Bucky doesn’t actually mean to discover it the way he does. He’s just going through Steve’s Wikipedia page one night when he can’t sleep, and he discovers a short paragraph about Steve coming out as bisexual in 2012 and advocating since for LGBT rights.
Some quick Googling later tells Bucky that the LGBT(Q+) community is huge, loud, colorful, and politically active. Good for them—and he means that sincerely. He only has the haziest of memories of before, but he gets the idea that he was the kind of guy who would have thought these people deserved all the same rights as heterosexual people.
He does feel a little weird when he thinks about the fact that Steve is into men as well as women, though. That triggers a brief panic in him—which, great, it’s 2:14 am and he’s about to have a panic attack—because what if he’s a homophobe? One of those ones who pretends to be accepting but can’t handle it when people close to them are gay? The articles he’s read have a lot to say about those kinds of people, and none of it’s good (and rightfully so).
But… no. He doesn’t care that Steve’s as likely to date a man as date a woman. It’s more the feeling he gets when he thinks of Steve dating anyone that resonates with what he felt before, and that’s confusing but he’s still overwhelmed with relief that at least he’s not secretly a horrible person.
He decides, as he sets his phone aside and makes a serious attempt at sleep, now that the adrenaline rush is leaving his body and heaviness is setting in instead, that he won’t say anything to Steve about this. He doesn’t know if Steve wants him to know; Steve will tell Bucky if it’s important to him. For now, Bucky will act as if nothing is different.
It’s not even an act, really, when Bucky doesn’t bring it up as the days and weeks go by. Because nothing is different; he still views Steve the exact same way.
Besides, there’s plenty else going on as they gear up for Bucky’s trial, a highly publicized event thanks to Tony Stark, who promised Steve that the only way to keep Bucky out of a deep hole would be to make sure there was transparency in the proceedings. It’s sound logic, so while Steve and Sam were hesitant, Bucky had readily agreed.
Stark seems like a good enough guy. He’s put them up in his tower for a while, citing it as security and oversight to the US government and UN Security Council, and citing it as safe and secure to Steve. Bucky, for his part, quite likes it; it’s high tech and has an AI who can order him pizza or Chinese takeout at three am. They’re too high up for snipers, and the glass is better than standard bulletproof, because Tony designed a better compound when he designed the tower. What more could Bucky want?
In the days leading up to the trial, they barely leave.
But one day, they do go out, because Steve’s going stir crazy and he broke the treadmill by running on it too hard. While they wait for a replacement, Sam caves and says they should go out for a bit, muttering about Steve being like a dog that needs to be exercised. Bucky snorts and asks to come along. Sam shrugs and says sure. Steve tries to protest, but Bucky crosses his arms, and Steve relents.
So, they all go out. Bucky wants books; Sam wants ice cream; Steve wants to go to the park. They’re still bickering when they notice the reporters hanging around outside of the mandatory radius around the entrance to the tower, and the bickering trails off.
“We should go back up,” Steve says.
“We could…” Sam starts, trailing off.
“What’s the harm?” Bucky asks. “Stark says we need to get the press on my side. They’re hardly going to stay on my side if they can’t trust me to go out in public and get ice cream. It’ll be good for my image.”
Mostly, he just doesn’t want to see what Steve will break next.
Steve, for his part, seems to find the logic sound. “If you’re sure…” he hedges, but he’s already twitching like he wants to start for the door again.
“Yeah, punk,” Bucky replies. It often surprises him when he says stuff like that; stuff that feels ingrained in him, even though the memories are hazy at best and absent at worst. Still, it always makes Steve smile and thousand-watt smile, and that feels pretty damn good.
“Jerk,” Steve returns, voice unbearably fond.
“Okay, c’mon,” Sam says, and when Bucky tears his eyes away from Steve’s smile to glance at him, he’s rolling his eyes. What’s that about?
He doesn’t seem annoyed, just ushers them to the door and resumes arguing for why they need ice cream—unfortunately, Bucky gave him a solid argument by bringing up his PR situation, because what’s more harmless and wholesome than a former brainwashed assassin eating ice cream?
They step outside and turn to the left, just kind of walking because they’ll find what they’re looking for sooner or later, and run right into the press.
There are questions being shouted at Bucky from all angles, and he’s… a little fazed. He’s gone from barely dealing with people at all to being ambushed with shouts and flashing lights, and he hates it.
He pastes a smile on his face that doesn’t feel genuine and looks desperately at Steve for help.
“One at a time,” Steve says. “We’ll answer three questions, and then we’re going out for ice cream.”
Bucky bites back a curse, because Sam’s won for sure now. Maybe they can still go to a bookstore anyway; Bucky likes the accessibility of ebooks and ordering online, but nothing compares to going to a bookstore and tracing his fingertips along the spines of the books, feeling the ridges of the lettering.
He misses the first question, but Sam answers it calmly, and for all that he and Bucky like to give each other shit, Bucky trusts him, so he’s not worried.
The second question is just to ask if Bucky is nervous about his trial.
“Sure,” he says easily. “Who wouldn’t be? I just hope people can see that I didn’t have a choice, and now that I have one, I’m trying to take things one day at a time and live as peacefully as possible.”
It sounds trite… but it’s true. So hopefully it’ll resonate with some audiences in its sincerity.
The third question makes Bucky blink in surprise. Because… did someone seriously just ask if Bucky was dating Steve?
He opens his mouth, closes it, and glances over at Sam. Sam, for his part, is looking at Steve, brow furrowed. He looks upset, although Bucky can’t imagine why—it’s an intrusive question, but it’s not particularly rude or offensive. They’ve dealt with worse.
Steve, when Bucky glances over, is shaking his head. “No,” he says. “Bucky and I aren’t dating, and no matter what people on the internet say, we never dated before, either.” Bucky’s a little relieved to hear that; he doesn’t know what he would have done if he found out he’d dated Steve before and didn’t remember it.
But Steve’s still speaking, and Bucky tunes back in. “Bucky is the most important person in my life,” Steve is saying, “always has been and always will be. We don’t need to be romantically involved for that to be true.”
Bucky feels a rush of confusing feelings, sure he’s overheating at the same time as goose-flesh rises on his arms, vaguely dizzy and unsure why.
“What he said,” is what Bucky ends up saying in response.
He’s in a little bit of a daze as Sam and Steve lead him through the crowd of reporters, all of whom part for them like they know not to push Steve any further.
Bucky’s weird feelings pass after a couple of minutes, right around the time he spots a fancy glass monstrosity of a bookstore. “We have to go in,” he insists, and Steve and Sam put up a fight—okay, complain for about ten seconds before giving in—but Bucky is victorious.
By the time he leaves, ten books dangling from his metal arm in a re-usable shopping bag—and no, Sam, he is not a hipster for wanting to protect the environment, seriously, shut up—he’s forgotten all about it.
Unfortunately, Steve and Sam have not forgotten about it.
The next morning, they’re both doing that Thing where they communicate through expressions alone, while Bucky ignores them and eats his Frosted Flakes. Sugary cereal is definitely a perk of the future, even if he doesn’t clearly remember how bad he had it before. He’s seen old movies; he’s heard Steve’s stories. He knows it wasn’t good, and he appreciates the blessings before him.
He’s pulled out of his musings by Steve clearing his throat. Bucky looks up and raises an eyebrow. “What?”
“I… have something to tell you,” Steve says, pausing for a moment at the start but gaining momentum as he finishes off the ominous statement.
“O-kay,” Bucky says slowly, drawing out the word into a few syllables. “What’s up?”
Bucky blinks. Glances between Steve and Sam. Says, “I know.”
“You… know?” Steve asks, sounding confused.
And, oh, right, Bucky’s not supposed to know. “I kind of saw on the internet. Sorry. I didn’t want to bring it up and make it a thing when you hadn’t had a chance to tell me.”
Steve appears to be speechless. He opens and closes his mouth a few times. After the fourth failed attempt at speech, he looks to Sam, eyes pleading.
Bucky gamely looks to Sam as well.
Sam, who has been sipping his coffee and eating toast this whole time, sighs as he sets down his mug. “That was very thoughtful, Barnes,” he says. “I’m sure Steve appreciates it.”
Steve nods; Bucky catches the movement out of the corner of his eye. “Yeah. That. I… thanks, Buck.”
Bucky shrugs, feeling his face grow hot for no good reason. “No problem?”
Steve opens his mouth, closes it, and oh no, here they went again.
But, no, on the second attempt, Steve managed to ask, “Do you have anything to say, Buck?”
Bucky’s confused. “Like what?” He casts around, trying to think. “I mean, it doesn’t bother me, if that’s what you’re worried about. Not that it should matter, but in case it does… I just want you to be happy, Stevie.” The nickname slips off of his tongue, habit, and he almost doesn’t catch it except for the return of Steve’s blinding smile.
“I’m glad, Buck,” Steve says.
Bucky decides to take that as a good enough place to end the conversation as any; he turns back to his cereal and tea.
Steve continues glancing at him thoughtfully throughout the rest of breakfast, but he never says anything more on the subject.
Bucky’s trial comes and goes, and Bucky is (mostly) acquitted. He’s still required to be under some form of supervision, but luckily that supervision can easily be handled by any active Avengers.
So, Bucky, Steve, and Sam get an apartment in Brooklyn. Sam volunteers at the local VA, and Steve takes art classes, and they remain active Avengers, so they can supervise Bucky and also sometimes save the world.
It’s good, except Bucky wonders, sometimes, about the hot and cold feeling he gets when Steve smiles at him a certain way, or when Steve smiles at someone else a certain way, or when Steve turns to Bucky first when he wants to know if a new piece of art is any good, even though Sam's definitely got the better eye for detail.
And, okay, on anyone else Bucky would think it was attraction. Easy. But when Bucky considers having sex with Steve… yeah, no. No thank you. He does not want it.
He’d think he was heterosexual, but he doesn’t particularly want to have sex with women, either. In fact, he actively doesn’t want to have sex with women, or with men, even if those men aren’t Steve.
He doesn’t know what to make of it.
One day, Steve’s out at class and Sam’s playing Mario Kart with Bucky.
It’s as good a time as any to say something; so, when Sam blue shells Bucky, Bucky shrugs and sets his controller aside. “I think there’s something wrong with me,” he says.
Sam pauses the game. “Are you just saying that because I’m about to win?” Bucky shakes his head, no. Sam sighs. He sets his controller aside and turns to face Bucky in return. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not attracted to men or women,” Bucky says.
Sam hums thoughtfully. “What about nonbinary people?”
Huh, that’s something Bucky hadn’t considered. He runs through it in his head... but, yeah, still no. “No. Not them either.”
“Okay,” Sam says. “I’m still not seeing a problem.”
Bucky… doesn’t know what to say to that. “But… everyone wants sex,” he points out. “It’s everywhere. It’s all people talk about.”
Sam laughs, but it’s a warm sound, not a cruel one. “Bucky, plenty of people don’t want to have sex,” Sam says. “It’s part of the LGBTQ+ identity and everything. You’re asexual.”
Bucky thinks he’d skimmed over that one in a list when he was doing his initial LGBTQ+ research after finding out Steve was bisexual.
“I’m… not broken?”
Sam’s face softens. “No, Barnes, you aren’t broken.”
“Oh.” Bucky considers that for a moment. “Okay.” He picks the controller back up and says, “You can finish beating me at Mario Kart now.”
Sam does beat him. Bucky doesn't really care. He wins the next round anyway.
Later, Bucky looks up asexuality on his phone. He comes across definitions and blogs and a whole website dedicated to asexual visibility and education. He has a flag.
He also learns about the split attraction model, which people have split opinions about (hah). It makes sense to him, though, that you might be asexual and still have romantic feelings, and you might be aromantic but still want sex, or you might be both or neither.
Bucky’s definitely asexual.
He starts to get the creeping suspicion that he’s not aromantic, though. Because when he takes sex out of the equation and thinks about sitting pressed up against Steve during Netflix marathons, he feels very different in those moments than when he’s pressed up against Sam on their too small couch.
Bucky thinks about holding hands with Steve, and, oh, that’s a nice idea. He’d like that.
Is he allowed to like that? He doesn’t know.
It takes him hours to fall asleep.
Bucky doesn’t know how to act around Steve once he knows that he’s romantically attracted to him. He can’t get Steve’s words from months before out of his head, when Steve had said that they didn’t have to be romantically involved to be the most important people in each other’s lives.
It’s still right. But Bucky kind of gets, now, why he’d felt so weird when Steve had said it. Because he’s quickly realizing that he doesn’t have a crush on Steve.
No, it’s not that simple.
He’s in love with Steve, full stop, and he thinks it’s probable that he always has been. He probably always will be.
He’s going to figure out a way to be normal about it. He is. It just… might take him some time, is all.
Pride approaches. Bucky’s excited; he’d come out to Steve a few days after his talk with Sam, and it had been a perfect role reversal.
Steve had laughed softly and said, “Yeah, Bucky, I know.”
“Well, I suspected,” Steve had amended. “You told me once that you’d had sex with women and you didn’t like it. A few months later, you admitted you’d tried it with a guy and didn’t like that either. We didn’t have the vocabulary for it back then; it existed, but it wasn’t commonly used like it is today. It was just the way you were.”
“Oh,” Bucky had said. He had thought about it before he asked, “Did you care?”
Steve had shaken his head. “Nah. What was there to care about? So long as nobody was making you feel like you had to do anything you were uncomfortable with, I was fine. And if they were, that was on them, not you.”
Bucky had slowly nodded. “You’re a good friend, Stevie.”
Steve had turned bright red and spluttered a response, and Bucky had nudged his shoulder and called him a punk, and everything had gone back to something resembling normal.
Now, Pride approaches.
“We’re going,” Bucky says, and then hesitates, asking, “right?”
“Hell yeah,” Sam says. Sam, who is pansexual and proud—and no, Bucky hadn’t even needed to Google that one by the time Sam mentioned it, because Bucky has done extensive research on the LGBTQ+ community now that he knows he’s a part of it, now that he no longer feels like a spectator when he goes through people's blog posts and reads their jokes. “I’m doing makeup. Barnes, do you want makeup?”
Bucky blinks. Considers. “Hell yeah,” he echoes. “Can you do it in my colors?”
“Yes. In fact, I insist.” Sam looks to Steve. “You’re going to let me do your makeup too, right? You can’t be the odd one out; you’ll just look sad next to our beauty.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “Sure, sad. Because I have no intrinsic beauty of my own.”
“He gets it,” Sam says to Bucky, who laughs, bright and happy.
The morning of Pride comes, and Sam does Bucky’s eyes purple and gray, gives him black matte lipstick, and covers him in purple glitter for good measure. Bucky’s never been more pleased to look in the mirror.
Steve ends up with eyeshadow in the bisexual colors and a bisexual flag in glitter on his cheek.
Sam goes all out on himself. It’s A Look. Bucky’s in awe.
All in all, it’s great.
There’s just the fact that Bucky keeps seeing guys holding hands with other guys, guys kissing other guys, and he aches.
“You okay?” Steve asks quietly as they’re watching the parade. Or, as Sam watches the parade, and Bucky morosely watches a couple of guys hold hands and whisper into each other’s ears, and Steve watches Bucky.
“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Of course. Why?”
Steve doesn’t buy it. “Did I do something?” he asks. “You were weird, and I wasn’t sure but you’ve been normal again the past couple of weeks, and now today you’re being weird again.”
“Weird?” Bucky asks, stalling for time as he tries to come up with an excuse.
And, oh, it’s painful when it’s put into words like that—especially because Steve doesn’t just sound perplexed, he sounds sad.
“It’s not… I just…” Bucky bites his lip. “I just… figured out something, and I’m trying to process. It’s not you.”
Steve blinks. “But you’re only weird at me.”
Bucky shrugs, helpless.
Steve glances in the direction Bucky had been looking, and Bucky’s stomach sinks. Steve’s tactical genius predates the serum—that much Bucky can remember—and it won’t take him long to put two and two together.
Sure enough, Steve’s eyes widen. He turns back to Bucky. “You…”
Bucky swallows thickly. “Uh,” he says, eloquent as ever. “Yeah.”
Steve’s eyes continue to widen. “But…”
Bucky’s shifting away from Steve and toward Sam, just a bit, as if giving Steve a couple of inches of space will make a different. “Sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?” Steve asks, sounding astonished. “Buck, I—” He cuts off. “I never thought—” He cuts off again.
Steve takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, and says, voice low and fervent, “Bucky, I’ve been in love with you since I was nine years old,” Steve says. “I just never thought you’d feel the same way.”
Bucky’s pretty sure his brain has frozen. His mouth must be hanging open; that’s what always happens in movies when people are this surprised.
“Oh,” he says, when he starts to remember how to form words. “I can’t remember how long I’ve been in love with you,” he says, apologetic. “It’s just… it’s there in every memory of you I have. It just took me a while to figure out what I was feeling, what it meant.”
“Can I… Can I kiss you?” Steve asks, voice hesitant.
Bucky considers. He would feel like he should say yes, but then he remembers two things: one, his desires or lack thereof for sexual or sensual intimacy are valid, and two, it’s Steve, and Steve would never want him to say yes to something he didn’t want.
He does want to kiss Steve. But not now, not in front of Sam and all of these random people. “Not right now,” Bucky says. “But… we could hold hands?”
Steve gives him the thousand-watt smile again. “I’d like that.” He reaches out and takes Bucky’s hand, tangling their fingers together, and they fit perfectly. Their palms are sweaty because it’s hot in the city today, the sun’s out and they’re surrounded by people, and Bucky feels so happy he could burst.
Steve glances over at Bucky from where he’s turned to look at the parade once more. “Yeah?”
“I love you.”
Steve’s smile goes warm and soft, melty like the inside of a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie. “I love you, too.”
Sam congratulates them both with a big hug when the parade is over, insisting on taking pictures of them with their arms around each other like some kind of proud parent.
He takes a picture with a teenage girl wearing an "asexu-alien" tank top and a guy wearing an aromantic flag around him like a cape, because "solidarity".
Bucky and Steve don't stop holding hands for the rest of the day. It's worth all of the teasing from Sam and the squealing of fans. It's worth everything.
Bucky feels comfortable here, with Steve, but also in his own skin. He feels settled in his identity, like he understands himself and he's okay with who he is. It's not a feeling he ever expected to have. He feels unbearably lucky.
He can't wait for Pride next year. But more than that, he can't wait to wake up tomorrow and see if Steve still wants to have their first kiss.