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The Way to an Asshole's Heart

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The Way to An Asshole's Heart


There are three things Bucky Barnes knows are true: war is hell, sugar is sweet, and Steve Rogers is an asshole.

******

Their rivalry had become something of a legend in the small community of food trucks and their chefs who worked the Brooklyn beat. Rumors abounded as to why and how it started, but the only people who could confirm the details were stubbornly refusing to open their mouths.

“I heard Barnes stole Rogers’ girlfriend!”

“Did you read on tumblr that they went to school together?”

“Someone said Rogers accidentally cut off one of Bucky’s fingers in a freak accident…”

That one had been enough to send his prep cook, Natasha, into fits of hysterical laughter for weeks—especially after Bucky had waved his prosthetic arm cheerily at the girls in question just to watch them turn pale and hurry off.

“Must have been one hell of a freak accident if you lost an entire arm the kitchen,” she giggled for the hundredth time over the peaches she was slicing up to add to the trifle he was assembling.

“Less talking, more slicing, Romanov,” Bucky grumbled.

She didn’t even bother to acknowledge the voice that had once sent soldiers scurrying into motion, just gestured to the line of trucks outside the serving window. “I mean, Lord knows you’ve been sporting a hard on for this guy for months now-- the least they could do is give you a better origin story.”

Bucky took a deep breath and counted to ten.

“Although, I am a fan of the enemies to lovers cliche--”

“Jesus Christ--enough, Natasha. I am not interested in banging the Boy Scout.”

She tossed him a smug smile over her shoulder, “So why do you stare at his ass so much?”

Bucky gave a wordless snarl and chucked the mixing bowl into the sink with more force than was strictly necessary. “I do not stare at his ass.”

Much.

******

It’s not just that Steve Rogers is built like a damn truck with the chiseled, classically handsome features to match. It’s the way the man always has a crooked smile on his lips anytime he talks to the little old ladies who flirt outrageously with him or the times Bucky caught him slipping extra food into the bags of single moms as though he knows how much responsibility hangs on their proud shoulders.

It’s like he was designed to be the perfect opposite of Bucky’s dark hair and grumpy disposition. Bucky had never regained the cocky, charismatic personality he’d had before he’d limped home from war missing an arm. It was too much effort to pretend to be whole and good when there was work to be done and things to bake.

Even if he tried, there was no way to match the charm that practically oozed out of each of his tiny, perfect pores. So he doesn’t bother trying.

******

The truth of his feud with Steve Rogers was at once simpler and more complicated than it appeared.

It all started the day he’d bought his food truck from one of his old army buddy’s good friends.

Coming back from overseas missing one arm and carrying a decade of bloody memories to keep him company, Bucky was barely holding on to his sanity sleeping on his little sister’s couch. He needed something to fill the hours between the restless sleep he occasionally managed and the hours of scrubbing the apartment clean, over and over again. Even if buying the truck with the money he’d gotten from his back pay was a spur of the moment choice, the idea of using the cooking skills he’d gotten overseas to turn a profit was a fantasy that had gotten him through more than one shitty night. It would prove that his hands (only one now) could create instead of just kill.

So Bucky stared at the faded paint that adorned the side of his brand new food truck with a fond smile, mentally tallying what sort of work needed to go into making it roadworthy.

The old logo — ‘Wiener Soldier’ if he was reading it correctly and god help the poor bastard who’d chosen that moniker — was little more than an outline against the slate grey metal. He was reasonably certain he could convince Becca to help him paint over it. Maybe he’d eventually save up enough to pay for a professional repaint. He might even decide to keep the soldier motif as a way to pay homage to the strange way he’d fallen into this line of work.

He’d learned to cook as part necessity--Dernier and Monty were the worst chefs he’d ever met--and part escapism. It was easy to forget the dangers that were always lurking nearby when you were focused on perfecting the smooth slide of a knife through fruit or watching the way people’s faces creased in pleasure when he debuted his latest concoction for them. Turns out, making food came as easily as pulling the trigger for him.

It was nice to discover he possessed a skill to create instead of just destroy.

Now that he was stateside permanently--thanks to the clunky weight hanging off his shoulder that was meant to replace the arm he’d lost in a roadside bomb--chasing that ironic feeling of peace that used to center him when he was in the desert.

A food truck probably wasn’t the best investment for someone who’d only just gotten their food handling license and certificate, but it was better than the alternative. Working in a hot, cramped kitchen with someone shouting orders at him felt like a nightmare. No, he could handle scraping by with barely any income if it meant he got to stand with a breeze on his face and no one telling him what he needed to do with each second of his day.

The sound of two voices coming closer snapped him out of his reverie and he felt the familiar burst of training moving to the forefront of his mind. Two males. Age and status unknown moving east at a trajectory that will bring them in contact with current location in less than thirty seconds. Threat level--

Bucky shoved the intrusive thoughts away, but shifted so he could see around the bulk of his truck while keeping his body close to cover. He’d been doing better with his therapy after being released, but something told him that the instinctive quick analysis of every stranger and situation would never really go away. The two strangers didn’t seem to notice him in the evening light and he took advantage of their distraction to listen in on their conversation.

“Looks like some poor schmuck must have bought Dugan’s old rig,” a warm, male voice observed. Bucky carefully monitored his breaths so he didn’t give away his position as the two strangers moved closer.

“Oh god, I hope it’s not another one of those stupid dessert trucks.”

Bucky felt a hot flush rise up his neck into his cheeks at the derision in that sinfully deep voice. So what if he liked desserts better than cooking full meals? Desserts were delicious and he was good at them, damnit. The panic and anxiety that had been buzzing around his brain all day hit a new high and he shoved his hands through his hair with a muttered curse.

“You can’t expect everyone to share your hatred of sweets, Rogers,” the first man was saying and Bucky felt a bolt of adrenaline when he realized they were moving into his line of sight. “Everyone enjoys a good--Oh!”

Bucky looked up at the soft exclamation in time to see two tall, broad shouldered men turn around the corner of his new truck and stop at the sight of him. The one who’d been speaking was slightly shorter than his friend, but had an easy-going vibe about him that helped ease some of the tension building in the air. When he smiled cheerfully at Bucky, he noted a small gap in his teeth that cemented the handsome guy-next-door trope he seemed to naturally imbibe.

“Hey man, didn’t see you there,” he said with a small wave. “This your truck?”

Bucky nodded slowly, eyeing both men carefully. “Yeah, just got it.”

“That’s awesome. We both run the Captain America rig over there-” He gestured at a food truck that was gleaming smugly under a garish layer of red, white, and blue paint halfway down the block. “I’m Sam Wilson--this is Steve.”

Bucky shook his offered hand and stared at Steve who was watching him with the same amount of curiosity. Unlike his companion, Steve had the easy stance and confidence of a successful brawler and the crooked nose to prove it. His white t shirt strained to cover muscles that bulged and flexed appallingly when he crossed his arms over his broad chest.

Bucky fought the urge to whimper at the sight.

“James Buchanon Barnes, but I go by Bucky.”

“Bucky?” the blonde god--Steve--repeated with a grin. “Hell of a nickname.”

“Better than being named for a racist dead white guy.”

Sam laughed. “That’s true. So what kind of food truck are you planning to set up?”

“Another stupid dessert truck,” Bucky said, staring hard at Steve now that he who knew who was responsible for the comment about hating desserts. And because he could be an asshole when he wanted to. Steve winced, taking in the old truck and Bucky’s haphazard appearance.

Sam cut in with an attempt to defuse some of the building tension. “You got any help lined up? It’s a hard business to get started in.”

“I’ll be fine on my own.”

“This isn’t a job you can handle single handedly,” Steve said abruptly.

Sam inhaled sharply and they all seemed to stare down at Bucky’s missing arm at once. Bright blue eyes widened and a dark flush curled over his neck as Bucky narrowed his eyes dangerously.

“I didn’t--”

Bucky cut off Steve’s fumbling apologies with a sharp gesture and an even sharper smile. “Well this has been delightful, but I have more important things to do than talk to assholes. Enjoy your night.”

Before Steve could pick his jaw off the floor, Bucky had disappeared into the night shadows.

******

Bucky had disappeared so quickly, in fact, that he completely missed the sound of Sam slapping the back of Steve’s head, causing the other man to yelp in surprise. “What the actual fuck, Steve?” he hissed, scowling at his friend, “Single handedly? Really?”

Steve looked in the direction Bucky had disappeared to with a matching frown and rubbed absently over the back of his head. “I know, I know. It just slipped out, okay?”

Sam just shook his head, starting in the direction of their shared apartment without waiting to see if he was following. “Jesus, Rogers. You’re a mess.”

“Yeah, I know.”

******

The worst part was that Steve was right.

That much was clear after a single awkward movement from his prosthetic combined with the lingering imbalance from his missing arm sent an entire tray of food careening onto the ground in the middle of a lunchtime rush. Or after he’d nearly screamed at an asshole hassling him over how fast he was preparing his food when he was trying to man the register, assemble the food, and take new orders on his own. He needed someone to cover for him when the crowds combined with his hyper vigilance into a walking nightmare.

Thankfully, the small amount of luck he’d maintained through the war and his life after was enough to bring him into contact with one Natasha Romanov later that night.

Bucky had stumbled, tired and covered in debris left behind by his miserable day of food prep, into the creaky leather booth of the nearest diner with a heavy sigh. The thought of getting up the next day in time to prep for the same rush in a new section of town sounded like torture so he stared down at the stained menu in front of him like it held the secrets to his shitty decision making.

“Rough day?” A voice asked from his right and Bucky jerked when he realized there was a woman in a stained apron and dark t-shirt standing only inches away from the edge of his table. He took in the way she’d positioned herself on his stronger side and how she’d kept her body language loose and open despite the way he’d jerked and reached for a weapon that no longer hung at his side. Something about the way that she moved told him that she had experience with soldiers like him. Maybe even served herself.

The bright red hair curled around classically beautiful features was as much a target as it was a way for her to distract someone from the quick intelligence in her green eyes or the competent way her body moved. Whoever had trained her knew the value of a pretty face and lethal intent even if she appeared peaceful enough in this setting. Still, the waitress seemed to stand painfully out of place amidst the faded wallpaper and ancient coffee tables of this shop. The faded nametag pinned to her chest proclaimed her name was ‘Natalie,’ but the name felt like it settled oddly on her competent shoulders.

A single eyebrow arched in silent, teasing question when his silence stretched on and Bucky forced himself to clear his throat and reach for the charm that used to set people at ease around him. He smiled with a self-depreciating glance at his ruined t-shirt, “Had a disagreement with my kitchen.”

“You cook?” she asked with that same small smile.

“Sometimes. Not as well as I used to.”

The missing weight of his arm seemed to linger between them and he was grateful her eyes didn’t dart to the side to take in the sleeve he hadn’t bothered to pin up after removing his prosthetic.

“Sounds like you could use some caffeine,” she replied, changing the subject easily before the ants crawling under his skin could take root. “What can I get for you?”

Bucky nodded gratefully and gave her his order before watching her disappear into the back. Without her as a distraction, he could concentrate on scoping out the small shop, eyeing the exits and the lines of sight left by open windows and ancient curtains pinned at their sides. At this time of day--or night, he corrected with a glance into the dark street--there were only a few patrons slouched in their seats. Most of them looked focused on their newspapers or phones, but one brawny man lingered near the counter radiating enough bad tempered-menace that Bucky wished he had more than a knife on him at the moment.

He was considering the benefits of using the heavy wooden table as a makeshift shield if a fire fight started when she returned with a small platter bearing his coffee and a plate with a small slice of cake. Natalie set the coffee on his right side carefully along with the plate and a fork within easy reach. “I didn’t order--” he began when it was clear the cake was meant for him.

“It’s on the house,” she said easily and tucked the tray under her arm out of the way. “Looked like you could use the calories.”

Bucky smiled gratefully and took a bite. Instantly his tongue was hit with a rush of bright cinnamon and sweet brown sugar that made him groan in surprise. The cake was dense with flavor and moist enough that he felt a flash of jealousy for whoever possessed the skill to create such a delicious thing.

“That good, huh?”

“You should probably leave, I’m about to do indecent things to this cake,” Bucky moaned around another bite of cake. Natalie laughed, the sound genuine and bright against the grimy backdrop of the shop around her.

“I’m glad you like it.”

“Tell your baker that they are a gift to humanity and deserve to be worshipped as such,” he continued, enjoying the way her eyes crinkled in obvious delight as much as he was the food in front of him. He felt some of the stress from the day slip away at the easy conversation and company. “Seriously this is amazing.”

“I’m glad you like it,” she said with a hint of pride, “and I’m the one who made it, actually.”

Bucky gaped at her. “Holy shit, woman. If I wasn’t gay as fuck, I’d get down on one knee right now.”

“You wouldn’t be the firs--” she started, but froze when a sharp voice called out from behind her.

“Natalie! Get back to work!” They both turned to look at the heavyset man ducking out of the kitchen to glare at the red head. He sneered at Bucky’s missing arm and Bucky felt his face flush angrily at the abrupt shift away from the easy atmosphere. “I don’t pay you to flirt.”

Natalie pursed her lips and sighed wearily, “Enjoy your cake.”

“Yeah, uh, sorry for getting you in trouble,” Bucky began, but she was already moving back toward the counter and the brawny man he’d watched earlier. He looked back at his piece of cake feeling every inch a coward.

In another lifetime, Bucky might have stood up and fought the asshole just for the way he his eyes lingered on the curves of his employee’s body or the way he’d managed to drag her down with his sharp words. He’d prided himself for being the type of man who would help those in need.

Now he was just a broken soldier covered in the evidence of his failure to run a damn food truck.

The man at the counter said something under his breath, his hand reaching out quickly to snag Natalie by the wrist like a cuff. Her face went tight and still like the children who’d watched the soldiers marching through their village on the way to whatever mission they’d been given. It was the expression of a trapped creature--one that knew what kind of evils lurked in the shadows around them.

It made something in Bucky’s chest tighten and he found himself holding onto the fork tightly enough that the metal began to dig into his palms hard enough to bruise. He took in a slow, steadying breath to remind himself that he had no business jumping in to what very well could be a lover’s quarrel or dispute among friends. Something told him that such thoughts were just excuses to stay away.

They were speaking Russian, he realized after a moment of concentration. The guttural language was familiar after years of living next door to a sweet Russian grandmother who’d practically adopted him and Becca after their parents passed away. The same Russian grandmother who’d have tanned his backside for allowing a woman to be harmed in front of him.

Torn as he was between his desire to help and his need to avoid getting involved in another conflict, he almost missed the violence when it finally broke out.

The customer made a grab at the front of Natalie’s chest and her hand moved in a sharp gesture that was almost too quick to follow. The man’s head hit the counter with a sickening crack. Bucky was on his feet gaping at the waitress as her eyes went flat and lifeless. She shifted her grip and the man howled in agony and tried to swing clumsily at her head. The easy way she dodged was almost insulting in its grace and the lazy way she barely tilted out of his reach spoke to her skill level.

The noise must have been enough to rustle up the nasty manager from the backroom because he stumbled out like a thundercloud to take in the scene. “Natalie!” he snapped in horror, “How dare yo--LET HIM GO!”

With one last twist of the man’s wrist, Natalie stepped away from the customer and shoved her hands into the pockets of her apron to hide the way they’d begun to shake. Her voice was venomous as she looked back at her boss, “He tried to grab me.”

“You lying bitch!” the customer roared. He cradled his--no doubt, broken--wrist with his other hand and took in the way everyone in the shop was now staring at him. “She attacked me for no reason!”

Natalie snarled wordlessly at him, lunging forward like she intended to do more but was stopped when her manager shoved his way bodily between them. Bucky wondered if either man noticed the small, wickedly sharp knife that she held in the hand tilted away from the men. The manager turned toward the customer with a placating gesture. “Please, sir, calm down. I’m sure this is all some misunderstanding--”

“That crazy bitch just attacked me! Everyone here saw it! I’m calling my lawyer!”

“Sir,” Bucky interrupted and watched the three of them shift their focus to him with a frown, “I saw the whole thing--he was grabbing at her chest and--”

“Fuck you, cripple!” the man spat viciously, his cheeks bright red with a mixture of embarrassment and pain. Bucky saw red and snarled back wordlessly.

“Natalie,” the manager bit out, “apologize to the customer and get back to the kitchens. I’ll talk with you later.”

Natalie stared at the customer and her boss with barely concealed rage. Her chest rose and fell in a controlled ripple of vicious fury that made Bucky wonder if he should be reaching for a weapon of his own. “I…” she began before her voice grew strangled.

“She didn’t do anything wrong!” Bucky blurted in one last attempt to salvage Natalie’s role in this mess, “If anyone should apologize it’s this asshole!”

The waitress’ eyes flickered to him in surprise, but he was distracted by the angry customer lunging at him. Smooth as silk and twice as quiet, Natalie lunged forward and caught the man’s awkward swing before he could land it on Bucky’s unprotected left side. She used the momentum to twist him off balance and Bucky darted in with a swift uppercut that left the man limp and bleeding on the floor. The manager gaped at the two of them, cut off exclamations and curses struggling to move out of his open mouth.

Before he could gather his wits again, Natalie untied her apron and tossed it on the counter. “I quit.”

Then it was Bucky’s turn to stare at her as she yanked him by his hand after her and out the door. He tossed a crumpled bill on his table and scrambled after her. Outside the coffee shop, the air was finally cooling off with the dying light and they both sucked in a deep breath. Natalie continued down the street with Bucky behind her like a confused puppy until the restaurant was out of sight. Then she took another deep breath and sighed.

He winced at the slump of her shoulders. “I’m so sorry--I shouldn’t have gotten involved.”

“That job sucked anyway.”

“Still…” he muttered, scrubbing his hand through his hair. Guilt ate at him at the thought of the mess he was about to leave this strange, kind woman in.

“I’ll find another one,” she shrugged and he caught the familiar rasp of a Russian accent amidst the tired acceptance. “Rick was an asshole.”

She turned to walk away but Bucky found himself reaching out to stop her before the thought was fully formed in his mind. One red eyebrow arched in a silent question and challenge at the abrupt movement and he hastily snatched his hand back to shove deep in his pockets. He didn’t need to lose the other one.

“I was, uh...I was wondering if you’ve ever thought about working in a food truck?”

Natalie smiled.

******

From that moment on, Bucky’s fumbling attempts to manage the Winter Soldier became a three armed operation.

Natasha--apparently Natalie was as fake as the smile she leveled at the idiots who thought they could get away with looking down her shirt--was quite possibly the most terrifying mixture of competence and eery intelligence Bucky had ever come across. She took to the front of the food truck like a natural and allowed Bucky the time he needed to piece together orders without the panic-inducing pressure of knowing he was being watched and judged. She could even step back and handle some of the simpler desserts he made on her own.

Mostly she reminded him what it was like to be a real person again.

It wasn’t until he started getting invitations to go out and drink with Nat--and her strange, accident-prone boyfriend, Clint Barton--that he realized just how much time he’d been spending alone or consumed with hating the easy confidence and personality of his blonde competitor. Now, he could check his phone and find a long line of messages that ranged from funny pictures to a near constant list of random injuries Clint managed to sustain in the course of his normal, everyday existence. Or as normal as Clint Barton could manage.

They checked in on each other constantly and never complained when Bucky’s mind saw monsters lurking in every shadow or his hands shook a little too much to manage a knife. He now had a number to call when the nightmares came too close or he couldn’t remember why his arm was missing. On better days, he had a couch to lounge on while he watched Natasha viciously blue-shell Clint into submission in Mario Kart or to pretend not to cry during Hachi.

(He did though and firmly believes only a monster could watch that moving without sobbing into a pillow.)

Four months after Bucky watched Natasha bash a guy’s head into a counter for staring at his missing arm with a sneer, Bucky realized he’d somehow become a part of the world’s strangest family.

******

Sam Wilson was another unexpected addition to Bucky’s slowly expanding world.

Every morning when he trundled into his usual breakfast spot Sam would appear as soon as Bucky’s second hand industrial coffee maker began to percolate the nectar of the gods. Wordlessly, Bucky would pass over the first cup he didn’t guzzle down immediately and the two would watch the world wake up.

Choosing to make his food truck serve three meals a day meant an exhausting amount of time spent in the rig trolling areas of New York where hungry people liked to congregate, but it beat the alternative of pacing his apartment looking for the enemies he seemed to always sense. Every morning, Bucky was up before the sun and working his way through a laundry list of tasks that needed to be completed before he even got to his rig let alone starting to cook. Prep food. Label each container. Don’t think about the war. Make sure each recipe is carefully set out. Don’t think about the bomb. Restock the drinks.

It felt never ending.

Even with the massive amount of time and effort running the Winter Soldier took, Bucky was surprised to discover that he was feeling more at peace than he could remember since he’d returned. Every night he went to bed comfortably tired and looking forward to what would happen the next day. He had friends to text him funny cat videos all day, a super hot nemesis, and a business that was doing reasonably well so far.

Having coffee with Sam Wilson every morning had slowly become a key element to this newfound balance. Every time the Captain America rig was in the vicinity--which was a lot more often than you’d think, what the fuck?--Sam would sidle over before they got the first rush and chat. At first, Bucky assumed it was some attempt to counsel him since he knew Sam worked down at the VA on his off days, but after several weeks without anything close to unwanted therapy, he’d settled into a comfortable rhythm with the other man.

You see, for all his charming smiles and kind expressions, Sam was harboring a secret from everyone he met.

Sam Wilson was a little shit.

Not as bad as Steve, obviously, but still enough of an asshole to show up day after day to pester Bucky about all manner of things. He would critique the way Bucky arranged the interior of the rig or nitpick the flavor profile of that day’s special. He even avoided offering to help Bucky when he was struggling to do something one handed like every other person who saw him without his prosthetic did. If anything, Sam seemed to enjoy watching him struggle through each morning as he learned how to set up and run his truck.

And maybe that was why Bucky slowly started to realize he was looking forward to their daily meetings. Sam didn’t treat him like he was broken or damaged. He didn’t comment on the days when Bucky couldn’t summon up the energy to speak, just settled in next to him like a silent sentry. It was nice to have another soldier to watch his back.

There was just one problem…

“So how’d you end up best friends with a guy like Rogers?”

Sam snorted. “He used to race me every morning when I was doing PT. Eventually I had to figure out who this dumbass was before my lungs gave out.” At Bucky’s frown, Sam nodded in the direction of the Captain America rig where Steve was busy cleaning off the grill and completing the last of their prep. “He’s not so bad once you get to know him.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he’s great,” Bucky replied, not bothering to hide his sarcasm.

“Listen--” Ah hell, there goes the counselor voice, Bucky thought, “--Steve has his own issues he’s working through. He’s also the world’s worst at making first impressions.”

“I noticed.”

Sam pushed off the wall of the rig and clapped Bucky on the shoulder. “Just give him a chance, tough guy. He’s not so bad--just tends to be an idiot around people he finds attractive.”

Bucky glanced over to where Steve stopped to wave awkwardly in their direction. He sighed a little and grumbled to Sam, “Then why is he having problems with me?”

Sam harrumphed and stole a muffin off the display to go with his refill of coffee. “Christ, I didn’t think I’d get stuck with two of you.”

He was gone before Bucky could do more than make a squawk of protest.

******

Bucky’s new sense of belonging and friendship was probably what drew fate to throw a giant blonde, brick shithouse in his path.

After their horrible first meeting, it felt like Steve Rogers showed up EVERYWHERE. He was in line at Bucky’s bodega, casually buying the last of Bucky’s favorite candy. He was jogging past him on his way to Prospect Park in a stupidly tight t-shirt that was literally the most indecent thing Bucky’d ever seen and an even skimpier pair of shorts. The Captain America rig was always parked close enough to the Winter Soldier that Bucky could make out the sound of Steve’s laughter or watch the gleam of sweat trickling down his neck in the late afternoon. Hell, Bucky was even pretty sure he saw Steve at the local Pride Parade wearing a pink, purple, and blue flag draped around his shoulders and laughing at something one of his friends said.

So it really wasn’t Bucky’s fault that he finally snapped.

 

It started with the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Brooklyn.

While there were hundreds of food trucks in New York City, the Winter Soldier and Captain America were part of a select few that could claim to be Brooklyn Born and Raised. (Bucky didn’t like to think about the fact that Steve Rogers grew up only two blocks from his old apartment building. They might have gone to school together for Christ’s sake. He couldn’t imagine a world where they might have grown up together.) Being natives meant they got first dibs on the best parking spots to pick up customers while the festivities were going on.

Which is how Bucky found himself in a high speed chase at 5am.

It started when he’d been just finishing up the last of his storage prep in the back of his truck and walked around to jump into the driver’s seat. He’d been happy. Content in the knowledge that he was as prepared as possible for his first major holiday festival and excited for the opportunity to get some more followers out of the gig. It had all the components of being an excellent day. Natasha had promised to meet him there at eight he was confident that he could manage the set up without her help. The massive thermos of coffee tucked under his arm would be enough to hold him over until then.

He opened the door to his truck and jumped at the sound of another large machine coming up on his six. Casually taking a calming breath to steady his coffee-fueled adrenaline rush, Bucky spun on his heel to glare at the driver with all the fury of a true New Yorker and came face to face with Captain America himself.

Steve grinned impishly at Bucky and rolled down the window so he could be heard over the rumbling engine. “Mornin’ neighbor. You’re up awfully early.”

The gravelly tone of his voice was doing things to Bucky that shouldn’t be possible this early in the morning. Clearly there was something wrong with him.

“Piss off, Rogers.”

“Not a morning person, huh?” Steve asked cheerfully. “Are you heading over to the festival then?”

“You know I am.”

The blonde nodded as though Bucky had responded with the same amount of enthusiasm. Ridiculously blue eyes shifted away from his scowling face to consider the road thoughtfully. “Well, I wish you luck finding a good spot to set up your rig--it’s going to be pretty packed.”

“Yeah, I--wait, what?” Bucky asked, frowning in confusion. “I was told there was a spot set aside for natives.”

Now, Steve looked entirely too smug to be anything less than up to something. “Yes, one spot.”

Sudden understanding had Bucky scrambling into the driver’s seat as Steve revved his engine with a smirk. Bucky barely had the keys in the ignition before Steve was off, roaring down the street loud enough that a few passersby turned to glare.

Cursing viciously, Bucky started his truck and floored it. Steve took a right heading towards the main thoroughfare, but Bucky blew through the light and kept going. The only way he was going to make it to the festival grounds before Steve was with a lot of luck and a hell of a lot of recklessness on his part.

He turned down an alleyway he remembered from his childhood and winced at how tight a fit it was. There was barely more than six inches between the sides of his truck and the brick walls. Gritting his teeth, he ignored the clang of his mixing bowls falling to the ground in the back and slipped out into traffic to the sound of honking horns and cursing New Yorkers.

In the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of Steve’s shocked face from the front seat of the Captain America rig before he cut him off and hit the gas once more. Whooping in triumph, he turned on the street leading up to the festival grounds and slowed to avoid the employees and volunteers setting up stalls. He was grinning, adrenaline pumping through his veins and a savage kind of excitement that he hadn’t felt in too long.

Bucky glanced in his rearview mirror and frowned. Steve and his gaudy truck were nowhere in sight. He must have lost them in traffic.

He pulled over to ask for directions to the space set aside for them and followed the directions down the long line of yawning vendors and busy volunteers working to set up the tents and traffic cones before the crowds arrived. A kind, but busy looking woman gestured a little ways away and Bucky gave her a relieved grin when he saw the spot was still open. The thrill of winning over Steve Rogers and his stupid, smug face was enough to have him whistling a cheerful tune when he started up his truck again.

That grin disappeared less than an instant later when a big, gaudy colored rig festooned in red, white, and blue neatly parked in the space.

Steve stepped out of the truck, wearing another one of those ridiculously tight shirts, again. Which was practically harassment at this point. He scanned the lot with those blue, blue eyes until he settled on Bucky still glaring at him from where his truck was idling just a few yards away from what was supposed to be his spot.

Then the fucker winked.

******

Truth was--as much as he wanted to punch Steve Rogers in his stupid mouth--Bucky had to admit he understood why so many people clustered around his truck hoping to catch sight of the handsome chef inside.

There was something about the way the man could focus in on each of the people he spoke to, like he genuinely believed each word they spoke was the only thing he cared about. Or the way he threw his head back and rested his hand on his pec when he laughed with wild abandon. Bucky could practically see the way his audience’s eyes seemed to glaze over with barely restrained awe each time.

People like Steve Rogers were too good to be true--which was why part of him was glad to find out about the asshole that lurked beneath those soft smiles and kind words. It felt like a secret just between them. Something special and meaningful in a way that sometimes left Bucky frowning up at his ceiling late into the night.

Natasha certainly thought it meant something which meant Clint did too, despite the fact that he only rarely got to see interactions between Steve and Bucky. Sam, of course, remained neutral, only shaking his head when Natasha tried to get him to spill the truth behind Steve’s behavior with Bucky. She was convinced that it was only stubbornness and hard headedness keeping the two men from ripping the clothes off the other.

But Bucky knew better.

People like Steve didn’t end up with people like Bucky.

Chapter Text

Later that night, Bucky sighed as he finished up the last of the clean up after a long festival day.  Even with the less than stellar placement of his truck, he’d still had a steady stream of customers all day.  His back was aching from leaning over the prep station for hours and his stomach rumbled a reminder that he hadn’t eaten anything but the sandwich Nat had shoved in his face in between rushes.  He didn’t regret sending Natasha home a few hours before closing to check on Clint after an alarming text message involving a one eyed dog and some Russian mobsters, even if it meant doing the last rush on his own.

 

(Seriously, what was going on with that guy?)

 

Thankfully, things had slowed down when the sun had set and Bucky was able to set to rights his truck and do a quick inventory.  Most of his stock had flown off the shelves early in the day. Natasha’s ridiculously good coffee cakes had been one of the first things to sell out and he made a note to make more the next time they went to an event.  He tied off the last of the overfull garbage bins in the back and tossed it over his shoulder before walking in the direction of the dumpsters, his mind returning to the interesting conundrum of creating a vegan-friendly version of one of his mom’s old recipes.

 

The sound of fists striking flesh was so unexpected, Bucky paused in the shadow of his truck, trying to decide if it was another flashback to combat or an actual fight.  

 

There was a muffled grunt of pain somewhere to the left of the well-lit parking lot and Bucky silently dropped the bag of trash in his right hand onto the concrete, reaching instinctively for the holster he no longer carried.  Padding forward on silent feet, he edged around the side of a 4x4 and waited for his eyes to adjust to the relative gloom before moving into the line of trees. It was a little too easy to slip back into the mental and physical stillness he’d honed overseas, but that was a conversation for his therapist later.

 

He could hear voices now and the steady, familiar rhythm of someone getting the shit knocked out of them.  Bucky moved past the last line of vehicles into the gloom of the trees nearby.

 

“--don’t know when to quit do you?”

 

Bucky increased his pace in time to watch the largest of the men gathered around the form huddled on the ground lash out with a vicious kick that threw the victim onto his back at the feet of his friends.  The injured man growled out a curse and rolled painfully to his feet, wiping away the blood streaming from his nose and putting his hands up in a classic boxing stance. Even from here, Bucky could see the way he was struggling to keep his feet after the beating he’d already received. 

 

“I could do this all day,” he panted and Bucky felt a bolt of icy realization shoot through his veins.

 

He knew that voice.  He knew that cocky, infuriating face even under a layer of dirt and blood left by his attackers.

 

It was Steve Fucking Rogers.

 

Fury overtook surprise as Bucky watched the two goons behind Steve grab the man’s arms and pin them so he had no chance to block the brutal uppercut that knocked the breath out of him.  He wheezed, spitting out a wad of blood onto the ground and shook his head slowly like he was dizzy. Bucky caught the glint of a knife in the leader’s hand as he slowly approached the struggling chef.

 

Then he was moving.

 

Bucky wasn’t sure when he’d picked up the sturdy branch from the pile of leaf litter near the dumpsters, but he didn’t hesitate to swing it in a violent arc that sent Steve’s attacker stumbling to his knees on the asphalt.  One of the other thugs made a sound of alarm that was cut off when Bucky’s booted foot slammed into his chest with enough force that he went flying. Each movement was fluid, unhampered by his missing arm for the first time since he’d lost it in the roadside bomb.  

 

“Duck,” he grunted at Steve and was pleasantly surprised when the other man dropped immediately so the next swing of Bucky’s branch connected with the jaw of the last of the thugs.

 

Satisfied, Bucky gave the branch a pat before tossing it in the direction of the pile of sticks waiting to be hauled off.  It didn’t look like these idiots would be moving anytime soon. The odds were at least even now judging by the way the one closest to his foot was moaning weakly and clutching his swollen jaw.

 

The leader of the group attempted to get to his feet, but Steve was there before he could complete the movement.  There was a crunch of bone and a dark spray of blood against the greying night sky, leaving Steve standing rigidly over the still body of his assailant.  His shirt was torn and bloodied from the attack and Bucky could see the rapid rise and fall of his chest through the thin fabric. He seemed lost in the haze of adrenaline and pain that always followed a rough fight.

 

Bucky glanced around the shadowed area for any other attackers before addressing Steve to give him the time he needed to get his head straight.  The other chef’s shoulders were tense with pain and fury, so Bucky kept his tone as casual as possible, “Hell of a right hook.”

 

Steve didn’t look at him, just pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to staunch some of the bleeding.  Judging from the crooked slant of it, Bucky would guess this wasn’t his first broken nose. Neither of them spoke until he’d reset it with a soft grunt of pain.

 

“I had them on the ropes.”

 

“Yeah, I could tell,” Bucky said easily, “Friends of yours?”

 

“Just your garden variety bastards looking for an easy buck.”

 

Bucky gave the man closest to him a kick that had him wheezing pitifully and curling around his aching gut.  Steve’s eyes were black with muted rage and Bucky eyed the way he cradled his side and sucked in too-shallow breaths.  His fists continued to clench and unclench at his sides like he was contemplating lashing out again.

 

“Come on then,” Bucky said, “Let’s get out of here.”

 

Steve glared back at the men lying on the ground around them before giving a stiff nod.

 

The uncomfortable silence between them grew as Bucky led Steve back toward the relative safety of his food truck before he awkwardly asked, “Where’s your rig?”

 

“Sam drove it back--I was going to ride back on the bike.”

 

The reminder of what Steve looked like with his muscular thighs wrapped around vintage Harley made his mouth go a little dry.  

 

Bucky nodded quickly, clearing his throat, and gestured for the other man to step into his truck instead.  “I have a first aid kit in the back here. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

 

Steve didn’t respond, but Bucky could hear him following along behind him like a giant blond shadow.  Bucky thought about offering to help him walk, but the stiff set of Steve’s jaw spoke of enough stubbornness that he didn’t bother.  He fished out the carefully maintained red bag out from one of the storage lockers overhead and flicked on the lights for the cab. Steve settled onto the stool Bucky used on slow days with a soft groan of relief.  In the harsh light of the fluorescents overhead, his injuries looked horrific and Bucky tried to keep from wincing as he surveyed the damage.

 

“That bad, huh?” Steve joking, hissing a little when his smirk pulled at his split lip.

 

“I don’t think you’ll be flirting with any customers for a while.”

 

Gently, Bucky tilted his chin up so he could run an alcohol wipe over the myriad of cuts and bruises marking his face.  It must have burned like a bitch, but Steve didn’t say a word while Bucky worked his way through the worst of his injuries.  This close, Bucky tried not to stare at the ridiculously long sweep of lashes that framed eerily bright blue eyes. Thankfully it didn’t look like his nose was broken--just bruised.

 

The eyes, however, worried him.  Despite the light in the cab, they were still dilated and dark enough to hint at a concussion.  Bucky ran careful fingers over the bruise marring his hairline and frowned when Steve only blinked sluggishly up at him.  Definitely a concussion.

 

When he said as much, Steve only grunted and shrugged, still clearly frustrated with the entire affair.

 

Bucky decided to give him his space and took his time cleaning away the bloodied trash and used tubes of antibiotic ointment.  He washed his hands at the sink and grabbed a bag of ice from his cooler to press against the truly magnificent shiner that was blooming around Steve’s right eye. 

 

Steve toyed with the edge of the bag with a frown that only deepened when Bucky handed him a cold bottle of water.  “Why are you being so nice to me?”

 

Bucky frowned at him, “You must really think I’m a son of a bitch if you think I’d just stand by while they beat the shit out of you.”

 

“But you hate me.”

 

Bucky raked his hand through his hair, upsetting the rubber band he’d used to pull his hair into a messy bun earlier.  “Jesus, Rogers. You’re a real piece of work, you know that?”

 

Steve just watched him, blinking owlishly, and Bucky let out a frustrated huff.  This wasn’t the time to hash out all the problems between them.

 

“You got someone who could stay with you tonight?  You shouldn’t be sleeping without regular check ins if you’ve got a concussion.

 

The bruised man shrugged mulishly.  “I’ll be fine.”

 

“What about Sam?  He seems like the type to play nurse.”

 

“He’s out of town.  He was just dropping off the truck as a favor before he headed out to see his family.”

 

Bucky frowned and toyed with the dented edge of his prep table.  “Girlfriend then?”

 

“Don’t have one,” Steve mumbled, shifting to lean against the cool metal side of the truck.  “I’ll be fine on my own.”

 

ART

 

He made a move like he was going to stand, but stumbled back onto the stool heavily, hands flying to press against the unbruised side of his head.  Bucky moved forward to brace him instinctively and focused on avoiding the urge to brush his thumb over the exposed skin on Steve’s neck in a subtle caress.  He frowned at the other man and considered his choices.

 

With Sam gone, there wasn’t anyone he figured Steve would let watch out for him. There was no way he could let Steve drive back to his apartment on his motorcycle in good conscience--the man could barely stand.   Natasha and Clint were out too. No way would the redhead pass up a chance to watch the chaos of Bucky trying to care for his arch nemesis.  

 

That left Bucky’s empty apartment.

 

Sighing, Bucky threw Steve’s arm over his shoulder and helped heave the bigger man off the stool.  It was definitely doing absolutely nothing to him to feel the press of firm muscle pressed against his side.  Nothing at all. And he was professional enough that he didn’t press his nose into the rough stubble that he could see growing in to the strong column of Steve’s neck. 

 

Nope, Bucky hated Steve far too much to even think about what his tanned skin would look like after he sucked a mark into the inviting hollow where his neck met his shoulder.

 

Damnit.

 

“Come on, Rogers,” he grunted under the weight of the other man--several inches taller than him and pure delicious muscle, damnit --and began to lead him towards the cab.  “Looks like you’re coming home with me.”

 

Steve chuckled to cover up the groan Bucky could feel rumbling through his chest when the movement agitated his stiffening injuries.  “Not exactly how I pictured you inviting me home with you.”

 

A hot flush curled up Bucky’s neck and he spoke without thinking.  “You picture coming home with me often, Rogers?”

 

The other man tilted his head slightly until Bucky was squirming under the weight of his consideration.  Those dark blue eyes flicked over Bucky’s face like he was memorizing it before he settled on Bucky’s mouth.  Luckily, Bucky was saved from the growing tension of his question by the task of getting Steve settled into the rickety passenger’s seat and buckled in.  The old coffee cups clattered to the ground in a messy sweep that made him wince a little--he’d been meaning to clean this out--but Steve didn’t comment. He closed the door carefully and took his time walking around the front of the truck, sucking in deep breaths of the cool night air, and firmly telling himself to get it together.  

 

If he was going to survive the night, he needed to get his shit together.

 

It became his mantra as he hopped into the cab of his truck that somehow already smelled of woodsmoke and spices and something uniquely Steve.  The ride to his apartment was quiet and Bucky couldn’t help but think the air remained charged with some kind of tension. Whether it was the usual rivalry that colored every moment he spent in Steve’s presence or something else was his anxiety’s current topic of choice.  His fingers tapped a silent rhythm on the steering wheel as his thoughts darted back and forth between the memory of Steve’s eyes dipping to his lips and all of the countless examples of disdain or disinterest from all their previous meetings.

 

By the time they’d pulled up to the parking lot where Bucky stored his rig, he was convinced that the moment in the back of his rig was nothing more than a fantasy or a side effect of the head injury that was currently making Steve lean heavily against the cool window.

 

Come on, Barnes, he told himself.  You’ve survived worse than taking care of the guy who drives you crazy for a night.

 

The thought was enough to bolster him through the process of unloading Steve and helping support his weight down the short walk to his apartment building and up two flights of stairs.

 

For once he was grateful for the side effects of his time overseas.  He knew without checking that his small, one bedroom apartment was spotless.  The sheets had been changed that morning and the dishes from breakfast would be dried on the dishrack.  Everything was meticulously ordered and arranged from his old sci-fi novels on the bookshelf to the black and white prints hung on the walls.  It would never be one of the fancy highrises featured in magazines, but it was comfortable and clean and all Bucky’s.

 

Steve looked around the space curiously while Bucky went into the kitchen to put away the leftover foods that wouldn’t keep in the rig’s cooler.  He rifled through his cabinets until he found a bottle of aspirin and poured a glass of water in time to see Steve pause thoughtfully beside his bookshelf to look at the titles there.  Having someone new in his house was a strange. It had been so long since he’d invited someone over that he felt awkward and gangly in his own space.

 

“You wanna shower?” he asked from the kitchen and Steve jerked like he’d forgotten Bucky was there.

 

“Uh, sure.  If you don’t mind,” Steve replied politely.

 

If having Steve in his home was weird, then having Steve Rogers be polite to him was downright bizarre. Up until now, every interaction he’d had with the other chef had been peppered in with curses and a rabid obsession with winning against the other.  He couldn’t decide if that was better or worse than the awkward silences.

 

Bucky jerked his thumb in the direction of the bathroom and headed toward his room.  “I think I’ve got some clothes that might fit you since yours are all bloodied,” he said and began digging through the closet for some of the shirts he’d worn in a brief body building phase.  “Might be a little small though.”

 

“Never stopped me before.”

 

Bucky snickered and Steve looked pleasantly surprised at the sound.  He handed over the clothes and gestured toward the shower again. “I’ll, uh, leave you to it then.”

 

Steve gave him a sloppy salute and ducked into the tiny bathroom leaving Bucky alone to berate himself for his own weirdness.  It wasn’t like he’d never had a man at his house before after all. Hell, at one time, he’d had a whole line of them wandering in and out of his apartment whenever he was interested in a companion for the night.  All that had changed after he came back from the war that hadn’t been a problem.

 

Which left him alone and out of practice with the man he considered the closest thing to a mortal enemy in his shower.

 

Naked.

 

Bucky growled out a curse and stomped away from the bathroom before he ended up hovering outside like a creep. He needed to find something to distract his hind brain from the images of Steve Rogers in the shower.  So he returned to his usual outlet--cooking.

 

After grabbing a pair of soft pajama pants and a shirt that he’d had since high school that was thin and comfortable (and maybe even a little tighter than usual, Steve wasn’t the only one with decent muscles), he padded into his kitchen and surveyed the options critically.  Most of his ingredients were intended for his food truck or whatever recipe he was attempting to fine tune that week. He remembered the way Steve had sneered about desserts the first time they’d met which didn’t leave him and his sweet tooth many options.

 

Finally, he grabbed a few eggs and his dry ingredients and set about making some crepes.  It was mindlessly easy to scramble a few eggs while the crepes began to cook. After a minute of consideration, he pulled out some apples from his vegetable bin in the freezer and julienned them into small cubes to add to the caramelizing sauce in another pan.  Cooking with only one hand was a challenge he’d gotten used to addressing and the months of working through rushes on the Winter Soldier meant that by the time Steve came out of the shower in a cloud of steam, Bucky was already plating up their dinner.

 

He glanced over at Steve and felt his mouth go dry at the sight of the other man wearing his clothing.  The shirt was a little small on his larger frame which meant Bucky was treated to the sight of a strip of golden skin along the hem.  

 

Steve caught his eye and fidgeted.  “It’s a little tight.”

 

“Yeah, like you aren’t used to that sensation,” Bucky snorted.

 

The familiar spark of challenge gleamed in Steve’s eyes, but he must have fulfilled his quota of arguing that day because he only prowled closer to the kitchen to examine the meal Bucky was plating up.  “You cooked?”

 

“That is what I do.”

 

Steve grunted and looked over the pile of crepes with a curious expression.  “I’ve never had crepes before,” he offered after an awkward beat.

 

“Yeah, I didn’t figure you had,” Bucky replied, a hint of bitterness in his tone.  He was man enough to know that he was still a little annoyed about what he’d overheard the night he’d met Steve and Sam.  Desserts were his happy place. The idea that someone could go through life without enjoying them was a travesty. “Unfortunately for you,” he continued, “that’s all I could make on short notice.”

 

“You didn’t have to make me anything, Buck,” Steve said quietly and Bucky blinked at the unexpected softness in his tone.  “But I appreciate it.”

 

There’s a strange pause between them.  Something shifting in the balance between antagonist and something...else.  

 

He didn’t know how to deal with this version of Steve Rogers.  He was used to the brash, cocky man who was just as likely to drive him up a wall as make him want to throw him against another and taste the challenge from his lips.  Not this quiet man staring down at Bucky’s food like it was some mystery to him. Those broad shoulders were slumped in a way that made Bucky want to pull him close and ease away the sting left behind by the fight that night.

 

Instead he grunted and chose the chair next to Steve’s in favor of the ones farther away and bumped Steve’s arm with his shoulder.  If being so close to the stump of Bucky’s ruined arm bothered him, he didn’t show it. The thought washed away some of the tension of having Steve in his home. 

 

“Well then, prepare to have your mind blown.”

 

Steve snickered a little and used the edge of his fork to cut a piece of the crepe and scoop up some of the caramelized apple compote Bucky had drizzled over the top.  His eyes flicked to Bucky’s once before he closed his lips over his fork.

 

Bucky focused on not thinking about the long line of Steve’s leg pressed against his or the way the other man hooked his ankle behind his and let it settle there.  It brought an unexpected wave of heat crawling up his neck at this strangely domestic moment. It felt like a glimpse into a life Bucky had already accepted he wouldn’t get to experience for himself.

 

But damned if he didn’t want it.

 

******

 

Alright, so maybe he had a crush. 

 

A tiny, insignificant crush. 

 

******

 

Steve bit into the flaky pastry with a moan that made Bucky’s brain stutter to a halt then restart. 

 

That was...a sound he would revisit later. Alone.  Definitely alone.

 

Bucky’s breath shivered in his chest and he cleared his throat past the lump that had formed  there in the shape of all of his self control. In his hand, his fork remained frozen in midair while his mind seemed only capable of producing a hngh sound.

 

*******

 

A barely even noticeable crush. 

 

Not even worth mentioning.

 

Nope, Bucky had this totally under control.

 

*******

 

“These are amazing.” Bucky snapped out of his entirely appropriate thoughts about how good his shirt looked on Steve when Steve broke the silence, “So, uh…how long have you been cooking?”

 

The attempt at polite small talk was somewhat diminished by the caramel sauce clinging tenaciously to the corner of Steve’s mouth.  Somehow it made Bucky feel a little bit less like a dumpster fire internally.

 

He could do this.  He could pretend like he wasn’t imagining stripping Steve’s clothes off to chase down the blush that he sometimes saw when someone flirted a little too tenaciously with him.  It was only one night. He could be normal for a night.

 

“Oh, I started while I was overseas,” Bucky said after a beat.  He shrugged with a hint of self deprecation, “It was better than...well it was a good distraction.”

 

Steve nodded, eyes soft.  “How long did you serve?”

 

Bucky shifted a little uncomfortably and took a bite of food to give himself a moment to orient his thoughts on this unexpected conversation.  It wasn’t like he wasn’t able to talk about what had happened when he served--hell, sometimes he even considered himself lucky that his unit had all made it home alive and well aside from a missing arm--and he’d had enough therapy at this point that retelling his experience was a familiar ache.  He glanced at the loose fabric hanging off his left shoulder out of the corner of his eye and tried not to think about the disastrous first impression Steve had given him.

 

“Two and a half tours.  Spent some time in Afghanistan and Fallujah,” he replied before the silence became too awkward and worked on pitching his voice towards something casual.  “What about you? Did you serve?” 

 

A hint of a blush darkened Steve’s cheeks and Bucky watched his expression do a complicated dance.

 

“Ah, no.  No, I couldn’t be cleared for duty.  I always wanted to serve though--my dad was a captain in the army.”

 

Bucky frowned and swept his eyes over the muscular monstrosity currently eyeing the stack of extra crepes with predatory intent.  He nudged the plate closer to Steve and was rewarded with a bright smile.  


“How did the army ever pass you up?” he asked while Steve was busy drizzling more sauce over his crepes.  “You’re, well...you.” Bucky gestured a little helplessly at Steve’s frankly ridiculous hip to shoulder ratio and the way his shirt was barely managing to hold against his pecs.

 

“I didn’t always look this way,” Steve explained around a mouthful of food.  He shrugged with a hint of self-deprecation. “I was a skinny little punk for most of my life--only hit a growth spurt in college.  None of the recruiters ever gave me a second glance. Even after my growth spurt, they wouldn’t take me with all my medical history.”

 

Something about the hint of sorrow in Steve’s expression made Bucky doubt the light hearted description of being rejected from the military.  So he nudged Steve shoulder again and shook his head, “The punk thing I can believe, but there’s no way you were ever tiny.”

 

Steve narrowed his eyes at Bucky, but some of the sadness clinging eased away.  “I can prove it,” he declared and grabbed at the pile of dirty clothes he’d set on the couch until he produced his phone.  After a few seconds of scrolling, he made a triumphant sound and passed the screen over for Bucky to inspect.  

 

There, grinning through a split lip and the beginnings of a black eye, was a tiny, beautiful version of the man sitting across from him.  Lean muscles were barely visible beneath a baggy shirt that had the look of a hand-me-down, but he stood tall and fierce despite his injuries like some kind of twink warrior missing his sword and shield.  Beside him was a miniature version of Sam--looking far more put together after what must have been a hell of a brawl--and a willowy, blonde woman who was looking down at Steve with a fondly exasperated expression.  The love in her eyes made something ache in his chest.

 

“That your ma?” Bucky asked gently.

 

An old kind of sadness mixed with obvious affection made Steve’s expression go soft around the edges.  “Yeah, that’s her,” he said, “That’s the last picture I have of her before she went into chemo.” His chuckled softly as he ran his thumb over the image.  “It figures that I was still sporting the black eye I got fighting Tommy McKinnon that morning.”

 

Judging from the look on Steve’s face, that was the last good memory with his mom for a long time.

 

Trying to lighten the mood, Bucky snickered at the unexpected name from his childhood.  “You fought Tommy McKinnon?”

 

“Of course I did,” Steve grumped, “He called one of the girls on my block a bitch for not giving him her number.  Why? You friends with ‘em?”

 

“Not on your life, pal,” Bucky protested and used his hand to roughly pull up his t-shirt to reveal a pale inch long scar across his ribs. “He busted open a soda bottle throwing it at me when we were eight.  I never decided if the pain from that was as bad as the ass whippin’ my ma promised me as soon as I healed up.” He grinned ruefully and shrugged. “Good thing she never held a grudge.”

 

“I, uh--” The blush was back in full force as Steve’s eyes dropped to his empty plate and scrubbed his hand through his damp hair, “--I actually had heard about you back when we were kids.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Bucky rolled his eyes and stuffed another bite of food into his mouth, “What kind of rumors went around Red Hook about Bucky Barnes?”

 

“Well, I knew you were a hit with the ladies even back then,” Steve recounted, eyes bright with mischief, “and that you had a mean right hook.  Which I can now confirm after tonight.”

 

Bucky snorted with dark humor. “Too bad I haven’t been interested in women since I realized men were an option.”

 

Of course, he hadn’t really been looking at anyone since a certain blonde hunk of a chef decided to drive him insane.  

 

“Really?  I thought you and Natasha were…?”

 

He shook his head, a chuckle bubbling up to combat the grim reality of how much he’d changed after he came back from overseas.  “Not even a little bit. Honestly, she might be the most terrifying person I know. I don’t know how Clint managed to woo her. Her boyfriend is a walking disaster.”

 

Steve looked a little dazed and Bucky peered a little closer at him.  “You alright, pal? Your head hurting?”

 

The other man blinked at him and Bucky suddenly realized how close they were to one another.  Close enough that he could practically taste the apples on the other man’s breath and watch the way sky blue eyes slowly gave way to black pupils.

 

Steve’s smile was painfully pretty, transforming handsome features into something radiant.  “Yeah, Buck. Just realized somethin’.”

 

Bucky arched an eyebrow, but leaned back into his seat when Steve didn’t expand.  He gestured to the pile of food, “Eat up then, punk. I’m sure you need the calories.”

 

By the time Steve had polished off a respectable pile of crepes, Bucky could see his eyes were beginning to droop.  Whatever high he’d gotten during the fight was long gone and Bucky knew from experience that he was probably beginning to really feel the aches and pains left behind.  

 

“Come on,” Bucky said as he picked up their plates to rinse in the sink.  “I’ll show you where the bed’s at.”

 

“Trying to take advantage of me now?” Steve murmured, his voice slurring with exhaustion.

 

“You wish.  Now get moving, Rogers.”

 

Steve leaned heavily against Bucky’s side as they moved down the hallway, making him glad that he had regained the muscle mass he’d lost after his injury.  A darker, needier part of him was whispering about how easy it would be to let his hand drift over the tight coils of muscles in Steve’s arms and see if his biceps were really as impressive as they seemed from afar.

 

(Spoiler: they totally were.)

 

However, once they reached Bucky’s small but comfortable bedroom, Steve slowed to a stop.  He frowned at the bed and then at Bucky. “Is this the only bed?”

 

A hint of embarrassed anger crawled up Bucky’s spine and he set his jaw.  “You got a problem with it?”

 

“No, it’s--” Steve looked a little flushed and Bucky began to worry that maybe that head injury was a little more serious than he’d thought.  “Where are you going to sleep?”

 

Bucky gestured with his thumb towards the worn leather couch in his living room.  “I’ll probably just crash on the couch. Don’t worry, the sheets are clean. I just changed them out this morning.”

 

Steve clenched his jaw in an expression Bucky was beginning to recognize as his ‘I’m about to start a fight’ look.  

 

“Bucky, I’m not making you sleep on the couch.”

 

“You’re hurt.  I’m not. That means you get the bed.  I don’t sleep that much anyway.”

 

“Bucky…”

 

“Steve,” Bucky mimicked and the two of them glared at each other for a beat.  

 

Finally, Steve turned and started to move back in the living room.  “I can sleep on the couch or sleep on the floor, but I’m not kicking you out of your bed.”

 

Bucky caught him by the sleeve, growling under his breath about stubborn men.  “Fine,” he finally gritted out and decided to change tactics. Steve had a moment to look triumphant before Bucky continued, “We can both take the bed.”  Steve blinked, looking gobsmacked and Bucky pressed his advantage. “Unless you’re uncomfortable…?”

 

Steve must have guessed why Bucky suddenly changed his tune because he narrowed his eyes at Bucky, looking like he was accepting a challenge.  

 

There were a few times in Bucky’s life where he felt such a moment of instant regret.  Inspecting what he thought was an injured dog on the side of the road was one. Getting blown up while the rest of his unit still needed him was another.  That time he decided to bleach his hair blonde...

 

Now he could add practically daring Steve Rogers to sleep next to him.

 

Several minutes later found him staring at the ceiling like it held the secrets of the universe with an equally stiff man laying next to him.  Unfortunately for their attempts to act like there wasn’t another person in bed next to them, Bucky’s bed was only a queen and, try as she might, there was no way she could easily fit two men of their size. The mattress was old enough to sag slightly in the middle, leaving them to slowly slide into the middle the longer they lay there. Which was how he ended up in this new level of purgatory that was feeling the entire length of Steve’s body pressed against his side. 

 

He ran his hand over his face and tried to resist sighing. Beside him, Steve’s breathing was even enough that he wasn’t sure if he was asleep or not. Bucky was already resigning himself to a long night of not sleeping when Steve rolled on his side to face him. 

 

“Hey, Buck?” He whispered. 

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Thanks for tonight.”

 

Bucky smiled into the dark. “Don’t make a habit of it, Rogers.”

 

And somehow he fell asleep with the sound of Steve’s breath in his ear and the warm weight of him pressed close. 

 

******

 

The first time Bucky woke up to check on Steve’s concussion he found himself with an armful of sleeping blonde.  Which was entirely too much temptation for Sleepy Bucky to handle.

 

Steve’s face was relaxed in sleep and somehow had ended pressed into the muscle of Bucky’s chest. One muscular arm was thrown across Bucky’s stomach and he was snuffling slightly in his sleep thanks to the swelling in his nose.  For a long moment, it’s all he can do not to gather him close and savor the unexpected warmth of waking up with someone else in his bed.

 

Seeing Steve like this, all soft and rumpled with sleep, was seriously damaging Bucky’s ability to keep him safely inside the “Hot, But Do Not Touch” category of his mind. 

 

Sighing slightly, Bucky forced himself to slither out from under Steve’s warm body to crouch beside the bed before he gently shook the other man awake.

 

“Steve?”

 

Bright blue eyes blinked open slowly, sluggishly scanning the room before settling on Bucky.  A slow, happy smile creased his eyes and Bucky felt his chest go tight at the sight.

 

“Hey, Buck,” Steve rasped, his voice deep with sleep and Bucky had to breath deeply to avoid whimpering a little at the sound.

 

“Hey, need to check and make sure that concussion isn’t messing up your big head,” Bucky said softly, forcing himself to focus on the process of checking injuries.  “Can you remember what happened?”

 

Steve closed his eyes, huffing out a breath and rubbing his face against Bucky’s pillow.  “ ‘m fine, Buck. Stop worryin,’ “ he mumbled, his accent returning with sleep.

 

Bucky’s fingers twitched against his thigh with the need to stroke through the tufts of soft blonde hair.  “Yeah, well, you didn’t see yourself nearly get stabbed tonight.”

 

“I’ve had worse,” Steve grumbled.  Before Bucky could move away, a quick hand shot out and caught him by the collar of his shirt.  “Come back to bed.”

 

Bucky gaped at him, trying to think past the sudden urge to climb back into the warm cocoon he’d left behind and press his whole body as close to Steve’s as he could.  He pressed his forehead to the cool sheet and tried to think past the way his body was trying to rip itself apart between the decision to stick to his morals or find some relief for the raging hard on he now had.  

 

Letting out a controlled breath, he grumbled, “What am I going to do with you?”

 

Steve’s only response was a soft snore.

 

******

 

The next morning, Bucky woke up slowly, stretching with a groan.  His arm reached across the bed, searching for someone before his mind was fully awake.  He frowned up at the ceiling when he encountered only cool sheets.

 

Where was Steve?

 

He sat up quickly, looking around the empty room like he could have overlooked a giant blonde man behind his dresser.  The silence in his apartment was enough that he knew the answer to that even before he noticed the small piece of notebook paper laying on the pillow next to him.  Chest tight with the knowledge that whatever had happened the night before had changed everything, Bucky reached out with trembling fingers to read the messy scrawl.

 

Sorry to leave without saying goodbye.  I wanted to Sam came back early with the truck and picked me up--figured you could use the sleep so I didn’t wake you up.  You looked so

 

Thanks again for everything.

 

There was no signature to add to the brief note, but it wasn’t like Bucky could confuse the message for anything else.  It was a return to reality. A reminder that whatever cease fire had happened last night was finished. Flopping back against the pillows, Bucky threw his arm over his face and took a calming breath.

 

He was an idiot.

 

What did he think was going to happen?  That Steve was going to stay for breakfast like they were anything other than rivals?  If anything, Steve’s sudden departure was a way to avoid the awkward morning after conversation that had been brewing.  So it was good news, really, that Steve gone. Perfect news. Excellent, even.

 

The knock at the door erased any chance Bucky had at pretending he hadn’t been hoping for something else.  Heart in his throat, Bucky leapt to his feet and stumbled over to the door. He paused to rake his fingers through his hair before throwing it open and doing his best to appear like he wasn’t out of breath.

 

Natasha flicked her eyes over him and arched a single eyebrow in Natasha-speak for what the fuck is wrong with you ?  Clint, standing behind her, had no such restraint.

 

“What’s up with you?  You look like you were expecting someone else.”

 

Before Bucky could respond with an adequate excuse, Natasha pushed past him into the living room and scanned the area quickly.  Sighing through the nerves, Bucky stepped aside for Clint and gestured sarcastically to the rest of his apartment. “No, please, come in.  Make yourself at home,” he said dryly.

 

“Thanks, man,” Clint replied before he flopped face down on the couch.

 

Without missing a beat, Natasha turned to narrow her eyes at Bucky, a slow smile growing on her face.  “You had someone over last night.”

 

“I didn--”  Bucky’s protest died off when he followed her stare to the two sets of dishes drying by the sink.  Changing tactics quickly, he scowled at her, “It’s none of your business, Nat.”

 

“So it’s someone we know or else you wouldn’t care what I thought,” she said, walking slowly through the room like some great jungle cat.  Bucky’s eyes flashed around the room in barely concealed panic to try to think about anything that might lead her to recognizing just who was here last night.  She whirled on him abruptly, eyes sharp. “Was it Sam? I always thought he was straight, but maybe I was wrong.”

 

Bucky snorted.  “No, I’m not sleeping with Sam.”

 

Her eyes gleamed like that was the answer she was hoping for.  “Steve, then?”

 

Halfway into taking a gulp of cold coffee from the night before, Bucky barely managed to avoid doing a spit take.  Clint turned to watch him from the couch as he coughed to clear his airways. “ No !  Of course not!”

 

“So why is his shirt here?”

 

Everyone in the room stared at the bloodied shirt while Bucky scrambled for some kind of reasonable explanation.  Two sets of eyes turned on him while he flushed bright red. “I, uh...it’s not what you think?” 

 

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” Clint drawled, sitting up on the couch to watch their exchange curiously, “because I was imagining a lot of hot, sweaty--”

 

Clint .”

 

Natasha ignored Bucky’s hissed warning and stepped closer. “What did happen then, James?”

 

Bucky winced at the sound of his first name.  She must be truly annoyed at his secret keeping if she was calling him James.  “I pulled him out of a fight last night and let him stay over until he was feeling better.  Nothing happened.”

 

“He couldn’t stay with Sam?”

“Sam was gone.”

 

“And you couldn’t just give him a ride home?” 

 

Bucky blushed and fidgeted, suddenly beginning to question the decision that had seemed so reasonable last night.  “He had a concussion…”

 

“And you having a crush on him meant nothing?”

 

He scowled.  “I don’t have a crush.”

 

Natasha’s eyes narrowed.

 

“I don’t!” Bucky protested weakly and flopped down on the couch close enough to Clint that the other man squawked and shifted away.  “I was just doing my good deed for the year.”

 

“And how did that go?” she asked after a beat.

 

His silence was answer enough.

 

She sighed and crossed the room to settle onto the couch next to him.  Leaning her head against his shoulder, she waited until he’d taken another deep breath and let his weight settle back against the couch.  “You want to talk about it?”

 

Bucky thought of all the hope and strange anticipation that had filled him when he’d first woken up and the sick feeling it had left in its place after he realized he was alone.  He thought about the scribbled note with its crossed out words that only hinted at what Bucky was becoming desperate to know for certain.

 

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

 

He wondered how long it would take before the lie didn’t taste like ashes in his mouth.

 

******

 

The next day, Bucky opened up the door of the Winter Soldier rig to find Steve Rogers propped casually up against a nearby wall with a fresh cup of coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other.  Before Bucky could do more than blink at him in sleepy surprise, Steve pressed the warm offerings into his hand and gave him a smile that seemed to be designed to make him lose all rational thought and sauntered back to his own rig, whistling.

 

Bucky looked down at the unexpected gifts and tried to process this strange change of events.

 

Huh.

 

******

 

The day after that Steve was waiting once again, this time with another one of those painfully bright smiles and a breakfast sandwich.  

 

A little more prepared this time, Bucky arched an eyebrow at the other man.  “This poisoned?”

 

Steve laughed and Bucky’s lungs felt like they went sideways for a moment.  “Why would I want to poison you, Buck?” he grinned, “I’m starting to think you don’t trust me.”

 

Bucky took a big bite of the sandwich to avoid answering the unasked question lingering in Steve’s eyes.  A question he was no longer sure what his answer was.

 

Steve smiled like he knew exactly what Bucky was thinking and leaned beside Bucky against the cool metal frame of his rig.  The early morning sunlight was unfairly biased toward Steve’s golden hair and tanned skin. It seemed to luxuriate in creating shadows that highlighted the strength in each line of muscle and the curve of his lips.  Bucky found himself leaning a little closer to try to soak up some of the heat he could still remember from the night they’d spent together. A night that was featuring heavily in far too many of Bucky’s fantasies.  

 

Oddly, the silence that fell between them was comfortable.  Instead of rivals, it felt like spending a few extra minutes with a friend before a long day.  He stared down at the sandwich in his hands and tried very hard not to think about why he was beginning to look forward to these morning meetings with Steve.

 

“Hey, white boy!” Sam called from across the street, “We got shit to do.  Go flirt on your own time!”

 

It was a toss up over who blushed harder--Steve or Bucky--at the comment.

 

The blonde jumped to his feet and turned back to Bucky with a roll of his eyes and a sheepish expression.  “I guess I’d better…”

 

“Uh, yeah.  I better get going too,” Bucky said just as quickly.

 

Steve started to turn away, but paused to suddenly brush the pad of his thumb across the corner of Bucky’s mouth.  He stared at Bucky like he was at war with himself for a long moment before easing away, “Sorry, you just had a crumb.”  Then he winked, “Enjoy your breakfast.”

 

Before Bucky’s brain could come back online, he was jogging across the street to bicker good naturedly with Sam, leaving Bucky standing alone with the world’s most confusing hard on.

 

Huh .

 

******

 

“All desserts are is sugar--there’s nothing complicated to it.”

 

In the two weeks or so since Steve’s impromptu sleepover at Bucky’s apartment, (not that he was keeping track, no matter what Natasha thought)  the man had become a constant sight around the Winter Soldier truck. The breakfasts continued to appear each day along with him, something different every morning though the soft smile that accompanied them was always the same.  He would show up in the morning to laugh with Natasha about god knows what, smile at Bucky’s regulars until they were blushing and flustered, and just being all around too charming for a normal human. He was a menace. 

 

He also seemed to have a particular fondness for pushing Bucky’s buttons. 

 

Today’s argument was started when Bucky began carefully loading his small display case with a series of dark chocolate cupcakes and several brightly colored cake pops designed to look like a bouquet of flowers. He’d been up most of the night decorating them and he knew for a fact that they were delicious. 

 

Bucky downright growled.  “You take that back.”

 

Something wicked flashed in Steve’s eyes and he leaned close enough that Bucky could practically feel the challenge rippling through the air between them.  “And if I don’t?”

 

Licking his lips, Bucky took a step back--a tactical retreat, his mind supplied while his body muttered he was just a coward--and scowled at the other man.  “At least I don’t have to seduce people into buying my foods,” he deflected.

 

Steve blinked, some of his mischievousness being replaced by confusion.  “What?”

 

“Don’t be coy, Rogers,” Bucky said, gesturing to Steve’s...well, Steve-ness.  “You know all those girls go to your stand hoping to get a slab of All-American Beefcake along with their lameass burgers.”

 

Steve mouthed the words ‘All American Beefcake’ with an incredulous expression and Bucky felt the blush crawling up his neck to settle on his cheeks.  Still, he refused to back down--there was no way Steve was ignorant of the effect he had on people.

 

After a beat, Steve settled back with a contemplative expression that slowly gave way to a smirk.  “Alright then, Barnes. Why don’t we test your theory?”

 

“My--my theory?”

 

“If your desserts are really as good as you say, you should have no problem selling out faster than I can sell the last of my...lameass burgers.”  The last part of the sentence was said with enough narrow eyed challenge that Bucky found himself bristling.

 

“And when I win?”

 

Steve laughed, and Lord if the sound didn’t sent a curl of heat through Bucky’s gut.  “What would you like?”

 

Bucky blinked. Then blinked again, momentarily stunned into silence by the wicked smirk on Steve’s face and the way he shifted just so to make his shirt stretch tight across his ridiculous chest. Jesus…

 

“Tell you what,” Steve said as though Bucky had managed to make a sound that wasn’t akin to a baby otter being stepped on, “let’s just agree that the loser will owe the winner a dinner of their choice. Sound fair?”

 

He flexed again—damn him—and Bucky managed a nod. Dinner was...dinner was fine. He could force Rogers to make him something ridiculously sweet just to get him back for all the shit talking about his food. 

 

Feeling more confident now, Bucky gave Steve a smirk that would have left his unit scrambling for cover. 

 

“May the best man win.”

 

“Oh, I intend to.”

 

******

 

At first, it seemed like their competition wouldn’t change the daily routine of food prep and sales in the Winter Soldier. Bucky had had a steady stream of customers all morning thanks to the scent of fresh coffee paired with sharp cinnamon and cream for their daily special. He made a mental note to give Natasha a bit of a bonus for the idea of adding specialty coffees to their menu when he noticed that Steve’s truck was noticeably less busy than theirs despite the approaching lunch hour.  Between their desserts and Natasha’s knack for keeping their Twitter page popular, the Winter Soldier had never been so prosperous.

 

Bucky grinned and nudged Natasha with his arm. “Looks like Rogers’ charm has finally run out.”

 

As though he heard the comment, Steve’s head snapped up, meeting Bucky’s eyes instantly and gave a wicked grin that sent a bolt of heat through Bucky’s gut.  Slowly, he dropped his fingers to the hem of his shirt and tugged it over his head in a graceful maneuver that had no business being made outside of a bedroom.  Or a porno.

 

Bucky tasted grill smoke and realized his mouth was hanging open at the sight of all that golden skin and rippling muscle on display.  He made a small, helpless sound that was similar to the air being released from a helium balloon at the sight of all that glorious skin on display. 

 

God Bless America, that body was a damned weapon.

 

Already he could see his customers edging closer to all that golden muscle. The woman he’d been handing her coffee to dropped the cup to the ground and didn’t seem to notice the way it splattered on her shoes. Not when Steve Rogers was slowly reaching his arms over his head in a sinful stretch that matched the lazy smile on his face. 

 

One blonde eyebrow arched in silent mockery of Bucky’s (admittedly) shocked expression and he snapped his mouth closed with a click of teeth.  Little shit thought he’d won this round, but two could play at that game. He scrambled for some way to combat the frankly blatant abuse of his sexuality across the street.

 

“Natasha,” he said quickly, “take off your shirt.”

 

The redhead gave him a look that was enough to make a bead of sweat trickle down his back.  “Eat shit and die, Barnes.”

 

Fair enough.

 

Mind scrambling to concoct some sort of plan that wouldn’t require him to show off the ugly mass of scarring that lined his left side, Bucky closed his eyes and prepared himself to do something he’d sworn to never attempt again when the next group of women arrived to place their orders.

 

He smiled .

 

Smiling was probably too casual a description for an act that dredged up every ounce of charm he once used to tease men and women out of their clothes and broadcast it to his shocked customers.  He was careful to tilt his torso enough that his body hid the empty sleeve and let the loosely curling hair he usually kept pinned back fall forward to frame his eyes. The group blinked sluggishly.  Long enough that he felt a burst of embarrassment before his eyes caught the telltale flush creeping up their necks.  

 

They burst into a fit of giggles that helped strengthen his confidence enough that he was able to gesture down at his menu.  “What can I do for you this evening?” he purred, letting the words turn into an innuendo with little effort.

 

After that it was easy to lure in new customers by pretending to be the handsome, cocky man he’d once been.  If he kept a smile on his face and made a few flirtatious comments, people seemed to forget about his missing arm.  He’d even gotten a few compliments after he’d pulled his dark hair out of his face into a messy bun.

 

Maybe Natasha was right about him needing to lighten up.

 

It worked so well, in fact, that he was barely able to look back at Steve’s truck in the midst of one of the largest rushes they’d had in ages.  Or the way a certain blonde was scowling hard enough at Bucky’s newest admirers that some of his own customers began to edge away from his food truck.

 

******

 

In the end, Bucky and Natasha exchanged a gleeful high five when Sam and Steve were forced to admit defeat.  By a narrow margin, but still. With his one arm, he even managed to pick her up and spin her in a quick twirl before she landed lightly on her feet.  He was smiling big enough that Natasha was laughing silently at his obvious excitement at defeating his nemesis.

 

Sam walked over and grinned at the two of them with good-natured humor.  “I guess congratulations are in order.”

 

Bucky’s response withered away when Steve came prowling over behind him like a snarling blonde shadow.  “Looks like hypocrisy wins after all,” he snapped.

 

“What are you talking about?” 

 

“You talked a big game about me using my body to lure in customers,” Steve began hotly as he stepped right into Bucky’s space, “then did the exact same thing!”

 

What was left of Bucky’s good mood evaporated as quickly as it had appeared.  

 

“So when your shirt came off it was just a strange coincidence?” Bucky shot back.  “Some sudden gravitational pull just ripped it off your body right when a bunch of people walked by?”

 

“At least I don’t act like I’m trying to get into their pants to sell a few cupcakes!”  Bucky flinched like he’d been struck and took a step back. The anger in Steve’s eyes faded as quickly as it had appeared, replaced with something close to horror.  He took a breath, shifting uncomfortably. “Bucky…I didn’t--I mean...shit.”

 

It felt like all the excitement and exhilaration of just a few moments before had been ripped away, leaving him awkward and ashamed.  Suddenly, all the confidence he’d summoned up that day felt like a sham. He felt exposed, vulnerable in a way that was all too familiar now.  Bucky floundered, taking another step back until he felt Natasha brush against his arm.  

 

Natasha slid smoothly between them before Bucky could speak.  “I think that’s enough,” she said, voice cool and eyes sharp enough that Steve looked away from Bucky to focus on her.  “Take a walk, Rogers.”

 

“But—”

 

“Come on , Steve,” Sam called.  He laid his hand heavily on Steve’s shoulder until the other man finally nodded slowly and turned away.

 

Bucky barely noticed--he was already running back to the safety of his truck.

 

******

 

“I mean, he’s just so infuriating !” Bucky whined as he took a long drag from his beer.  “Can you believe he acted like I was trying to sell myself to win a stupid competition?”

 

In the week since their fight, Bucky had made a point of taking some time off from driving around in the Winter Soldier.  Natasha and Clint had agreed to cover his shifts to give him some much needed time off. He’d been running the truck for weeks without a break so he could see St--so he could beat Steve at his own game and prove he could be successful with his damn dessert truck.  

 

Now it felt like the biggest waste of his time.  

 

He told himself it wasn’t hiding to stay home and clean everything that reminded him of the night he’d brought Steve home and started this nonsensical crush.  His bookshelf needed to be cleaned out and his sister had been bugging him to spend more time with his niece and nephew. So, really, there was plenty of more important things to think about beside Steve Rogers and his stupid accusations and infuriating way of making Bucky feel things.

 

Unfortunately, Drunk Bucky didn’t agree with Sober Bucky’s dedication to avoiding all things related to Steve Rogers.

 

Natasha exchanged a look with Clint and didn’t respond.  She returned her attention to her phone as she had been since he first started complaining.  Bucky huffed out a breath. He knew he was babbling, but, in his defense, he hadn’t gone drinking for years now.  By now, his head was beginning to feel comfortably fuzzy. Fuzzy enough that he couldn’t seem to stop talking about the one subject he couldn’t seem to get out of his head.  

 

Steve Rogers.

 

The bane of his existence.  

 

The man who somehow managed to disrupt the relative peace Bucky had discovered in this new version of himself.  Steve seemed to have the unique ability to make Bucky unable to hide in the back of his truck quietly, out of sight from the world.  Instead, he showed up with his cocky attitude and his tight shirts and ability to drag up fragile pieces of the Bucky he had been before he’d started losing himself.  First to war, then to his own mind.  Even worse, Steve made Bucky want more .

 

The thought terrified him.

 

He wanted to drag his fingers up the smooth plane of Steve’s stomach until he could watch the ridiculously tight shirt give way to warm skin.  He wanted to be the reason golden hair was tousled. He wanted to watch the smirk that always seemed to linger in those blue eyes go glazed and dark with desire.

 

The images of what it would be like to do more than just crave--hell, even to admit he was craving was terrifying--seemed to be the only thoughts his mind was capable of producing.  It contrasted nicely with the new world view he’d designed after he’d come back broken and missing the vital pieces of himself overseas. This version of Bucky Barnes wasn’t the kind of person who could ever hold the attention of someone like Steve Rogers.  Any doubts of that had been banished by the way Steve looked at him the day of their stupid bet.

 

Growling in frustration, Bucky took a long gulp of his beer. “He makes me want to—“

 

“Bang him like a screen door in a hurricane?” Natasha offered with a bag of her eyelashes. 

 

Clint ignored Bucky’s narrowed eyes to add, “Have his babies?” 

 

Bucky sighed a little too morosely to pass as his usual irritation and drew his finger through the condensation on the table. “He’s just so—“

 

“Dreamy?” Clint said quickly. 

 

“Consistently discussed?” Natasha grumbled under her breath. 

 

Bucky glared at them both. “I’m only discussing him because he drives me insane.  I mean, I can’t believe he said I was trying to seduce my customers. Especially considering how his shirts could double as tissue paper--”

 

“Uh huh.”  Somehow Natasha managed to channel ten people’s worth of disbelief into those two syllables. 

 

“It’s true!” He blustered and gestured broadly with his empty--when had he drank all of that--glass, “One of these days I’m gonna give him a piece of my mind!”

 

“Why not tonight?”

 

Bucky blinked in surprise and frowned at her. “Wha—“

 

“If you’re gonna finally say your piece to Rogers, why not tonight?” She reiterated slowly, like he was being particularly dense. “He’s right over there with Wilson.”

 

Bucky whipped around like he’d never heard of the word chill. 

 

Immediately his eyes locked onto the familiar set of broad shoulders and sunshine hair —blonde hair, you stupid, drunk brain—and he felt his lungs go sideways. No one was supposed to look that good after a long day of sweating in the back of a rig. Or under dim bar lighting. Or just in general. 

 

Steve must have run home for a quick shower and change of clothes because he was wearing a black shirt Bucky hadn’t seen before with a pair of pants that were barely hanging onto the world’s narrowest hips. And good god, were those skinny jeans ?

 

He made a sound like a dying whale when Steve laughed at something Wilson said and raised his beer bottle to his lips, displaying the long line of his throat. Beside him, he was distantly aware of the fact that Natasha was looking painfully smug but he couldn’t seem to summon up the willpower to care. Sam was scanning the bar like he was looking for someone, but it wasn’t until he caught sight of Natasha and grinned did Bucky connect the dots. 

 

Grabbing Natasha’s arm in a move that earned him a warning look, Bucky yanked them out of sight behind Clint’s affable body. Which apparently was not enough of an indication about his feelings toward Sam and Steve because Clint cheerfully waved at the two of them, fully ignoring Bucky hissing behind him like an overgrown cat. 

 

Panicked now, Bucky scanned the room for the exits he’d already mapped. Before he could make a move, Natasha linked her fingers around his wrist and met his eyes. “You’ve been running too long, kotenik . Time to start facing this.”

 

He stared at her, swallowing against the lump in his throat.  It felt like he was hovering on the edge of something monumental. Like his life would forever be marked as before and after Bucky confronted Steve about what was happening between them. 

 

 “I don’t know if I can do this.”

 

Her smile went soft. “No one does, but it’s worth it.”

 

“Are you sure?” He let out a soft huff of laughter, trying to pretend like his stomach wasn’t tying itself into knots. “I mean, you ended up with Clint…”

 

“Hey!” Clint protested above them and Natasha shushed him with a smile that seemed to be reserved just for him. 

 

Then she returned her attention to Bucky, reaching out to smooth the collar of his shirt. “Go on then.”

 

Suddenly feeling a little overwhelmed by the affection evident in both of his friends’ expressions, Bucky nodded wordlessly and took a deep breath before getting to his feet. 

 

Across the bar, Steve and Sam had been sidetracked by a group of women Bucky vaguely recognized as running another one of the food trucks that circulated in this area.  Something to do with a weapon...Sword? Shield? He shook his head, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Steve was smiling and laughing with the group, looking relaxed despite the dark shadows lingering beneath his eyes.

 

Sam caught sight of Bucky and grinned, reaching out to clap Steve on the shoulder and send him that way.  Before he could, a curvy blonde stepped up to a still grinning Steve and kissed him full on the mouth.

 

And just like that, all Bucky’s hopes for the evening burned to ash.

 

He didn’t bother to wait to watch Steve’s impromptu makeout session.  He was too busy choking down a wave of painful disappointment and fleeing from the sight of Sam’s shock and Natasha’s protective fury.  The world around him went blurry around the edges as he pushed through the crowd until he finally came to the bar.

 

“I need a shot,” he rasped to the bartender.

 

“Of what?” 

 

“Something to make me forget this shitty night.”

 

The man gave him a sympathetic grunt and within seconds Bucky was swallowing down a mouthful of liquid that felt like it was burning his throat raw.  Two more ensured he was pleasantly numb when someone settled onto the bar stool next to him. Expecting Natasha or Clint, he scowled down at his empty glass, “Go away.”

 

“Aw, don’t be like that,” an unfamiliar voice purred in his ear and Bucky snapped his head up to stare into the face of a darkly handsome man leaning against the bar next to him, “You didn’t even give me a chance to say how hot I thought you were.”

 

Bucky blinked against a wave of dizziness and took in his unexpected companion.  He had a muscular build that implied a good deal of time spent at the gym and the confidence of a man of someone who was attractive and knew it.  Dark eyes and dark hair ensured that he was as far away from Steve Rogers as possible and yet…

 

And yet he still couldn’t work up the energy to respond to the blatant interest in the other man’s eyes.

 

Sighing, Bucky signaled for another drink and tried not to wince when the stranger took that as an encouragement and moved closer.  The heat from his body made Bucky’s skin crawl in disgust. “Listen, pal, I’m not really in the mood for company.”

 

“What if I could change your mind?” he pressed, reaching out to run his fingers across Bucky’s jaw.

 

Before they could connect, a hand darted out and squeezed the stranger’s wrist.  “He said he wasn’t interested.”

 

Now that was a voice he knew better than he should.

 

Despite every intention of avoiding it, Bucky turned in time to witness Steve in a rage, glaring down at the brunette who’d been hitting on Bucky.  He looked ready to swing at the slightest provocation and Bucky narrowed his eyes dangerously.

 

“I don’t need your help, Rogers,” he growled.

 

Steve’s eyes flicked back to his and softened slightly.  “I know, Buck. I was just--”

 

“Go back to your girlfriend, Steve,” Bucky interrupted and stood up, forcing both men to step back.  “I’m not in the mood to talk to you or for some random guy who ignores me when I say no. I’m going home.”

 

Pushing his way between them, he wobbled his way towards the exit.  He could see Natasha and Clint moving his way, but he shook his head roughly, ignoring the way it made the room spin.  He didn’t want to talk about this. He didn’t want to listen to Clint’s jokes or the way Natasha would silently promise destruction on Steve and his friends.  

 

Outside, the cold air helped chase away the lingering effects of the alcohol in his system and he took a grateful breath.  He clutched his jacket a little tighter to his chest and shoved his hands in his pockets. The streets were mostly clear at this time of night, stuck somewhere between the time when casual drinkers headed home and the truly committed were stumbling to their next location.  His breath curled around him like a fog and he relished the cold sting of the wind against his cheek as he walked towards his apartment.

 

His bones felt like they were vibrating with a combination of anxiety and the rush from his brief stint at trying out alcoholism.  It was all he could do to keep from running the whole way back to the safety of his apartment. Just a little farther, he promised his scrambled brain, just a little farther and we can crawl under the covers and pretend this night never happened.

 

“Bucky!”

 

The sound of his name being called from the door of the bar behind him made him flinch and speed up, desperate to get out of sight before--

 

“Bucky!  There you are,” Steve sounded breathless from the brief sprint to close the distance between them.  A warm hand brushed Bucky’s shoulder and he lowered his voice to concerned murmur, “I thought I’d lost you.”

 

Feeling brittle and fragile, Bucky shrugged away from Steve’s hold.  “Well, here I am. Now what do you want?”

 

“I…” Steve fumbled, falling into step beside him and shooting him a furtive glance.  “I was just worried about you. You looked like you’ve had a hard night.”

 

That was the understatement of the century.

 

Abruptly exhausted by the whole ordeal, Bucky rounded on him.  “What is this, Steve?” he demanded, “What are you doing out here when you have a bar full of friends waiting for you back there?”

 

Steve looked startled by the sudden shift.  He stumbled to a halt awkwardly in the middle of the sidewalk looking flustered, “I just wanted to see if you were okay…”

 

“Well I’m fine so you can leave now,” Bucky said quickly and continued walking down the darkened street.  “See you around, Rogers.”

 

Determinedly, Steve caught up to him again, jaw set like he was facing down a firing squad.  “You’re mad at me.”

 

“What makes you think that?”

 

“You’ve been avoiding me.”

 

Bucky shot him a look.  “I doubt you notice one person missing in your legions of followers.”

 

“I always notice you.”  The sincerity in Steve’s voice hurts worse that the scars from his wounds.  Steve’s hand reached out to pull him to a stop and Bucky stared at the ground in an effort to avoid the weight of Steve’s eyes on him.  “Bucky, look at me.”

 

Helplessly, Bucky slowly brought his eyes up to meet Steve’s gaze.  The other man smiled faintly and the hand on Bucky’s arm suddenly felt more like a caress.  His breath caught in his chest at the sincerity in the blonde’s expression.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

Blinking in surprise, Bucky frowned at him. “What?”

 

“I’m sorry, Buck.  I acted like an asshole after the competition and I said some things I shouldn’t have,” he blurted quickly.  “I should have apologized then, but I was being a jealous idiot and--”

 

“Wait,” Bucky cut in, feeling slightly light headed, “why would you be jealous?”

 

Steve looked down at his shoes for a moment and Bucky imagined that if they were in the light he would be blushing.  As it was, he had to settled for the glint of a streetlight reflected in blue eyes. “I, um...That was the first time I ever saw you act like that.”

 

“Like what?” 

 

“Like you were happy,” Steve said with a sigh. He scrubbed his hand through his hair, looking frustrated with himself. “I wanted to be the reason that you looked like that and I got so in my head about it that I lashed out and I’m so sorry, Bucky.  I hope one day you’ll forgive me for it.”

 

Bucky stared at him for a long moment, chest tight with an emotion he didn’t want to identify.  “Why would you care about that?”

 

“Bucky,” Steve murmured and slowly stepped close enough that Bucky could feel the warmth of his breath on his skin, “I care about you.  I want to be with you.”

 

“You...you like me?” Bucky stuttered, eyes wide and mouth still slightly agape.  

 

Steve made a disparaging sound and raked his fingers through his hair.  “Buck, I’ve been gone on you since you sassed me the first day we met. It only got worse after you cooked for me and had my back in that fight.”

 

“But you always acted like you didn’t want me around,” Bucky pointed out, “and you left in the middle of the night when you stayed over.”

 

“I am...not great at flirting,” Steve said awkwardly.  “And I might have panicked.”

 

Bucky arched a single eyebrow.

 

“Okay, I’m terrible at flirting,” Steve continued in a rush and gestured expansively toward Bucky.  “Sam says I’m the worst he’s ever seen. It’s just, you’re--well, you and I can’t seem to get a single sentence out without pissing you off and every time I tried to be friendly it always turned into some kind of weird competition and then I act like more of an asshole--”

 

“Steve,” Bucky said gently.

 

“--and I know you will probably never forgive me for all the ways I’ve managed to offend you over the past couple months--hell, I probably don’t deserve it--but, I just thought that maybe we could at least be friends, you know?  Like, I could pretend you weren’t the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen and I--”

 

Steve’s verbal onslaught halted with a startled sound when Bucky clenched his fingers into the collar of Steve’s shirt and yanked him forward until their mouths met in a sudden kiss.  

 

The angle was odd and Steve was still stiff with surprise, but Bucky only tilted his head until their lips slid seamlessly together and nibbled gently along the curve of a full lower lip.  There was a beat before Steve made a low, rough sound that made Bucky’s stomach clench with need and suddenly Steve’s hands were tunneling into his hair and oh god .

 

Rough brick scraped against Bucky’s spine as Steve slowly nudged him back against the wall, taking control of their kiss like it was planned.  Steve kissed like he did everything else--fearlessly. He swallowed Bucky’s low whine of pleasure and pressed the length of his body against Bucky’s until he felt like he was drowning in the sensations.

 

Steve’s lips dragged down the line of his jaw, nibbling along the tendon in his neck as he chased the goosebumps racing along his skin.  

 

Mind nearly blanking out at the sensation, Bucky barely managed to gasp out, “Wait.”

 

Immediately, Steve froze, backing up out of Bucky’s space and looking horrified.  He opened his mouth, obviously to apologize, but Bucky pressed a hand to his lips.

 

“The girl at the bar,” he panted, trying to resist the urge to grind against him, “are you?”

 

“Not even a little bit,” Steve growled back, eyes dark.  “You must not have seen me turn her away.”

 

“Good,” Bucky purred and grabbed Steve by the back of his neck and proceeded to do everything in his power to make him forget the name of any girl or guy he’d ever been with.

 

******

 

Later--much, much later--Bucky stared up at his ceiling, not bothering to hide the way his grin stretched his kiss-bruised lips.

 

Warm skin shifted against his as Steve moved closer and nuzzled his nose against Bucky’s throat, teasing at the bruise he’d left there.  His voice sounded rough with a mixture of sated pleasure and sleepy interest. A smug warmth settled in Bucky’s chest at the thought. He’d done that to Steve.

 

“What are you smiling at?”

 

Bucky tilted his head so he could press a slow kiss that made Steve’s body shift restlessly against him.  A sudden thought had him chuckling against Steve’s lips, “I just realized something.”

 

Steve’s response was breathless enough to earn a pleased hum from Bucky.  “And what’s that?”

 

Bucky grinned impishly over at him, “Food really is the way to a man’s heart.”

 

He was still laughing when Steve rolled him on his back and made him forget what he’d thought was so funny.