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More Than a Gun

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Bucky kills people.

He doesn’t like it, but he does it. There aren’t many skills he possessed that could be applied to other jobs. There was no way he could hold a standard 9-5 in an office somewhere. The job wasn’t always killing; sometimes he just escorted someone across unfriendly boarders or sitting and looking intimidating in a corner somewhere. His frequent flier miles would be insane if he ever took commercial flights, but there was more than the metal arm keeping him from doing that.

Natasha was his only friend. He’s only shot her once, so they might as well be best friends. They didn’t see each other often, but they keep in touch as well as two assassins could without making themselves vulnerable. She was the one that convinced him to try and build a life for himself outside of work. He still thought she was being ridiculous to peruse a relationship, especially with a goober like Clint Barton. At least Barton knew his stuff.

After Natasha jokingly suggested that Bucky get a roommate he’d actually found himself considering it. He spent all of his days completely alone, either out in the field or in his practically empty apartment. Being a literal assassin didn’t leave a lot of room for friends, but maybe he could find someone low-key to share a place with. Even if it was only to keep him from going crazier than he already was.

There were several problems with that plan of course. Whoever he got had to be lied to about literally everything in his life. It wasn’t like he could tell them he killed people for a living, no sane person would put up with him for a moment once he told them, if they didn’t try to turn him in. Also they would be in danger if anyone tried to come after him. What kind of asshole was he to be even considering putting someone else in the line of fire like that? Also, he had no idea how to find himself a roommate. It wasn’t like he could put up a want ad in the paper. He could hear it now:

 

“Trained assassin seeking roommate, must be quiet and willing to put up with the occasional blood stain.”

 

“Yeah, that’d be swell.” Bucky huffed, pushing his hair behind his ear. Maybe he could ask Nat? It wasn’t like he knew anyone else to ask, and anyone he did get would have to be extensively vetted and a bit gullible. This already sounded like more of a headache than it was worth.

“I’m sorry James, but you’re just going to have to find someone yourself if you really do want a roommate. I can ask Clint, but I wouldn’t count on him. Ah, there’s my mark. Gotta go, work calls. Let me know if you find anyone.”

Bucky spent a week moping around and trying to decide what to do. He always kept odd hours, but now he found himself with even more time spent staring blankly at the TV.

It wasn’t the first time he’d fallen asleep sitting at attention in his chair. Too much time spent sitting and waiting for a good moment to strike, but the sound of a door slamming down the hall snapped him awake immediately. His fingers tightened around the knife in his pocket out of habit. Usually the people in this building were quiet and unassuming, one of the reasons that Bucky had chosen to live here, so he was concerned to suddenly hear banging and yelling. A small part of him wanted to ignore it, it was probably some lovers’ quarrel, but the rest of him knew that he had to check it out.

Pushing open the door silently Bucky flipped his grip on the knife so that it lay parallel with the inside of his arm before stalking down the hall toward the voices. There were two men arguing, though he couldn’t tell what about.
As he peered around the corner Bucky spied them. One was big and brutish, his face ruddy with rage as he loomed over his tiny companion. The other man was tiny, barely over 5 feet and maybe 100 pounds soaking wet. However the furious look he was leveling at the larger man made Bucky sure he wouldn’t and didn’t back down easy.

“This is the last straw you little punk. I’ve had enough of you and you holier-than-thou attitude.” The big guy looked like he was itching to reach out and shake the smaller man, but Bucky would have to step in before that happened.

“Sit on it and spin, Rumalow.” The small blond man hissed. He looked just as ready to throw a punch himself. “I’m not going to sit by and let you and your crazy bosses hurt people anymore. It’s wrong and you know it. If you weren’t wrapped up in this crazy cult you’d be able to see how fucked up it is!”

A cult? Bucky was definitely intrigued, but he was torn as to whether he should step in or let them handle it themselves. He was saved from making that decision when the larger man pulled back his arm to throw a punch. Well Bucky couldn’t have that. The other man looked like he had bird bones, he’d crumple under a punch. Quick as a flash Bucky had grabbed the man’s arm and wrenched it back behind him until he heard it pop out of its socket. Maybe he was being a bit harsh but picking on a little guy was never going to fly with him. Look at that, an assassin with a moral compass.

“Maybe you should calm down there, pal.” Bucky hissed in the man’s ear, giving his am another tug that made him cry out before letting him go. The man, Rumalow, gave him a nasty look as he cradled his arm, turning his furious gaze on the smaller man immediately.

“Don’t think we’re done. By the time I get home tomorrow you better have all your shit cleared out or I’ll come after you, Steve. No matter who you have on retainer.” He snarled at Bucky before pushing the door to his apartment open, slamming it closed hard enough that the fixture above them shook.

Bucky turned to the smaller man, Steve, blinking at the furious look he was sporting.

“I had him on the ropes, you jerk.”

Masking his surprise with a well-practiced air of nonchalance Bucky shrugged. “Sorry. Next time I’ll just let him punch you. Wouldn’t think you liked getting punched.”

Steve huffed, crossing his skinny arms over his chest. “I don’t like being punched.”

Bucky scratched the back of his neck, wondering when he could make a tactful get-away. “Well… I’m sorry I stepped in then. Good night.” He turned to go back to his apartment. It wasn’t until he heard a resigned sigh from behind him that he remembered that Steve had nowhere to stay now. “Uh…”

Steve was looking up at him. “You don’t have to feel bad for me. I did this to myself.” He gave a small smile that lit him up in a way that made Bucky feel a bit weak.

God, how had he not noticed how beautiful Steve was? Wait, beautiful? It had been a long night already. “I wasn’t…” He was going to offer, but Steve didn’t seem the kind of guy to accept help from anyone. “But I mean, you don’t have anywhere to go tonight. As much fun as I’m sure it’d be to sleep in the hallway.” Bucky paced down the hall again. “But if you want to sleep somewhere, I have a couch.” He wasn’t sure what he was doing honestly. This was the longest conversation he’d had with someone in months, and he was nearing the end of his ability to make conversation.

There was only silence behind him for a few long moments before he heard another long-suffering sigh and the soft pad of Steve’s footsteps behind him.

Only once they’d reached his apartment did the enormity of how terrible an idea this was crash down on him. Was his apartment even safe? Probably not with the various weapons scattered throughout the house. He could have a gun sitting on the damn table for all he knew. Pushing his door open he stepped aside to let Steve in. Thank god, no weapons on the table. “Sorry it’s a mess, I don’t usually have guests.”

Steve snorted out a laugh. “This isn’t a mess. You should see my room.”

“I guess I should have introduced myself before inviting you into my home.” Bucky turned, a real blush rising to his cheeks. “I’m Bucky. I didn’t want to but in, but I couldn’t leave you out there, either.”

Steve held out his hand to shake, meeting Bucky’s gaze with a kind of intensity that Bucky hadn’t expected from such a small man. “Steve Rogers. Sorry to cause a scene, but I just can’t stand that guy anymore.”

Bucky assessed the callouses on Steve’s hand when he shook it, very different from his own. He had long thin fingers, like a pianist or an artist. His voice was deep and warm and hardly matched his stature. Steve seemed an interesting guy already.

“Bucky…” Steve rolled the name around his mouth, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Nickname I assume?”

Bucky snorted. “Yeah. My name’s James, but no one ever calls me that.”

“It suits you.” Steve smiled and Bucky felt his stomach swoop like he’d just jumped off a building. Fuck, this was bad. So bad.

Bucky turned away so that he could be sure he wasn’t making a weird face. “Sorry all I can offer is a couch, but it’s not too lumpy.”

Steve waved his hands, turning to cough and take in a wheezing breath before digging in his pockets and pulling out an inhaler. Only after taking a puff from it did he look at Bucky again. “Sorry, asthma, it kicks up at the worst times.” He shoved the inhaler back in his pocket.

Bucky hadn’t questioned it, but Steve was fully dressed like he’d been planning to go out for the day when he’d found him in the hall. Most people wouldn’t be so put-together at the very early hours of the morning, it was either a testament to Steve’s preparedness or he’d known that Rumalow would throw him out.

“I just hope he doesn’t slash my paintings.” Steve mumbled, more to himself than Bucky.

Ah, artist then. Now that Steve mentioned it Bucky noticed a small splotch of blue paint under his jaw. Fuck, now he had to resist the urge to touch it.

“We can deal with it in the morning. Maybe some sleep will help sort things out. I’ll get you some blankets.” Bucky bustled down the hall, pushing open his linen closet and making sure to strategically avoid the bag of grenades. God, he really hoped that Steve didn’t go nosing through his stuff. A sex toy drawer was the least of his problems in this house.

Returning with his arms full of blankets Bucky fussed about setting them up neatly, waving Steve off when he immediately stepped up to help. “No, I’ve got it.”

Steve ended up handing his the blankets anyway, watching Bucky tuck them in neatly.

“I got you some pillows too. I know I like a lot of them.” Bucky let Steve finagle them into their cases while he finished trying to make his couch as inviting as possible. No one had ever stayed here before, for obvious reasons. Clearly his common sense had completely abandoned him. Apparently even he wasn’t immune to the lure of big blue eyes in trouble. This could only go badly about 15,000 different ways.

“Go ahead and watch some TV or whatever if you want.” Bucky gestured to the coffee table. “If you need anything else my room is down the hall.”

Steve nodded, his eyes stormy with the thoughts swirling behind them. “Thank you.”

Bucky nodded, trying to make it look like he wasn’t hurrying to hide in his room. “It’s no problem. Goodnight Steve.”

Sprawled out in his bed Bucky stared up at the ceiling reflecting on all of the poor decisions he’d made in his life. There were more than enough, and this was already edging toward the top of the list. He’d never figured himself a sucker, but here he was letting Steve stay with him like he was a stray puppy and not a strange man. Even though Bucky knew nothing about him he wanted to trust him, a feeling he was completely unaccustomed to. He was an assassin, he didn’t trust people.

Yet here he was, playing gracious host to a stranger that he may or may not already have a crush on. What was he, 12?

Rolling over he punched his pillow into a more comfortable shape and tried to dose off. He could hear the slight rattle of Steve’s breathing, and though he’d expected it to set him on edge he found it lulling him to sleep instead.

Bucky killed people, but he was more than the weapons he wielded.

Chapter Text

Bucky woke long before Steve did. He never slept much, just enough to leave him sharp and no more. He tried to take the occasional lazy day, but he usually just found himself pacing or cleaning his guns for the 10th time in a row. Natasha said he needed to learn to switch off, relax a little, he’d told her she was full of shit and he knew she didn’t relax either. Lying in bed staring at the ceiling was nothing new for Bucky, but being able to hear the sound of someone else in his apartment was. God, Steve’s breathing sounded like shit, an unhealthy rattle to every few moments from his asthma.

Bucky lie in bed until he heard Steve turn on the TV, untangling himself from the blankets and pulling on a shirt before wandering out into the living room. His heart gave an embarrassing swoop when he saw Steve bundled up in blankets on his couch, his hair sticking up and his glasses a little askew as he watched a cooking show.

“Morning.” Bucky crossed the room, considering sitting next to Steve but deciding against it and flopping down into the arm chair adjacent.

Steve turned his slightly bleary gaze on him. “Mornin’.”

“You wanna go get your stuff?” Bucky suggested, his heart giving another swoop at the sleepy Brooklyn drawl in Steve’s voice. How had he not noticed that yesterday?

Steve nodded. “Better to get it over with. I guess I should make some calls and figure out where to put it all…”

“You can stay with me until you find something else.” Bucky blinked, as surprised as Steve obviously was as the words fell from his mouth. Keeping Steve here for one night was a risk, keeping him here long-term was just stupid.

“I couldn’t do that to you, you’ve helped me out enough.” Steve struggled to free himself from his blanket nest.

“I have a spare room, you’re more than welcome to it once it’s cleaned up a bit.” Bucky couldn’t seem to stop himself talking, something that had never happened before. This was the most he’d talked to anyone besides Natasha in years.

Steve was staring at him, his expression caught somewhere between confusion and annoyance. “I couldn’t impose like that…”

Bucky huffed. “Please, Steve, I insist.” Why was he so stupid? What the hell was he supposed to do with a roommate when every room in his house was littered with weapons? There was just no easy way of explaining that away. “Now let’s go get your stuff from that dick down the hall.”

Steve pulled himself up, looking resigned, and reached over to the coffee table for his keys. “Fine. Let’s get it over with. I won’t be in your hair for more than few days, I swear.”

Bucky just waved his words away, going to find a more suitable pair of clothes for moving and tying his hair up in a secure bun to keep it out of his face.

If Steve stared at him a little when he came back Bucky didn’t notice, pulling the front door open and leaving it propped with a shoe, trying to push back the nausea of insecurity that screamed at him to keep the door tightly closed.

“C’mon then.” Steve brushed past him, squaring his skinny shoulders and stalking down the hall.

Steve raised his hand to knock once they reached his apartment, but seemed to decide against it at the last moment and just opened up the door.

“Thank God, he’s not here.” Steve deflated a little, looking tired and small. “I have some boxes in the back of my closet from when I moved in. It’ll be easier to move stuff than one thing at a time.” Steve puttered off, leaving Bucky to look around.

Steve’s apartment was set up identically to his own, as he figured all of the apartments on this floor were, but there was a strange dichotomy that had established itself here. Rumalow was clearly a neat freak, his stuff painfully organized and regimented, and when Bucky peered into his room he wasn’t surprised to see a HYDRA banner pinned up along his things. He’d heard of HYDRA, no one in the underground community was exempt from them; he’d even done a job or two for them when he’d been desperate for money. They were nuts, the lot of them, and while Bucky usually tried to reserve judgment on his clients if he was asked he’d have to say that these guys were just evil. He’d done two jobs for them, and they were at the top of his “worst things I’ve ever done in my life” list. Rumalow was clearly a fanatic, judging from his bookshelf and the various things in his room, and Bucky repressed a shudder that Steve had been subjected to this man. No wonder they had argued, Steve had been right to call HYDRA a cult.

When he wandered his way back into the living room he could see the spots where Steve had interrupted the flow of Rumalow’s neat freak apartment, a paint-flecked mug and a scattering of pencils on the coffee table, a neat stack of books that seemed to be equal parts about modern art and World War II, and a cozy blanket slung over the back of the couch with a tiny floral pattern on it. Definitely not something hyper-masculine Rumalow would be into. Bucky silently started to gather these things up, shove the pencils into the cup as he found them and arranged small knickknacks that screamed Steve on the blanket spread out on the floor. He wasn’t sure how many boxes Steve had, but he was good at working with what he could find.

A muffled curse and the whump of something falling had Bucky springing into action, rushing into the other bedroom to see Steve half-buried under boxes and even more blankets, one of his arms pinned up by his head as he wiggled to try to free himself. Bucky couldn’t help it, he burst out laughing, ignoring Steve’s glare and doubling over with the force of his laughter. It took him a minute to compose himself, and he wiped his face with his arm, taking a deep breath before approaching the still-pinned Steve.

“If you’re done laughing at my misfortune I could use some help.” Steve quipped, wiggling harder to try to dislodge the boxes, his cheeks pink with embarrassment.

“Sorry.” Bucky mumbled, gathering up the blankets and freeing Steve from the pile. “I think you need more blankets.”

Steve huffed, kicking a box away from him. “I have poor circulation, I get cold.” He set about meticulously re-folding the boxes and taping them up securely at the bottom.

Bucky set the blankets on the bed, taking a moment to look around Steve’s room. It was nearly empty except for the bed and a dresser, but the far wall was stacked almost two feet deep with canvases in varying sizes, and a home-made easel stood propped in the corner. There was a huge hope chest that Bucky assumed held art supplies instead of more blankets and he gravitated toward it, running his fingers over the etching in the top. It was clearly antique and very beautiful. Also it would more than likely out-weigh its owner.

Pulling himself away from the chest Bucky turned to Steve haphazardly shoving things into the newly made boxes. “I’ll go and get your room ready while you pack? Just bring over boxes and put them wherever, we can organize later.”

He got a non-committal noise from Steve in response, but that was enough for him. Leaving the door to Steve’s apartment propped open as well Bucky headed back to his own.

Again resisting the urge to slam and lock his door Bucky took a long breath. His spare rom had become overflow of the random shit that somehow managed to collect without noticing, though most of it was a gun cabinet that he really wasn’t looking forward to moving. Rolling up his sleeves Bucky made a mental check of all the weapons in his house. He’d have to move as many of them as possible to his room, and hide a few of them more securely so that Steve didn’t find them. As highly trained as he was Bucky was confident in his ability to hide his life from Steve. Hell, all he had to do was put something on top of the fridge and it might as well be gone.

Moving everything out of his spare room didn’t take as long as he’d expected, he’d dumped most of the military tac stuff on his bed to be sorted later, as well as his stash of cell-phones and the bag of grenades from the linen closet. Now the gun cabinet was staring him down. It was old-fashioned, with a turning lock and a solid steel door. Not light by any means. It might be a bit lighter if he took everything out of it, but that meant spreading at least 25 guns within view of anyone that walked past his door. Steeling himself Bucky wedged his way behind the thing and pushed, getting his metal hand under the edge and heaving it over his shoulder. Probably a good thing that Steve wasn’t here to see this, he might faint at the sight of his proposed roommate lugging half a ton across the house. The cybernetic arm had to be good for something at least, right?

Depositing the safe into the space he’d cleared for it in his room Bucky sighed, grateful more than anything that now Steve wouldn’t accidentally blow himself up with a grenade he’d forgotten about or ask why he had so many knives stuck to the back of the fridge. His life was sure something.

Right on cue Bucky heard Steve pattering down the hall. He quickly closed the door to his room and shoved the couch forward to give them as much space to move as possible.

Steve had piled up so many boxes that he clearly couldn’t see over the top, and Bucky snagged one from him before they all toppled over. “Got your room done. Go ahead and start putting stuff wherever, and I can move furniture.” He didn’t leave Steve time to argue, just breezed out into the hall.

It took only a few hours to move everything Steve owned into Bucky’s apartment. Steve had grumbled and tried to help Bucky move his dresser and the bed, but relented when he saw that Bucky was more than capable. Bucky had to resist the urge to carry both of them just to show off.

The paintings were the last things, and Bucky watched enraptured as Steve carefully re-stacked them in his room. They were exquisite. About half of them were abstract, bright doses of color on morose backgrounds, some of them were landscapes, clearly recognizable as Brooklyn or even the view outside of Steve’s apartment window, but what got Bucky the most were the figures. Even they were full of color, shadows painted with soft blues and purples and light with sunny oranges and yellows. The people seemed to live in a world that was saturated with color, bright and lively and alive in a way that made Bucky’s stomach swoop in unexpected ways. Clearly Steve was a great artist.

And Bucky had been right, the hope chest weighed almost as much as the gun cabinet, but he wasn’t going to tell Steve that.

Steve had been resolutely stubborn that he could do this himself. He’d seemed annoyed that Bucky had needed to help him so much in the first place, but after an hour of moving boxes Steve had started to wheeze a bit and Bucky had taken over, making Steve take breaks and drink water. Poor guy, he really had it rough.
Leaving Steve to unpack in piece, Bucky decided to make them some lunch, actually humming softly to himself as he put together sandwiches. Wow, one day and he was already turning into a sap.

“Steve! I have food!” Bucky peered around the corner into Steve’s room when he didn’t get an immediate response, a smile gracing his lips when he realized Steve had fallen asleep while folding blankets on his bed. This man was surely going to be the death of him. Setting the sandwich on the bed-side table Steve had arranged out of a milk crate and a box Bucky pulled out his phone and snapped a photo of Steve’s frankly angelic sleeping face before sending it to Natasha.

Found myself a roommate.

Chapter Text

“Are you sleeping with Natasha?”

Bucky almost choked on his cereal, glad that he’d managed to resist bending his spoon into unusable scrap in his surprise. “What? No!”

“I mean obviously you’re not sleeping with her now, but did you before? She’s the only person you ever talk about, so I assumed…” Steve nibbled on his toast, looking up at Bucky through his unfairly long eyelashes.

“Nat’s just a friend. She has someone.” Bucky set his spoon down carefully.

Steve hummed, regarding his toast with a critical eye. “Mmm…”

Bucky felt a flush crawling up his neck and tried to hide himself in his cereal. Steve had been living with him for a few weeks now, and at every opportunity Bucky sabotaged any attempts that he made to try to move out. He knew he was being selfish, but he also knew that if Steve really wanted to leave he would just pack up and go no matter what Bucky did. If there was one thing he’d learned about Steve Rogers it was that he could out-stubborn God himself.

“How’s the painting going?” Bucky felt desperate to change the subject, literally anything but his love life please. Really, anything that wasn’t about him. He didn’t want to be cagey with Steve, but he couldn’t exactly come out and tell him “hey, I’m an internationally renowned assassin, and Natasha is too; that’s why she’s basically the only person I know.”

Steve shrugged, shoving the rest of his toast into his mouth. “It’s alright.” He picked at a string on his sweater. “I need to stop at the store and pick up a few more things for it.”

Bucky nodded. “I’ll be here most of the day, but I’ll be out over the weekend.”

He’d convinced Steve that he was private security, which wasn’t technically a lie, and explained his odd hours and general inability to tell Steve what he was doing.

Steve gathered up their plates once Bucky had shoved the rest of his cereal into his mouth. “Sounds good. You mind if I work out in the living room today? My room doesn’t get enough ventilation for oils.”

Bucky couldn’t help but grin. The thought of getting to watch Steve paint sounded like the best damn idea he’d ever heard. “Sure. Just tell me if I’m in your way, huh?”

Most of their days progressed like this. Steve spent almost all of his time working on art, be it for commission or personal projects, not that Bucky minded, he loved seeing Steve covered head to toe in charcoal or listening to him hum as he mixed colors on his palette. He never thought that something that simple could be so soothing but Bucky had never felt more relaxed and at home in his own skin. Having Steve around was cathartic in a way that he could have never anticipated.

“Hey Buck?” Steve had returned to the table, his hands folded neatly in front of him and his serious expression in place. That look made Steve seem much bigger, honestly made him command respect and consideration in a way that always left Bucky a little breathless.

“Yeah Stevie?” Bucky grinned, trying not to crumble under the intensity of Steve’s look. Damn, he just wanted to roll over and give the tiny blond anything that he asked when he looked at him with such intensity.

Steve’s expression faltered a little and he dropped his gaze only to snap it back up. “I know I mentioned it before and you said it might not be a good idea but…”

And now it was Bucky’s turn to falter. He knew what Steve wanted to ask. He wanted him to model for him. Steve had jokingly asked about it when one of his studio sessions had gotten canceled and Bucky had immediately turned him down. The last thing that Steve needed was to see was that mess. “Steve…”

“I know, and I know what you’ll say, but just consider it okay? I don’t want to be pushy, but I-”

Bucky shook his head. “No Steve. I was being serious before. I’ll sit and let you draw me reading or something. Hell, I’ll even let you do studies of my arm, but I won’t model for you. Trust me, you don’t want to know.” He was being a bit unfair, and he knew it, it was his own issues getting in the way here, but the thought of sitting naked under Steve’s gaze was terrifying. There was a lot you could see from something like that, and none of those things were anything that Steve needed knowing about him.

To his surprise Steve simply unlaced his fingers and stood. “I understand.”

Bucky felt like a total jerk. Steve had been extremely understanding about everything Bucky had asked of him. Hell, he hadn’t even asked about the arm until Bucky had brought it up himself. This was literally the only thing Steve had asked of him, and he couldn’t even do it.

The chime of his phone broke Bucky out of his self-deprecating reverie. Digging it out of the pocket of his sweats he couldn’t help but sigh at the message. High-level client, the kind he couldn’t ignore even at his pay grade.

He turned to Steve, shoving his phone back into his pocket. “Looks like I’m going out after all. You know the drill.”

Steve snorted. “Yeah Bucky, you tell me every time. I feel like I’m in a movie about to get kidnapped by some bad-guys or something.” He ticked off his fingers as he recited the list Bucky had drilled into him after his first week.

“Don’t open the door no matter what. If you need to call me the number will come up as “unlisted” and ring twice before you call again, and don’t go in your room.”

Bucky nudged him. “And don’t burn the house down. We don’t need a repeat of last time.”

Steve huffed, shoving his bony elbow into Bucky’s side. “I did not burn the house down. I only set off the alarm twice.”

Bucky couldn’t resist the urge to ruffle his hair. “I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll ring if anything changes.”

Steve looked up at him, his eyes big an earnest. “When are you gonna tell me the truth, huh Buck?”

Bucky blinked at him but Steve had darted away from him, going to hide in his room.

Shit. Did Steve know? Or maybe he was talking about something else? He didn’t have time to deal with this right now. Corning Steve would have to wait. Trudging into his own room Bucky closed the door tightly, digging out his tac vest and changing methodically.

It wasn’t until he checked his phone that night that he saw he had a message from Natasha. She was actually coming to visit. He hadn’t seen her in in years. His excitement was tempered by a bone-deep sigh. What was he supposed to do with Steve in a house with two hyper-trained assassins and no easy answers? Maybe he was overreacting. Doubtful.

 

 

Bucky was distracted. He knew he was, and tried to push past it, but it stuck in the back of his head the whole time. As much as he loved Natasha he wasn’t sure what to make of her being around Steve. Honestly Steve was probably safer around her than he was around Bucky, and he wasn’t scared of her blowing their cover, Nat could keep a secret with the best of them. It was more Natasha herself, not the super-spy, but the woman underneath. It was a testament to how long they’d been friends that Bucky had seen the real Natasha at all. She was a big dork, and surprisingly soft to the people she cared for. He knew she would like Steve too. Why was he so worried?

The mission was as run of the mill as his work ever got, standard op, sitting up high somewhere and putting bullet through an eye. He was good at this. Once the shot had stopped ringing he was up and gathering his supplies, striding confidently down the stairs. It wasn’t until he was bundled in a cab that he took a breath. Distraction was extremely dangerous. Was that what Steve was now? A distraction from the job? No. He was more than that. Maybe it would be good to be able to talk face to face with Natasha, get his worries out in the clear. She would understand.

His boots clumped loudly on the stairs up to his floor. He gave a brief look down the hall toward Steve’s old apartment. He’d seen Rumalow move out a few days ago, and had to resist the urge to give him a few choice punches on his way out.

There was music playing somewhere on the floor, and it took Bucky a few moments to realize it was coming from his apartment. He hadn’t purposefully told Steve not to make any noise, but usually they were both very quiet. Picking up his pace Bucky pushed the door open, his metal fingers digging into the doorknob as his mind raced to immediate trouble.

Instead he found Steve and Natasha curled up on his couch, the latter armed with nail polish.

“You’re finally back. This one is a pain in the ass, wherever did you find him?” Natasha pulled herself up gracefully and crossed the room to kiss Bucky’s cheek.

Bucky struggled not to gape at her. “I thought you said you’d be here tomorrow.”

“I caught an earlier flight. Clint is busy this week, so I figured I’d take a well-deserved break.” Natasha capped the polish and turned her smile on Steve on the couch.

Steve ducked his head in the way he did when he was embarrassed. “We watched movies, and she painted my nails.”

Bucky looked over at the grinning redhead before going to plop down in the chair and untie his boots. “You giving her hell?”

Steve looked up at him. “She sucks at Uno.”

Natasha jabbed Steve with the bottle of nail polish. “There’s no strategy to Uno.”

“Don’t play Risk with her, no matter what she promises you.” Bucky pulled his vest off, rubbing his ribs. The damn thing was always a little too tight.

Steve raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like a challenge.”

Bucky threw up his hands. “Whatever you guys want to do, but I won’t be playing. I’m going to shower.”

Natasha’s grin followed him down the hall. He’d missed her, and he couldn’t be happier that she and Steve were getting along. Seeing Natasha so relaxed around someone new was rather surprising.

By the time he was done with his shower he could hear shouting from the other room.

“Okay, what’s going on out here?” Bucky poked his head around the corner, pushing wet hair out of his face.

They were spread out on the floor with game pieces gathered around them, Natasha lying on her belly with her ankles crossed and an intense look of concentration on her face , while Steve sat across from her with his legs folded and his glasses trying valiantly to fall down his nose.

Natasha rolled over and fixed Bucky with a nasty look. “You didn’t warn me that he was some ace strategist. I’m getting creamed over here. I’ve never lost a game of Risk in my life!”

Bucky stared at her and Steve burst out laughing until he was wheezing.

“Sorry, but if this is what you want to call strategy I’m appalled.”

Nat whirled to glower at Steve next. “You’re more than you seem Steve Rogers.”

Steve grinned innocently up at her. “You’re damn right. You decided to play board games with someone who spent his whole childhood in bed reading books and learning card games from nurses. It’s not my fault you haven’t played against anyone good.”

Natasha sighed dramatically before stalking off toward the kitchen. “I need a drink.”

Bucky couldn’t help but grin. “I can’t believe it. I’ve never seen Nat lose.”

Steve pulled himself up, wincing when his back popped. “I can’t say no to a challenge. You want to play next round? We were thinking of switching to Rummy. You sure have a lot of games for someone who lives alone.”

Bucky held his hands up immediately. “No thank you.”

Natasha came back with a rather large glass of what Bucky assumed was straight vodka. “I’d suggest we go out to dinner but I know you’ll just suggest some horrible pancake house.” She nudged him before returning to her seat by the game board. “So I’m calling in something. Ideas?”

 

 

After gorging themselves on takeout Thai food Steve drug himself to bed, mumbling about having to finish a painting in the morning. Bucky was glad that Natasha didn’t question him, or Steve would have resolutely stayed up later than either of them just to prove that he could. There was no one in the world more suborn than Steve Rogers.

The apartment was strangely silent once Steve had left. Bucky knew he didn’t feel uncomfortable around Natasha, but he was worried about what she’d say once they were alone. The silence that grew between them as they watched the view through the window was painfully thick.

“James...”

“Oh here it comes.” Bucky sighed, his shoulders slumping.

Natasha elbowed him. “It’s not like that. I don’t always say something bad.”

“Name one time.”

“I don’t need this kind of abuse from you Barnes, I came to visit on my own volition and I will leave.” She made no move to get up, her tone as light and teasing as it had been all night.

“No, I was joking. What is it?”

“I like him.” She said simply, sipping from her mostly empty glass. “I didn’t expect to.”

“You saying I have poor taste?” Bucky drug his fingers through his hair, looking over at her.

“No, you’re friends with me aren’t you?” She didn’t look at him, her gaze fixed on the reflections of the window.

“What’s really eating at you Nat? Is it Clint? Something wrong?”

Natasha waved him off, setting her glass down. “No, nothing like that. I just worry about you. I know you were lonely, but this kid…” She finally turned to look at him. “You like him. I can see it, so don’t bother trying to hide it.”

“I’m not in love with him if that’s what you’re trying to-” Bucky felt his face heat up. He had a crush on Steve, there was no denying that, but it didn’t mean he was stupid enough to say anything.

“Love if for children. I’ve always said that, but deep at heart we’re all children, aren’t we?” Natasha’s gaze had gone far away again. “Don’t worry James, he obviously cares for you. I just worry about you. I’d hate for you to mess this up. Lord knows it’s so easy. Clint knows about the things I do, because he’s spent time in the same places. Steve though…”

Bucky couldn’t look at her. “Jesus Natasha, it’s not like we’re married. I’m never going to say anything to him anyway. I’m not stupid.”

Natasha touched his arm gently. “I just don’t want you getting hurt.”

“I could say the same thing about you.” Bucky reached out to touch her cheek, glad when she didn’t shy away. His feelings for Steve were still so new; he didn’t know what to do about them. “I wish you could stay longer. Steve’s gonna miss you.”

“Maybe I’ll try to bring Clint next time.” Natasha finished off her drink and leaned back into the couch. “Fair warning, he’s even more of an idiot than you are.”

Bucky couldn’t help but laugh. “We have until tomorrow afternoon, anything you want to do while you’re here?”

Natasha’s smile went sad for a moment. “I’ve seen too much of this city. Why don’t we just stay in.”

Bucky nudged her, trying to push down the worry that she was still hiding things from him. It was the nature of their work to hide things, so he shouldn’t be surprised. “Stay still too long and Steve will probably draw you.”

“I know. He showed me some of the ones he did of you. You’re almost handsome when he draws you.”

“You’re a lost cause then.” Bucky couldn’t help his smile. “You’re already lovely.”

“You don’t have to butter me up Barnes.” Natasha pulled herself off the couch and went to get her coat. “As appealing as sleeping on your couch sounds I have to get back to my hotel. I’ll bring breakfast in the morning.”

Bucky twisted to look after her. “Nat. You didn’t tell Steve anything, did you?”

She paused for a moment before smoothing the wrinkles out of her coat. “He asked if I worked private security too. I told him I was a spy. He thought it was pretty funny and didn’t ask anything else.”

Bucky looked down at his hands. “He’s good about that.”

“You have to figure something out James. You can’t have him the way things are. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Before Bucky could open his mouth to argue she was gone, the door clicking shut quietly behind her.

“As if I don’t know that…” Bucky muttered after her, picking up her glass and running one of his fingers around the edge.

 

 

True to form Natasha showed up early with breakfast burritos and coffee, all of her seriousness from the previous night seemingly dissipated as she needled them both about their lack of taste in movies.

“I swear I’m going to be solely responsible for making sure Steve sees any good movies in his lifetime.”

Bucky rolled his eyes and busied himself with his food. “I’m sorry my movie collection isn’t to your liking.”

Natasha leaned close to Steve. “He keeps all the good movies in his room.” She waited until Steve’s face bloomed in a blush before she burst out laughing. “You are too cute Rogers.”

Bucky cut in before Steve could start stuttering. “Steve, Nat might have mentioned something about you drawing her today if you wanted. I know you’re always up for people to study.”
Steve nodded, his eyes lighting up as he scrambled toward his room. Bucky ignored Natasha wiggling her eyebrows at him.

They passed a few hours like that, Steve curled up in the chair and sketching and throwing out snarky comments as Bucky tidied up and Natasha sprawled out in various positions at Steve’s suggestion. Bucky knew that Natasha would never admit it, but he was sure she was enjoying the attention. Being under Steve’s gaze made Bucky feel twitchy with everything that he had to hide, but Natasha seemed at ease, giving as good as she got when Steve grumbled at her for moving.

At noon Natasha’s phone chirped and she announced that her ride was here for her.

“I’ll come visit again sooner than later.” She promised as Bucky handed her the coat she’d brought. “Four years is too long between visits.”

“I don’t know about that…” Bucky couldn’t help but smile at her. “I’m sure Steve will miss you. Eh Stevie?”

Steve nodded, tearing a page out of his sketchbook and handing it to Natasha with a shy smile. Natasha kissed his cheek and gave him a tight hug, murmuring something into Steve’s ear that Bucky couldn’t hear, but made the tiny blond light up with a blush as she carefully folded the drawing and tucked it into her coat pocket.

“Take care of this big lug for me won’t you Rogers? Lord knows he can’t do it himself.” Natasha kissed Bucky’s cheek as well before she breezed out into the hall. “I’ll let you know when I land.”

“I warned you that she was a bit of a headache.” Bucky leaned against the doorframe, suddenly feeling awkward when it was just the two of them again.

Steve just smiled at him, gathering up his pencils from the coffee table. “She’s great. Next time we should play Pictionary.”

Bucky scoffed. “Yeah, Pictionary with the artist. You’ve never seen me draw have you? I couldn’t draw myself out of a paper bag. Is there any game you’re bad at?”

“Life. I can never get the easy paths…” Steve turned to head back to his room and Bucky felt his chest squeeze painfully. Steve always seemed to be looking up, but Bucky knew he’d had a rough go of it with his poor health and losing both parents, but he’d never heard him say anything bad about it before. Maybe Nat was right. If they were all kids at heart then they were all just playing at life after all.

Shaking himself Bucky pushed himself off the wall to go and tidy up the livingroom. It was too early to be thinking like that. The ping of his phone broke him out of his thoughts. Oh good, another job. At least they’d waited until after Natasha left.

Chapter Text

Bucky is good at his job. That’s why he got the big bucks, no pun intended, but sometimes even he can get in over his head. This is definitely one of those times, his arms burning as he hoists himself up into the rafters of a warehouse. He’d been told where his target would be, and had spent most of the day scoping them out, finding the best place to lie in wait with a bullet loaded, but that had all gone sideways when his mark had called in a big group of guys from some private security firm. SHIELD wasn’t the most original name, but they were good, he’d gone from waiting patiently for his moment to dodging them as they scoped out the buildings surrounding their man.

It wasn’t the first time someone had called private security, but obviously this guy’s paranoia had gotten the better of him. Bucky was now trying to dodge almost 50 people at once, and even he had limits. His window to take out the guy was short, and these guys were seriously cutting into his margin. Flattening himself against the beam he’d climbed up to Bucky tried to find a better place to hide. Usually he’d sit far away and try to get a shot off, but SHIELD had covered their asses so thoroughly that he was going to have to get up close, and that made him nervous. He was sure that they hadn’t seen him, but they were on guard for someone.

Stowing his gear in an adjacent building had been easy, and he knew it was far enough out that even the territorial SHIELD goons wouldn’t find it, but he already missed the familiar weight of his rifle on his back. Sitting up and balancing on the rafter Bucky got to work putting together his distraction. He was more than a good shot, not that anyone cared most of the time. Building a car bomb was a walk in the park, and sticking it to the bottom of one of the SHEILD cars was almost laughable. Shouldn’t they have someone watching their stuff?

Rolling his metal shoulder as he walked Bucky approached the building holding his mark, watching carefully as the SHIELD guys milled around, and counting the seconds in his head and waiting for his little explosion.

Their reaction was almost comical, the plume of flame the car exploded into was lovely, but not that dangerous, more flashy than devastating. It was enough however to get them all scrambling, and left Bucky enough of an opening to slip into the building.

He hated casing floors, if there was one thing that sucked to do on your own it was try and clear an entire floor without getting shot. SHIELD had put his mark on the third floor, so he slunk up the stairwell, breaking magnetic locks as he went. They were a good idea, and usually stopped people that didn’t have metal arms.

Being an assassin came with a surprising amount of collateral damage. Bucky didn’t like killing randos, but sometimes it happened on the way to a mark. Pushing the last door open Bucky ducked away immediately at the ping of bullets, hissing as one of them grazed him. Well, they hadn’t left their post. Taking a breath to center himself Bucky stalked forward again, more than willing to walk through a wall of bullets to get to his mark. There hadn’t been a mission he’d failed, and he wasn’t going to start now.

The SHIELD guys were good, but even they weren’t prepared for him. Bucky came at them like a whirlwind, grabbing the nearest guy and throwing him into two more, kicking one of them into the wall hard enough to leave a dent, and covering his less armor covered bits with his arm when he didn’t have an opening. They were shouting for backup, which Bucky knew could be very bad for him, but he hoped to get out of here before then. The window was obviously bulletproof glass, since their shots pinged off it like they did him. One of them took a swing at him and Bucky snapped his metal arm out with a growl. He’d wanted this to be an easy mark, but these guys were just in the way. The guy dropped like a rock when Bucky’s fist connected with his face.

The sound of boots in the hall made Bucky nervous. Shit. Had to get to the mark. Changing tactics Bucky tightened his fingers around the grip of his handgun and started shooting. Sorry SHEILD guys, you were in the way. His mark was garbage, hiding behind the people who were putting their lives on the line for him and practically sniveling. Bucky didn’t want to kill anyone but him, so he aimed for shoulders, knees, and other non-lethal places. There was always a chance that these people would come after him, but he’d gone this long without, right?

Once his target was dispatched with a clean shot to the forehead Bucky turned his attention to the sounds of more people approaching. A lot more people. Twisting in place Bucky threw all of his weight into a punch to that reinforced glass, it splintered but didn’t break, his hand stuck halfway through the plastic. Shit shit shit.

The first shot just grazed him, and he wrenched his arm free, dodging behind a desk to avoid a volley of fire. Great, now he was trapped in this tiny room that was filling with SHEILD agents. Freeing one of his flash-bang grenades from his belt Bucky rolled it expertly toward them, counting to five before diving out from behind the desk and toward the splintered window. The glass gave way with a screech and Bucky found himself falling from much higher than he anticipated. Curling into a ball Bucky tried to force his impact into his metal arm, but even then he felt it rattle all of his bones. Falling four stories was hard on anyone.

Gasping to try and regain his breath Bucky heaved himself off the ground and scrambled away. He could barely orient himself but he had to get out of there.

Bucky was swaying like a drunkard by the time he’d gotten back to his apartment, his gear slung on his shoulder and a hat stuffed onto his head. His arm was actually dented, and he’d probably have to fix the plates again, one of them was catching and restricting his movement, but he couldn’t think right now, he felt dizzy and he knew he was still bleeding.

Man, fuck SHIELD. He should have shot more of their guys.

Steve took one look at him and all the color drained out of his face.

“Jesus Bucky, what happened?” Steve quickly ushered him inside, taking his bag from his shoulder and guiding him to collapse onto the couch.

“Fell out window. Got shot too.” He tried to lift his left arm and it only wiggled and wirred angrily. “Fucked up my arm…”

Steve was already buzzing around him, leaving Bucky to his haze of blood-loss as he got everything he’d need to patch him up. Bucky tried to give constructive input, but his brain was going fuzzy. He must have bled more than he’d realized.

“Buck, I gotta get this stuff off.” Steve plucked at Bucky’s vest, and Bucky tried to help him undo the buckles, but mostly just flapped his good hand.

Steve yanked the compression vest off and cursed. Oh, there was the blood. The vest had been holding it in. Bucky struggled not to pitch to the side.

Steve was white as sheet but methodical as he stripped Bucky of the rest of his gear above the waist and tore open packages of gauze.

“You don’t have any in you, right?” Steve looked like he was a little sick at the thought.

Bucky struggled to form words for a moment. “There’s one…” He twisted. “Don’t look.” He added, almost as an afterthought, before digging his fingers into the hole in his ribs and pulling out a mangled piece of lead.

Steve didn’t gag, surprisingly, just took the bullet from him and dropped it in the trashcan, his lips tight.

“Wasn’t deep, thank god.” Bucky slurred. The fact that they got it around his vest was impressive, but it had gotten stuck in the meat of his side after losing all its momentum pinging off the Kevlar, and not gotten very deep. Sucking in a breath Bucky let Steve patch him up. His whole body ached, from being shot and falling several stories, he wasn’t sure which was worse. At least three of his ribs were cracked, but didn’t feel broken, and his arm was fucked but he wouldn’t be able to fix it until the room stopped spinning.

“Buck? Bucky, c’mon, you gotta sit up so I can wrap your ribs.” Steve nudged him and Bucky whined but sat up anyway, cursing at the sting of the antiseptic.

“Oh hush you big baby. You get shot at and you’re suddenly such a whiner.” Steve tried to keep his tone light, but the worry in his eyes was still plain as day.

“Good thing I got you t’ take care ’a me.” Bucky leaned back against the couch again, trying to breathe through the pain. “I think I’m gonna pass out here…” No sooner had the words gotten free of his lips than the world pitched to the side and darkness quickly closed in.

 

 

When Bucky managed to pull himself back to consciousness he blinked hard trying to clear his vision. Steve had tucked him under a blanket on the couch, and he dimly realized that while he felt like shit he didn’t feel like he was going to die, which could be called an improvement. Carefully maneuvering himself up onto his elbow Bucky took a moment to check himself over. Steve had done an amazing job patching him up. He could remember Steve telling him that his mother had been a nurse, maybe she had taught him? Gently testing the gauze around his ribs Bucky tried to sit up but curled back up with a hiss of pain. It wasn’t his first time getting shot, and it was unlikely to be the last, but this time was particularly painful. How many times had he gotten hit? Thinking about it made him feel a little sick.

“Hey, you’re awake.” Steve appears in front of him, his gaze softer than Bucky’s seen. It makes his stomach do a flip.

“I suppose you’re gonna tell me that things went badly and try to leave it at that.”

Bucky grumbles, trying to run his fingers through his hair and staring blankly at his left arm when it only whirrs gently and twitches. “Shit. I fucked it up pretty badly.” He vaguely remembered falling onto a dumpster, might have bounced off a balcony on his way down. No wonder his arm was fucked. It wasn’t broken, but it could definitely use some TLC. Moving his other arm makes Bucky hiss in pain so he just looks up at Steve with a pathetic expression. “I’ve had worse. Water?”

Part of him hates being so needy, but the rest of him just wants Steve to wrap him up in a blanket and cuddle him.
Steve’s soft expression turns into a small smile. “Sure. I’ll get you some painkillers too.”

Bucky tries to take the cup from Steve, but the little blond just bats his hand away and holds it to his lips. Taking small sips of water and downing the pills makes Bucky feel warm in a way he hadn’t expected. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had taken care of him; maybe his Momma when he was real little. To his surprise and intense relief Steve doesn’t say anything else, just grabbing another blanket and curling up on the couch with Bucky’s legs draped over his lap. Bucky tries to ignore the intimacy of the moment. Steve is just taking care of him, he’s a nice guy like that, don’t make it weird Barnes.

Steve is a quiet presence as Bucky dozes on the couch, turning on the TV as background noise as he sketches, and honestly Bucky has never felt more relaxed, and he can’t even chock it up to the painkillers. He’s so fucked.

It takes Bucky two days of drifting to come around, two days of letting Steve feed him soup and sips of water, redress the holes he’s acquired, and help him get up when he has to go to the bathroom. Steve only mentioned the hospital once, looking as disgusted by the idea of doctors as Bucky felt, and he took Bucky’s vehement no without too much argument.

On the third day Bucky manages to pull himself together enough to sit up without help and hold the cup and drink on his own.
“Next you’re going to tell me the metal arm comes with magical healing powers.” Steve pipes up from the kitchen where he’s been stirring oatmeal.

Bucky manages to turn his head enough to throw a wink at him. “I’ve been hiding it all along, I’m actually a superhero, and you’re just part of the secret identity.”

This gets a warm laugh from Steve, and Bucky can’t help but smile.

“I mean the metal arm is petty compelling evidence, but a pretty dame would make a more convincing cover.” Steve set a steaming bowl of oatmeal in front of him. “You want some maple syrup?”

Bucky thanked him, grateful that he could also manage to hold his spoon and feed himself, even if it was a little wobbly. Not that he wasn’t grateful for Steve’s care, being under his direct attention made Bucky want to say and do stupid things, like kiss him and tell him how lovely his eyelashes looked when he looked up from underneath them.

Once he’d gotten some food and more painkillers into his system Bucky turned his attention to his metal arm.
“Can you get me the toolkit from the linen closet? It’s heavy.”

Steve gave him a reproachful look at the implication that he wouldn’t be able to lift the thing on his own, but Bucky heard him curse softly once he’d found it. Heaving it onto the coffee table, Steve watched Bucky flip it open.

Part of Bucky wanted to ask Steve to leave for this. It wasn’t that there was anything gross for him to see, but it felt like something intimate. He knew he was being unreasonable, but it didn’t help that Steve gasped when he twisted his wrist and the plates on his arm opened up, loosening to be able to be recalibrated and serviced.

“You gotta get in there.” Bucky winked at Steve again and the latter tried to cover his blush by ducking his head the way he always did when he was flustered.

Pushing back any trepidation Bucky set to work re-fitting the plates that had gotten caught. None of them were actually broken, thankfully, but some of the wires would need to be re-soldered. “Hand me that, no, the one on the end.” Bucky pointed, giving Steve a small smile in thanks.

Steve watched with rapt attention as Bucky fixed his arm, handing him tools with silent wonder on his face.

Bucky tried not to look at him, knowing he’d lose his calm if he saw Steve looking at him like he was actually some kind of superhero. He was no superhero; he was a murder.

“You told me a little about it before, but…” Steve started, his words trailing off as he tried to construct the rest of the sentence. “Your arm seems so advanced, is there anything you can’t do with it?”

Bucky flexed his fingers, watching the way the plates resettled and tested for any dead spots in the wiring. “I can feel pressure and temperature, I can’t feel pain per say, but there is a kind of…alarm, that goes off it I’m doing something that will damage it, that’s kind of like pain.” Letting the plates fall back into place Bucky put the tools back into the kit, rolling his shoulder and touching each finger to his thumb to make sure the motion was calibrated. The last thing he needed was for one of his fingers to get locked up again.

Steve was gaping at him and trying to be subtle about it, and it was making Bucky twitch.

“Here…” Reaching out with his metal hand Bucky gently touched Steve’s face, running his thumb over his cheek and behind his jaw. Steve leaned into the touch, his eyes falling closed.

“It’s warm…” Steve’s eyes flickered open and Bucky felt his heart skip in his chest. He immediately pulled away, hoping that he wasn’t blushing like a schoolgirl.

Wringing his hands together Bucky tried not to look at the tiny blond next to him. “Yeah, it usually sits a little above room temperature because of all of the electrical components. I stuck it in the freezer once when the air conditioning broke down, worked great as an ice pack.”

Steve snorted, the soft smile back on his lips. “Eat up before it gets cold. Superhero or not you won’t get better if you don’t eat, and cold oatmeal is like wallpaper paste.”

Bucky obediently gathered up his bowl, trying not to let his brain run with the sensation of Steve leaning into his touch. He was so beyond fucked. How had he even gotten here?

Chapter Text

After a week Bucky was feeling better, not great, but not like he was dying anymore. Steve had been a rock; quiet and solid by his side and helping him re-bandage his wounds when they needed it, but his expression went stormy when he thought Bucky wasn’t looking. There was no way that Bucky was going to get out of this without having to answer Steve’s questions, and he was not looking forward to that.

“Hey Steve? I uh. There should be a box coming for you tomorrow.” One of several. Bucky knew it was stupid to think that he could buy Steve’s forgiveness for scaring him, but that didn’t stop the guilt from gnawing at him. Bucky wasn’t used to apologizing.

Steve blinked at him, his expression unreadable. “You don’t have to buy me stuff.”

Bucky ran his fingers through his hair. “I know. I just want to, y’know, thank you for patching me up. You’ve been really great.”

Apparently that had been the wrong choice of words. Steve’s expression went from purposefully blank to furiously angry in the span of a blink, his hands balling into fists like he wanted to take a swing at Bucky for insinuating that he was thankful. He was feeling a bit blindsided by Steve's sudden aggression. He'd been so calm and understanding through the whole week, now this? He should have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“I don’t need you to buy me stuff. If you hadn’t been such an idiot I wouldn’t have had to patch you up at all!”

Bucky stared at him, confused by Steve’s sudden spitting anger. “I just-”

“Jesus Bucky, I had to watch you pull a bullet out of your body. What the fuck did you think I was going to do? You would have bled out if I hadn’t helped you!”

Bucky straightened, glaring at Steve. He was trying to be grateful here damnitt. Why was Steve attacking him? “I’m trying to say thank you, you ass.”

Steve tightened his fists, and Bucky thought he might actually throw a punch. “I don’t want you to be fuckin’ grateful. I want you to tell me what the fuck is going on! Did you watch the news? There was a huge story about how some foreign diplomat got killed the night you went out. They said whoever did it is still at large, but the guys that chased them got pretty fucked up.”

Bucky felt himself go cold, his stomach dropping through the floor. Shit, the news had gotten ahold of the story? He was surprised that SHEILD would make their failure so public, but maybe they were trying to flush him out. “Steve…”

“Don’t start with me Bucky. I know you’ve been lying to me, and I was willing to be understanding about it, but to think that you had something to do with that? Why couldn’t you just tell me you worked for SHIELD?”

Bucky assumed Steve being wrong about him would make him feel better, but the idea that Steve couldn’t even see him being the bad guy made him feel so much worse. He didn’t regret killing that diplomat, the bastard deserved to die, but the thought of telling Steve the truth left him feeling like he was going to spiral into a panic attack.

“Steve, it’s…”

Steve turned away from him. “I don’t want to talk about it. Do you have any idea how I felt when you came back covered in blood? I thought you were gonna die, and you think you need to butter me up with gifts.” He stalked away, slamming the door to his room.

 

 

They skillfully avoided each other for the rest of the week, Steve spending most of his time holed up in his room and Bucky sulking in his and trying not to miss Steve’s company so much. It wasn’t until Bucky emerged to try and throw together some food for them both that he saw a growing pile of boxes in the livingroom.

“Steve?” Bucky stepped up when he saw the tiny blond heave another box from his room, feeling like the floor was falling out from under his feet. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Steve didn’t look up, methodically taping up another box. “I’m moving out. I’ve taken up too much of your time anyway.” He continued to angrily shove the boxes into a pile. He’d clearly been working for a while.

“Steve, stop.” Bucky made to grab his hand but Steve snatched it away.

“We’re not friends Bucky. I don’t know what I was thinking staying here for so long anyway. Clearly I got too attached.”

Bucky felt his heart squeeze and he took a step back. Steve was really going to leave? He opened his mouth to argue but Steve just turned his back on him again.

“Don’t. I can’t watch you come home like that again. Don’t ask me to. I know it’s your job, but I can’t sit at the phone like some army wife and hope that you call me and tell me you’re alright.”

Bucky took another step back, his throat closing as he felt actual tears prick at the back of his eyes. Fuck. Do something; say anything.

“I have a moving company coming to pick up the boxes in the morning, so don’t worry, I’ll be out of your hair soon.” Steve still wouldn’t look at him, and Bucky felt his heart breaking.

“Steve, please…”

Steve didn’t stop, grabbing another box and shutting his door behind him.

Bucky didn’t know what to do. He wanted to march over and break down the door to Steve’s room, demand that he stay. But what kind of person did that make him? They’d both known from the start that it was temporary, Steve had made it clear that he didn’t want to stay, and there was no way that Bucky could make him. It wasn’t some romance novel where a kiss would make everything better. Steve wasn’t like that, and Bucky couldn’t just change overnight. Telling Steve how he felt wouldn’t change anything that he’d done, it would probably make things worse.

He hid in his room when he heard the movers come the next day, trying not to bend his bedframe with his metal hand and failing.

Finally there was a small knock on his door and Bucky wrenched it open immediately, staring down at Steve, who still wouldn’t look up at him, choosing to look into Bucky’s chest instead.

“Here’s your key.”

Bucky blinked down at the plain gold key on its ring, his hand coming out to take it instinctively. It wasn’t until his fingers bypassed Steve’s hand entirely that he realized he was closing his fingers over Steve’s cheek and tipping his head up.
Before he could press their lips together Steve wrenched away, his other hand coming up to punch Bucky square in the jaw. Bucky’s head snapped to the side more in surprise than actual pain, and he blinked at the wall for a few moments before he could recover. Steve pulled away from him, his shoulders shaking with rage as he turned on his heel and stalked toward the door, grabbing his bag and slamming the door behind him.

Bucky stood rooted to the spot for what could have been hours before he crumpled, his knees actually giving out as he dug his hands into his hair and yanked, yelping at the pain. Fuck,fuck, he’d messed it all up, and now Steve was gone. He expected to cry, but found that he couldn’t, and just sat on his knees on the floor and shook.

Steve still had his key, but there was no way he was coming back now.

Chapter Text

Steve manages not to cry, but his palms have angry half-moons dug into them from his fingernails when he reaches to Sam’s door. Steve was furious. Bucky had no right to try and kiss him. It was just to try and keep him there, and he understood that. Bucky was obviously painfully lonely, and he’d taken an interest in Steve because he was there, but the idea of Bucky kissing him without really wanting him made Steve’s stomach pitch. He couldn’t even blame the man; not really, it had been his fault for staying so long. Steve had gotten caught up in the mystery and excitement that seemed to surround Bucky, and he’d gotten far too attached.

Still, the thought of how softly Bucky had looked at him left a hole in Steve’s chest. He wanted a kiss, but he wanted a real kiss, one that meant something, and not just one to fill a silence. Too bad he’d be lucky if anyone ever looked at him that way. Steve wasn’t stupid, and he wasn’t blind, he knew he was nothing to look at, and he wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted to keep at home. He was always sick, and he couldn’t cook worth a shit. The only thing he seemed to be able to do was get in people’s faces and get the snot beat out of him.
His rage had faded to exhaustion by the time he stood in front of Sam’s door, his shoulders slumped and his hair hanging in his eyes as he knocked on the door.

“Well if it isn’t my favorite sweetheart. I missed having someone at my eye level.”

Steve snapped his gaze up, a flush coloring his cheeks and a fond smile replacing the dour look he’d had on. “It’s been too long Riley.”
“I would offer you some lemon cake to soothe your sour expression, but I think it might take something stronger.”

Steve followed Riley into the apartment. With the sparkling happiness that Riley seemed to exude at every opportunity it was hard to imagine him as anyone else than who he was now. It had taken Steve a while to get used to being around the man, not because he was missing most of both legs, or his self proclaimed “stunning Southern Charm” that usually lived up to the title, but because he was just so damn likeable it had made Steve a bit dizzy to spend any time with him.

Sam poked his head out of the kitchen, a smile breaking over his face. “Hey Steve. You’re early.”

Riley rolled his way over to Sam and took the opportunity to reach up and give him a kiss. “Good thing not any earlier or you might have caught us in a compromising situation.”

Steve rolled his eyes and Sam groaned when Riley wriggled his eyebrows.

“Sorry. I uh, kind of stormed out of there and headed straight here.” Only once he relaxed his fingers did Steve realize that he still had Bucky’s key in his hand, and a rather nice imprint of the metal on his skin. Damn, he’d almost drawn blood.

“Why don’t I get us both a drink and you can talk about it,” Riley was already making a beeline for their liquor cabinet. “If you want to of course.” The man was not complete without a sugary something in his hand, and his favorite pastime was to give Sam grief about the things he chose to drink.

Sam was doing his best not to look concerned, carefully drying his hands with the towel he’d fetched from the kitchen. “You don’t have to tell us man, I know you-”

“You hush. Your boring ass hasn’t had any good stories in weeks, I need Steve to tell me about this brooding cyborg he’s been shacking up with.” Riley’s expression softened when he looked at Steve again. They really were almost the same height with Riley sitting up in his chair. “Though I do understand if you need some time.”

Steve shook his head. Time wasn’t going to make him feel any better. He might as well indulge his hosts. “It was my fault really…”
Sam got them set up on the couch, a cup of rather strong hot toddy in Steve’s hands as he explained why he decided to leave Bucky’s, and the fiasco from earlier.

“So you punched him in the face.” Sam looked over the rim of his beer at Steve.

“Uh, yeah. Don’t feel too great about that.”

Riley had sat forward, his eyes wide as he drank in the details. “Steven Grant Rogers. I cannot believe you! That boy is clearly head over heels for you.”

Steve blinked at him. Bucky wasn’t interested in him, no way. “He was only interesting in me because he was lonely.”

Sam folded his arms across his chest. “Maybe initially, but you’ve been there for months. Clearly he gives a shit about you or he wouldn’t have tried to get you to stay.”

Steve looked down at the drink in his hand. “It doesn’t matter. I won’t see him again.”

“You don’t seem the type to give up.” Riley reached over to touch his shoulder. “Maybe you should think about what he means to you?”
Steve leaned into the touch. “It doesn’t matter what I think. I can’t sit there and wait for him to come back all fucked up like that again, or not come back at all. It’s too hard.”

“You’re preaching to the choir here.” Sam put his arm around Riley and gave him a squeeze. “But Steve, Bucky sounds like he has a lot of shit going on in his life, dangerous shit. He might not be who you think he is.”

Steve tried not to feel annoyed at Sam for pointing it out, but he was right. He didn’t know anything about Bucky, but he felt like he knew plenty at the same time. Like how he would always choose pancakes for breakfast, or how he’d laughed until he cried when Steve kicked Natasha’s ass at Pictionary. “You’re right. Doesn’t change how I feel though.”

Steve was quiet through dinner, not trying to be rude but feeling so emotionally drained that he couldn’t bring himself to pitch in on Sam and Riley’s conversations. They didn’t seem to mind, and Steve found himself feeling better watching the sweet and casual way they interacted. They were so happy it was impossible to feel jealous.

Steve couldn’t help but think about how different it was from when he’d first met Sam, when Riley was still in the hospital recovering. Sam had been quiet then too, worry and guilt following him around like a dark cloud. Steve had been more than happy to distract Sam from his worries and take him to lunch, or tell him about whatever stupid things he’d gotten into that day just to distract Sam from his own thoughts. Riley had cornered him as soon as he got out of the hospital and thanked Steve profusely for everything he’d done, promising that there would always be room for him in their house. Steve still felt like he was intruding on their lives, which was why he had been wiling to take Bucky up on his offer initially. Now it seemed they were more than happy to distract him from his own worries, and Steve was intensely grateful. The last thing he wanted right now was to think about Bucky, but he couldn’t push him out of his mind.

He graciously thanked them both again before he decided it was time for bed. The last thing that he wanted was to lie awake and think about Bucky, and thankfully his exhaustion quickly pulled him under. Maybe he would be alright. He could move past this.

 

 

Bucky fell into a routine that let him keep his mind blank. It wasn’t exactly a coping strategy, but it was better than dissolving into mild hysteria. Every day he woke up, took whatever job he could find, and worked himself until he was exhausted enough to fall into bed without having to think. His house felt so empty without Steve, but Bucky tried not to think about the vacant room, or the fact that he’d eaten nothing but protein shakes for the last week. Natasha had texted him, like she usually did, but he hadn’t responded. Being able to separate himself from his thoughts was a skill he’d honed, and it came in handy now. Even thinking about Steve left him feeling hollow and angry, and he knew that if he tried to face it he would break down and try to find him and apologize or something equally stupid. He wasn’t sorry for trying to kiss Steve, and he wasn’t sorry for taking him in.
After the first week his anger had faded, and the loneliness had set in. He’d gotten so used to someone being there with him that being alone all the time again was grating. He found himself leaving the TV on just for background noise, or talking aloud just to hear his own voice. Even more than just missing Steve’s presence Bucky missed Steve. It wasn’t just what Steve did for him, being a positive light in his otherwise dark life, but it was Steve himself, the way he hummed to himself while he worked, or letting Bucky sit and watch him paint, or even kicking his ass at board games.
By the third week Bucky was starting to fray around the edges. His veneer of calm and collected apathy had started to crack and he felt like he was going to crawl out of his skin. He couldn’t do this. The nightmares he’d successfully been avoiding for almost 6 months returned with a vengeance, leaving him drenched in sweat and screaming himself awake. After the fourth consecutive night of sitting in his bed and shaking Bucky grabbed his phone off the nightstand to finally reply to Natasha’s texts. After a moment of indecision he hit the call button instead.

“Hey Nat.”

“You’re up late. Or is it early for you? You sound exhausted, James.”

Bucky ran his fingers through his lank hair, trying to wonder where to start. “I am. It’s been… a rough few weeks.”

“You haven’t been replying to my texts, I was getting worried.”

“Sorry, I uh… I’ve been pretty out of it.” Bucky was regretting calling Natasha. He didn’t want to hear her tell him he was an idiot.

“Did something happen?”

Bucky took a deep breath, staring through his curtains at the specs of light that were bright enough to shine through. “Steve left.”

Natasha was silent for a few moments. “Why?”

Bucky curled further in on himself. “Said he was getting too attached.”

“Hold on James. Give me one second.”

Bucky waited patiently as he heard the muffled sounds of Natasha talking to someone, her hand clearly over the receiver of her phone.

“Alright, that’s settled. I’m coming to get you in the morning and you’re going to stay with me for a few days. You can meet Clint, maybe braid each other’s hair, though his is a little short.”

Bucky blinked, sitting up. “What? No. I can’t-”

“I’m not asking.”

Bucky felt tears prick at the backs of his eyes and he took a long moment to reply, trying to collect himself. “Thank you Natasha.”

“Don’t thank me, just pack up some clothes. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Bucky sighed, flopping back onto his bed. He should have counted on Natasha to do something drastic, but the fact that she cared enough to drop everything and help him meant more to him that he’d realized.

Apparently “in the morning” meant two hours. Bucky hadn’t bothered looking at the clock, but it was still dark, so he knew it was early as he blearily went to open his door.

“Hey Nat.”

“Sorry, I must have to wrong apartment. I was looking for my friend and I seem to have found a sad-sack instead.”

Bucky grumbled at her. “Shut it. I’ll close the damn door.”

Natasha breezed inside, handing him a cup of coffee. “Got your stuff? I had to double park. Why are there so many people out even this early in the morning?”

Bucky heaved a duffle bag over his shoulder, unconcerned about leaving his apartment. He didn’t even have plants to water. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

Natasha nodded, turning on her heel and heading back down the hall. “Clint is excited to meet you. Fair warning, he’s a huge dork.”

Bucky grinned. “That must mean a lot coming from you.”

Natasha didn’t say anything else, just shrugged and held the door for him.

Bucky stayed quiet as she drove. He had no idea where Nat was living now, since she’d moved at the beginning of the year, but he knew it was outside the city. He’d been surprised when she said she’d moved so far out. It was hard to imagine her sitting on a wide porch looking out at a garden and sipping a drink.

“As much as I appreciate you inviting me over, I really am doing fine…” Bucky stared out the window, tapping his fingers against the glass.

“I didn’t want you to be alone. You look like garbage Barnes. I don’t know what happened between you guys, but I know Steve means a lot to you.”

Bucky opened his mouth to argue, but he found he couldn’t. “It doesn’t matter. It was my own fault anyway. I can’t blame him to running out.”

Natasha raised an eyebrow at him. “What’re you going to do then? How long are you planning to mope?”

Bucky glared at her. “I’m not moping.”

Natasha ignored him the rest of the way out of town, turning up the music as she turned onto the highway. Bucky was glad she was sparing him the third degree, though he knew she was probably going to grill him when he least expected it. He was surprised when they continued out of town for more than 20 minutes.

“Where are we going Nat? I know you said you lived out of the city, but-”

She grinned at him. “We’re going to Clint’s. I have an apartment in town, but I don’t stay there much anymore. You need to get away, so we’re going away.”

Bucky stayed quiet as they drove, staring out the window as they got further and further away from the city. When they turned onto a unpaved road he raised an eyebrow at Natasha, but quickly pressed his face back to the window when they turned out into an open field.

The little white house was straight out of an old movie, with a big barn and yard that made Bucky cringe at the thought of how much maintenance it must take.

“He lives here? What is he, Amish?”

Natasha jabbed him with her elbow. “Shut your mouth. Not everyone is a city person. We both have apartments in the city, but this is his parents house.”

Bucky shrugged, following after her once they pulled up to the house, his eyes big as he tried to take everything in. Natasha was right, if he wanted to get away, this was the place.

“Clint! We’re back!” Natasha held her hands out to shield the door from the big golden retriever that rushed the door. “Lucky, get down.”

Bucky immediately dropped to the floor and couldn’t hide his grin when the dog ran up to him, wiggling. “Hey handsome, Natasha didn’t tell me about you!” He watched Natasha disappear into the house, continuing to scratch Lucky as she looked for Clint.

When she returned with Clint in tow Lucky lumbered off into the house and Bucky pulled himself up, holding out his hand immediately to shake.

“Hey man. Nice to meet you.” Clint gave him a smile that crinkled his eyes and Bucky couldn’t help but return it.

“I’ve heard quite a bit about you. Nice t’ finally put a face to the name.” Bucky shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from fiddling with his fingers. “Sorry to impose.”

Clint waved his hands at him. “Don’t worry about it. Let me give you the nickel tour. You like pizza? I can’t cook to save my life and it’s the only thing I can get delivered out here.”

Bucky hadn’t been sure what to expect out of Clint, and he was nothing like what he expected. Nat hadn’t been kidding that the man was a grade A dork, but he was sincere and damn likeable. Plus his dog was cute.

Being out of the city usually left Bucky feeling antsy. He was used to the noise and brightness that always surrounded you, but the quiet that permeated everything out here actually relaxed him. He was still dreading the time that they would corner him and force him to share his feelings, but for once he was able to think about something besides how shitty he felt. They waited until after dinner, when Bucky had managed to relax into a chair and almost doze off.

“So, I know you don’t want to talk about it, but-”

Bucky sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. “C’mon Nat…”

“No way. You’re not going to get out of it.”

Bucky sat forward. “What? You want to know what happened? I messed up. I got myself hurt on a job, and Steve took care of me.”

Clint raised an eyebrow. “That mess with SHEILD, that was you?”

Bucky flinched. Of course Natasha had told him everything. “Yeah. I was pretty fucked up, and Steve put me back together. He got tired of me lying to him I guess, said he didn’t want to wait for me to sit at home and have me not come back.” Wringing his hands together he hung his head, trying to think about what he needed to say. “The day he moved out I tried to kiss him. I don’t know what I was thinking, but he punched me and stormed out.”

Clint handed him a cup of cocoa and Bucky tightened his hands around it, giving him a small smile in thanks.

“That’s rough man. Steve seemed like a good guy.” Clint buried his hands in Lucky’s fur as he spoke.

Bucky raised an eyebrow at Natasha and she just shrugged. “I can’t tell him about my friends? What’re you going to do?”

“I’m not going to do anything, I fucked up enough…” Bucky stared into his cup again.

Clint snorted. “Well, you can stay here until you decide to get off your ass, alright?”

Bucky blinked at him, unsure if he was joking or making a not so subtle jab. “Uh, thanks.”

“No problem man. You need anything Natasha knows where all the blankets and stuff are. I gotta get up early, so I’ll see you in the morning.”

Bucky thanked him again before he rounded on Natasha. “I can’t stay here, Nat. I appreciate the thought, but-”

“C’mon Barnes, relax for a moment of your life huh? Clint’s not so bad. It’ll do you good.”

Bucky looked out the big windows, sipping from his drink. “I guess I can stay for a day or two…”

Natasha reached over to brush her fingers through his hair. “Good. I’m going to bed too. Don’t stay up too late?”

Bucky nodded. “Yeah. Night Nat.”

Sitting in the quiet of Clint’s livingroom Bucky stared out into the yard, his thoughts wandering. He couldn’t help but wonder what Steve was doing. Was he missing Bucky too? Maybe staying here would help him clear his head afterall. The soft sound of crickets filtered around him and he felt himself relaxing already.

Pulling his phone out of his pocket he opened up a new message without thinking about it. It wasn’t like he could just text Steve and apologize, what was he, 12? Maybe he needed something stronger than cocoa.

Chapter Text

Steve liked staying with Sam and Riley. He’d been nervous about intruding on their lives, but he genuinely found them comforting and easygoing about the whole situation. They’d made him promise to quietly stay at least a week before he starting inevitably looking for a different place to stay. It was Steve’s own stubbornness that drove him to begin his search after the fourth day, an ingrained desire to keep from being a burden driving him on. He tried not to think of Bucky, but found his thoughts drifting toward him when he wasn’t forcing himself to keep busy.

Most of the first week he’d spent hanging out with Riley, helping him re-decorate their livingroom and painting an accent wall in the kitchen. Steve knew that most of this was probably just to keep him busy, but he didn’t mind. AThinking about Bucky made his guts feel all twisted.

Any time he wasn’t hanging with Sam and Riley Steve spent working on his art. He’d mostly filled the spare room they were letting him occupy with all of his art supplies, covering the floor with a drop cloth so that he wouldn’t get paint everywhere. Some itch behind his ribs urged him to work bigger and bigger, until Sam, upon helping him lug a canvas as tall as Steve up the stairs, exclaimed that he was definitely not going to fit anything bigger into his room, and he might need to rent a studio space.

“Sorry Sam, I know I’ve been going a little overboard with the art…” Steve picked at a bit of paint that had dried into the hair on his arm.

Sam grinned at him. “Nah man, it’s cool. Your art is awesome. I just don’t want you to get crushed by a pile of canvases in your sleep or something, and you might want some additional ventilation.”

Steve snorted at the mental picture. Only fitting that the one thing he was decent at would kill him. “I’ll look into studio spaces, but it’ll take longer to find an apartment if-”

“Don’t worry about it. Riley loves having you around anyway. Trust me, if it was a problem I’d tell you.” Sam didn’t leave him room to reply before he continued towing the canvas down the hall.

Steve spent the rest of the day on his laptop looking for studio spaces. It was New York, there had to be something, right?

“This one has to come with gold embedded in the floors or something for them to be asking so much. This is ridiculous.” Steve pushed his fingers through his hair, brushing it back from his forehead with more force than necessary as he glowered at his laptop. “It’s not like I’m going to be living there. It’s just a shared space!”

Riley rolled up to him, holding out a drink and a plate of sandwiches. One thing that Sam had definitely picked up from his lover was the urge to feed everyone that came through their door, and Steve was pretty sure he’d never eaten so much in his life.

“I’m sure you’ll find something Steve. I’m sorry we don’t have more room here…” Riley glanced toward the hall, his brows knit together as he thought.

Steve blinked at him. “What? No, oh no, don’t say that! You’re letting me encroach on your lives more than enough as it is. I just want to get out of your hair.” He sighed for what felt like the thousandth time that day, reloading his search page in hopes that something new had been posted.

After three days of grumbling and cruising every search engine he could find Steve finally found something that wasn’t terrible. It was still expensive, and barely bigger than the room Sam and Riley were letting him stay in, but it was a space he could make his own, and it looked big enough for a couch, so he could stay there occasionally to give Sam and Riley some space until he could find a place for him to actually live. Riley groused at him that he was over-extending himself, and Sam just made him promise to come home for dinner and not suffocate himself with paint fumes.

After adding the key to his keyring Steve enlisted the help of Sam moving his art things once again Steve stood in the center of the room, looking up at the windows high in the ceiling and feeling a knot of stress loosen in his chest. This was going to be a good thing. His fingers ran absently over Bucky’s key on the ring with the others and he thought absently of getting rid of it, but immediately decided against it. Keeping it was only prolonging his attachment, and he knew it, but he couldn’t get rid of it.

“Alright Rogers, back to work.” Shoving his sleeves up to his elbows Steve dug through the nearest box to find his smock.

 

 

Bucky was going stir-crazy staying with Clint. He liked the guy, he was nice, and welcoming, and funny, but puttering around the farmhouse all day had gone from soothing and relaxing to bone-meltingly dull. It wasn’t helping Clint fix up farm equipment, or waking up at the buttcrack of dawn to the crowing of a rooster, he couldn’t put a finger on it, but he felt restless. The intense loneliness that had filled his chest hadn’t left either, even spending so much time with Natasha and Clint wasn’t enough to push away the dark cloud he’d found himself under. He knew he was being a drag, and it only made him more annoyed with himself, which increased his shitty feeling. After spending several weeks doing the same thing with no real difference he knew it was time to go home and deal with his issues.

Natasha handed him a cup of coffee and a snickerdoodle. If someone had told Bucky that Natasha Romanov could make the best baked goods in the country before now he would have told them to eat their shoe. Now however he knew he could go blind on her cookies.

Bucky nibbled at the cookie silently for a long moment before turning to his friend. “I’m sorry Nat. I appreciate the thought, but I need to go home.”

Natasha nodded, curling up on the couch next to him. “I’ll take you home in the morning, alright? I thought that some time to decompress would be good for you.”

Bucky put his arm around her, giving her a gentle squeeze. “It did. I just need to get back to it, y’know?”

Natasha leaned against him, her hair tickling his cheek. “I get it. Don’t do anything too stupid once you’re out on your own again, alright?”

Bucky snorted. “No promises.”

His apartment was cold and stagnant when he pulled the door open, the heaviness he’d been trying to shake off at Clint’s crashing down on him hard enough for him to actually stumble onto the couch.

“C’mon man, you’re a fuckin’ adult. Get it together.” Bucky muttered to himself, digging his fingers into his hair before pushing it back harshly and tying it up out of his face and forcing himself up. Maybe cleaning would put his head on straight.
It wasn’t until his phone chirped that he broke out of his cleaning reverie, shifting his weight to one leg as he snatched it off the counter to check his notifications. He’d been avoiding his phone as much as possible, but the drive to throw himself back in was becoming impossible to ignore. Work would distract him anyway.

It wasn’t like he was proud of what he did, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to do it well. Falling into the old rhythm of immersing himself in the one thing he’d ever been good at left Bucky’s thoughts quiet for once. It also brought with it exhaustion and recurring nightmares. As much as he didn’t think about the things he did he couldn’t escape his subconscious replaying them on loop and leaving him waking up shaking with nausea that twisted his guts into painful knots.

Curling up on the couch the fourth night in a row Bucky turned the TV up and stared at it blankly. He’d almost managed to forget his nightmares when Steve was here, but now they seemed to be making up for lost time. There were two more jobs lined up for him this week, and then he could rest. At least they seemed fairly low-key, but he knew it never went to plan.

He hadn’t moved anything into Steve’s old room. It was silly, and he knew he was only prolonging the pain in his chest, but every time he came home a part of him was disappointed not to see the tiny blond curled up painting in the livingroom.

Kicking the door open after another exhausting mission Bucky ripped the mask off of his face and rolled his shoulders, wincing as the caked-on mud crumbled off him onto the floor. He was covered form head to toe all down his right side in mud and grime, and he was fairly sure he was going to he bruised black and blue by tomorrow. Exhaustion crept in on the edges of his vision and he set his weapons on the counter, trying to mentally prepare himself to take them apart and clean them. Maybe a shower first?

His phone started to ring but Bucky ignored it, instead working to peel off his muck-caked clothes and lobbing them expertly into the laundry bin across the room. When his phone started up again after skipping the voicemail Bucky rounded on it. Who the fuck would be calling him anyway? He never got phone calls. Snatching it off the counter Bucky warily regarded an un-saved number before hitting accept and holding it to his ear.

“Who gave you this number?”

“Is this Bucky?”

The voice on the other end was completely foreign to him and Bucky felt his hackles rise. “What’s it to ya? This is a private, unlisted number, who gave it to you?” He snarled.

“My name’s Sam Wilson, I’m friends with Steve Rogers.”

Bucky felt his heart skip a beat in his chest and he gripped the phone so tightly the plastic creaked. “Steve? Is he alright?” He tried to keep the panicked edge out of his voice. Had something happened to Steve? His health was shit on a good day, what if something had happened?

“Hey man, don’t panic. Steve is fine. I just wanted to get in touch with you. Steve’s been offered a spot in a gallery opening, 10 of his best works, and I wanted to make sure that you came to see it.”

Bucky blinked. “A gallery wants to feature Steve’s paintings? Did he say he wanted me there?” Bucky felt his heart squeeze in a new and uncomfortable way, like it was trying to flutter out of his chest.

“Well…no. He doesn’t know I got your number out of his phone. But this is important to him, and I know you’ll like the show. Steve is important to you right? Just come and support him.”

Bucky wasn’t sure whether he should be offended or flattered that Sam had taken the time to dig him up, but he was definitely feeling prickly at being called out on his feelings for Steve. He didn’t even know Sam, how the hell did he know how he felt? “I can’t make any promises, but send me the details and I’ll try to be there...”

“That’s all I ask.” Bucky could hear the smile in Sam’s voice. “It’ll be nice to meet you too. I’ll text you the details.”

Sam hung up before Bucky could get in another word and he found himself staring down at his phone in disbelief. Admitting that his heart was fluttering at the idea of seeing Steve again was a whole different ball-game, and he quickly tamped down any excitement. It was amazing that Steve was going to get to exhibit his work, but should Bucky really go?

What should he even wear?

Chapter Text

Bucky shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket, tucking his chin into his scarf to try and fight the chill as snowflakes swirled around him. He had turned out to not own a single suitjacket, having never found one he could hide enough weapons in, and he continued to have no idea what someone would wear to an opening at an art gallery; but he certainly felt under-dressed watching people bustle past him in sparkling dresses and tailored suits. There were also however some people dressed in more business-casual clothes, and that made him feel like a bit less of schmuck.

There was a huge banner hung over the main door of the gallery with all the Artists’ names, including Steve. Bucky paused to snap a photo and send it to Natasha, fondness blooming in his chest. Even he knew that this was a big deal for Steve, and he’d surely worked hard to get here.

Inside the gallery was almost stifling hot with everyone packed together. Lots of people were milling around, either standing and looking at the art or chatting and drinking tiny glasses of wine. Bucky tried not to stick out like a sore thumb. He’d been to a gala with Natasha once, to help her identify a mark, but all he’d had to do was follow her around and dance when necessary; she’d even picked out clothes for him. Maybe he should have asked her for her opinion on what to wear.

“Too late now…” He muttered to himself as he looked around. Steve wasn’t the only artist being featured here, but he was part of a very select group, and there was an opportunity for a huge grant to be awarded too.

“Bucky Barnes.”

Bucky jumped, his hand going to his belt in search for the knife he usually kept there as he whipped around. There was no one behind him and his hand closed around only empty air. Shit, the one time he didn’t pack heat.

“Down here, handsome.” A distinctly accented voice piped up.

Bucky looked down at a man in a wheelchair, blinking dumbly at him as the blond grinned at him. “Have we met?”

“No, we haven’t.” The man sat up a bit straighter, sitting forward in his wheelchair and holding out his hand to shake. “My husband called you, Sam, my name is Riley.”

Bucky shook the man’s hand, shoving his metal hand deeper into the pocket of his jacket. “Nice to meet you?” He wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Charmed. I figure you’re here for Steve. Don’t worry, he’s still mingling but we’ll find him. You need to see his work first.” Riley expertly turned his chair and rolled toward the other room, and Bucky trailed behind him, trying to avoid brushing against any of the fancy people.

“All these are Steve’s.” Riley stopped, throwing his arm out. “They’re all lovely but the one at the end is really Steve’s best work.” Without anything more Riley immediately disappeared into the crowd and Bucky stood there for a few long moments wondering how someone in a wheelchair could get around so fast. Steve sure had interesting friends.

Stepping up to the first painting Bucky immediately recognized Steve’s style, beautiful, flowing, bright colors and dynamic movement. Moving slowly around the room Bucky picked out the view from his livingroom, a smile on his lips when he recognized a figure that was definitely Natasha bathed in auroras of light. He had to resist the urge to pull out his phone and snap a picture. Maybe it was for sale?
Dodging condescending looks from the other people Bucky moved on, keeping in mind to ask about the painting later. As he continued to move through the paintings he got to a series of street-scenes and landscapes, still bathed in Steve’s bright style. Stopping in front of one of them his eyes were immediately drawn to the only dark in the entire painting, a figure in the background walking through the scene along the edge. Backtracking through the rest of the street-view paintings Bucky found the same figure in nearly every painting, standing out because of the contrast with the rest of the scene, yet purposefully moving away or through the rest of the bustle captured in the rest of the piece. The figure faded in and out of all the paintings, sometimes closer and sometimes further away, but always out of focus and facing away from the viewer, like he lived in a completely different world and was uninterested in what was happening around him. Paintings that included the figure were more stylized, some of them even becoming something akin to cubist but always with the dark spot of the man in black. There was one that the figure was fairly close to the foreground, and Bucky thought that it could almost be him. That was factious, right? There was no way that Steve was putting him in all of his paintings, right? The thought made Bucky’s heart flutter in his chest.

There was a huge group of people standing around the painting at the end of the room, so Bucky stood back from it. This painting was almost twice as large as the others, and Bucky could only see the edges because of all the people. Finally they parted and he edged around them, looking up and feeling his heart stop.

The man in the painting was clearly him, though he was bathed in the bright and rich colors of Steve’s style. The painting was beautiful, made Bucky look beautiful in a way that he knew he could never be. The Bucky in the painting sat bathed in warm light, snow drifting around him but never touching him. The way that he was sitting made him seem to emanate light, chasing away the snow around him to reveal the soft green of new grass. His gaze challenged the viewer, intense and focused. The metal of his left arm glimmering in an aurora of colors that contrasted sharply with the coolness of the snow that surrounded him.

Tearing his gaze away from the stormy blue eyes of the him in the painting Bucky looked down at the tiny plaque next to the painting.
‘The ‘Winter Soldier’, you should have seen the alternate titles he came up with, all grossly sappy.” Bucky turned to look at the man next to him. He had soft eyes.

“You must be Sam.” Bucky held out his hand to shake, trying to keep his gaze from wandering back to the painting.

“I hear you met my husband as well. I’m sorry to call you out of the blue, but you needed to see this.” Sam had a little gap in his front teeth that Bucky found surprisingly endearing.

Bucky nodded. “Thank you. I’m glad I came.” He looked back up at the painting in front of him. “I can’t believe he painted me.”

Sam snorted. “Not to be cheesy or anything, but the guy has pining down to a high art. He’s just too stubborn to admit it.”

Bucky gaped at him for a moment before he composed himself, licking his lips absently and reaching to run his fingers through his hair before he remembered he’d pulled it up. “It’s not-” He wasn’t sure what he was trying to say.

“Oh, it totally is.” Sam gave him another bright smile before turning to scan the crowd. “Speaking of. Here’s the man of the hour. Hey, Steve!”

Bucky had the immediate childish urge to put his hand over Sam’s mouth to quiet him, stifling the desire to disappear into the mass of people as he saw Steve’s blond hair bobbing through the crowd.

Sam’s eyes crinkled around the edges as Steve approached them, the tiny blond’s eyes widening when they landed on Bucky.

“Bucky? Wha-?”

“That’s my cue. Good luck.” Sam brushed past Bucky and immediately disappeared back into the crowd.

Bucky longed to push his fingers through his hair, sucking his lip between his teeth as he tried to formulate what to say. Before he could get a word out though Steve had stepped closer to him, his hand coming up to brush over Bucky’s cheek, snapping him out of his thoughts as he looked down into Steve’s earnest eyes.

“I thought I’d never see you again…”

The words were spoken softly, but so full of emotion that Bucky felt his heart skip in his chest.

“You shoulda known it’d be hard to get rid of me.” Bucky couldn’t help but smile when Steve’s fingers traced his jaw.

Steve seemed to realize what he was doing and snatched his hand away, his cheeks blooming in a blush. “I uh-”

“Your art is something else.” Bucky looked over Steve’s head at the display of art on the walls.

Steve sputtered, ducking his head as he tried to hide his blush. “Some of it’s alright. I can’t believe you came. Sam called you, didn’t he?”

Bucky nodded. “Yeah. I was sure surprised.”

“Me too.” Steve looked up at him again. “I sure missed you, Buck.”

Bucky’s heart skipped in his chest again and he longed to press a kiss to Steve’s forehead. “Missed you too Stevie.”

Steve opened his mouth to say something else but a group of rather official-looking people had appeared and seemed intent on getting his attention. Bucky quickly stepped aside, trying not to grin at Steve’s adorably confused expression. One of the ladies was staring at Bucky, looking like she was trying to place him. When her eyes flicked to the painting above them Bucky struggled not to blush.

When the group finally dispersed Steve immediately stepped into Bucky’s space again, looking a bit misty.

“What?” Bucky was tempted to nudge him to make sure he hadn’t spaced out.

“They said they’d selected me to be in the running for the grant. I won’t know if I’ve won for a few more weeks but-”

“That’s great Steve.” Bucky shoved his hands deep into his pockets to resist the urge to touch him. Last time he’d acted on impulse around Steve he’d gotten a punch.

Steve was looking up at him like he had more to say but didn’t know how to say it. “I- this isn’t the place. I know that we didn’t really-”

“Don’t worry about it, huh? This is your day. It was good to see you…”

Steve’s eyes widened and he immediately grabbed Bucky’s arm. “No! Please don’t go. I didn’t mean it like that.” Steve squared his shoulders, his eyebrows drawn together. “What I was trying to say is… Would you wanna go out for a drink or something after this? I know we kind of left things on bad terms and I want to… clear the air.”

Bucky blinked at him, a slow smile gracing his lips. “Sure. We can go out. I’ll stick around.”

Steve’s smile was blinding and his hand twitched at his side, probably with the urge to touch Bucky again, and Bucky found that he didn’t mind one bit. He wasn’t naive enough to think that just seeing Steve again was going to make everything fall into place like a story-book, but maybe they could talk about things instead of acting like idiots.

“Good. I’ll text you as soon as I can get out of here. Gotta mingle.” Steve gave him a shy wave as he disappeared into the crowd.

“Wow, you really are whipped.” Bucky turned to see Sam standing next to him again. “Both of you.”

Bucky grumbled at him, shoving his hands back into his pockets. “It’s not like we’re getting married.”

“That’s what I said.” Riley appeared on his other side and Bucky blinked down at him. “Look at me now.”

“You two aren’t going to give me some sort of ‘if you hurt him, we’ll hurt you’ speech, right? Because I have so many reasons why that’s not a thing.”

Sam reached over to squeeze his shoulder. “Wouldn’t dream of it. Steve’ll kick you ass on his own if you hurt him.”

Bucky grinned at the top of Steve’s fluffy hair that he could see through the crowd. “Don’t I know it.”

If there was one thing that Bucky was good at, it was waiting and looking inconspicuous, though he was used to doing it with a rifle in his hands. Standing off to the side of the room and sipping champagne had kept him entertained for a surprisingly long time. People watching at fancy events wasn’t as stimulating as it tended to be watching people on the streets, but there were still plenty of small details for him to notice. Like the fact that one of the servers was definitely taking sips off the cups on their tray, and getting increasingly tipsy. He looked up from his cup when one of the women that had been talking to Steve about the award approached him.

“I don’t mean to bother you, but you’re the man in that painting, aren’t you?” Her eyes flicked to the end of the room where Steve’s ‘Winter Soldier’ painting hung.

Bucky licked his lips, trying to push back the nervousness in his chest. He’d been purposefully staying as far away from that painting as possible to avoid this exact scenario. “Uh, yeah, that’s me.”

The woman’s face lit up. “Oh that’s so amazing!” She held out her hand and Bucky switched his champagne to his other hand to shake. “My name is Pepper Potts. I’m actually the curator of this show.”

Bucky blinked at her. “Uh, James, nice to meet you.”

Pepper stepped closer to him to avoid a group of people, joining him against the wall. “Steve’s work is amazing, and I think he deserves the grand prize.”

Bucky couldn’t help but grin at her. “I can’t really argue with that.”

Pepper looked over at him, her expression thoughtful. “Sadly I don’t have the final decision, but I think I can convince the others on the board to pick Steve as well.”

Tipping his glass toward her Bucky smiled again. “Hopefully my ugly mug hasn’t marred his chances.”

Pepper touched his arm gently. “Definitely not. That painting is a masterpiece.” Her smile was soft and touched her eyes and Bucky found that he liked her. They both looked up when Steve appeared from the crowd.

“Bucky- Oh, hello Miss Potts.” Steve’s smile was shy.

Pepper smiled softly at him. “Hello Steve. Enjoying your big night?”

“Yes, thank you again ma’am.”

Pepper turned her smile on Bucky briefly before finishing her drink and stepping away from the wall. “Alright, have a good night boys. I have award decisions to sway in my favor.”

Steve looked up at Bucky in confusion but he only offered a shrug. If Pepper got Steve that grant Bucky would buy her the biggest bouquet of flowers they sold.

“You said something about a drink?” Bucky quickly changed the subject, not trusting himself not to gush to Steve in his excitement.

Steve nodded. “Seems you’ve started without me.” He eyed Bucky’s champagne glass.

“Well you better catch up then, punk.” Bucky downed the rest of the champagne. “Let’s get outta here.”

Chapter Text

The idea of Steve being a lightweight didn’t surprise Bucky, but to see just how much a single beer loosened his tongue was something else entirely.

“This is a great bar Buck. You said your friend owns it?” Steve was looking around with interest, his eyes already bright.

Bucky grinned. “Yeah, Dugan. He’s a good guy.” Bucky didn’t feel the need to mention that he’d already told Steve that twice. Howlie’s was a dive bar, no two ways about it, but it was always homey and quiet, and had good company, even if Dugan had taken the 40’s retro theme a bit far. Bucky didn’t come here much anymore after leaving the army, he felt too much guilt about how he’d used his training, while the others had taken the time to assimilate back into society.

Steve suddenly grabbed Bucky’s hand, his expression serious. He wasn’t drunk, but he was tipsy, and it was unfairly cute.

“I have to tell you Bucky. I thought about you almost every day since I left. I missed you somethin’ awful.”

Bucky blinked at him, a flush crawling up his neck. “I missed you too Steve.”

Steve dropped his gaze, but didn’t take his hands off Bucky’s. “Sorry I hit you too…”

Bucky could see that apologizing was difficult for Steve, and honestly he’d been right to hit Bucky anyway. “Don’t have to apologize, I was an idiot.”

After downing the rest of his beer Steve pulled his gaze up again. “I was so surprised you came.”

Bucky shrugged, trying not to hide from Steve’s intense stare. “Wouldn’t miss it. Your art is amazing.”

Steve snorted. “I got lucky. Kind of took over Sam and Riley’s house with it. But I got a studio space that I’ve been working in too, saves their carpet from being covered in paint.”

“Sam and Riley seem like good guys. Wasn’t expecting a call from Sam, but I’m glad he got in touch.” Bucky licked his lips, rolling his glass between his hands.

“Me too,” Steve was staring at him again, his fingers twitching on the tabletop. “Though… you probably think I’m a weirdo, painting you without your permission or anything.”

Bucky opened his mouth to reply but a booming voice cut him off, making him twist around to locate the source.

“Barnes! You think you can sneak in here without my noticing?” The huge, mustachioed, form of his old army buddy cut a swath through the bar toward their table.

The warm grin on Dum-Dum’s face prompted Bucky into a grin of his own; he pulled himself up to give the man a tight hug and a slap on the back.

“I wasn’t hidin’, just trying to celebrate without your big head.” Bucky’s grin widened, when Dugan elbowed him.

“It’s been too long. How the hell have you been? Your hair’s so long, you’re starting to look like a dame.” Dugan held him at arms length. “Always been too pretty anyway.”

Bucky shoved him off with another grin. “I see you still have that dead cat on your face.” He turned back to their table. “Steve, this is Dugan. He’s the owner of the bar, like I said. Old army buddy.”

Steve sat up a little straighter, holding out his hand to shake. “Nice to meet you.”

Dugan pulled one of the slightly-rickety chairs over to their table and plopped down, immediately launching into interrogating Bucky about what he’d been up to. Bucky couldn’t really give him any satisfactory answers, and he felt the guilt clawing its way through his chest again.

Steve sat quietly and watched them interact, his knee occasionally brushing Bucky’s under the table until his phone buzzed loudly from his pocket. After digging it out he gently touched Bucky’s arm. “Sorry, I gotta go.” He gave Dugan a smile as well. “It was really nice to meet you.”

Bucky pulled himself up as well. “Sorry Dugan, I gotta walk Steve back.”

Steve blinked up at him, but didn’t protest.

After another hug and several promises to visit again Bucky followed Steve out onto the frosty street, pulling his scarf up toward his chin as Steve hunched his shoulders and buried his hands in hic pockets.

“You didn’t have to walk me back, Buck.” Steve’s breath puffed out in front of him as he walked.

Bucky threw his arm around Steve, bracing to get shoved off or glared at but grinning when Steve allowed it and fell into step with him. “Couldn’t let you walk back yourself. You need a cab to get home?”

Steve looked up at him, his eyes sparking in the dim light, not that Bucky would notice. “I know how to call a cab, Buck.” But he leaned into Bucky’s side anyway. “Was good to see you. If you want, you should come by my studio some time. We can talk some more.”

Bucky gave him a squeeze, resisting the urge to ruffle his hair. “Sure Stevie. Text me the address?”

Steve nodded, stopping when the reached the front of the museum and looking up at Bucky once more. He seemed so small standing so close. He looked like he wanted to say something more, but instead he just rolled his shoulders.

Bucky gazed down at him, a flush crawling up his neck the longer Steve looked at him. “What? I got something on my face?”

Steve shook himself. “Just the usual stupid. I’ll see you around Buck.” He turned toward the museum, digging his phone back out of his pocket. “I’m sure Sam and Riley are around here somewhere.”

Bucky stood and watched him go, hands shoved into the pockets of his jacket as he felt the now familiar tugging in his chest, like a magnet that drew him toward Steve automatically. God, he was just a big idiot. How many times did Steve have to reject him before he got it through his skull? A punch to the face was pretty clear.

It didn’t keep him from smiling when his phone pinged a few hours later with an address in Red Hook and a request to come Thursday with some sort of pastry. He was an idiot, but he wasn’t going to pass up the chance to see Steve.

 

 

Bucky struggled not to wheeze as he took the extremely steep stairs up to Steve’s studio. How the hell did asthmatic as hell Steve make it up these without keeling over? The box of pastries in his arms had gotten a bit squished as he’d shifted his grip on them. Finally he reached the top of the stairs and pushed the paint-splattered door open. Steve had said that several people used the studio, and it was broken up into little cubical-like spaces. Seeing it Bucky had to admit he was impressed. He’d never been an art person, but he could appreciate the works in progress spread out throughout the room from what he assumed were three or four artist. Steve’s stood out with his signature style loaded with color and movement. There was a big space cleared out in the center of the room with the cubicals Steve had mentioned crammed to one side and a row of industrial sinks along the other. A lumpy couch sagged against the back wall and there was an easel and paints spread out all over the central open space.

“Steve?” Bucky called, setting the box of pastries down on the stool next to the easel. It looked like Steve was painting the still-life set up opposite, capitalizing on the light streaming through the high windows.

Steve poked his head out one of the cubicles, his face splitting in a grin as he wiped his hands on the apron tied neatly around his waist. “Hey Buck, you came.”

“Said I would, didn’t I? I brought carbs.” Bucky held up the box and Steve immediately took it from him and tore the box open.

Leaving Steve to jelly-filled goodness Bucky took a moment to admire some of the paintings that Steve had drying next to the couch. “Just you working here today?” He had selfishly hoped that no one else would be here, he wanted Steve’s attention to himself.

“Mmmph-.” Steve swallowed a huge bite of lemon roll. “Sorry, I always forget to eat when I’m working. Yeah, it’s just me right now.”

Bucky nodded absently, keeping his gaze everywhere else but on Steve. He was sure that if he looked then he’d want to blurt out all the stupid things that had been rattling around in his brain. Like how cute Steve looked splattered in paint, his glasses crooked and his hair sticking up. Or how pretty he was bathed in the warm yellow light coming in from the skylights. Or even how much Bucky wanted to kiss away the crumbs stuck to his lip…

“-ck? Earth to Bucky.”

Bucky actually jumped, his fingers jumping to the knife at his waist. Damn, he’d actually zoned out. “Uh, yeah?” He cleared his throat and tried not to look too ruffled.

“You were just staring blankly at my painting. You okay?” Steve was much closer, his glasses catching the light and leaving him looking ethereal. God, Bucky was so fucked.

“Yeah, I’m good. Give me the nickel tour huh?” Bucky ran his fingers through his hair, trying to calm the fluttering in his chest.

Steve’s concerned expression melted into another smile. “Sure.” He wiped his hands on his apron again, more of a habit than any actual attempts to get them clean, Bucky realized. “This is the main area that people work in. Our individual studios are over there. Mine’s full of sketches and thumbnails and that kind of stuff.” He wandered around the space, chattering adamantly about the other artists and what they were working on, and throwing in a few gripes about the windows or the time that one of the sinks had somehow gotten completely clogged with clay. Bucky couldn’t help what he was sure was a slightly dopey smile.

They settled into comfortable silence once Steve turned his attention back to his work, Bucky sprawling out on the couch to scroll through his emails. The thing was as lumpy as it seemed, but it was comfortable enough to lounge on while Steve lay down blocks of color on his painting. It was the kind of easy quiet that they’d had before, and Bucky felt the knot of anxiety in his chest that he’d become so accustomed to loosening. He’d forgotten how easy it was to just sit and spend time quietly with Steve. God, he’d missed him even more than he realized. Steve worked until the shadows moved, and then packed up his painting supplies and took out his sketchbook. The soft scratching lulled Bucky into a relaxed haze of contentment and he found himself dozing, his head smushed down on his shoulder as he tried to fit himself more comfortably onto the couch. At least his metal arm couldn’t fall asleep.

Bucky jerked awake at a soft touch to his side, relaxing immediately again when he saw it was just Steve looking down at him.

“Shit, how long was I out?” Blearily he looked around the room to see it was dark now. Steve had pulled over a floor lamp to continue his drawing, and there was a pile of sketches neatly stacked next to his chair. Wow, he worked fast. Or maybe he’d just slept forever.

“You were out for a few hours.” Steve gave him a soft smile before returning to his chair. “I only woke you because I didn’t want you to have a horrible crick in your neck.”

Bucky groaned as he stretched, his back protesting. Okay, he took back his thoughts on this couch being comfortable. “Thanks Stevie. Sorry I haven’t been exciting company.”

A shrug was Steve’s only reply as he tucked his pencil behind his ear and flipped through his sketches. “Don’t be. You were a good subject.”

Bucky flushed. He knew that Steve drew him often, hell, he’d hung a huge painting of Bucky in his gallery show, but it still made Bucky feel shivery to think of Steve staring at him. Admiring? Probably not, but he could hope right? “No problem…”

Steve looked up at him, his expression gone serious again. “Buck, I-” He cut himself off, his eyes dropping to his lap again. “I’m really sorry about everything that happened between us. I shouldn’t have hit you, and I shouldn’t have stormed out…”

Bucky knelt in front of him, actually at his eyelevel for once. “I told you that you didn’t have t’ be sorry, punk. It was my fault just as much.”

Steve stared at him, his eyes big and stunningly blue through his thick glasses.

“Wow, you have a little bit of green-” Bucky cut himself off when Steve’s fingers brushed over his jaw, so gently he thought he might have imagined it. Steve was looking at him with so much emotion Bucky felt like he was falling through the floor, his stomach doing a sickening swoop as Steve’s fingers settled on the back of his neck.

“Buck-”

“Can I kiss you Stevie?” The words slipped out of Bucky’s mouth before he could stop them. He wasn’t dumb enough to try and kiss Steve unannounced again, but God did he want to.

Steve leaned closer until Bucky could feel his breath against his lips. “You better, jerk.”

Bucky surged forward, gaping softly as Steve’s fingers tightened in his hair as they kissed. Oh, but it was everything Bucky had hoped, even if Steve wasn’t the greatest kisser. He could have been the messiest kisser on the planet and Bucky would still feel like he had won the lottery because he finally got to kiss Steve Rogers.

Pulling away with a soft noise Bucky touched their foreheads together, trying to catch his breath. He felt like he’d run a mile and his heart was pounding.

“Heh…” Steve was grinning, his eyes closed as he continued to gently scratch at Bucky’s scalp. “Sorry that took so long.”
Bucky sat back on his heels, unable to keep a dopey grin from his lips. “That was swell.”

Steve snorted, covering his mouth as he dissolved into laughter. “Alright pal, the 40’s called, and they want their slang back.”

Bucky grumbled, reaching out and pulling him into another kiss. “I don’t want to hear it from you.”

Steve grinned against his lips. “You’re crumpling my sketches, jerk.”

Chapter Text

Bucky knew he needed to get out of the business. He’d known it for months, but after spending the whole night with Steve in his studio it nagged at him renewed. There was no easy way to get out of this, period. People didn’t just…stop. He thought maybe to call Natasha, but he’d relied on her so much already that it felt selfish to involve her in this, especially if it went badly. There were debts that needed to be considered; though there weren’t many people he owed his time to.
Sitting on his couch staring blankly at the TV Bucky tried to plan.

HYDRA was his biggest problem. After the SHIELD mission that had caused Steve to leave they’d been an ever-present thorn in his side, and had resorted to calling in nasty favors to try and make him do what they needed done. He hated working with HYDRA, but it seemed they had zeroed in on him, their creepy tentacle-bearing logo closing around his throat. Rumlow did work for them. Bucky had seen him once, skulking about, and he thought maybe HYDRA had been trying to keep an eye on him. The thought of killing all those HYDRA freaks actually brought him joy, and he could probably do it, given enough time. He’d refused to work with them, and they were getting nastier and nastier. Did he commit to taking them out, or getting out and building a life with Steve?

The decision was made for him the next morning, when his sweet “good morning” text from Steve was quickly superseded by one from Clint.

 

HYDRA is trying to send Nat after you, probably others too. Who’d you piss off now?

 

Huh, Clint had never texted him before. Natasha after him though, that would be a problem.

Meeting up with Natasha in a coffee shop wasn’t unusual, neither was the weight of his Sig against his thigh. He assumed that Nat would be civil about this, but paranoia ran rampant in assassins for a reason.

“Tasha.” Bucky plopped into the chair across from her, the metal legs sliding across the floor with a shriek. Who used metal
chairs inside?

“James.” She smiled at him, taking another sip of her coffee.

“We here to talk, or are we gonna have a fight?” Bucky subtly scanned the shop, taking in the placement of every person in it, and the weaknesses and strengths of every exit and entry point.

Natasha snorted, setting her cup down. “If we did that, who would I have to bug besides Clint? What about Steve?”

Bucky’s shoulders relaxed. He trusted Natasha, and he was glad that their friendship was above a little contracted murder. “He’s in his studio. Talked to him about an hour ago, said he’d be there all day.”

Natasha nodded. “You’re still thinking about getting out.” It wasn’t a question.

“Of course. But I don’t want HYDRA to cause you grief if I do.”

“They cause grief for everyone, but I’ve been compiling a lot on them. If these guys were smart they’d just leave you alone after you refused to keep taking their jobs, but they’re not. Seems like they need a little extra persuasion. If you help me out, I can get you out for good. If that’s what you want.” Natasha met his gaze, her expression intense. “Won’t be easy, and you need to get Steve.”

Bucky licked his lips a few times; his nervous tic redoubling as his worry intensified. “I’ll have to tell him everything. Guess we’ll see if he even wants me after that.”

“Good luck with that. Telling the truth sucks.” Natasha took another sip of her coffee.

“Yeah, since when does Clint text me, by the way?” Bucky nudged her under the table.

Bucky ordered himself a latte, and they discussed their weekend, like two normal adults, agreeing to meet up again once they’d gotten things squared away.

The first thing that he did was call Steve, even though he was already at the train stop that would lead him to his studio; if he didn’t have to climb those stairs again then all the better.

He was talking as soon as Steve picked up. “Hey Stevie. Can you meet me downstairs? We need to talk about some stuff.”

Steve was quiet for a second, his voice coming out unsure. “Sure Buck. Just let me put my paint away.”

Bucky leaned against the side of the doorframe and chain-smoked, hoping that it would ease his worry. It didn’t. He’d just nervously tucked another butt into his pocket when Steve emerged, blinking at the bright sunlight after the dark stairwell.

“Hey Buck. What’s up?” Steve continued to squint at him as his eyes tried to adjust, hand coming up to nudge his glasses back up his nose.

Bucky’s worry redoubled, and he honestly felt like he was going to throw up. “Steve we uh-”

But Steve’s gaze had focused past him, his face twisting up in confusion. “Rumlow?”

Bucky whipped around, grabbing Steve and yanking him into the recessed doorway just as a bullet lodged itself in the brick, dust spraying them both.

“Jesus Bucky, what the fuck?” Steve hissed, trying to wriggle out of his arms. “Why is he shooting at us?”

Bucky pushed him back, giving him a sharp look. “Stay.” Steve opened his mouth to argue but Bucky hit him with another glare. “Listen, for once in your life Rogers. I don’t want to watch you get shot in the head.” He dug his Sig out of the holder, holding it close to his thigh. He could hear Rumlow coming closer, bits of gravel crunching under his boots.

“I knew it would only take a few hours for you to show up here.”

Bucky sighed. Why did they always feel the need to talk? “Then why didn’t you take a better position? Could have taken me out properly.”

There had to be more than just Rumlow, they didn’t seriously think that one man could take him out? He just had to find them.

Taking a steadying breath Bucky rolled out from the door, leveling his shot in the direction he knew Rumlow was, and cursing when it whizzed past his head. Thank god the street was still empty, this was quickly becoming a real mess. He deflected Rumlow’s next shot, the bullet pinging dully off his metal arm as Bucky dove for him. Rumlow cursed and howled as Bucky wrenched his gun away, honestly not caring one bit if he broke his wrist in the process, his metal hand fastened firmly around the man’s throat, enough to keep him still, but not enough to kill him.

“Call them off. The men you brought.” His head jerked around again when he heard the squeal of tires, a black car barreling toward them. Shit, shit.

The car drifted to a stop in front of the doorway where Steve was thankfully still hidden, though Bucky could see the top of his head from where he’d been peeking, the window rolling down the reveal the incredulous face of Natasha. Bucky had never been so happy to see her.

“I leave you alone for one second.” She stepped smoothly from the car. “Steve, get in will you?” She pulled the other door open for him, twisting to watch their backs as they both got back into the car. “And you’re making new friends.”
Rumlow twisted in Bucky’s grasp, trying to wriggle free, but Bucky just tightened his grip. He wanted to kill him and leave him here in the street. But even he couldn’t just kill a man in broad daylight on a random city block. But he couldn’t really let him go either…

Knocking him out would do, for now. Bringing up his other hand Bucky smashed him on the head, waiting until he went slack in his grip to let him go and watch him slump to the ground. That had to do for now. He’d be a pain again whenever he woke up, but hopefully Bucky would be able to shoot him then.

Crossing over to Natasha’s waiting car Bucky climbed in, carefully avoiding Steve’s steely gaze from the back seat. Fuck, this was going to be a long day.

Bucky didn’t expect Steve to be silent the whole drive out of town, but the entire drive upstate to Clint’s there was a painfully thick silence in the car that left Bucky ready to climb out the window. Every time he tried to think of what to say Natasha would shoot him a look, and he’d shut up, staring pointedly out the windshield and not looking back at Steve. Where did he even start?

He didn’t have to wait long before he got his answer, he could feel Steve’s glare into the back of his head, and he vaguely wondered if he was considering the best way to strangle him from the back seat.

Natasha took an abrupt left and the car bumped into an underground parking garage. Bucky hadn’t been paying attention to where they were, but now he realized that they were at his apartment building.

“Nat- why did you bring us here? Rumlow knows where I live!” Bucky hissed.

Nat just unlocked the doors with a flick of her wrist. “Get out of my car. I’ll make sure no one’s going to come up and snipe you through the window. They commissioned me to kill you, so I wouldn’t be worried about others.”

Bucky’s mouth snapped closed with an audible click, a frown on his lips. But he didn’t argue as he pushed the door open, heading for the elevator that would take them up to his floor. He didn’t need to look back to know Steve was following him, he could practically hear the gears turning in his brain from here.

By the time that they’d reached his apartment and Bucky had gotten the door closed he was about ready to throw himself out the picture window.

“Steve-”

“So you lied to me.” Steve had crossed his arms over his skinny chest and was scowling at Bucky like he was also considering pitching Bucky out the window. “Is anything you’ve told me true?”

Bucky wrung his hands together. “I only lied about a few things…” That didn’t make it any better. Steve opened his mouth to argue again but Bucky held his hand up, the metal gleaming faintly in the dim afternoon sun of his apartment. “Why don’t you just let me lay it all out, and then you can yell at me.”

Steve huffed but wandered over to plop down onto the overstuffed chair, looking up at him expectantly.

Bucky blew out a big breath, his shoulders sagging. “I’m not in private security. I’m an assassin.” Steve’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth again before snapping it closed, his eyebrows furrowing. Bucky waited a moment before continuing.

“I got into it after the army, didn’t know how to assimilate into normal life, and got approached by some guys to do a job for them. Since then it’s what I’ve been doing. I’m not proud of it, but it paid the bills.” He sighed. “The job I got hurt on, I wasn’t with the shield guys, I had to smash my way through them to take out the diplomat they were protecting.” He chuckled, though Steve wasn’t laughing. “I did get one cool thing out of it.” He twisted to grab the sofa, heaving it up over his head with only the one arm. Steve’s eyes were bugging now.

Bucky carefully set the sofa back down, perching on it and licking his lips again. “I’ve killed people, heads of crime organizations and dirty diplomats, all that kind of stuff. I’m not proud of it, and I’m sure there were innocent people that got hurt along the way. It haunts me.” He dropped his head, letting it hang between his shoulders. “But I want to leave it, get out and make something good of my life to make up for all the bad things I’ve done. And I don’t want to lose you. You’re the only good thing that’s happened to me in a really long time.” He found tears pricking the back of his eyes again and he swallowed hard to push it away, “But if you can’t forgive me, I understand.”

Bucky jumped when he felt a hand on his head, gentle fingers brushing through his hair, he didn’t dare move.

“I can’t forgive you.” Bucky felt his heart breaking, the servos in his metal arm whirring as he tried to keep himself from shaking apart.

“But I know you’re a good man. If you say you’re getting out and plan to make up for the things you’ve done then I believe you. I’ve got my own baggage to work through, I think we could both use a change of scenery and a drink or two.”

Bucky looked up at him, a tentative smile on his face. “I expected you to hit me again.”

Steve nudged his shoulder. “People change. I’m still angry, trust me, but how about we figure this out when people aren’t trying to put your head on a pike. Who did you piss off anyway?”

Bucky sighed. “I’d guess HYDRA. I may have been subtly sabotaging their work with every one of my jobs.” It hadn’t been a conscious decision to start with, but once he’d stumbled on some intel during a job a few years back he couldn’t well let it lie. HYDRA was a menace, and he would not see them rise to power. “I think if I help Nat storm one of their bases then she’ll have everything she needs to take them down. Obviously they’re not onto her if they tried to enlist her to kill me.”

Steve snorted. “Her I would have pegged for an assassin. You seemed more like a…”

Bucky pulled himself up, dragging Steve into a kiss. “I don’t think I want to know. Let’s go.”

Natasha rolled down her window again when she saw them coming, hand in hand. She’d somehow managed to change and completely re-do her makeup in the time they’d been upstairs. “I figured I’d have to drag James out of here in a body bag. You’re going soft Rogers.” Steve just winked at her and crawled into the back seat.

Bucky squinted at them both as Nat pulled back out onto the street level. “Have you two been talking without me?”

Natasha just gave him a smile, pulling her sunglasses down over her eyes.

 

 

The hardest part of the day was leaving Steve at Clint’s.

“I can come and help. I swear. You are not leaving me here like some damsel.” Steve put his hands on his hips and frowned as hard as he could at Bucky, though he was slightly sabotaged by Lucky coming up to nuzzle at his hand and demand pets.

“Steve, have you ever even fired a gun?” Bucky was busy at the kitchen table, surrounded by a menagerie of blue steel in its many forms, putting back together his Sig since he’d had to shoot at Rumlow.

Steve’s posture didn’t change much, though he did start scratching Lucky’s ears absently. “You could show me…”

Bucky grinned at him. “I will, but not today. I’ll be back before you even know it.”

Natasha was murmuring to Clint right up until Bucky had to drag her away. She seemed nervous, and Natasha never seemed nervous. He waited until they were in the car again before he mentioned anything.

“You good? I know you’ve been working on taking down HYDRA way longer than I have.”

Nat shrugged, her eyes focused on the road. “Couldn’t do it without your help anyway. We just have to get as much information from this base as we possibly can.”

“I hate planes. Have I mentioned that?” Bucky leaned his seat back. “Though anything is better than trains.” Nat shot him a look.

 

 

The hideout that they were looking for turned out to be on what seemed to be a farm in Iowa, not exactly what Bucky had been anticipated, he’d been thinking more fancy estate, or secret underground bunker.

“Okay, but how many farms need their own private landing strip?” Bucky turned to gesture to the strip cleverly hidden in a field of very tall grass. Corn? He’d never seen an honest to god cornfield before. Perks of living in the city.

Natasha just shook her head and kept driving. “The HYDRA kind.” She grinned when a horse picked its head up from the adjacent field. “Probably an evil horse too.”

Bucky nudged her, sitting up in his seat. “Alright, I’ll keep my eyes peeled.” He yawned, stretching to reach back and check to make sure his guns hadn’t shifted as they drove. “You thinking secret bunker?”

“Definitely.” Natasha tapped her fingers against the steering wheel as they continued down the curving drive.

Bucky kept his eyes peeled as they drove, watching a small yellow farmhouse come into view, along with a large red barn. “Quaint.” He leaned forward, taking in everything around them. It didn’t scream secret HYDRA base, but you never knew.

Maneuvering the car expertly into the large empty space in front of the house, beside an old farm truck, the teal paint peeling from prolonged sun exposure.

Bucky stepped out of the car, feeling distinctly out of place as he brushed a strand of hair that had freed itself from his bun back behind his ear. “Kind of like Clint’s, but more…eery.” He looked around, twisting to dig around the back seat and grab his bag. There was no wiggly farm dog to greet them, not even the quiet cluck of chickens, just the wind through the corn. It was creepy to say the least. “Is this where you say ‘let’s split up’ or…” He carefully repositioned the com in his ear so that it wasn’t poking him.

Nat gave him a withering look, double-checking her own gear before stalking off toward the house, the gravel crunching under her heels.

Bucky trailed after him, unsure whether it was better to prepare for an attack or pretend to be an innocent tourist.

Natasha knocked sharply on the front door. “This place is going to take forever to search. Usually I’m not a great proponent of splitting up, but why don’t you go check out the barn? Try not to die, there could be farm equipment in there.”

Bucky blew a raspberry at her, but turned to go and check on the barn, his hand settling back on the Sig at his thigh. Maybe they were wrong after all, besides the general creep vibe of this place, there didn’t seem to be anything to overtly scream HYDRA base.

The barn door was heavy as hell, and Bucky grunted a bit as he shoved it open, wincing at the horrible grinding noise that announced is presence; so much for stealth. Stepping into the gloom of the barn he stifled a sneeze, hay dust making his eyes burn. Nat had been right about the farm equipment. “You were right about the farm equipment.” He muttered into his com, “What is that thing even for?” Bucky whispered to himself, edging around some horrible metal-bladed monstrosity.

Beyond the terrifying farm equipment there didn’t seem to be anything weird, and the hay was making Bucky’s whole face itchy. He stifled another sneeze, making another lap around the barn before standing quietly in the center, squinting into the gloomy corners and trying to listen for anything, anything at all. It was so eerily silent that it left the hair on the back of his neck standing up. Even out here there should be some wind through the barn or something, right?

He turned on his heel, swiveling around and continuing to squint. Taking a step back toward the door he slid into a barrel roll when he felt the floor shift beneath him, cursing and rolling toward the wall as the floor disappeared into a black maw, quickly pulling out his gun to cover he hissed into the bug in his ear. “Natasha, I think I found the bad guys.”

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a gigantic armored Humvee roared out of the hole that he’d barely managed to avoid. Shifting his grip on the gun in his hand he made a calculation and clipped the back tire, watching it hiss and deflate. Fuck yeah penetrating rounds.

Jumping up he beelined for the hole in the floor, trusting Natasha to take out those guys in their wounded Humvee, rolling as he hit the ground to catch the impact, jogging down the ramp into the dark. Ah, there was the secret bunker.

“Found the secret bunker. Take out the guys in the front door, won’t you Nat?”

“Already on it, found some good stuff in the house at least.” Bucky’s com crackled a little, and he nudged it again, hoping he wasn’t losing connection.

He heard the thunk of Natasha heading down the ramp, a grin on his lips. This was going to be fun; this bunker was huge. It wasn’t too much further down the dim tunnel that it started to open up even further. Damn, this must extend under the whole farm.

Slowing to a walk Bucky pulled his gun up, being more careful about checking around corners. There was likely to be guys here beyond the ones in the Humvee.

He looked up when Natasha caught up to him, quietly signaling her to keep her gun up and let him lead around corners. She gave him a look but didn’t argue, and both of them slid smoothly down the hallways, clearing rooms as they went. It seemed strange that they hadn’t run into anyone.

“Tasha-” As soon as Bucky opened his mouth Natasha signaled him to stay quiet, stepping ahead of him into the next room.

There was a group of men standing around a large machine, with wicked-looking mechanical bits poking out of it as if it had been hastily assembled. It seemed to be computing, if the read-out scrolling on the large screen was anything to go by.

“Hey boys, we’re not interrupting, are we?” Natasha stepped further into the room, quickly diving to grab one of the techs as Bucky dodged behind one of the large control panels, hissing into his com at the dull thunk of bullets on reinforced metal. These guys were heavily armed for science types.

Snapping up Bucky took down three of them with non-leathals before they could get their bearings on him, re-holsering his gun and taking a diving roll over the panel, watching Natasha sweep the legs out of another guy. He always loved watched her fight, like a finely honed blade, a dance of breaking bones, it was impressive to say the least. He always found himself more like a blunt object, a blade with no handle, a fist used to brutal effect. He bowled his way through a remaining knot of techs, snatching up one of their guns to threaten them with. Natasha had gotten to the control panel, typing vigorously.

An alarm started to sound, and Bucky cursed, turning his gun on the door and shoving his foot into the face of the last wiggling tech with a muffled curse.

“Quickly please Tasha. I don’t want to have to blast my way out of here if I can avoid it.”

The rapid tapping behind him didn’t cease. “There’s a lot here, it’s going to take a while. Guard the door, won’t you?”

Bucky grumbled, but checked the unconscious men again before heading for the door and peering down the hall. This was not a greatly defensible position, and didn’t leave them a lot of escape routes. If he strained he could hear boots coming from further down in the tunnel. Shit, not good.

“You said this would be quick, we don’t have time for-” He whipped his head around at the soft click of a hammer being pulled back, reeling backwards just a bullet lodged itself in the doorframe. “Shit!”

“You should have killed me when you had the chance.” Bucky sighed, recognizing Rumlow’s voice echoing down the hall. He really should have killed him. Taking a deep breath Bucky knelt down, digging in his pockets for one of the many fun toys he always kept on him.

“Tasha, it’s really time to hurry.” Bucky steeled himself and then tossed the flash-bang out into the hall, closing his eyes against the blinding light and grinning when Rumlow cursed colorfully. Once the light had faded a bit Bucky rolled out of his hiding place, grabbing Rumlow around the ankles to take him down. There were definitely boots coming toward them from the other end of the hall, though with the echo Bucky couldn’t tell how many.

Rumlow twisted in his grip and Bucky shoved him hard against the wall, wincing a little when his head cracked hard against the concrete wall. He snagged the gun from his hand and threw it back into the room with Natasha.

“One more minute.” Crackled Natasha’s voice through his com, just as Rumlow managed to nail him in the gut with a lucky flailing punch. Bucky couldn’t help but double over, wheezing a little as Rumlow continued to struggle, shoving him away and taking a step back. Rumlow came at him again and Bucky managed to fend him off, smashing his metal forearm into his ribs when he had an opening, the ‘oof’ he got in reaction was enough to know it was effective. Rumlow stumbled and Bucky was on him. He tackled him down again, rolling them both over and getting up so that he was facing the exit. Those boots were coming closer.

“Nat! Speed!” Bucky shouted, expertly fending off a flurry of blows from his opponent. “We don’t have all day here!”

Rumlow snarled at him and Bucky had to dance back a few steps as he whipped out a nasty-looking knife.

He gave Rumlow another shove just to get him back, twisting as a black and red blur brushed past him, Natasha shoving a USB into her pocket as she brushed past him. “Quit playing, let’s go.”

Bucky ducked as yet another hail of bullets whizzed past him, Rumlow turning to curse at the men that he was on their side, and giving Bucky an opportunity to scramble backwards down the hall.

“Is there a faster way to get out of here? We’re sitting ducks in a straight hallway.”

“Try running faster.” Natasha hissed, dodging around a corner.

Because of the echo Bucky couldn’t tell if the boots were gaining on them, but he didn’t like having his back turned to advancing enemies.

They hit the wide-open space at the front of the bunker faster than he expected, but there was half a battalion of goons waiting for them. They quickly split up, dodging more gunfire. Bucky grabbed one of their dorky little motorcycles and heaved it at them. That seemed to get their attention, but gave him enough time to rip the door off a Humvee and use it like a battering ram to smash through a large portion of them. Damn, thank his lucky stars that this stupid arm was ridiculously strong. He needed to lift stuff more often.

“Christ James, you’ve been holding out on me.” Natasha’s channel was definitely breaking up. By the time he spotted her again she was hitting an obnoxiously large red button that started a klaxon, as well as the ramp to the barn above starting to close.

Alright, time to haul ass.

Bucky redoubled his efforts to beeline for the receeding ramp, watching Natasha jump nimbly onto it while kicking a guy in the head, beautiful really. Bucky took a flying leap, reaching for the edge of the ramp and just managing to grab it, starting to haul himself up.

Suddenly there was a large weight around his legs and he nearly lost his grip, glaring down between his arms to see that Rumlow had not only caught up to them but was trying to climb his way up Bucky’s body.

“Oh my god I am getting so tired of you!” Bucky shouted at him, wriggling and trying to shake Rumlow off even as he continued to heave himself up, watching the space between the ramp and the ceiling rapidly decrease. Natasha grabbed onto his forearm, heaving to help him get up. Squirming harder Bucky tried to get his heel into Rumlow’s chest and shove him off, twisting himself onto the platform. Shit, shit, the door was still closing. He howled when Rumlow shoved his wicked knife into his thigh, redoubling his wiggling.

“Get the fuck off me!” Bucky yanked his metal fist back and twisted to smash it into Rumlow’s face, grinning when he felt his nose give. Good, the least he deserved was a broken nose.

“James!” Natasha gave him another yank and Bucky felt the ceiling brush against the top of his head as he wiggled onto the platform, giving Rumlow a kick with his good leg and watching him slide backwards just as the door starting to seal itself again. He quickly turned his head, his stomach rolling at the inhuman scream and the crackle of breaking bone as the unforgiving metal crushed him like a pop can under a boot.

Bucky stared for a long moment, his stomach turning again as Natasha helped him up, hissing sharply as he remembered the knife buried in his thigh. How did this always happen? He hobbled after Natasha back out into the sunlight, sliding into the passenger seat of the car and cursing as she wrenched it into gear.

“I’m bleeding here! Try to drive carefully won’t you?”

Natasha huffed. “There’s gauze in the glove box, better start cleaning yourself up.”

Bucky grumbled but did as she said, biting his lip hard to keep from shouting as he yanked out the knife and dropped it into the footwell. “Jesus, I should have killed him before. Any of the previous times honestly.”

Natasha laughed, brushing her hair back from her face. “At least I got everything I need. This should be plenty to take down those goons.”

Bucky sighed, carefully placing the gauze back in the glovebox and leaning back in his seat to close his eyes. “How is it I always get fucked and you never even have a scratch?”

“You’re unlucky. Steve’s gonna have a fit.” Natasha rolled down her window and turned up the radio, the dulcet tones of smooth rock rising from the speakers.

 

 

Nat intercepted Steve as soon as they got home, putting her arm around his thin shoulders and leading him back inside, yammering excitedly about something beyond Bucky’s hearing. It gave him long enough to hobble out of the car and into the bathroom to dress his wound properly. Clint knocked on the door at some point and handed him a pair of baggy sweats that would fit without putting pressure on the sore spot; Bucky gave him a tired smile in return.

“There’s some dinner if you’re interested. Steve helped me make Sheppard’s pie.”

Bucky nodded, his stomach growling at the thought. He was still feeling like all this had been too easy, like there had to be more. But Natasha had said he was done after this, and he was inclined to believe her.

Steve found him as he was loading his plate with dinner, plopping on another healthy spoonful as he tried not to drool on himself. This smelled amazing.

“Buck?”

Bucky looked up, setting his plate down carefully and cautiously holding his arms out, trying for what he hoped was a soft smile. “Hey Stevie.”

Steve didn’t hesitate to squish himself against Bucky’s chest, his skinny arms holding him tight as he mushed his face into Bucky’s shirt. “Was worried, jerk.” Bucky almost couldn’t make out the words muffled against his chest.

“I told ya I’d be okay. I’m sorry I had to lie to you Steve. You understand why I did though, right?” Bucky gently pet his soft hair, resting his cheek on top of Steve’s head.

“Yeah, I get it. Don’t like it, but I get it.” Steve said as he stood up on his tiptoes to kiss him and Bucky couldn’t help but grin. “Don’t do it again. Any of it.”

Bucky nodded. “I promise. I’m done. I can’t undo what I’ve done, the blood is on my hands.” He sighed, “But I want to be better, try and wipe some of that red out of my ledger.”

Steve nodded, stepping back. “You’ve been spending too much time with Natasha. C’mon now, let’s get you something to eat.”

 

 

“Damn this seat is cold. You couldn’t have gotten me a non-metal stool to sit my naked ass on?” Bucky griped, tightening his grip on the robe around his shoulders.

“You’re not naked anyway, you’re wearing shorts.” Steve shot back. “Robe off. You agreed to do this.”

Bucky sighed, shrugging off the robe and perching on the slightly squeaky metal stool and trying not to hunch into himself. He’d agreed to model for Steve begrudgingly, but now that the whole mess was over they still had each other, and this was the only thing that Steve had ever asked of him, so here he was.

“Look at you…” Steve whispered, and Bucky whipped his head around to focus on him, but Steve had dropped his gaze to his sketchbook. “You’re slouching your shoulders again. Just sit still for a moment and then you can move. I’ll start with some short ones so you can be comfortable with a longer pose.”

Bucky nodded, his tongue feeling three sizes too big to form any words. Steve was staring at him, drinking him in, and the only sound was the scratch of graphite over paper. Bucky moved as Steve instructed, working his way around the light and into poses that were still interesting but he could hold without a strain. After what felt like both hours and only a few minutes Steve pulled himself out of his chair, stretching his back.

“You want to do one laying down? It’ll be a long one, so I think that lying down would be best.” Bucky looked up at him, leaning forward in the quest for a kiss. He was feeling needy all of a sudden, but Steve didn’t seem to mind, grinning against his lips as they kissed for a long moment. Just when Bucky lifted his hand to tangle his fingers in Steve’s hair he pulled away.

“Come over here and I’ll move the light. Get the pillows where you want them.”

Bucky stayed quiet as he lounged on the mat that Steve had set out for him, letting Steve fuss over the pillows as he fell back into the pleasant lull of letting Steve draw him. He’d expected to be more nervous, more unsure of the scars and baggage that were clear from looking at his body, but he found all that melted way from the soft way that Steve regarded him. He relaxed happily into the pillows, letting the tension drain out of him and reminding himself not to move as Steve continued to sketch. He blinked one eye open to peer at the little blond, surprised that he’d moved closer. He closed his eyes again, focusing on breathing slowly.

“Hey Buck?” Steve’s voice was much closer than before, but Bucky was floating so nicely that he couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes.

“Mmm?”

“Take your shorts off for me?”

Bucky felt a flush crawl up his neck and across his chest. They hadn’t…done this yet. They’d kissed plenty, and gotten a little handsy, but they hadn’t had time to- not with the mess with HYDRA and them moving into a new apartment- and now Steve was asking him to pose completely naked? Well, no better time than the present, though he did vaguely wish he’d done a little trimming down there if he’d known Steve would be seeing everything today. “Sure.” He willed his fingers not to shake as he tugged his shorts down; tossing them away and trying to find the exact position he’d been laying in before, his skin tingling as Steve moved him to be more precise.

Bucky closed his eyes again, too nervous to look at Steve now. He’d almost managed to doze off when he heard the scratch of Steve’s pencil stop.

“You look nice like this Buck.” Steve’s voice washed over him and Bucky struggled with the impulse to close his legs, his eyes snapping open when he heard Steve get up.

“Can I touch you?” Steve was practically whispering, but Bucky heard him loud and clear.

“Yeah, whatever you want Stevie.” His voice was small, and he bit back a gasp when Steve’s fingers brushed over his chest, tingles shooting up and down his spine.

“Beautiful….” Steve murmured, his fingers tracing gently across and down Bucky’s chest.

Bucky turned his face away. “I’ve always thought I looked a real mess.” He twisted his arms to keep them from going to sleep, the servos whirring gently in his left.

Steve leaned over to press a kiss to the mess of scars on his left shoulder, making Bucky jump. “I know, I’ve always been able to tell you didn’t think much of yourself, though I could never tell why.

Bucky couldn’t bring himself to look at him. He’d known this would happen, he was too vulnerable like this, it was too much. “Steve-” He made to get up, but Steve’s gentle hand on his flesh arm kept him still.

“I’m not done admiring you.” Steve pressed another kiss on his collar bone, brushing his lips down along the curve of one pec and ghosting his breath over Bucky’s now hardened nipple, making him shiver. “You never let me look.”

Bucky chewed is lip. “Nothing beautiful about a war machine.” That’s what he was, or what he had been, a hammer, a knife, a blunt instrument, a well-oiled gun.

Steve nuzzled at the soft hairs on his chest, pressing gentle kisses down the length of his torso before pulling away again. “You’re more than a gun, Bucky.”

Bucky twisted, grabbing Steve and pulling him into a kiss, knocking his glasses askew and tangling his fingers in his hair, sighing happily when Steve quickly took control again, pushing him back down and crawling onto the nest of pillows Bucky had made for himself. They pulled apart with a wet sound and Bucky couldn’t help but grin.

“I love you. I want to be better for you.”

Steve grinned. “I love you too. Mess this up and I’ll never forgive you. Now, are you going to let me suck you off or not?”

Bucky flushed all the way down his neck. “Uh, I wasn’t trying to stop you.” His ears burned as Steve’s grin widened. “Was this whole drawing thing just a ploy to get into my pants the whole time?”

Steve grinned against his skin, pressing a kiss to his naval. “Not the whole time.”