It’s the tone of the ad that catches his eye.
WANTED FOR IMMEDIATE HIRE
Fake boyfriend for sad but beautiful golden retriever in the shape of real human man. Must possess at least one (1) wedding-appropriate suit and ability to grunt through small talk. Will be paid in gratitude, food, and an open bar. Please do not pretend you have anything better to do on the night of October 9th.
Bucky calls. Bucky is greeted with what sounds like an entire chorus of cheers, and then given an address to show up at on the next day. Bucky thinks, this might end in my murder, but he has been honest with himself, and there is nothing better to do on the night of October 9th.
Now, on a beautiful day at the end of September he stands on the front porch of a Brooklyn brownstone with his hair pulled back into a bun and his Ray-Bans on, and he rings the doorbell. Bucky’s not entirely sure what he’s expecting, but it isn’t this.
A Man-with-a-capital-M answers. He is so tall, and he is so broad, and he is so perfectly blond that Bucky is grateful he can’t see his eyes completely widen through his sunglasses. The Man smiles the smile of someone who does not recognize the person he is looking at, but feels like maybe he should. Bucky clears his throat.
“I’m here about the ad.”
The Man’s smile wavers, ever so slightly. “I’m sorry?” he says.
“The ad,” Bucky repeats. “Fake boyfriend? Wanted for immediate hire?”
The Man full-out frowns. He is still so fucking beautiful that this doesn’t deter Bucky either way, but it does give him pause. They stare at one another, one expectantly, the other utterly confused. Then, the Man’s face shifts into an expression of disbelief, and then horror.
“No,” he says, quietly enough that it comes out as a low moan.
“Yes,” Bucky says, waving the paper in front of his face. “Do I have the wrong house?”
“I— ” the Man begins, but is quickly interrupted by two other figures— a petite, redheaded woman who manages to come off as both incredibly beautiful and incredibly dangerous, and a handsome black man of about Bucky’s height, who Bucky instantaneously likes— crowding behind him.
“Bucky!” he says, and Bucky immediately recognizes his voice from the phone. Sam Wilson, he’d introduced himself as. Now, he pushes the Man out of the way and reaches to shake Bucky’s hand. “How’re you doing, buddy?”
“Good, thanks,” Bucky says, with a nod. For a moment, looking at the three faces peering curiously at him, Bucky gets the feeling he’s in some wacky new Netflix sitcom, and not living his own life (which is actually quite boring) at all. He looks back up at the Man. Has to look up at him, because he’s so fucking tall. “So I don’t have the wrong house.”
“What,” the Man says, crossing his arms now, “is going on here?”
“Relax,” the redhead says. The corner of her mouth quirks, almost into a smile, but not quite. It dawns on Bucky that this beautiful, tall Man is being ambushed.
“I think you’re being ambushed,” he even says.
“I think you’re right,” the Man replies.
“I’m Natasha,” the redhead says, offering Bucky a full smile now. “I believe you and Sam already know one another, and this is Steve.”
“The golden retriever, I’m guessing.”
“What?” Steve asks.
“Never mind,” Natasha says quickly, maintaining her very steady smile. “Please come in.”
“This isn’t like a murder thing, is it?” Bucky asks, stepping into the foyer. He’s not a monster, so he stoops to take off his boots. “Because I’m super not into that.”
“If anyone’s getting murdered, it won’t be you,” Steve mutters beside him.
“I knew,” Bucky says, straightening up again, “there had to be a reason for all of those muscles.”
Natasha leads them into the living room, which is gorgeous, really— hardwood floors and plush, jewel-toned upholstery— and Sam wanders into the kitchen, loudly announcing his intentions to make coffee. Bucky takes a seat on a sofa and looks around.
“I better go help him with the coffee,” Natasha says, after literally no time at all.
“It’s not really a two-person job,” Steve says.
“No, no. It’ll be good that I help.”
“Jesus,” Steve says, staring at the floor.
Bucky watches Natasha leave. The entire morning has been a bizarre display of three people who don’t understand, or care about, subtlety. He turns to Steve and gives him what he hopes is a sympathetic look.
And then he asks: “So what’s wrong with you?”
Steve’s brow furrows. “What?”
“The ad. The desperation. I mean, it’s obviously not your looks, so what is it? Bad hygiene? Bad politics?” Bucky leans in, a conspiratorial grin on his face. “Are you a hetero-sympathizer?”
Steve makes himself frown. “Some of my best friends are heteros,” he says. Bucky laughs at that.
“Come on. What is it? There’s no reason not to tell me— I’m taking the position regardless.”
“Okay, first of all, I didn’t know any of this was happening, and I’m not sure I even want a date to this thing. No offense. Secondly,” and here— he sighs— “it’s not… like that. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“I mean, there’s nothing more wrong with me than with everybody else.”
“Dating is just not… really my forte.”
“Never has been.”
“Okay, fine,” Steve says, leaning back in his chair. “Maybe I’m a little guarded.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“And maybe my last relationship was the longest and most serious one of my adult life.”
Bucky raises an eyebrow. “How long?”
“Shit, I haven’t owned the same pair of shoes for that long.”
“Yeah, well,” Steve says, looking suddenly uncomfortable.
“It’s his wedding we’re going to.”
“No,” Steve says. They look at one another. “It’s her wedding we’re going to.”
Bucky mock-gasps, exaggerated and silly. “I almost dropped my crystalline wine glass.”
“You’re not holding a crystalline wine glass.”
“Sh,” Bucky says, shaking his head. “I need you to close your eyes and imagine that I am.”
“Your eyes aren’t closed.”
“Oh,” Steve says, “right.” He closes them. Bucky watches him then, just for a moment. He really is so fucking beautiful but there’s something kind and soft about him, too. A man who is clearly uncomfortable being vulnerable in front of complete strangers, but is good-natured enough to try, anyway. A man, who— despite the incredible ridiculous of this entire situation, and despite how much Bucky likes to laugh at people— is still a flesh-and-bone person with a heart, with valid feelings. Bucky isn’t cruel by any means, but he does maintain a streak of carelessness and apathy when it comes to other human beings. It’s both unexpected and weird to suddenly realize he doesn’t want to make fun of Steve’s situation.
“Are you imagining it?” Bucky asks.
“Yeah, man— why’d you make such a mess?”
“Why’d you say something so shocking? Who serves red wine at 10am?”
“Who accepts red wine at 10am?”
“Touche,” Bucky says. “You can open your eyes now.”
Steve does, and when they make eye contact again, they’re both smiling. The moment is irreparably broken by the presence of another body in the room— another decent-looking white man with sandy blond hair and a sling on his arm. Steve gives him a smile and raises his hand in greeting.
“Hey,” the new guy says. “Hey— sorry— I know I’m interrupting something here, but have you seen my hearing aid? The good one? In my soul I know Lucky took it and buried it somewhere but in my tragically hopeful heart I’m thinking maybe you borrowed it?”
“Uh,” Steve says. “Sorry, Clint. I didn’t… I don’t need to borrow that.”
“Oh, yeah, I know. I mean, I just hoped.”
“You hoped I stuck your hearing aid in my ear?”
“It’s just better for me than the alternative.”
“Right,” Steve says, slowly. “I haven’t seen it, but I can help you look. Is the backup bad?”
“It’s old,” Clint says with a shrug. “And it’s hard to search under things when only one of your arms is working, so— thanks.” He grins. “Hi, by the way. I’m Clint.”
“Hi,” Bucky says. “How many people live here?”
“So many,” Clint says, seriously. “Nat keeps a harem.”
“Yeah way,” Clint says, ignoring Steve shaking his head in the background. “You don’t actually think four millennials can afford this place, do you?”
“I guess not,” Bucky says. “So it’s Natasha?”
“Yeah— passed down to her by some rich Russian great aunt. She lets us live here and in return we perform sexual favors for— ”
“Okay,” Steve says, standing up. “Total stranger here, buddy. Doesn’t know you well enough to get your sense of humor.” He braves a glance at Bucky. “We don’t… do that.”
“Please believe me.”
Bucky laughs. “Like I said. I want the position regardless. The wedding’s next Friday?”
“Yeah, it is, but I really need you to know that— ”
“We should probably get to know one another first,” Bucky says, at the same time Clint’s eyes widen, and he says, “ You’re the guy .”
“Did everyone but me know about this?” Steve asks, incredulous.
“Yeah,” Clint says. “Looks that way,” Bucky says.
Steve closes his eyes again, and takes a deep breath. He exhales. “What were you saying?” he asks Bucky.
“In case anyone asks. We have to get our story straight. Where we met, how long ago— that kind of thing.”
“Yeah,” Steve says. “That’s probably a good idea. Are you a professional?”
“Like— do you do this professionally?”
Bucky laughs. “No. But I’ve watched enough crime TV to know my way around a two-party lie.”
“Oh,” Steve says. His smile is faint.
“Look, Sam has my number. If you don’t want to go through with this— that’s totally fine. If you do, meet me for a completely casual drink on Sunday, and be prepared to tell me your life story. I’ll bring flashcards.”
“Right,” Steve says. “That sounds completely casual.”
Bucky gives him one last grin, and leaves.
To both of their surprises, Steve calls. It’s not an unpleasant surprise. Bucky is instantly charmed by Steve’s simultaneous hesitance and honesty, and how genuine his laugh sounds over the phone. Bucky can picture him on the other line, the corners of his eyes crinkling.
They agree to meet near Bucky’s since he made the trek last time. There’s a bar he likes to go to, primarily because his roommate is obsessed with the bartender and it’s funny to watch them furiously beat around the bush, but also because the drinks are wildly cheap for how good they are. Steve is already there when Bucky walks in, and Bucky takes note of it, of his promptness. It’s nice.
“Hey,” he says, sidling up next to him, and taking a seat.
“Hi,” Steve says, and slides a folder toward him.
“Are these… police records?” Bucky asks.
Steve laughs. “No.”
“Because the way you handed them over, it seemed like— ”
Steve continues laughing.
“I just want to make sure.”
“No,” Steve says, “no. I just wanted to be organized.”
“Organized about what?”
“I wrote a fact sheet.”
“You sat down at your laptop and typed a fact sheet out about yourself? Then you pressed the little print button and waited a moment and got up to go to the printer and took the fact sheet and put it in a manila folder and labeled the manila folder Steve Rogers Fact Sheet and waited at this bar for me to show up?”
Steve, to Bucky’s absolute joy, is blushing. “I just thought— ”
“No worries,” Bucky says, taking out his phone. “I wrote one out too. It should be in your inbox now.”
“Oh, thank god.”
“Yeah, because I like to save trees, you know.”
“Shut up,” Steve says, good-naturedly. He looks at Bucky from the corner of his eye, and they’re both smiling. “Okay,” he says, unlocking his phone, “it says here you once cried to the Great British Bake Off?”
“No,” Bucky says, “that’s a typo. It should say that I cry once per episode to the Great British Bake Off.”
“Oh, that’s so much more understandable.”
The bartender comes to take their order, and only then does Bucky realize Steve has been waiting for him. They order two pints of Guinness and take the next few minutes to drink and read in silence.
“Lost your virginity at 17… wow, did you really feel the need to include that?”
Steve’s ears are pink. “I thought— it would be something my partner would know.”
“This was a terrible idea,” Steve says, quickly, moving as if to stand.
“No— wait,” Bucky says, reaching for Steve’s arm. “That’s just my bad sense of humor, I’m sorry. I get weird in these situations. Not that I’m in these situations a lot, but— you know what I mean. I wasn’t making fun of you or anything.”
Steve is still frowning, but he settles back down onto the bar stool. “Okay,” he says.
“These are good,” Bucky says, indicating the fact sheet. “I can memorize them on my own. Why don’t we decide how long we’ve been going out for? When did you and the bride break up?”
“Oh— It’s been five years.”
“And you haven’t…”
“I’ve dated,” Steve says, shrugging. “I needed some time to get over her. Not so much her, I guess, as the situation itself. Even when you fall out of love with somebody, even when it’s amicable and clean, there’s residual feeling. There’s the life you’ve built together that you mourn. So yeah— we were high school sweethearts, and then into college, and then… it didn’t work out.” He shrugs again. “I’m happy she’s found love, because I’m always going to love and care for her.”
“Don’t you want to find love, too?”
“Sure I do. Doesn’t everyone?”
“You could try one of those dating sites,” Bucky suggests. “They seem to work out shockingly well.”
“I’m not really sure that’s for me.”
“No? But finding a random guy to fake-date to the wedding of the woman you dated for eight years is?”
“I feel like I need to remind you that this wasn’t my idea at all.”
“But you went along with it,” Bucky says.
“Yeah,” Steve says, taking a sip of his beer. “I guess I did.”
There it is again— the openness. The cautious unraveling, a draw bridge coming down, revealing the way for Bucky. Steve is not a small man, and he could be intimidating if he wanted to be. The fact that he isn’t, that he allows a measure of unguardedness, is somewhat unsettling. It takes Bucky off guard.
“Why?” he asks.
Steve sets his glass down, and turns fully to Bucky. “I guess I figured that anyone who’d be willing to answer an ad like that would be worth getting to know, or at least easy to get along with, or maybe in need of a friend.”
“I have… friends,” Bucky says.
Steve smiles. “Yeah, that’s why I said that one last.”
The wedding ceremony is so touching and thoughtful that it almost makes Bucky angry. Almost. Steve sniffles next to him and he takes his hand, both instinctively and with the knowledge that he’s playing a role. Bucky does not go to weddings very often, because Bucky’s friends are all very cool and very single. Bucky has one friend in total, and he is very cool and very single. They rise as Peggy walks down the aisle and Bucky watches for a moment the nameless man (he has a name, of course— it’s on the invitation, and the welcome card, and the plaque outside of the venue— but it is a nondescript name like Ted or Tim or Jim, and Bucky is already feeling weirdly protective of Steve, and makes a point not to retain it) standing at the altar, suddenly grateful it isn’t Steve. Obviously, because, if it were Steve standing there, waiting for Peggy to walk to him, Bucky wouldn’t be here, and he’d miss out on the open bar. The open bar, which is his primary and only concern.
The priest says some things. Peggy says some things. Todd says some things. Bucky is not so much listening as he is peripherally noticing Steve, who seems to clap the loudest when the bride and groom finally kiss. Bucky wonders if it’s an act. For most other men it would be an act.
Later, at the cocktail hour, he pulls Steve aside with every intention of seeming intimate. Steve snatches two champagne flutes as they pass by, and offers one to Bucky once they’re in a private corner, a shy smile on his face.
“I have to know,” Bucky says.
“Are you faking it? Because you’re really good.”
The slightest look of confusion crosses Steve’s face. “Faking what?”
“Your complete and utter joy at your ex finding love at last.”
“I— ” Steve says, frowning. “No, Bucky.”
“Why is that so hard for you to believe?”
“What, that you’re, like, a genuinely good person? It’s 2020, Steve. No one has the capacity to be good in this timeline.”
“Oh, come on.”
Bucky throws his flute back in one, quick swallow. “I’m serious. Maybe you haven’t noticed, because even though you say you’ve dated around I don’t really believe you, but everyone out there is truly awful.”
“You don’t seem that bad,” Steve says with a shrug. “When you’re not accusing me of being fake.”
“You don’t know me. Are you drinking that?” Steve hands his flute over, and Bucky polishes that off as well. “Anyway, I just think— ”
“What?” Bucky says, immediately, his own train of thought coming to a halt. “What happened?”
“Don’t look,” Steve says, under his breath. “You see that man coming toward us— don’t look— in the grey suit?”
“Uh huh,” Bucky says, maintaining eye contact with Steve. They spoke rapidly, in hushed, low tones, cementing their partnership in crime and queerness.
“Peggy’s godfather. He’s always hated me.”
“Are you shitting me? You’re like… the physical embodiment of the all-American dream.”
“Besides the part where I’m bisexual, combative, and a Democratic Socialist?”
“Yikes,” Bucky says. “Wait, tell me more about combative— that wasn’t on your fact sheet.”
“Later,” Steve says, urgently. “Help me come up with an excuse to— ”
They don’t need to. Bucky pulls him in by the lapels, kisses him hard. His eyes are closed and at first he is thinking only on his feet— doing the easiest thing to do to deter someone from bothering you— and then he is thinking actually that Steve smells nice and that Bucky has to soften the kiss to really appreciate it. Steve’s hands come to rest on his waist, and they’re closer than he can remember initially standing. When they pull apart, the man in the grey suit is gone, and Steve’s cheeks are tinted pink.
“Oh,” Steve says.
“That was a good idea.”
Bucky can’t help but smile. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Steve says, nodding, but turning away from him. “It completely worked.”
“Oh,” Bucky says, suddenly thirsty again. “It did.” He nods. “I meant for it to. I think they’re letting people sit now— is there alcohol in there? Let’s check.” And he takes Steve by the hand, and he pulls him into the banquet hall.
Inside, the decor is tasteful and autumn-themed, the color theme a blend of cinnamon and champagne and burgundy. There are candles and maple leaves on every table, and while Steve finds them their seats Bucky stands at the open bar, waiting on two scotches, neat. Bucky looks around while the bartender pours.
It’s nice, he has to admit. Bucky has never really been one for “romance” or whatever, but the amount of care and thought that has been put into this wedding, of two people basically ending their lives together to be boring forever, does happen to tug on one or two of his heart strings. He does not bother wondering whether this will ever be an option for him, but he does down one of the scotches before handing the glass back to the bartender, wordlessly, who refills it, also wordlessly.
When he sees Steve again, he’s across the room, laughing and talking with some of his roommates, who have also showed up to this wedding. For the first time since they’ve met, he actually looks at ease; his shoulders are relaxed and there’s a look on his face Bucky hasn’t seen before— a lightbulb screwed in, a room flooded with light. Steve does not look this way around Bucky, when it’s just the two of them, as pleasant as he is. Some kind of pang arrests Bucky’s heart in that moment; it fills his chest up with a tightness and a discomfort. Bucky makes his way through the crowd to hand Steve his drink.
“Thanks,” he says, brightly, and nods at Clint and Natasha. “Look who I found.”
“Hi,” Bucky says, forcing a smile. “Did you wind up finding your hearing aid?”
“Oh, yeah!” Clint says, beaming. “My dog ate it.”
“Why do you look happy about that?”
“Well… he wound up spitting it out. So no harm done, really.”
“No, man,” Clint says with a laugh. “It’s completely destroyed, I had to order a new one.”
Bucky has to laugh at that. Natasha rolls her eyes, linking an arm around Clint’s. “Come on, dog boy— you owe me a dance.”
As the night goes on, and the drinks keep flowing, Bucky finds himself loosening up. He begins to enjoy himself. He begins to enjoy the way the candlelight hits Steve’s face and the way his eyes light up when he’s telling a story. Bucky finds himself leaning in more, their knees touching one another under the table. At some point, everyone is on their feet and dancing, and neither Bucky nor Steve can justify sitting at the table while Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5” plays. They dance to Madonna and Donna Summer and ABBA. Sam joins them for a bit, and he and Bucky do circles around Steve, laughing the whole time. By the time they catch their breath, “Under Pressure” is winding down, and something with a slower tempo is starting.
Sam’s date— introduced as the ever-gorgeous, no-nonsense Claire Temple— swoops in and leads him away, and then Steve and Bucky are left standing face-to-face, laughing awkwardly.
Bucky says: “Do you wanna go back to— ” at the same time Steve says: “Should we— ” and they both stop, laughing again.
“You go first,” Bucky says.
“Oh— I just— ” Steve says, intelligently, running a hand through his hair. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted to dance, or?”
“Do you want to dance?”
“It’s Al Green,” Steve says. “Of course I want to dance.”
“Okay,” Bucky says, and takes Steve’s hand in his. They sway in silence, neither of them making eye contact, for thirty visibly awkward seconds.
“I’m sorry,” Steve says, laughing. The tightness is back in his shoulders and chest— Bucky can tell. “I’m not great at this. I mean, not the dancing part. I’m a great dancer, normally. The other part. The fake relationship part.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Bucky says. “Come closer, and put your arms around me. You know. Just... pretend you like me.”
Steve laughs again, but it’s quieter now, soft like a bird. “I don’t think I need to pretend, Buck.”
Bucky looks up at him, squinting. “What.”
“Not an okay nickname?”
“No,” Bucky says, “the first part.”
Steve shrugs, but his arms are around Bucky now, and they are so fucking buff it’s making Bucky a little insane to be so close to him. Everything about this situation, actually, is making him a little insane— how tall Steve is, how close Steve is, how good Steve smells. How broad his chest is and how he’s looking at him, again with that honesty, that openness, like they’ve known one another for years and years.
“I thought this wedding was going to be impossible,” Steve says, “but it hasn’t been. You asked me whether I was faking it, and I wasn’t. I don’t have to. I’m happy that this woman I loved for eight years of my life has found the relationship she’d been looking for, and I’m happy that even if my roommates felt I was too awkward and unlucky at romance to find someone for myself, they led me to you. Even if… nothing really comes from this, and we just have fun for this one night, I’ll be glad to have met you, Bucky Barnes.”
“Oh,” Bucky says. “Shit.”
“Yeah,” Steve says, and before he can say anything else, Bucky closes the gap between them again.
It’s softer this time, less rushed and less panicked. Steve’s lips are warm against his own, and whether it’s the song or the liquor or the whole rush of the moment, Bucky feels himself get caught up in the kiss, pressing Steve’s mouth open so he can taste more of him. When they pull away, they’re both surprised and slightly pink from it, until Steve leans in and kisses him again.
“I’m glad I met you, too,” Bucky says, when they pull apart again. “But.”
Bucky laughs. “But I’m not as accepting as you. I’ll probably be pretty bummed out if nothing comes from this.”
“What would you say if I asked you out on a real date, then?” Steve asks, ridiculously, as their arms are still around one another.
“I’d say this is a real date, Rogers,” Bucky says, and kisses him again.