backstory that was visibly making Steve sad.
“Witchcraft?” Steve suggested. He shrugged. “Although if it was gonna be trickery, I’d guess it came from Clint, since he was in the circus.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Bucky asked.
Steve laughed. “Yeah, he and his foster siblings were all in a circus,” he said. “He wouldn’t leave until the youngest was eighteen and could actually get out without any repercussions. Which is why Nat and I met him, because we were the three twenty-something freshmen in our English 101 class.”
“And Natasha was a dancer?” Bucky asked, because that didn’t fit at all with the impression he’d gotten of her over the past month and a half.
“Ballet,” Steve said. “Just completely shredded her ACL.”
Bucky nodded, wondering why he didn’t have more interesting friends.
“Um, so I know coffee breath is like the least sexy thing in the world, but can I kiss you again?” Steve asked after a moment.
“I’m pretty sure you aren’t capable of being unsexy,” Bucky replied, carefully placing both their mugs on the bedside table and letting Steve tackle him back against the pillows.
As it happened, Steve was capable of being unsexy, but it was at moments like when he got the flu in November and spent a week puking in Bucky and Sam’s bathroom. It was when they all went out for dinner somewhere and he and Natasha stuck tongues covered in chewed food out at each other across the table like they were still eight. It was when he got a tattoo on his shoulder the next summer, got it sunburnt within hours, and Bucky had to spend the entire three weeks of that particular hell smacking his hand away when he tried to scratch it.
But most of the time, Bucky thought he was pretty damn attractive. Especially at moments like the time Bucky got to gawp at his arms while they dragged a new – much larger – bed up the stairs to Bucky’s apartment together since the elevator was broken. Or when their first night officially living together ended with them curled on the couch, Steve hiding his sketchpad on his lap with his knees bent so Bucky couldn’t see what he was drawing, which turned out to be a sketch of Bucky swearing while he tried to put his hair up since it had finally gotten long enough again to be annoying. Or when Bucky’s thesis defence coincided with Steve’s graduating art show, and both of them were too stressed out to take care of themselves but kept turning up to bring each other coffee.
But that was all after . It was after Natasha tracked him down at the bagel shop in the library again in late November and sat across from him with a silent, slightly predatory expression on her face.
“You’re welcome,” she said when it had been long enough to be obvious Bucky wasn’t going to start the conversation.
“You actually had nothing to do with it,” Bucky replied.
“I annoyed you both until you were so determined to prove me wrong that you actually went out to a bar – uncharacteristic for both of you – with the intent to find someone,” she said. Bucky glowered rather than give her the satisfaction of agreeing that she was right. She smiled at him. “Ten bucks says you end up married.”
“I’m not taking that bet,” Bucky replied, looking back down at his screen and carefully moving each of his fingers to watch the feedback monitoring programme light up like Christmas.
“What did happen to your arm?” she asked. “It was the one thing I couldn’t actually track down.”
“Mathlete tournaments get super competitive,” Steve said from somewhere behind Natasha, setting down two coffees and bagels on the table and dragging over a third chair.
Before Bucky could even register the words coming out of his mouth, he was giving Steve an appreciative smile and saying, “I love you.”
It hadn’t been long enough, not nearly, it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet, and an incredibly full silence surrounded their table. Natasha looked between them with bated breath. Steve was frozen in place.
Bucky started trying to figure out how the hell he was going to backpedal that one without it getting very uncomfortable for a public forum, and knew it would become especially awkward because holy fuck it was true, and then Steve beamed. He ignored the fact Natasha was sitting across from them and the fact they were in a café surrounded by students and professors, and very gently cupped Bucky’s face so he could kiss him.
“I love you too,” Steve said, softly, breathing the words into Bucky’s mouth.
Natasha, watching them the entire time, picked up the cup with Steve’s name Sharpied onto it, took a sip, and arched her eyebrow. “Ten bucks,” she said to Bucky, and then she was gone.
“What?” Steve asked, looking between Bucky and Natasha’s empty seat.
“Don’t worry about it,” Bucky recommended.
After, several years after – after Sam and Riley moved in together and Steve moved in with Bucky, and one of Clint’s foster sisters took Steve’s old room, and after Bucky foolishly introduced Nat to Tony and Pepper, and after the three of them and Sam turned Nat’s app into a multiuse health and romance service that more or less printed money for them, and after Steve got a job as a comic book artist and Bucky cycled through a post-doc fellowship or two – the first anyone heard about what came next was a plain envelope showing up on Natasha’s desk without a return address, or even a note of explanation. Instead, there was a single ten-dollar bill.