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Where There's Smoke

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Chapter One

“Hey Steve!”

A close-cropped, blond head atop a tall, muscled frame lifts and Steve Rogers looks away from the pumper engine in front of him, with its shiny, red paint and sparkling chrome. Two engines and the paramedic MIDI are pulled out of their parking bays onto the short driveway to be washed. Every morning the engines are diligently scrubbed down, an old firehouse tradition.

The voice comes from the left, from the fire station; it is a two story, red brick building with three large garage doors that house their vehicles. White paint over the center door proclaims this to be Brooklyn’s Station 242. A water-soaked sponge coming from the right hits Steve square in the chest and falls into his bucket with a wet plop; laughter can be heard from both directions. Steve looks down at his wet shirt in consternation. Tony Stark, his former crewmate and newly-promoted Battalion Chief is approaching from one of the open doors of the firehouse bay.

“Steve, Steve. Why did you let Clint have a sponge? You know he can’t be trusted with them.”

“What are you two in, sixth grade?” Steve pretends to chastise them, like a parent scolding two small children. He’s used to Clint’s shenanigans and can’t even work up any real anger. Damn, that water is cold, though. “So what’s up?”

Tony comes to a halt next to him and smiles, somewhat grimly. He is older than Steve, nearing fifty but still in great shape physically, with a trim waist, toned muscles, and not a hint of grey in his dark hair and goatee. “Just got the word from on high. We’re getting a transfer to replace me.”

Steve drops his soapy sponge into the bucket and pulls his wet shirt away from his chest. “OK, so that’s not bad, is it?”

Taking in a new squad member was never an easy thing. Firefighters depend on teamwork so much that it is quite a disruption in their routine to bring in someone new. Many teams are together for years, even decades, and function like a well-oiled machine. A transfer didn’t sound that bad to Steve; it would be worse if it was a rookie, fresh from the Academy, because there would be so much more training and orientation required.

“He’s sort of a rookie,” Tony adds.

Oh shit.

“From Station 201.”

OH SHIT.

Steve is gaping a little, giving Tony a look like he just ate something distasteful, or got his foot stomped on. Station 201 was in another part of Brooklyn. It had a similar set-up and served a similar part of town as their own station, which was good. The problem was that Station 201 had just been hit with tragedy; a firefighter had been killed while out on a run at a structure fire less than a month ago.

At that moment Clint, one of the two paramedics on Steve’s shift, makes an appearance by poking his light brown-haired head from around the end of the engine he is hosing off. “Did you just say we’re getting a rookie from 201?” His eyebrows have lifted into the stratosphere.

“Yep,” Tony replied, rocking back on his heels with his hands stuffed into his pockets.

“Who is it?” Steve wants to know, his head tilting to one side.

Tony pauses and sighs once. “James Barnes, crewmate of Brock Rumlow.”

OH, FUCKING SHIT.

Brock Rumlow was the fallen man, a decorated firefighter with more than twenty years of experience. It had been quite a loss. They had all attended the ceremony following his death, another firefighter tradition. Steve can picture it fresh in his mind. The crowd had been huge, the accolades for the fallen man’s service long. Tony winces as Clint hurls some choice obscenities in their direction and disappears around the other side of the engine.

“Don’t shoot the messenger!” Tony yells after him, cupping his hands around his mouth.

Still silent, Steve gives Tony another look, blue eyes reproachful.

“I know, I know, not ideal,” Tony acknowledges, but tries to put a good spin on it. “He’s not your typical rookie, though. Give him a chance. He’s going to need some tactful handling after going through that, so I knew you’d be good for him.”

Steve shrugs modestly and resignedly. Whether Tony is buttering him up or not, no point making a stink about something that was going to happen, whether you wanted it to or not. He squints into the cool spring sun and bright blue sky. The day had started off like any other, but now definitely got more complicated. “I’m gonna miss you, Tony,” he admits.

In reality, they will see each other every shift, as Tony’s new position is still based at their station. Now as Battalion Chief, Tony handles administrative duties, but it is also his duty to go to every fire site and direct operations. He and Steve won’t be working directly with each other as they did before. Firefighters work in pairs; Tony and Steve had been paired up for years, and worked with the seamless familiarity that came with years of practice. By this time, they could almost read each other’s thoughts.

That was another reason it was difficult getting a new crewmate. What if they didn’t get along? What if Steve didn’t like him very much? Personality clashes were a very real risk, enough to give Steve a bit of nerves. He didn’t want to tell that to Tony though, and make him feel guilty about getting promoted. Their new BC deserved every bit of good fortune that came his way, and Steve was genuinely happy for him.

“I guess you’ll officially be able to boss me around now,” he teases.

Tony grins at him. “And don’t you forget it!” He claps Steve on one broad shoulder and begins to walk back up the driveway. “New guy will be here this afternoon, after some papers get shuffled.”

A wayward stream of water shoots up over the top of the engine from somewhere around Clint’s position and lightly sprays him in the back; Tony sprints for cover.

“Goddamnit, Clint!” Steve hears him bellow. He also hears Clint’s boisterous laugh and shakes his head, reaching down into his bucket to retrieve his sponge. Going to be an interesting day, to say the least.

-

Their morning is filled with equipment inspection, training exercises, and one false alarm fire. That afternoon, after two separate runs to respond to car accidents, Steve, Sam and Thor have returned to the station. Clint and Natasha, his partner, are transporting a stable victim to the hospital. As the three men are cleaning their gear, Sam and Thor play twenty questions with Steve.

“Clint said he’s a noob,” Sam gripes. “Are we talking fresh-faced from out of school?”

Steve looks at the dark-skinned man fondly. Sam is his best friend: co-conspirator, confidante, and fellow football-obsessed best friend. They see eye to eye on a lot of things in life, so Steve is not surprised Sam has followed the same train of thought he has.

Thor, a giant of a man at six foot four inches, with thick blond hair that falls over his forehead and ears, and muscles that would shame a body builder, pulls a face. “That would be…weird.”

“Why would that be weird? Steve asks, confused. The three men are all of a similar age, early thirties. Twenty-two didn’t seem that far off.

Sam laughs and gives him a familiar gap-toothed smile. “Because, Steve, you already act like you’re eighty. A twenty-something kid won’t even know how to communicate with you.”

“Shut up,” Steve grumbles. “That is so not true.”

Sam and Thor only snort at him and exchange smiles.

“OK, so maybe it’s a little true.”

So Steve didn’t go out much, was that a crime? He doesn’t think he acts like an old man. That was just harsh. Truth was, ever since Peg had died he didn’t feel like being Mr. Social Butterfly. So what? A ballgame and beer with the guys? Sure. Going out on dates? Not so much. Or at all. He’d just never found anyone after her. But he was content with how his life was unfolding. He had his friends, his firefighter family, his dog. Life was good. Mostly. If he never found anyone again, he could be okay with that. Mostly.

“I don’t know how old he is, actually,” Steve offers. “But I’m sure it’ll work out fine. I admit I wasn’t thrilled either, but let’s try and be positive about it. I don’t want Tony to feel bad, or to make a new crewmate uncomfortable.”

“Come on, Steve, you know us better than that,” Sam chides him, and Steve knows he’s right. They are both good men at heart, and will be extra sympathetic to a firefighter who lost a crewmate on the job. Because honestly, that was the worst thing someone in their position could go through. Even if there was nothing you could have done to prevent a death from happening, there was always a sense of guilt that came side by side along with the loss and grief.

He glances up at the two-story wall on one side of the room, which is full of large, framed photographs and wooden, gold-plated plaques depicting the history of their station. Their unit has been together for quite a while and has been highly decorated for excellence in service. A small sigh escapes. He hopes he is right about it all working out fine.

They are just finishing cleaning and storing their turnout, the protective garb they wear on runs, when Tony and another man enter the room. They are both wearing the navy blue, short sleeved, light weight uniforms all firefighters don when on duty, and the men get their first look at the new member of their station. Steve is surprised to see he appears to be in his late twenties, maybe thirty, tall, with an athletic, agile-looking frame and short, wavy, dark brown hair.

Not your typical rookie, Steve repeats to himself. This isn’t some gawky new grad. The man moves with a graceful strength. He looks like he can handle himself well in an emergency…in any situation, really.

Tony leads the man over and makes introductions. “James, meet Thor Odinson and Sam Wilson; they work as one team and drive Engine One.”

Sam and Thor both offer their hands and give him a warm, genial “hello.” Sam, always the friendly one, gives him a welcoming “Great to have you on board!” as well.

Turning to Steve, Tony continues. “Steve Rogers, meet James Barnes, your new crewmate.”

Sticking out his hand, Steve receives a solid hand shake. James looks at him with curious deep, icy blue eyes. Suddenly Steve has to fight down a strong tug of attraction. Shocked, he just manages to avoid taking an involuntary step back and pulling his hand away prematurely. James’s hand is warm in his; there is a pleasant tingling spreading from his hand up through his arm. He hasn’t felt that kind of draw towards someone in a long time. Co-worker, he tells himself. Don’t go there. The intensity of the man’s eyes on him is making him feel very warm all over. Steve swallows down the sudden lump in his throat.

James is the first to speak. “It’s good to meet you,” he says, quietly but sincerely.

“You too,” Steve responds, glad his voice doesn’t come out an octave higher than normal. “Has Tony showed you around already?”

Tony and James both shake their heads. “I’ll leave that to you, Steve,” Tony answers, then turns to James. “If you need anything, you know where my office is. Welcome to 242!”

The three men have finished up with their turnout; Thor points upward. “I’m going to go start dinner, okay?”

Steve nods and glances at Sam, who is already edging away from the group.

“Sam is going to come help me,” Thor insists, with a wide grin on his rugged face.

“Aw, shit,” Sam complains. “I’d rather scrub out the tanks.”

Steve points at him and smiles. “That can be arranged.” No one liked scrubbing out the tanks.

Sam curls his lip, but follows Thor up the concrete staircase, dragging himself up by the metal rails on either side melodramatically.

Thor ignores him and belts out a loud, “Cooking is good for the soul, Sam!”

James is smiling too, as he takes in their banter. Steve turns to his new crewmate.

“So that was Sam and Thor,” he says, thinking out loud. “Clint Barton and Natasha Romanova are our paramedics. They’re out on a run in the MICU. And we’ve got the two engines here.” He points at the two pumper engines parked in the bay. “Turnout is all stored here. We hang the hoses to dry on the other side of the bay.” He points again to racks high on the wall that raise and lower the water hoses, then turns and gestures behind them. “Back that way are the offices, conference room, and a small fitness room.”

“Fitness room?” James’s eyes light up. “That’s terrific.”

“Your old station didn’t have one?” Steve queries. Judging by his fitness level (Steve is looking purely in a professional manner, he swears), James works out regularly. No one gets thigh muscles with a circumference like that by accident.

James shrugs. “Sort of. Couple of treadmills.”

“We’ve got a treadmill, an elliptical machine, and some weight equipment. Pretty nice.”

Steve turns back around, looking to the far end of the bay where there is a side door. “The BC’s car is parked outside there. Darcy Lewis is our command technician. I think she’s in the…”

James interrupts him mid-sentence. “Darcy?” he says, and Steve sees a spark of recognition on his face.

“Darcy,” says a loud, female voice from behind them.

Darcy Lewis, a petite woman with big eyes, full lips coated in dark red lipstick, porcelain skin and loads of long, dark, wavy hair, skips into the room toward them and holds out her arms.

“Bucky!” she screeches happily, and reaches up to wrap new guy in a big hug.

Steve’s mouth drops open. Bucky?

James returns the hug at the same time he turns bright red. “Darce, I didn’t know this was your station!” He looks pleased to see her and embarrassed at the same time.

“So I take it you two know each other,” Steve observes brilliantly, pointing from one of them to the other.

Darcy releases James and waves a hand at Steve. “Yes, Captain Obvious. We go way back, me and Bucky. Grade school,” she says confidentially.

“And I was kind of hoping that nickname would’ve stayed in grade school,” James requests, and looks at her pointedly.

“Oh no, I can’t call you anything besides Bucky,” Darcy insists.

James’s chin hits his chest in exaggerated disappointment. Steve laughs. His first impression of James is a good one, all attractiveness aside. He feels comfortable around him, like he is slipping into a well-worn, well-loved pair of shoes rather than trying on a tight, new pair that pinch and rub.

“So, uh, I take it you don’t prefer the nickname?” he asks, and James shakes his head.

“I did when I was eight. Never been able to shake it.”

Steve smiles and chuckles. “Well, if Thor hears it, I guarantee he’s going to latch on and never let go. He takes enough heat for his own name. He’ll enjoy having someone else to tease.”

Darcy is smiling grandly at them both. James has a pleading expression on his face. “Please, Darce?”

She makes a disapproving face. “Oh, all right, I’ll try,” she gives in. “But no promises. James,” she adds on emphatically. “Gotta get back to work. I just wanted to come and say hi. Nearly flipped my lid when I saw your name on the paperwork.” She smiles again. “I’m glad you’re here. You’re gonna like it,” she stage whispers, and strides out of the room.

“So I guess that means you grew up here, too?” Steve comments, knowing that Darcy grew up locally.

“Yep,” James confirms. “Born and raised.”

“Me too,” Steve informs him, and they have a brief conversation about what part of Brooklyn they both grew up in and what schools they attended as they make their way slowly up the staircase to the second floor.

At the top of the stairs is a short hall. Two circular alcoves have shiny poles that descend to the first level. The hall leads to a great room that serves as their living space, kitchen and dining hall. Off to the right are private bunks and bathroom facilities. Firefighters work in shifts that are twenty-four hours on, forty-eight hours off. The fire station is their home away from home.

The great room is painted a soothing sage green, and has a couple of desktop computer stations, dart board, large screen TV and Xbox, leather couch, and several comfy arm chairs in earthy colored tones for napping in. Sleep deprivation is a constant companion, so cat naps are common. There are several fluffy-looking chenille pillows and soft, fleece blankets as well, for their napping comfort.

The kitchen is bright and well-equipped, with a long island separating it from the rest of the room. Five bar stools line the outer edge. The cabinets and backsplash are white, with stainless steel appliances and black countertop with silvery veining. Dark wood floors run throughout the second story. The kitchen area is clean and somewhat spartan, lacking in knickknacks except for the Star Wars-themed cookie jar, shaped like Darth Vader’s head.

Thor has Sam cutting up vegetables on a plastic cutting board at the island countertop, while he stands next to the sink, preparing cuts of meat. Steve points out various things as they make their way through the room, and tries not to stare at James’s impressive physique. Sam waves dully as they sidle up to the island.

“Emeril over here says I’m not allowed to talk to you while I work,” he says, and winks.

Thor, standing with his broad back to them, laughs. “You ruin my recipe, Sam, and there will be consequences.”

James speaks up as he and Steve slide onto the tall, wooden barstools. “Do you all share cooking duties?”

Steve shakes his head. “Thor loves to cook, and he’s good at it.”

“Thank you, Steven,” Thor tosses over his shoulder, busy with some sort of marinade.

“You’re welcome,” Steve continues. “So we usually let him handle most of it, because we’re all pretty bad.” He pauses a beat. “Do you enjoy cooking?”

“Uh…no,” James admits with a rueful smile. “So that works for me. Who shops?”

“We all take turns grocery shopping,” Sam answers, despite his supposed orders not to talk. “But if you buy the wrong shit, you’re in BIG trouble.” He waves his paring knife for emphasis, and his eyes motion to the man behind him.

James looks at Thor’s back and then to Steve for some help.

“Er, Thor is…selective…about what he eats,” Steve explains.

Sam guffaws a little. “That’s putting it mildly. Actually you mean he’s a food monster.”

Thor turns. “Preservatives, growth hormones, antibiotics, and GMO’s are no laughing matter, Sam.”

Steve smiles at James. “He’s quite concerned with our eating habits,” he only half-jokes.

“Nobody ever died from eating a bag of Doritos, that’s all I’m sayin’,” Sam grumbles, and James surreptitiously holds out his fist.

“Cool Ranch, all the way,” he whispers.

Sam gives him a happy fist bump, and whispers back, “Later on I’ll show you where I hide the good stuff.”

“I heard that!” Thor says loudly.

He swings around and Steve can see that the apron he and Natasha got him on his last birthday is fastened around his slim waist. It was supposed to be a gag gift, but to their surprise Thor had started wearing it regularly. There is a depiction of a wolf’s head, with wording below it in large letters that reads, “DINNER IS COMING.”

Seeing the apron as well, James perks up on his stool. “You guys watch Game of Thrones?”

“Steve, Nat and I do,” Thor confirms. “We’ve not yet been able to convert anyone else, despite great effort.”

“You a fan?” Steve asks eagerly.

James nods. “Big time,” he says, and smiles at Steve, who pushes down the sensation of butterflies in his stomach.

So what if he likes the same TV show? There’s probably lots of things you don’t have in common, too.

Thor smiles widely. “Another disciple!” He turns to James. “We try to watch together if we’re here on Sundays, but you had better watch it before next shift comes around if it’s our off day, because Nat will spoil every single plot point for you if you don’t.”

“Come on, that only happened once.” Steve loyally defends her, in her absence.

“Red Wedding, Steven. Red Wedding!” Thor gripes, and James makes a horrified face.

Their discourse is interrupted by the appearance of a large, shaggy, golden colored dog who immediately comes over, tail wagging, to smell the newcomer. James leans down off his barstool to give him some pets on the head.

“This is Strider,” Steve informs him happily. “He’s mine. Comes with me and stays here at the station during my shifts.” Strider gives James some licks on the hand, then turns and attempts to climb up Steve’s legs. He lays his front legs across Steve’s lap and noses at his hand until he starts to pet him.

“Strider, huh?” James says, patting his side.

“Yeah; it’s from a movie, or a book, really…”

“I know what it’s from,” James states, nodding knowingly.

Sam groans. “Don’t tell me you like Lord of the Rings, too?”

“Of course I like Lord of the Rings. Who doesn’t?” James beseeches them, and gives a dejected “Oh,” when Thor and Sam both raise their hands.

“But Steve here, he’s a huge sci-fi nerd,” Sam offers. “So you two should get along like gangbusters.”

Steve is trying to control the ridiculous smile he feels spreading across his face. Okay, so two things in common. Big deal. Something like that shouldn’t give him such a feeling of sweet satisfaction. Yet it does. Steve feels his face growing warm and tries to change the subject. “Nerd is so unflattering.”

Sam laughs. “If the shoe fits…”

-

Natasha and Clint have returned to the station; Steve spies Nat’s red hair flash past him as he is sitting at the kitchen island, just having finished setting the table. Clint follows at a slower pace, standing and stretching his solid, compact frame tiredly before sinking into a chair at the dining table. It is a large, round, heavy oak table that allows all of them to sit together for meals. Soon Thor announces dinner is ready, and everyone gathers round. Large platters hold food that gets passed around from hand to hand.

As usual, the aroma is tantalizingly good, and Steve eagerly slides over from his spot on the barstool to take a seat next to James. As Darcy bounces her way up from the stairs and takes the seat on his other side, Steve sees the letter “B” form on her lips, but to her credit she quickly changes it to “James” before any sound comes out of her mouth.

“James, how’s the orientation going?”

“Consider me oriented,” James replies, giving Steve a nod.

Steve agrees. “He’s ready to roll.” They had spent the remaining time before dinner going through the requisite safety checklists and paperwork. Boring, but necessary.

Darcy beams. “That’s what I like to hear.”

They are able to get through dinner without any calls, which gives everyone ample time to grill the rookie for information. James gets peppered with questions about where he grew up and what he did before becoming a firefighter. Steve’s estimation of him goes up a notch or two when he tells them he served two tours of duty overseas in the Army before being honorably discharged.

When he returned home, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. There is a look of sweet innocence on his face when he explains how all he wanted to be since he was a boy was a firefighter. As soon as he got back to the States, he tested for and entered the Academy.

Steve feels the same way—he can’t imagine doing anything else with his life. Firefighting is more than just a job—it’s a way of life, and brings with it a tightknit family. Steve can tell James has already scored points with the other people in the room because of his friendship with Darcy—she gushes over him, and that goes a long way. Everyone loves Darcy.

She regales them with a story of her and James as young children, growing up in the same neighborhood. Every year when their friends would talk about what costume they wanted to wear for Halloween, no one bothered asking James. It was always the same, year in and year out, different versions of the same costume, from kindergarten through grade school. Firefighter.

Clint grabs the opportunity to show off pictures on his phone of his children and wife, Laura. Not to be outdone, Thor brings out pictures of his girlfriend Jane. Next Tony hauls out his phone to show off Pepper, his wife. Sam also has to share, with a picture of his ’64 Mustang, a car he tinkers with and works on restoring in his down time.

Natasha laughs. “Sam, really? Your car?”

Sam points his phone at her. “You’re in a room full of guys, Nat. Don’t knock a car obsession.”

Natasha is the first to broach the subject of significant others. As a single woman, Steve figured she would have some interest in him. Just sitting next to James through dinner, Steve feels a continual magnetic pull. There’s just something about him. He can’t explain it.

“So,” Natasha begins, popping a baby carrot into her mouth and crunching loudly, “What about a wife? Girlfriend?”

James looks down at his plate for a moment, long lashes shading his eyes, before bringing his gaze back to Natasha’s. “Gay,” he says simply.

Without missing a beat, Natasha asks, “Boyfriend, then?” That was one of the great things about Natasha. If something didn’t work for her, she immediately moved on and tried to make it work for someone else.

James shakes his head in response to Natasha’s question and looks to Steve. “What about you, Steve? Married?”

After one too many seconds of uncomfortable silence, Steve answers quietly, “I was. Peg died about five years ago.”

Looking genuinely dismayed for asking, James says, “I’m so sorry,” and runs one hand through his hair nervously.

Shaking his head, Steve recovers his poise and tries to put him at ease. “No, it’s fine, really.” He shovels some brown rice into his mouth. Five years. You’d think by now he would be more able to talk about it, without the awkwardness.

“So I need to fix both of you up with dates, then,” Darcy observes cheerily.

The quick, decisive “NO!” that comes from both Steve and James elicits laughter that dispels any lingering gloom.

Darcy feigns indignation and waves her fork around in the air. “What? I’ll have you know, I’m great at setting people up.” She fixes a repentant gaze on Steve. “Those first ones were mistakes. I can do better. After all, I’m the one who introduced Thor and Jane.”

“That is true,” agrees Thor. “Speaking of,” he continues, “Are you and Ian still good for next Saturday?”

Darcy nods, prompting Sam to ask, “What’s going on Saturday?”

“We’re going to check out that new club that opened on Fifth in Park Slope,” explains Darcy. “Anyone else want to come?”

Clint swallows a mouthful of his London Broil steak and holds up his hands. “No can do. Laura and I already have a full weekend of flea markets and estate sales planned.” He points at Steve. “Pick up the truck at seven?”

Steve groans. “AM? How about I leave the key for you in the usual spot?”

Clint gives him a thumbs up sign. Tony is the next to bow out.

“When you get to be my age, clubbing sounds more like punishment than fun.”

Sam, however, looks enthusiastic. “I’m in! What about you, Nat?”

Never one to turn down a dancing invitation, Natasha replies, “I’m in, too,” and looks in the direction of Steve and James. She purses her full lips. “What about you two?”

Steve is about to beg off when Natasha heads him off at the pass. “We all know you have no plans, Steve, so there’s no getting out of it.”

His protest of “Come on, you don’t know that,” is met with playful jeers.

Sam calls his bluff. “So what are you doing that night then? And don’t you lie,” he warns, giving Steve a pointed stare.

“Um…nothing,” Steve admits in defeat. “All right, I’ll come,” he adds amidst the laughter. “James?” He takes a sip from his glass of water, eyebrows raised.

James seems to study him for a moment before responding with a “Sure, I’ll go.” He gives them all a smile that could melt butter, or so Steve thinks. When those thousand watts get turned in his direction, he feels a little gooey in the middle.

“Fantastic!” Darcy squeaks and claps her hands together. So far, no one has brought anything up about James’s old station, not wanting to dredge up bad memories for him. But with Darcy there are very few taboo subjects. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she says to him. “I can’t believe you asked for a transfer and didn’t check with me first what station I was at!”

This brings some shared looks around the table. No one knew that it was James himself who asked for the transfer. Taken off guard, he looks like he doesn’t know quite what to say about that, and sidesteps the issue entirely. “Yeah…” he clears his throat, “I sort of lost track of you when I was out of the country, and then off training.”

“But it’s all worked out now,” Darcy says, grinning widely. “This is the BEST station in the city.”

Tipping his glass in the air, Tony agrees. “We aim to please.”

Conversation then turns to the particulars of the new club, and what the weather will be that weekend. Still watching James, Steve asks him in a low tone, “You okay?”

James gives him a small smile. “I will be. Thanks…for asking.”

Steve smiles back. “No problem.”

Whatever happened at his last station, it didn’t just make James want a new environment. It has affected him on a much deeper level. He can see it in his eyes, in the sudden guarded shadow that fell over them when Darcy brought up his transfer request. They’ve just met today. He shouldn’t be reading his expressions this intimately. He shouldn’t be noticing how good James smells. He shouldn’t be noticing how one lock of hair keeps trying to fall forward and curl over his forehead. Co-worker, he repeats to himself.

He is beginning to wonder if the problem with getting a new rookie crewmate isn’t that he won’t like him much. The problem may be that he likes him too much.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

It is their third shift together when Steve realizes he may be in big trouble. For a rookie, James knows his shit, and is very conscientious about his work. Although it’s different than working in a team with Tony, he feels they are getting into a good place. The trouble comes when the two of them sit down after dinner in an odd non-busy moment to play Halo. Without realizing it, Steve finds himself sitting next to James on the couch, instead of in an arm chair, in the hope their knees will accidentally touch (they do). The resulting tingles that spread upward in a crazy spiral of a tornado are quite distracting. To distract himself from being distracted, he aims for insults.

“Are you sure you’ve played this game before?” he taunts, as he busily strafes a room.

Laughing and lobbing a hand grenade, James retorts, “I’d kick your ass at Call of Duty.”

Natasha walks by and leans over the back of the couch between them, watching, holding a magazine in her hands.

“You want to play, Natasha?” James asks, eyes focused on the screen.

She sniffs in distain and heads to an adjacent armchair with her magazine. “Video games are lame.”

She has just gotten comfortable, putting considerable effort into folding her legs at just the right angle and placement underneath her on the chair, when the alarm sounds. The tone is for a fire, and they’re all going.

“Arrgghh!” She yells, pulling her legs back out and jumping up as both men drop their controllers and reach for the TV remote at the same time. Steve’s hand gets there an instant before, so that James’s hand closes over his, then immediately releases him.

“Sorry,” he says quickly, before bouncing off the couch and heading for one of the poles that allow them to get downstairs as quickly as possible. Steve is right behind him, blushing with excitement over the way his touch felt. He likes James’s hands, the way they feel on his skin. Smooth, soft, but firm. Co-worker. Not a good idea, he tells himself, and then it’s time to focus on the job.

The run is to a local restaurant, where an automatic alarm has gone off after a grease fire got just a little out of control. No injuries, just some smoke damage. It’s a barbeque place, and smells so good that as they exit and hit the parking lot, they all wished they’d gotten take-out. Sam seriously considers doubling back and asking about it, only the restaurant is now mayhem, with patrons all over the parking lot after being evacuated. They decide to pass on that headache. On the way back to the station, Steve is lost in thought, driving carefully but really by rote memory. If anyone had asked him about the traffic on the way back, he would have no idea what to say.

His brain is preoccupied with other thoughts. He realizes just how long it’s been since he was turned on by anyone’s touch, male or female. Too long. He’s gotten used to being alone. In the first year after Peggy died, his friends had left him in peace to grieve. After that, he had suffered through a few Darcy set-ups in the general vein of “getting back on the horse”, which all of his friends thought was a good idea. None had gone well. And all had been with women.

Steve could count on one hand the number of people who knew he was bisexual. Apart from some college friends, the list included Sam, Tony, Natasha and Thor. He could have told Darcy, but wasn’t really that into the idea of blind dates anyway, so he never bothered. Probably he should add Clint to the list, too. He and Natasha tell each other everything; they act like twins separated at birth. And maybe Maria Hill, too, Natasha’s roommate. They were pretty tight. Ironically, it was Peggy who introduced them, as she worked in the DA’s office of Maria’s precinct. Peg had known Maria long before she’d even met Steve.

It wasn’t that his sexuality was a big secret, it just wasn’t something that came up in casual conversation. But some of his co-workers had known him long enough to remember that way before Peggy came along, Steve had had a boyfriend. And then there was that time with Thor…but no one knew about that except the two of them. It had happened quite some time after Peg was gone, before Thor had met Jane. And had arisen more out of a temporary desire for comfort than anything else, for both of them.

Thor had been there for him when he was at a pretty low point. Steve had been lonely for a long time in the aftermath of Peggy’s death, but hadn’t found anyone he was interested in enough to start a relationship with. The last thing he wanted was a hook-up with a stranger. Thor had understood that, and had been feeling a little lonely himself at that stage in his life. They gave each other exactly what they both needed, had remained good friends since, and had never told anyone else about it. At least, Steve had never told anyone, and he trusted his friend implicitly.

Relationships between co-workers at the station were not expressly forbidden, but weren’t exactly encouraged, either. Steve tried to remind himself of that when he caught himself thinking again about James’s hand on his. He is brought out of his reverie when James asks him a question.

“You’re still planning on going Saturday night, right?”

“Oh, sure,” Steve replies.

“You taking the subway?”

“Of course! Where are you coming from?” Steve asks, as he turns and pulls their engine into the firehouse drive.

“Windsor Terrace.”

Steve is surprised by this. “You live in Winds? So does Thor!”

As it turns out, James is only two subway stops away from the tall blond. Though they all work at the station in Bay Ridge, Steve and Clint are the only ones who have houses in the neighborhood. Everyone else comes in from other areas of Brooklyn. Tony has a brownstone in Park Slope, Natasha, her roomie Maria, and Sam all live in apartments in Fort Greene, and Darcy inherited a lovely brownstone from her grandmother in Prospect Heights.

When they exit their vehicles, start taking off their turnout and inspecting it and their equipment, they agree by general consensus to meet at the subway exit closest to the club and walk there together. They line up their rubber boots along the wall and turn down their black trousers with the reflective yellow stripes, making it easy to step into both boots and trousers for the next emergency.

Since it is not quite late enough to retire for the night, Steve and James return to their Xbox game to unwind. Steve continues to beat James. They continue to insult each other’s playing skill. This feels really nice to Steve. So nice that he doesn’t even mind much that there are three automatic alarms that go off after the midnight hour that night.

-

Another shift in and Steve knows he’s got a serious problem. The call is to a residential neighborhood, where a garbage truck has broken a hose and spilled hydraulic fluid all over the street. He, James, Sam and Thor spend the next hour shoveling oil-dry up and down the street to prevent any fires from starting. Such is the life of a firefighter.

The benefit to this tedious, back-breaking work is that Steve has an uninterrupted, unobstructed view of James while he works, and he likes what he sees. James is almost as tall as he is and almost as broad at the shoulder. His biceps fill out his shirtsleeves very well. Shoveling is an activity which showcases physical strength very effectively. James has a powerfully built back and chest, and well defined leg muscles, visible from under the relatively thin material of their uniforms. As he bends and throws the oil-dry, all those muscles flex in a hypnotic rhythm.

When they have finished and are loading up their equipment to go, Sam approaches him, claps him on the back and whispers into his ear, “Enjoy the view?”

He laughs when Steve turns to look at him, aghast. “Don’t worry,” he grins knowingly. “His back was to you most of the time. But you already know that, don’t you.”

“Sam!” Steve spits out in a hushed undertone. “At least keep your voice down!”

Sam waves a hand at him and is still chuckling as he heads back to his own engine. James is just coming around the engine from the other direction. “Ready to go,” he announces, pulls open his door and climbs up into the cab.

Steve closes the equipment door, yanks his door open and climbs in as well, hoping the hot work they were doing will cover for the redness of his face. They get back to the station without any difficulty. First thing Steve always does when he gets back from a run and has gotten out of his turnout is to take Strider outside. There is a small, grassy area and a concrete pad for their grill out behind the station. He is out holding Strider’s lead when Sam finds him.

“So, does he know?” Sam asks, by way of announcing his presence as he shuts the door behind him.

“Does who know what?” Steve says a bit snappishly, playing dumb.

“Does James know you’re interested in him?”

“Shhhh! Not so loud!” Steve is eyeing the building like there is surveillance locked onto their position, recording their every word.

Sam isn’t fazed. “Steve, the building is air conditioned. Do you think he’s going to hear us through closed windows?”

“You never know,” Steve insists ridiculously. “And he’s a co-worker! I can’t get into a relationship with a co-worker!”

Staying on the concrete pad next to the grill, Sam blows air out of his mouth noisily. “Says who?”

Steve follows Strider around in the grass, turning in lazy circles. “Says me! What if it doesn’t work out?”

“What if it does?” Sam counters. “Steve,” he shakes his head slowly. “I’m not going to interfere. But it’s time you moved on. She wouldn’t have wanted you to be alone for the rest of your life.”

Steve sighs. “I know that. But I’m not going to start a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship,” he remarks tiredly.

“It’s been five years, and how many relationships have you had? No one thinks you go into relationships too lightly, dude.”

Strider pauses his circling and looks up at Sam, ears perked up high.

“You do your business, Strider,” Sam orders him. “And quit listening in. See? Strider wants you to date him, too.”

Steve looks at him dubiously.

Sam nods in a placating manner. “Okay, I get it. But how long has it been since you even looked twice at anyone? If this guy is the one, don’t ignore it.”

Steve lets out Strider’s lead a little more so he can sniff around the perimeter. “You don’t…you don’t think he noticed, do you?”

“Well,” Sam bounces on his toes. “You haven’t noticed all the times he’s been staring at you, so why should he have noticed?”

He turns to go, and laughs softly when Steve tries to follow, but is stopped by the leash line smacking him in the legs. Strider bounds up and dances around him, trapping him even further.

“Sam!” he pleads, “What are you talking about?” He is spinning around comically, trying to untangle himself.

Sam pulls the door open and looks back, smiling. “You’ll figure it out.”

-

It’s Saturday night. Steve takes the subway steps two at a time and looks around at the street and sidewalk. It’s a busy corner, but he spies Darcy, Ian (the latest in a long line of Darcy boyfriends), Sam, Maria, and Natasha all gathered already by the corner. He lopes over, says hello and is greeted warmly by all.

“Steve, what did they have to bribe you with to get you to agree to come out to a dance club?” Maria demands jokingly.

Steve gives her an affectionate smile and hug in greeting. Natasha’s roommate is dark-haired, fair skinned, thin and pretty. She’s also tough as nails NYPD. Nobody messes with Maria.

“He just wants to study my mad dance skills,” Sam interjects.

Natasha giggles and reaches up to put her arm around Steve’s shoulder. “Can you arrest him if he tries to duck out early?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Haha, you’re both a riot. It’s good to see you, Maria.”

“You, too!” She pats his arm. “You look really nice. I like this shirt.”

Steve smiles and subconsciously runs his hand down his chest and stomach. He's wearing jeans and a knit v-neck Henley shirt. The shirt is new. He hopes James likes red.

A fresh throng of people emerge from the subway stairs. At the back of the pack are Thor, Jane, and James. Jane is a petite brunette with delicate features. The contrast between her and Thor is striking as they approach the group. He must be at least a foot taller than she is. Steve really only has eyes for James—as soon as they connect, Steve gets that twisty feeling in his stomach again.

James has on jeans and a navy, waffle weave shirt that hugs his body in all the right places. He gives Steve a smile as they draw up to the corner. Thor booms out a “Greetings, all!” that makes Steve wonder if he’s already started cocktail hour.

Natasha grabs James by the hand and pulls him forward. “Maria, this is our new crewmate, James Barnes. This is my roomie, Maria Hill,” she finishes with a flourish of her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you,” James states, holding out his hand.

Maria shakes it firmly and agrees. “It’s lovely to meet you, too. Nat has already told me all about you.”

Before James can respond to this, Darcy waves her arms impatiently. “So, Ian, James. James, Ian. Now come on people, let’s MOVE! Get this party started!”

Ian and James manage to get a quick shake in, and then as a group, they start making their way down the crowded block. This part of Park Slope has many restaurants and bars. They mostly walk in twos or threes, for though the sidewalk is wide, it is also congested with people, all out for the evening. Steve automatically gravitates towards Bucky and falls into step with him. They walk in companionable silence, listening to the chatter going on around them.

The club is a brick-front, industrial looking building with a neon sign out front denoting it to be “The Woods”. As soon as they enter, Steve feels out of place. The interior is dark, with a huge dance floor and DJ table. There are tables set up around the perimeter at dance floor level, and then more on a second level two steps up. The dance floor is crawling with people. Looks like mainly young professionals to Steve. He doesn’t recognize the tune being played, but the monstrous bass mostly blocks out the lyrics anyway.

It’s not really his kind of scene, but Darcy is clapping her hands excitedly. They manage to find a table on the second level, which the girls just want to throw their purses on. A harried waitress takes their drink order, then disappears into the crowd. Almost everyone wants to hit the dance floor immediately, but when Steve sees James’s face, he sees a similar look of queasiness.

“James and I will stay here and wait for drinks,” he announces loudly, and the girls are grateful for the affirmation that someone will look after their stuff.

“Are you sure?” Thor thoughtfully shouts at him, and Sam waves a hand at them.

“They’ll be fine,” he insists, and that seems to be enough assurance for the group at large.

Once the others have moved off, James thanks him.

“Yeah—you looked about as excited as I was about dancing,” Steve replies.

“You don’t dance either?”

Steve shakes his head. “I don’t dance like that,” he admits as they take seats. There is plenty of bumping and grinding going on out there. From their vantage point, which is pretty good, he can see Darcy and Ian together, and Natasha and Maria dancing with each other and with Sam, who is busting out some serious dance moves. He can’t see Jane, but Thor’s head stands out above most everyone else’s.

James cups a hand around his ear. “What?” he yells.

“I said, not like that!” Steve yells back, and pulls his chair closer.

They attempt some conversation, but the heavy, pounding beat makes it difficult. The upside is that they both must lean in close and talk directly into each other’s ears, which is titillating. Getting that close to James is like approaching a storm front. Steve can feel the electricity and heat pouring off of him, like an invisible cloud that surrounds him. When James leans in and lets warm breath tickle Steve’s earlobe, it shoots fire all the way down to his toes. Once, his nose bumps against Steve’s ear when leaning in to talk, and Steve’s heart beat must jump up by about thirty beats. He is glad the bar is dark, to hide his intense flush of pleasure.

The waitress never does return with their drinks, so the two of them decide to gather up the purses and carry them as they make their way around the room to the back bar.

“How will they know where we are?” James yells into his ear, and Steve leans in close to reassure him.

“They’ll find us.”

Their proximity is still doing interesting things to Steve’s heart rate and respiration. He actually considers the benefits of dancing with James, before remembering that he can’t fast dance. A slow dance; that would be good. His arms around James’s body, holding him close? Steve bites his lip to clear his head of the fog of lust that just swirled around inside it.

As they near the bar, Steve spies another set of glass double doors that appears to lead to an outdoor patio. He points and James nods his head enthusiastically. As soon as Steve opens the door, he feels much better. There is cool air and no thumping dance beat to drown out everything else. There are plenty of unoccupied tables and another bar stand, with a couple of large screen televisions hung high up on the supporting wall behind it. Long shelves showcasing the bar’s selection of booze are hung below the TVs. Strings of soft, white, outdoor lights that crisscross high over the patio like a pergola give some ambience to the area.

“Ooh, is that the Mets playing?” James observes as they pull up chairs and sit down at a table. They dump four purses onto one side of the tabletop.

“You follow the Mets?” Steve inquires, trying to hide a thrill of excitement.

“Hell yeah, since I was a kid.”

Okay, so three things they have in common. Big deal. Who’s counting, anyway? They have an extensive baseball-themed conversation as they follow along with the game. Steve is feeling relaxed and comfortable, nursing a beer. Conversation naturally gravitates towards more personal subjects.

“You have family here, James?”

“Yeah, mom and dad, one sister. She’s married and has two kids. You?”

Steve shakes his head and takes a sip of beer. “Both my parents died when I was young, and I was an only child.”

James is studying him carefully. “God, I’m sorry. That sucks,” he says sympathetically.

Steve shrugs it off casually. “Them’s the cards.”

“You still talk to your in-laws?” Bucky takes a swig of his beer and sets the bottle down on his knee.

“Yeah, lots of texts, phone on holidays mostly. They don’t live nearby, so I don’t see them much.”

James is silent for a moment. “Can I ask you how you lost your wife?”

Steve leans forward over the table. Neither of them is paying any attention to the baseball game any longer. He taps his beer bottle on the table lightly. “A year after we were married, she was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. She didn’t make it long after that.”

James leans forward too, setting his beer bottle down and folding his hands together in front of him, inches away from where Steve holds his bottle. “That…must have been horrible. I’m sorry.”

Steve nods slightly. “We had just gotten the house near the station. Barely moved in when she…” He trails off, leaving the rest unsaid.

“You live near the station then?” James uses that opening to change the subject to something less unpleasant. “I wondered how you’d get Strider there, since he’s too big to take onto the subway.”

“Mhmm. Strider and I walk to work, unless the weather is shitty. Then we drive.”

“The truck Clint mentioned?” James asks smartly.

Steve laughs. “Yeah, if you can call it that. An old beater of a pickup that everyone borrows when they want to haul stuff.”

James laughs as well. “My apartment has a garage, but parking spots are limited and insanely expensive, so I don’t even bother.”

Steve nods in understanding. “Sam’s place in Fort Greene is the same way. That Mustang he showed you at dinner the other day? Guess whose garage it’s parked in.”

James laughs so heartily at that, it makes Steve smile and laugh, too, and want to hear that sound again. Just then a very sweaty Darcy appears next to their table.

“Aha! I found you!” She tousles James’s hair. “Should have known you’d be watching baseball instead of dancing, Bucky. I mean James!”

He gives her a sheepish grin, seemingly not minding the use of his nickname this time. Darcy seems fairly toasted already, and probably can’t help herself. “I’m sorry, did you ladies need your bags?”

“No!” She giggles, putting her hand up to her face. “It’s better this way—the guys have been buying us drinks!”

Steve and James both share more laughter with her. She rummages through her purse and pulls out a compact.

“I really just wanted to powder my nose.” Taking a glance in the mirror, she makes a face at herself. Her hair is sticking to her skin in several places and her complexion is flushed red. “Oh, who am I kidding? I’m sweating like a banshee in there.”

She tucks the compact back into her purse and lays it down again on the table. “You two don’t want to come back in with me and dance?”

The two men trade glances and in unison reply, “No.”

Darcy rolls her eyes. “Men.” She gives them each a finger wave and turns to go. “Next time we break, we’re coming out!” she warns them cheerily.

Steve looks back to James. “I gotta ask… where’d the nickname come from?”

James gives a short bark of laughter. “My sister, Becca. My middle name is Buchanan. When I was bad as a kid, which was pretty often, my mom would use my full name. Becca tried to copy her, but couldn’t pronounce it.” He holds up one hand. “Voila.”

“Got it,” Steve replies. “What did you get called when you were in the service?”

James purses his lips. “Becca sent me a letter while I was in Basic, with Bucky written in huge letters across the front. I never heard the end of it. You know what drill sergeants do with shit like that?”

It is Steve’s turn to laugh now. “Do you miss it? Being in, I mean.”

James shakes his head. “I miss the guys. They’re like my brothers. But do I miss combat? Being in fire fights? Not for a second.”

“You ever get hit?”

Steve gets a look somewhere between amusement and embarrassment at that, before James replies, “Got shot in the ass, second tour.”

The beer Steve was about to swallow nearly gets spit out; they both laugh.

“So embarrassing,” James continues. “I had to use an inflatable donut for a month, just to sit down.”

Steve tries not to think too much about the ass James has. It looks pretty perfect in his dark blue uniform. “That put an end to your dancing career?” he quips instead.

“God no,” James confesses. “I’ve never been much for dancing…I’m okay at weddings, if I’ve had a few. But it’s not my thing.”

Steve regards him silently for a moment. “I hope you didn’t feel like you had to come out tonight. Did we put too much pressure on you?”

“No!” James is quick to object to that. “I just thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know you all a little better, outside of work.”

He toys with his now-empty bottle, avoiding Steve’s eyes, and sounds down in the dumps. Steve tries to lighten the mood, sensing some sort of discomfort on James’s side of the table.

“Yeah, too bad you missed Tony’s promotion party. That was a good time. Thor was so drunk, he was standing on Tony’s stoop singing ‘Call Me Maybe’ to anyone who walked past.”

James snorts and smiles. “You all seem like you’re really close. It’s nice to see that.” He sounds a little wistful and Steve wonders what it was like at his old station.

“How long were you at 201?” he asks tentatively.

“Nine months,” James voices, and he definitely sounds dejected now.

Feeling he may be treading on sensitive ground, Steve wonders if he should dig any deeper. Before he makes up his mind, James speaks up again.

“But I never felt like I belonged there. You all have already made me feel more welcome…”

This is disappointing for Steve to hear. What is station life like there? He is intensely curious to hear more, and wants to know what happened to Brock Rumlow. No details of the accident had been made public yet, but that wasn’t unusual. Investigations could take months, especially if the cause of the fire was unknown. There was a rumor floating around that it could have been arson.

First and foremost, he wants to make the sad expression on James’s face disappear. That hurts him to see, more than he cares to admit to himself. “You ARE welcome,” he assures him. “We’re all happy to have you here. I hope you know that.”

Steve drops one hand onto James’s forearm to comfort him, and when James brings his eyes back up to Steve’s, it makes him freeze, hand still on the bare skin of his arm. The look they share seems to stretch on endlessly, and Steve can hear blood pounding in his ears. James’s eyes seem to lock on and never waver. It’s sexy and unnerving simultaneously.

Finally, Steve manages to regain control of his bodily functions and removes his hand. James opens his mouth slightly and is silent momentarily as he chooses his words. “No one has asked me yet what happened to Brock. You must all be curious.”

Steve can’t deny that, so he nods briefly.

“I’ll tell you, I promise, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

“Yeah,” Steve says softly. “That’s okay. You don’t have to until you’re ready.”

James gives him a thankful look; his gaze moves past Steve’s face to somewhere behind him. He inclines his head in that direction. “We’re about to have company,” he says with a crooked smile.

Their companions have returned in full force, piling through the door and surrounding them at their table. Natasha wraps her arms around Steve from behind him. “So here’s where you’ve been hiding!”

They all smell of sweat and alcohol. Steve wrinkles his nose and waves a hand in front of it. “Thanks for bringing that aroma out here with you,” he teases.

“I see the bribe didn’t include getting you to actually dance, Steve,” Maria teases back.

Steve holds up his hands. “We’ve been fine out here—and the Mets are winning, so it’s all good.”

“Mets, shmets!” Natasha grumbles. “Did you know they do karaoke here on Mondays? We should totally do that. James, if you don’t dance, do you karaoke?”

James shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “Only if my life depended on it,” he jokes.

Thor laughs and smooths his hair back. “It takes a special kind of man to karaoke,” he says in his deep baritone. “I happen to be excellent at it.”

Sam guffaws loudly. “If by excellent you mean terrible, then yes you are.”

This draws a lot of laughter. Jane pats Thor on the stomach, the other arm wrapped around his waist. “He’s got your number, babe.”

Thor pretends to frown at her, but James speaks up next.

“I don’t know, I’ve heard he does a mean version of ‘Call Me Maybe’.”

This gets more laughs from around the table, as they were pretty much all present for that spectacular event.

“Steven,” Thor gives him side eye. “Have you been telling tales outside of school?”

Steve smiles. “We’ve just been watching baseball,” he protests, eyes wide with feigned innocence.

Darcy, who has been teetering behind James in a decidedly tipsy manner, leans in and rests her chin on the top of James’s head. “I told you, Bucky and Steve have been out here the whole time, glued to the TV.”

Suddenly all eyes are on James.

“Bucky?” says Sam, grinning widely.

“Bucky?” Thor repeats, only his smile is much more devious. “Did you just call him Bucky?”

Natasha and Maria both squee a little. “That is so cute!” Natasha gushes.

Darcy covers her mouth with one hand, eyes big.

Steve tries to intervene, but of course it’s too late. “Guys, it’s just an old nickname from when he was a kid. He doesn’t actually want us to call him that.”

“Oh sure, we won’t,” promises Sam.

“Absolutely,” agrees Thor.

“Our lips are sealed,” Natasha adds.

James looks at Steve. “I’m so dead.”

Steve glances around the table at all the smiling faces and looks back to James. “Yep.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

It is their seventh shift together. Steve doesn’t know why he is counting them like that, except that every shift since James started has seemed special. He’s been trying to keep things on a professional level, but despite himself finds he looks forward to seeing James at work more and more. He’s someone who is very easy to talk to, owing to his laid-back personality, and makes Steve feel like he could tell him anything, like they’ve known each other for years instead of weeks. They have settled into a comfortable friendship; it’s much different from his partnership with high-strung, hyper-focused Tony. Different, but good.

Of course, he is the only one who continues to actually call James by his given name. As soon as Darcy had revealed his nickname at the club that night, Bucky was adopted post haste. The next shift they worked, Sam and Thor strung up a huge banner across the firehouse bay with the words “Welcome Bucky” on it. Steve swears he must have heard “Bucky” forty times that first morning, as everyone went out of their way to address him as such. “Good morning, Bucky.” “How’d you sleep last night, Bucky?” “Could you pass the salt, Bucky?”

It never ended. Clint thought it was the best nickname he’d ever heard. Even Tony got in on the action. On the training and chore schedule board, James’s name was mysteriously switched to Bucky. Darcy was very contrite, and had approached Steve and James while they were cleaning out lockers to apologize. Steve thought James was very gracious, assuring Darcy that he didn’t really mind, and yes, she could call him Bucky freely now.

Whether James really didn’t mind or not, Steve isn’t sure, but he suspects James understands that the use of his nickname means everyone at the station has accepted him as part of their group and that the ribbing is really a sign of affection. There were a few exasperated sighs the first day, but after that he mainly took it all in stride.

He has kept up calling him James out of respect for his wishes, but even he has been having a hard time not switching to the other moniker after hearing it so much. Steve goofs up when the two of them are out in a residential neighborhood, doing routine flowing of fire hydrants.

It is a crisp, spring day, with buds on trees just starting to make their appearances, and he is absentmindedly admiring the weather as he works. The hydrant they are testing has an even flow with no blocks in the line and he is preparing to shut off the flow after flushing out the system. James is checking the rate of flow against their log to make sure it is correct. Steve starts to ask him for wrench they use to turn the flow on and off, as it is on the ground close to where he is standing.

“Buck--” he starts, then breaks off when he catches himself. James turns to look at him.

“God, I’m sorry. That just slipped out,” Steve apologizes.

Putting the log book down on the front seat of the engine, James shakes his head. “No, it’s alright.” He regards him with those steely blue eyes of his. “I kind of like it when you say Buck, actually.”

Steve feels tongue-tied and enormously satisfied, giddy almost. He likes it. It makes Steve feel like they have shared a secret. He smiles and Bucky smiles back.

“Okay then. Could you…could you hand me the wrench?” he stumbles over his words. Honestly, he’s a grown man. Bucky shouldn’t have this effect on him. But he does.

They get the hydrant secured and are on their way to the next one when the call comes in. An elderly woman has fallen in her home. Possible broken hip. As they pull up to the woman’s address, Natasha and Clint pull up just behind them. Dispatch has told them the woman lives alone and has managed to crawl to the phone. She thinks her front door is unlocked. Steve and Bucky help them unload the gurney and stack their gear on it.

The four of them hustle up to the front door, Clint and Natasha pulling the gurney. It is a light colored brownstone, neatly kept on a quiet street. Natasha tries the front door and finds it unlocked, which they expected. What they do not expect is to find a huge Rottweiler staring them down inside the door. All of them freeze in place when they see the gigantic black head lift in their direction. A deep, low growling sound fills the hallway.

“Nice doggie!” squeaks Clint, and takes a step backward.

“Nobody move!” orders Bucky firmly. He is standing next to Natasha, in front of the other two men.

“I wanna bolt,” Clint hints skittishly, but doesn’t move.

“If you run, she’ll chase you down,” Bucky explains calmly and quietly. Slowly he lowers himself down onto his haunches in a deep squat, and holds out his hand, palm up. He doesn’t stare directly into the dog’s eyes, rather down at her feet. The large animal hesitates. The growl stops, but she doesn’t move from out in front of them and blocks their entry any further into the home.

Natasha looks down at Bucky and murmurs out of the corner of her mouth, “You sure about this?”

“Yes,” Bucky murmurs back. The dog takes one step forward, her toenails clicking on the wooden floor. She sniffs the air hesitantly. There is another growling noise.

“Hello?” A frail voice floats down on the air from up above. There is a wooden staircase just behind the Rott. Steve is the next to talk out of the side of his mouth.

“We need to get in there, Buck.”

Clint’s head turns minutely in Steve’s direction, but he doesn’t speak.

“Just wait,” Bucky entreats them. “She’ll back down.”

After a few more tense seconds pass, the dog’s tail begins to wag. She makes a soft, whining sound and steps forward to push her nose into Bucky‘s waiting hand. All of them breathe a sigh of relief as Bucky pets her head with his other hand and lets her snuffle her nose wetly into his palm.

“Thanks Bucky,” Natasha says as she passes him.

“Nicely done,” adds Clint. “Holy Moses, look at those antiques!” he squawks, seeing into the front sitting room on his way to the staircase. The house is beautifully cared for, spotlessly clean and full of antique furniture that Clint no doubt would give an eye tooth for.

“Focus, Clint,” Steve gives him a playful nudge as they help Natasha bring the gurney down the hall and wrestle it up the stairs. Bucky and his new friend follow. The elderly woman is on the floor in her bedroom; she is white-haired and wrinkled, with green eyes that have not dulled with age. Her hip is most likely broken, but she is surprisingly spunky, wanting to know all their names and thanking them for coming.

“Stop calling me Mrs. Williams,” she insists, as they get her vitals checked, then load her onto the gurney. “My name is Betsy.”

“We need to transport you to the hospital now, Betsy,” Clint informs her. “Is there someone who your dog trusts to come look after her? She’s a little…menacing.”

The dog is following Bucky everywhere inside the room, whining intermittently, contrary to Clint’s description.

“Sweetpea?” Betsy says in disbelief. “She wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

Natasha mouths Sweetpea to Steve as they buckle Betsy in to the gurney for the trip. Steve is polite, as usual.

“Ma’am, she growled at us when we came in.”

The woman laughs, despite her pain. “That’s not a growl, darling. She has a respiratory condition.”

They all look down at Sweetpea, wagging her tail with her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth, then back up at each other. All are trying to suppress smiles. Clint looks like he is about to burst something.

“You mean she was wheezing at us?” he intones dubiously.

“Yes dearie,” Betsy confirms. “My neighbor, Nickie, will look after her for me.”

They wheel the gurney out into the hall, two on each side. Betsy follows behind, making the same low, growling sound as before and rubbing up against Bucky’s legs like a cat.

“Oh, she likes you!” Betsy pats Bucky’s hand where it grips the edge of the gurney. “She always likes the handsome ones.”

Bucky smiles, embarrassed. Privately, Steve agrees with Betsy and thinks she’s a hoot, until she turns her face to his. She examines his chest and arms so intensely, it’s like she’s got x-ray vision.

“This one ain’t bad though, neither. I’ll bet you could carry me down all these stairs by yourself and never break a sweat.”

Steve blushes intensely. Betsy looks at Natasha next. “Aren’t you the lucky one,” she says with a wink. Natasha laughs out loud.

Clint looks across the gurney at Steve. “What am I, chopped liver?”

Betsy laughs weakly, then groans when they must angle the gurney to haul it down the flight of stairs.

“Try to relax. We’ve got you,” Natasha instructs her.

Sweetpea continues to trail underfoot as they lift and carry the gurney down the stairs.

“Don’t worry, baby,” Betsy says to her comfortingly. “Nickie will be here soon.”

They reach the first floor again. Clint and Natasha wheel the woman out to the MIDI, while Steve and Bucky go back upstairs to collect their gear.

“This place is amazing.” Bucky tells Steve as they load up, slinging the straps to their kits over their shoulders. “I always wanted a brownstone like this, but they’re so damn expensive nowadays.”

Steve nods his agreement. Even his house in Bay Ridge cost a mint. And the place is gorgeous, full of gleaming, polished wood surfaces. There is the faint scent of lavender in the air.

“Are your parents still in Brooklyn?”

Bucky nods. “Yeah—we even lived in a similar place in Williamsburg when I was little. My folks are kicking themselves in the asses that they ever sold it, but at the time they wanted more room.”

He gives Sweetpea a few last pets as they reach the door and has to stop her from following them outside, taking care not to shut her nose or paw in the door as he pulls it around and closes it. Bucky drives their engine back to the station, while Natasha drives the MIDI. Steve stays in the back with Clint and their patient. She is stable, but pale.

“You have a beautiful home,” Steve compliments her.

“That roll-top desk is PHENOMENAL!” Clint confirms, closing his eyes for emphasis.

“Thank you, honey,” Betsy says dreamily. The analgesic is kicking in. “My husband died ten years ago and I’ve been kicking around in there alone for far too long. Sweetpea keeps me company, though.”

Clint and Steve both smile. Clint looks across the gurney to Steve. “So we finally got you to start saying ‘Bucky’, huh? What made you crack?”

“Yeah, well, he said he didn’t mind.” Steve gets lost inside his memory for a second, thinking of the way Bucky had looked at him when he called him “Buck”.

“So, does he know you’re interested in him?”

Steve snaps back to the present. Clint is grinning and looking at him expectantly. Betsy is, too.

Steve sputters. “Wha…what are you talking about?”

Clint’s smile widens. “Don’t play dumb with me, Rogers. Nat told me about your boyfriend years ago. And you just had the goofiest smile on your face when you talked about Bucky. So what gives?”

“Clint!” Steve scolds. He glances from Betsy back to him. “Is NOW really the best time to talk about this?”

“Oh, Betsy here won’t say anything to anyone, will you, Betsy?”

“Oh no, I won’t say anything at all, Steve.” She shakes her head, green eyes still twinkling. “Are you interested in him, dearie?”

“Yeah, Steve, come on, tell us,” Clint goads him, smiling broadly.

Steve can’t believe this is his life. Being given the third degree about his love life in the back of an ambulance? They continue to stare, waiting for a response.

“I…it’s complicated,” he finally offers, and closes his lips tightly. They’re not getting any more information out of him than that.

Betsy looks at Clint. “He’s got it bad,” she asserts.

Clint nods sagely and winks at her. “I’ll let you know how it turns out.”

Betsy giggles and lets her head fall back on the gurney. Steve sighs deeply and hopes they’re at the hospital soon.

-

When they all return to the station and have lunch, Betsy and Sweetpea are a hot topic of conversation. The four of them are seated with Sam and Thor at the dining table, enjoying the egg salad Thor made. Free range chicken eggs, of course.

“We all thought he was the Dog Whisperer,” jokes Clint, slapping Bucky on the back, “When actually the dog just has asthma!”

Sam and Thor find this to be hilarious, and good-naturedly tease Bucky about his dog-wrangling skill.

“Come on,” Steve puts in. “We all thought she was growling.” For some reason he feels the need to stick up for his crewmate, even though he doesn’t seem to mind the pokes.

“Oh, totally!” Natasha admits. She spreads more egg salad onto a piece of bread. “I was terrified.”

“I thought Clint was going to piss himself,” Bucky cracks, taking the spoon from Natasha to make himself another sandwich.

“That right, Clint? Big, bad Sweetpea was scary?” Sam says in a baby talk voice.

“That Rott was huge!” Clint says defensively. “She must have weighed one-twenty, easily.”

After lunch, Steve and Bucky have a special run scheduled. They are to drive their engine over to a local preschool to show to the children there. Steve enjoys these kinds of community service projects; the kids always get such a thrill out of seeing an engine up close. Bucky seems enthusiastic as well, as they climb into the engine to go.

“I still remember the day firefighters came to my school when I was little,” he recalls, smiling at the memory.

“I do, too.” Steve can’t help smiling at Bucky’s excitement.

The preschool is only a few minutes away; it is a cute brick building with a fenced in playground and yard next to it. Steve has been doing this for years now and knows the teacher. She lives nearby; sometimes he runs into her at the grocery store or the bank. She is a slightly plump, forty-something woman who always seems to be cheerful.

The children are scheduled to be at the end of a recess, so they will be outside and able to see the engine drive up. As soon as they turn into the lot, the two men see them all run at the fence excitedly, some pointing, while a few of the boys are jumping up and down. The teacher and teacher’s aide line them all up and bring them out to the sidewalk.

Steve gives a very short talk (they’re four, after all) about the many duties firefighters have besides just fighting fires, and then he and Bucky show them where their equipment is kept, what the inside of the cab looks like, and where the computer screen is that gives them the address and directions to get to emergency scenes.

When Bucky claps his hands together and asks, “Who wants to honk the horn?” it is pandemonium.

They both smile at the multitude of hands that shoot into the air, accompanied by a lot of ME!’s and ooh!’s. They have both of the cab doors open and are standing on either side, helping kids in and out. One by one, Bucky lifts the tiny children into the cab and lets them each honk the horn once. Steve is struck by how natural he is with the children.

Mrs. Nelson, the teacher, comes over to stand next to Steve. “I see you have a new partner, Steve,” she observes brightly. “Where’s Tony?”

“Promoted,” Steve answers. “This is James Barnes.” He nods to Bucky, who waves to them from the other side of the cab.

“Nice to meet you,” he yells over.

Mrs. Nelson shouts back, “You too!” and smiles. “Seems like he’s really good with kids,” she notices.

“Yes, ma’am,” Steve has to agree.

He is so comfortable with them, he even allows them to climb up on his shoulders to see the hoses up on top of the engine. Probably because of his sister’s kids, Steve thinks to himself. Suddenly he realizes that if Peggy had lived, they might have had a child this age right about now. The smile dies on his face. Where did that come from? He hasn’t thought about having children in a very long time. Bucky notices his expression and quietly asks him through the cab space, “You okay, Steve?”

Trying to put those melancholy thoughts out of his head, Steve smiles unsurely. “Yeah. Tell you later,” he promises. Bucky continues to eye him uncertainly for another minute, then loses himself in the commotion around him. After all of the children have had their turn and there are no more questions, they say their goodbyes.

They are scheduled to conduct some inspections of local businesses, but get interrupted by a call to a traffic accident. Multi-car. Sam, Thor, Natasha and Clint are also directed to the scene, plus another three MIDI’s to treat and transport victims. Two police squad cars have already responded and are re-routing traffic away from the accident site. There are multiple victims, including children. It is the kind of scene that gives firefighters bad dreams.

Eventually the injured are ready to be transported. Sam goes with Nat and Clint in their MIDI. Thor, Steve, and Bucky stay behind. It takes quite a while to clean up the scene, removing shards of glass and metal from the road after the cars are finally towed away.

It is well past the dinner hour when they at last reach the firehouse again. “Who wants pizza for dinner?” Thor asks tiredly, and everyone agrees that is a great idea. Steve loses a game of nose goes and is in charge of looking for coupons and ordering the pizzas. He heads upstairs when done with his tasks, finds some coupons, and calls in their order.

After hanging up the phone, he calls for Strider. Thor and Sam have already collapsed into two of the armchairs, feet up on the ottomans.

“Have you seen Strider?” Steve queries them as he peers around. No Strider. Neither man recalls seeing the shaggy dog since their return.

“He’s got to be around somewhere, right?” Sam remarks, seeing Steve’s look of concern.

There shouldn’t be any way his dog could have gotten loose, but where is he? The big ball of fluff has been with him for a few years now and Steve feels like he’s family. He walks back downstairs and calls for him again.

“Hey Darcy!” he yells up to the offices, “Have you seen Strider?”

“No!” She yells back. “Do you need help looking?”

“Uh…I'll let you know,” he answers her, unsure. He pokes his head into the fitness room and the conference room just in case, but no luck. Now he is getting a little bit closer to panic. Where could he be? Running out of options, he goes to the back door, pushes it open, and breathes an instant sigh of relief.

Strider is on his leash, being led around the yard patiently by Bucky. Steve’s hand goes to his heart. “Thank goodness!” he breathes, and Bucky looks up in surprise.

“Oh, shit. Were you looking for him?”

Steve nods and smiles. “Hey buddy!”

Strider has come bounding over, hearing his master’s voice, wagging his tail and jumping up on his legs. Bucky walks closer with the leash.

“You were on the phone,” he explains. “I noticed you usually take him out as soon as we get back from anywhere. He was dancing around with his legs crossed, so I thought maybe he had to go.”

“Thank you.” Steve is down on one knee, ruffling Strider’s fur. He is touched that Bucky would take it upon himself to bring Strider out, rather than just wait till Steve got off the phone and point out his dog’s dilemma. After all, they’re all tired out from the accident scene and need some rest.

“Pizza’s on its way,” he announces, and looks down at his dog. “But not for you.”

Strider barks once in disagreement. Bucky laughs. “So, do you want to tell me what had you upset back at the school?”

Strider is off again in the grass, having greeted his owner sufficiently, so Steve rises back up to his feet to stand next to Bucky. A small sigh escapes.

“It’s nothing, really. I just realized that if my wife hadn’t died, we might have had a child that age right now.” He shakes his head. “I don’t even know what made me think it.”

Bucky appears thoughtful. “Did you want kids a lot?”

Steve shrugs lightly in response. “Yeah, we did. But now? Maybe that just won’t ever happen for me.”

That makes Bucky give a short laugh.

“What?” Steve is curious to know what is funny about that.

Bucky shoots him a look. “Steve, you’re not exactly past your prime already. You talk like you’re eighty.”

Oh. Suddenly he is very aware of how closely together they are standing. That was the tricky part about talking to Bucky. He made Steve so relaxed, he unwittingly shared things he wouldn’t necessarily share with any others, except maybe Sam. He forgot that this kind of closeness could lead to questions he wouldn’t want to answer.

Like dating questions. He doesn’t want to talk about why he doesn’t date. He doesn’t want to talk about how Bucky is the only one in years to turn his head, to be the last one he thinks about before he goes to sleep, and the first one he thinks about when he wakes up. He fidgets in his spot, while Bucky is perfectly still.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” he says, and Steve can’t figure out what to do with his hands all of a sudden. They feel awkward down at his side, so he clasps them behind his back. Bucky is holding on to Strider’s lead as he prances about the yard, sniffing at who knows what.

“Umm…yeah, sure,” Steve responds.

Bucky’s eyes are on him, but Steve pretends to squint into the evening sun so he can avoid full eye contact.

“Why haven’t you ever remarried?”

Steve is silent a moment, fumbling in his brain for the right answer, so Bucky probes some more. “Darcy told me she’s tried to set you up on dates, and it’s never worked out.”

Steve presses his lips together. “I guess they just weren’t the right ones.”

Bucky nods slightly. “So, you’re still looking?”

Steve feels himself nod numbly. His stomach is doing flips. “Uh huh. What…” his voice catches and he pauses to clear his throat.

Are they really having this conversation, standing out in the evening sun while Strider snorts into a rabbit hole? He wants to ask Bucky if he’s dating anyone. Sure, he wasn’t when he started at the station, but that was a while ago, and LOOK at him. He must have a boyfriend by now. How could he not? He’s young and attractive and amazing. Just ask. His face feels hot. He can’t do it. Yes you can. Spit it out.

“What about you? Are you...are you seeing anyone now?”

He can’t believe he got the words out; he waits with baited breath for the answer, but at the same time tries to look casual, and not like some lovesick puppy waiting desperately for the answer.

“No, I guess I’m waiting for the right one to see me,” Bucky answers back lightly.

Steve nods again like he’s lost his tongue. He’s not with anyone! He guesses the appropriate response to that is NOT “hot damn”, and can’t think of anything else to say. Strider chooses to come running up at that moment, saving Steve from having to formulate a coherent reply.

“Come on,” Bucky smiles. “Let’s go in before the pizza gets here. I’m starved.”

“Sounds good to me,” Steve answers happily. He follow Bucky and Strider back inside. He’s so chuffed to hear that Bucky is still unattached that he doesn’t stop to analyze his phrasing until that night, when he is in his bunk and ready to turn off his bedside light. Waiting for the right one to see me. What a curious way to put it. Steve shakes his head. Probably it meant nothing. Probably.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

It is a beautiful May morning, the kind of day it’s impossible to be grumpy on: blue sky, temperature in the mid-sixties. Not too hot, not too cold. Perfect. Unless you are a shaggy, golden colored dog who ate mushrooms in the back yard that are now making you sick. Steve bends down in his sweatpants and t-shirt to get on his hands and knees on his living room floor, sponge and carpet cleaner in hand. Strider is lying on the floor nearby, chin resting on his paws, looking repentant.

“Yeah, you’d better be sorry,” Steve says to him, and sprays on the foamy white cleaner.

He had returned from a morning jog to find two separate spots where Strider had vomited. Eww. Steve is kneeling, waiting for the foam to do its foamy thing, when his phone buzzes on the kitchen counter. He stands and walks over to grab it. It is a text from Thor.

“Can I please borrow your truck to go get a new couch?”

Steve texts back, “Sure. What time?” His plan today is to mow the lawn and catch up on some laundry, nothing that involves using his truck in the near future. He has just gotten back down on his knees to scrub the floor when there is a knock on his front door. He opens it and is surprised to see Thor, in jeans and a t-shirt with FDNY in block letters across the front, standing on his doorstep and grinning ear to ear.

“Now. I knew you’d say yes,” he states confidently.

Steve smiles and shakes his head, stepping back to let him in. Steve’s house is a three bedroom brick bungalow, built in the forties, but the previous owners did a lot of work updating the electrical and the kitchen and bath. He has comfortable furniture with a traditional feel. He doesn’t like to collect much stuff, but there are lots of pictures on the walls and in standing frames to personalize the space.

He has a two car attached garage. The plot is small, but the back yard is fenced in with a split-rail for Strider. Steve loves it. Sure, it had been hard as hell to part with Peggy’s things, but he’s never been sorry he stayed here after she was gone.

Thor steps in brightly, then looks down at the carpet with foam soaking in. “Uh-oh,” he comments.

Strider has gotten up off the floor to come over and sniff Thor’s legs. He wags his tail and walks off, back to his spot. Steve walks over to the table near the door, on which sits a red and white blown glass bowl he always tosses his keys into. He picks them up with a jingle, then turns and throws them to his friend, who catches them in one hand.

“New couch, eh? What’s the occasion?”

“Just needed a new couch?” Thor says weakly, and Steve raises his eyebrows. Thor isn’t exactly big on decorating, and looks like he’s almost blushing.

He confesses. “Jane’s lease will be up soon. I’m thinking about asking her to move in with me.”

Eyebrows receding even further toward his hairline, Steve mouths a WOW and replies out loud, “That’s great! It’s a big step.”

Thor nods in agreement. “Yeah. She’s worth it.”

Giving him a sincere smile, Steve can’t help but feel a little sad for himself for a fraction of a second. Thankfully Thor doesn’t seem to catch his fleeting change in expression.

“So I think the new guy is working out well, don’t you?” he asks crisply.

Steve nods slowly, suspicious of the change in subject. “Yeah, I think he fits in well.”

“I totally agree,” Thor says, and spins the key ring around his index finger.

Steve is silent and wary, expecting another co-worker sneak attack.

Thor continues. “He seems very competent out on runs, especially for a rookie.”

“I’ve got no complaints.”

“None?” Thor questions. “Tony left some big shoes to fill though, didn’t he?”

“Oh yeah,” Steve agrees. “No one can replace Tony. But Buck, he’s been great. We’re getting along just great.”

“Uh-huh.” Thor eyes him for a moment.

Holding his breath, Steve worries. Did he say too much? Didn’t feel like too much. He should be safe.

Thor turns toward the door. “Well, I’ll let you get to that fun floor scrubbing you’ve got waiting for you.”

Silently Steve breathes out a sigh of relief and opens the door for him. As Thor crosses the threshold he pauses and looks back.

“Just do me a favor and ask him out soon, won’t you? I hate to see you pine.”

“Arrrrggghh!” Steve gurgles, makes an exasperated face at him, and fake-slams the door on his back. He leans against the door and can hear Thor’s laughter as he traipses down the walk to Steve’s truck, currently parked in the driveway. He looks back to Strider, lying on the floor again.

“Are you going to give me a hard time, too?”

“Woof!” Strider answers and wags his tail. With a sigh, Steve gets back down on all fours and grabs the sponge. How does everyone know he likes Bucky that way? Is it that obvious? And why does everyone assume Bucky would be interested in him? Like all he has to do is open his mouth, and Bucky would be his? Steve has no such assurance. Just because he’s unattached doesn’t mean he’s interested in you, he thinks as he scrubs. Even if a relationship with a co-worker is a good idea, which it’s not.

He finishes cleaning up and then heads out into the back yard, dragging the mower out of the small shed in the corner. He has a wooden deck also, with a patio table and chairs. On special occasions he can haul out some Adirondack chairs and make a bonfire in the fire pit. As he pushes the mower up and down, making stripes across the grass, his head is filled with pleasant thoughts and images of Bucky at his side at the station, those blue eyes staring into his. He daydreams about the warmth of his smile and the scent he now recognizes as Bucky’s. All the things he shouldn’t think about. He’s done with the lawn before he knows it.

-

Steve and Strider are just arriving at the station for their shift, a little before seven in the morning. They enter through the front door, the one that goes past the offices. Steve is carrying two paper coffee cups with lids stuck tightly on them and Strider’s lead. Fortunately his dog doesn’t pull hard at the leash, or the coffees would certainly have been casualties by now. He stops at Tony’s open door and knocks with his foot on the base of the door. Tony is behind his desk, looking at the mail laid out on it.

“Steve!” he greets him enthusiastically.

His face lights up when Steve enters and sets one cup down on the edge of the desk. Tony’s office is small and full of metal filing cabinets along the walls, besides the desk and chairs in the center of it. He does have a window that looks out on the street, which is a bonus.

“Is that a mocha?” he asks excitedly, and sucks in a breath when Steve nods.

“Of course it is.”

“I love you,” Tony jests, and grabs the cup.

Taking a seat, Steve sips from his own cup while Strider turns around in a circle and sits down next to his chair. “How’s it going?”

It is the question Steve usually asks when he stops in each morning, but today Tony frowns instead of smiles. “Pepper is making me go to some hoity-toity company party this Saturday, so we can’t use our Mets tickets.” His frown disappears and is replaced by something more on the happy side. “Do you want them?”

“Are you kidding?” Steve says, even happier. Sam is his go-to for games, and they have been to many together.

“Alright, then, tickets are yours. I’ll bring them in for you next shift.”

They hear the station door open and close; Natasha breezes past, sees them out of the corner of her eye, and throws a “Morning, guys!” at them as she flies by. Tony and Steve both answer, “Morning Nat!” They also hear staff from the previous shift leaving as their replacements arrive. Early morning change of shift is a busy time.

“Now that I’ve got you here, how is Bucky working out?” Tony quizzes him.

Steve wonders if Sam or anyone else has gotten to Tony and told him he has a crush on the new guy. He thinks for a second before answering, not wanting to spill more than he intends to, like he did with Thor.

“Um…” he stalls, trying to think. “He’s a good worker, very capable. Everyone seems to be getting along well.” He punctuates his speech with a couple of head nods and sips at his coffee again, trying to keep his expression even.

There are a few seconds of silence as Tony merely blinks a couple of times, then clears his throat.

“Close the door, please.”

Steve eyes him guardedly but obeys, leaning over and pulling it shut with his foot.

“Okay, what are you not telling me?” Tony asks, leaning back in his chair.

Steve still tries not to let his face give him away. “What do you mean?”

“That description was so uninspired, either you hate him, or you have the hots for him.”

Steve gapes. Strider yawns loudly on the floor, prompting his owner to give him a pat on the side. When he looks back up, Tony is still staring at him.

“So which is it?”

Steve has managed to close his mouth, but can’t prevent the blush he feels creeping up through his cheeks.

“Ohhhhhh, so it’s the latter,” Tony observes craftily, and a smile spreads across his face slowly.

“I work with him, Tony!”

“Come on, you know that doesn’t matter to me. So you like him, big deal.”

Steve stays silent. Tony starts to get it.

“So it’s more than that,” he guesses, and then pauses. “Is he…important?”

“He could be,” Steve admits. He can’t deny it. It’s more than just attraction, or a crush. He is starting to realize how much he thinks about him when he’s not at work. How just hearing his voice makes his day brighter, and seeing him smile sends a flutter through his chest.

“Does he know?”

Steve shakes his head and studies his coffee cup. “Jesus, I don’t know. Everyone else seems to,” he says ruefully.

“You haven’t made a move?” Tony’s eyes are wide. “Why not?”

Again Steve is silent.

Tony leans in across his desk. “Steve. I know it’s been a long time. I know you were perfectly fine on your own, and something like this would really throw you for a loop. But the risk is one hundred percent worth it.”

Steve lifts his eyes to the ceiling and back to his friend. “I don’t even know if I remember how to be in a relationship with someone.”

Tony sits back again and grins. “It’s like riding a bike, brother. You’ll figure it out.”

Steve gives a short laugh. “That’s what Sam said, too.”

“Well, Sam is a smart guy. You should listen to him every once in a while.”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees, but still looks unconvinced.

“Go get ‘im, tiger,” Tony teases.

He gets a death stare for that, which makes Tony laugh, but as Steve stands to go and start his shift, his face softens.

“Tony…thanks.”

Tony’s voice is equally soft. “Anytime.”

Turning with a fond smile on his face, Steve pulls the door back open. Strider hops up off the floor and follows him out the door, down the hall and over to the stairwell. He is lost in thought, pondering Tony’s words. Is the risk really worth it? He is very happy with Bucky as his crewmate and doesn’t want to screw that up. Maybe the status quo is good enough.

A part of him wants to keep things exactly as they are. But then there’s that other part, the part that wonders what it would be like to run his hands over Bucky’s body, what it would be like to kiss him. What it would be like to get him alone in a dark room and see what happens. His body warms uncomfortably when he focuses on those kinds of thoughts and it’s difficult to remember why that might be a bad idea.

He is so distracted and busy that he forgets to ask Sam about the baseball game till much later in the day, after they get back from a run to a construction site accident and one hazardous material spill. He and Bucky had been called to a building with an unknown chemical spill in a hallway. The building is shared by a chemical company and an accounting firm. A nervous accountant talks to them from the back of the parking lot.

“There are always weird smells drifting over into our office from their side of the building,” the middle aged woman says, pushing a pair of glasses up onto her nose. “But this time it looks like mercury in the hallway. Some day they’re going to blow the building sky high,” she nods.

Bucky and Steve look at each other. Mercury is very dangerous, and is on the MSDS sheets they have for chemicals used in the building. But the only employees they see out in the parking lot look like accountants, not chemists. If they had a chemical spill they were worried about, where are they? Something feels wonky to Steve, and he wonders if someone jumped the gun calling in the fire department.

Still, rules are rules and just to be safe, they put on their full hazmat gear, which Steve detests. It’s hot. It’s heavy. You can hardly breathe in there, and he hates feeling claustrophobic like that.

Also there’s the ridiculousness of their appearances, with their all-enveloping suits and hoods with face shields. Once suited up, they stand next to their engine, checking each other out.

“You look awesome,” Bucky teases.

“I feel awesome,” Steve returns, and does a little soft shoe routine, which makes Bucky laugh until he clutches his side, and makes Steve feel slightly less dorky and even more enamored of him.

Once inside, they follow the directions provided to them to locate the spill. They do find a puddle of unknown liquid; it is a thick, silvery grey, in a pool about the size of a tennis ball. Sort of looks like mercury? Mixed with something else? Steve is unconvinced. Mercury is typically worked with in small, controlled amounts. Not like this. Bucky looks at Steve and talks loudly through his suit.

“That’s not mercury.”

Figuring out what it could be is another matter, though. Fortunately, Bucky’s experience with his nieces comes in handy, just when they need it. He suddenly squats down and puts his face almost into the liquid, he’s so close to it.

“Buck!” Steve warns him in concern. “What are you doing?”

Bucky just laughs and sits back on his heels. “We need to check with the staff and see if any children came through here recently.”

“What?” Steve’s eyebrows pinch together. Children? He trusts Bucky’s judgement though, so they go down and interview the staff. Yes, the secretary’s babysitter had come through earlier, with her three young children. They do some more walking and find the secretary. Yes, her children LOVE crafting.

At Bucky’s request, she puts in a call to her babysitter. Yes, they did have some glitter glue with them when they were here. The babysitter asks the preschooler if it spilled in the hallway. Yes, the sitter admits apologetically, it did spill, but she had been unaware at the time so it didn’t get cleaned up. Sorry about that.

“Glitter glue,” Steve had said, half in disgust and half because it was so funny, as they stood outside their engine to remove their hazmat gear. The glue, by then hardening on the floor, had been cleaned up without trouble. “Nice call.”

Bucky had shrugged off the praise and smiled. “I’m a hands-on Uncle. I’ve had enough glitter glue stuck to me in strange places to recognize it.”

“I’m not even going to ask about what strange places you could get glitter glue stuck to you.”

Steve gulps in fresh air after getting all of his hazmat outfit off his body. Bucky notices his relief.

“You okay?”

“Fine,” Steve nods. “Just don’t like the way it feels to breathe in there. I hate it when the mask starts sticking to your face, too, when you’re low on air.” He wrinkles his nose in distaste.

“Oh,” Bucky nods in understanding. “Yeah, that sucks.” He elbows Steve in the ribs. “Get it?”

Steve laughs and rolls his eyes to the heavens. “Got it.”

When they return to the firehouse they find Sam filling up air tanks, but he stops and approaches them after they exit their vehicle. As they are removing their gear, he asks Steve in a whisper, “Did you bring it today?”

A slow, malevolent smile spreads across Steve’s face. “Yeah. Do it now?”

Sam nods and shares his wicked grin. “Yeah baby. Go get it, quick.”

Steve shimmies out of his turnout in the blink of an eye and is upstairs in a flash. Bucky looks at Sam with his head tilted to one side.

“What’s going on?” he asks tentatively. He picks up Steve’s gear to clean it, since he has finished with his own.

Sam whistles and claps his hands behind his back, the innocent bystander. “Just wait.”

Steve is back in an instant with something small concealed in his hand. He and Sam both look around to make sure no one else is approaching before Steve opens his hand and shows them both. It is a small package of Icy-Hot. Bucky looks up at him, confused. Sam is practically vibrating next to him, he’s so excited.

“For Thor,” Steve whispers, and moves down the line to the big man’s turnout. Bucky hangs up Steve’s overcoat and follows. Sam can hardly contain his chuckling. He pulls down Thor’s overcoat and Steve opens up the Icy-Hot, smearing some on the inside of each armpit of his coat. Bucky snorts with laughter, covering his mouth as he does so. Steve elbows him.

“Grab his trousers.”

As Sam hangs up his coat, Bucky picks up his trouser pants. Sam practically doubles over, silently shaking with laughter.

“This is gonna be so great!” he manages to choke out.

Steve bites his lip to keep himself quiet, and smears more Icy-Hot on the crotch of Thor’s pants.

Bucky shakes his head, smiling. “I had no idea you two were so evil.”

“Payback’s a bitch,” Sam states, nodding his head.

“A while back, Thor put red Kool-Aid inside the shower head before Sam went in,” Steve explains.

"And what about that time he put powdered sugar in my sheets down at my feet, so it all started sticking to me in the middle of the night?" Sam interjects.

"It's not his fault you have sweaty feet," Steve teases.

Sam pouts. "Who's side are you on?"

Bucky laughs softly. “You guys are crazy. In a good way,” he adds, and looks at Sam again. “I’m getting hungry. Are the Cheetos still hidden behind the TV speaker?”

Sam nods and whispers conspiratorially, “Yes. And I have a bag of chips in the linen closet.”

Bucky claps him on the shoulder. “You’re a lifesaver, man.” He takes the stairs two at a time and disappears into the upstairs living space. That’s when Steve remembers he also has something to ask him.

“Hey, Tony can’t use his Mets tickets for Saturday’s game. You want to go?” He walks over to the garbage can to dispose of the evidence and grabs a paper towel from the roll hanging on the wall to clean off his hand.

Sam makes a disappointed face. “No, man, I’d love to, but it’s my ma’s birthday. I’ll be in Harlem all day.”

Steve’s face falls as well. “Oh.”

Steve pitches the paper towel and the two of them walk back over to the air tanks Sam was filling. There is one left; Sam picks it up and attaches the nozzle to re-fill it.

“But I know someone else who loves baseball you could ask.” Sam’s expression has turned mischievous.

“Sam,” Steve warns him sternly. “You said you weren’t going to interfere.”

His friend just laughs. “It doesn’t have to be like a date thing. It isn’t like that when we go to games, is it?” He starts filling the tank to give Steve a chance to think about it rationally, which he does.

“Yeah.” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”

Sam nods and then adds under his breath, “Although a date wouldn’t kill you.” He turns and yells up the stairs before Steve can utter a word. “HEY BUCKY!”

Steve’s crewmate appears a moment later, licking orange cheese dust off his fingers, and Steve is tongue-tied. Bucky is all the way across the room and a flight of stairs up, and all he can see are long fingers sliding in and out of that perfect mouth, red lips closing around each one sensually. The flash of pink tongue is mesmerizing.

“What is it, Sam?” he yells down, and Sam comes to Steve’s rescue during his bout of apoplexy. Sort of.

“Steve has something he wants to ask you.”

Bucky’s gaze switches from one man to the other. Steve gives Sam a dirty look before focusing his eyes on Bucky’s. Don’t look at his mouth.

“So, uh,” he runs his hand over his short hair, making it stick up more right in the front. “Tony gave me his Mets tickets for Saturday’s game. Do you want to go?”

A big, beautiful smile breaks out on Bucky’s face. He leans forward and grips the stair rails with both hands. “Yeah! Love to!”

“Great! I’ll give you the details later.” His own smile is just as big. He said yes! That delirious thought is followed immediately by disappointment. It’s not a date. And then dread. What if he thinks it’s a date? Should I think it’s a date?

Bucky nods and disappears again to reconnect with his Cheetos. Sam slaps him on the back. “See now? That wasn’t hard, was it?”

Steve feels like his throat has closed shut. “Sam!” he hisses. “How do I know if he thinks it’s a date or not?”

Sam rolls his eyes. “Would you stop overthinking things?” He drops his voice down to a whisper. “Does he even know you’re bi?”

He drums his fingers on the air tank while Steve considers this.

“Umm…no, I don’t think so.”

“Then he doesn’t think it’s a date.”

Steve’s face relaxes.

“But that doesn’t mean you can’t tell him how you feel.”

Steve’s face spasms into something like terror. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that.”

The tank Sam has been filling is done. He hauls it back up onto the rack and together they lock them into place, then lean on the rack and face each other.

“Just think about it. It’s worth it to give it a try,” Sam encourages him.

“That’s what Tony said,” Steve shares quietly.

“Yeah, well, Tony is an asshole. You shouldn’t listen to him,” Sam jokes, “Except for now.” He smiles and gets a chuckle out of his companion. “Come on, let’s go up. I want some of those Cheetos before he eats them all.”

As they head for the stairs, however, the alarm tone goes off. They both hustle over to their respective engines as bodies start appearing and sliding down the poles. Steve steps back into his rubber boots and pulls up his trousers and suspenders. Bucky appears next to him and starts doing the same. They pull on their coats as well. Their hoods, breathing apparatus, and helmets are already waiting for them in the engine and will be pulled on at the scene if needed.

This call is not to a fire; it’s another medical emergency, like the majority of their runs. Though Clint and Natasha have more advanced paramedic training, all firefighters are EMTs with basic medical training. They are en route to a residential building with a report of two victims found in an apartment, unresponsive. Steve slows down and lays on the horn as they near an intersection where the light is red in their direction. He peers around in both directions, trying to see traffic before they enter the intersection. Getting to rescue scenes can sometimes be as dangerous as the scene itself.

“Slug Bug, three o’clock!” Bucky warns him.

There is a black Volkswagen Beetle approaching from the crossroad, whose driver is talking on a cell phone and doesn’t seem to be aware of the fire engines screaming down the street.

“Got ‘im,” Steve responds tersely, and has to careen to the right and brake sharply in order to miss him. They have hit the intersection at the same time, and can see the look of surprise on the driver’s face when he realizes there are two engines bearing down on him. The MIDI is a minute behind.

“Jackass,” Bucky mutters.

It happens more and more these days. People have their radios turned up loud or are distracted by their cell phones, and just don’t see or hear emergency vehicles. It doesn’t help that cars have better sound proofing to limit road noise, either. The Bug shoots through in front of them and then pulls off to the side of the road, but Steve isn’t turning his way. They make it through the intersection safely, with Thor and Sam still directly behind, laying heavily on their horn, too.

When they arrive at the building, all four pound up the stairs with their EMS-response kits. It’s a three story walk-up. They are met at the door by a hysterical young woman in her twenties. The apartment is small and clean, but the scene inside is grisly. They find a man and woman, both unresponsive, lying on the furniture and the floor, with drug paraphernalia strewn about. Clint and Natasha come in right behind them.

It’s a pretty familiar scenario. The victims are cared for and taken outside to be transported via their own MIDI and another called in from a neighboring company. Sam is harassing Thor as they exit the building.

“Stop scratching at yourself, Thor, you’re like a dog with fleas.”

“Jesus Christ, why is it so damn hot?” Thor complains. “Those stairs were murder. I feel like I’m on fire!”

“You scratch your crotch one more time and I’m turning the hose on you when we get back!” Sam threatens, then looks behind him at Steve and Bucky and laughs gleefully and silently, mouth wide open.

The other responsible parties are trying to smother shit-eating grins. Clint catches Steve’s eye and recognizes the look of mirth on his face.

“Icy-Hot?” he whispers, and Steve nods slightly, lips pressed together.

Clint gives him a thumbs up sign. After they return to the station and are cleaning up, Sam calls over to him, “Hey, I thought you were going to cream that VW Beetle on the way over. Nice save!”

Steve nods. “For a second, I thought we’d be peeling him off the front of our engine.” Then he looks at Bucky, hanging up his overcoat. “Slug Bug?” he inquires curiously.

Bucky’s face comes alive. “Oh yeah!” He hasn’t even removed his trouser pants yet but abandons his task to draw closer to Steve, and punches him on the upper arm.

“Ow!” Steve complains, rubbing his arm. “What was that for?”

Bucky’s face is a study in disbelief. Thor has already stripped off his turnout in record time and holds his trousers in his hands as he turns to offer his input. “Bucky, that’s cheating. The slug must be delivered within five seconds of the sighting, or you forfeit.”

Bucky’s hands go to his hips. “I invoke special circumstances. Steve was trying to avoid hitting it at the time. I think that warrants an acceptable delay.” He kicks off his trouser pants and boots.

Steve looks clueless. “What the hell are you two talking about?”

Thor ignores him, shaking a finger at Bucky. “Uh-uh. The rules are quite clear.”

Sam pipes up next. “No, no, no. I agree with Bucky. Safety first. Delayed hit is permissible.”

“Hello? Anyone?” Steve throws in.

Finally Thor acknowledges him. “Steven, how can you be a grown man who has never played Slug Bug? That is a travesty of your childhood.” He finally looks down at his garment and realizes what happened.

“SAM!”

Sam walks over, the picture of innocence. “What is it?”

Steve has to hand it to him. It’s quite a performance. Thor shows him his pants; Sam gesticulates wildly and says something under his breath that Steve can’t catch. Bucky has finished with his turnout; he lifts his hand again and Steve flinches reflexively, expecting another hit, but Bucky just laughs and places his hand gently on his shoulder.

“I’ll explain the game to you later.” He smiles brilliantly, and Steve no longer cares about punches or Bugs, only that his shoulder has Bucky’s hand on it and his insides are liquid goop, because Bucky is smiling at him with such a look of affection.

“Yeah, later,” Sam interrupts. Whatever he said to his crewmate seems to have smoothed things over.

“I think it’s about dinner time, isn’t it? What are we having today, Master Chef?”

“Can’t you smell it already?” Steve interjects. “Beef stew! It’s been cooking all day.”

Sam takes in a deep breath and lets it out with an “Ahhhhhhh. Oh yeah, now I can. Smells good.”

“Good?” Thor sniffs. “My beef stew is extraordinary.”

Bucky pats his stomach as they head for the stairs, gear shucked and stored. “All of your cooking is fantastic. I’m getting fat already from eating so well.”

Steve, walking behind him on the stairs, gets a first class view of Bucky’s backside, and silently begs to differ. Bucky looks as trim and muscular as he did on their first meeting. He feels a nudge on the elbow and looks left. Sam is next to him, giving him a knowing smile.

“Yeah,” he teases. “You’ve really let yourself go,” he calls up to Bucky. “You should be ashamed.”

“Whatever,” Bucky blows him off breezily and smiles over his shoulder.

“He’s just trying to guilt you out of your portion,” Steve jokes, and gets a shove from Sam rather than a nudge this time. He shoves him back, and they roughhouse the remainder of the way up the steps to dinner.

Before they sit down to eat, Steve has a whispered conversation with him, standing and leaning in close over by the dart board. “What’d you tell him?”

“That Clint did it.”

Steve gulps down a snort of laughter. “And he bought that?”

They are both grinning at each other when Bucky steps over to see what their powwow is about. They put their three heads together to keep things private. Bucky has one hand on Sam’s shoulder and one on Steve’s back. Steve sneaks his arm around Bucky’s waist and lays his hand on the small of his back without even realizing what he’s done, until he’s done it.

And ohhhh, is he glad he did. Looking at Bucky’s body pales in comparison to touching it. The muscles of his low back feel lean and hard; Steve can hardly concentrate on the conversation they’re having. He does glance over toward the kitchen and thank his lucky stars; Thor is busy and doesn’t notice their secrecy.

“I can be very persuasive,” Sam boasts.

Bucky scoffs. “He doesn’t suspect you?”

“Nope,” Sam gloats. “The perfect crime.” He picks his head up and looks over toward the others. “Play it cool now.”

Steve wishes he could prolong their conference longer, because Bucky’s hand feels really good on his back and he’d like to keep it there for another hour or two. He’s not moving it around; it’s solidly in contact with his shoulder blade. Delicious. Steve has kept his hand on Bucky’s back as well, and doesn’t particularly want to move it. He can’t really think of a good way to stay huddled without arousing suspicion, though, so they break it up and head for the dining table.

He’s pretty sure the grin Sam is now sporting is directed at him personally and is not related to their practical joke. He tries to avoid Sam’s eye but can’t avoid hearing the whisper in his ear as Sam passes close by.

“Tell him.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

It’s a Thursday and Tony has made good on his word to bring Steve his Mets tickets for Saturday’s game. After Steve finishes his chore of cleaning the bathrooms, he looks around for Bucky. Sam is mopping floors. Thor is cleaning out the refrigerator. Clint is…Steve can’t tell what Clint is doing. It might be wrestling, or it might be folding fitted sheets that have just come out of the dryer. There is a pile on the dining table that looks like it consists of fabric wadded up into balls.

Laughing to himself, Steve shakes his head as Clint holds one sheet up, trying to identify where the corners are. He gives up and lets the sheet fall over his head, covering him like a ghost.

“Hey Steve, wanna trade jobs?” His voice is muffled under the sheet.

“You’re on your own, pal.”

Steve goes to the landing at the top of the stairs and looks down. Natasha is filling a water tank on their engine with a large hose, while Bucky is inspecting face masks down in the bay.

Leaning over the rail, he shouts down, “Hey Buck! Game starts at 4:30 Saturday. What time do you want to meet to head into Queens?”

Bucky turns his face up toward him and grins. “Can’t you see I’m busy, Steve? I don’t have time to think about you right now.”

Steve can’t stop a smile from spreading across his own face. “But you’ll think about me later?”

Bucky sets one mask down and picks up a new one. “You know it.”

Steve is still smiling and feeling sort of like his body is made of sunshine as he troops down the stairs to check the board for his next chore. Vacuum the conference room and offices. He is just hauling the vacuum out of the storage closet in the hallway when Natasha appears at his side.

“Need some help with that?” she asks saucily, leaning against the open door.

Steve knits his eyebrows together. “Um…no? I think I can manage. I have used the vacuum cleaner before.”

Natasha grabs the handle. “Well, I think you do,” she insists, and drags the vacuum off towards the conference room before Steve can protest.

He shuts the closet door and follows her in. As soon as she is inside the room, she wheels around to face him and whispers loudly, “How long has this been going on? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Steve’s eyebrows join again. “Tell you what? How long has what been going on?”

Natasha hold up her hands as if to point out the obvious. "That you two are a thing! It’s adorable! I want to squish you both into a big hug. Clint told me you were into him and I said he was full of shit, that it was just protective partner stuff. And now I see this!”

She is smiling and rambling on, seemingly unaware of Steve’s bewilderment.

“We aren’t a thing,” Steve interrupts, and it’s like he threw a wet blanket on her, her face falls so much. “We’re friends. That’s just how we talk to each other.”

Natasha stares at him, then wordlessly reaches up and smacks the palm of her hand on his forehead, like she’s in a V-8 commercial. “That is not how men talk to each other. That’s flirting. Are you telling me you’re unaware of your flirtiness? Have you even asked him out yet?”

Steve can’t help feeling a little defensive, after getting smacked in the head and also because everyone keeps getting on his ass about asking Bucky out. “You heard me, we’re going to a baseball game Saturday,” he bluffs a little. So it’s not exactly a date. It’s something social outside of work, isn’t it?

Natasha leans in and gives him another smack on the forehead.

“What was that one for?” he complains.

She rolls her eyes. “Could you pick something less romantic than you, him, and 50,000 other people?”

“I think it’s actually more like 40,000.”

Eyeing him dangerously, Natasha frowns and raises one eyebrow. “Don’t make me hit you again, Steve.”

“Okay! Okay! He likes baseball though.”

They are still whispering, wary of anyone in the offices overhearing their conversation.

“I don’t care if he likes baseball, it’s still…” she breaks off when a shadow appears in the doorway, followed immediately by the appearance of Bucky himself.

“Hey Steve,” he starts, but falls silent himself when he sees Natasha in the room. “Oh, sorry, am I interrupting something?” he asks politely.

“Not at all,” Natasha answers airily. “We were just talking about baseball.”

“Oh,” Bucky says, looking interested. “I didn’t know you like baseball.”

He looks from Natasha to Steve and back to Natasha, who tilts her head to one side and replies in a chipper voice, “I don’t. Sportball is lame.”

Bucky looks confused. “Sportball?”

Steve chuckles. “That’s what Nat calls all pro sports.”

“Except hockey,” she explains. “Hockey is the only sport.”

Nodding, Bucky looks at her suspiciously. “Yeah…hockey is good, too,” he agrees slowly.

Natasha bounces on her toes. “Well, I’ve got kits to stock. Catch you later.”

She breezes from the room, red hair swinging behind her. Steve turns to Bucky inquiringly and Bucky switches gears, wanting to discuss their plans for the game. They decide on a meeting time and he gives Steve his address; since Steve lives further out, he’s going to meet Bucky at his apartment. Bucky has plans later on that night to go to his sister’s house, but they can still take the subway to and from the game. Steve tries not to let himself get too worked up over their plans, and fails.

-

Saturday. Game day. Steve is only mildly freaking out. He doesn’t have to worry about what to wear—obviously his Mets baseball cap and a Mets t-shirt, with a long sleeve shirt underneath since it’s still early in the season and may be on the chilly side. Mostly he freaks out about how he should act. Thanks to Nat’s observations he is overanalyzing everything.

Was Bucky flirting with him? He’d like to think so. He imagines what it would be like to hold Bucky’s hand as they walked to the subway, or put his arm around his shoulders. Wonders for the eight hundredth time what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of a kiss from those succulent lips. That sends a rush of heat straight to his groin, and he breathes out noisily. Better not think about that too much.

But then the other side of the coin makes him worry, and his nerves start jangling. What if he tells Bucky how he feels, and he doesn’t want that kind of relationship? This isn’t like those blind dates Darcy sent him out on, where he and his date could part ways and never see each other again. He and Bucky work closely together. And Steve values that partnership above all. He decides he can’t risk it. The awkwardness would be too much to bear. He can’t ruin the friendship they already have.

Standing out on his back deck, waiting for Strider to finish patrolling the four corners of the yard, he decides it. He’s just going to act normally, like it’s any other day, and enjoy the time with him. That’s good enough. He gets to spend a good chunk of the day with Bucky, away from work. And he’s not going to think about kissing him at all.

-

Steve knocks on Bucky’s door. His apartment is in a three story building in a mostly residential neighborhood. The subway is just down on the corner. Bucky’s apartment is on the second floor at the end of the hall. He answers the door at Steve’s knock promptly and steps back right away to allow him entry.

“Come on in,” he invites him, and turns to the open closet door just next to him to start rummaging through it, giving Steve a good long look at his appearance. He also has on a Mets baseball cap, a Mets t-shirt, and a pair of old, faded jeans that look like they have formed themselves perfectly to the shape of Bucky’s thighs and ass. Wow. Forget that earlier decision. He wants to kiss him until he can’t see straight. He looks so good, it’s all Steve can do not to grab him, turn him around, and lay one on him.

Bucky himself is oblivious to all of this. “I know I have a jacket in here somewhere…aha!” He pulls out a Mets windbreaker and spins toward Steve, smiling in triumph. Steve grins back and takes his first look around the apartment. It is small but nicely decorated, with a comfortable looking couch and chairs, hardwood floor and Oriental rug to warm up the space. There is actual artwork on the walls, and a distinct lack of slovenly-bachelor feel.

“This is a really nice place, Buck.”

He can see into the kitchen with its eat-in table and chairs. Also not grandiose, but well-kept. The appliances are new-ish looking and the wood cabinets stylish.

“Thanks,” Bucky says as he pulls on his windbreaker. “It’s tiny, but nice and quiet, and there’s a mom and pop grocery store just down the street. Not that I cook much,” he adds ruefully. “Ready to go?”

“Yep,” Steve replies, and Bucky grabs his keys from a side table. Once he locks up, they are on their way. It is a long subway ride into Queens, and they must change over two or three times, but they fill the time with more talk of the upcoming season, trying to guess how good the team will be. Then they move on to football, and before Steve knows it, they are at the stadium. The pair exit through the turnstiles and march up the stairs to the noisy street, full of fans heading to the game.

Bucky glances sideways at Steve and asks, “You do have the tickets, don’t you?”

Steve stops dead in his tracks, prompting Bucky to stop as well. Steve’s eyes are open wide. He puts both hands on his back pockets to feel inside them. People pass by them unconcerned, stepping around them briskly. Bucky looks to be at the mildly-alarmed stage, but it worsens by the second to become just shy of full-on panic.

Then Steve smiles widely and resumes walking, like nothing happened. “Yeah, I’ve got ‘em.”

Bucky’s hand goes to his heart and he pretends to stumble along to catch up. “Asshole,” he jokes, and Steve laughs.

They enter the stadium without any trouble and find their seats. The crowd is huge, but Tony’s seats are damn good—to the right of home plate, down the first base line. Inning after inning goes by, and Steve is having such a good time just sitting and talking to Bucky he forgets about how worried he was, forgets about whether or not Bucky thinks it’s a date. All he thinks about is how natural and comfortable it feels to be sharing his day with him.

Conversation flows freely. They talk about their upbringings, about their experiences at the Academy, about every single Game of Thrones fan theory they’ve ever heard. The whole afternoon is fantastic. Steve feels like he can talk about anything he wants to with Bucky, without feeling self-conscious about one of his well-meaning co-workers making eyes at him.

As the afternoon sun warms them, Bucky decides to take off his windbreaker. He stands and pulls it off over his head quickly; his t-shirt rides up as well, giving Steve a peek at his sharply defined six-pack. A shot of fire burns his innards and he feels a quick beat of pure lust; it is the first time since being in Bucky’s apartment that he is uncomfortably aware of the sexual attraction he feels.

Things would be so much easier if he felt only friendship for Bucky. But no, his body and mind betray him. Not only does he think Bucky is gorgeous on the outside, he thinks he’s gorgeous on the inside, too. Not only has Bucky become a really good friend, he makes Steve feel alive in a way he hasn’t felt in years. Makes him feel more, want more. It is most inconvenient.

During the seventh inning stretch, they decide they are hungry and go for chili dogs and French fries. The line is tight, and they stand pressed shoulder to shoulder. When Bucky looks sidelong at him, smiles and bumps his shoulder playfully, it’s hard to make his brain produce rational thought. He thinks about Sam’s words, about the way he feels when he is with the man next to him. About how much he wants the man next to him. By the last inning, even though he swore to Strider he was not going to treat this like a date, he is considering Sam’s idea more and more.

Arriving at the subway entrance, he is trying to work out the wording in his head. He wants to wait until they’re close to home in case Bucky says no. Then they won’t have to sit in uncomfortable silence for the rest of the journey. What’s a good way to bring it up? Maybe he should ask him if he wants to come to another game? And then what? He shouldn’t try to get fancy. Just tell him the truth. I’ve developed feelings for you and I’d like to go out with you.

Sure. Easy. Only he feels like he’s got glue on his tongue. There are a few stops to go until they reach Bucky’s. He’s got time to work up his nerve. Bucky has been flipping through box scores on his phone and reading them out. As the subway slows again, Steve prepares himself for the big moment. He can do this. So what if it’s been years? Sam is right. Bucky has made him see that he doesn’t have to be alone any longer, has made him see the possibility of happiness with someone else. And he wants that, so badly. Bucky is worth the risk. After this stop, he’s going to do it.

Only Bucky suddenly stands up and grabs the seat railing. Steve looks up in surprise.

“I’ve got to get off here and then transfer, so I can go straight to my sister’s place.”

Steve does his best to conceal his disappointment, but can feel his face drain of expression. Oh. He didn’t realize Bucky wouldn’t go home first. Why didn’t he think to ask him that? Bucky looks away to the subway doors, then back to Steve, as if he wants to say something else, but doesn’t. The subway’s brakes are squealing madly. They’ve almost stopped; he’s got to say something.

“Oh…sure thing then. I’ll see you in a couple of days?”

Jesus, that wasn’t what he wanted to say at all. He should give himself a smack on the head and save Natasha the trouble.

But Bucky leans over the space between them anyway and grants him one of those bone-melting smiles. “Yeah…and thanks for the ticket. We should do this again sometime.”

Steve manages to nod happily. “I’d like that.”

Then he is gone, and Steve is left alone with the regret that swirls around inside his head. He didn’t tell him. The last few stops to get to his house seem to take forever.

-

Once he reaches home, Strider acts like he’s been gone for a thousand years, crying and rolling over and jumping up on his legs. He laughs as he bends down on one knee in his foyer to give him a good rub down. After that, Strider goes outside and pees for a good twenty seconds. That dog could really hold it.

When Steve is out, he generally gives Strider the run of the place. He normally commandeers the couch and snores while Steve is gone, anyway. He doesn’t destroy things or pee everywhere, so Steve rarely if ever uses the crate he has set up in his study for him. The door stays open, with a blanket inside. Strider may go in there for a nap occasionally, but even at night, more often than not, he hops up on the bed and sleeps down on one corner. The mattress has a Steve-sized indentation of one side and a Strider-sized indentation caddy-corner to it.

That night he has dreams about Bucky, dreams in which Natasha keeps telling him that Bucky is flirting with him but he’s too stupid to see it. Then Sam appears and tells him that Bucky’s going to find someone else to be with if Steve doesn’t stop being stupid and get his head out of his ass. Then Bucky himself is looking at him with sad eyes, asking him, “Why won’t you flirt with me, Steve?”

When Steve wakes, he is feeling a little pissed off at Nat and Sam for calling him stupid, but the gist of the dream sticks with him. To this point he hasn’t been consciously flirting; he’s been trying not to, and apparently failing. What would happen if he, you know, put a little effort into it? Hopefully he could figure out what Bucky’s real intentions are, because he really can’t keep denying that he wants him. In every way, shape, and form. Co-worker or not. He wants Bucky. It’s time to find out if Bucky wants him.

-

Sam comes over later in the day to work on his car. They have the garage door open and the Mustang in the center of it. Steve’s truck is down by the street curb to make room. As Sam is piling on another layer of wax, because apparently forty-two isn’t enough, Steve talks about their time at the game, and then about his dream.

To his credit, Sam does not call him stupid when Steve tells him how he was going to confess his feelings on the subway, but didn’t. Instead he seems happy that Steve even thought about expressing his feelings, and encourages him to keep looking for the right opportunity.

“Fair warning though,” he says as he starts buffing the hood. “You may have competition soon. I heard Darcy badgering him about whether he prefers blonds or brunets. He was trying to blow her off, but you know Darcy. She is not a woman you can ignore.” He moves to the other side of the hood. “She may be trying to get him out on a date with someone else.”

Leaning against the edge of the work table that runs the length of the garage on one side, Steve is silent a moment. Then the curiosity gets the better of him. “What did he say?”

Sam’s smile is infectious. “Blonds.”

-

Steve goes in to work next shift feeling invigorated with new purpose. Bucky has been his crewmate for more than a month, and it’s been one of the happiest months he can remember. There is still a tiny knot of doubt in the back of his head, telling him not to screw up something so good, so he’s a little relieved he didn’t get a chance to spill his guts on the subway. He can test the waters first by trying some flirting, and see where that leads.

If Bucky shuts down on him, he’ll know he needs to back off right away and be content with friendship. And if he doesn’t shut down? Don’t put the cart before the horse.

It turns out to be a slow work shift, so the day doesn’t lack for chances. The engines and MIDI get washed first thing in the morning, and their training session is completed with only one call for the paramedics. Steve and Thor have just finished submitting training and inspection reports. They decide to head down to the fitness room and try to get in a quick workout. Steve likes to run on the treadmill, while Thor prefers the weight machines.

They have both changed into shorts and t-shirts and walk past Sam, who is pretending to watch a TV show but in reality is taking a nap in one of the arm chairs. Bucky is nowhere to be found, until they reach the fitness room. Steve’s heart gives a few extra pitter-patters at the sight of him, lying on the incline bench, pressing a big stack of weight.

The machinery in the room is a multi-station apparatus, and Thor heads for a leg press station on the opposite side. Steve enters the room a little more slowly, eyes on the supine form of his crewmate. He looks a bit sweaty already, like he’s been down here for a while. As he presses the weight up, his bicep and pectoral muscles are bulging out everywhere.

Nonchalantly, Steve takes up position to start stretching where he can keep his eyes on him. He props one leg up onto the seat of the bicep curl station and leans in to stretch his hamstring. Thor had smirked at him as he moved past, but now his prying eyes are thankfully facing away from them. Bucky finishes his set and sits up, giving Steve a smile.

Steve returns it and asks, “You gonna be using the treadmill?”

“Nope,” Bucky shakes his head. “It’s all yours.”

He gets up and moves to the lat pull, one station closer to Steve’s position. Steve had looked down to change out the leg he was stretching, but can’t keep his eyes from creeping back up to Bucky’s form. His shirt is definitely damp in places and is clinging to the sculpted muscles of his chest. He is imagining shirtless Bucky when he is caught staring.

“Is my shirt on inside out?” Bucky asks teasingly, as he pulls out the pin and moves it down to adjust the weight.

Not missing a beat, Steve deadpans, “Yeah. You should take it off and turn it the other way around.”

Bucky’s face shows surprise, and Steve is a little surprised at himself, too. He does remember how to flirt. He switches to a quad stretch, pulling his foot up to his rear. Bucky faces in toward the machinery, away from Steve, and grabs onto the lat pull bar. “But then you’d see all my tattoos,” is his tart rejoinder.

Steve stares at his back. For the most part, out of a sense of professional courtesy, he averts his eyes if they are in the bunk room and Bucky is changing his clothes. No one likes to be stared at. But he did see Bucky heading into the bathroom with no shirt on once, and doesn’t remember any tattoos. Taken by surprise, he was looking then, examining every inch of bare skin his thirsty eyes could drink in, before catching himself. Bucky looks magnificent, all smooth skin and hard outline of muscle. But tattoos?

“What tattoos?” he asks, and Bucky swings the bar he’s holding on to around so he can see Steve’s face.

“So you were looking,” he purrs, and his smile is blinding.

Steve feels a blush immediately start to bloom over his cheeks. Before he can come up with a response though, Bucky turns back away from him and adds matter of factly, “Actually the only tat I have is right next to where I got shot.”

Steve’s gaze latches on to that perfect ass and he tries to guess where Bucky is inked. “Really?” he wonders out loud, and Bucky chuckles dryly.

“Made you look.”

He sneaks a peek at Steve once again before sitting down at the station, and his smile is still going strong. Steve feels a second wave of redness spread over his face.

“Jerk,” he responds, but can’t help laugh along with him.

He shakes his head as he gives up and jumps onto the treadmill to start his run. Thor, pounding away on the leg press, has been ignorant of their entire conversation. Steve is feeling quite good; round one hasn’t really proven that Bucky is interested in him, only that he has caught Steve checking him out. He views it as a positive sign—he didn’t seem to mind that Steve was checking him out.

He’s good at flirting, Steve realizes. You’re going to have to step up your game. Still, he is secretly pleased as he ramps the treadmill up. He manages to get in a good run before stopping to grab a quick shower, actually jogging for a little longer than he normally would. That’s what happens when you start daydreaming about your hot co-worker and don’t pay attention to the clock.

As Steve walks into the dormitory style room the men share, he glances around and sits down on his bunk to take off his shoes. At first he doesn’t notice anything is amiss. Thor is presumably in one of the showers, and Bucky is sitting on his own bunk, just putting his shoes on. His hair is damp, shiny and sleek, and Steve can pick up his clean scent from several feet away. It is difficult not to breathe in too deeply to take it into his lungs.

Bucky smiles at him and jokes, “You missed your chance to see all of my tattoos.”

Steve grins. “I’ll try to be a better stalker next time.”

This makes Bucky snort, an indelicate but delightful sound. Steve is glad he is sitting down and not directly facing him, because his cock took a sudden jump at the thought of seeing him naked, whether that’s what he meant to imply or not. Then his eyes catch something behind Bucky, and his smile grows wider.

“What’s up with that?” he asks, and Bucky turns around to see what he is referring to.

It is Clint’s locker. Each crewmate has a tall, freestanding locker at the foot of his bed for personal items. Clint’s has been sealed shut with layer upon layer of Saran Wrap. Bucky chortles a bit and guesses, “Thor must be getting his revenge already. It was like that when I came out of the shower.”

Thor enters the room at that moment and Steve gives him a salute. “Nice job. Admirable use of kitchen supplies.”

The tall blond gives him a serious look. “The gauntlet was thrown down, Steven.” He sets his toiletry bag down on his bunk and opens his locker. “And I do not shrink from a challenge.”

“Clearly,” Steve agrees, and gets into his own locker for his toiletry bag and change of clothes. He’s looking forward to a nice shower, because his shirt is sticking to him all the way down his back and his chest. No sooner has he turned to walk to the bathrooms when the alarm sounds.

“Fuck,” he swears loudly, and both Bucky and Thor laugh at his misfortune.

Steve drops everything, he and Thor both grab their shoes, and all three take off at a run.

They are called to the high school, where some smoke has been seen in the swimming pool area. Preschool children were having daytime lessons and their teacher reported a thin, hazy cloud hanging over the water. When their two engines pull up, along with Tony and Darcy in their car, the entire student body has already been evacuated. Hundreds of students are milling around in the parking lot. The preschoolers, who were still wet and wrapped up in towels, were permitted to stay in the lobby of the school.

Thor, Sam, Bucky and Steve are immediately sent in to do a sweep and search for the source. They aren’t wearing their SCBA but carry hand-held radios for communication. The source is readily found when Steve and Bucky check the pool’s pump room. An electrical panel is oozing grey smoke; they radio out the information and quickly use the appropriate fire extinguisher to take care of the panel. Then the student body can start being moved back to their classrooms.

The pump room is quite hot and humid just by nature of being in a swimming pool area, not because of any fire, and Steve was already sweaty enough when they got there. Now with gear and protective clothing and humid environment combined, he’s sweating like no tomorrow. Bucky comments on his discomfort level after Steve wipes his brow for the tenth time.

“How you feeling there, champ?” he needles, as they are waiting for the smoke to clear.

“Gross and disgusting,” Steve answers honestly.

“Really, it’s a good look for you,” Bucky says to him, and for a moment Steve can’t tell whether he’s being serious, until the tell-tale smile creeps across his face.

Steve opts to give him the finger, and heads outside when Thor and Sam enter to check out how things are going. He desperately needs some cool air. Once he steps out he feels much better, though his damp clothes are sticking to him everywhere underneath his coat and trousers. He walks over to speak to Tony, but is accosted by Darcy instead.

“Hey you, I’ve got a bone to pick. Get over here!” Darcy calls out to him. She is standing by the car, while Tony is over speaking to the school principle. The students and faculty are all far enough away and are starting to be shepherded back into the building, so no one will hear their conversation.

Obediently Steve approaches her, wondering what this is about. “Hey Darcy. How’s it going?”

“How’s it going?” she repeats, sounding a little miffed. “Steve, how come you never told me? I have to hear it from Nat that you and Bucky are a thing?” She raises both hands into the air. “All those dates I set up, and you never mentioned your preferences to me?” She whispers the last few words, even though there are no others within earshot.

Steve can tell that she’s not really angry with him, just a little put out. Kind of like he is, with Natasha and her loose lips spreading things like this around.

“We are not a thing,” he whispers back firmly. “And I never told you because I didn’t really think it was important at the time.”

Darcy glares at him and folds her arms across her chest. Steve squirms. Darcy waits.

“Okay, okay, so I like him, I admit it. Please don’t start telling everyone you know.”

Darcy sighs. “She isn’t telling everyone she knows. She told me. We’re friends. She was excited, and so am I!”

Steve can’t help the eye roll, much as he tries. “Darcy, we don’t…we’re not…nothing’s even happened yet! It’s nobody else’s business,” he tries to explain. He wishes he and Bucky were a thing. But they’re not. The last thing he needs is for the rumor mill to eventually get around to Bucky himself.

Darcy clasps his elbows in her hands to calm him. “Okay, relax. I’m not going to butt in this time. At least now I know why Bucky was giving me the big run-around.”

Steve is silent a moment. “What?” is all he can get out.

Darcy flips her hair back with one hand. “I’ve been trying to set him up with a guy I know, and he’s been putting me off for weeks. Now I know why.”

Steve licks his lips nervously. “Why?” Suddenly his body feels tense, and he wants to know why in a really bad way.

Darcy just looks at him, with a small smile chasing around her face. “Steve, I don’t know if you know this, but you’re a catch. And Bucky’s not stupid.”

Steve feels a flush of embarrassment as well as giddiness at the compliment. “So he…he didn’t say anything to you…about me…” he stutters.

Darcy’s smile widens. “That’s for me to know, and you to find out. So go find out.”

She points back in the direction of the school and Steve turns meekly to go. “Yes, ma’am,” he says.

Darcy calls out to him before he’s more than three steps away. “Hey Steve, before you do?”

Steve looks back at her, waiting for her to finish her thought.

“You need a shower.”

Steve shares her smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

It is just after three AM when the alarm goes. Steve wakes from a very deep sleep, feeling disoriented momentarily. Oh yeah, he’s at work. Too bad, because he was having a really great dream about Bucky, too, full of kissing and touching. He’s got that blissful feeling when you wake and don’t realize yet that your awesome dream didn’t really happen.

Wait—there it is. Bucky wasn’t kissing him. Damnit. But Jesus Christ his cock thinks that dream was really great, too. Damnit. What a singularly bad time for an erection. Thankfully things are too crazy for anyone to notice, and the sudden flurry of activity around him pretty much takes care of any arousal that lingers.

He rolls out of bed at the same time everyone else does and starts pulling on clothes and shoes as needed. Steve usually sleeps in shorts and t-shirt, uniform at the ready. Bucky is bleary-eyed next to him, with a spectacular case of bed head. He looks like a bird has tried to make a nest amongst his wavy brown locks. Silently they regard each other’s rumpled appearances, then Steve gives him a head nod, eyes up on Bucky’s hair.

“Looking good,” he teases hurriedly.

“Bite me.”

Bucky is not a morning person. Or a middle of the night person. Steve thinks it’s cute, how grumpy he is when he first wakes. They all race for the door, slide down the poles and pile on their gear. Tony and Darcy are also on the move—it’s a house fire. At night. Not good. Steve hopes the people in the house are already out. One of the worst things a firefighter has to do is fumble through a dark, smoky environment looking for victims.

At least in the middle of the night, there’s not much traffic to fight through. In minutes they have arrived at the scene; it is a two story colonial-style house with smoke billowing from the roof vents already. Arrival at a fire is controlled chaos. The Battalion Chief has information about the type of structure, where fire hydrants are located, and so on, but also must collect information at the site. The BC relays commands to firefighting teams through the command technician, Darcy.

All are equipped with two-way radios, as well as their other equipment. Steve and Bucky climb out of their engine and start donning the rest of their gear. They have searchlights turned on to give them more illumination than just the streetlight can provide. If Bucky is nervous, he doesn’t show it. He is all business, quickly unloading what they will need alongside Steve: entry tools like an axe, their safety lines, and a hand light. They must activate their PASS, so that if they stop moving for more than thirty seconds while in a building, an alarm is triggered and their location sent to command.

In addition, they must have their helmet, SCBA mask and air tank donned. Smoke at a fire scene is just as dangerous as the heat and flames and can be very toxic, especially with all of the synthetic materials used in home construction in the modern age. Their tanks provide enough air for thirty to sixty minutes, then must be switched out. They get them pulled onto their backs, and Steve checks their radio link.

“Ready?”

Bucky nods. “Ready.”

Loaded for bear, Steve, Bucky, Sam and Thor are ready to go. A ladder company from the station neighboring theirs has also been called in. Two firefighters from that crew are ventilating the house. They cut a four by four hole in the roof to allow the smoke to escape and also some of the heat.

The neighbor who reported the fire has been frantically speaking to Tony. She is a middle-aged woman in nightgown, robe and slippers, who luckily has a terrier with a penchant for going outside in the middle of the night. She saw smoke coming from next door, grabbed her dog, ran in and called 911, then ran back and had been pounding on the door in a panic. No one answered, she said, though her neighbors were a sweet couple in their late twenties with two young children, who had been home earlier in the evening.

They may have been overcome by smoke already. No working smoke detectors. Tony directs Sam and Thor around to a back door, while Steve and Bucky take the front. They do a quick check to verify it is locked before Bucky breaks it down. It’s embarrassing to find out you hacked through a door that was unlocked.

Standing behind it first, they open it carefully. There is always the danger that opening a door and letting in fresh air will ignite a fire that had been running out of oxygen to burn. Grey smoke rolls out, and Steve knows they will not be able to stand upright to perform their search.

“Crawl?” Bucky says to him through their radio, and Steve replies in the affirmative.

In the dark he can barely see Bucky’s face behind his face shield, but his voice is steady and calm. Their safety ropes are attached outside already, for those parts of the search that require them to leave the guiding influence of the wall, or if they should get lost trying to find their way out. They drop to all fours and enter the home, heading left. Living room.

They each take a wall. Steve makes a slash mark on the wall to signify the start of the search in this room. He and Bucky will meet up halfway around the space and come back down the center. They must feel their way, checking up on furniture and on the floor for any potential victims. Progress is agonizingly slow when you are searching.

There is a large padded something with a hard, contoured edge on the floor against one wall that Steve identifies as a dog bed. He is dismayed to find it empty, because that means the animal may be hiding somewhere in the house and would be difficult to find. When he checks up on the couch for bodies, he also feels underneath it to make sure the dog is not under there.

“Dog bed is empty,” he communicates to Bucky, who radios back his understanding.

This room is clear, so Steve turns his slash mark into an X and they move on. There is a small powder room and then a stairwell leading to the second story. They have not seen any flames yet, which means the fire most likely started in the basement. They bear crawl up the stairs and find the first bedroom door open.

Steve makes his slash on the door and they enter; the bed turns out to be on Bucky’s side of the room. By the time Steve gets around there, he can make out Bucky with an unconscious boy of about six, already out of the bed and ready to be taken outside. They radio that they have one victim located and mark the door on their way out, bringing the boy between them in a sling, blanket taken from his bed.

Thor and Sam have radioed out there are two adult victims in the first floor master bedroom. They and the two members of the ladder team are bringing them out. Once Steve and Bucky reach the front door they rise and get the boy to Natasha and Clint, who take over and allow them to rush back in. Once again they crawl up the stairs and down the hall to the next door, which is closed.

After making their slash on the door, they open it and crawl in. This room is much less smoky and with a hand light they can make out the bed on the other side before smoke filters in and obscures their view. There is another young boy, maybe four years of age, in the bed. He wakes when Bucky shakes the bed in warning and immediately screams.

With children, rescues are tricky; the sight and smell of smoke filling your bedroom and the appearance of strangers with masks is very frightening, but the boy seems to understand they are here to help. After his initial shock wears off, he comes with them willingly, staying between them as they crawl back out and down the stairs. The boy starts to cough and then cry once they get out to the lawn and he sees all the commotion.

Another MIDI from the ladder company has arrived to care for victims, allowing Sam and Thor to head back in and complete the search. They pass each other by the door.

“One more bedroom upstairs,” Steve radios to them, and Thor gives him a gloved thumbs up sign.

“First floor complete,” Sam replies. “Fire seat is in the basement; door is hot.”

Tony has directed the ladder company crew to begin dragging hoses out in preparation for fire suppression, but they will not start until Sam and Thor have called in that their search is complete. The boy he and Bucky brought out has gone straight to his brother, who has regained consciousness. The parents, lying on gurneys on the ground, are still being worked on by Sam, Clint, and the paramedics from the neighboring station.

The younger boy, a towhead with a short cut and big eyes, cries out and hugs his brother where he sits wrapped up in his blanket in the back of the MIDI. Steve and Bucky stay with them to make sure they are both okay. The younger boy is upset upon seeing his parents lying there and starts to cry even harder. The six year old, also blond, asks him, “Did you see Tucker? Where’s Tucker?”

His brother shakes his head and joins the cry. “WHERE’S TUCKER?”

Steve looks at the pair, helmet off and mask pushed up off his face. “Who’s Tucker?”

The older brother has eyes just as big, now pleading with Steve. “He’s our dog. Please, you have to get Tucker!”

“What kind of dog is he?”

“German Shepherd,” the boy says through sobs.

Steve looks down and checks his tank gauge. Ten minutes of air left. “Where would he go if he was scared?”

Bucky has also checked his gauge. “Steve, I only have a couple of minutes left. I need to switch out.”

“Okay, go,” Steve tells him, and looks back at the boys. The smallest boy, tears streaming down his face, tells him, “Tucker goes behind the couch.”

Damnit. “In that room by the front door?” Steve clarifies, and both boys nod.

He takes off without a second thought, pulling on his mask and helmet as he goes. “Going in the front door to living room,” he radios, and Bucky responds immediately.

“Steve, wait!”

“You’ll be right behind me,” he says with assurance.

Steve!

He hears Bucky’s voice but doesn’t stop. He enters by the front door and drops to his knees. The heat and smoke are worse. They need to hurry. There is a dull, red glow that tells him the fire is breaking out of the basement. Steve crawls to the couch. He went right past it earlier but didn’t check behind it. He hates it when a family pet is lost. All he can think about is getting to that dog before Sam and Thor signal that the search is complete and Tony calls for fire suppression to start.

An image has filled his head that he can’t shake. Strider, about thirty pounds underweight, nearly skin and bones, with dirty, matted hair and terrified eyes. Strider, cowering in a corner and whimpering, the day he rescued the stray from a structure fire. If he had been even one minute later, the fire would’ve trapped him and killed him. He needs to get to this dog before the same thing happens. He finds the couch and pushes it away from the wall on one end. He can’t see much but he can feel with his gloved hand. There—a ball of fur on the floor. The dog isn’t moving. He drags the animal out from behind the furniture and turns.

Bucky is directly behind him, ready to help move the dog and get him out of the house. Together they haul Tucker to the door; Steve picks him up and carries him the rest of the way. A lot of things happen at once. The boys burst into a fresh round of tears when they see the limp form of their dog. Natasha meets him as he lays Tucker down onto the ground. He knows she will do whatever she can and then some, for she also has a huge soft spot for dogs.

Sam’s voice comes over the radio. “Primary search complete.”

Bucky has already headed for the hoses on their pumper engine. Darcy begins barking orders she is relaying from Tony, giving them each their assignments. Steve and Bucky, Sam and Thor are all on interior duty. The ladder truck crew already has one hose attached to a hydrant. They have broken a basement window in order to spray in from the outside first. Steve goes to stand next to Bucky and help him pull their hose down from the top of the engine.

“Is the dog alive?” Bucky asks him through their radio.

“Don’t know,” Steve says grimly. He thinks Bucky’s voice sounds more curt than usual, but it may just be the situation. Dragging the hose behind him, Bucky steps away and up toward the house. Steve gets the pressure set to Darcy’s command and switches out his air tank before rejoining his crewmate at the front door. Sam and Thor are ready to go as well. The push the door open all the way and enter the home.

-

It is a long time later when they finally return to the station, already daylight, already past the time when their shift should have ended. The fire is no more. There was significant damage to the home, but the good news is that all of the family members survived, including Tucker. Natasha was able to revive him with oxygen, not even caring about the mouth-to-mouth jokes she would have to endure afterwards.

Even after a fire is extinguished, there is still a lot of work for them to do. By the time they return to the station, they are all exhausted. Bucky is quiet next to him on the ride back. Steve gets no immediate response when he tells him he did a great job, which starts to make him nervous. He glances at him when they pull up to a stop sign near the firehouse, and sees a tight-lipped, angry-faced partner, avoiding his gaze. Uh-oh. Steve waits until they are back at the station and getting out of their gear to ask him what’s wrong.

“What’s wrong?” Bucky repeats, and glares at him. “You don’t even know? You’re unbelievable!” he snaps, and then goes mute when Sam and Thor climb down out of their vehicle.

Steve’s eyes are big. He has no idea what bee is in Bucky’s bonnet, but he’s taking it seriously, whatever it is. The air in the room feels ice cold. Sam and Thor are quick to sense the tense atmosphere, and Sam gives Steve a look that says what’s going on?

Shrugging minutely, Steve mouths back “later” and finishes cleaning his turnout. Bucky has been studiously ignoring him but whispers angrily once he’s finished and ready to go upstairs to shower. “We need to talk in private.”

Then he stomps off. Steve replays the run in his mind while taking his own shower, trying to pinpoint what Bucky is so ticked off about. Does he think going back in for the dog was an unnecessary risk? When he is clean but dead on his feet, he goes to the common area to look for his partner. Seeing only crew members from the next shift, he walks downstairs with Strider.

No Bucky. Puzzled, he takes Strider out the front door, in case his dog has to pee. There is Bucky, striding back and forth in front of the station. As soon as Steve appears, he walks over and demands angrily, “So what the hell was all that? Do you always go into burning buildings alone, or just on special occasions?”

Steve is speechless. That’s what he’s mad about? A few seconds time?

“You were right behind me!” he says defensively.

“You never go in alone. Never! Isn’t that rule number one?” He runs his hand through his still-wet hair distractedly and Steve shuffles his feet nervously. Yes, firefighters work in teams for a reason—so no one goes into a dangerous situation alone. Probably he had stretched that definition some in the past. No one had ever called him on it, though.

Bucky is red-faced and shaken. “I thought we were partners, but I guess you don’t need me around at all.”

In an effort to calm him down, Steve holds out his hands. “Whoa…you’re overreacting. It’s not that bad, Buck.”

“Not that bad?” Bucky’s tone turns toward the irate end of the spectrum. “That’s your defense?” He rubs a hand over his face tiredly. “Whatever. Obviously you know best. I’m just a rookie, right?” he finishes sarcastically, and turns to walk away.

“Buck!” Steve calls out to him, and he stops and turns back.

“I’m going home. I can’t talk about this anymore right now. I’ll see you later.”

He flips back around and starts walking, not even waiting for Steve’s response. Steve is still standing there in shock when Sam emerges to head for the subway entrance. He stops short when he sees his friend.

“You talk to Bucky?” he asks.

“Sort of. He’s really angry with me.”

“Because you went in for that dog alone?”

Steve looks at him in surprise. “How’d you know?”

Sam motions with his head to the street. “Come on, I’ll walk home with you and Strider.”

They shamble off down the sidewalk, Strider in between them, wagging his tail happily. Steve, on the other hand, is glum.

“It was only a few seconds head start,” he tries to explain. “I don’t see why it’s such a big deal. He knew exactly where I was going.”

Sam shakes his head. “Steve, man, you know I love ya, but you’ve always been reckless like that. And Tony always indulged you too much.”

“Reckless!” Steve protests. “I’ve never put my crewmates in danger, Sam!”

“No, of course not,” Sam agrees, before Steve’s hackles get raised. “You only put yourself in danger.”

They stop at an intersection and Sam pushes the crosswalk button. “Think about it,” he coaches him. “You just got a new partner who doesn’t know you or your habits well. You and Tony were a team for years, had plenty of time to build up the kind of trust needed to do what you just did.”

The light changes and Steve gives Strider’s lead a tug to signal him. They cross the intersection while Steve mulls this over.

Sam continues. “He’s just getting used to being here, and a fire is the most stressful situation we can go into.”

After a short block, they turn into Steve’s neighborhood. He sighs wearily. “And he just lost his crewmate in a fire. Shit.” Steve berates himself. “I should have known better.”

Sam claps him on the back. “Yeah, well, live and learn.”

They pause at a corner to let a car go through. “Talk to him. Don’t wait for the next shift,” he advises.

“No, I won’t,” Steve assures him.

“I’m going to catch the subway down at the next crosswalk,” Sam says, and turns away from the direction Steve must go.

“You want a ride home?” Steve asks. “I don’t mind.”

“Naw, I’m good,” Sam declares, and waves as he heads off.

Steve waves too, and he and Strider continue the other way till he reaches his house. Immediately he crashes and sleeps for a solid four hours, trying to make up for the lost sleep last night. It is mid-afternoon by the time he wakes, and the sun is traveling across his bedroom. Strider is sleeping on the floor in a sun spot.

He grabs his phone and checks for messages—none from Bucky. He texts him.

“I want to talk to you. Can I come over?”

In just a moment the answer comes back.

“What for?”

Yep. Still pissed off.

“So I can apologize.” He types in the words and hits send. There is a longer pause this time before he gets a reply.

“Fine.”

Steve makes a slightly exasperated sound. He’s not going to make this easy for him, apparently. Then another text comes in.

“Bring Pringles.”

That one makes him smile just a little. Bucky has a weakness for Pringles. Steve takes another shower to fully wake himself up, stops at the convenience store for potato chips, and drives over to Bucky’s apartment. At this time of day there is street parking available not far from his building.

As he knocks on the door, he is slightly nervous. The whole way over he’s been thinking about what he should say. Bucky must feel like he doesn’t value him as a partner. He’s got to make him see that just the opposite is true and that their working relationship is more important than anything else.

The door opens and Bucky stands back to let him in, but there is no welcome this time, only silence and eyes that look hurt and a touch suspicious, as if he doubts his intentions of apologizing. Steve strives to change that immediately and holds out the can of Pringles.

“I’m sorry, Buck. I really am.”

Bucky takes the can guardedly and looks at it. Sour cream and onion. Steve knows they’re his favorite. He allows Steve to step past him, then closes the door. He heads for the couch and sits down; Steve takes the chair opposite. Bucky also looks like he has showered recently, and is wearing jeans and a blue New York Giants shirt. Steve, who hardly thought about throwing clothes on at all before he went out the door, has on jeans and a plain white tee.

“I never meant to make you feel like I don’t care about what you think,” he starts off awkwardly. “I know we need to work together, and I wasn’t doing that.”

Bucky pops the top off the can of chips and holds it out towards Steve as an offering. Steve reaches out and takes a few, but doesn’t put them in his mouth yet.

“I promise not to treat you like that ever again. I guess maybe I’m just set in my ways, and I feel so comfortable around you, I forget we haven’t been partners long.”

He puts the chips into his mouth whole and crunches down on them. Bucky has also taken some, and is munching on them noisily. He swallows and regards Steve silently for several seconds before speaking.

“I know. And I’m sorry I reacted like that.” He is quiet again, considering something. “I think I need to tell you what happened to Brock now. All of it.”

Steve nods. “Okay,” he says and gestures for the can.

Bucky holds it out between them as he talks. The words come out slowly at first, then faster as the story tumbles out of him. When he first found out he was being partnered with Brock, he was thrilled. Working with a man who had so much experience, and such a great reputation as a firefighter, he thought it would be a great opportunity.

And at first, it was. Brock was a treasure trove of knowledge, and Bucky didn’t mind getting ordered around at every turn. He was a probie, and thought that was the norm. But then he began to see…Brock acted one way in front of the other members of the station, and another way when they were alone. He had a terrible temper that he concealed from everyone else, but when no one was around, Bucky felt the full force of it.

Even doing chores out of order from the assignment board earned him a nasty chewing-out. Brock’s mood swings were horrible and steadily growing worse. They didn’t bond as a team at all. He felt like Brock hated him being there. Bucky grew to be very unhappy, even though Brock’s work ethic was good and he learned a lot. It was the attitude that really got to him. Brock started yelling at him more and more, calling him a dumb rookie who didn’t know shit. It got so bad that Bucky began to lose confidence in his own judgment and skill. He became so used to hearing how he was a stupid rookie that he started to believe it himself.

He had been considering asking for a transfer even back then, but barring any unusual circumstances, new hires were required to remain at a post for at least a year before making such a request. Those were the rules, and Bucky didn’t feel comfortable enough to complain about Brock’s behavior to the BC. What good would it do? There was only one other person at the station he felt he could talk to: the command technician, Bruce.

Bruce was quiet and unassuming, but kind. He at least was someone Bucky could have normal conversation with during down time, when Brock was indifferent to his existence at the station. Bucky never told him specifically what was going on, but Bruce had seen how miserable he was and encouraged him just to stick it out for the year. So that’s what he’d been doing, just trying to hold on until he could put in a transfer request.

And then the fire happened. The day Brock died, the fire call had come in shortly after the start of their shift. As soon as Bucky and Brock got into their ladder truck, Brock had started criticizing him, seemingly in an even worse mood than usual.

The fire was already a two-alarm when they arrived, meaning more than one company had been summoned. It was a four story office building that was currently unoccupied, which is the reason the rumor of arson had been floating around after the fact. They did not have to perform any search for victims, but they would do what they could to save the property.

Brock and Bucky were ordered around to the other side of the building from incident command and to deploy their ladder to get to the top of the building. Once they had assessed the roof they were to report on its status. Brock, as always, went first, with Bucky trailing behind. Bucky had barely reached the top of the ladder when Brock was already radioing down that the roof was unstable.

Weird thing was, Bucky didn’t see any signs of instability. When he asked his partner what that decision was based on, he went on a tirade about Bucky second-guessing him, and how useless and idiotic rookies were. Just the usual, and Bucky couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Brock was the experienced firefighter, and his report was the one IC got.

So down they came; they were instructed to break some second story windows for ventilation and go in there to check above the fire floor for hidden fire extensions. Three other hose crews were already inside on the first floor. Exit paths had been identified. The plan was to continue aggressive fire knock-down until the blaze was under control, or it became unsafe to remain inside. Bucky radioed down receipt of their order, and with gear ready and hose line stretched, they entered the building.

Bucky pauses here and sighs, and Steve can see he is trying to organize his thoughts.

“Sorry, I’m just trying to remember everything in the right order. I’ve been trying not to think about it since it happened.”

Bucky looks apologetic, as if he should be sorry he’s been trying not to dwell on such a traumatic event.

Steve holds up one hand. “It’s okay, take your time.”

Bucky gathers himself and continues. The smoke contamination was bad, so it was difficult to see much even in daylight. They were in a long hallway and when they reached a junction with another hall, Brock went straight through. As Bucky passed through the center, he could see to the left another long passage. Through the smoke he could detect boxes upon boxes piled at the far end, some of which were burning. The fire most likely came up an open stairwell or through the void spaces in the walls and had spread to the second floor.

Immediately Bucky stopped and yelled at Brock that there were flames. Standard operating procedure was to turn down that hall and start spraying there. But Brock didn’t stop. He had them stretching their line further and further into the interior of the building, and Bucky couldn’t understand why. Did he not see the flames? Brock was a good twenty feet ahead of him now, and still moving.

So, he had stopped dragging the hose, forcing Brock to stop as well and turn around to deal with him. All he got, however, was more flak about not following orders and not being a good partner. Brock was the senior partner, not Bucky. But Bucky had begun to worry about the soundness of the building the deeper in they got, and the more time that passed.

The floor had started to feel a little spongy to him and hot even under his rubber boots, signs that collapse could come in the near future. And once inside the building, communication was patchy. They only got snatches of words from other teams, garbled and faint. He had no idea how things were going on the first floor. Bucky asked Brock to come back, and was again refused.

Confusion is etched on Bucky’s face. “I just don’t understand why he wouldn’t listen to me.”

Steve had to agree with him. Fires are a living, breathing animal. No two are the same, and fire behavior is unpredictable. Why would Brock bypass a known hotspot, and be so cavalier about it? Was he that overconfident in his abilities? Unwilling to accept Bucky’s assessment of the situation over his own?

The tipping point came when Bucky outright refused to go any further and asked Brock to back their line out to the other hall. That only resulted in his partner becoming belligerent, telling Bucky he knew how to do his job without Bucky’s help, and if he was a coward he could go back outside where it was safe.

Steve is stunned at this; that’s not what partnership is about. It’s about love and trust. Bucky recounts it all factually, without emotion, like it was no big deal. Steve's heart aches for him, silently and stalwartly bearing that kind of verbal abuse for months. How deceiving outward appearances could be. Brock had been a part of that station for years, and no one knew what a bastard he was? Or did they just turn a blind eye?

Bucky pauses again, and Steve can see the lump in his throat working up and down. Steve can guess what’s coming, and feels his own stomach lurch. He can’t help imagining himself and Bucky in that position—to see the danger coming and not be able to prevent it, to know your partner is about to be ripped away from you. Even re-living it has to be difficult. Doesn’t matter whether you were close personally or not, it was a dreadful position to be in. That’s a living, breathing, human being next to you. Steve can’t even work up the spit to swallow the chips that are now stuck in his throat.

Bucky’s voice is raw and low. It happened in the blink of an eye and in slow motion at the same time— he was still waiting for Brock to come back to him when they both heard the emergency horn blare from outside, the horn that only sounded when all teams needed to abandon their efforts and evacuate. Brock had spun around toward him, and there was another, more overpowering sound that took over: metal tearing, brick crumbling, and wood cracking. There was a horrendous screeching noise, with the roar of fire behind it.

The floor and walls collapsed down, taking Brock with them. Bucky had jumped back to a more stable portion of flooring that didn’t give. They had both screamed, but Brock’s voice was lost in the horrific noise of the floor failing. There was no way to get down to him, no way to save him. It was nightmarish and unreal, smoke and debris all mixed together, with flames leaping up from somewhere below.

And then he was gone. Bucky can’t even remember getting out of the building, just that somehow he made it back to the ladder before the rest of the floor went. He falls silent after describing how it felt to watch Brock fall, like a part of himself had been lost. It was the worst thing he’d ever witnessed, even including combat, because he himself felt responsible. He felt he’d let his partner down, hadn’t protected him like he should have. That was his job, to have his partner’s back, and he failed. And a man died.

Bucky still holds the can of Pringles, but he and Steve have stopped consuming them. His hand sags down between his knees, along with his head. Steve can’t think of any words at first either. The story is terrible, and terrifying.

“Buck,” Steve starts, and wants to reach out to him, touch him somehow to comfort him. “I’m so very sorry,” he finishes, and the words sound…underwhelming to his ears. “That was an awful thing to go through. I wish I could make it easier for you to bear. Is there anything I can do?”

Bucky lifts his head. “You already have. You all have, just by being you. I almost quit firefighting after that. I couldn’t go back to the firehouse, couldn’t stay there.”

“Your other crewmates though—they were supportive, weren’t they?”

Bucky laughs, but it is dry and without feeling, barely a puff of breath. “Nobody really knows but you. As soon as it happened, I was pulled off the site by my BC and sent home. A Fire Marshall from BFI came to see me. He interviewed me and I told him everything. He told me not to discuss it with anyone else, not my BC, not anyone, because of the investigation.”

Bucky pauses and looks at the Pringles can in his hand, then back to Steve. There is such wretched sadness in his eyes, Steve just wants to wrap his arms around him. “I don’t think anyone even heard us arguing. But afterward…the way they looked at me, the way whispers stopped when I came into the room, I could tell…they blamed me.”

“Buck,” Steve starts sympathetically, “It’s not your fault. You’re not responsible for his actions. It’s terrible that he died, but you know you are not at fault, right?”

“I guess,” Bucky says uncertainly, looking down, and that gets Steve right off his seat and over to the couch next to him.

“No. Not ‘I guess’. Don’t torture yourself over this.” His movement forces Bucky to look at him again, eyes still sad but with the barest tinge of hope shining at their centers.

“I’ve been carrying around so much guilt since it happened. I wanted to tell you earlier, but I was afraid of what you would think, too.”

“I’m glad you told me,” Steve tells him sincerely. “Please stop blaming yourself. When the investigation is over, they’ll say the same thing. But in the meantime, I won’t say anything to the others,” he promises.

“Thanks,” Bucky says, and does looks more at peace, more relaxed than when Steve arrived.

Steve could bang his head against the wall, though, when he thinks about how he went into that house without his backup. Jesus, no wonder the man freaked out afterward. He would have done the same. If Bucky was in danger like that, he’d walk through hellfire and back a dozen times over to get to him. Or maybe lose his mind a dozen times over. He shakes his head slowly.

“I’m sorry, Buck. When I went into that house—”

“You didn’t know,” Bucky allows. He sits back on the couch and looks at the ceiling. “I didn’t think I’d lose it like that.”

“You didn’t,” Steve disagrees kindly. “You did exactly what you should have.”

Bucky smiles faintly. “I am glad you found Tucker. Damn were those kids cute.”

Steve smiles back. “Yeah.”

There is a natural pause in their conversation and he is feeling like he can clear out now that they’ve cleared the air between them. Coming down off the adrenaline rush after the fire, he feels emotionally drained despite getting a little sleep in, and suspects Bucky must feel the same way. They are both rough and in need of some time to digest things. Though it’s unfortunate Bucky had to go through such an ordeal, Steve is glad he trusts him enough to share his story. At least it’s over now and he can put it behind him. He stands to leave and Bucky rises also, rubbing his hands up and down his thighs.

“Steve…before you go,” he begins, but then falters and offers a wan smile. “Enjoy your day off,” he finishes.

“You too.” Steve smiles back, and they are both smiling at each other for no reason. And every reason.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

It is shift fifteen, though Steve has stopped counting them already because he doesn’t think of Bucky as the new guy anymore. Bucky is his crewmate, his partner. His habit. He needs to see him just like he needs to breathe and eat. Darcy’s words the other day have given him hope that Bucky returns his feelings, and he’s holding on to that hope tightly, with both hands.

They’ve become closer still since the house fire and the fallout afterward, with a level of trust reached that makes Steve yearn for even more. When they put their heads close together to talk, it makes him shiver with longing, but at the same time feels natural. Right. He hasn’t professed anything yet, but feels like the bond between them is growing daily. Crewmates, but more than just crewmates.

They are currently sitting with Sam in front of the television, catching up on the noon news, but Steve is only partially paying attention. Strider is sitting at his feet, so instead he is thinking about how he needs to call the vet and make an appointment to have his yearly vaccinations done.

At that moment Sam speaks up. “The answer is no, Steve.”

Steve’s head turns in surprise. “No, what?” he asks, and Sam stands up and nods once in the direction of the TV.

“No, none of us want to go see your sci-fi movie with you. You’re on your own.”

Steve glances at the television commercial currently airing. An ad for Doctor Strange. “But it’s Marvel!” he argues, as if that statement alone makes his case. He does want to see it, and ordinarily he would be able to convince Sam to go with him, even though it’s not really his cup of tea. There is a flash of confusion as he tries to figure out why Sam would bring this up, until the man walks toward him on the way to the kitchen and winks.

“I want to see it.”

It is Bucky, behind Sam. Bucky, who told Sam on his first day he likes Lord of the Rings. Sam stops and turns slowly. “Oh yeahhhhhh,” he drawls. “You’re one of those sci-fi nerds too. I forgot, since you seem so normal otherwise.” He grins widely while Bucky rolls his eyes to the ceiling.

“You really want to see it?” Steve cranes his head around to see past Sam. Movie night? With Bucky? Hell yeah.

“Yeah, I do.”

Sam resumes his course for the kitchen to join Thor as he pulls lunch items out of the fridge, leaving the two of them in the TV area.

“Are you busy this weekend?” Bucky inquires.

“Oh, he’s free!” Thor yells over, and he and Sam both crack up laughing, as if that’s not the oldest running joke at the station.

It is Steve’s turn to roll his eyes now, but then he leans in toward the brunet next to him and whispers in a low tone, “Actually, I am free on Saturday.”

Bucky gives him one of those looks that takes him apart, at the same time a bubble of laughter escapes his lips. “Saturday it is, then.”

-

Later in the day, after responding to a fender-bender accident and another in-home injury, Bucky and Steve are heading out shopping. They are in charge of going to the grocery store and also picking up a cake from a local bakery. They are celebrating the birthday of Clint’s daughter at the firehouse, since he can’t be home to do it in person. They park their engine in the back of the lot and walk in with their rubber boots and trousers on, just in case an alarm is radioed in to them. There have been times in the past that firefighters had to leave groceries behind when they were caught in the middle of a shopping trip.

Steve has the list and is picking items off of shelves, while Bucky pushes the cart. The store is fairly large and not too crowded for this time of day. Steve sends Bucky down the aisle for some bananas, while he checks out the selection of grapes. There are red and green seedless, but Steve prefers red.

He holds up a nice bunch and pulls one off, popping it into his mouth to make sure they’re ripe. Bucky, who is coming back down the aisle towards him, has his mouth open in surprise. He sets down two bunches of bananas.

“Steve, did you just put a grape in your mouth?”

“Yes. Why, did you want me to feed it to you?”

What. Did those words just come out of his mouth? Too late to take them back, even if he wanted to. Which he doesn’t. It’s as if once he gave himself permission to have feelings for Bucky, the floodgates opened. Feelings, all over the place. He’s actually enjoying it, being at the start of a new possible relationship. To want someone, and get a sense of being wanted back, is excellent. Bucky is staring at him and his eyes have widened a hair.

“I…” he falters, like he can’t quite believe those words came out of Steve either. “I just didn’t figure you for a taste tester.”

Steve keeps the bunch of grapes in his hand as Bucky resumes pushing the cart. They move down and cross the next aisle to get potatoes. “It’s just one grape.”

“I know.” Bucky is smiling now.

“And besides,” Steve goes all in, even if he crashes and burns. “If I like them, I’m going to keep them and take them home with me.”

His eyes on Steve, Bucky licks his lips once. “And how do you feel about the grapes you’ve got now?” His eyes flick to the fruit, then back to Steve’s face.

They have stopped in front of the potato display, but Steve’s eyes do not waver from Bucky’s. He sets the grapes down in the basket of their cart. “I think they’re incredible,” he replies, voice soft as silk. “It’s been a long time since I’ve found grapes I like this much.”

Bucky’s eyes could melt glaciers. He opens his mouth to reply when they are interrupted by a middle-aged man who has pulled a bag of potatoes off the stand and is now peering into their cart.

“So what are the taxpayers buying you gents for dinner today?” he asks, and Steve has heard the same question about a thousand different times, so the passive-aggressive quality of the remark has no effect on him anymore.

Out of the corner of his eye he can see Bucky start to get huffy, so he surreptitiously touches his forearm to signal him to stay silent.

“Actually, sir, we buy our own food when we’re on duty,” Steve informs him politely.

The man, short, balding and plump, mumbles an “oh,” and then a “good, then,” and moves off. Steve shoots Bucky a warning look, because he is fidgeting and staring after the man like he wants to say something. He pulls the cart forward in the other direction; when they are out of earshot, Bucky can’t contain himself any longer.

“The nerve of some people,” he complains, flirting moved to the back burner for now.

“Don’t get too worked up over it,” Steve advises his crewmate. “It happens all the time. People just assume things.”

Bucky shrugs and huffs out a breath, but placates Steve nonetheless. “Alright.”

They have already been through dairy and produce. They don’t buy much meat here because Thor has a friend who lives outside the city and has a ranch, where he packages his own fresh beef and pork. That way Thor is satisfied with the quality, and his crewmates think the product coming straight from the rancher tastes better.

After a stop in the dry goods section they hit the check-out line. Steve smiles and looks down his nose at Bucky, seeing a few Thor-unapproved items roll past on the conveyer belt. Bucky merely grins and says, “Sometimes a man just needs Chips Ahoy.”

The sixty-something woman ringing them up agrees wholeheartedly. “Amen to that!” she sings.

They have left the store and are pulling their bags out of the cart to place them on the back seat of their engine when the question comes at Steve from out of the blue.

“How long were you and Tony partners?”

Steve counts up years in his head. “Ten years,” he answers. “About a year after I joined the department.”

Bucky nods thoughtfully and walks around to the other side to climb in. Once seated and on the move, he asks another question, which comes out sounding more like a statement. “You must miss him.”

Steve looks at him curiously. “Well sure, I miss him, but the promotion was a great opportunity for him. Plus, with his bum knee, getting away from the heavy stuff was something he really needed.”

“Tony has a bum knee?”

“Yeah,” Steve says absentmindedly, thinking back. “He blew it out when he was in college. Said he was drunk at a party and jumped out of a window because he thought he could fly.”

Bucky is aghast. “What story was he on?”

“First floor.” Steve says with a grin. “But he tripped over some bushes and tore his ACL.”

Bucky chuckles and Steve can’t help a little giggle. He wished he could have seen that, too. Bucky’s questions leave him wondering where he’s going with this, and as they pull up to a stoplight he looks him square in the face.

“Tony was a great partner… and so are you,” he says firmly, and is gratified to see a smile break across Bucky’s previously pensive-looking face.

“I really…” he starts and then stops. “I really am happy here. I think you’re a fantastic partner to have.”

Traffic is moving again so Steve can’t really look at him properly, the way he wants to. But he can feel the smile on his own face and knows that it’s big. When Bucky adds softly, “I feel very lucky,” Steve thinks his heart just might burst. He physically fights down the urge to take Bucky’s hand in his. The moment feels so special, he just wants to stay frozen in it. Even if nothing else happens between them, this moment is enough to fuel the fire he has burning inside him for quite some time.

The bakery they stop at is a tiny, local place, so there is only one customer in front of them when they walk in. They are waiting when the bell above the door jingles again, signaling another entry. Neither of them turn their head until hearing a familiar voice behind them say, “Well isn’t this cliché.”

It is Maria, although sans her police uniform. They greet her and Maria nods in Bucky’s direction. “I’m glad I ran into you two, actually. Bucky, can I talk to you for a second?”

Steve and Bucky are both puzzled, but he replies in the affirmative, so Steve volunteers to get the cake. It is their turn up at the counter so Maria and Bucky move over one side for a measure of privacy. Another customer has come in and gotten in line behind Steve. As he waits for the college-aged girl in a white baker’s apron to bring their order up from the back, Steve periodically glances at them. They whisper back and forth. Steve wishes he could read lips.

With the cake secured on Bucky’s lap and the groceries in the back, they drive back to the firehouse. Steve doesn’t want to ask, but he really wants to know what that was all about. Maria had smiled and said good-bye to them without any hint, getting in line again. He can feel Bucky’s eyes on him as he drives. Bucky doesn’t seem to be upset, rather thoughtful and quiet to this point.

“You won’t ask, will you,” he finally says.

“No, but if you want to share, I’m all ears,” Steve replies, smiling slightly.

That gets a little smile out of Bucky, too. “She’s heard…some things. About the building that burned and killed Brock.”

“Like what kind of things?” Steve asks interestedly.

“She heard from another cop that the building wasn’t abandoned, that people were seen going in and out before the fire happened.”

Steve purses his lips. “That’s pretty vague. What people?”

Bucky shrugs next to him. “She didn’t know. Nothing concrete. She just thought it sounded a little off, and wanted me to know.”

Steve is quiet. “Did she say anything else?”

“Just that we would wait and see.”

Steve turns into the firehouse driveway. “So we’ll wait and see. Thanks for telling me.”

“I’ll tell you everything, Steve. You don’t have to wait. Just ask, ‘K?”

“Okay,” Steve agrees through his smile.

-

It is after they have brought the cake and groceries in and are helping Thor put things away that Darcy calls up the stairs.

“Hey Steve, Bucky, Nat, Clint! Get down here! You have visitors!”

All four trade curious looks. Visitors? That didn’t happen much. They all head downstairs to see what’s going on. As soon as they clear the doorway and start down, a female voice rings out.

“There they are! My heroes!”

It is Betsy, in a pink jogging outfit and metallic pink walker. Accompanied by a tall black man wearing an eye patch and holding a large plate of cookies. He is recognized by all except Bucky.

“Betsy! And Nick!” Clint belts out, bounding down the remaining steps.

“Wait…you’re Nickie?” Steve points at the man, partially surprised, partially amused.

Nick shakes Clint’s hand and turns to Steve. “Yeah, and if you start spreading that around I’m coming for you, Rogers.”

They shake and Natasha chimes in, “Hi Nick. Betsy, you look fabulous. Good to see you up and around!”

“I’m as good as new,” Betsy brags. “Nickie made me bring the walker, but I hardly ever use it at home.”

Nick mock-glares at her. “Betsy, we talked about that. What did your physical therapist say?”

She waves a hand airily at him. “Pish posh. I had the cutest ER doc, too.”

Natasha leans in and whispers a name to her.

“Yep, that’s the one!” Betsy glows happily and motions to the plate of cookies. “I baked these up for you all, dearies. They’re fresh from the oven. I made Nickie drive right over here.”

Clint smothers another snort of laughter at hearing a gruff, masculine Nick being called something so affectionate. Betsy holds one hand out to Bucky so that he will step forward and take it, which he gallantly does.

“This is the one Sweetpea liked, Nickie,” she tells him.

Steve makes the introduction. “Nick Fury, this is my new partner, James Barnes.”

They reach out to shake hands and Clint horns in. “Don’t call him James, call him Bucky. He prefers it.”

Steve rolls his eyes and looks at Bucky. “Nick used to work here at the station.”

“Oh, really?” Bucky shifts his gaze to Nick interestedly.

“Yeah, about a million years ago,” Nick jokes.

“And since when do you live in Bay Ridge?” Clint wants to know.

“Since I bought a brownstone in Bay Ridge, dumbass,” Nick throws back sarcastically.

Betsy gives him a smack on the arm. “Watch your language! They saved me!”

“Yeah Nickie,” Clint teases, “Watch your language.”

Nick shakes a finger at Clint in warning. “Don’t get used to that, Barton. I know where you live, too.”

Steve edges closer to the ex-firefighter. “Let me take those cookies off your hands.” He holds out his arms; Nick laughs and hands over the plate readily. Steve is conscious of Betsy’s eyes on him, and prays she’s not going to say anything embarrassing.

“How are things around here?” she asks, and her eyes roll over to Clint.

“About the same, I’d say,” he tells her, stroking his chin.

“Hmm,” she replies thoughtfully, and her gaze focuses on Steve again. She only smiles sweetly, though. “You’re all looking well.”

“You too,” Steve smiles in thanks.

“Betsy insisted on coming over to thank you all personally. I thought it was a good chance to visit my old stomping ground.” Nick glances around. “Is Tony here?”

Natasha points toward the offices. “Up front.” She grabs a cookie from the plate and takes a bite. Clint follows suit.

Nick says to his neighbor, “Come on, I’ll introduce you to my old partner. You can sit down a minute while we catch up.”

Turning her bright pink walker around, Betsy starts to follow him. “Sitting down sounds good, but I need to say good-bye before we leave.”

“We’ll see you off when you go, Betsy,” Natasha promises.

“The cookies are delicious!” Clint calls out after her.

They walk up to the offices to see Tony, and the rest head back upstairs to enjoy homemade cookies. Tony yells up to them before Nick and Betsy leave so that they can say goodbye. This time Strider has interrupted his nap to come down with his master, so Steve introduces him to Betsy. She fawns over him and has him eating out of the palm of her hand, figuratively speaking anyway.

Taking the opportunity when it presents itself, Betsy pulls Steve aside and whispers to him, “I’m still pulling for you two, honey. Whatever the problem is, don’t give up.”

“Mostly I’m the problem, I think,” he whispers back. “But I’m working on it.”

She pats his hand. “Next time I’ll bake you some bread. And I’ll bring Sweetpea.”

Steve feels his mouth water. “That’s lovely of you, Betsy, but you don’t have to bring us anything when you visit.”

He gets another “pish posh” and a wave of her hand. “It’s nothing. I like having someone to bake for, and Nickie will be glad I’m not just making him fat.”

Steve beams at her. “I love fresh baked bread,” he admits. “Say hello to Sweetpea for us.”

“Will do, dearie.”

With that, she and Nick are off, and everyone climbs back upstairs. They only get a short respite, however, before they are all called back downstairs again for a five minute drill.

“What’s a five minute drill?” Bucky questions when they are all assembled in the bay.

“You’ve never done one?” Darcy asks, and Sam and Thor make some anticipatory sounds of glee while Bucky shakes his head.

“Everyone puts on tanks with only five minutes of air left in them. I give you each a task to complete, and we see who can conserve their air the longest while still performing their job,” she explains. “It’s good practice for an emergency.”

Bucky nods. “Sounds simple enough.”

“Oh, and there’s one more thing,” Darcy adds devilishly. “You’re all blindfolded, so you’re in the dark, just like you would be in a fire situation.”

Bucky’s mouth drops open by a millimeter. Sam and Thor are practically salivating. This particular training drill invariably ends with bets on who will give up first and take the mask off, gasping for air; rookies are usually the first to fold. Experienced firefighters have been known to hold out up to a half an hour. And just as invariably, there is more on the line than just bragging rights.

Steve dislikes this exercise for the same reason he dislikes hazmat gear. That claustrophobic feeling has cost him more than one bet. Last time he lost, he had to clean out the inside of the grill, which looked disgustingly like it hadn’t been touched in years.

“So what’s the bet going to be this time?” Clint pipes up, rubbing his hands together.

“I’ve got a good one,” Natasha says as they pass around face masks. They will put their hoods on backward over the mask, covering their faces entirely. “Loser has to host the next fun night at his place.”

“Ooooh, fun night!” Darcy declares happily, bouncing on her toes. “We haven’t had one of those in a while, that’s a great idea!”

Sam grins slyly as he pulls on his tank. “Bucky, I hope you like entertaining.”

Thor has his tank on already. “Yeah, we only went through two kegs at the last one,” he jokes.

Bucky looks at Steve, who is trying to hide his discomfort as he contemplates putting on his mask and hood. “Please tell me he’s kidding.” Then he sees the expression on Steve’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Steve lies. “Just thinking about how great fun night will be at your place.”

“Steve, you know how small my apartment is,” Bucky reminds him nervously.

“Bet’s a bet,” Steve grins. Maybe he won’t be the loser this time.

Bucky gives him a pouty look as they all finish getting ready. Darcy gives them all their tasks: Steve’s job is to find his way over to each storage locker and retrieve hand lights. They will all start off at the center of the bay between the two pumper engines, and have to find their way around the vehicles and each other to perform their tasks. Darcy stays unmasked so she can monitor them all, and when they are all hooded and ready, gives the go.

Steve moves off to his left, feeling his way along the pumper. He bumps hard into something large right off the bat. Large and solid. Thor. He murmurs a quiet “sorry” and moves on. There isn’t much talking during the drill, since everyone is trying to conserve as much air as possible. Steve has found that the trick is to keep your breathing as even as you can. Don’t get excited.

He is doing well and is moving through open space, trying not to get disoriented. He is crossing the open part of the bay when something small and soft crashes into his side. There is a feminine-sounding “oof!” and a hand that pats him on the back as an apology. Natasha. They shuffle around each other and keep going.

Steve finally makes it to the relative safety of the wall and has gotten into two of the storage lockers already. The hand lights are stuffed into his uniform pockets. They have been going probably ten minutes so far and he thinks he’s doing okay with his breathing. He is sliding his hand down the wall, reaching and feeling his way toward the other lockers, when he touches someone else’s hand coming along from the other direction. There is a low voice, barely audible, that speaks to him.

“Steve?”

It is Bucky. Steve murmurs an “mhmm,” expecting Bucky to pass him by, so he stops moving to allow him to go around. Bucky does step directly behind him, but he doesn’t pass by. Steve feels him stop, so close that Bucky’s chest touches his back. Steve takes some rapid breaths and tries to recover. What is Bucky doing?

Two hands slide delicately around his waist. Bucky’s hands. They rub forward softly, over his flanks and stomach, then settle on his hips, applying gentle pressure. Bucky leans in, pulling Steve to him and pressing their bodies together momentarily. His thumbs caress the crests of Steve’s hips. It is not in any way an innocent touch. Suggestive. Erotic, even. Steve’s heart rate skyrockets. Blood is being pumped south at an alarming rate. That closeness is something he dreams of, would beg for, so much it hurts. Then just as quickly, Bucky is gone.

But the damage is done. He’s burning through oxygen like it’s going out of style. Bucky’s hands on his body, that sensual touch, was enough to make him completely lose his control. Hand lights forgotten, Steve tries to calm his breathing back down. He closes his eyes inside his mask and hood and forces the image of Bucky touching him so intimately from his head. He can’t dwell on that right now, much as he wants to.

He brings his respirations back down to a resting level, but he has gone through his reserve pretty effectively. He’s got no air left in his tank. As shallowly as he is breathing, the mask is starting to stick to his face. Empty. Steve fights it as long as he can, but it’s a losing battle.

The room starts to close in around him, so he rips the mask and hood from his face and takes in some deep, gulping, delicious breaths of fresh air. As he does so, he takes a look around him. Bucky has moved off some ten feet down the wall. Darcy is smiling at him in a revealing way that says she saw everything.

“One down!” she yells out. “Fun night is at Steve’s house!”

There is a gasp as Bucky is the next to rip off his mask and hood.

“Two down!”

Darcy keeps a running tally as crewmembers drop out. Bucky immediately turns in Steve’s direction and gives him a guilty smile. Steve’s chin hits the floor. All of that was done with the express purpose of getting him to drop first.

“Three down!”

Natasha is out, over on the other side of the bay. Bucky walks over to where Steve still stands, motionless.

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” he says contritely, eyes puppy dog soft.

“You did that on purpose so I would lose!” Steve hisses quietly.

“My place is too small for a party. And besides, I’ve never been to your house yet.”

“You didn’t have to make me lose just so you can see my house, Buck,” Steve remarks, but not with any anger.

Bucky steps a bit closer. “I didn’t?”

His voice is full of meaning. Steve feels his heart start hammering in his chest again.

“Four down!”

Clint has given up, too, leaving Sam and Thor to duke it out.

“You can see it this weekend, before the movie,” Steve invites him. “If you want to,” he adds shyly.

“I want to,” Bucky replies, and Steve starts to feel hot all over. He catches the faint scent of Bucky, and resists the urge to smooth his hair down where the mask and hood have ruffled it up out of place.

Their eyes are locked onto each other and if Steve leans in an inch more, he swears there is an electric field being generated that buzzes and crackles. They are so close, so deep within the boundaries of personal space, they could almost kiss. It’s a little embarrassing for him to realize that Bucky knew damn well what kind of effect his touch would have, but the look in his eyes right now is telling Steve that the feeling is way beyond mutual.

“We have a winner!” Darcy whoops.

Sam has given up, handing the victory to Thor. Steve and Bucky can’t see them behind the other engine, but they hear Thor take off his mask and shout a triumphant, “Yes!”

There is a corresponding “shit” from Sam, somewhere behind the MIDI, and a bellow of laughter from Thor. “Maybe next time, Sam!”

Training drill over. Before anyone else sees them, Steve and Bucky reluctantly break apart and rejoin the others. They all put away their gear, piling the now empty tanks on the floor to be re-filled. As he passes Darcy, she gives his hand a squeeze and smiles at him. Yep, she definitely saw everything. They climb the stairs again to prepare for dinner and their celebration for Clint’s little girl.

The cake is brought out, adorned with lit candles, after they have finished dinner. Everyone sings Happy Birthday, Clint cuts the cake, and slices are passed around the table as dishes are removed. It’s kind of a blur of activity that Steve doesn’t really pay attention to until Sam, sitting next to him, remarks how great the cake looks. He has a huge piece sitting in front of him with pink and purple frosting on it. Steve does a double take. Something isn’t right about that. He thinks back to when he and Bucky picked the cake up from the bakery and looked at it.

Purple frosting.

There was only purple frosting. Not pink. He looks around the table. No one else’s cake has pink frosting on it. He is just about to comment on this when Sam takes a giant forkful and crams it into his mouth. Immediately he spits it back out, all over his plate, prompting an “Ewwwww!” from Natasha, and raucous laughter from pretty much everyone else.

Sam is sputtering and wiping his mouth on his napkin. “All right, who put Fixodent on the cake?” he exclaims loudly.

Looking around the table, Steve does not see any guilty faces. Someone’s got a good poker face. “Who gave you that piece, Sam?” he asks.

Sam shrugs. “I dunno, it was just sitting in front of me!” He goes to the sink and starts rinsing out his mouth. “Dudes, that was gross!” he yells.

Tony, Thor, Clint and Bucky are almost in tears, they are laughing so hard, and Steve can’t help a little laughter himself. Sam’s face was hilarious. Natasha and Darcy try to appear bored with a “boys will be boys” attitude, but even they have smiles on their faces. No one admits responsibility. Sam returns and is not so traumatized that he can’t enjoy another piece of cake, purple frosting only.

“Pink frosting,” he mutters to Steve under his breath. “It looked just like pink frosting.”

Steve pats him on the back. “At least your dentures won’t come loose.”

-

It’s Thursday and Steve is excited with a capital E. Not because it’s Thursday, but because it’s their last shift before movie day on Saturday. He’s so pumped, he’s been whistling all day: while he washed the engines in the morning, while mopping floors after lunch, while helping Thor prepare dinner. Natasha and Clint are at the dining table, shucking corn on the cob. Sam and Bucky are at the island counter, chopping vegetables.

Steve has just finished peeling potatoes and dumps them on Bucky’s chopping board with a smirk. Bucky curls his lip, while Sam gives a wolfish laugh. Steve turns back to Thor, who is standing at the stove.

“Anything else you need, Thor?”

He doesn’t turn, but points at a cabinet with his free hand. “Yes, could you grab the paprika for me? It’s on the top shelf over there.”

“Sure thing,” Steve agrees, steps over to the indicated cabinet and pulls open the door. There is a loud snap and he immediately gets a face full of white dust. He freezes in place. Flour. Everywhere. Hair, face, clothes.

The room fills with the sound of laughter, for everyone had turned to him when they heard the snap of the mousetrap going off. Even Bucky is silently shaking, amused at the sight of Steve’s now ghost-like appearance.

“Ha, ha,” Steve says dryly. “You guys suck.”

Clint is doubled over at the table. “Hey Strider, show your master how to shake like a dog,” he wails. “He needs to clean up.”

“Good idea, actually,” Steve declares, taking the joke in the spirit of good fun. “I’m going outside for a minute.”

Grabbing a kitchen towel, he walks downstairs and out into the grass in the backyard. He flips his head down and runs his hands through his short hair to shake out the flour, holding the towel between his knees. When the white cloud dissipates from his hair, he uses the towel to rub his face clean. When he stands upright again, a grinning Bucky stands in front of him on the cement pad.

“You okay?” he asks.

Steve shakes his head. “Never better.”

Bucky closes the distance between them; using both hands he brushes the flour off of Steve’s shoulders, then from the back of his shirt collar. His fingers brush against the exposed skin of Steve’s neck, giving him goosebumps. Carefully Bucky smooths down his collar.

“Better?” Steve inquires with raised eyebrows.

“Better,” Bucky nods, and his hands linger at Steve’s collarbones a second longer than they need to. “But you still have flour on your face.”

Steve nods and wrinkles his nose. “I got some in my mouth, too.”

“Are you asking for help with that?” Bucky’s voice has dropped to a low, sexy timbre.

Steve stops breathing. His eyes subconsciously drop to Bucky’s mouth, with those sinful red lips, and then travel back up to his eyes. This flirting business is working out really well. The anticipation of what may happen next is sweet and painful simultaneously. He’s been thinking about it for weeks, imagining what Bucky tastes like, what kind of kissing he likes. What kind of lover he is. Half of Steve’s internal organs have jumped up into his throat, but he manages to croak out some words.

“What if I am?”

Somehow Bucky glides even closer to him. “I think we could figure something out,” he hums.

“I think I would enjoy that.” Steve brings the towel up and scrubs his face with it, stalling for time, because he can’t believe this conversation is for real. Bucky seems cool and collected, but Steve thinks maybe he has swallowed some fireworks that are now going off inside his own body. Getting Bucky alone for movie night can’t come fast enough. In fact, he’s been thinking that while the flirting has been outstanding, he’d really like to make it crystal clear that he wants this outing to be a real date. He just hasn’t quite figured out what to say yet to do that.

Bucky asks him another question, teasing this time. “Steve, did you put the Fixodent on Sam’s cake?”

“What? No!” Steve denies firmly.

“Because it was really funny. And would explain why you just got a face full of flour,” Bucky tacks on, grinning.

“It wasn’t me. I would tell you if it was me,” Steve reassures him.

“Would you?” Bucky asks. “If it was something important, you would tell me?”

“Of…of course,” Steve stammers back.

“Good,” Bucky states. He takes the towel from Steve’s hand and uses the corner to wipe a remaining bit of flour from his temple. “Because there are some things I’d like to tell you, too.”

Steve’s mouth has gone dry. Is this it? The opportunity he’s been looking for to confess his emotions? Feels like this is the perfect time.

“Darcy only set me up with women,” he blurts out. He doesn’t know where the hell that came from. Not exactly the smooth segue he was planning, but Bucky stands up a little straighter. Steve feels his eyes on him, looking right through him, it seems.

“Does that mean you’re interested in guys, too?” he probes softly.

Steve nods numbly. “That means I’m interested in you.”

They’re so close, he can feel that electric field again, burning his skin. His body is tensed up like he’s been tased. Bucky’s blue eyes are intense. His lips part slightly and the most wonderful words ever uttered in the history of time come rolling out.

“Then are you ever going to kiss me?”

Steve has maybe gone into cardiac arrest. Fuck yes I’m going to kiss you. That’s what he thinks, only he’s paralyzed, and can’t breathe. Finally his body starts obeying commands again. He leans in closer to Bucky. And that, of course, is when the alarm goes off.

-

They are sent out to a motor vehicle accident, and it is brutal. Once a run starts, both of them are all business. There's no time for personal anything. They had to use the jaws of life to get one car open, and a helicopter was called in to transport one victim. When they return to the station, Tony is waiting for them, wearing an inscrutable expression.

“Bucky, can I speak with you in my office?”

Trading a glance with Steve, Bucky replies, “Sure thing.”

“I’ll take care of your gear,” Steve tells him.

They have all filed upstairs tiredly; Steve and Sam are sitting on the couch, waiting for dinner when Tony reappears a short time later.

“What was that about?” Steve asks, as Tony sits down next to him.

“The Fire Marshall’s report has been released about the fire that killed Brock Rumlow,” he says grimly. “The fire itself was ruled accidental, started by vagrants.”

“So you told this to Buck, right? He’ll want to know,” Steve responds. “Where is he?”

“That’s just it, Steve,” Tony says, voice full of apology. “The fire was ruled accidental. Brock’s death was ruled dereliction of duty. Bucky has been suspended.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

Steve can’t sleep. Can’t turn his brain off. Bucky’s suspension was immediate, and he left the firehouse without Steve even getting to see him. A suspension, while temporary, was a serious black mark on a firefighter’s record; Steve had texted him to see if he was okay, but didn’t get any answer. Tony had already explained the charge to him and Sam. The Fire Marshall, one Alexander Pierce, had ruled that Bucky had failed to perform his duty as part of a two man crew and had abandoned Brock Rumlow while they were inside the building, contributing to his death.

“That’s a lie,” Steve insisted with vehemence, and Tony raised his eyebrows.

“Bucky already told you what happened?”

“Yes. He told me. And that’s NOT what happened.” Steve’s chin jutted out stubbornly.

Tony nodded once. “And Bucky told the investigator what happened also?”

“Yes.”

Steve got a long, hard look from Sam, but no questions. Tony sat back on the couch and folded his hands together between his knees. He was quiet for a moment, then offered up his advice.

“Bucky was mum when I told him. I assumed it was just the shock of it. I already instructed him he has a week to decide if he wants to appeal the suspension, and that he should go home and sleep on it.”

Steve opens his mouth to interject something, but Tony beats him to it. “I believe you, Steve. Everything I know about James Barnes tells me he wouldn’t just abandon his partner in a burning building. I don’t have a clue why Pierce would rule against him, but until I hear from Bucky, my hands are tied.”

Steve didn’t get it either. Why would Bucky be blamed? Did his other crewmates throw him under the bus? After Tony went back down to his office, Sam tried to comfort him. He didn’t even ask for details, just trusted that Steve was right.

“If Bucky is getting a raw deal, we’ll get him cleared, however we need to. If you need anything, just ask.”

Steve was grateful, but it didn’t really ease his mind. So here he was, looking at the empty bunk next to him, trying unsuccessfully to turn off the worry in his head. Like that was possible. Word had spread like wildfire to everyone else in the station, and Steve was heartened some by the immediate and strong outpouring of support. Everyone assumed the best, not the worst, and asked what they could do to help.

Darcy especially was distraught. “Steve,” she had looked at him with tears starting to form in the corners of her eyes. “Bucky is so sensitive, and so selfless. He would never do this. What do we do?”

“We’ll fight it, Darcy. He’ll file an appeal and we’ll figure it out. Don’t worry.” Steve did not feel as confident as he pretended to be, but Darcy seemed to relax a bit, so it was worth the white lie.

Steve tosses and turns through the night, and now that a night call would be a helpful distraction, none come. When morning and the end of his shift arrive, Steve goes in search of Tony, who rose early and was already downstairs. He has a question about the appeal process, but Tony holds up a hand to head him off at the pass.

“Steve. Bucky already called me and said he’s not going to appeal the suspension.”

What?!

He can’t believe his ears. He doesn’t even want to go home; he wants to see Bucky as soon as he can. Strider can’t go on the subway though, so he settles for a quick walk home to drop off his dog and grab his truck. It’s a beautiful morning, with trees and flowers in full bloom, but he doesn’t see it. Everything in his field of vision is dull and uninteresting. He drives straight to Bucky’s apartment, without even calling him first. He assumes Bucky got about as much sleep as he did, and his suspicion is confirmed when Bucky opens the door. He has circles under his eyes so dark they look like bruises. Steve walks in and heads right to the living room couch. Bucky follows and Steve is already talking, not giving him any time to say anything.

“Buck, you have to appeal,” he says evenly.

Bucky sits down next to him and blinks slowly. “So you…still believe me? That I was telling you the truth?”

Oh my God. Steve feels like shit. Bucky was worried that he would believe the Fire Marshall’s report and not him? Steve was only concerned about how to fix things, and didn’t consider at all the fact that Bucky might be concerned his account would be dismissed as lies.

“Of course I believe you!” he says fervently. “That’s why you have to appeal!”

Bucky looks gratified for a split second and then slumps back. “I can’t appeal.” His voice is dull and flat. Like he’s already given up.

“Why not?” Steve is baffled.

Bucky pauses. “I know I said I would tell you everything,” he starts, and Steve waits expectantly. “But I don’t think I can keep my word on that now.”

Steve is stunned into silence. He and Bucky had been sharing very personal thoughts lately. Or at least, Steve thought they were. Was he wrong? The words sting, there’s no denying it. Bucky doesn’t trust him. What couldn’t he talk about? It isn't helping that Bucky looks genuinely sorry he’s shutting Steve out. But if he really felt remorse, he’d be talking, wouldn’t he?

“I don’t understand,” he admits, and can’t keep the disappointment out of his voice. “Talk to me. There is an injustice being done here, and you have to fight it.”

“It’s not that simple!” Bucky says loudly, then seems to catch himself.

“Why isn’t it simple?” Steve replies in a loud voice, too. Enough of the secrecy. “If this is about you feeling guilty about Brock’s death…”

Bucky shakes his head, interrupting him. “That’s not it.”

“Then what? You think people won’t believe you? ” Steve demands.

“Steve, I know you’re trying to help, and I really do appreciate it,” Bucky says stubbornly, and there is that air of defeat about him again. “But you’re going to have to accept that there’s nothing that can be done. This is the way it has to be. I serve out the two months, and then everything goes back to the way it was.”

Steve is the one shaking his head this time. “A suspension is serious, Buck, and you don’t deserve it! Filing an appeal is the only way to get your side out. Why won’t you do it?”

Bucky lashes out, anger and bitterness coming through in his words. “Look, I don’t like this any more than you do, but there’s no other way!”

“Why? Just tell me why!” Steve’s temper flares when Bucky presses his lips together in silence. He stands and heads for the door. “Maybe coming here was a bad idea,” he mutters in frustration.

Bucky stands and follows him. “No, Steve, don’t…”

Steve turns on his heel. “You won’t talk to me, so why stay?”

“Can’t you just trust me on this?” Bucky pleads, and Steve lets his anger at the situation get the best of him.

“Don’t talk to me about trust, when you don’t trust me enough to tell me why you’re giving in,” he snaps, and pulls the door open.

“Steve!”

He catches a glimpse of the hurt in Bucky’s eyes before he crosses the threshold and pulls the door shut behind him.

He just shut the door in Bucky’s face.

Instantly he regrets it. He sinks his back against the door silently. Jesus. He came here hoping to help, and instead got into a fight. Bucky’s eyes are haunting him. He closes his and tries to figure out what to do. Why won’t Bucky talk to him? What could’ve happened between yesterday and today? He tries to put aside his hurt feelings and be objective.

Bucky is being falsely accused and punished by the Fire Marshall. Why? If it happened to me, I’d want to know why. An idea starts to form, still vague but becoming sharper inside his mind. Bucky didn’t say he didn’t know why this was happening. He said this is the way it has to be. He knows something. And that something must have just come up between last night and this morning.

Steve wants to turn around and knock on the door again, but hesitates. He just shut the door in Bucky’s face. Feels a little awkward. While he is trying to solve this problem mentally, his partner solves it for him.

“Steve?”

Bucky’s voice calls to him softly through the door.

“Yeah?” he answers, just as softly.

“I’m going to open the door.”

“Okay.”

Steve moves so that he won’t fall into the room when the door opens, then turns around and sees Bucky, who is looking as contrite as Steve feels.

“How’d you know I was still here?” Steve asks.

“I didn’t. Just hoped.”

Steve looks down at his shoes.

“So I looked through the peephole, and it was either your hair blocking it, or there was a Yeti in my hallway.” He pauses. “I went with you.”

Steve brings his eyes back up. “Good call...and I’m sorry I got angry.”

Bucky takes him by the elbow and pulls him back inside. “No, you’re right.” He shuts the door and they both walk back over to the couch, sitting down exactly as they had before. “I didn’t want to drag you down into this any more than I already have, and I thought I was protecting you. But I just should have told you.”

“Protecting me from what?” Steve keeps his cool this time, maintaining a calm tone. Bucky hesitates. Steve leans in toward him. “I know something happened between last night when you left the station and today. Someone talked to you.”

Bucky nods. “It was suggested to me in so many words that if I want to keep my job, I should serve out the suspension with my mouth shut.”

“Who said that? Pierce?

Another nod.

“He threatened you? ” Steve says in alarm.

Bucky shakes his head. “My job, not me directly. And your job, too.”

What? ” Steve is having trouble taking this in. “Wait, back up. Tell me what happened.”

“He was waiting for me when I got home last night. At first he acted really friendly, said he was concerned about me because of the report, that he knew how tough it was to be a rookie and how confusing and stressful fires were. I didn’t even know what to say to that. He acted like he was doing me a favor by coming here, and not like he’d just told a bunch of lies about me. So I thought maybe when he interviewed the others in our unit, maybe they’d said something different…maybe he didn’t believe me.”

He trails off and chews his lip, then shakes his head and goes on. “Then he went on, said he’d taken an interest in me, had made sure my transfer request was approved right away.”

This has warning bells going off inside Steve’s head, though he’s not sure why yet. “He was keeping tabs on you.”

Bucky nods. “He asked me if I was happy here with my new partner, if we were getting along well. I said yes. Then he asked point blank if I’d been talking to anyone about the fire. I said no, but I think I hesitated just for a second, and it made him suspicious.”

“I don’t get it. What is he worried you’ll say?”

Bucky shakes his head again and runs his fingers through his hair absentmindedly. “Maybe he’s worried if I badmouth Brock, it will look bad for the department? I don’t know. But his tone changed abruptly then. Said I could have been fired outright but that they’d given me a second chance, and it would be a shame to waste it. Then he hinted that other personnel changes could be made too, if anyone were to ‘make a fuss’.” He puts air quotes around his last three words and then sighs. “His point was perfectly clear.”

Steve is flabbergasted. What the hell? “You have to go to the Fire Chief.”

Bucky makes an exasperated sound. “Come on, Steve. I have no proof of anything. I have no idea why he’s doing this to me, if it’s not because of other testimony. It’s his word against mine, and who do you think the Fire Chief would believe, a Marshall who’s been around for years, or some nobody who just joined up barely a year ago?”

He leans back on the couch tiredly. His face is drawn and tight from lack of sleep. “All I’ve ever wanted was firefighting. My whole life. If I get fired, no one will ever hire me again. I can’t risk losing this, and I can’t risk him punishing you, too.”

Steve angles his body more towards his partner. “You’re not nobody to me,” he states quietly. “But I understand now why you told Tony you wouldn’t appeal.”

“Do you?” Bucky sits forward again and turns to face him. “Do you really?”

“Yes,” Steve insists. “I get it. But I’m not going to just sit here and let you take the fall for Brock’s death.”

Bucky clucks his tongue in agitation. “Listen...” he starts, and Steve stops him with a heated look.

“No, you listen, Buck. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. I’m not saying you should challenge him outright. You have a week to decide if you want to appeal. We need more information.”

Bucky appears doubtful. “And how do we get that?”

“Please let me talk to Tony. I think he can help.”

The doubtful look has not left Bucky’s face. “If Pierce gets wind…”

“He won’t. Tony is completely trustworthy, you know that. Maybe he can find out why he’s doing this.”

Bucky doesn’t look at all happy, but agrees anyway. “Steve…thank you,” he adds, looking bashful. “Thank you for believing me without even questioning it. It…means a lot.”

“We’re in this together. I’m not letting you go through it alone,” Steve replies.

He touches Bucky’s knee as he speaks, meaning for it to be a brief, reassuring touch, but then somehow his hand settles on his knee and stays there. The flesh under his touch, even sheathed in blue jeans, is warm, pliant and inviting. Steve stares at his hand. Probably he should remove it, but he doesn’t want to. The memory of their conversation yesterday out in the backyard of the firehouse is still fresh in his mind.

Bucky hasn’t moved his leg either. Steve can feel the weight of his stare on him. He starts to feel guilty, thinking about his own wants when Bucky has so much else on his mind.

“You know,” he starts slowly, “If you want to put off seeing the movie, I don’t mind.” He moves his gaze back to Bucky’s face.

Bucky’s head moves once from right to left and back, and he lays his hand on top of Steve’s, covering it with his own. “No chance. I need to have something to look forward to.”

This brings a smile to Steve’s lips. “So then it’s a date?”

Bucky nods. “It’s a date. In every sense of the word.” Gently he threads his fingers through Steve’s, and Steve is overwhelmed with the same feeling of desire he had yesterday.

Sleepless circles under the eyes or not, Bucky is beautiful and irresistible to him. There is a tight pool of heat deep in his core that seeps through him the longer he touches the extraordinary being next to him. It’s the perfect time to kiss him. Steve swallows down the hard lump that has formed in his throat.

And kisses him.

Shifting his weight forward, he presses his lips to Bucky’s tentatively. Bucky responds immediately, closing his eyes and leaning into the kiss. It’s soft and gentle, and time seems to stop. Steve parts his lips and explores with his tongue. The tip of Bucky’s touches his; they tangle together slowly.

The only sound in the room is of their breathing, and the rustle of fabric as they slide their arms around each other, with Bucky reaching around Steve’s shoulder blades to clutch at his upper back, and Steve feeling his way up Bucky’s thigh and around his hip to his waist. He grips Bucky’s hips with both hands and pulls him closer, just as Bucky did during their five minute drill.

They are kissing deeply now, open mouths sealed together, bodies pressed as tightly against each other as they can while sitting on the couch. And it’s everything Steve ever imagined and wanted. In the back of his mind, he can’t believe it’s happening, but it IS happening, and feels soooooooo divine, all wet slide of tongue and warm arms around him, holding him tightly. When they finally break apart, Steve is breathless. He withdraws his arms only partially, resting his hands on the solid muscle of Bucky’s outer thighs.

“That was…” he pauses, searching for the right word, and Bucky finishes his sentence for him.

“Amazing.” His hands trail down Steve’s upper arms to keep them in a loose embrace. “That was amazing,” he repeats.

Steve smiles and exhales. “Yeah. Wish I had done that a long time ago.”

A small smile plays around Bucky’s mouth. “Better late than never?”

A chuckle comes out of Steve. “Yeah.”

They both bask in the first-kiss afterglow for a moment before Steve leans in for another, more sure this time. He touches his lips to Bucky’s again, planting a series of light kisses on him while his hands move upward over the band of hard muscle on either side of his spine, dragging over the defined muscles before slipping back down again to his hips. Bucky captures Steve’s lower lip between his teeth, not biting but stopping him temporarily.

He releases Steve’s lip but doesn’t pull back. They share two breaths, lips touching but stilled, before Bucky moves in, taking Steve’s mouth in a searing, fiery kiss that sends a jolt of lust right through to his groin. His arousal level is spiking, yet he’s not quite ready to act on that. When they separate after this embrace, Steve is not only breathless; his legs feel like jelly. But there’s another part of him that most decidedly is the opposite of jelly.

His brain is swimming with lingering worry and a now more powerful craving for all things Bucky. Bucky’s hands caressing his body, Bucky’s mouth moving on his, Bucky’s body reacting to his touch. It’s a lot. And it’s been a while since Steve felt this way for anyone; he wants more, but at the same time doesn’t want to rush. It’s complicated.

“If we don’t stop now, I’m going to want a lot more. Maybe more than I’m ready for,” he admits candidly.

Bucky immediately moves to comfort him. He touches Steve’s cheek gently, tenderly, thumb brushing over it. “We can go as slow as you want to. I’m not in a hurry.”

Steve smiles. “I’m going to talk to Tony today,” he decides. “Do you want to come with me?”

At that moment, Bucky’s phone vibrates noisily from an end table. Bucky groans, pushes up from the couch and walks over to grab it. “Can’t--I’ve got some things I have to do, and I’d better go see my sister. I made the mistake of calling her last night when I was really upset, and now she keeps texting me non-stop to make sure I’m okay. I stopped looking at my phone last night.”

“Is that why you didn’t answer my text, too?”

Bucky looks at his phone before looking regretfully back to Steve. “You texted me? I’m sorry, I didn’t see it. I should have called you, but I was not in a good head space.”

Steve nods melodramatically. “Of course I texted you, you big dope. We were all worried about you.”

Bucky lifts his eyebrows apologetically. “Thanks, I think.”

Steve has remembered something else. “Clint wanted me to ask if you could come with us to his house tomorrow. Nat and I are taking over the present for his daughter.” He pushes off from his thighs with his hands to stand from the low surface.

“He wants me to come?” Bucky drops his hands to his side and tosses his phone onto the couch cushion.

“Yep. We were planning on late afternoon; does that work for you?”

Bucky agrees to accompany him and Natasha, and when they leave there, the two of them will grab dinner before the movie.

“I’ll let you know what Tony says,” Steve tells him, expression a little more somber.

“Okay,” Bucky agrees, walking with Steve to the door. Before opening it, he slips his hands around Steve’s waist, eyes asking silently for just a little more.

Steve is happy to give him what he wants. He wraps both arms around Bucky; naturally their heads tilt as they reach for each other and kiss again. He is awed by the ease with which they fall into a rhythm. It’s a deep, languid kiss, one that ignites a slow burn at the base of Steve’s spine and travels outward, filling him head to toe. He hears the soft moan before he realizes he’s the one making it; it is then swallowed up into Bucky’s mouth. Bucky presses himself closer and thrusts his tongue deeper inside Steve’s mouth in response.

Fuck, he could spend all day kissing Bucky and never tire of it. All year. Bucky licks into his mouth, tasting and teasing so slowly, it drives Steve mad. There’s that wanting, that hot need again. He retreats before his arousal level gets too out of control. Seeing Bucky’s kiss-bruised lips and eyes darkening with his own growing desire doesn’t make it easy to leave, but they both have things to do.

“I should go,” he says reluctantly. They break apart a third time, with promises of seeing each other tomorrow.

-

“What do you mean, threatened his job?”

Steve and Tony are sitting in lounge chairs on Tony’s tiny patio. Pepper slides open the patio door and emerges holding a tray with three iced teas in tall glasses balanced delicately on it.

“Thanks, Pep,” Steve says enthusiastically, for the day is warm and the iced tea looks delightful.

“You are welcome,” she answers back as she hands him a glass, then one to Tony, before sitting down with her own.

Steve thought that having Pepper in on the conversation would be a good idea. One, she is discreet, and two, a damn fine lawyer. All that aside from being a beautiful and genuinely nice human being. He goes through the whole story, getting stopped every once in a while by questions from one or the other.

“Why does Pierce care so much if Bucky talked about the fire?”

“Why wouldn’t Brock Rumlow want to ventilate the roof if it looked stable?”

“Why did they still go into the building if there was actually structural instability on the roof?”

Tony is full of questions about the management of the fire. Questions Steve doesn’t know the answers to. It is Pepper though, who sets them thinking in another direction.

“What is Pierce’s connection to Rumlow?” she asks thoughtfully, sipping her tea.

Tony and Steve look at each other and at her. “None that I know of,” Tony states, and tugs at his goatee. “Why do you ask that?”

“Because Pierce is obviously hiding something,” she argues. “After all, he’s gone to a certain amount of trouble to make sure Bucky knows the pecking order, hasn’t he?”

Steve shakes his head. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” Pepper looks into the distance, thinking out loud. “He could have just ruled the fire accidental and stopped there. Why bring Bucky into it at all? Answer is, he wanted to make sure Bucky wouldn’t talk. Why else would he pull a power play and threaten him last night to keep him, and you, quiet? He thinks the both of you know something.”

“But we don’t know anything!” Steve protests.

Pepper is undeterred. “Yes you do, you just don’t know what it is yet.”

Tony interrupts. “Why would that mean Pierce and Rumlow have a connection?”

Pepper is in lawyer mode, speaking like she is explaining something important to a jury. “Because, Tony, you’ve all agreed that Rumlow wasn’t following normal firefighting protocol, right?”

She waits, and they both nod. “If he was acting strangely at that fire, then perhaps he was hiding the same something that Pierce is now hiding.”

“I guess it’s possible,” Steve remarks slowly. “What would they be hiding? And how do we find out?”

Tony drains his glass and sets it down on the table between them. “Let me work on that. I know a guy.”

-

Steve’s sleep is somewhat better on Friday night. He’s still worried about Bucky, but also he is so chock full of anticipation for their date, he finds it difficult to relax. The three kisses they exchanged at Bucky’s place replay in his mind on a loop. Bucky’s soft lips, moving against his, the slow, sure way he held him. Pleasing thoughts, but hardly a calming influence.

He rises early on Saturday morning and goes for a run. When he returns, there is a text waiting for him from Bucky.

Meeting Bruce for coffee. Can you come with?

As Steve recalls, Bruce is the command technician at his old station. He is curious why Bucky wants him there and texts back his reply.

Sure. When and where?

He is just stepping out of the shower and around Strider, who annoyingly decided to take a nap on the bath mat, when he gets another message from Bucky. They are to meet at a coffee shop near Bucky’s apartment in Windsor Terrace. The day is going to be hot, so Steve throws on a pair of khaki-colored cargo shorts and a black polo.

When he arrives at the shop, it is midmorning and busy. Bucky waves from his place in line at the service counter, so Steve waves back and steps into the line a couple of people behind him. Bucky is wearing similar clothing: black shorts, royal blue button down shirt that makes the blue in his eyes stand out even more. After a few minutes more, Steve is getting his drink and Bucky is waiting near the door when a man in his mid-forties, with a kind face and dark, curly hair touched with grey enters the shop and speaks to him.

He, too, gets into the end of the line, so when Steve is done he goes and stands next to Bucky. “Hey,” he greets him, and gets a sweet smile bestowed upon him. Steve wants to give him a kiss, but isn’t sure if he should. Instead he grabs Bucky’s hand and gives it a squeeze.

“Thanks for being here,” Bucky starts. “Bruce called and said he wanted to see me. I kinda wanted moral support, and kinda wanted you to hear what he says.”

He looks nervous, and now Steve decides he’s just going to do it. He leans in close and plants a chaste kiss on Bucky’s cheek. It seems to have the desired effect; Bucky looks encouraged by it. They stand with coffees in one hand, the other two hands clasped together, until a smiling Bruce joins them.

“You must be Steve. I’m Bruce.” His voice has a mellow, relaxing quality to it. He shakes Bucky’s hand (after Bucky lets go of Steve) and then offers his hand to Steve as well. He has a firm grip and looks at him directly while they shake.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Steve replies, and points with his head to an empty round table in the back, just big enough for three café chairs. “Over there?”

The shop is small, not a chain, with one wall that is entirely windowed, and the other two covered with pictures of artistic renditions of coffee mugs. They make their way over and sit down. Bruce is the first to speak.

“James, as soon as we heard the report we were all in shock. Brock’s death was just a sad tragedy; we never expected this kind of ruling.”

Steve smothers his surprise at hearing James’s proper name again. No one there at his old station learned his nickname, apparently.

“We’re all sorry you’re taking the blame unfairly,” Bruce concludes, taking a gulp from his cup.

Bucky’s eyebrows go from the top of his forehead down into a puzzled knit. “So… no one blames me?”

Bruce does a bit of a double take. “What? No, of course not. We all know his death was accidental. We heard the report, but no one believed it. That whole run was a cluster fuck from the start. I think we’re lucky we didn’t lose more men.”

He pauses and Bucky rubs his hand across his forehead.

Bruce takes note of this. “You were blaming yourself,” he observes, voice gentle. “I didn’t know.”

“Nobody talked to me afterward,” Bucky explains. “I thought you were all blaming me.”

Bruce shakes his head. “We were told not to talk about it, even amongst ourselves.” He looks down at his hands. “I shouldn’t have listened.”

Steve interrupts here. “Told by the Fire Marshall?”

Bruce shakes his head again. “By our BC.”

“Our BC?” Bucky repeats, surprised. “Why?”

Bruce shrugs. “Like I said, that whole thing was a fiasco.”

“How do you mean?” Steve inquires; he takes a sip of his coffee and leans over the table interestedly, resting on his elbows.

Bruce looks from Steve to Bucky. “Did you know there were crews in the building before you ever got to the roof?”

Bucky shakes his head negatively.

“Communication sucked. They went in prematurely, but didn’t report unsafe conditions. So how could the roof have been unstable already?”

“It wasn’t,” Bucky states baldly, and Bruce sits up very straight.

“What?”

“I didn’t see any signs, but Brock insisted that it was.”

“Why would he do that?” Bruce looks genuinely perplexed.

Bucky shrugs this time. “But I swear to you, Bruce, I did not leave him. We had just heard the evac alarm, and the floor gave.”

His face is a mixture of grief and ferocity, and Steve is actually glad to see it. He suspects Bucky hasn’t really forgiven himself all the way yet, just because he is dedicated to his job and will always think he should have done more. But neither is he going to roll over and play dead, and after his defeatist attitude last night, he is relieved to see some fight in him.

“Why does the Fire Marshall think you left him?” Bruce doesn’t say it in an accusing manner, just curiously.

Bucky sighs heavily. “I don’t know.”

“You didn’t know him before this happened?”

“The Marshall, Pierce? No, not at all,” Bucky says in frustration. “And I told him I was with Brock when the floor collapsed.”

Steve pipes up. “We think he’s hiding something.”

“The Fire Marshall?” Bruce sounds skeptical; then a look crosses his face like he’s just thought of something. His index finger rests on his upper lip and taps at it a few times.

Bucky catches the look too, and he and Steve trade glances while waiting for Bruce to speak.

When he does, it is slowly, thoughtfully. “You know there was an arson theory floating around, since the building was unoccupied.”

Bucky and Steve both nod.

“The fire was ruled accidental, that it was started by vagrants.”

“Riiight…” Bucky draws the word out, encouraging Bruce.

“The first crews in had to break down a door to get into the building. All of the entry points were locked. So if vagrants started the fire, how did they get in?”

His two companions stare.

Bruce shrugs lightly. “It occurred to me last night—that the ruling didn’t really make sense. I just don’t know what it means.”

Bucky pinches the bridge of his nose between his index finger and thumb. “We don’t know what it means, either. But thank you for telling us.”

Steve downs the rest of the coffee. “Is there anything else you can think of?”

Bruce makes a face like he’s thinking and not being successful at it. “No, but if I do think of anything, I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks, Bruce,” Bucky says sincerely.

Bruce rises and shakes both of their hands again. “I’m going to get going. Please James, if you need anything, call me, okay?”

Bruce makes his way back out of the shop, leaving Bucky and Steve alone at their table. There are a few hours until they are to meet Natasha at Steve’s house and take the present to Clint’s.

Bucky looks at Steve. “What now?”

Steve looks back at him and smiles.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

Steve smiles and reaches across the table to snag Bucky’s empty coffee cup.

“Come on,” he says, stands and tosses both cups into the nearby garbage can. Bucky stands also and follows Steve obediently out of the shop and into the bright sun.

Steve leads the way toward his truck. “So what are you doing for the rest of the day?” He plucks his car keys out of his pocket and swings them in the air.

“Spending it with this guy I’ve been crushing on,” Bucky answers with a mischievous grin.

Steve pauses by his door and smiles back shyly. He unlocks both sides and they both climb in and buckle up.

“Are you going to tell me now why we think Pierce is hiding something?” Bucky inquires, and Steve lets his head drop and hit the steering wheel.

“Yes. I actually forgot I hadn’t told you yet. I was…distracted.”

“Distracted? Distracted by what?” Bucky wants to know.

“You,” Steve says simply, and looks at him briefly before starting up the truck. In truth Steve was focused on the making out they had done yesterday. He meant to tell Bucky about his conversation with Tony when he entered the coffee shop, but it completely left his head while he was holding Bucky’s hand.

Bucky smiles back at him, and his voice is smooth as honey. “I like the sound of that.”

“I’ll tell you why we think that…and then we’re going to take Strider for a walk.”

Bucky gasps theatrically. “You mean I finally get to see where you live?”

Steve chuckles as he backs up and pulls out of the lot. “It’s just a house, Buck. It’s not the Bat Cave.”

Bucky laughs heartily at that and then lifts his arms, making a frame with his fingers to peek through. “I was envisioning the Taj Mahal. Though you do have the body to fill out the Bat Suit.” He lets his eyes rake suggestively up and down over Steve’s form.

This makes Steve blush furiously and feel a pleasurable sense of being desired at the same time. He changes the subject quickly and fills Bucky in on Tony and Pepper’s thoughts.

“But we don’t know anything, Steve,” Bucky repeats Steve’s earlier sentiment. “What would he be worried about us revealing when we have no clue ourselves?”

Steve sighs. “I don’t know, but it’s at least a working theory.”

Bucky eyeballs him doubtfully, but in the end thanks him for trying. “Who’s this guy that Tony knows?”

Steve shrugs. “Beats me. But he’ll keep it quiet, I promise you. And is it alright for me to tell Tony what Bruce said, too?”

“Sure,” Bucky agrees.

“Great,” Steve chirps, and glances at the man sitting next to him. “Now we’re not going to talk about it anymore today. Only non-work related topics of conversation.”

Bucky rubs his hands together. “Like where you store the Batmobile?” he cracks, and Steve groans.

“NO. Not like that. Like where you want to go eat dinner tonight?”

“My topic is more fun.”

“Your topic is going to get you a smack upside the head,” Steve jokes.

The rest of the trip to his house is taken up by a review of different restaurants that are nearby. They still haven’t settled on a place when they pull up to his home. Steve parks in the driveway as Bucky ducks down in an attempt to see the entire thing from his seat.

“Steve, this is great!” he says sincerely, and cranes his head to try and see around to the side of the house. “You even have a real back yard!”

They both climb out of the truck and walk to the front door. Strider attacks them when they enter, eager for rubs and pets. Steve shows Bucky around, starting in the kitchen, directly to the right of the foyer and hallway. It is open to the large living room on the left. There is a tiny sunroom at the back of the house. Down another hallway from the living room are a guest bathroom and guest bedroom, another bedroom Steve uses as his study, and the master bedroom and bath.

Steve pauses at the doorway to his room to point, but doesn’t go in, feeling only a tiny bit of nervousness there. Bucky doesn’t seem to mind or notice, instead making complimentary remarks about the space Steve has or the tidy nature of the place. As firefighters they are used to cleaning the station, so keeping his own home clean is second nature for Steve. Plus, Strider sheds like a cat, so he’s always vacuuming.

Bucky does walk into the study, drawn in by the built in wooden bookcase that covers one wall. “Did you put this in yourself?” he asks, and Steve nods, surprised that he would notice a detail like that.

“It’s beautiful.” Bucky’s compliment is accompanied by him grabbing at various books and picture frames, moving them slightly out of place and back.

Steve is lost. “Are you looking for something?”

Bucky smiles and glances at him sideways. “Just wondering where the lever for the secret passage to the Bat Cave is.”

Steve laughs and shakes his head. “You are a goofball,” he teases, and turns to leave the room.

Bucky follows him out and teases back, “And you’re my super hero.” He snags Steve’s arm and when he turns around, pulls him into an embrace. “Did I thank you already for helping me?” his voice has gone from playful to serious, but Steve is not about to let things get too heavy on date night.

“I said no more talking about it. And yes, you did.” he slides his hands into the small of Bucky’s back. “But you can thank me again. Like you did yesterday at your door.”

“Did something happen at my door?” Bucky razzes playfully, and Steve shuts him up by claiming his mouth in a long, slow, deep kiss, taking in his taste and scent, the soft, sweet way his mouth opens to let Steve in. He likes the way their mouths fit together, the way Bucky is almost the same size he is, the way he can feel Bucky’s heart beating fast against his own chest as they press against each other.

Hands slide their way down to rest at the top of the curves of Steve’s ass. Bucky’s tongue twists seductively around his: hot, wet and demanding. He makes a small sound of satisfaction low in his throat that curls Steve’s toes with want. They continue kissing lazily until another noise gets his attention…a low cry. No, more of a whine. Coming from down by their feet. They both look down over their shoulders; Strider is lying on the floor, chin on his paws, whining.

“Strider, I thought we were buds,” Bucky chastises him and gets a laugh out of Steve, but Strider gets his way, jumping and wagging his tail as soon as it looks like the two will follow him.

They head for the back yard, going through the sunroom to the deck. Bucky ooh’s and ahh’s, jealous of the outdoor space when his apartment has none. When Strider has finished checking the yard for intruders into his domain, they put him on his leash and go for a leisurely walk, resuming their restaurant discussion.

As they are returning to the house, Bucky’s phone buzzes from inside his pocket. He pulls it out and checks the message. “It’s from Sam,” he shares. “He wants to know how I am. And if I’m watching the Mets game.”

“Shit! There’s a Mets game?” Steve swears. He forgot, what with everything else going on in the last couple of days. “Wanna go watch for a while?”

“Yeah, absolutely,” Bucky agrees enthusiastically, as he texts back a short message.

They are in the kitchen, waiting for the pizza Steve threw into the oven to finish baking; Steve is standing at the kitchen counter getting some plates out of the cabinet when Bucky moves in directly behind him and touches his chest to Steve’s back lightly, resting both his hands on the counter around him.

“Now this feels familiar,” Steve quips, setting the plates down on the counter and shutting the cabinet door. He spins around, and Bucky’s beaming smile matches his.

“It almost backfired on me,” Bucky confesses. “I was holding my breath when you gave in. Another half a minute and I was done for.”

Steve laughs and throws his arms over Bucky’s shoulders loosely. “Would’ve served you right!” Then his expression becomes more thoughtful. “You knew, didn’t you. You knew that I…wanted more than to just be friends.”

Bucky is gazing into his eyes with a look that should be illegal. “I was pretty sure, but not one hundred percent, not until I saw your reaction.”

Steve raises his eyebrows a smidge. “You mean because I lost the bet?”

“No,” Bucky breathes. “Because you started trembling when I touched you. Sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.” He moves his hands from the countertop to Steve’s hips and rubs his thumbs over his hip bones, same way he did during the five minute drill.

With eyes that have drifted shut, Steve enjoys the sensations being produced by Bucky’s magical fingers, rubbing and stroking him. His eyes are still closed when he detects the light touch of Bucky’s lips to his, a soft, butterfly kiss that makes him smile against Bucky’s mouth.

“I’d been waiting for you so long,” Bucky whispers against his lips, “I sort of lost control of my breathing, too.”

Steve opens his eyes. “What do you mean, so long?”

Bucky gives him another light kiss and chuckles. “You really didn’t know? And I thought it was so obvious. I’ve been attracted to you since the day we met. But Darcy told me you were straight.”

Steve groans and looks to the ceiling. “Yeah. She didn’t know.”

“Yeah, figured that out when you started flirting with me,” Bucky says, as the oven timer starts chiming and they break apart.

They take pizza and a beer and go park themselves on the couch in front of the TV. Although they didn’t plan it this way, the idea of spending the entire day with Bucky makes Steve deliriously happy. As does sitting closely together on the couch with one of Bucky’s hands resting on his thigh, like it was always meant to be there. Steve’s cell phone is cutting into his butt from its spot in his back pocket, so he takes it out and looks at it.

He is thinking about calling or texting Sam when he sees Bucky with his cell phone out, too. “Were you going to text Sam again?” he asks.

“Yeah, because I only said I was alive and kicking.” An evil-looking grin spreads across Bucky's face. “Why, do you wanna mess with him?”

“YES!” Steve wears a matching expression of wickedness. “He doesn’t know about yesterday yet. I’m going to tell him I want to confess to you tonight I want a relationship.” Steve’s fingers start flying over his phone.

“Then I’m going to say you were being weird yesterday at my apartment and I’m worried you might want a relationship.”

Steve snorts out loud as Bucky’s fingers dance over the phone screen. He gets an immediate reply from Sam, which he shows to Bucky.

“Great! Do it!”

Bucky then gets a response as well, which he reads out loud. “Would that be a bad thing? I thought you two were close?” He bites his lip. “Should I tell him you’re not my type? Or that I don’t date co-workers on principle?”

Steve thinks for a second. “Tell him you just want to nail me, no strings attached, and would I be cool with that?”

Bucky shakes with laughter. “You are so mean.”

But he starts texting anyway. A minute goes by, during which neither one receive anything. Bucky’s phone buzzes, and he reads the new message. “Bucky. Steve’s not really a one-night-stand kind of guy.” He texts again.

“You don’t think? Can you ask him if he’d just blow me a couple of times?”

He shows Steve the screen before hitting send. Steve starts to laugh so hard, all he can do is nod. The response is short but to the point.

“What? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Steve sends the next message.

“I have a really good feeling, like he wants a serious relationship.”

After reading this, Bucky’s hand flies to his mouth to smother his laughter. “Poor Sam. We are terrible human beings.”

Steve’s phone vibrates next.

“You maybe want to hold off on that confession plan.”

They can barely contain their laughter while Steve makes his reply.

“Why? You’ve been telling me to! Going for it, but I’ll be crushed if he turns me down.”

Sam is quick to respond.

“Maybe now’s not the best time. He’s not thinking clearly with all the stress. You should wait.”

Bucky’s turn. Steve reads the next text before it is sent.

“Does he like kinky stuff with whips and chains? Maybe if I got mine out next time he comes over?”

Steve wheezes with laughter. Sam’s fingers must be cramping, he’s typing back replies so fast.

“BUCKY! WTF? Dude, I do NOT want to know that.”

Steve has been typing too, and shows his latest work to his companion.

“You’re not being very supportive. Still going for it. If things work out, maybe I’ll even let him do kinky stuff with whips and chains.”

Bucky convulses with giggles. It seemingly takes forever for any response to come, but in a minute they both receive a group text.

“YOU FUCKERS! Are you together right now?”

They both type in “YES” and hit send, then receive another group message.

“And are you TOGETHER together?”

The pair look at each other quietly and smile. Steve’s heart feels full as he texts back another “YES”. They receive one more message from their friend.

“Good. But you’re still assholes.”

One pizza, one beer, and several kisses later, the time is nearing for Natasha to arrive. They are in the kitchen cleaning up when Steve toys with the idea of keeping their budding relationship a secret.

“After all, Sam will keep it quiet if we ask him to.”

Bucky slips his arms around him and slides his hands into both of Steve’s back pockets. In turn, Steve wraps him in a tight hug.

“Do you really want to hide?” Bucky leans in and kisses the side of Steve’s jaw.

“Noooooo,” Steve denies. He dips his head and nuzzles Bucky’s neck, eliciting a contented groan. He ghosts his lips up to Bucky’s ear. “I just don’t want to hear all of the ‘it’s about time’ remarks I’m going to hear.”

Bucky smiles. “Come on, no one’s going to say that,” he says skeptically.

“Sorry, have you MET the people who work at our station?”

In the end, they decide to let their friends know whenever they see them next. Natasha gives Bucky a hug as soon as she sees him and expresses her support for him unconditionally. She is thrilled to pieces when she hears their news, giving Bucky a second hug and Steve a first one. Bucky is standing behind Steve when Natasha hugs him and whispers into the blond’s ear, “It’s about time.”

Wordlessly, Steve fixes a stare on his new boyfriend’s face. Bucky just smiles and shakes his head.

After getting the present loaded up and secured in the back of the truck, the three are off to Clint’s house. It is a fairly large farmhouse with sunny yellow clapboard siding. At one time the property was huge, but land had long ago been parceled off for other houses to be built in the neighborhood, leaving them with a good sized back yard but no other acreage.

Clint and Laura’s daughter is thrilled with the present everyone chipped in for—a pink, battery operated jeep that she can drive around at the breakneck speed of two miles per hour. They all stand in the driveway watching her zoom around on the front lawn and sidewalk. Like Natasha, Clint gave Bucky an actual hug when they arrived, and told him how sorry he was for his predicament.

Natasha doesn’t even give Steve or Bucky the opportunity to share their new relationship status. First chance she gets, she sidles up to Clint’s side and pokes him in the ribs. “Clint, it really happened this time!” she announces cheerily, and points to Steve and Bucky in turn when Clint appears clueless.

“You mean…these two? Finally?” he claps his hands together when they both nod. “It’s about time!”

Bucky pretends to ignore the telling look Steve gives him. Little by little, Natasha and Clint wheedle the story about Brock out of him. Steve helps out in places where Bucky still has trouble talking about it. They too, are confused about why the Fire Marshall would make up a story about Bucky, and why he and everyone at his old station would have been given a gag order.

“The whole point of the Bureau of Fire Investigation is to talk about what goes wrong at fire sites so it doesn’t happen again. Not to suppress everything,” Clint complains. “Who is this guy Pierce?”

Bucky and Steve both shake their heads. “Don’t know him,” Steve answers.

“Me neither,” seconds Natasha. “This Bruce guy sounds nice, though. Who’s your old BC, Bucky? Kinda sounds like something’s fishy there, too.”

“Jasper Sitwell,” Bucky shares.

“Jasper!” Natasha repeats the name loudly, and everyone turns to stare.

“You know him?” Bucky questions her, head cocked to one side.

“I know him. Didn’t know he made BC.” Natasha sets her mouth in a thin line.

Bucky looks from Natasha to Steve, and back again. “So what does that mean?”

Natasha sighs and folds her arms across her chest. “That means I don’t know what kind of BC he is. But I can tell you he’s a first class suck-up. Jasper Sitwell is only interested in whatever will further Jasper Sitwell’s career.”

Steve crosses his arms over his chest, too. “So if he fucked up the management of that fire, and say someone suggested to him that it would be overlooked if he instructed his crews not to talk about that fire, he would do it?”

Natasha nods and drops her arms. “Without a doubt. Sorry guys, can’t help you much more than that right now, but please tell us if we can do anything.”

Clint does a vigorous head nod, too. “Anything at all, okay?” He waves his hand in their direction airily. “Except any of that gay stuff. I’m out on that,” he cracks, earning a smack from Natasha.

“Seriously, Clint, I can’t take you anywhere.”

Date night officially starts when they go to dinner, after returning to Steve’s house to feed Strider and let him outside again. Natasha stays at Clint’s to wait for Laura to return home; Steve and Bucky are on their own at the restaurant, having decided on a local Lebanese place called Tanoreen. Steve had made an exception to his rule about no work-related talk while at Clint’s house, but was firm once they left there.

Dinner is delicious, and so is the company. Steve takes the opportunity, sitting in the restaurant’s soft lighting, to study the chiseled features of Bucky’s face and commit them to memory. He’s done it a thousand times before, but this time it’s different. This time they are a couple. As they talk, he watches the way Bucky’s lips move and the way the light glints off the soft waves of hair that fall back from his forehead. At one point Bucky stops talking and just smiles at him.

“Are you even listening to me?”

Roused from the trance he was in, Steve starts and gives a hasty reply. “What? Yes!”

Still smiling, Bucky rests one elbow on the table and his chin in his hand. “Then what did I just say?”

“You said…” Steve pauses and Bucky’s smile widens. “…You said you really like the way I get easily distracted.” Steve can’t help a grin as he mimics Bucky’s position, chin in hand.

Bucky shakes his head and laughs openly, music to Steve’s ears. “Not even close. But I’ll forgive you because you’re so cute.”

Steve blushes and conversation continues. After a relaxing and laid back dinner, they head to the theater. Steve is pretty excited about seeing Doctor Strange, and also sitting in a dark theater for a couple of hours next to Bucky. Hopefully he can work in some serious hand-holding time.

They take their seats and watch four hundred trailers before the actual feature starts, but it’s worth it. They both love the movie, and Bucky pulls Steve’s hand across the arm rest between them to hold it in his lap. His skin is warm and smooth, and sharing that simple touch gives Steve a feeling of intimacy that is worth gold.

The intimate sensation continues on the walk back to Steve’s truck, as the two of them hold hands and talk about their impressions of the movie. They continue their analysis on the drive home; Steve doesn’t even realize how close they are to Bucky’s apartment until he turns onto his street.

Then the real nervousness kicks in, because they hadn’t really talked about what would happen now. Should he drop Bucky off at his door? Walk up with him? What if there’s no parking? A quick kiss and then let him off at the curb? But if there is parking, then what? Go in? Don’t go in? This dating shit is complicated. Steve chews his lip. All he really knows is that he doesn’t want this night to end yet.

He lucks out in that there is another car just pulling out of a street spot slightly down and across from Bucky’s building. His anxiety level ratchets up a notch as he eases the truck into the spot and puts the transmission into park. He hasn’t even turned off the ignition yet when Bucky helps him out and addresses the elephant in the car with them.

“This is the weird, awkward part when you’re not sure what to do next, right?”

The streetlights provide enough light that he can see his face pretty clearly when he turns to him.

“Yeah, kinda,” Steve agrees tentatively.

Both of his hands are resting on the steering wheel; Bucky slides a little closer to him on the bench seat.

“I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, or do anything you’re not ready for,” he says softly, laying one hand on Steve’s forearm. “But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want you right now. So if you want to come upstairs with me, I’d like that.”

His voice is low, sexy, and the boldness of the words that just came out of that gorgeous mouth send licks of fire through Steve’s groin. His cock takes an extreme jump in interest and his heart is thumping wildly inside his chest. Looking at Bucky sitting next to him, it’s easy to imagine laying him down, right on the seat of his pickup, and letting his mouth and hands pull off clothing to get to bare skin, tasting him all over, making him moan with pleasure. It all flashes through his mind in an arousing jumble of images; he then snaps back to the present.

“I’m not sure how much I’m ready for,” he says uncertainly, and hesitates.

How much is he ready for? How long has he been alone? There are no right answers, just what feels right. He’s pretty sure of what feels right. Bucky’s eyes have dropped and are veiled under a long curtain of lashes.

“But I’m going to put my mouth on you everywhere, so we’d better go inside to avoid getting arrested for indecency.”

Bucky’s eyes lift to meet his and Steve recognizes the same burning need that is in his own. Bucky slides his hand down Steve’s arm, turns off the ignition, and takes his mouth in a frantic, hungry kiss. His fingers are in Steve’s hair, his tongue deep inside Steve’s mouth, and there’s that moan Steve wanted, throaty and feral.

Steve has abandoned the steering wheel in favor of gripping Bucky at the waist, pulling him across the seat till there’s nowhere else to go. The kiss is heated and frenetic, and desire floods Steve’s system to the point of overload. Somewhere in the back of his head the word inside keeps repeating itself, but he doesn’t particularly want to stop kissing long enough to make that happen.

Somehow Bucky picks up on his mental telepathy, and as quickly as he attacked, he pulls away. There is a whispered “Come on”; his car door is open and he is out like a shot, leaving Steve to scramble to take the keys out of the ignition and get out of his own door as fast as he can.

Then Bucky is on him again, pushing him up against the truck door, hands cradling Steve’s face as he delivers another bone-melting kiss. His hands are hot on Steve’s jaw and Steve feels like he is burning up in his own skin. His fingers hitch on the belt loops of Bucky’s shorts to reel him in, and that’s when he becomes unhinged.

Bucky’s thick erection presses up tantalizingly close his own. Steve gasps and rolls his hips forward for just a little bit of friction, and it’s way too much. He’ll come in his shorts if he keeps that up, so this time he breaks away, pulling Bucky by the hand toward his building. They speed walk across the street in record time and take the steps with Bucky in the lead.

He has his keys out but fumbles in his haste to get indoors, putting the key into the lock upside down on the first try.

“Shit,” he swears under his breath and looks at Steve, leaning against the door jamb next to him. “You make me so crazy, I can’t even unlock my own door.”

The trip into the building has done nothing to diminish Steve’s erection, so he whispers back, “You don’t get that door open soon, we’re going to have an emergency situation out here in your hallway.”

That brings a smile to Bucky’s lips; he gets the door unlocked and open and grabs Steve to haul him in. Once the door is shut and locked, he flips on a light switch and an overhead light in the kitchen blinks on. After that there are hands moving everywhere. Bucky walks backward towards his bedroom, drawing Steve with him. He pulls Steve’s shirt up and off over his head. Steve tugs on Bucky’s shirt, releasing it from his waistband so that Bucky can jerk it off the rest of the way and toss it to the floor.

They are now moving into the bedroom, and though they haven’t turned on any more lights, there is enough illumination provided from the other room for Steve to see Bucky’s bare chest, and start making good on his promise in the truck. His lips find the side of his neck first, kissing and sucking at the tender skin there. They are both trying to undo the other’s shorts but keep getting in each other’s way; Bucky eventually laughs softly and shoves Steve’s hands back to his own clothes, making short work of his own button and zipper.

Steve has gotten his undone as well and drops his shorts to the wood floor. He pushes his boxer briefs down next and steps out of both, kicking off his shoes in the process. Bucky has divested himself of his shorts and shoes, but as Steve’s mouth was ravishing his collarbone, wasn’t able to bend enough to get rid of his own boxer briefs. Steve has the waistband in his hands, slipping his fingers inside and down, cupping the bare cheeks of Bucky’s ass in his hands. He can feel Bucky’s rock hard cock again, twitching against his, with only the thin material of his boxer briefs between them.

Both of Bucky’s hands are in Steve’s hair. His chest rises and falls heavily under Steve’s searching lips and tongue as he trails kisses across Bucky’s pecs. Steve finds one nipple and suckles it briefly, tongue licking over the hardened nub, eliciting a breathy growl from his partner. He slides his hands around to the front of Bucky’s thighs and removes them from inside his boxers, grabbing at the material and sliding it down his thickly muscled legs. He is careful not to touch his cock yet, wanting to save that treat for his mouth.

Once they are both naked, Steve climbs onto the bed and waits for Bucky to join him, using one hand on Bucky’s chest to guide him gently down onto his back. Bucky goes willingly, eyes black in the dim light, mouth opening eagerly to receive Steve’s kiss. Steve maneuvers himself onto all fours, hands on either side of Bucky’s shoulders and legs outside of Bucky’s.

His lips and tongue resume their course down the center of Bucky’s chest and over his abdominals. He kisses the hot skin first, then drags his open mouth and tongue over the area, moving down one treasure trail, ever closer to his prize. With one knee he nudges Bucky’s leg; Bucky spreads his so Steve can step his knees over and in between them.

He’s so close now to his goal; his own breaths come shallow and ragged and his cock is achingly hard. He doesn’t touch himself, instead using one hand to finally circle his fist around Bucky’s length and take it into his mouth. Bucky moans so loudly, Steve worries the neighbors can hear him. The tip of his cock is soaked with pre-come; it is the only part he wraps his lips around, suckling at just the head. His tongue pushes into the slit; Bucky arches under him and makes a filthy, needy sound that tears into Steve like a razor blade.

He can hardly control his own pulsing need, but still moves slowly, lapping and sucking at the head of Bucky’s cock until Bucky begs him.

“Steve…please…”

Steve lets go of Bucky’s length and finds Bucky’s hands with both of his own; he has been fisting the comforter of his bed in an effort not to grab onto Steve’s head and fuck up into his mouth. He holds Bucky’s hands at the same time he swallows his cock, moaning around it as he takes it in as much as he can. He seals his lips tightly and pulls back hard and slow, sucking back up to just the tip and then driving down hard on it again, all the way to the base.

Steve finds his rhythm and repeats this over and over, bobbing his head, sucking and dragging his tongue up and down the side of Bucky’s cock. Every soft whimper, every strangled cry Bucky makes registers in his ears as the most divine sound he’s ever heard.

He knows he’s not going to last much longer, when Bucky suddenly cries out his name sharply. Steve immediately pulls off and moves back up over his body to grind his own throbbing cock up and down against Bucky’s. Fuck, his own cock is wet and feels so slick against Bucky’s as they both rut their hips, writhing against each other.

Finding Bucky’s mouth again, Steve thrusts his tongue in, moaning heavily as they devour each other. Bucky’s hands are on Steve’s ass, alternating between kneading the hard muscle, tense with the thrusts of his hips, and digging into it, pulling him down, forcing their cocks more firmly against each other. It isn’t long before Bucky cries out again; at that instant Steve feels his hot release shooting out, and it pushes him right over the edge.

“Buck,” he groans, and his own orgasm spikes off every imaginable scale there is. White light blinds him and the pulses of pleasure that move through him are overpowering. He comes in hot spurts, hitting his own stomach and Bucky’s as well. His hips continue to rock weakly as his peak passes, and he collapses down on top of his lover, tangling their limbs together.

Bucky kisses him again, long and hard, then rolls the both of them so they are on their sides. “Don’t move,” he instructs Steve, then disappears into the darkness. When he returns he has thoughtfully brought a warm, wet towel for Steve, after cleaning himself up in the bathroom. When Steve is done, the towel gets thrown back into the bathroom and Bucky lies back down on the bed facing him.

“I know you can’t, but I wish you could stay all night,” he confesses.

“Strider wouldn’t like me very much if I did,” Steve says regretfully. “Besides, we have to work in the mor—“ he catches himself before finishing the word and lets his head fall down on one pillow. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”

He looks at Bucky, regretting having stuck his foot in his mouth. Bucky only smiles at him, eyes just a little sad. “It’s okay. I already thought the same thing before I remembered.”

“I hate this,” Steve laments. “Going to work without you there. I hate it,” he pouts. Bucky has become so much a part of his life at the station, he can’t fathom going in alone.

The sad look has gone from Bucky’s eyes, replaced with gratitude. “I hate it, too. Who’ll distract you when I’m not there?” he jests. “It won’t be long though, right? We’ll figure it out.” His warm hand glides over the quickly cooling skin of Steve’s flank.

“Yes. We will,” Steve answers back firmly. One more quick kiss and they both sit up. He doesn’t want to go, but knows he should.

“Steve,” Bucky says softly, “Earlier, when we were jerking Sam around, and he said you weren’t a one-night-stand kind of guy?” He pauses and looks into Steve’s eyes as Steve nods.

“Yeah?”

“I’m not either.”

Steve smiles and leans in for another kiss. Maybe he can stay a little longer.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

Steve is dog-tired when he reports for work Sunday morning, but first thing he does is go see Tony and tell him everything that Bruce said to them at the coffee shop. Tony scratches his goatee absentmindedly and says “okaaaaaay” in a long, drawn out manner that tells Steve he has no idea what it all means either. Tony then asks him how Bucky is holding up. Steve pauses to take a sip from the espresso that disappointingly hasn’t kicked in and woken him up yet.

“He’s upset, of course, but I think he’s handling it pretty well.”

He sips at his cup again, remembering last night with more than just a little satisfaction. Truthfully, he’s been thinking about it virtually non-stop. Being with Bucky in that way has made him want even more. No, not more. He wants it all. He can’t wait to see him again, to touch him, to have Bucky make him feel special and wanted in that way he always does. Steve is drawn back to Tony, who is slurping his coffee noisily.

“Yep, thought so,” Tony gloats, smacking his lips.

“Thought what?” Steve asks, and Tony laughs.

“Steve, you were daydreaming so hard, you didn’t even hear me say my mole is coming in later this morning to talk to us. Around 10:30.”

“He is?” Steve says excitedly, and Tony holds up a hand.

“Yes, but I want to hear about you and Bucky, and what’s going on between you.”

Steve smiles and shrugs. “Guess we sort of started seeing each other,” he admits vaguely, but Tony isn’t satisfied with that.

“Sort of? Could you be any less specific?” he probes, and gets Steve to commit.

“Sort of definitely seeing each other.”

Tony is all smiles. “Congratulations, you deserve each other. And I mean that in a good way.” He lifts his coffee cup into the air and leans across his desk, tapping it against Steve’s as he brings his up as well.

“Thanks, Tony.” Steve rises from his chair to get started on his shift.

The chair squeaks as Tony sits back in it and puts his feet up on his desk. As Steve exits the room he hears his friend’s dig under his breath.

“And it’s ’bout time.”

-

Since Steve is lacking one partner, he is part of a three man crew with Thor and Sam for their work shift; though he is comfortable with both of them, he still feels Bucky’s absence sharply and painfully. Sam has already spilled the beans to Thor about him and Bucky dating, but the story of their texting prank takes on new life and hilarity when Sam recounts it, solely due to the faces he pulls and the inflection of his words. Steve is laughing just as hard as Thor is by the end of it.

After that, what they really want to talk about is Bucky’s suspension and the reason for it. Steve goes through the details again; they are in the bay, doing routine inspections and talking about it when Darcy appears, her dark red lips set in a thin line.

“Steve,” she calls out to him. “Tony wants you. There’s someone here to see you.”

Puzzled, Steve walks over to her. It’s nowhere near the time to meet Tony’s contact. “Who is it?” he asks, concerned by her angry-looking face.

“Alexander Pierce,” she spits out furiously.

“What?” says Steve.

“What?” repeats Sam from across the bay.

“What?” Thor echoes a third time, standing next to Sam.

“Steve,” Sam warns him. “Be careful what you say.”

Nodding, Steve follows Darcy down the hall. She whispers to him, “He just showed up unexpectedly to see Tony, and asked for you by name.”

Steve’s stomach lurches. What is he doing here? Did he somehow find out Tony was doing some snooping? The door to Tony’s office is closed. Darcy knocks twice, opens the door to allow Steve entry, and closes it again behind him. Seated in front of Tony’s desk is an older man: red hair with flecks of gray and a medium build. Imposing in a dress uniform. Steve can feel the force of his presence even before he rises and speaks.

The man turns to Steve when he enters and holds out his hand. Steve takes it to be polite and glances at Tony, who also has gotten up from behind his desk. He is wearing an equally polite smile that Steve can tell from long practice is concealing his true emotions. The Fire Marshall is the first to speak, taking his hand in a vise grip.

“You must be Steve Rogers,” he booms, in an overly friendly voice.

Steve nods and the man continues. “Alexander Pierce, with the Bureau of Fire Investigation.”

“It’s good to meet you,” Steve replies, forcing himself to assume a normal tone of voice.

Really he wants to treat Pierce like a venomous snake; don’t get too close, or alternatively, run him over with a lawn mower.

“Please, sit down,” Pierce invites, motioning to the seat next to his, as if it’s his office and not Tony’s.

As all three sit, he goes on. “I was just telling your BC here what a beautiful firehouse this is. You can really feel the tradition in these old brick stations, can’t you?”

His manner reminds Steve of an oily politician, but he agrees with him tepidly.

“You’re both probably wondering what brought me here,” Pierce says, steepling his hands together in front of him. He doesn’t bother to wait for a response and continues. “I’ve been very concerned about James since that unfortunate fire report was issued. I know how difficult it is to be a rookie, and how easy it is to make mistakes. The best thing to do is learn from it and put it behind you.”

He nods in both of their directions. “As his BC and his partner, you two are closest to him and can help guide him, help him make smart choices.” He looks down his nose at Steve. “Now we easily would have been justified in letting him go for such a failure in performing his duty, but we decided to give him another chance. Does he seem willing to accept the consequences and move on without dragging things out needlessly?”

Steve is burning to say something non-complimentary to Pierce, but holds his tongue and looks at Tony; lips pursed, he offers up some carefully constructed words. “He already indicated to me he did not plan to appeal, if that’s what you mean.”

“Ahhh!” Pierce smiles, and it turns Steve’s stomach. “Good, good,” Pierce preens. “It really is the best way. We’re all here to serve the people, right? From the top ranks down to the little guys out in the field. We take that honor very seriously at the Bureau, and I’m glad to hear James is supporting our mission.”

Steve grinds his teeth together. Pierce’s cockiness is rubbing him about a thousand times the wrong way. Sitting there in dress uniform, blathering on about honor and serving the people. Bucky’s got more honor in his pinky finger than you do in your entire body, blowhard.

The blowhard keeps yapping; Steve tries to listen without making a disgusted face, and feels like he is barely succeeding.

“I know what will make his reflection period more bearable for all of you. I have a lot of friends in management. After James serves out his required period, what if we were to give the station some upgrades?”

He spreads his hands wide, while Steve and Tony stare. “You know, new equipment, spruce up the old place,” he describes mildly, like it’s no big deal at all. In a big city like Brooklyn, budgetary concerns loom over every facet of their daily life. Getting more paperclips is scrutinized by Finance. Pierce snaps his fingers. “Say the word, I can make that happen.”

“Sir,” Tony begins, and Steve has to hand it to him; he sounds infinitely respectful, though Steve can see the anger smolder behind his eyes. “That’s very generous of you. We don’t want any special treatment, though.”

Pierce waves his hand. “Don’t think of it like that. All stations need to be modernized at some point.”

Still wearing his placid smile, Tony makes his reply. “I’m sure we can wait our turn. Just like we’ll wait out the suspension.”

“Alright then,” Pierce acknowledges, and to Steve it looks like his eyes have grown cold. “If there’s anything you need, though, you just let me know. It would be my pleasure.”

Steve feels like he should say something supportive. Not “Fuck off”. He puts in an impassive “Thank you, sir”, and falls silent again. Tony, however, is a pro. He stands and gestures to his door.

“Would you like a tour of the station?”

“Oh, no, no,” Pierce declines, still in that good-old-boy tone of voice. “I’m afraid I won’t have the time. But thank you for the offer.”

He stands and offers his hand to the both of them again. Steve suffers through another crushing hand shake, and mentions something about getting back to work. Pierce breezes out of the office and building. Steve and Tony stand there, quiet as church mice. Steve turns to him.

“Did he just try to bribe us?”

“Yeah,” Tony nods. “That pompous ass just tried to bribe us.” He sticks his hands in his pockets. “The plot thickens.”

-

Just after his encounter with the Fire Marshall, Steve, Thor and Sam are called out to a fire alarm at a business. Fortunately it is a false alarm, tripped by an employee going in to the office. Steve makes it back in time to meet Tony and his contact. He hustles up to Tony’s office, hearing Tony’s voice, and is surprised when he strides in through the open door and finds that Bucky is the one being spoken to.

“Buck!” he declares happily, and gets a warm smile. It’s weird to see him here and not in uniform, instead in shorts and a t-shirt, but his heart jumps up into his throat at any rate.

“Just in the Nick of time, Steve,” puns Tony, indicating with a nod of his head to the window that looks out onto the street. Strolling up the driveway of the station is Nick Fury, bearing a large plate piled high with something looking suspiciously like brownies.

“Nick is your mole?” Steve asks in wonderment, and Tony nods.

“Nick knows everyone in the firefighting community, and also who’s trustworthy and who’s not.”

Tony has already prepared for the gathering by dragging in another chair from the conference room so there will be enough room for all four of them; though it’s a tight fit once Nick comes in, it is manageable. Nick offers up brownies straightaway.

“Betsy insisted on baking something when she found out I was stopping in,” he says resignedly. “Please take these before I eat them all.”

The tray gets planted in the center of Tony’s desk, and Bucky tries to thank him for his help.

“Shut up, it was nothing,” Nick cuts him off. “I can’t stand abuse of power. As soon as I heard Pierce’s name, I was happy to help.”

The other three look at him in silence before Steve inquires, “Why is that?”

“Because he’s a dick,” Nick states matter-of-factly. “Or haven’t you met him yet?” He looks around the room at them all.

Tony blows out a puff of laughter. “We just had the pleasure this morning.”

“He was here? ” Bucky sits forward in his chair.

“He was here,” Tony replies, tapping the arms of his chair randomly. “Wanted to know if you were appealing. Offered us some upgrades to the firehouse if we steered you in the right direction, to make your suspension an easier pill to swallow.”

“Upgrades?” Bucky says sarcastically, and Nick lets out a bellow of laughter.

“A bribe. Sounds just like Pierce.”

“Sounds like you know him fairly well,” Bucky notes.

“Pierce has been around as long as I have,” Nick explains. He pulls the Saran Wrap off of the brownie plate and takes one, then covers the rest back up. “I can’t take it anymore. Betsy makes the best brownies this side of the Mississippi.”

Bucky sneaks one off the plate as well; Nick takes a bite and chews thoughtfully before continuing. Bucky makes an Mmmmm noise as soon as brownie hits his tongue.

“Oh my,” he utters with feeling, “You guys have to try these!” he mumbles, mouth full.

Steve gives in and takes one, but Tony only stares longingly at the plate. “Pepper thinks I’ve put on a few since moving from active duty. She’s putting me on a diet,” he whines mournfully, eliciting a cackle from Steve.

“More for me,” he announces gleefully, and takes a big bite.

Nick has gotten in a couple of mouthfuls already and is ready to talk again. “Pierce started off his career as a firefighter, like most of the Marshalls,” he starts. “He had two partners; the first for twelve years, until that gentleman retired, and the second for thirteen years, until Pierce was promoted. That second partner he was very close to, maintaining contact with him even after he had left the firehouse. Guess who that partner was?”

“Brock,” Bucky says glumly.

“Bingo.” Nick touches his nose like he is playing charades. “Didn’t take me much digging to find out that Pierce and Rumlow were tight. And I mean tight. Apparently went into some private business ventures together, too, real estate and such.”

Bucky looks miserable. His brownie isn’t even distracting him now.

Tony speaks up next. “So is this just revenge?”

Steve shakes his head. “I don’t buy just revenge. What’s with all the secrecy?”

Tony prompts Bucky to fill Nick in on their conversation with Bruce, which Bucky does while Steve and Nick chomp down more brownie.

“The fuck?” Nick swears when Bucky has finished. “That fire was mismanaged, without a doubt. But I agree with Steve. Pierce may certainly have wanted revenge, but he wouldn’t come sniffing around here, offering goodies, if that’s all he was after. Something else has to be going on.”

“Something we have no idea of,” Bucky says morosely, and takes a giant bite of brownie for consolation.

“Time is ticking,” Steve observes grimly. “What do we do next?”

“We need to find out what Pierce and Rumlow were doing in business together, and if it has anything to do with that building,” Tony maintains. “And fast.”

Bucky polishes off the rest of his brownie. “I think I need to see Maria again.”

Steve is still devouring the rest of his mid-morning dessert. “That’s a good idea,” he says around a mouthful.

“Wanna rub it in a little more, Rogers?” Tony whines, watching Steve lick his fingers. “I’m going up for bland coffee with limited calories. Nick, would you like to come?”

“Sure!” Nick rises and follows Tony out, leaving Steve and Bucky alone in his office. Both had gotten up when the first two men filed out; they now step closer to each other.

“I’m glad you came in this morning. I miss you being here already.” Steve sits his butt on the edge of Tony’s desk.

Bucky moves to stand in front of him, putting one knee just inside both of Steve’s. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you since last night,” he confides, and Steve feels his face warm.

“So, we found something that will keep your mind off work?” he jokes.

Bucky grins coyly, then makes a serious face. “Yes. But I think I’ll need another dose by tomorrow.”

Steve plays along, frowning in mock seriousness. “Yes. Another dose.” Then his face brightens. “You could come over to my house after shift end for breakfast.”

Bucky edges himself in tighter between Steve’s knees and plays with the collar of his shirt. “Are you offering to cook for me?”

“I think I can handle bacon and eggs.”

Bucky looks up at the ceiling and scratches at his chin, as if deep in thought. “I maybe could be awake at seven AM and waiting for a text. I just wish it would happen today instead.” He peers around Tony’s office, tipping his head to the side to regard his desk. “This looks pretty sturdy,” he teases. “What do you think Tony would do if we commandeered his desk for a while?”

Steve laughs. “I don’t know, but I imagine it would involve lots of swearing and bleach.”

Bucky grins; Steve catches his hand, rubs his thumb over the back of it and whispers his next words.

“I haven’t stopped thinking about you, either.”

A slow smile creeps across Bucky’s face.

“Come on,” Steve changes the subject before he succumbs to the temptation to start kissing him. “Nat is up in the great room. We can ask her about Maria.”

They grab the brownies and both head upstairs, where Nick and Tony are enjoying coffee and talking to the other members of their crew. They are all pleased to see Bucky (even if it’s not in a work capacity) and the homemade brownies, too.

Natasha pops off of her barstool and grabs them both by the arm, hauling them to one side. “So,” she starts, tone conspiratorial. “Maria wants to talk to you both. Bucky, can you come back to the station tonight when she goes off duty?”

Bucky blinks and looks from Steve to Natasha. “Of course! We wanted to talk to her, too.”

She smiles broadly. “Good. I’ll go text her.”

Sam is studying the plate of brownies. “Bucky, did you make these?”

Thor has taken one and shoved half of it into his mouth. “Couldn’t have. They’re delicious.”

Nick laughs generously and stands to depart. “I’ll be sure to relay that to Betsy.”

Before Bucky has the chance to leave as well, Thor stands and speaks up, grabbing everyone’s attention.

“I have a little announcement to make. In honor of Jane agreeing to cohabitate with me, we’re having a party Thursday night at my place, and you’re all invited.”

There are various cheers and woo-hoos. Thor turns directly to Bucky. “Jane is especially hoping you’ll come, Bucky.”

“My calendar is suddenly wide open. Wouldn’t miss it,” Bucky promises. “And congrats to you both.”

-

The remainder of the day keeps Steve very busy, so he doesn’t have much time to brood about how much he misses his partner. Maria arrives at the station just before Bucky does, still wearing her uniform.

“Steve,” she greets him and gives him a hug. “Natasha has already told me a lot; I hope that was okay. She’s worried about Bucky.”

Steve nods as they sit down at the dining table. “Yeah, it’s okay.”

“She also told me about you two.” She smiles and squeezes his hand. “I’m happy for you.”

Steve smiles and feels himself blush. Even though he knew it was dumb and unnecessary, he was worried about what Maria would think, being an old friend of Peg’s.

“You know what she would say?”

Steve has no doubt at all which “she” Maria is referring to. He sighs dramatically. “It’s about time?” he replies sardonically, eyebrows lifted.

Maria flashes him a dazzling smile. Bucky arrives and joins them at the table, and Natasha plops down in a chair as well. Maria makes him recount everything so she can hear it first hand, then sits with her eyes unfocused, thinking.

“They were using that building for something,” she claims, “something that Pierce and Rumlow both knew about.” Her eyes clear again and she looks frustrated. “We know there were people seen entering and exiting before the fire happened, and they weren’t vagrants. Maybe they started the fire, and it really was arson?” She looks around at all of them. “What are common motives for arson?”

“Vandalism? Thrill-seeking?” Natasha ventures guesses.

Steve shrugs. “Insurance fraud?”

“To cover up a crime, like theft,” Bucky opines.

Maria shakes her head. “The building was unoccupied. It was empty, so what was there to steal?”

Steve stares at her and stops her when she opens her mouth to speak again. “Wait. Say that again, Maria.”

Maria looks confused. “Say what? The building was unoccupied?”

“Yes,” Steve says. “The building was unoccupied.” He pauses for a moment, recalling Bucky’s words to him the first time he told the story. “But it wasn’t empty.”

“Huh?” says Natasha articulately.

Steve turns to Bucky; the thought just struck him suddenly when Maria spoke. “You told me when you and Brock entered the second floor and you saw fire down one hallway that there were boxes lined up along the hall, and they were burning. Do you remember?”

Bucky, too, looks like he’s had an epiphany. “Yes. There were rows of cardboard boxes. Lots of them.”

“Boxes of what?” Maria asks, but Bucky only shrugs.

“Couldn’t tell.”

“Did anyone else see any boxes?”

Bucky shakes his head. “I don’t know, but I can ask Bruce.”

Maria now has a glint in her eye, and Steve suspects her police mind is whirring with ideas. “So Pierce and Rumlow were using the building for some purpose. Possibly the blaze was set on purpose to cover something up. You said Brock didn’t want to ventilate the roof. What would that do?”

Bucky speaks up right away. “Make the fire burn hotter and faster.”

“And he didn’t want to start spraying that hot spot you went past,” Steve notes eagerly.

“So Brock wanted the building to burn?” Bucky says doubtfully. “I still don’t get it. And I only have four more days to figure it out.”

Natasha puts her chin in her hand. “We still don’t know what they were covering up. And we have no proof.”

“Leave that to me,” asserts Maria. “I know a guy.”

-

At promptly seven AM, Steve texts Bucky to let him know they had no late runs and he would be home at his usual time. Steve and Strider make it home without incident and Steve changes out of his uniform and into soft jogging pants and an old Star Wars t-shirt. He meditates starting the bacon, but decides to wait till his guest arrives, since he’s not sure exactly when that will be.

Instead he fiddles around on the computer, surfing news sites to kill time. It isn’t long before his doorbell rings, and one Bucky Barnes is on his doorstep, wearing shorts and an old Star Wars t-shirt. He grins when he sees similar garb mirrored in front of him.

“Great minds think alike, huh?” he quips on his way in.

Strider demands immediate attention, even before Steve gets a proper greeting. Once the dog is satisfied with the number of pets he has received, Bucky rises from the floor and is pulled into a hug. The hug leads to a soft kiss, which leads to more soft kisses, and hands roaming freely, and temperatures increasing.

Detaching his lips from Bucky’s, Steve murmurs into his ear, “I didn’t start breakfast yet since I wasn’t sure what time you’d get here.”

His arms are wrapped around his boyfriend, hands caressing the small of his back. Bucky slides one of his hands down to rest possessively on the curve of Steve’s ass.

“That’s okay,” he murmurs back. “I was kind of hoping we could put breakfast off for a while. I had something better in mind.”

Steve can’t resist some banter. “Better than bacon?”

“Better than bacon.”

“Why James Barnes,” Steve teases, eyes twinkling. “Are you saying this is a booty call?”

Bucky laughs softly into his ear and pushes him back against his front door, hands on his upper arms to pin them at his sides. His eyes drop slowly to Steve’s lips, then move back up to his eyes. Their mouths are only centimeters apart when he speaks again.

“I have never in my life made a booty call, and don’t you ever call yourself that again. You are so much more than that.” He plants a kiss on Steve’s lips, slow and sure. “But if we were to just happen to have sex while I’m here, then this would be the best day ever.”

“Ever?” Steve’s not kidding so much now. He studies Bucky’s icy blue eyes, penetrating his, and feels heat start to build deep inside him.

“EVER.”

Bucky’s lips slide along his jaw, laying kisses down as they travel. His neck is next; Steve closes his eyes when Bucky’s tongue licks over the track of his carotid artery and he nips at one earlobe. His hands have released Steve’s arms and have moved up and under the cotton fabric of his shirt, running over his flanks with his fingertips to raise goosebumps everywhere.

A low growl emanates from Steve’s throat; now that his arms are free he instinctively pulls Bucky in closer to him, hands clutching at his ass to grind their hips together. Bucky moans and his teeth graze Steve’s neck when their hardening cocks first come into contact with each other. He rocks his pelvis into Steve’s, dragging his cock against his.

Even through their clothing, the sensation is incredible. Steve jerks hard at Bucky’s hips, trying to crush the lower halves of their bodies together. When two of Bucky’s searching fingertips find his nipple and rub over it, Steve gasps out in pleasure.

“Buck,” he groans out, eyes starting to glaze over.

Bucky kisses and sucks at his Adam’s apple. “Yes, Steve?” he hums.

“Bedroom.”

The other fingers have found Steve’s second nipple and circle around it, while Bucky’s tongue dips into the hollow at the base of his neck. “I thought you’d never ask,” he whispers seductively.

He pushes off the door, takes Steve by the hand and makes for the hallway down to Steve’s room. Steve’s pulse feels like it’s hammering at about a thousand beats per minute, and the blood pounding in his ears is so loud, he’s sure Bucky can hear it, too. It’s not nervousness causing it though, it is anticipation. He wants this, to be with Bucky in every way that he can.

They make it to his room and Bucky doesn’t stop, leading Steve right to the bed. Bucky does pause there to kick off his shoes. Steve isn’t wearing any, so he climbs on his king-sized bed and rolls to his back, unsure of what to do next. Bucky immediately lies down next to him and starts kissing him again, pulling him in so that their arms and legs twine around each other.

His kisses grow deeper, his tongue delving further in and flirting indolently with Steve’s. They have too much clothing on. Brashly Steve pushes at Bucky’s shorts, impatiently trying to remove the material from his backside without even getting to the button and zipper on the front first. Bucky doesn’t stop kissing him, but does reach down to his own shorts and work them open. Steve redoubles his efforts, sensing the new undone and unzipped status of the offending article of clothing.

Down go Bucky’s shorts and boxer briefs, giving Steve the bare skin access he desires. God, his naked, hot skin feels so fucking fantastic in Steve’s hands. Bucky has attacked Steve’s jogging pants as well, having better luck working those down over his hips and thighs. Neither one has discarded his clothing entirely yet, but once their cocks touch each other with no restriction between them, they both get distracted.

Bucky groans loudly into Steve’s mouth and reaches down with one hand to stroke at both of them, trying to bring their thick, hardened shafts together. Steve can feel the wetness at the tip of Bucky’s cock as well as his own, and it just makes his arousal spike even higher. Bucky’s fingers coax him, pulling and twisting, rubbing into their pre-cum to try and slick them both up. Steve starts pumping his hips, wantonly pressing into him.

His temperature has risen so much in the last two minutes that he’s starting to pant, and realizes that clothes OFF would be a really good thing right about now. He gives up on humping Bucky for a moment and reaches down to pull his shirt off. Bucky figures out what he’s doing and they separate themselves to quickly take off everything, throwing things haphazardly onto the floor.

When they come back together again, Steve rolls so that Bucky is on top of him, his knees in between Steve’s outstretched legs. He bends his knees up and hopes that Bucky will know what he wants, what he needs. He’s aching for Bucky to touch him, to find that tight ring of muscle and penetrate it, to make him shiver with need and desire until he cries out with the intensity of it.

And Bucky knows. His fingers slide south, dragging slowly down over Steve’s leg, inward to the sensitive skin of his thigh, swirling around in circles there as Steve exhales devotedly into the kiss they are sharing. As Bucky gets closer and closer, the noises Steve makes grow louder, starting from the tiniest whimper to becoming a full-on ragged moan when Bucky’s fingers finally touch his entrance.

Once he finds it, his fingertips dance around it, circling and rubbing slowly across the puckered skin. Steve pushes down against his fingers and spreads his legs wider; that brings a heavy moan to Bucky’s lips.

“Oh God, baby, I want in you so bad,” he gasps out. “Please tell me you have lube somewhere nearby.”

“Drawer,” Steve huffs, and points to the bedside table, eyes closed in rapture.

It is close enough to Bucky’s side that he can use his free hand to reach the drawer, without stopping his attentions to Steve’s body. Quickly he finds what he’s looking for and slicks up his fingers. He caresses the skin at Steve’s hole again, watching his reaction. Steve arches and pushes against him again, eager for more. The first breach is enough to take his breath away. Bucky eases in slowly, but Steve is so tight that even one finger burns and makes him start to tremble.

Bucky is gentle when he needs to be, taking his time, working his finger in at a pace Steve can tolerate, only adding a second when he thinks he is ready for it. All the while he whispers sweet nothings, and his other hand is buried in Steve’s hair, stroking him. With his two fingers he scissors and pumps in and out, stretching him out as best he can, seemingly encouraged by every soft whimper, until he can get three fingers in.

At this point, Steve thinks a heart attack seems a likelihood, but at least he would die a happy man. Bucky’s slicked up fingers, sliding rhythmically in and out of his hot, tight channel, leave him dizzy and breathless. He can’t even imagine how good Bucky’s heavy, sizeable cock is going to feel until the fingers are gone and the warm, wet head is pressed up against his hole.

Steve cries out when he is penetrated; again Bucky is patient, sinking in slowly, with Steve’s muscled legs wrapped around his waist. He drives in, letting Steve envelope him, until he is buried as far as he can go.

“Still with me, Steve?”

It’s a legit question. Steve thinks about all kinds of words to say, but actual speech seems wildly improbable, so he nods, eyes closed, and manages a weak, breathy “uh-huh”. Part of him is in a faraway place, where there is no time Bucky isn’t inside him, filling him up, making him think his sole purpose in life is to be fucked by his lover over and over.

Bucky’s hands roam slowly over his hot skin, exploring him with curious fingertips, reaching up his thighs and over his hips. His fingers dig in slightly there, getting ready for Steve’s-not-sure-what. Bucky’s voice calls to him, low and full of promise.

“I’m gonna make you feel so good, baby.”

To Steve it seems a foregone conclusion that Bucky can’t make him feel any better than he does right now, with his cock buried to the hilt inside him, and that feeling of overwhelming fullness.

And then Bucky moves.

He pulls out, slow, deliberate, and rolls his hips, driving back in just as slowly but all the way in, until he is seated fully again, his engorged cock hitting Steve everywhere that matters. Steve moans like a slut. He knows it, can’t help it, and lets it happen. Guttural, deep moans trickle out of him as Bucky slides out and back in again, so hard and slick with lube.

Gradually his pace picks up, and the force of his thrusts increases with his pace. He pumps in and out faster, hips gyrating, sliding his hands over Steve’s body and leaning forward until he can grip him by the shoulders. Bucky whines breathlessly with the effort, a sound that makes Steve squeeze him more tightly, pulling him in even more deeply.

The change in angle has the immediate effect of driving Steve insane, because Bucky finds that sweet spot, that bundle of nerves that when he hits it with the tip of his cock, makes his body react like he’s exploding with pleasure from the inside out. His eyes fly open with the first rut of Bucky’s hips, and he finds Bucky watching him with a devilish smile on his beautiful face.

“Feel how hard I am, baby? You do that to me,” he purrs, anchoring himself by pulling down on Steve’s broad shoulders, as his shaft strokes Steve’s prostate over and over.

“Oh God, Buck,” Steve groans. “Fuck.” He wants to fist himself, his cock is so hard and wet, but when he reaches down Bucky gently removes his hand, promising that the wait will be worth it. Instead his hands find Bucky’s hips and clutch at them desperately. “Harder, babe. Fuck me harder,” he begs.

Bucky is watching him with fierce eyes, pupils blown dark. Hearing Steve beg for it seems to spur him on. He changes his pattern again, from quick passes that keep him half sheathed in Steve’s hot passage, to longer, more savage thrusts. He pulls out almost all the way to the tip, then slams back in, brutally hard, and cries out with his own pleasure.

Steve knows he himself continues to make all sorts of noise, nonsensical oh’s and yes’s. His whimpers get higher in pitch the harder Bucky fucks into him. He can feel his fingers slipping on Bucky’s sweat misted skin, and can feel a light sheen forming on his own chest.

Bucky looks beautiful, hair mussed, chest heaving. His eyes have now drifted shut, his mouth open as he, too, moans freely with lust. He grinds into Steve with all the considerable power his legs can generate, fucking him so hard, Steve has to let go of his hips and brace himself with both arms over his head, pushing back against the headboard.

His body is rocking so hard, he is in danger of banging his head on his own headboard. Somewhere in the part of his brain that is still rational, he thinks the concussion would be worth it. The other part of his brain is seeing stars instead of his ceiling. How Bucky has lasted this long, he has no idea. A few more long, driving strokes and Bucky’s back arches; a frantic “Steve” is torn from his throat, and Steve feels the hot release fill him as Bucky comes.

Watching Bucky empty himself inside him is intoxicating. He releases Steve’s shoulders and runs his hands all over Steve’s chest and stomach as he rocks, more weakly now, moving through the aftershocks of his orgasm. Having Bucky touch him so greedily, like he can’t get enough of Steve’s bare skin, makes his erection scream with need. He could almost come right now, he’s so horned up.

“Buck,” Steve groans, his voice like gravel. “Touch me. Kiss me.”

With a breathy sigh, Bucky leans over him and obliges him, elbows on either side of his head, and gives him a long, passionate kiss, hot tongue wrapping around his, mouths mashed together like they are one. His slicked up hand snakes down, finds Steve’s painfully hard erection, and strokes him, curling tightly around his length.

Steve’s cry of disbelief is swallowed up by Bucky’s kiss. He was sure it couldn’t get any better, but getting jerked off by Bucky at the same time his tongue is as deep as it can go inside Steve’s mouth is pretty spectacular too. There is a sudden loss of heat as Bucky’s softening cock slips from inside him, but Steve compensates by slinging his arms around his back and binding one leg around his, holding him tightly.

Bucky still palms his cock efficiently and ruthlessly, till Steve thinks he might just start howling like his dog. Then his own orgasm sends him spiraling into heady oblivion, and hot spurts of fluid hit him and Bucky both, spattering across their stomachs. Bucky doesn’t stop stroking him or kissing him, devouring every cry of delight Steve makes until he quiets and his body stills.

Only then does he release Steve’s captured mouth; he kisses unhurriedly around his jaw to his ear, then down his neck to his shoulder. Steve, unable to articulate any words yet, gulps for air and clasps his hands around Bucky’s back, holding on for dear life.

He has no idea how much time has passed. Hours? Minutes? He completely lost control, all sense of time and space, anything that didn’t have to do with Bucky’s body, moving inside and around his. And he loved it.

Bonelessly, Bucky rolls off of him and collapses down onto the bed next to him. They are both still for several moments before Steve finds words.

“That was better than bacon.”

Next to him, Bucky squeaks weakly with laughter. “Told you so.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

Steve and Bucky do have their bacon and eggs…much later in the morning. After getting cleaned up and spooning in the bed together for a while (Steve was the big spoon), both had fallen asleep in their cuddled up positions. Eventually hunger propels Steve up and out of the warm cocoon of blankets. As he gathers his clothes from the floor and looks at his bed, a huge smile covers his face. Bucky lies on his back with his hair standing up all over, an angelic look on his face, so peaceful in slumber.

There’s a lot for him to smile about—finally recognizing what he really wants and then on top of that, realizing he could have it. And there it is, breathing evenly in his bed, looking for all the world like he belongs there. It’s been a long time since Steve felt this much happiness, and it’s nice to stop and appreciate that fact.

Once he’s got clothes on, he tiptoes out of the room on light feet so as not to disturb his sleeping boyfriend. He’s hoping he can have breakfast ready before he wakes. As he passes through the living room, Strider lifts a sleepy head from his spot on the couch and regards him silently, ears cocked.

“Wanna go out, buddy?”

Strider leaps off the couch excitedly and goes to the back door with him. After he gets the eggs cracked and whisked and the bacon frying, Steve checks his phone for messages. One from Sam:

“Whenever you and Bucky surface for air, call me.”

A smiley face emoji accompanies it. There is also a text from Maria.

“I have a friend looking into Pierce for us. Will let you know ASAP what he finds.”

There are two smiley face emojis accompanying that one. Steve puts off calling Sam for the moment to finish cooking; right on cue, Bucky emerges from the bedroom, clothed and hungry.

“Hey gorgeous,” Steve greets him, spatula in hand, as Bucky crosses the living room space and delivers a sweet kiss to him, leaning over the kitchen island to do so.

“I’m sorry I slept so long,” he confesses, but Steve doesn’t want to hear it.

“Don’t be sorry, I fell asleep, too. And… I want you to feel comfortable here.”

Bucky sidles around the island for another light kiss on the lips; Steve then motions to the nearby table.

“Hope you’re hungry.”

“Starving!” Bucky replies enthusiastically.

The kitchen has a round eat-in table for six that they sit at to eat and talk. He shows Bucky Maria’s text, and Bucky plans to call Bruce later. Steve’s a little bummed though, because for the next day and a half Bucky is baby-sitting his nieces while his sister and her husband are out of town. Steve won’t be able to see him at all. Till Tuesday night! That feels like forever, when you’re at the start of a relationship and all you want to do is spend time with the object of your desire.

He would like nothing better than to be attached to Bucky’s hip for the foreseeable future, but that’s not the way shit works. And he doesn’t even have the luxury of their normal twenty-four work shift together to look forward to, that’s the saddest part. But Bucky does promise to text him, and Steve supposes he’ll survive. But he won’t like it.

--

The first text comes to Steve while he is at the grocery store, picking out Greek yogurt. It is a picture of Bucky and one of his nieces, a tiny-looking girl of maybe four. They appear to be making a fort out of blankets and furniture. There is a tent-like structure in the middle of the room, and all that can be seen of Bucky as he is on his hands and knees working on it are his rear end and legs. His niece is in a similar position next to him. There is accompanying text with the picture.

“Guess which one is me.”

Steve looks at the image again. It’s a really great shot of his ass, and he’s a great connoisseur of fine asses. He is reminded of that day he surreptitiously watched Bucky shovel oil-dry, and how incredibly sexy he looked. Kind of like he looks right now. Those two firm, well-shaped cheeks, clad in snug fitting jeans, above those tree-trunk thighs of his, look perfect. He can’t decide if it’s lucky genes or whatever Bucky does to work out, but the result is beautiful to behold. He texts back:

“I think she got your good side.”

The second picture comes in the evening while Steve is taking Strider for a walk. Bucky is smiling and sitting on one of the girls beds; he has apparently let them have free reign while playing dress-up. Over his own clothes he is wearing a pink feather boa, diamond tiara, and purple tutu. His fingernails are painted a shimmery pink. Steve is fairly certain they have applied some red lipstick to his mouth as well. The text reads:

“Thank goodness the high heels didn’t fit.”

Steve sends a message back:

“Trying out a new look? Should go over big at the station.”

“Fairy princess is my fall-back career, in case firefighting doesn’t work out.”

Steve reads this message, frowns and looks down at Strider, who wags his tail. “He’s being negative, Strider. We can’t have that, can we.”

They turn the corner and Steve texts him back.

“You won’t need the back-up.”

A moment passes and Steve receives another message.

“Thanks Steve. Putting the girls to bed soon.”

“Good luck with that.”

Steve sticks his phone back into his pocket after typing in his answer. Thinking about Bucky and his nieces gives him a strange pang of jealousy, at the same time he is happy that Bucky is close to his family. Maybe jealousy isn’t the right descriptor…maybe its loneliness. He’s been on his own for a long time, and not just because his wife died. He didn’t have much in the way of relatives growing up, either. The thought of fitting into a family now…it’s a foreign idea, but one that holds a lot of appeal. And Bucky figures into that idea prominently.

Whatever it is he’s feeling, it’s gotten into his head and he can’t shake it the rest of their walk home. His imagination runs away with him and he finds himself actually thinking about what it would be like to grow old with Bucky. What it would be like to raise children with Bucky.

Wait. What?

“Get a grip, man,” he mumbles to himself. They’ve just started dating, and he’s already thinking about long-term plans? It was a daydream, that’s all, he tells himself. Nothing to get worked up about. He’s not jumping the gun at all. He looks down into Strider’s chocolate brown eyes.

“Right, pal?”

“Woof!”

--

The third picture comes the next morning while Bucky is making breakfast. Or rather, the girls are making breakfast, while Bucky’s job seems to be to document it and to contain the mess to the kitchen. Bucky has taken the image this time; his two nieces, in yellow and pink footed pajamas with long, dark hair untamed, are pouring pancake batter onto a griddle, and the countertop, and the floor. Steve can’t help laughing out loud. The text reads:

“So this is happening right now. Good morning, baby.”

“Morning, gorgeous. Got your hazmat suit handy?”

A short while later, one more text arrives:

“I missed waking up in your bed.”

A horde of butterflies has taken flight inside Steve’s stomach. Bucky in his bed. That beguiling thought alone causes an eruption of feelings. Giddiness…belonging…and desire. How could all that have come about in such a short amount of time? Steve’s not going to question his good fortune, though. He’s going to enjoy it. He sends back a tart reply:

“But did you miss my bacon?”

The response makes him smile.

“Fuck. Yes.”

--

“Come on, Strider, let’s go for another walk,” Steve calls to him, and his dog immediately jumps up and barks. Steve likes to go for walks and think about things. His neighborhood has sidewalks throughout, and lots of trees lining the streets. It’s very peaceful in a way, and a good opportunity for introspection. He just puts one foot in front of the other, on autopilot, and lets his mind wander.

Strider only occasionally puts on the brakes to sniff at invisible items of interest, interrupting his train of thought. Today, like a lot of days, his thoughts are on Bucky, but this time not on his suspension or anything related to that.

This morning he is pondering his reaction to Bucky’s texts while babysitting. That brief spark of longing, of yearning for a family. Is it just nostalgia for a childhood he never got to experience? Or is it something more? Has Bucky become such an integral part of his life over a two month and change span that he is all Steve wants when he looks to the future? Yes.

Frankly, that scares him. Not because he’s worried he’s just infatuated and once that fever cools, he’ll feel differently. Not because he’s afraid of commitment. On the contrary, he’s always been open to the idea; he just never found anyone else that it felt right with.

It scares him because it hit him so fast, like a ton of bricks, and Bucky can’t possibly be keeping up with that. He’s scared he’ll want too much, too fast, and Bucky will push away, smothered by his demands. He feels like he shouldn’t want so much already, and to ask for it, or even think about it, will hurt their relationship. There go those feelings again, all over the place. And he’s not sure what to do about them.

--

Sam. Steve looks fondly over at his best friend, tying up his shoelace as he sits on a bench at their gym. Steve, of course, falls back to the one person he knows will understand. They’ve had a lot of conversations over the years in this space. Steve joined Sam’s gym long ago, despite it being located in Fort Greene and nowhere near his house, because he needed the motivation of Sam’s presence to actually get his ass in there regularly.

Sam loves to work out. Steve hates to work out. He’ll go for a run every day with no complaint, but lifting weights was never something he found very interesting. Sam is done with his lace and they head over to the bench press to spot each other. As he starts a set, he asks if there are any new developments, and Steve shakes his head.

“So then what are you so stressed about? You’re doing everything you can.”

Steve puts on airs while Sam pushes through another set. “Me? I’m not stressing out.”

“Uh-huh,” Sam says noncommittally as they switch places. He adds another two plates to Steve’s stack, while Steve eyeballs him from his back, lying on the bench.

“That’s optimistic, isn’t it?”

Sam laughs and claps his hands together. “Come on, you can do it.”

Steve starts his set, handling the weight, and Sam prods deeper.

“Well, you’ve got something on your mind. How many walks have you and Strider had in the last two days?”

Steve pauses between sets to rest. “Six.”

He gets a gap-toothed smile from his friend. “See? Told you. Now spill.”

Steve sighs, pounds out another set, then sits up and they trade places again. While Sam starts pumping (after making Steve remove the two extra plates) Steve thinks about how to explain his worries.

“I just feel like maybe I’m going to end up pushing too hard, and drive Buck away. I just…want…all these things, Sam.” He shrugs. “I’m not good at relationships, and I don’t know how they’re supposed to work. I feel like I want too much.”

Sam chuckles and lets Steve take his bar and set it back on the stand. “Steve, geez, cut yourself some slack. There’s no one way relationships work.”

They’ve traded places again; Steve assumes the position and Sam piles on more weight again, ignoring Steve’s frowny face. As he lifts, Sam continues. “Just keep talking to each other. Don’t hold back from him. You’ll both find the pace that works for you.”

Steve grunts and stops between sets. “So you don’t think it’s weird for me to already be thinking long term?”

A grin crosses Sam’s face. “You worry about the wrong things.” Then he gets a tender, almost sappy look on his face. “All I know is that you two are good for each other. Don’t let go of it, or be afraid to tell him how you feel. That’s a relationship killer.”

Steve exhales deeply and mentally feels himself relax.

“Now that’s the end of my Dr. Phil moment,” Sam jokes, and they walk over to the free weights to start some flies.

--

Almost two full days pass from the time Maria was at the station till the time she calls Steve back. She and her friend want to meet him and Bucky Tuesday evening. Bucky’s sister and her husband have returned to town, so he is off the hook baby-sitting by dinner time. They all agree on a local sports bar; Steve and Maria are the first to arrive, so they grab a round table with four wooden Windsor-back chairs (Maria doesn’t like booths) and menus.

Bucky walks in a minute later, sans tutu and tiara, but looking delectable in jeans and a soft grey button down shirt. He approaches the table and slides into the seat next to Steve. They don’t hug or kiss, but Steve feels Bucky’s hand on his knee under the table, giving him a squeeze, and smiles at him.

Steve is wearing his lucky Rangers shirt, while Maria sports a Rangers jersey, in honor of their location. There is Rangers paraphernalia on display all over the bar; it’s a popular watering hole during hockey season, and has great Buffalo wings to boot. The tantalizing smell is already tickling Steve’s senses.

They all exchange greetings; Maria tells them her friend is a general detective who has been on the force for many years. All she knows is that he’s been doing some digging and found out some “interesting things”. Steve glances at the brunet next to him. He appears slightly nervous, but hopeful at the same time. Steve is feeling some nerves pluck at him as well; they only have two more days for Bucky to file an appeal.

A waitress in jeans and a t-shirt bearing the name of the restaurant, “The Kettle Black”, comes by and takes their drink order while they wait. Maria then waves in the direction of the door, and her two companions both turn their heads to look.

A man in his early fifties has entered the bar, wearing a shirt and tie, as though he has just come from work. As he gets closer, Steve can make out his features better. Short brown hair, medium build, oval face. Intelligent eyes. When he reaches the table both men stand and offer their hands. Maria makes introductions.

“Steve Rogers, James Barnes, meet Phil Coulson.”

“Call me Phil, please,” the man says, and gives them both a firm handshake.

They all take seats and get comfortable. The waitress appears and takes Phil’s drink order.

“Sorry I’m a little late,” Phil says apologetically, even though it’s only three minutes past the hour. “I came straight from the station.”

In Steve’s estimation, that bodes well. He likes a dedication to being on time, and doing what you say you’ll do. He sits forward, eager to hear what Phil has to say, but tries to be patient to allow them all to look at their menus. Steve has been here many a time and already knows what he wants—Buffalo wings with as hot a sauce as he can stand. He and Phil both go for Ragin’ Cajun, much to Bucky’s amusement.

“So you like to sweat while you eat, then?” he teases, after ordering the Maryland Bay sauce for his wings.

Steve likes Old Bay seasoning, too, but it doesn’t have enough bite for him. “I like flavor when I eat,” he razzes back, throwing a disdainful look at Maria.

She was soundly ridiculed by all three for ordering Big Bear sauce, the mildest honey BBQ flavor.

“Oh, shut up,” she snaps back weakly. “So I’m a wuss. I like my taste buds intact, thank you very much.”

After their orders are in, Phil doesn’t keep them in suspense. “Maria filled me in on your situation,” he begins, looking at Bucky. “So I’ve done some background checking on the Fire Marshall, Pierce. He certainly has not limited himself to firefighting over the years. He owns several properties within the city borders, including the property that burned and killed Brock Rumlow.” He throws a significant look at Maria.

“Wait,” she exclaims. “He owns that property?” She glances at Steve and Bucky. “Then I think we can guess how people were getting in and out of the building. Can we find out if Pierce is collecting insurance money on the property loss?”

Phil leans in. “You would have to be able to prove arson if you went after him for that.”

“Yeah,” Maria says glumly.

Bucky is the next to interject. “So wait then, isn’t that a conflict of interest? For him to investigate a fire in a building he himself owns?”

“Hell yes it is,” Steve puts in loudly.

“Then…” Bucky pauses, unsure of himself. “Can we use that against him?”

Steve and Maria both shake their heads; Maria leans in and rests her palms flat on the table in front of her. “It’s not that simple. If that’s our best bet then we can use that…your name might be cleared in the long run. But a new internal investigation opened by the FDNY…”

“…Could take as long or longer than the original investigation did.” Steve laments.

“And Pierce could say I changed my testimony. It would still be his word against mine,” Bucky says, with a sag in his shoulders.

“And in the meantime…” Steve breaks off, and Maria finishes his sentence for him.

“…Bucky’s suspension would stand.”

Phil looks up suddenly, one eyebrow quirked upward. “Sorry, who’s Bucky?”

Steve and Maria chortle, while Bucky raises a hand. “Nickname,” he explains. “Don’t ask. Are they right?”

Phil smiles and shakes his head. “I won’t ask. And yes, they’re right about that. It’s not a criminal matter.” He waits as the waitress checks on them and promises food will be out soon. “There’s more. Over the last two years, both Pierce and Brock Rumlow have been making sizable cash deposits into their bank accounts. Deposits that can’t be accounted for by reported income.”

“Cash?” Maria repeats, and Phil nods. She hmmms and frowns. “The deposits are interesting.”

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Phil encourages her, and they all direct their gazes to the slim brunette.

She chews her lip. “Boxes lining the hallways and unexplained cash showing up in their bank accounts. Maybe the two of them were somehow involved in a black market ring for stolen goods.”

“So then the fire wouldn’t have been arson. They wouldn’t burn their own stuff,” Bucky observes.

“No,” Steve agrees. “But if the building did catch fire and Rumlow knew what would be found inside if the fire was extinguished right away, maybe he thought his best option was to make sure the building was a total loss.”

“So he lets the place burn,” Maria finishes. “The fire could have been accidental, started by a careless cigarette tossed by one of the people going in and out with the goods.”

Steve turns to his boyfriend. “Buck, was the office building carpet or tile?”

Bucky thinks back. “Commercial carpet. Would’ve burned. I did call Bruce and speak to him, but he told me no one reported anything specific like boxes burning once they got inside. The fire had already made everything unrecognizable on the first floor.”

Maria taps her finger on the table. “We’ve still only got circumstantial evidence.”

Phil nods again and takes a drink. “Not enough to open up a criminal investigation on, I’m afraid.”

“Damnit,” Steve swears.

Bucky’s hand finds his knee again and Steve covers it with his own. Bucky’s face shows his intense disappointment, a feeling Steve shares.

“This sucks,” Steve says with feeling.

Everything looks suspicious, and yet they have no proof of any wrong-doing. Bucky shakes his head slowly.

“Thank you for trying, though, Phil. We do appreciate it.” He sounds dejected, like he is near giving up. It reminds Steve of his attitude that day he first told Steve he couldn’t appeal, and it breaks his heart all over again. He is about to offer him some comfort when Phil speaks up.

“I know that information isn’t as useful as you would’ve liked. Since I trust Maria’s instincts implicitly,” (Maria smiles at this) “I made some other calls.”

“What for?” she asks curiously.

“You need someone who can look more deeply into this. In a more unofficial capacity.”

Steve and Bucky look at each other, guardedly but hopefully.

“I know a guy.”

--

After dinner has been consumed, all four have had their fill of wings, and a great deal of conversation has flowed, the dinner party breaks up. Phil has a dry wit and shared stories of his years on the force that had them all holding their sides from laughing so hard. Maria catches a ride with him from the restaurant, as he is heading in the same general direction as her and Natasha’s apartment. Steve offers Bucky a ride back to his house to watch the baseball game, an offer that is happily accepted.

They are sitting on Steve’s couch again, with contentedly full stomachs, watching the game in much the same positions they were in before: feet up on the coffee table, side by side. Initially a lot of time was spent brainstorming about what they could do next and generally insulting Pierce, which helped to blow off steam, but didn’t really get them anywhere.

It’s about the seventh inning when Steve works up the nerve to ask Bucky what he’s been wanting to ask him since they got back to his house.

“Did you make plans to be somewhere early tomorrow morning, Buck?” he asks tentatively, and Bucky turns his head to look at him in surprise.

“Nope. I’ve got nowhere to be,” he answers back and looks at Steve expectantly. Tomorrow is Wednesday and Steve has to be at the firehouse at seven AM. But seven AM is a long way from now. Steve’s hand is currently resting on Bucky’s thigh. With his fingertips, he traces circular patterns over the leg of his jeans.

“I was wondering if you wanted to stay here tonight and go home in the morning. Instead of going home tonight when it’s so late,” he adds, and holds his breath. Please say yes.

Bucky’s eyes are sparkling, and his smile radiates warmth. He doesn’t joke or make light of Steve’s request, maybe understanding the importance of it. “I would like that,” he answers simply and sincerely, and Steve’s heart skips a beat.

It’s the perfect answer and gives Steve a nice, warm toasty feeling all over. He tilts his head in toward the man next to him, who meets him halfway for a soft, lingering kiss. Steve then relaxes back on the couch for the rest of the game. His hand finds its way back up Bucky’s thigh to rest squarely on the thickest part of his quad.

He’s so very relaxed, as a matter of fact, that he drifts off to sleep, not waking until he feels Bucky’s foot tapping at the side of his on the coffee table.

“Hey sleepyhead,” Bucky’s voice calls to him, and slowly Steve comes back to his senses.

His head is resting on Bucky’s shoulder. Possibly he’s been drooling. He sits up and rubs his eyes tiredly. “Is the game over?”

Bucky laughs softly. “Game’s over. We lost.”

“Aww, shit!” Steve curses. “Why didn’t you wake me up?” He stretches and turns to his companion, who also sits up and brings his feet down off the table.

“I would have, if we had taken the lead.” He elbows Steve in the ribs. “You know you have to work tomorrow. If you’re really tired, I could still go home tonight.”

“Noooooooo!” Steve cries melodramatically, and tackles Bucky to the couch, wrapping his arms around him and forcing him down onto his back. Bucky makes a muffled laughing sound as Steve takes the air out of his lungs and envelopes him. His arms are clasped around Steve’s waist, with his legs on either side of Steve’s as the slightly larger man’s weight pushes down on him.

Being on top of Bucky is a pretty comfortable position to be in. Before Steve knows it, they are kissing; he’s not even sure who initiated it, but Bucky’s mouth is on his, Steve’s hands are in his hair and their chests are tightly pressed together. He can feel Bucky’s heart beat pick up speed alongside his. His tongue slides around and mingles with Bucky’s to kiss him firmly and thoroughly. His hair is soft as silk as it slips through his fingers.

Somewhere down below, a fire is starting to burn, low but hot and getting hotter. One of Bucky’s hands slinks down over the swell of Steve’s ass, molding itself to it and caressing it. Nirvana right through those talented fingertips. Steve moans softly into the kiss. As Bucky shifts underneath him, suddenly their hips line up together perfectly. His wandering fingers now have more purpose, clenching at the meat of one cheek and pulling Steve into him harder.

Steve responds by thrusting his hips forward, dragging his cock alongside Bucky’s. They break their kiss to breathe, while hot hands maneuver their way inside shirts and onto bare skin. Steve fixes his lips to Bucky’s neck, sucking on the tender skin just under his jaw, while his hands grope their way up the side of Bucky’s torso, rucking his shirt up. Bucky snags Steve’s shirt and hikes it up as well, to get that skin on skin contact they both want.

One after the other, they each pull the other’s shirt off overhead and pitch them who knows where. Doesn’t matter. Naked bodies matter. But jeans are tougher, so instead of trying to remove them, Bucky rolls his hips to create some friction between their rapidly swelling erections. Steve lets out a groan as Bucky’s hard length digs into his pelvis. Fuck. He’s so goddamn hard. His level of want is approaching 10.0 on the Richter scale.

Steve bends his head down and finds one nipple, sucking it into his mouth. His hands are on Bucky’s shoulders, holding him as his tongue laps over the darker skin; he kisses it and sucks at it, enjoying the hiss that Bucky makes, the sharp intake of air. He moves his mouth to the other side, dragging it across Bucky’s chest, and takes the other nipple into his mouth. Soothing fingertips find the first one, rubbing over the skin now made wet by his mouth.

He looks up to see Bucky’s head thrown back into the pillows of the couch, one hand on the back of Steve’s neck to hold his mouth to him. His skin is warm and soft and so smooth. Steve mouths and kisses his way lower, over the compact muscles of his abdomen. He can feel the squared outline of each section as he kisses his way across and down towards the waistband of his jeans, can feel the shallow, quick breaths Bucky takes.

Bucky’s hand is on the top of his head, encouraging him to go lower. Steve lays his palm over the crotch of Bucky’s pants and rubs slowly up and down. He can feel the bulge hidden inside and not much else, but it’s enough to bring forth a low moan from his partner. His mouth has dipped below the navel, licking over his lower abdomen with only the tip of his tongue, teasing him, until fabric gets in his way.

Tugging at one of his belt loops, he moves the material down to allow his tongue to flick in and out, moving toward one hip bone. His hand continues its slow rhythm, stroking up and down, until Bucky can’t take any more of Steve’s sweet torture. He sits up with a decadent groan and pulls Steve up with him, hands at his shoulders.

They disentangle themselves and stand; Steve reaches for his lover, pulling their faces together. They kiss and walk simultaneously down toward the bedrooms. Steve makes it approximately halfway down the hall before abandoning the quest to make it to the bed. He steers Bucky to one side and pushes him face first to the wall. With one hand he tilts Bucky’s head to the side, exposing his neck to fiery kisses and nips. The other hand snakes around and explores Bucky’s chest, mapping it out seductively. Some breathy moans come from deep in Bucky’s chest, followed by one word.

“Steve.”

Bucky reaches down and undoes his jeans; Steve instantly pushes them off of his hips, low enough to free up his erection. One hand resumes steadying Bucky at the center of his chest, while the other slides over the top of his underwear and squeezes that bulge, now so much more easily definable. His cock is standing at full attention, a lot like Steve’s is.

Steve has one earlobe between his teeth as he reaches inside Bucky’s underwear and palms his thick cock directly. Bucky’s hands both shoot out to the wall in front of him to brace himself and he groans loudly. Steve rubs his thumb into the slit at the head of his cock, wet and ready, and it makes Bucky whimper with need. Steve’s hot chest and hips are pressed up against Bucky’s back and rear. He grinds once, slowly, to allow his partner to feel his own erection, then flips him around to face him.

He attacks Bucky’s mouth for one short, savage kiss, then drops to his knees so he can suck him off, right there in the hallway. Bucky’s head bangs weakly against the wall and he grabs at Steve’s head to have something to hold on to. Steve jerks his pants and underwear down to the floor so Bucky can step out of them. His hands slide back up the outside of Bucky’s legs, all the way up to his hips, as he runs his tongue all the way up the length of his cock, base to wet, glistening tip.

Whispery cries escape Bucky as Steve toys with him, wrapping his mouth over the head, sucking at it, then releasing it a few times in succession to lick from the underside of the base, back to the top.

“Oh my God,” Bucky whispers. His hands tighten in Steve’s hair. “I wanna fuck your mouth.”

Steve stops mouthing the side of his cock long enough to say two words. “Do it.”

He looks up through his long eyelashes. Bucky’s mouth is open, his eyes closed, but he looks down in shock at Steve’s order. Wordlessly he cradles Steve’s face and jaw in his hands, thumbs stroking over his cheeks, before pulling him in, bringing Steve’s mouth to his cock.

Steve takes it in deep, swallowing around it, then waits. Bucky doesn’t hesitate but pumps his hips slowly, sliding in and out of Steve’s willing mouth. Steve tightens his lips, sucking hard at him while Bucky rocks, liking the way Bucky controls the movement, liking the way it’s his own mouth and tongue making him writhe and pant. He’s fucking into Steve’s mouth a little faster now, moaning like he can’t stop, but still is careful to use short strokes so as not to choke him.

It’s one of the most erotic things Steve has ever experienced. Giving Bucky that power, to take his own pleasure from Steve’s mouth, has made Steve unbearably hard. His erection has become painful inside his pants. He doesn’t dare let go of Bucky’s pelvis though, because holding him while he rockets back and forth, plunging his cock deep into his mouth, feels fucking awesome.

He hums his pleasure around Bucky’s length and feels him hesitate; a choked cry follows and Bucky tries to withdraw away from him, pushing back on his head. Steve’s not budging, though, and his strong arms are pinning Bucky effectively to the wall. There’s nowhere to go.

“Steve,” Bucky cries hoarsely. “Steve, I’m gonna come!”

Steve seals his lips more tightly around him and hollows his cheeks, giving him one last, long suck, and then Bucky shoots his load with a low groan, throwing his head back with another thud on the wall. He rolls his hips weakly a few more times as his orgasm makes its way through his body, and Steve has to fight not to let himself come. He swallows it all down and releases Bucky only when his body stills.

Steve’s own cock is dying to be freed from his clothing. As Bucky tugs at him to pull him back up and kiss him, he also reaches down to check the status of Steve’s erection. His fingers explore him slowly and he makes an mmm sound into Steve’s mouth. His kisses are deep and wild; he pushes off the wall to finally get Steve into the bedroom.

“Take these off,” he whispers when they get to the bed, yanking at Steve’s jeans. While he gets naked, Bucky goes to the bedside drawer he now knows contains lube. He grabs it and walks back around to the front of the bed as Steve finishes shimmying out of his remaining clothes.

He places the small tube into one of Steve’s hands and uses both of his to push him down by the shoulders, onto the bed in a seated position. He sits down on Steve’s lap and faces him, with his legs spread and knees on either side of Steve’s body on the bed. Steve takes a second to process.

Bucky has just given him the means to lubricate himself and he has a raging hard on. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what to do next. He just wants to appreciate the scrumptious body now at his disposal: the wide set of his shoulders, the curve of muscle over each one, the round, firm pectorals of his chest.

They are both breathing hard and looking into each other’s eyes as Steve slicks up his fingers. He leans in and kisses the nape of Bucky’s neck, tasting him, while his fingers delve down, down, around his back and lower, till he reaches the cleft between the cheeks of his sexy derriere, already pulled wide by his position. Distracted by the filthy sound Bucky makes when Steve’s three fingers find the puckered skin at his entrance, Steve sucks harder on his neck, not realizing he’s going to leave a hickey mark.

His attention is completely focused on his fingers, rubbing over Bucky’s hole and pushing in, one at a time. Bucky grips his head above his ears with both hands, grabbing at his hair and keeping him close; he is impatient as Steve stretches him and tries to sit down lower, forcing Steve’s two fingers inside him deeper. It makes them both struggle for air, the sound of their gasps glaringly loud in the quiet of Steve’s bedroom. Stretching Bucky out is arousing enough without having him fuck himself on his fingers.

None too gently, Bucky fists the hair on the back of Steve’s head and jerks it back so he can kiss him, all hot tongue and needy mouth, sloppily kissing him over and over. Their heads turn one way and then the other, trying different angles as they devour one another. Steve’s fingers continue their task until Bucky himself decides he’s had enough, and lifts himself to a high kneeling position.

With his face now above the level of Steve’s, he tilts his head and looks down into his eyes, still panting slightly. Steve withdraws his fingers as he asks in a thin, reedy voice, “Ready?”

Bucky nods. “Now.”

Steve looks down briefly, then brings his eyes back up to Bucky’s. “You mean now, now?” He’s not sure if Bucky means to stay in their current position or not.

“NOW.”

Bucky’s response is unequivocal. He pushes at Steve’s shoulders to get him to lean back and brace himself with his arms behind him, hands spread on the bed. His eyes are boring into Steve’s as he lowers himself down and reaches back to find Steve’s cock; Steve gasps when Bucky’s hand closes around his length. He’s so near to his orgasm already that the pressure around his erection almost does him in.

Using his hand to direct Steve’s cock; Bucky gets them into position. When his head touches Bucky’s hole and breaches it, Steve can’t help but cry out. Bucky lowers himself down more, impaling himself on that hardened erection slowly. His eyes drift shut, but the look on his face tells Steve this is exactly what he wants. Letting Bucky fuck himself on his cock works for Steve, too. Just like in the hallway, he likes knowing that Bucky is getting off on this, likes being the one to give Bucky the sweaty, shiny patina he sees across his chest, to be the one to elicit the whorish moans from that sweet mouth.

Once he is fully seated, Bucky leans back and sets his hands on Steve’s knees, then starts thrusting his hips. He lifts himself and then drives back down, fucking Steve slowly at first, and it’s like heaven. Bucky’s channel is so tight and velvety soft, squeezing around him everywhere. When he speeds up and rocks his body harder, it’s like Steve’s cock is aflame. He’s the one moaning now, louder than Bucky was, feeling like his whole body is one long, live wire, thrumming with electricity.

As he gyrates, Bucky’s ass slaps against Steve’s thighs; his head is thrown back to the ceiling, long neck exposed. Steve can tell when Bucky hits just the right angle and his prostate is being pinged with each stroke, because Bucky looks like he wants to start baying at the moon. Steve is sweating now, too, not because he’s putting forth a lot of the physical effort. He’s just so fucking turned on watching Bucky, and wishes he could move his hands to touch his body.

He stays where he is, though, and lets Bucky have his way with him. He knows both of them won’t last long; he can feel himself tightening up under Bucky’s assault. His cock might get ripped off in the process, but the orgasm that hits him is monstrous. He cries out as he empties himself into his lover; his breath catches and his legs start to shake as his zenith slams into him and passes. It’s glorious.

Bucky slows his pace and, eventually stopping and lifting himself to let Steve’s length slip from his body. He shifts his weight forward again and presses his mouth to Steve’s. It’s a much less voracious kiss this time, just soft touches of lips, expressing more than words could at this moment.

Reaching up with one hand, Steve strokes Bucky’s hair back away from his face. He hasn’t realized until now that his knees are numb where Bucky’s weight bore down into them. Bucky too, may have some numb parts to his legs, for he is slow to disengage himself, and gingerly gets back to his feet.

“Hey, do you mind if I take a quick shower?” he asks, giving Steve one more peck on the lips when he too, regains his feet.

“ ‘Course not,” Steve answers back, and points in the direction of the bathroom. “There are fresh towels in the linen closet just inside the door. I need to let Strider out.”

Bucky grins. “Are you going to do that naked?”

“No!” Steve laughs. He looks around at the darkened floor. “I’ve got pants around here somewhere.”

Bucky has walked over and flipped on the light switch so Steve can locate his pants with greater success, then walks into the bathroom. Steve yawns, feeling pretty fatigued again all of a sudden. He’s thinking that once he gets Strider sorted for the night, it’s a good time for them both to turn in. Suddenly he hears Bucky call out to him.

“Steve! Come in here, quick!”

Forgetting about his search for pants, Steve hotfoots it into the bathroom to see what Bucky needs. He finds him standing in the middle of the room, staring at the glass enclosed, walk-in shower with the rainforest shower head and porcelain tile surround.

“Have you seen how big your shower is?” Bucky jokes, turning to him with wide eyes.

Steve laughs at his expression. “Yes. Yes I have,” he says with mock sincerity. “The last owners remodeled it, and it’s great.”

A slow smile spreads across Bucky’s face. There is a glint in his eye which hints that bedtime may need to be…postponed.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve
Steve looks down at his bare feet, then back up and squints his eyes to see out into his back yard. Strider is barely visible in the circle of light being thrown by the outdoor lamp as he performs his perimeter check.

“Strider, come on!” Steve calls to him impatiently. Bucky is naked in his shower and Strider is taking his sweet time over in the corner, hunting raccoons or elk or something. Unless it’s a horde of serial killers, Steve doesn’t care. Finally satisfied with the security of the yard, the shaggy dog comes trotting back up to the deck and through the door Steve holds open for him. “Good boy!” Steve commends him, and locks up for the night.

He turns off lights in the kitchen and living room as he goes. The bedroom and bathroom lights are on as Strider strolls in, jumps up onto the bed, turns around in a circle, and plops down on his corner. Steve smiles a little smile to himself when he checks the drawer for the lube he’s certain he put back in, and it’s no longer there. He heads for the bathroom; the door is open and he can feel the heat from the running shower as he crosses the threshold.

Bucky is in the walk-in shower, all fizzed up from head to toe, every curve, angle and goddamn sexy part of his anatomy on display. He doesn’t hear Steve enter the room over the noise of the water and is facing away from the door, so Steve watches him silently for a moment; it would be a crime not to. Bucky’s hands move smoothly over his own body with a bar of soap, and even though they just had sex minutes ago, Steve is already growing aroused.

That body. He still has trouble believing he gets to touch and feel that body, and that the owner of it wants him just as much. As Steve strips off his shorts, Bucky turns and sees him standing on the other side of the shower glass.

“Strider OK?” he asks, and Steve nods.

“You and he may have to fight for position on the bed later, though.”

“Oh yeah? Well I fight dirty,” Bucky jokes, and crooks a finger in Steve’s direction. “C’mere, baby.”

The shower water is running down all over him, taking the suds with it, leaving only a clean scent, steamy air, and naked Bucky: wet skin, taut muscle, soft lips. Steve steps into the shower and moves in to test out those soft lips. Bucky’s eyes flash down to Steve’s groin and a hint of a smile appears before they are in each other’s arms and kissing.

Steve grabs Bucky around the waist and pulls him in. Bucky grabs the back of Steve’s neck with one hand and reels him in just as much. The result is a deep, tongue-filled kiss that goes on and on. Bucky uses his hand on Steve’s neck and the other on his hip to turn them around and put Steve more directly under the spray from the shower head.

The water is almost scalding hot, but Steve’s got goose bumps nonetheless, because he’s standing there naked and making out with his equally naked lover. Wet Bucky feels just as fabulous as dry Bucky does, and Steve lets his hands wander, running up and down Bucky’s spine and muscled back, then over his shapely ass.

As soon as Steve is completely wetted down, Bucky has the soap in his hand again and is foaming him up as they continue to kiss. He moves Steve just to the edge of the water’s spray and gets his back soaped up first, then moves the soap around to his chest. He pulls away from the kiss in order to focus on Steve’s torso and arms. Bubbly hands rub over his pecs and shoulders, down one arm and then the other.

Steve watches Bucky’s face the entire time, liking his way his eyes are so focused on his body, the way his lips are slightly parted, the way he starts to breathe faster by the time he gets to Steve’s abdomen. It’s erotic as hell, just standing there, letting Bucky manhandle him, and he’s more than a little stimulated now. Bucky certainly notices. His eyes flick back up to Steve’s face, and there is a crooked smile on his.

His hands move slowly over the lower section of Steve’s belly and travel down from there, yet do not touch his growing erection, despite their proximity. Bucky makes sure he’s totally sudsy, squatting down in front of him to get to each leg. His hands massage around the large circumference of each thigh first, then down to the lower legs. His eyes stay down on his work, so all Steve can see are long eyelashes with drops of water clinging to them. And all the while Bucky’s hands are moving over him, so slow and gentle, Steve can feel himself grow harder and harder.

“You could keep doing that forever, you know,” he murmurs, “And I wouldn’t complain.”

There is a smile on Bucky’s face as he turns it up to Steve’s. “But then I wouldn’t get to enjoy this, ” he proclaims, and one soapy hand finally strokes over Steve’s length.

His palm closes tightly over him as Bucky rises in order to give Steve another kiss; this one is light, teasing, open-mouthed but no tongue, touching his lips to Steve’s and moving away, several times in quick succession. He pushes Steve back under the water fully to clean him off; the water now feels like it’s going to boil his skin off, his body is so overheated between Bucky’s hand working him over and his tantalizing kisses making him hornier by the second.

Steve’s eyes are closed, because any more sensory input over what he’s got right now might cause unconsciousness. Bucky, however, has other ideas aside from just jerking him off. As soon as Steve develops a full-blown erection, the hand job stops. Steve opens his eyes and grabs Bucky’s hand when he tries to take it away, bringing a chuckle to Bucky’s lips. Just as fast, Bucky takes that hand and pulls it around his own body, pushing his fingers into the cleft between his cheeks.

“I want to feel you here,” he says seductively. “Wanna feel you inside me this time.”

A shot of fire burns right through Steve’s groin. Dirty talk isn’t his specialty; hearing it come out of Bucky’s mouth is downright criminally sexy. Steve makes a noise somewhere between a grunt and a moan and turns Bucky around, pushing him to the side wall of the shower. He’s more of an action kind of guy. His chest is against Bucky’s back, his lips and teeth lightly grazing Bucky’s neck, and his cock slides in between his two cheeks.

Slowly he grinds up and down against his lover. With his fingers he reaches for the soap tray, explores it until he locates the tube he was looking for in the bedroom, and uses that to slick up his shaft. He’s not even going to bother with his fingers; he’s so fucking hard, he can’t wait to be inside Bucky again.

Planting his hands on the wall in front of him, Bucky spreads his legs and bends, impatiently pushing his ass back against his partner. “Hurry up, baby,” he whines breathlessly, and then gasps as Steve rubs the head of his cock over his entrance.

“That what you want?”

Steve’s voice is low and sultry from behind him; Bucky’s hands form fists on the wall and he pushes back, bold as brass, against him.

“You know it is.”

The tube of lube goes back on the shelf and Steve braces his foot against the glass wall behind him. Because falling down in the shower while you’re trying to nail your partner? Not sexy. When he’s set and good to go, he turns his full attention to Bucky’s fine looking ass, running both his hands down over the firm mounds of muscle before separating them to make room for his cock.

His hands then slide around to Bucky’s hips to hold him steady; he enters him slowly, watching his cock disappear into Bucky’s body. And oh God, the magnificent heat and pressure surrounding him as he pushes in is enough to draw a hard moan from both him and Bucky. Once he has embedded himself as far as he can, his eyes drift shut and he rocks his hips, just a little, just enough to drive Bucky wild.

He knows Bucky isn’t in the mood for gentle, or soft and sweet. He wants to be rammed into the wall. And to be honest, Steve wants that too, wants to fuck him into oblivion. There are times when slow is good. Slow is hot. Now isn’t one of them. So he’s holding out on purpose, just so he can get Bucky going and hear more obscenely titillating words drop from those wet, red lips.

His plan works.

“Steeeeeeeeeeve,” Bucky groans, and shoves back against him again brazenly.

Steve smiles, eyes still closed, and runs his hands up and down his flanks. “What is it, gorgeous?” he whispers innocently, knowing full well what “it” is. He’s still rolling his hips, slow, short strokes.

Bucky splays his fingers on the wall. “Steve,” he grinds out. “Harder. Fuck me harder. Come on, baby.”

He’s so turned on that he’s having trouble slowing himself down, but Steve still wants more. “I love your filthy mouth,” he tells him. “Love hearing you tell me what you want.”

“Oh yeah?” Bucky’s head lifts in interest. “Does it turn you on if I say I want your dick so deep inside me I want to scream?”

Steve breathes out heavily, grasps Bucky’s hips more tightly, pulls out halfway and fucks into him a little harder this time. “Oh yeah,” he admits.

“And that I want you to fill me up and fuck me so hard the wall cracks?”

Steve just pants and whimpers this time. But he keeps up his new pace, hoping to be rewarded again. The hot water keeps beating down on them both from the side, but Steve hardly notices it. All his concentration is directed to those strokes of his cock, moving in and out of Bucky’s tight passage. Bucky gives him some more incentive.

“And does it turn you on to know that after you come inside me, I want it to be your hand that makes me come?”

Steve thinks about jerking Bucky off, making him paint the wall of his shower, and feels himself on the edge of exploding. “Oh my God, yes,” he moans, and his pace quickens even more.

He’s pulling most of the way out now, slamming back in hard, over and over. Bucky’s head is down, but Steve can hear the quick, ragged gasps that tell him he’s hitting the right spot, and it only makes him piston his hips more forcefully, driving in so hard and so deep he himself can hardly breathe. Short cries are punched out of his lungs as he continues his barrage.

His hips snap and thrust, rocking both their bodies into the wall of porcelain tile. He’s pushing hard off the glass behind him too, to get the leverage he wants, penetrating Bucky so deeply he’s the one who wants to scream. He feels like he could keep pounding into Bucky forever, until oh God, he’s almost there, and the wave of euphoria sweeps over him.

He’s coming hard, emptying himself into the willing body in front of him, moaning and crying out and wanting to keep fucking Bucky until they both fall down in exhaustion. The pleasure is so intense he can hardly see straight. And when he’s finally sated, he remembers Bucky’s words and reaches down to find his thick, rigid shaft. He takes him in his hand and strokes him roughly, with Bucky’s moans spurring him on.

His free arm wraps around Bucky’s torso; he rubs one firm pectoral muscle and settles his hand on it, fingers spread wide over its ample surface. His cock remains buried inside Bucky as he palms him relentlessly. His face is buried in the crook of Bucky’s neck, kissing it as he rubs the head of Bucky’s cock, strokes his full length and brings him to his orgasm. The cries that fill his ears are like music. Bucky comes, fast and furious, into his hand and all over the wall.

Steve lets him pump his hips a few times weakly into his hand, and sighs loudly and happily as he withdraws from Bucky’s body. His partner doesn’t move at first, except for his heaving chest. Steve drapes his body over Bucky’s back, resting against him heavily.

“Uhhhhh.” Bucky pretends to sag under Steve’s weight, getting a laugh out of him. They remain there, silently recovering for a minute, before Bucky turns, takes Steve’s face in his hands, and crushes his mouth against his.

He kisses Steve like it’s the last thing he’ll ever do. His hands are at the sides of Steve’s face, holding him, steadying him through the dizzying kiss. His mouth is hot, tongue soft and wet as he plunders Steve’s mouth. When they finally break apart they both are breathless. Breathless, but blissfully contented.

Bucky puts his ear close to Steve’s, perhaps to share some words of affection. “Your hot water tank is impressive,” he whispers, and Steve can feel his smile against his cheek.

The water hitting them from above is plenty hot, even at this point. Steve smiles back and turns his head to nuzzle into Bucky’s neck, then pulls Bucky forward under the spray. They get cleaned up together, then hop out to dry off before their hot water luck runs out. Several minutes later, when they are both ready for bed, (Bucky has borrowed a pair of sleep shorts and a new toothbrush) they stand and regard the King-sized bed.

Strider has expanded his claimed territory and is stretched out on his side all over one half of the bed. Steve points at it. “That’s your side,” he says to Bucky solemnly, but his eyes dance.

“Well then, I guess I’ll be sharing your side tonight,” Bucky answers with a smile.

Steve laughs, walks to the foot of the bed and pats Strider on the belly. When his dog wakes and lifts his head lazily, his master pats the bottom of the bed. “Down here, buddy.”

Strider looks at the spot his owner has indicated and lays his head back down. The tip of his tail flips in the air.

Bucky decides to try his luck and goes over to the side of the bed. “Come on, Strider, work with me here.” He gives him a few rubs on the head and Strider whines happily. His full tail slaps on the bed in a quick tattoo. “That’s it, come on, down there,” Bucky points, and the dog obediently rolls to his stomach and crawls his way down to the bottom of the bed.

“Good boy!” Steve praises him, and they both climb in and get settled.

“So, anything I need to know?” Bucky asks. “You sleepwalk or talk in your sleep?”

“No,” Steve replies. “But if you hear some loud snoring…it’s Strider,” he jokingly blames his dog.

Bucky just laughs. “Yeah, ‘course it is.”

One more kiss and then Steve rolls to his side to turn off the light and back himself up against Bucky so they can spoon again. Bucky’s arm rests on Steve’s side, his warm body is snugged up right behind him, and it feels absolutely fantastic. Like it was meant to be. Because this is what Steve really craves, not just sex (though the sex is mind-blowingly good); he wants to be together with someone in that special way that only comes when two people are right for each other.

He’s asleep before he can count to ten.

--

When he wakes in the morning it is dawn, with some weak, early morning light filtering in through the window shades. He checks out the clock on his bedside table; his alarm is just about to go off, so he reaches over and shuts it off. Kind of disappointing that they didn’t get any other fooling around in during the middle of the night, but he hasn’t slept that well in ages. There is a warm body pressing into him from behind—warm and hairy. Strider. He has wormed his way up between them during the night and is stretched out to maximum length on his back, head on one half of Steve’s pillow.

Lifting his head to look over his dog, Steve can see Bucky on the other side, on his back also, breathing evenly. This, he could get used to on a daily basis. Really quickly. Maybe too quickly, he realizes with a pang, but then tries to shoo that doubt away.

Strider has woken up, feeling Steve’s movements, and lets out a soft whuff in greeting. Steve scratches his chest, and that thick tail starts batting back and forth between the two humans in the bed.

“I’ll wag my tail if you rub my chest, too.”

Bucky’s voice rings out in the quiet of the dawn. Steve starts, as he didn’t even realize his lover was awake, then recovers himself.

“Promise?”

Bucky chuckles softly. “Morning, baby. Does he do this every day?”

“Morning, gorgeous. No, today must be a special occasion. Time to get up.”

Strider gets to his feet excitedly and walks around on the bed, stepping on both Steve and Bucky, hearing words that mean he may get breakfast soon. That leaves the other two free to move closer to each other, once they get Strider off their legs. Steve rolls in to give Bucky kisses on the neck and cheek.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Like a rock,” Bucky declares, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “How ‘bout you?”

“The same.” Steve stays on his side, just staring at the incredible person lying next to him. Bucky feels his eyes on him and turns, smiling in the dim light. At the station, they get up in the morning together all the time, but it’s not like this. They can’t kiss or hug, and Steve can’t say sappy things like, “You look great when you wake up.” Like he does now.

Bucky laughs and sits up, running fingers through his wild locks. “You mean my excellent bedhead? I worked on it all night.”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees, laughing. He’s actually serious, but lets Bucky make light of it. “I can tell.” He sits up, too, and Strider takes that as his cue to jump down and head for the back door.

Bucky leans in and gives Steve a kiss on the cheek this time. “I think your dog wants to go out. Better get on that.”

Steve laughs again. “Thanks for the tip.”

--

They are standing in the living room as Steve hooks up Strider to his leash. “You could bring some stuff over to keep here; there’s plenty of room in the medicine chest in the bathroom.” Steve looks down at Strider. His dog is sitting at his feet, giving him an encouraging look with his warm brown eyes. Steve smiles and looks back up timidly. “But only if you want to.”

Bucky tugs at Steve’s shirt to pull him closer, then wraps his arms over his shoulders. Steve’s arms naturally find their way around Bucky’s waist, leash in hand. Bucky’s grey-blue eyes drill into Steve’s, not allowing him to look away.

“Why do you act like you’re asking me for a favor when you’re really not?”

Steve squirms a little in his arms, but doesn’t look away. Bucky’s not asking a rhetorical question, though. He’s waiting for an answer, and Steve’s not sure he’s got one. How can you tell someone you desperately want to spend all your waking moments with them without sounding…desperate? He’s still unsure how much is too much. Then he remembers Sam’s words, and just goes with the brutal truth.

“Because I’m afraid I’ll put too much pressure on you, for too much,” he blurts out.

Bucky’s forearms are resting easily on his shoulders. One of his hands strays to the hair on the back of Steve’s head and plays with it as he silently regards him. “Is it possible you don’t know how crazy I am about you?” he says, tilting his head to one side.

Steve stares and tries to force his stomach to stop doing flips, thinking maybe he heard that wrong. Bucky; funny, caring, beautiful, amazing Bucky is crazy about him?

“I thought it was the other way around,” he says, and Bucky’s smile is so endearing, Steve can’t stop himself from smiling, too.

Giving him a light kiss, Bucky says softly, “I’ve known from day one you were what I wanted. So until you get tired of me and kick me to the curb, you’re stuck with me.”

“Not going to happen,” Steve declares, shaking his head. “I want you to be honest with me, though, and tell me if we’re moving too fast.”

Bucky shakes his head, too, and Steve fists his hands in his shirt, tugging at the material at his waist to emphasize his words. “I mean it.”

“I know you do,” Bucky protests, “But you don’t have to worry about that. I…” he pauses and presses his lips together briefly. “Only one day away from work, and I already miss you so much, it’s driving me bananas.”

“It’s driving you bananas? ” Steve teases him as if he’s so in control of his own emotions, but on the inside he’s doing cartwheels.

Bucky wants him and misses him, just as much as Steve does. Just as much as Steve does. It’s hard for him to take that in.

“You know what I mean!” Bucky insists, and Steve sobers up.

“I do know. Because I feel it, too. I want you there with me. And I want you here with me. I just want you.”

“Keep talking like that, and you’re going to be late for work.”

Steve smiles craftily. “It’d be worth it.”

Ruffling the hair on the back of his head, Bucky grins back. “Like you’ve ever been late a day in your life. Come on, let’s go.”

--

Steve drops Bucky off at the curb next to his apartment door with a fast goodbye kiss. They are both hopeful that they will hear something, anything, from whomever it is Phil has asked to help them, and promise to call or text with any news, good or bad.

The first thing Sam asks him when he and Strider come in is any news about Bucky’s suspension. The second thing he asks is, “So, your place or his?”

His eyes are twinkling and Steve knows he won’t be able to bluff his way out of this one. He knows exactly what Sam is referring to. It’s a lovely morning, and he wouldn’t drive on a day like this unless he had a specific reason to. Like spending the night with his boyfriend.

“My place,” he mumbles, and gives Sam a shove on the arm as he walks past him.

Sam laughs and shoves him back. “Thought so.”

Every single person at the firehouse asks him in turns if there’s any news about Bucky. Natasha follows along in Sam’s footsteps and wants to know more about him and Bucky, how they are doing. She pulls him aside as soon as they are done washing down the engines and asks the question.

Steve can’t help a goofy smile, but he knows she won’t tease him about it, unlike the guys. “It’s good. Things are really good,” he shares with her. “Makes me nervous.”

“Makes you nervous?” Natasha repeats. “Why?”

“Like it can’t last,” Steve admits.

“Oh, Steve,” Natasha exclaims, and gives him a hug. “Don’t worry about that. Just because it’s intense doesn’t mean it’s going to flame out. You two are so perfect for each other.”

“Thanks, Natasha,” Steve says gratefully. As long as they’ve been friends, she’s never steered him wrong. Her words truly do comfort him.

The rest of the day is busy and they are called to another house fire, but fortunately this one involves no victims inside the house, and only minor damage. When they return to the station, Steve checks his cell phone again. Jackpot! A message from Bucky.

Maria called. Guy Phil knows is a PI/security expert. She knows him, says he’s really good. Doesn’t want me to get hopes up that he’ll find something in time to appeal, though.

Steve, however, continues to hold out hope that they’ll find the proverbial smoking gun that will prove Pierce is a dirty, rotten liar, and exonerate Bucky. It’s only their second work day apart, and already he wants Bucky back pronto.

The remainder of the day crawls by horribly slowly as Steve waits for news, and misses his partner. His crewmates do their best to cheer him up; Thor makes him chicken paprikash for dinner, his favorite, and reminds them all of the party at his place the next night. Sam lets him win in a game of Halo. Not that he would‘ve beat him anyway—Sam is awful at video games.

Clint has printed off and enlarged a picture of Pierce that he hangs over the dart board, so they can all whip darts at his face. Darcy is especially keen to get a bull's-eye, but keeps hitting him in the ear instead. After her fourth ear shot, she gives up, walks to the dart board and slams one in dead center of his nose.

“Take that, asshole!” she flips him the bird, too, just for emphasis.

Sam and Clint laugh endlessly, but Steve shares her sentiment. He gets a few good hits himself, but Clint is the dartboard champ and really peppers the center section. Steve takes a picture of the board when they are done and sends it to Bucky; they then rip up the pinhole-filled picture and throw it away before Tony comes up for dinner, just to be safe.

The overnight hours this shift are rough; they have three night calls that prevent anyone from getting decent sleep, so when the shift is over, Steve and Strider go straight home. He texts Bucky to let him know how the night was and then crashes again till noon. When he wakes, he automatically reaches for his phone to check for messages.

There are several, some from Bucky, some from Tony and one group text from Thor to let them know what time to come over. The gist of the first messages is that Bucky hasn’t heard anything from the PI. Zilch. Nada. He and Tony have had conversations already and unless something changes in the next few hours, there will be no appeal. Tony is waiting for any new developments with the private investigator before filing a conflict of interest complaint against Pierce for investigating a fire on his own property. Right now it’s stalemate.

No appeal.

Bitter disappointment sours Steve’s stomach. He was so sure, so certain that after all Bucky had been through already, surely the Universe wouldn’t be so cruel as to make him serve out a punishment he didn’t deserve. He was wrong. He wants to throw his phone across the room, but seeing how that would be fairly counter-productive, he instead sets his phone down, picks up his pillow, and throws that. It makes a satisfying whump sound as it hits the wall, but otherwise doesn’t really make him feel better.

He needs to see Bucky, so he hauls himself out of bed, makes himself presentable and grabs his keys. He’s almost out the garage door when there is a knock on his front door. Strider heads over to bark at whoever dares invade his kingdom, and Steve follows. When he opens the door, he is surprised to see Bucky standing there, in running shorts and a Calvin & Hobbes t-shirt, slightly sweaty-looking. He’s got a small drawstring bag with him.

“Buck!” Steve exclaims. “Come in…I was just about to drive over to your place.”

Bucky walks in and exhales deeply, sinking against the door when Steve closes it and tossing his bag down on the floor. “Ohhh, that central air feels good.”

“You didn’t run all the way over here, did you?” Steve asks him in alarm, looking him up and down. It’s a pretty far distance, even for a runner like Steve.

Bucky laughs. “No, I took the subway and there was no air. It’s fucking HOT out today!”

“Oh. Didn’t notice,” Steve tells him. At seven in the morning it didn’t feel that hot, but come to think of it, there was a blast of hot air when he opened the door to admit his boyfriend into his house. “What’s in the bag?”

Bucky gives him a shy smile. “Oh, you know, toothbrush, rubber ducky. The essentials.”

Steve’s smile broadens until it threatens to take over his face. He would be over the moon about Bucky bringing over stuff to keep here, except for the shitty news they haven’t talked about yet.

He takes Bucky by the arm and leads him over to the couch to sit down. “I’m so sorry about the appeal.”

“I know.” Bucky sounds as dejected as Steve feels.

“I feel awful for getting your hopes up, and then having it all be for nothing. You didn’t even want to appeal, till I talked you into it,” Steve confesses glumly, but Bucky is looking at him like he’s got three eyes.

“All for nothing? No, Steve, not for nothing,” Bucky states firmly, shaking his head. “You believed me when I didn’t think anyone would, when I was as low as I could be. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.”

“I was hoping for so much more, though, Buck, to get your suspension revoked,” Steve tells him sadly.

“I’m no worse off than I was before, and there’s still a chance the PI will find something.”

Bucky is the one comforting Steve, oddly enough. Steve leans in and gives him a kiss on the lips, thinking about the day Bucky first told him about Brock. The heat currently rolling off of Bucky’s body is distracting and intoxicating; he almost loses his train of thought.

“Remember the day you first told me about the fire?” he says softly, lips only centimeters from Bucky’s.

“I remember,” Bucky breathes. One of his hands trails up Steve’s chest. “I wanted to tell you I was attracted to you, but I still thought you were straight, so I didn’t.”

“What?” Steve yelps slightly in surprise. “I wanted to kiss you so much that day. And at the ballpark,” he adds.

Bucky slips his hand around Steve’s neck, creating tingles on Steve’s skin everywhere he’s being touched.

“You big dummy, why didn’t you?” Bucky pulls him in and kisses him, long and slow. “We could have been doing a lot more of this.”

“I don’t know,” Steve says. “I didn’t think you would be interested in me, and I didn’t want to jeopardize our friendship, or our working relationship. I didn’t want to lose you.”

Bucky nods slightly. “I get it.” He smiles devilishly. “And I’m glad you finally got it.”

Steve smiles back at him. “Me too. Now kiss me again.”

--

Seven o’clock. Party time. After some kissing and canoodling, Bucky couldn’t actually stay at Steve’s, so they made plans to meet before going to Thor’s place. Steve meets Bucky at his apartment and the pair take the subway to Thor’s, which comes out about half a block from his building. It is a four story, brick complex with cute little balconies off every apartment; the best part of the building, at least according to Thor, is the rooftop, where they can have parties when the weather is good.

As they approach the building they can already see the party lights strung up at the edge of the rooftop. There is an elevator to the fourth floor, then stair access to the top of the building. It is already well populated by the time Bucky and Steve get up there, mostly because when Steve got to Bucky’s place they got distracted again and made out for a while before actually leaving for the party. The area designated for entertaining is pretty large, maybe forty by forty feet, and has a good amount of people filling it.

There are folding chairs set up for seating, an open space meant for dancing, a game of corn hole set up along one edge of the roof, and a makeshift bar. Music plays in the background, not so loud that conversation would be drowned out, or draw the ire of neighbors. The party lights are hanging everywhere, but it’s still too light out to be able to see their glow. It takes a second of scanning the crowd before they spot their tall, blond host, over behind the bar. Clint, Tony and Darcy are nowhere to be found, but Sam, Natasha and Maria all wave, drinks in hand, from an area near the bar.

After making their way across the space, Steve and Bucky greet everyone. Maria accosts Bucky as soon as he is in range, giving him a hug and whispering something in his ear. Steve gets a hug from Natasha and a whispered “I’m sorry” at the same time; the women then trade and Steve gets a hug from Maria, while Bucky gets the same treatment from Natasha.

Sam observes all of this calmly but then exclaims, “I don’t know why the two gay guys get all the hugs, but I want in on it.”

Steve and Bucky immediately converge and envelop him in a major bear hug, squeezing him tightly between the two of them.

“Alright, alright,” Sam grouses as Maria and Natasha both laugh, and rolls his eyes to the open sky. “Not quite what I meant, but I’ll take it.”

Steve leans in and explains to Sam about Bucky’s inability to file an appeal. He assumes Maria already told Natasha, hence the sympathy hugging.

Sam looks from Bucky to Steve and demands, “You mean that mother fucker is going to get away with it?”

“We’re not giving up looking into it, but I’m going to have to serve the suspension,” Bucky says with a depressed air.

Steve takes his arm firmly and steers him toward the bar. “And that’s all we’re going to talk about it for tonight, right everybody?” He looks around at his companions, daring them to disagree with him, but everyone is nodding and agreeing with him instead.

“You don’t have to protect me, babe, I’m gonna be okay with it,” Bucky tells him, but lets Steve funnel him toward Thor and Jane.

“Yeah, but I’m not,” Steve replies, pursing his lips.

Bucky turns his head to look at him directly and gives him a kiss on the cheek. Steve gives him a quick, private smile; they reach the bar and greet their hosts, giving them congratulations on their new cohabitation status. Thor reaches over the bar and claps both of them on the shoulder, then hands them a couple of beers.

“WELCOME!” he yells at them effusively.

Jane fists the back of his shirt in her hand to prevent him from leaning over the bar too much and losing his balance. “I’m so glad you two came,” she says generously. She glances at her boyfriend. “Thor is feeling VERY GOOD. He and Sam already had a game of corn hole with those bean bags that have drinking commands on them, and Thor is TERRIBLE at corn hole.”

“No I am not!” Thor insists loudly. “Sam is just better.” He smiles broadly as Steve and Bucky chuckle. “Now enjoy yourselves, please!”

They do. Steve and Bucky find their way over to the corn hole and take on Clint and Tony. Everyone at the firehouse is in attendance, plus a lot of Jane’s friends, and a lot of others from the firefighting community who know Thor. At one point, Steve emerges from a long conversation with Tony, discussing their options, to find Bucky speaking to another firefighter from a nearby ladder company.

“Steve! Come over here!” Bucky calls to him when he is spotted.

Steve steps over and sticks out his hand to Bucky’s companion, a dark-haired man in his mid-forties with an infectious smile. “Scott!”

“Hey, Steve!” Scott Lang takes Steve’s hand and shakes it soundly. “It’s great to see you!”

Bucky doesn’t seem surprised that the two know each other, so Steve assumes they have been conversing for a while. But Steve is surprised at the information Bucky makes Scott go over again for him. Sometime during the course of their small talk, Brock Rumlow’s name had come up. Scott had actually gone through the Academy with Brock, and knew something about him they were not privy to. Something that seemed pretty damn relevant to Bucky’s current situation. Scott repeats himself, with Bucky watching Steve’s reaction carefully.

“What?” Steve says, and feels his jaw drop.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

“Yeah,” Scott says, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. “Not many people know this, but Brock had a brother who was in and out of jail for repeated burglary. He never talked about him when we were at school. I only ever found out because my cousin works at the prison and Brock would go and visit him when he was in.”

Bucky is staring at Steve, eyes wide, and Steve stares back. He can tell they are both thinking the same thing…maybe this is the break they need. Steve’s mind races. What if…what if that’s how Pierce and Brock got into illegal activity in the first place? If Pierce, Brock and his brother were all in cahoots together, maybe they can still link Pierce and Brock’s brother to each other. Maybe. Maybe it’s grasping at straws, but at this point that’s all they’ve got.

Scott looks from one back to the other. “Is this important to know?”

“It could be. Thanks, man,” Steve says to him sincerely, and Bucky echoes his sentiment.

Steve can’t wait to get the information to Maria, and looks around for her. Bucky is one step ahead of him; he points to a circle of chairs where she, Natasha and Jane sit with a few other women that Steve isn’t familiar with. Scott wishes them luck, promises to catch up with Steve later, and Bucky and Steve head over to try and steal Maria. By now twilight is falling, and the party lights show them the way.

As they approach the group of women, Natasha flips her red hair behind her back and calls out, “Hey boys, where’ve you been?”

She is sitting next to Maria on the other side of the circle of chairs. One young woman, pretty with long, straight blonde hair hanging down around her face, presumably one of Jane’s friends, turns her head and stands up when Steve appears behind her chair. “Yeah, where’ve you been all my life,” she says in a thick voice, and steps around her chair and directly into the tight space between it and Steve. If Steve couldn’t tell she was drunk from her speech, he would’ve figured it out by the glazed look in her eyes. Or maybe her hands that shoot out like octopus tentacles and latch onto his shirt.

“Uhhhhhh,” Steve says unintelligibly, and tries to extricate himself, politely taking her hands off of him.

Natasha and Maria are holding back smiles, but Steve can hear Bucky laugh openly next to him. He glares once in his direction before trying once more to pry the woman’s hands away from him. She’s relentless, putting her hands back on him just as fast as he’s taking them away, and he’s pretty sure she just reached around and goosed him, too. He attempts to step away, but she clings like a limpet, wrapping her arms around his neck. Jane attempts to rescue him, reaching up with one hand to try and pull the woman away.

“Sit down, Sharon, you’re not going to get anywhere with him, he’s taken,” she says to the woman, who clings even tighter in response. “I’m sorry, Steve, she’s had a little too much to drink,” Jane apologizes. “Really, she’s harmless.”

“Taken!” the woman rubs her hands over Steve’s chest like he’s an animal at the petting zoo, and Steve feels himself blush furiously. Bucky isn’t even trying to help, the bastard, just standing there smiling with his hands shoved into his pockets.

“Do you have a girlfriend, Steeeeve? I can be better than herrrrrrrrrr,” the woman slurs. The smell of alcohol is heavy on her breath.

Steve is trying to be as low-key as he can, but he’s has had enough of Miss Grabby Hands. “No, no girlfriend,” he tells her directly. “I have a boyfriend, and he’s standing right next to you.”

Natasha chokes back laughter as the woman turns her head, still leaning into Steve’s chest like she might fall over, and gives Bucky the once over.

“You’re his boyfriend?” she squeals, and when Bucky nods once with a huge smile on his face, she lets Steve go and drops back into her folding chair melodramatically.

“Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaane,” she wails, “Why are the hot ones always gay?”

Pretty much everyone is laughing except for Steve, who is beyond embarrassed. Bucky motions to Maria and asks her if they can speak to her for a minute.

Maria pops up out of her chair, says to Jane, “Make sure she doesn’t drive home, K?” and waits for Jane’s emphatic nod before she looks at Bucky and Steve. “Sure thing!”

They find a relatively quiet spot to tell her their news. Maria is quite chuffed and gets her phone out to text the PI right away, and also bug him for an update. Task completed, they return to the party. Steve’s mind still churns with the possibilities, but they do try their best to enjoy the rest of the festivities. Steve makes sure he steers clear of Jane’s tipsy friend for the duration.

There is some jazzy sounding music playing and several couples slow-dancing in the small dance area, including Tony and Pepper and Clint and Laura. Bucky pokes Steve in the ribs. “Wanna dance?” he asks enthusiastically.

Steve looks around briefly, and Bucky laughs at his nervous pause. “You told the drunk, loud-mouthed girl at the party I’m your boyfriend, but you’re worried about people seeing us dance together?”

“No,” Steve insists, grabs Bucky’s hand and pulls him out into the dance area. They are among friends here, and if Bucky wants to dance with him, then by God they’re going to dance. After all, Steve wanted to way back when they were at that new club, didn’t he? The only thing he worries about is his dance skill, or more specifically, his lack there-of.

But really, he doesn’t have to worry about that at all. They hold each other and turn in slow circles, and it’s not fancy or showy, but it’s perfect. Steve closes his eyes, presses himself as close to his partner as he can, and breathes him in. The music and the people fade away, and all there is in the world is Bucky holding him, his scent filling his nose and his body filling his arms. They keep their hands where polite company dictates, but even so, Steve can feel every inch of Bucky’s muscled form pressed up to him, and it makes him deliriously happy.

He has no idea how many songs they dance through, slowly turning under the soft strands of white light from the party bulbs and the faint shine of stars starting to appear in the deepening black of the sky. They don’t have to talk, they just have to be, and he never feels awkward or uncomfortable when they are together. Only…cherished. By the time Steve thinks to looks around again, the crowd has thinned out some, but his crewmates still all seem to be accounted for.

“You about ready to go?” Bucky has felt his movement and lifts his head, too.

“Sure, if you are,” Steve replies, and runs his hands up Bucky’s sides to his shoulders.

“Do you want to say good-bye to your new friend?” Bucky has on a serious face, but his eyes are smiling.

“Who…? Oh. NO!” Steve frowns at him. “Thanks for your help there, by the way,” he says sarcastically.

Bucky pretends Steve means it and says, “You’re welcome!” in a sunny voice.

Steve shakes his head and laughs. “That was so embarrassing. At least none of the guys saw.”

“Embarrassing why?” Bucky crinkles up his nose. “Let those women all be jealous. You’re mine.” His fingers walk their way around Steve’s back possessively and pull him in tight again.

“They’re not jealous,” Steve scoffs.

Bucky laughs softly. “It’s cute how you see yourself so differently from the rest of the world.”

“What?” Steve gives him a look that is adorably clueless.

“I’ll show you later,” Bucky promises, and they head over to their circle of friends to say goodnight. Clint and Laura are ready to shove off, too, so they all walk down to the subway together. After the heat of the day, the night is pleasantly cool and the short walk feels good. They take the same line, since they all live in Bay Ridge except for Bucky, and sit across from each other. The second stop on the way is Bucky’s apartment.

Steve turns and looks at him suggestively as the subway slows down, hoping Bucky will come home with him, and makes sad, puppy dog eyes when Bucky stands up, holding on to the rail for balance. Bucky smiles down at him, sidesteps toward him and plops down again to sit even closer. Clint laughs raucously at the dopey smile that then covers Steve’s face, while Laura just smiles sedately and takes her husband’s hand.

Clint and his wife exit the subway first, leaving Steve and Bucky alone for the short remainder of the journey. Once they reach home, Strider is overjoyed to see them, and Steve wastes no time getting him outside so they can go to bed. Bucky is in and out of the shower in a flash so Steve can get in, and relieves him at the back door to wait for his dog, who once again has decided the security of the yard is in serious jeopardy, and requires extensive scrutiny. Once he is in for the night and they are both done in the bathroom, Bucky makes Steve lie down on the bed on his back, on top of the comforter and sheets. They wear boxer briefs, and nothing else.

Steve is sitting on the bed when he asks Bucky, “Lie down for what?” and gets a push on the chest for his trouble, with Bucky using a gentle hand to guide him down. Steve goes willingly, eyes full of questions.

“I told you,” Bucky says as he kneels next to Steve’s side. “I’m going to show you something. You don’t know just how sexy you are, so I’m going to kiss every single part of you that is sexier than hell.”

Steve gives a short, self-deprecating laugh. “That’ll take about two seconds,” he jokes.

“That’s what you see,” Bucky tells him. He runs his hands down Steve’s arms. “That’s not what the world sees, including me.”

Then he leans down, with that lock of brown hair falling over his forehead, braces his arms on either side of Steve’s head and places gentle kisses all over Steve’s face: cheeks, nose, chin, forehead and then each eyelid. Steve’s eyes had closed while Bucky was kissing him, but he opens them to give him a hard time.

“My eyelids are sexy?”

“Your eyes, lunkhead.” Bucky is undeterred by Steve’s resistance. “Did you want me to try and kiss your eyeballs?”

“No. Did you just call me lunkhead?”

“I’m proving a point here. Do you even know how sexy your mouth is?” He brushes his mouth against Steve’s, lightly at first. “You and your goddamned perfect, sinful lips.” He kisses him open-mouthed this time, sliding his tongue into Steve’s mouth, licking into the warmth and wetness of it. “You taste better than anything on this planet. Now shut up.”

Steve hears himself make some sort of whimper when Bucky kisses him, but otherwise stays obediently silent as Bucky moves on and kisses his hair, then across his neck and down one shoulder, then the other. As Bucky drifts slowly down over his body, delivering slow, teasing kisses everywhere, Steve lets himself relax and enjoy the ministrations. Bucky’s hands move over him just as much as his mouth does, mapping the peaks and valleys of his body.

“All this muscle. You’ve got the body of a Greek statue, baby. You know what you do to me when I touch you? You make me so wet.”

Steve’s heart is pattering hard in his chest and there is a coil of heat starting at the base of his balls, moving up through his core as his arousal grows. When Steve realizes that Bucky is keeping up the running commentary just because he told him he likes it, he gets turned on even more. He wants to touch and feel and do some exploring of his own, but when he puts one hand on Bucky’s leg, it gets gently pushed away.

“Be still, baby, I’m not done yet.”

“But…”

“Shush!” Bucky’s face comes back into view as he scolds him, then gives him a kiss on the mouth to soothe him.

He disappears again, kisses and drags his mouth down over Steve’s abdominals and then goes straight for his thigh, leaving his slowly tenting erection alone for now. His mouth touches Steve’s leg, dropping sweet kisses all the way down to his shin, then up the other leg. The inner thigh areas get some extra attention, with Bucky’s fingers stroking upwards to push the legs of his briefs out of the way and make room for more soft kisses.

Steve thinks part of his brain might have just shorted out, because what Bucky is doing to him is giving him double vision, and sweat is starting to form at his brow. Soft lips and tongue tease gently over his sensitive skin, and the sounds of his kisses leave Steve lust-filled and burning with anticipation. Once Bucky has finished ravishing his thighs, he pushes at Steve’s side to get him to flip over.

Obligingly, Steve obeys and rolls over, carefully arranging himself so his blossoming erection isn’t getting smashed into the mattress. He rests his chin on his forearms. Bucky immediately lays kisses across his upper back, sidetracking to his neck briefly, then straight down the center of his spine. His fingers swirl lightly over Steve’s flanks, and his mouth follows.

He leans over Steve to get to the far side of his body, kissing all along his torso and then over the muscles on each side of his spine. When he reaches the small of his back, Steve lets out a little giggle, much to Bucky’s delight. He can feel Bucky smile against his skin.

“Ticklish?” he queries, and Steve nods.

“A little,” he answers, and tries not to laugh when Bucky rubs his five o’clock shadow over the spot.

Once he’s had his fun there, Bucky moves down to Steve’s legs again, kissing each hamstring and down over his calves. Here, Steve can’t stop the smart ass from coming out of him.

“The world thinks my calves are sexy?”

Bucky nips at the meat of one calf. “Your calves are super fucking sexy. Now shut up.”

“Yes, sir,” Steve says teasingly, but shuts his trap when Bucky’s hands slip inside the waistband of his briefs and drag them down. He lifts his hips up so Bucky can remove them completely, because his cock is very interested in these proceedings. There is a loss of contact and a rustling sound as Bucky takes off his own briefs, then a dip on the bed when he rejoins him.

“There are a few spots left I have to get to,” he promises, and his hands are on Steve’s voluptuous ass. He is straddling Steve’ legs, kissing around his fingers, kneading them into the firm muscle. Steve’s erection starts to push uncomfortably against the mattress. He thinks he’s been doing a pretty good job staying silent to this point, but when Bucky’s tongue drags in between the two cheeks of his ass, the resulting moan is long and deep. Bucky’s fingers pry inward, pulling him open so that his tongue can dance in and out, flicking over his entrance, and Steve’s cock goes from interested to full, raging hard-on status in two milliseconds.

“And this part of you,” Bucky purrs. “Fuck, baby. This part lights me on fire. Especially when my dick is sliding in and out of you.”

Bucky’s tongue presses against his hole, licking over him, and Steve can barely control the raw sounds coming from his own mouth.

“Roll over,” Bucky commands him, voice low and seductive. He moves to one side of the bed and waits.

Again, Steve obeys him without question. His cock springs up, standing at attention once it is freed from the prison formed by the bed. Even better than this relief is the fact that he can see his partner again, rather than stare at the headboard. Bucky straddles him a second time, eyes glittering in the soft bedroom light. His hands rest on Steve’s hips and he watches Steve’s face as he lowers his.

“Saved the best for last,” he promises. “Only I’m not just going to kiss you this time. Because as soon as I see this part of you, I want you inside me. Or coming all over me.”

“Oh, fuck,” Steve whimpers, and claws at the comforter. His cock is so fucking hard, he doesn’t think he can take much more. “I need to touch you. Please let me touch you,” he begs sweetly, unsure what Bucky’s rules are at this point.

Wordlessly, Bucky reaches up and takes both of Steve’s hands in his, threading their fingers together, and the contact is good. Gives Steve something to ground himself with. Then Bucky’s eyes disappear as he turns his face down and drops low, his head moving down between Steve’s legs. His tongue licks up the underside of his cock, slowly first, and Steve thinks there’s no way he’s going to last through this for more than a minute. His cock is throbbing so much, he can practically feel the blood pounding through his veins.

Bucky’s tongue covers all the territory of his shaft, moving up one side, then the other, then circling around the tip, now dripping because of Steve’s heightened excitement level. When Bucky’s lips finally close over his head, softly, lightly sucking at it, Steve moans like an animal in heat. Bucky bobs his head, just a little, moving the head of his cock in and out of his mouth, like he’s fucking worshipping it, and it’s a sweet torment. Steve wants him to take it all, right now, take him deep and suck him till he babbles like a baby, but Bucky waits.

His lips tighten as he suckles just the head, tongue probing his slit, but he waits until Steve is trembling and panting with need before he swallows him down completely. Steve can’t help crying out when his cock is suddenly enveloped in tight heat. Bucky’s mouth and tongue stretch around him, surrounding him completely. Bucky starts to bob his head in earnest, sliding down the length of Steve’s shaft and then pulling all the way back to the tip.

His mouth is so hot, his lips so soft but firm as he molds them exactly to Steve’s shape and sucks hard at him, over and over. God, it’s too much; it feels so good, Steve can’t even form real words. He moans and squeezes Bucky’s hands tighter, looking down to watch Bucky’s head move rhythmically up and down, watching his cock disappear when those red, sultry lips engulf him.

That’s what really unhinges him, seeing what Bucky is doing to him, watching as Bucky blows him. Bucky’s sweet, wet lips, moving up and down over his length. It’s just so fucking sexy. His body is blistering with heat and tingling everywhere, his chest sweaty, but really the only thing he feels is Bucky’s mouth on him. He’s taken him so deep, Steve can feel the head of his cock nudge the back of his throat, and then he’s done for. He gives a final cry and lets his head fall back to the bed as he comes hard down Bucky’s throat.

He wishes he could’ve given some warning, but his orgasm came on him so suddenly he didn’t have a chance. Bucky manages it all, though, and doesn’t release him until he’s through and has stopped twitching, chasing the aftershocks of his release. Steve is so completely sated that he almost forgets Bucky hasn’t come yet, till he gets a push at one hip.

“On your knees, baby.” Bucky’s voice is full of urgency, and Steve flips himself and gets shakily to his knees. His legs are like rubber, so he sits back a little on his haunches for some support. Bucky already has the lube in his hands and finds Steve’s hole with cool, slicked up fingers. They are shaking, too, as he circles him and then pushes in without delay.

Bucky gasps behind him as he sinks in his finger. “Oh God, baby, you feel so good. I’m gonna fuck you blind.”

Fervently hoping so, Steve hangs his head between his shoulders and begs for it. A soft groan escapes when Bucky adds another finger, then scissors them to loosen him up. “Now, Buck, please, now,” he pleads, and Bucky withdraws his fingers.

Thick, hard cock takes their place, sliding into him slowly, letting him adjust to the burn. Bucky moans and runs his hands up and down Steve’s back, then grabs at his hips to steady himself. Steve can’t even tell if he’s still got legs down there, the sensation of Bucky filling him up is so powerfully intense.

“Buck,” he moans. It’s the only word he can manage.

But Bucky knows what he wants. Slowly he grinds his hips forward, pushing his cock deeper, deeper, till he’s seated fully, pelvis pressed against Steve’s ass, and Steve suspects he might lose his mind, it’s so exquisite. Bucky holds him and pumps his hips, snapping them forward and back, fucking him harder with each pass. Steve’s mouth is open as he gasps for air, and jesus he hopes he’s not drooling, but fuck who cares, because Bucky is drilling into him so hard and it feels so good.

Both their bodies are rocking back and forth and Steve leans back into his lover as much as he can to get more of the delicious penetration he wants. Bucky’s legs are strong and he knows what he’s doing; he drives in so hard and deep, Steve practically howls when he hits his sweet spot and those nerve endings all get stimulated at the same time. Even if he can’t see Bucky, he can hear his breathless sighs from behind as he pounds into him over and over.

He can tell when Bucky is getting close to his orgasm when his pace speeds up and his fingers dig in strongly at his hips. His strokes are shorter, more frenetic, until Bucky is the one making the unintelligible moaning sounds. He plunges himself in hard, one last time and comes, grasping at Steve’s sides like they’re his only lifeline and he’s drowning in his own pleasure. He grinds against him, trembling and panting, until his orgasm has passed.

And then it’s over, and Steve feels like he can sort of breathe again, and hey, he can feel his legs, so that’s a good thing. Bucky collapses down on top of his back, leans over him and kisses one shoulder blade tenderly. They rest there silently, trying to recover their faculties.

“That was fucking amaaaaaazing,” Bucky drawls out, and Steve smiles down at the mattress. Yes. Yes it was. He already can’t wait for round two.

--

Round two consisted of Steve waking a sidelying Bucky up by poking him in the backside with his early morning wood, then fucking into him leisurely, lazily, building up a slow burn until they both wanted more leverage than their spooning positions could supply. After that, Bucky got on his knees and let Steve drive into him from behind, while giving him a reach-around hand job. They both came together, then collapsed and fell back asleep, waking later with messy sheets but good humors.

With Steve’s day off on Friday came a much-anticipated update from the private investigator. Maria had called both Steve and Bucky and asked them to meet for coffee. It’s actually a pastry shop, white countertops and walls, with a huge glassed in case displaying all sorts of goodies, but they do serve coffee, too. Maria, however, is eyeing the pastry case heavily as they stand in line and selects an apple strudel to take to their table, while Steve gets a coffee only.

She leads him over to a squared off table with a man already seated there, waiting for them and sipping at a coffee. Maria introduces Steve to Pietro Maximoff, a dark-haired, fit-looking man in his late twenties. He is younger than Steve expected, but very businesslike and confident in his manner. He greets Steve warmly, and then Bucky as he enters the shop shortly after, bypassing the counter service to sit down with them.

“Still can’t lay off the sweets, huh Maria?” Pietro teases, with the familiar manner of a friend.

“You know it,” she replies, and licks her fingers. “What have you got for us?”

“Please let it be good,” Bucky breathes, looking to the heavens.

Pietro takes another sip and sets his cup down. “I’ll tell you, your Pierce is one cool customer. He’s been very careful to avoid the appearance of impropriety as far as being seen with any shady characters.”

Bucky groans and slumps back in his chair. Steve reaches under the table and rubs the top of his knee reassuringly.

“But…” Pietro adds, “I’ve been doing some digging, and there are a lot of things that don’t add up around him. He’s got some other property that doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other than to sit vacantly, yet he’s got income coming in from all over the place. He doesn’t really do a good job hiding it, either. His overconfidence may work in our favor.”

“Thanks, Petey,” Maria tells him. “I know you didn’t have to take this on, and we don’t have a lot of time.”

Pietro waves his hand. “Stop, Maria, as soon as Phil said your name I said yes. You know I owe you about a dozen more favors, anyway.” He smiles at Steve and Bucky. “You know the way to Maria’s heart, don’t you?”

Bucky looks from Pietro to Maria, waiting for the answer, while Steve smiles knowingly.

“Chocolate.”

Pietro points at Steve, indicating a winning answer. Maria sighs deeply. “My one great love and nemesis,” she jokes and takes another bite of her strudel.

“What about Rumlow’s brother?” Steve asks curiously.

“I’ve started looking into him as well, but it’s still early on. He is currently out on probation and in the city. If he’s into something, I’ll find it.”

Steve and Bucky both thank Pietro profusely for his help, before he rises and has to run. He promises to keep them updated as he is able, and walks briskly out of the shop. Maria’s eyes follow him out the door. Steve nudges Bucky under the table with his knee.

Bucky parks his elbows on the table and puts his chin in his hands. “You like him, don’t you,” he says in a sing-song voice.

Maria’s eyes snap back to their table. “What? No!”

Steve laughs. “Oh yes you do.”

“I do not!” she protests. “He’s…too young for me,” she adds lamely, and finishes off the rest of her strudel.

Bucky and Steve smile at each other. Denial. Maria watches them smiling and rolls her eyes. “Okay, can we change the subject now?” She floats up out of her chair and her two companions follow. They talk about the party on their way out of the shop, then separate and head off in different directions, with assurances of staying in touch.

That’s all that Steve gets to see of Bucky that day; Friday night he is babysitting for his nieces again. Saturday is a work day, which Steve sadly tries to come to grips with. There might be a lot more of these days if Bucky has to serve out his full suspension. Not that he’s giving up…just trying to be realistic, and bring his expectation level down a hair so he doesn’t constantly get his hopes crushed every time he has to show up to work and Bucky isn’t there.

Over the course of the morning they conduct what seems like four billion business inspections. Inspections are the most boring thing Steve can think of, but they are necessary and useful. Information gleaned during inspection can make or break a size-up, when there is a real fire situation and firefighters need to know what they are dealing with when they arrive on scene.

In their downtime he, Sam and Thor spend some time talking about the party and how good it was. Jane had spilled the beans to Thor about her drunken friend attacking Steve, and as they are exiting one building, Sam doubles over in laughter when he hears the tale.

“So wait, she actually was pawing him?” His gap-toothed smile is huge.

“Like a cat in heat, I heard,” Thor says, laughing as well.

Steve wrinkles up his nose as they cross the parking lot to their engine. “Nice visual, Thor. Wasn’t quite that bad.”

“Did she grab your ass?” Thor wants to know.

Steve grimaces. “Yes,” he grudgingly admits, and his two companions burst into a fresh round of laughter.

Sam pulls open the door on the passenger side of the engine. “So I notice you didn’t ever mention it while we were AT the party.”

Steve pulls at the collar of his uniform as he climbs into the back seat. The day is really quite hot, aside from him being flushed with embarrassment again. “You didn’t need to know.”

“You mean you hoped we wouldn’t find out so we couldn’t give you shit about it.”

Two smiling faces are looking back at him from the front seat. Steve gives them the finger and settles back for the ride to the next inspection site.

Just after the lunchtime hour they are called to a structure fire in a commercial section of their territory. They pull up to an immense, stucco-sided building that looks to be part furniture showroom, part warehouse. Above, black smoke blooms and curls into the perfect blue of the mid-day sky. He, Sam and Thor in Engine One are the first to arrive on scene, along with Tony, Darcy, and a ladder crew from a nearby station. Clint and Natasha are standing by on site.

“What’s the size-up?” Steve yells out to Tony as they all are hooking up hoses.

Tony strides over, and Steve doesn’t like the concerned look on his face. “Nobody reported inside. Usually this place would be open for business on a Saturday, but they’re closed down for some remodeling.”

“So that’s good, then,” Thor says, and claps his hands together. “Let’s get right in there, and put the wet stuff on the red stuff.”

Steve agrees with this sentiment. Firefighters by nature are aggressive, wanting to get in and start fire knock-down as soon as possible, but something in Tony’s eyes holds him back.

Tony’s got a clipboard in his hands, checking things out. “I don’t like it. Old building. No sprinklers. We don’t know how long the fire’s been burning, and this place is full of foam-stuffed furniture that’s going to go up like tinder once it catches.” He scowls. “Darcy’s called in more crews. We need ten to twelve to fight this effectively, and at the moment, we’ve got two.”

They’ve got their hoses connected and start getting on the rest of their gear—air tanks, masks and helmets. The ladder crew has gone up in their bucket and already signaled back that the roof hasn’t self-vented yet, but could shortly.

Tony frowns yet again and orders the ladder crew down. “I want your TIC out,” he tells them.

The thermal imaging camera will hopefully show them where the fire seat is, since the building is massive in size. It’s a handy piece of equipment to have, but expensive, and not all firehouses have them yet. Scott Lang and his partner, Hope, are the ladder crew that have a TIC on board their truck. In a couple of minutes Scott comes hiking over with it. Behind him, Steve can hear Darcy on her radio, coordinating with the crews on their way.

“I want you to go in as attack crew and stretch your hose, but Steve, you take the TIC in also and recon till more crews arrive,” Tony speaks to them directly. “I want to know everything you see, but if your visibility goes down 50% or more, you get out of that building immediately. And you do NOT go deep into it alone. Clear?”

“Clear.” They all respond affirmatively, but Steve can tell Thor and Sam are disappointed like he is. It’s not in their nature not to go full throttle. Scott hands him the camera.

“Go get ‘em,” he says encouragingly. “We’re going back up to the roof to vent before you’re in.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Steve says, and pulls his mask down over his face. Their three man crew heads for the door, dragging their hose with them through the concrete parking lot. Steve can hold the camera in one hand and keep the other on the hose line. The front door is glass, but it’s impossible to see anything inside until they get in there. They break it and wait for any plume of fire that gets ignited with the oxygenated air. When it’s clear, they open the door and move in.

Once inside, they peer through the dark, smoky air. The remodeling process must have been pretty large scale, because there is furniture piled up everywhere, couches three and four high, tables and chairs stacked, making haphazard aisles between rows of furniture. The result is like a maze; no straight path anywhere. Difficult to find your way out of in a hurry.

“Jesus, if this shit goes up, it’s going to be an inferno in here!” Sam observes through his radio. “What can you see, Steve?”

Steve has the camera out and pans above and in front of them. “Fire’s hottest in the back, looks like in the warehouse section,” he says. “It’s a fast mover.”

“How’s your visibility?” Darcy cuts in through the radio. “We’ve got four more crews arriving.”

“It’s still good,” Thor replies. “We’re going in a little further to get the hose on it.”

“Not in the warehouse,” Darcy insists. “Only the showroom, till we’re ready out here.”

“Roger that,” Thor signals.

They push forward, Steve keeping the camera on so he can see any hotspots. They’ve been on scene for about ten minutes now. The heat inside the building is off the scale. It’s like a blast furnace, hitting Steve in the face. They are all standing on the same side of the hose line: Sam first, Steve second with the camera, and Thor bringing up the rear. Sam points to where orange and red flames become visible along the back wall of the showroom, and they immediately start getting water on it.

Steve can quickly see that their line will not be enough. The blaze is already too widespread, with black smoke billowing along the ceiling and halfway to the floor. They need more lines.

“We need more lines!” Sam yells.

“How bad is it?” Darcy wants a report through the radio.

Steve starts panning his camera around. “The heat signature is strong all along the back of the building. The whole warehouse section is probably gone already.”

“Steve.” It’s Tony’s voice, sounding very terse. “Pan up again. We’ve got no remodeling plans, but Scott says it looks like the roof was re-worked. They might have added steel trusses.”

Steel trusses mean there may be hidden areas in the ceiling where the fire can spread undetected, and intense heat can cause them to collapse in minutes. Firefighters call them “widow-makers”. Not good news. Steve turns his camera up to the ceiling tiles. With the naked eye he can see nothing, but the rising heat signature through the camera shows there may be activity up there.

“Shit. Fire may be in the ceiling.”

Tony’s voice takes on more urgency. “Get out. Right now. Back your hose out.”

Instantly they all turn. “We hear you,” Thor acknowledges.

Sam takes the lead again so if any flames appear in the ceiling they can get their spray on it. Visibility has taken a definite turn for the worse, just in the short time they’ve been inside. The acrid nature of the smoke tells Steve that chemical-filled furniture items like the couches, chairs and mattresses are already burning somewhere. He just hopes it’s still in the warehouse and not in the showroom with them.

He’s sweating right through his clothes as they backtrack, following the twists and turns of their own hose line to make their retreat. They all recognize the danger, but no one expresses any negative thoughts. They do their job and move as quickly as they can, but dragging their hose is slow-going, and Steve grows increasingly worried as the heat signature in the ceiling above them keeps climbing. They have made it halfway back through the showroom when Darcy calls in again.

“Where are you?” she demands, and to Steve her voice sounds worried. “The roof has self-vented.”

Meaning that the fire is definitely above them. Sam starts to answer her when suddenly fire bursts through the ceiling tiles about ten feet ahead of them.

“Fuck!” Sam yells, and turns the hose on the flames erupting and spiraling down from above. The couches stacked nearby also catch and start to burn. Now comes the tricky part. The longer they stay where they are, the greater the chance the fire will catch up to them from behind. If another team comes in and starts spraying, they could push the fire right at them unknowingly. If they can’t advance past this point, they’ll have to find an alternate route out of the building. In the dark. And smoke. And now the fire is definitely in the showroom with them.

Behind Steve, Thor clicks on his flashlight. “We’ve got flames ahead of us and behind us. Our exit route is compromised,” he radios out tensely. “Got our hose on the ceiling ahead of us to clear our route.”

“Need more water pressure,” Steve shouts out. Their stream is having little effect on the flames, and the heat searing their faces through their masks is worsening.

“NO!” Tony yells back through the radio. “Get to the west side of the building. There’s another door. West side. GO!”

Sam immediately turns west and leads the way. They are close to that side of the structure, so though they have no pre-planned route, Steve is confident they can make it. Not once does his trust in Tony and his crewmates waver. Not once do they panic. Training and adrenaline take over. They can’t afford to let anything else take over. Steve does keep an eye on the ceiling above, waiting for more flames to come shooting down, but so far their luck holds out.

Their route still zig zags, and visibility has gone down so much that they can barely see their feet any longer. If it gets any worse, they’ll have to start crawling, and that will slow them down even more. But then the aisle opens up in front of them, and from there to the door, just to their left, is about fifteen feet of wide open space. They’re almost there. Steve feels his heart in his throat.

“Get down low when we open the door,” Sam reminds them as they approach it.

“Roger…” Steve answers, and turns to look at Thor behind him.

He’s only a few feet back and barely visible in the smoke, but he can make out the thumbs up sign Thor gives him. Steve is just starting to turn back around when the unimaginable happens. Just behind Thor’s head, a large section of the ceiling crumbles and collapses. Red licks of fire shoot out and debris rains down, producing even more dust and smoke to obscure their vision. The sound that fills Steve’s ears is of tearing, ripping wood and metal and the whoosh of sudden flames. Thor disappears in the swirling cloud of dust and debris.

“THOR!”

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

Sam and Steve both talk over each other through their radios.

“Mayday mayday!”

“Thor! Can you hear me?”

“Man down! At the west door!”

Steve can hear Darcy’s voice in his ear, but it’s like he’s underwater or in a bubble, she sounds so far away. They both drop to the floor and crawl into the smoke and dust. Steve is feeling around with his hands when he sees a sliver of reflective stripe from a helmet poking out of the debris. “HERE!” he yells to Sam, and they both start shoveling chunks of flaming ceiling tile and framework away from their crewmate, who lies unmoving. Their gloves give them some protection from the heat, but not enough. Steve can feel his hands burning by the time they get enough debris pushed off of Thor to pull him out.

They each grab under one arm and start to pull. Steve has no idea if he’s alive or dead, no idea what sort of injuries he has sustained. Dragging him could be doing more damage if there is any injury to the spinal column, but they have no choice. He grits his teeth and does it. Flames are shooting out of the debris around them, out of the furniture they just cleared, out of the ceiling. The hose lies abandoned on the floor. They just need to get out.

They pull Thor’s inert form along on the ground; he’s a big man, and with all the weight the gear adds, Steve expects it to be difficult. It’s not. They’d lift a car off of him if they needed to. There is a splintering, crunching sound from behind, and the door gets hacked to bits. What’s left of it is pulled open and bright light spills in, followed by the appearance of two firefighters. It’s Scott and his partner, Hope.

They rush in and help drag Thor out of the building and into the sunlight, then are off again who knows where. All Steve cares about is that Clint and Natasha are there, already getting Thor out of his gear to evaluate him. His air tank, helmet and face mask get dumped to the ground, followed by his overcoat.

Steve and Sam dump their tanks and masks as well and sit on the ground in a daze, covered in soot. Once they are free of the structure and a safe distance from it, that’s when the shock sets in. Steve barely registers the activity that goes on around them with regard to the fire. There are sirens wailing and people running everywhere, but the only thing he focuses on is Natasha’s voice. Clint’s words are lost to the wind and noise around them, since he faces away from them.

“Pulse is strong. Resps steady.”

--

“Get some saline on that.”

--

“No, most likely a concussion. Let’s roll him again.”

Steve takes in a deep gulp of air and realizes he was holding his breath. He’s safe. Next to him, Sam lets out pent up air as well and reaches for him, laying his gloved hand on Steve’s arm. They share looks of pure joy, dirty, sweaty faces and all, and Steve closes his eyes in relief.

“Yeah, I’ve got it, Clint. Check on those two, will you? They’re probably the same.”

Clint turns around and faces his two friends.

“Let’s see those hands, boys.”

He kneels in front of them, helping Sam take off his gloves first, and reassures them, “Pretty close for comfort, but he’s gonna be okay.”

“How bad is it?” Sam needs to know everything.

“Concussion is probably the worst of it. He’s coming around now, though.”

Steve can hear Natasha talking in a low voice, presumably to a now-conscious Thor. Steve’s gloves come off next and Clint takes a look at their palms and fingers, painfully red and starting to blister. Honestly, Steve didn’t feel real pain until the gloves came off. He stares at his hands and looks at Clint.

“Thor?”

Clint pauses only a second before giving him a straight answer, then starts dousing their hands in cool saline water to stop the burning. “First and second degree burns on parts of his back and legs.”

Beside him, Sam puts his head down between his knees and blows air out heavily in relief. Things could have been so much worse. Concussion and minor burns? If that’s the extent of it, they’ll count themselves lucky. They all know the risks of the job when they sign on. Injury won’t shake anyone’s resolve, it’s just something they’ll deal with as a team. It doesn’t change Steve’s mind about loving firefighting, because he still does. It isn’t the first scary situation they’ve been in, and won’t be the last. But there is a marked difference to the way he reacts to this fire…

Around them there are crews still battling the blaze, but their own part in this is done. Their hands get wrapped in gauze and they and Thor will be transported to the nearest hospital for treatment. The nearest burn centers are in Harlem and the Bronx, but Thor’s injuries are not severe enough to merit driving or choppering him all the way there. Steve and Sam anticipate Clint’s next statement before he even says it.

“We’re going in the ambulance with you,” Sam insists.

Clint huffs out a dry laugh, then moves over to wrap Sam’s hands up. “I suppose there’s no use arguing with you, or telling you we’ve got more units coming.”

“Nope,” Steve agrees. “We’re with you.”

“You’d better be.” The deep voice sounds muffled because of the oxygen mask blocking the words, but comes from the stretcher behind Clint.

“Thor!” Steve and Sam both shout out simultaneously.

They rise and pinch Clint out in their haste to get to Thor’s side, squatting down by his stretcher. He looks pale and filthy dirty, but awake and feisty as ever. His burns have already been doused, and he is covered up and lying prone on the stretcher, head turned their way.

“Shoulda known with that hard head of yours, it would take more than dropping a ceiling on you to keep you down,” Sam tells him. The grin on his face is a million watts.

Thor smiles weakly behind his oxygen mask. “You two pulled me out?”

Sam nods. “Your ass is heavy, too, bro.” Thor smiles again inside his mask.

“How do you feel?” Steve asks.

“Like my ass is burned, Steven. Would you mind taking a look for me?”

Steve smiles and shakes his head. “You’re on your own, pal.”

Clint moves around them to grasp the foot end of the stretcher, while Natasha moves up to the head and does the same. They raise it up to move him to the MIDI, with Steve and Sam trailing along on the sides.

“Stop trying to get everyone to look at your ass, Thor, we’ve all seen it already,” Clint jokes.

“But did you truly appreciate it, Clint, that’s the question,” Thor banters, though his voice is strained and tired.

“Alright. That’s enough talking for now. Let’s get moving,” Natasha orders.

--

Sitting in the ambulance, after the adrenaline wears off, Steve realizes he’s shaking all over. Only one thought occupies him. Buck. What if things had gone horribly wrong, and he never got to see him again? What if he never got to tell him…

“Hey Natasha!” he calls up to the front of the MIDI, where Natasha sits, driving.

“Already taken care of, Steve!” she hollers back. “He’ll meet us there.”

Steve lets his head fall back on the wall of the MIDI. “Thanks, Nat!”

Sam smiles at him from the other side of his partner’s stretcher. Clint is back there as well, keeping an eye on Thor’s vitals, not letting him close his eyes until they get to the hospital and get a CT scan. Steve, for the most part, is alone with his thoughts. Only, his thoughts are pretty overwhelming.

His gut response to the events of today have made some things crystal clear to him. Like how he shouldn’t take things for granted. Not when everything could be taken away in an instant. Like how he needs to confront the fact that when his own life was on the line, the only person he thought about was Bucky. The only person that mattered was Bucky. And even now, no matter where his train of thought starts, it always ends in one place. Bucky.

There is a bond there, of friendship, of comradeship. And something more. A bond of love. He didn’t know it until now. He loves Bucky. I love him, he thinks slowly, the realization dawning on him in stages. Not just like. Not just affection. Not just lust. Full blown love. Quite a remarkable thing, that. Sure, he’s fantasized about them being together forever, having the happy ending he never got to have with Peg. Someone to love for eternity. But those were just pipe dreams. Weren’t they?

Not just dreams. I love him. And he might never have gotten to tell him. The person I want to spend the rest of my life with, and he doesn’t even know.

The rest of the ride in and entry into the hospital are all a blur to Steve. He vaguely remembers taking off his overcoat and blue uniform shirt and being scrubbed down before having his hands dressed properly. There is a spotty memory of being told he would need several days to a couple of weeks for the blisters on his fingers to heal. After that, he wanders out into the hallway near Thor’s curtained off section. Sam is there, mirroring Steve’s appearance, sitting in a white t-shirt with hands equally bandaged.

“You okay?” he looks at Sam, who appears about as dazed as Steve feels. Sam holds up his own bandaged fingers.

“Didn’t even feel it when we were in there.”

Steve nods. “That was a close one.”

“Yeah,” Sam agrees, and his hands fall to his lap. He motions to the curtained area. “They came out once, said it was a mild to moderate concussion and they would keep him overnight for observation. Otherwise, the burns will take two to three weeks to heal. They’re still in there with him. I’m gonna go call my ma. She’s probably going crazy.”

Steve nods and smiles wearily. “I’ll stay here. How you gonna dial?”

Sam regards his mitts again and snorts. They both look like they’re wearing gigantic, white gloves.

“Guess I’ll ask someone at the desk to dial for me.” He stands and looks down at Steve. “Try not to get into any trouble while I’m gone. We’ve had enough of that for one day.”

Steve laughs and settles back in his chair. “Yes, sir.”

Sam disappears down the hall and a minute later Jane comes flying in, face stained with tears, and hugs the stuffing out of him.

“Steve! Thank goodness you’re alright.”

“Jane,” Steve says, hugging her back with his arms, hands sticking out awkwardly behind her back. She drops into the chair vacated by Sam. “You and Sam,” she starts, half sobbing. “I don’t even know how to say thank you,” she cries, eyes big and starting to brim at the edges with more tears.

“He would do the same for us,” he tells her, meaning it with every fiber of his being. “Now go on and get in there, he’s probably chomping at the bit to see you.”

He nods with his head to the curtained area. Jane gives him another quick hug and dashes across the hallway, flinging aside the hideous green and tan checked curtain, and disappears. Steve is left alone again, but not for long. Within a couple of minutes, Sam returns and takes his seat.

“My ma wants to come and stay with me for a few days so she can baby me,” he announces cheerily. “Home cookin’, here I come!”

Steve laughs. “If she makes cookies, I’m in.”

“You got it.” Sam hears Jane’s voice from inside the other room. “Is that Jane?”

Steve nods.

“Good. That’ll do him wonders.” He looks up and down the hall. “No Bucky yet?” His brows are raised quizzically.

“No,” Steve admits, somewhat forlornly. Silently he considers going to call him as well, even though when Natasha left him in triage, she assured him that he was on his way. So Steve waits.

Eventually the hospital staff finish treating Thor’s burns and allow them in to see him before he is transferred to another room. He is positioned on his side, for his derriere truly is burned, along with parts of his back and legs. The air tank on his back gave him some protection, and thankfully the burns are not severe. But lying down and sitting will not be comfortable for a while. Thor insists on thanking his crewmates, his brothers, for pulling him out, even though Sam and Steve brush off the praise.

“You owe us one,” Sam says simply, with a big smile adorning his face.

Steve decides to excuse himself and make a bathroom run, but once he reaches the hallway, he realizes his dilemma. Zipper. Button. His index and middle fingers and thumbs are the most heavily bandaged and affected. Can he use just his ring and pinky fingers to get the job done? Unlikely. As he is pondering just how to magically accomplish this, a voice calls to him from the end of the hallway.

“STEVE!”

It is Bucky, finally, who comes barreling down the hallway, dodging parked wheelchairs, blood pressure machines, and a couple of spare IV poles to charge at him and throw his arms around him.

“Steve!” he proclaims a second time, more softly, when they are safely in each other’s arms.

Just seeing Bucky and feeling their solid bodies connect puts Steve’s mind at ease. He could stand there forever, holding him, letting everyone else walk around them as if they are a permanent fixture in the middle of the hallway. This is all he needs. They stand there with foreheads pressed together, then Bucky’s breath tickles across his ear.

“I’m sorry it took me so long,” he apologizes.

“It’s okay,” Steve tells him, smiling into his neck. “You’re here now.” He hugs him silently for a moment. “There’s something we need to talk about later. Not here,” he adds, when Bucky regards him with his curious blue eyes.

“Darcy and Nat have been texting me.”

“They’re going to keep Thor overnight for observation,” Steve informs him. He is clinging to him as much as he can without actually using his hands. Whatever was in the shot they gave him for pain seems to be wearing off, and the burning sting is a little more pronounced.

“I should have been there.”

Steve pulls back to see Bucky’s face clearly. “What? That’s not your fault,” he insists.

“No, but I still should have been there,” Bucky argues, and presses his lips together. “You should have had two lines, not one.”

Steve is silent, knowing that Bucky is right in the end. Would it have made a difference? Not in stopping the warehouse fire, but the flames in the showroom that blocked their exit route? Maybe. Thanks to Pierce, they would never know.

“Yeah,” he says softly. “Yeah, you’re right.” He hesitates, then changes the subject, leaving that topic for another time and place. “Come on, let’s go see him.”

--

They stay with Thor and Jane until he is settled into a new room, then the nurse insists he get some rest.

“We’ll leave you then,” Bucky decides. “I’ll take Sam and Steve home.”

Steve looks up in surprise. “What? How?”

“That’s what took me so long,” Bucky explains. “I went to the station to get your phones, then to your house to get your spare truck key and drive it over here. Figured you’d need a ride, both of you.”

“Right on, man,” Sam says. “Now that’s service!” He looks expectantly at Steve.

“Ready when you are.”

They’ve both got their discharge instructions and extra bandages, and Steve can’t wait to get the hell out of that hospital and go home. During the drive, Bucky fills them in on what happened at the fire site after they were taken out in the MIDI. No firefighters were sent in on interior duty after Thor was injured. It was completely defensive, exterior fire suppression.

The entire building had been a loss, but it still took ten crews over three hours to contain the blaze and prevent it from spreading to the nearby buildings. Steve absorbs this mostly in silence.

“When did you find out about the fire?” Sam inquires, and Steve expects Bucky to say Natasha alerted him.

“I was watching the news when they broke the story,” Bucky says, and avoids looking at them as he continues, staring at the road ahead. “They said a firefighter had already been injured in the line of duty. That’s all. Injured. But I knew how close it was to our station, that you would be first responders.” His hands grip the wheel tightly. “I knew it was one of you.”

“Dude.” Sam offers somberly.

Steve gasps out loud. “I’m sorry. You must have…that must have been awful, the not-knowing part.”

“I just grabbed my phone and ran out the door, headed for the subway. Then Natasha called me and told me what was going on, thank God, so I switched lines and headed for the station.” He smiles then and looks at both of them. “By the way, Strider was PISSED that I didn’t take him with me when I left your house.”

Steve and Sam both chuckle at that. They get Sam installed in his apartment, and turns out he can operate his phone using just one pinky finger. It’s a slow process, but it works. Before Steve and Bucky leave, though, Steve still has one little problem that he was distracted from while still at the hospital.

“Buck, can I talk to you real quick?” Steve walks into the hallway and stops in front of the door he knows leads to Sam’s guest bath. “I need help.” He looks down at his fly and tries to undo the button using only his ring fingers. It’s a futile gesture. Helplessly he looks back up at Bucky, only to see him standing there, grinning and silently shaking with laughter at his pathetic struggle.

“Wow, Steve. What a hot strip tease that is. I am so horny for you right now.”

Steve pulls a face. “Shut up and help me! I have to pee like a racehorse!”

“Okay, okay, keep your pants on,” Bucky jokes. “Oh wait, I guess you have to.” He steps close and looks into Steve’s eyes as he undoes the button and pulls Steve’s zipper down, opening his pants up. “I also packed myself an overnight bag,” he whispers. “Nat told me you would need someone to stay with you for a few days. I hope that’s alright.”

Warmth creeps through Steve’s chest. “Alright?” he repeats. “That’s more than alright.”

Bucky smiles and gives him a nudge. “Then go, and yell when you need me again. Preferably when your drawers are still down.”

“Ha ha,” Steve says, and does manage to get through his business in the bathroom unassisted. He gives in and pulls the door open when he can’t get his pants zipped and buttoned back up. “Help,” he says plaintively, and Bucky pushes himself off the wall he was leaning on and gives him a hand.

“Now I have a legit excuse to undress you,” he jokes. “Hot damn.” As they are walking back to Sam’s living room he asks if Steve has much pain.

“It’s not bad,” Steve says reassuringly, then stops short when confronted with Sam, wrestling with the TV remote and holding it between his palms like it’s a football.

“This is gonna be trickier than I thought,” he states in chagrin. “You get yourself all situated, Steve?”

Steve nods. “Tricky is an understatement,” he complains. “How long till they let us take these off?”

“Maybe a week,” Sam grumbles. “I’ll text you later and see how you’re doing.” He looks down at his phone, sitting on the arm rest next to him. “Or maybe I’ll call,” he quips.

“Last chance—you want any help getting into the shower or anything?” Bucky offers generously.

“No, I’m good. My ma is on the way, and she can’t wait to start mother-henning me. You two get on home.”

--

Bucky drives Steve back to his house and they manage to get in the door without Strider pawing at Steve’s hands, mostly because he keeps them raised up above his head to be safe. Bucky insists he get into the shower ASAP, helping him out of his clothes by carefully lifting Steve’s t-shirt over his head and undoing his pants again for him. Bucky fastens plastic bags over his hands to keep them dry and instructs him to keep them up high, out of the main spray of the shower head.

Bucky himself strips and gets into the shower with him to wash him off, but it’s much different from their last shower together. He is gentle but thorough; this time it’s all business and no hanky-panky. He checks Steve over almost clinically, looking for any other injuries, and also checks in with him verbally, making sure he’s not hurting anywhere.

Honestly, the day has been traumatic and wearing enough that Steve enjoys Bucky’s hands on him, but doesn’t get aroused like before. It feels good to be cared for and have his tense muscles rubbed out in the hot water, but that’s it. Bucky helps him dry off and get dressed in a clean, soft t-shirt and shorts that have no buttons or zippers, then get comfortable on the couch. It’s as good as having Florence Nightingale in the house with him.

Steve hadn’t even realized how late in the day it was until they were on their way home from Sam’s place and the sun was setting. Bucky has called for some take-out (Steve is ravenous) and comes over to the couch to sit down next to him. Steve is situated sideways on the cushions, legs stuck out in front of him, so he lifts them up to allow Bucky to sit down next to him, then drops his legs down to rest on top of Bucky’s lap.

“I’ll go pick up the grub in a few. You need anything else while I’m out?” he asks, and his hand caresses Steve’s bare knee.

“Nope,” Steve answers, and hesitates.

Bucky watches his face, waiting expectantly.

Steve clears his throat. He wants to tell Bucky all of his thoughts from this afternoon, because keeping it bottled up is killing him. But it’s not so easy now, when the moment of revelation has passed and doubt starts to sneak back in.

No. No more doubting himself. No more waiting just for the sake of waiting.

But how to say it? He hasn’t thought that far ahead. He wants it to be romantic and memorable, and here he sits, hands bandaged up like a mummy, as dependent upon Bucky as a toddler would be. Whatever. Just say it. He takes a deep breath.

“Buck, what happened today made me realize that I’ve been holding something back, and I don’t want to do that with you.” He looks at Bucky’s face, into his beautiful eyes, and melts. He can’t believe he didn’t see it before. He can’t believe he hasn’t told him before now. Bucky means everything. He’s not worried whether or not Bucky says it back. He’s not worried whether it’s too soon. He’s only worried that he can’t get the words out, because he gets so tongue-tied around the man sometimes.

“I…” he starts to say it, and his voice falters. The enormity of it just steals his breath away.

Bucky picks up where he left off. “I’m in love with you.” His voice is sure and calm.

“Exactly,” Steve rushes to get the words out. “I’m in love with you,” he repeats. Then blinks. “Wait.”

Bucky dumps Steve’s legs to the ground and crawls across his lap, straddling him with the biggest smile Steve has ever seen lighting up his face. “Did you just say you’re in love with me?” he clarifies, putting his arms around Steve’s neck.

“Yes,” Steve answers, heart thumping madly. “Did you just say you’re in love with me?” Bucky couldn’t really have just said that, right? His wildest dream can’t be coming true, can it? Steve can’t really hold him the way he wants to, but he puts his arms around him, anyway. His chest feels like it can’t contain everything that’s in there anymore, like he’s going to burst wide open.

“I love you,” Bucky says, and they’re the most beautiful words Steve’s ever heard. “I’ve loved you from the start, Steve Rogers. Just been waiting for you to catch up.” He gives him the softest, most gentle kiss he possibly can, and this one does make Steve feel hot all over. “When I thought I might have lost you today, you don’t know what that did to me.”

Steve nods. “Yes I do, because I thought the same thing.” He smiles, feeling light as a feather. “I love you.”

It feels so freeing to say it, and so unbelievably fantastic to hear the words come back to him. If he could bottle this feeling to keep forever, he would do it. And then his stomach growls so loudly, Strider picks up his head from the other end of the couch, nap interrupted, and cocks his head at him.

Bucky laughs. “Let’s get some food in you. Then I’m going to put Sam’s mother to shame in the babying department.”

--

That night, the declaration of love has them both giddy and excited; it’s like the icing on the cake of their relationship. Steve has all kinds of plans for fooling around, but finds out the painfully hard way that he likes to use his hands a LOT during sex. After two aborted attempts to hold and touch Bucky once they get into bed together and switch off the lights, Steve is lying on his back, feeling a bit frustrated. Apparently feeling like your hands have a thousand nails sticking into them and making loud “oof” and “ow” noises aren’t aphrodisiacs.

“You need to relax, baby,” Bucky tells him, and smooths one palm over the bare skin of his chest.

His touch is soothing and Steve sighs happily, deciding to let him do whatever he wants. So much for the ride em’ cowboy, marathon lovemaking session he had envisaged. Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe what he really needs is simply to feel wanted, to feel desired. Maybe the day has been chaotic enough that he and Bucky both aren’t up for something that’s too rough and tumble. Whatever the reason, Bucky takes things slowly, starting by sliding his hand down across Steve’s boxer briefs to touch him delicately, rubbing gently over his cock to stimulate him.

His fingers curl around his shaft, stroking up and down leisurely. It’s not hurried, it’s not frantic. He is lying on his side next to Steve, and presses up close to him so his own thickening erection pushes directly against Steve’s hip. The rhythmic tugs and pulls have Steve breathing hard almost immediately, and wanting more. As soon as Steve is hard, which doesn’t take long, Bucky tugs at his briefs to pull them down. Steve lifts his hips to help him out, keeping his bandaged hands up by his head and out of the way. Bucky gets his briefs down and then pushes his own down as well.

Steve groans needily when Bucky resumes stroking him, grinding his pelvis in time with the motion of his hand. Bucky’s erection pulses against his hip and he starts moving as well. The sensations of Bucky rutting against him, his hot breaths whispering across Steve’s neck, his thumb rubbing into the slit on the head of his cock to spread around his dripping pre-come, all ignite a burn deep down inside him.

The burn grows in intensity, the heat spreading and filling him deliciously. There is a warm wetness at his hip; Bucky’s cock is leaking as well. Bucky moans softly and speeds up both the strokes of his hand, and the thrusts of his hips. Steve starts to pant; fuck is it hot to think that Bucky might come against him, untouched, as he jerks him off. He palms Steve expertly, working up and down his shaft just the way Steve likes it, all fiery hot friction and whispery sighs in the darkness.

The hand on his shaft moves faster, giving him just the right amount of pressure to make his cock throb and swell. He can feel it coming, his orgasm building inside him, making him groan with the anticipation of that pleasure. God, he’s going to come so hard, and he knows it. But he wants Bucky to come with him, wants to feel his hot release at the same time he himself erupts.

“Buck,” he calls out desperately, hovering on the edge. He squeezes his eyes shut, willing himself not to lose it just yet, but Bucky is relentless, and his palm and fingers feel fucking awesome as they pull and twist and make Steve want it so bad he would beg. He’s about to blow when he finally feels it; Bucky cries out and comes in hot spurts all over his hip and stomach. His hips twitch and roll through the aftershocks.

That sends Steve over the edge too, and he shoots his load, hard and fast, sending ropes of pearly fluid over his abdomen. Bucky moves next to him, his mouth finding Steve’s to share a deep, tongue-filled kiss. It’s long and luscious, and the perfect end to their day. They don’t stop kissing until their breathing has slowed to a normal rate and their bodies have started to cool. When they eventually break apart, Bucky continues his solicitousness and cleans them both up, then returns to bed and snuggles up next to his lover.

“You okay, baby?” he questions, whispering into the night.

“Couldn’t be better,” Steve replies truthfully. “I love you.”

Bucky sighs and sinks into him even more. “I love you, too.”

--

And so the next couple of days pass, with Bucky tending to Steve and spoiling him as much as he can, and Steve in seventh heaven. He has to pinch himself periodically to see if this is actually real. He knows it’s only temporary, but having Bucky with him as his constant companion really whets his whistle for more of the same, on a permanent basis. The more time he spends with Bucky, the more time he wants to spend with him. Just his friendship alone, his concern and care for Steve’s well-being, tells Steve that Bucky has what it takes to stay in it for the long haul, and that he is what Steve wants, in spades.

But being the conscientious, work-driven guy that he is, Steve does fret about missing some shifts. The steady stream of visitors to his house helps. He gets visits from Darcy and Natasha, from Clint and Laura, and from Tony, who also gives him “hugs from Pepper”. Clint assures him that their empty shifts will be filled by off-duty personnel just fine, and not to worry “like an old man.”

On his third day at home, they pick up Sam in the truck and drive over to see Thor. Jane has also taken some time off work to stay with him, monitoring him for any post-concussive symptoms. Thor seems at once happy to have her there and annoyed, as he can’t hide anything from her sharp eyes.

“I feel fine,” he whines. “It’s just like a bad sunburn. Who misses work for a sunburn? My head is fine.”

“Is that why you hissed and hid like a vampire when I turned on the bathroom light this morning?” Jane asks, hands placed on her hips, like a school teacher scolding a student who told her his dog ate his homework.

They are all sitting in Thor’s living room, except for Thor himself, who doesn’t actually like to sit yet. He is lying on his side on the couch, propped up with some pillows.

“So I have a little light sensitivity. Big whoop,” he argues good-naturedly with his girlfriend.

“And are you planning to lie down in the engine on our way to runs?” Sam teases. “Just take some time off and heal up.”

“Boring,” Thor grumbles.

“When they all go back to work, I’ll come over and hang with you,” Bucky promises. “We can binge on every single season of Game of Thrones.”

Thor brightens up visibly, then turns to Steve and Sam and assumes a serious look. “You two need to go back to work. I need to take some time off and heal up.”

--

It is the morning of Steve’s fourth day off. His burns are healing, feeling itchy as hell as the new skin forms. Bucky has just left him, borrowing the truck so he can run some errands. Steve is in the living room when the doorbell chimes. He half expects it to be Bucky, and looks around on his way to the door to see if he left his cell phone sitting on the coffee table. Not seeing it, he wrestles carefully with the door handle, finally turns it, and almost asks, “What did you forget?”

But no words come out of his open mouth as he looks outside his door. It’s not Bucky. Not by a long shot. Alexander Pierce stands on his doorstep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

Steve takes an involuntary step back, which Pierce takes as an invitation. He steps right into the foyer before Steve can even blink in surprise. No dress blues today. Today he wears a grey suit, the consummate businessman. It’s a sharp contrast to Steve’s t-shirt and jogging shorts.

“Steve, it’s good to see you again,” he says cheerily, and Steve marvels at how well he can force that. The man certainly can schmooze with the best of them. Pierce offers his hand, but then withdraws it, seeing Steve’s bandaged state. “I guess we can skip the handshake this time,” he says, smiling like they are old friends.

Steve is more reserved. “I’m a bit surprised to see you, Mr. Pierce. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

This is not a social call and they both know it, but two can play at that game. No use wasting time with small talk, in Steve’s opinion, and he doesn’t want to give away any information to this snake. He decides to be polite, but chooses his words carefully and plays dumb …for now.

Strider has appeared, offering a few sharp barks, but Pierce ignores him, and he settles back down when Steve gives him some light pets on the head. Pierce does not remain stationary, instead strolling around at a leisurely pace through Steve’s living room to examine the pictures that are on the walls and displayed in frames on tables and shelves.

“Oh, I just wanted to check up on you and see how you were doing,” he claims, voice airy and innocent.

Steve eyes him warily, staying put in his spot by the open front door. He hopes Pierce will take the hint and keep this short, whatever he wants. He waves his bandaged hands in the air.

“You heard about the fire, I take it,” he offers noncommittally.

“Yes, of course,” Pierce replies. He picks up a photo of Steve and Sam and examines it nosily. “With an injury to a firefighter, there will certainly be an investigation. I may even get assigned to the case,” he announces and sets down the frame. Then he leans in close to the wall to examine an old picture of Steve and Tony together in their gear. “I understand Tony Stark used to be your partner before he was made Battalion Chief."

“Yes,” Steve confirms, and every single hair on his body instantly stands up straight.

Pierce clasps his hands behind his back. “For several years, am I correct?” He turns to see Steve nod, then continues. “This was his first time overseeing operations on a large fire. That can be very challenging.”

“Tony handled it very well,” Steve maintains in a stony voice. What game is Pierce playing now?

“Yes, well. Sometimes firefighters are promoted to BC, and then it turns out they’re not aptly suited for the job at all. They may not be ready for such responsibility.”

There is an underlying sharp current in his voice that rings warning bells inside Steve’s head. He replies firmly, “Not Tony. He did exactly what he should have. The situation inside the structure decayed rapidly, and we were lucky he got us out when he did.”

Pierce purses his lips and makes a face like he’s thinking deeply. “Perhaps. The building was a total loss, was it not?”

Steve starts to feel his anger level rising. Bastard. Is he trying to blame Tony? “That was through no fault of our BC. The fire was too far gone when we arrived, and had to be fought defensively.”

Pierce takes two lazy strides towards him. “Or maybe it wasn’t fought aggressively enough, or with enough know-how. Complete property loss is no small matter.”

Steve bites back the retort that springs to his lips about Pierce knowing all about property loss. His fists clench at his sides in his effort to remain calm. “You think it would be better to be investigating firefighter deaths right now, instead of property loss?”

“Not at all,” Pierce counters, tilting his head a fraction to one side. “But the department must make personnel changes as needed. It would be such a shame for Tony to get demoted, so soon after his appointment, but mistakes must be rectified.”

Steve’s fists are balled up so tight, he can feel the new skin over his blisters crack and tear.

Pierce shrugs lightly. “I suppose he could be reassigned back to regular duty again and fill his old spot. Of course, that would leave James without any position at all, but that’s the way the ball bounces.”

You fucking bastard. “You can’t do that,” Steve challenges flatly.

“Au contraire,” Pierces states breezily, as if ruining men’s livelihoods was all in a day’s work. “I am a well-connected man, you see. So I’m going to lay it on the line for you, Steve.” He leans forward, voice dropping dangerously. “Someone has been watching me, asking questions; someone who stays in the shadows, unseen. But I’m willing to bet he’s connected to your new boyfriend.”

He pauses to let that statement sink in, and Steve’s eyes widen. He’s been watching us. Pierce spots the recognition in his face and smiles thinly.

“Oh yes, I know. I’ll always know more than you, do you get that?” His head dips condescendingly. “You have interests to think about here, Steve. James was apparently too thick to understand me when I gave him a little pep talk, so I’m hoping you’ll do better. Make him understand that he needs to behave, or I promise you the next investigation will include some findings none of you will like.”

He smiles again, so cocky, so sure he’s got the upper hand that Steve literally sees red seep through his field of vision, like paint thrown on a canvas. Before he knows it he has moved, quick as lightning, to Pierce’s side, only inches from his face.

“You son of a bitch,” he curses in a low voice. His heart is beating rapidly in his chest. The temptation to take a swing at Pierce is overpowering, and he only manages to control himself by remembering that it wouldn’t help Bucky or Tony if he knocked the man on his ass.

Pierce only laughs. “Temper, temper,” he admonishes him, and steps around to stride back toward the front door. “Last chance,” he throws over his shoulder. “Don’t mess with me, or you’ll regret it.”

Steve lets him go, so angry he could chew nails. “SHIT!” he spits out when Pierce is gone, and looks down at his hands.

Blood is seeping through his bandages from the creases of his palms and fingers. “Shit!” he swears again, more defeated this time. What are they going to do? Pierce doesn’t know who Pietro is, but he knows he’s there. And they haven’t heard anything about how their little investigation is going.

He closes his front door and starts to pace. He thinks about calling Bucky, but it’s not something he wants to tell him over the phone. He’ll wait until he gets back to tell him. He calls Maria and leaves her a voice mail to call him back. Next he calls Tony and asks him to come over, spilling the whole story as soon as his old friend arrives. They are sitting on Steve’s couch, and Steve waits for him to offer up some sage advice, some words of wisdom.

“Shit!” is Tony’s first exclamation. So much for wisdom.

Then he looks at Steve intently. “We can’t let Bucky stop. We need to finish this.”

“Honestly, I think that’s going to be a hard sell.” Steve has been thinking about Bucky’s reaction, and he’s pretty sure what it will be. As much as he dislikes it, and as much as he wants things to be different, deep down he knows what Bucky will do. The disappointment cuts into him painfully, but he can’t blame Bucky at all. The risks don’t just apply to them anymore. Pierce knows how to make things personal, and Steve knows Bucky won’t allow anyone else to be hurt.

“A man like that shouldn’t hold so much power over people, Steve!”

Steve lifts his hands. “I’m not disagreeing with you. But Buck takes threats to other people more seriously than threats to himself. I’m not sure he can overlook this one.”

Tony sighs and passes a hand over his goatee. “You’re probably right. And what the hell did you do to your hands? You trying to get more time off?”

Steve laughs ruefully. “Pierce has a nice way about him. I almost hauled off and decked him.”

Tony grunts. “Good that you didn’t. No word from Maria on any progress?”

Steve shakes his head and starts to say something in response, but stops when he hears the sound of his truck turning into the driveway. They both get up and go to the door, and in a minute, Bucky comes in loaded down with grocery bags hanging from both arms.

“Tony!” he says with gusto, as his BC meets him and tries to unburden him of some of the weight.

“No, I’ve got it,” he says, shrugging off the help and depositing all of the bags at once on the kitchen counter with a big huff.

Steve follows him, peering over his shoulder. “Buck, I would’ve gone with you if I’d known you were grocery shopping,” he chides.

Bucky begins unloading his purchases, and Steve notices a disproportionate amount of junk food being set down on the counter. “You were hungry, weren’t you,” he accuses him, laughing.

Bucky smiles guiltily. “Yeah. Spur of the moment trip.” He turns to Tony, who has taken a seat on a barstool at the island. “So what’s new with you?”

Tony trades a significant glance with Steve, who has joined him at the island, resting his bandaged hands on the counter in front of him. Unable to change the dressings by himself, the bloodstains are visible, and Bucky sees them immediately.

“Steve! Your hands!” he cries, and drops the box of Peanut Butter Captain Crunch he was holding. He takes Steve’s hands in his and turns them palm up, leaning across the island to examine them more closely. “What happened?” he demands, blue eyes sparking.

Taking a deep breath, Steve goes through the entire story again, with Tony listening silently. Bucky doesn’t say a word during Steve’s narrative, but his face gets more impassive the more Steve talks. When Steve finishes, he doesn’t offer any opinion on what he thinks they should do; he waits to hear what Bucky says.

His boyfriend takes his hands again and looks down at them. “Steve. Please tell me you didn’t throttle him with your bare hands, and Tony came over to bury him in the back yard.”

Surprised, Steve can’t help laughing at his serious tone. The last thing he was expecting was for Bucky to make a joke. Tony is chuckling, too, and shaking his head.

“You’re…not as upset about this as I thought you’d be,” Steve observes.

Bucky nods slowly. “Oh, I’m upset. I’m at the point where I either find some humor somehow, or I’m going to kill him.” He slides his hands up and around Steve’s muscular forearms. “I’ll fucking kill him for threatening the both of you.”

“No, you won’t,” Steve contradicts him knowingly.

“No, I won’t,” Bucky affirms. “But this ends now.” His mouth is set in a thin line.

“What do you mean?” Tony asks.

“I mean I’m calling Maria and ending this now. Today. I just need to serve the suspension and be done with it.”

Tony crosses his forearms on the counter and leans in. “Bucky, I urge you to think about it before you take any action. Don’t stop on my account. Pierce is a criminal. He’s just pushing us around…”

“Because he can,” Bucky states, with a hint of anger. “He knows he can. Because I couldn’t live with myself if you or Steve lost your jobs because of me,” he finishes, equal parts sadness and stubbornness. He lifts his hands in the air and lets them fall onto the counter. “We gave it a good try, but it’s over.”

Steve opens his mouth, but before he can speak, Bucky goes on, pointing at him for emphasis. “He already threatened you once, don’t think he won’t act on that purely out of spite. Now he’s threatened Tony. If I can stop this, I will.”

His two companions are silent, then Tony speaks. “You do what you feel you need to, and I’ll support you, whatever you decide. But please think about it,” he requests, and stands to go. “You two should talk. I’ll check in with you later.”

“Thanks, Tony,” Steve tells him, and they both walk with him to the door.

After their BC departs, Bucky takes Steve by the arm and walks him toward the other side of the house, towards the master bath. He stops halfway down the hall and turns to his partner. “You aren’t going to try and talk me out of this?”

Shaking his head, Steve wraps his arms around him loosely. He still can’t use his hands, but his arms are good enough. “If your mind is made up, I’m not going to argue with you. I know your conscience.”

Bucky threads his arms through Steve’s. “Thank you. I wish it could be different.”

“So do I. I wanted to punch that fucker right in the face.”

Bucky grimaces and laughs simultaneously. “I wish I could see that. Now let’s get your dressings changed.”

--

Once they get into the bathroom and remove his bloody bandages, Steve’s hands don’t look too bad. Bucky is careful to clean them thoroughly with the saline and then get him bandaged back up. The healing process is under way, with a lot of old, damaged skin starting to peel off to make way for fresh, new skin. Steve tries to estimate how many more shifts he’ll have to miss. He hazards a guess of one, and receives a skeptical side-eye stare.

“That’s pushing it, don’t you think? You still have blisters, Steve.”

“Well,” Steve smiles almost shyly, “I actually wouldn’t mind staying off a little longer, but Sam has already had enough babying, and wants to go back yesterday.”

Bucky laughs at that. Sam has been calling regularly, multiple times daily. It’s not that he doesn’t love his mother, it’s that he’s going stir crazy with nothing to do. Steve feels a touch differently. The time with Bucky has been amazing. They’ve been to the movies, and out shopping, and to the park (Bucky holds Strider’s lead when they go for walks), and Steve has never felt so pampered and loved. It’s not that Bucky hovers, he just seems to know when he is needed, and anticipates it so well that he’s ready as soon as Steve opens his mouth to speak.

Frankly, the biggest problem for Steve has been feeding himself, because he absolutely refused to allow Bucky, or anyone else for that matter, to feed him. Using a knife? Not happening. So, food selection has been a tad limited, as he has been avoiding dishes that require a lot of cutting or precise manipulation.

Also, he’s never been a gourmet chef, but he was able to do some cooking before this happened. Now? Zilch. Bucky has been trying to help, but he’s none too handy in the kitchen, either. Still, Steve’s not starving, and it’s been an adventure, sitting at the island trying to help Bucky follow directions on boxes and jars.

Yesterday they made a passable spaghetti with garlic bread, and Bucky only laughed at him a little for getting sauce all over his mouth. Maneuvering forks full of noodles, doused in sauce, without making a mess, was a lot more challenging than it sounded.

The second biggest problem has been the lack of sex. Not that he’s a nymphomaniac or anything, but as long as he’s got his lover staying over, it seems a shame to Steve to waste those nights together. Bucky hasn’t meant it as a punishment, but he’s been keeping Steve sort of at arm’s length as far as sex goes, insisting it’s for Steve’s own good.

The couple of times Steve did get frisky, he blew it by trying to grab and touch and hold too much. Bucky would gently remove his hands and berate him for delaying the healing process, and that would be the end of that. But kissing and snuggling are never off the table (as long as Steve doesn’t get grabby hands), so there has been that enjoyment. And Steve has to admit, a little kissing and snuggling with Bucky goes a long way in the satisfaction department. But other than that, there hasn’t been much going else going on.

“There,” Bucky pronounces. “All better.”

Steve is brought back to the present; bandaging completed, Bucky pulls his phone out to call Maria. They walk back out to the living room and slide onto the couch together. He manages to get through; she is on duty but is on a break, and was just about to call Steve back. Bucky does put Steve on the line so she can get the story straight from the horse’s mouth.

“I don’t suppose you just happened to be recording him when he said all this, were you?” she questions, grasping at straws.

Steve has to be the bearer of bad news and say “no”, and Maria asks for Bucky again. Steve can tell she doesn’t like it, but she agrees without protest when Bucky asks her to pull Pietro off the case.

“Thanks for everything, Maria,” Bucky finishes sincerely, and hangs up the phone. “I don’t think she’s happy,” he observes, turning to Steve next to him.

“No, but she’ll do whatever you want her to,” Steve advises him. “So, do you want to put away the rest of those groceries on the counter, or just eat all of it now?”

--

It’s late, and they’ve just finished watching the evening news. Bucky completes his nightly bandage check after Steve struggles through brushing his teeth and pronounces him good to go…to bed. Steve takes a look at his reflection in the mirror before following Bucky out into the bedroom. He hasn’t shaved since the fire, because FUCK that would be a near impossible task, and Bucky doesn’t seem to mind some scruff on him anyway. He’ll shave again before he goes back to work, but for now thinks screw it.

He looks down at his hands next. Actually brushing his teeth wasn’t as painful today as it was yesterday, so that’s a good sign. Maybe he and Sam will only have to miss one more day. Two at the most, he thinks. That means he’s going to have to give up his roommate soon. He looks back up at his face in the mirror, mouth turned down in sadness with that realization.

Then he shakes his head. You’re not losing him, he tells himself. Get a grip. He’s just not going to be here twenty-four/seven. He exits the bathroom to find Bucky sitting on the bed, waiting for him with the gauze roll in his hands.

“I thought you said my bandages were fine,” Steve wonders, brow wrinkled, and sits down next to him. They are both wearing only their boxer briefs. Strider has already claimed one corner of the bed and is sound asleep, curled in a ball.

“Your bandages are fine,” Bucky assures him. “In fact, you won’t be needing them much longer. And you’ve got a ton of gauze left.”

“Yeah,” Steve laughs. “They gave me way too much at the hospital.”

Bucky turns the roll over and over in his hands, fiddling with it as he looks at Steve. “That means you won’t be needing me much longer, either.”

He sounds as disappointed as Steve just felt when he was in the bathroom, and it actually heartens him. He hopes Bucky has enjoyed their time together as much as he has.

“I’ll still need you, gorgeous, just not in the same pathetic way,” he promises, scooting over right up against him and knocking him on the shoulder with his own.

“You won’t need me here all the time, though,” Bucky says argumentatively, and his tone is definitely glum.

“So when’s your apartment lease up?” Steve says, and though he initially meant it as a joke, finds when the words come out that instead he is completely serious.

Bucky’s head snaps around. “October,” he shares. “But don’t tease me about something like that.”

“Who’s teasing?” Steve counters, and leans in to kiss him.

Their lips meet, soft and slow at first, then the kiss deepens and Steve has that same problem again, trying to use his hands too much. He tries to grip Bucky’s hips to pull him in and springs back, wincing. But this time, Bucky is prepared.

He holds up the roll of gauze in one hand. “So I’ve got an idea about what to do with all this extra gauze,” he says mysteriously.

Steve looks from the gauze to Bucky’s face. Something tells him he’s going to like this idea. “Oh? And what’s that?”

“You’ve got to lie down first,” Bucky teases cryptically. He stands, turns around, kneels to face in toward the middle of the bed, then waits for Steve to move.

The grin Steve knows is covering his face gets bigger as he crawls up to the top of the bed and flips over onto his back. His bedroom furniture is shaker style; the headboard has squared off vertical slats across the top, which Bucky has his eye on.

“Stick ‘em up,” he says jokingly, and leans over to give him a kiss of encouragement. Steve is only too happy to comply, however, with or without the kiss, because he can guess where this is headed, and he likes it. His cock likes it too, and gives a twitch of desire when Bucky moves in close, stuffing the pillows behind his head, raising him up a bit to make him more comfortable.

Steve raises both hands up, and with the pillows in place for support, he feels fine. Bucky slowly unwinds the gauze, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, and procures a pair of scissors from somewhere outside of Steve’s view. Steve raises his eyebrows.

“Been planning this out, have we?”

Bucky just smiles devilishly and cuts off one long section, then another. The scissors disappear again. One length of gauze gets threaded through the slats on the bed, then around Steve’s wrist, and gets pulled into a knot. It’s not tight enough to hurt, just enough to keep Steve from using his hand in any useful manner. Bucky follows suit with the second piece of gauze, and sits back on his heels to observe his handiwork.

“There. That ought to keep your wandering hands still for a while.” He turns his eyes to Steve’s. “You know how tough it’s been the last couple of nights not to attack you? I’m only human, here.”

Steve gasps. “What? Are you kidding me? I want you so much, I can hardly see straight.”

Bucky smiles again and leans forward on his haunches, dragging his open mouth along Steve’s jawline and down over his neck. “No time like the present,” he whispers invitingly. “Try them out, why don’t you?”

Steve looks up at his bandaged hands and pulls down, circling his wrists, checking out his bonds. They’ll hold. He thinks. He looks back at Bucky, who is watching him predatorily. Steve gives a nod and then settles back into a relaxed pose, waiting with sweet anticipation for Bucky to make a move on him.

“Hmmm." Bucky shakes his head slowly and sits back. “I can’t decide what to do with you now that I’ve got you here,” he purrs. His eyes rake up and down over Steve’s body, taking it all in, every bit of his fair skin, stretched over hard muscle. There isn’t an ounce of extra body fat anywhere on that silhouette. The wide shoulders taper to a narrow waist and lean hips, and then his lower half explodes with muscle again. That pert ass could draw enough attention to serve as a beacon, lighting up the night. It really is unfair to other men in the world, to have to stack up next to the perfection that is Steve Rogers.

Not that Steve himself sees that at all. He only sees Bucky’s beautiful eyes, his dark, wavy hair, his plush lips. Not to mention that fantastic body. He believes he’s the lucky one. The luminous eyes finish their tour of his body and meet his.

“Don’t know if I should suck you off, or start fingering you open so I can fuck you,” he opines, and taps his finger on his lower lip while Steve tries not to hyperventilate; all of the above? he hopes.

Bucky leans over him, setting one hand down on either side of his chest, and directs his gaze down at Steve’s groin. Steve can feel his cock start to fill and thicken, with Bucky looking at him like he’s good enough to eat. Watching Bucky examine him, but not being able reach down and touch him, now that’s pleasure and pain. Instinctively he tries to pull his arms down and strains against his bonds. Bucky looks back up and grins, aware of his effort.

“Or maybe…” he sits back up on his heels. “Maybe I’ll just jerk off while you watch, and see if I can make you come.”

His hand snakes down over his shorts and he curls his fingers around his own cock. Steve lets out an involuntary moan, eyes locked on Bucky’s fingers, now lazily stroking up and down the length of his shaft.

“Buck,” Steve groans, and his own cock stiffens and starts to rise. Watching Bucky touch himself is erotic as hell, better than any porn made in the entire history of porn. Bucky’s eyes drift shut, and under the fabric of his boxers Steve can see his erection forming. It makes his mouth water and he licks his lips once, hungrily. Bucky's shorts are pushing outward, the outline of his growing erection delectably visible.

Continuing to stroke himself, Bucky fingers the head of his cock, pressing his thumb in where the slit would be. He makes a half gasping, half moaning sound of need, and Steve’s cock goes all the way to rock hard in the space of a second. Fuck. He’s standing at full attention now, his boxers pulling uncomfortably around him.

He lifts his hips up to try and readjust; Bucky’s eyes fly open when he hears the rustle of movement and he smiles seductively when he spies the giant tent made out of Steve’s shorts.

“Let’s just get these off, shall we?” he suggests, and his voice drips honey.

Tugging at either side of his hips, he pulls and Steve lifts up again to allow him to remove the clothing completely, dragging the briefs all the way down his long legs and off. Next he slithers out of his own, tossing them to the floor with a flourish and resuming his kneeling position next to his partner.

Steve’s eyes are glued to Bucky’s erection, now looking as wet and well defined as his own. Bucky watches him closely as he pumps his hand up and down over his own cock, now glistening with pre-come. Steve feels himself dripping as well, but is unable to do anything about it. Bucky strokes himself harder, faster, fingers and palm tight against his skin as he pulls and tugs.

Breathing hard, Steve feels as hot as if he’s just finished a long, wearing work-out. The display in front of him is incredible. Bucky's chest rises and falls rapidly with his quick breaths, and his abdominal muscles are pulled taut with effort. His hand moves surely over himself, rhythmically coaxing his cock to full splendor. Steve's cock is so fucking hard, aching to be handled, and it’s torture not being able to touch himself or the man teasing him.

“Buck,” he moans again. “Please,” he begs. “Please touch me.”

He’s not sure how much more of this he can stand. The gauze around his wrists is now so tight, the knots way beyond any hope of being untied by hand, but the material has held. His arms are still trapped above him, while his groin feels like it’s on fire. His plea doesn’t fall on deaf ears, though. Bucky moves down in between his legs and runs one hand up Steve’s thigh, lightly stroking the firm skin, so hot it feels like it’s been electrified. Every touch sends off sparks of pleasure through Steve’s body. Bucky’s other hand still pumps up and down the length of his stiff cock.

“I would love to suck you off right now, baby,” he murmurs softly.

His fingers slide up Steve’s hip, stopping right next to his throbbing erection. He bends, bringing his head closer to his midsection, hovering over him again. Steve wants him so much, he’s practically vibrating on the bed.

“Wanna wrap my lips around you,” Bucky coos, and he’s so close, Steve can feel his warm breath waft over his cock. His fingers caress Steve’s balls, and Steve’s cock twitches so hard it makes him cry out.

“I want to hear you say it,” Bucky entreats him, eyes dark with desire. “Tell me.”

“Oh God, yes, Buck, please,” Steve begs. He’ll say anything to get Bucky’s lips on him. “Please…suck me. Make me come. Put your mouth on me.”

And then Bucky is on him, his own erection abandoned, as he devours Steve’s cock. Steve moans, long and loud, as Bucky’s hot, wet mouth encircles him and slides down over his shaft, taking him all the way in. His lips tighten and it’s all softness and heat as he works his way up and down over him.

Looking down, Steve has the perfect view of Bucky bobbing his head, humming softly, and it makes him crazy, how much pleasure Bucky gives him. Bucky’s hands grip his thighs, and the skillful movements of his mouth and tongue drive Steve’s arousal level through the roof. He sucks Steve hard, sliding his cock in and out of his mouth mercilessly. Steve pushes his head back into his pillow, letting jagged moans bleed out of his mouth unchecked.

Bucky wraps one hand around him at the base of his cock and suckles at the head, wrapping his tongue and mouth around it. He sucks and strokes Steve simultaneouly, and it's everything Steve could've hoped for. The heat and the feeling of ecstasy, that pulsing, driving, all-consuming wave, builds deep inside him until that’s all there is in the Universe: Bucky’s mouth and hands touching him, Bucky making him forget everything including his own name, Bucky giving him the orgasm that’s about to sweep through him. His cock jerks inside Bucky’s mouth and his balls tighten, but before he loses it, Bucky pulls off of him and lifts his body upward.

Desperately he grinds his own cock up against Steve’s. His hands are on either side of Steve’s pillows, his head thrown back, exposing the long line of his neck. He groans and gasps for air, as close to coming as Steve is. For a brief moment Steve misses the heat and wetness of Bucky’s mouth enveloping him, but his slick, hard cock rubbing against his is pretty sensational, too. The way he ruts against him, thrusting his hips, makes Steve just as insane with lust.

He rocks his pelvis in time with Bucky’s movements; a low, heavy moan escapes and attracts Bucky’s attention to his mouth. He looks down, seeing Steve’s glassy eyes and flushed face, seeing him still tied helplessly to the bed frame, and lowers his head to crush his mouth against his. They kiss hard and fast, open mouths, moaning into each other as they continue to rock their bodies together, until Steve feels Bucky arch against him and spill himself all over his chest and stomach.

That sends Steve right over the edge, careening into heady, sated oblivion. He shoots his load, whimpering softly into Bucky’s mouth. His lover doesn’t pull back from their kiss until they have both stilled and relaxed, bodies coming down from their highs. It is a softer, gentler kiss, a teasing of tongues, languid and familiar. The taste and scent of Bucky is now as ingrained in Steve’s brain as how to breathe, and to Steve, that’s a miraculous thing.

“Mmm…I love you,” he whispers as Bucky finally withdraws.

Bucky grins at him. “Baby, I love you more than anything in this world.” He motions with his eyes up to Steve’s hands. “How you feeling there?”

Steve considers this. A minute ago, wild dogs could have been chewing off his fingers and he wouldn’t have noticed. The gauze is tight from him struggling against it so much, but not painful.

“I’m okay,” he decides. “But I’d like to get free now,” he adds, wriggling his fingers, and Bucky laughs.

“As you wish,” he concedes, and reaches for the scissors. “We’ve got plenty more for later.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen
Sam and Steve both miss four shifts before being cleared by the department physician to return to work. Natasha and Clint are thrilled to have least part of their crew back with them. Thor is on the mend and it won’t be long before he’s back too. It’s all good and of course Steve is happy to go back, but he then has to deal with the loss of Bucky all over again and come to terms with him serving the full two month suspension.

Maria had called him after pulling Pietro from the case and had assured him there would be no more surveillance on Pierce. She also told him how sorry she was and that she wished she could have done more, since Pietro was making progress. Steve had agreed it was disappointing, but Bucky had been adamant, more worried about his coworkers than himself. Just talking about him makes Steve feel the loss of his partner keenly, like half of him is missing. It’s tough. But as usual, Sam was the one to lift his spirits.

“Look at it this way, Steve,” Sam comforted him, “He’s already served about half of the suspension already, and you got to spend some of that time with him. The rest will pass quickly, you’ll see.”

Steve had sighed as deeply as a human being could, but agreed. After all, things could be so much worse. The idea of Pierce getting away with it all still makes his blood boil, but he’s got to focus on other things now. Like his boyfriend, and being there for him. Bucky doesn’t show it, but Steve knows it crushed him to have to give up the pursuit of justice. So he does his best to cheer him up. In a multitude of ways.

Bucky does stay with him at his house up until the morning of his first shift back, even though Steve really could have gotten by without any help in the last day or two. Even shaving off his fledgling beard wasn’t a problem; his hands feel great. But both of them were reluctant to end their temporary cohabitation, and delayed it as long as possible. Steve doesn’t even mind Bucky’s sometimes surly attitude when first waking up. On his first morning going back, Steve wraps him up in his arms and asks him if he’s REALLY sure he wants to go home.

“I haven’t been to my place in days. Better check and make sure it hasn’t been ransacked,” Bucky says in his grumpy voice. Shower and coffee later, Bucky gives him a sweet, lingering kiss and tacks more on to his earlier statement. “But any time you want me to spend the night with you, just ask, okay baby?”

Okay indeed.

True to his word, Bucky has plans to go over and spend some time with Thor after Steve leaves for work. Jane has already gone back to her job, leaving Thor to “die of boredom”, as he put it. In fact, in the days that follow, Bucky spends quite a bit of time at Thor’s. Not that Steve has any complaint about it; he likes the fact that they are getting along well. They have traded many donut-sitting stories from what Steve can tell. But he does wonder if they are really watching Game of Thrones as much as they say they are.

From the way they talk, they’ve been through season after season of the show, but Bucky has never been interested in watching that much TV. He seems just a bit too excited about going over and watching reruns hour upon hour. But why they would exaggerate that fact, or what else they could be doing, Steve has no idea. His curiosity is piqued, but he leaves them be all the same. As long as Bucky is in good spirits and occupied, that’s what matters.

Thor has to miss three more shifts before he himself is cleared to come back to the firehouse. The day before his return, Bucky had been over to his place again to keep him company. At the end of the day, Steve and Strider are expected at Bucky’s apartment for dinner, which he assumes means they will order takeout. Bucky also tells him he has a surprise for him, but on the drive over, Steve instead ponders ways he can find out what his two friends were really doing with their time; his “surprise” actually takes a back seat in his mind.

As Steve is walking Strider down the hallway towards Bucky’s apartment, Strider’s nose goes up into the air, sniffing crazily. Steve can’t blame him. Someone is cooking something that smells delicious, and he wonders which neighbor it is. He knows there is a little old Italian lady two doors down and silently thinks she’s the best bet. But as he passes her door and keeps going, the aroma only gets stronger, until he is in front of Bucky’s door. His knock is promptly answered by its sole occupant, wearing shorts, a forest green button down shirt, and an apron.

The tantalizing aroma of simmering food is stronger inside his door, and Steve knows his eyes are wide with surprise.

“Buck…have you been cooking? What’s that smell?” he blurts out as he and Strider enter.

Shutting the door behind them, Bucky suddenly looks very nervous. “Is it a bad smell?” he questions, wringing his hands together. He looks down and distractedly pets Strider, whose tongue is lolling out the side of his mouth.

“NO! It smells great!” Steve assures him, then puts two and two together. “Is this my surprise?”

Bucky nods bashfully. “It’s chicken Alfredo with fettuccine.”

Steve stares. “Since when do you know how to cook chicken Alfredo with fettuccine?” He bends and unhooks Strider’s lead, giving him his freedom to roam the apartment. His dog immediately jumps up onto the couch and makes himself comfortable.

“Since Thor has been giving me cooking lessons,” Bucky confesses.

Steve points at him. “Aha! I knew something was going on besides just Game of Thrones!”

Bucky grins and takes him by the arm, pulling him into the kitchen. “You never let on that you didn’t believe me.”

Grinning back, Steve allows himself to be led. “No, but I knew something was up.” He stops dead center of the kitchen and inhales, letting the scent fill his nose. “Oh, that’s heavenly,” he declares, and slides his arms around the brunet, joining his hands behind his back. “Thank you in advance. What made you decide to take cooking lessons?”

“I dunno. Thor said he missed cooking for you all, and I said I wished I could’ve cooked more for you, and it just snowballed from there.”

Steve is touched. “You wished you could’ve cooked more for me? Really?”

“Yeah, I did. Instead we survived on cereal and restaurant food. Thought we should change that.”

Dinner is superb, and the chef is rewarded by his grateful patron with a shower of praise and affection, including one extra long massage, delivered by Steve’s now-healed hands. It starts with Bucky jokingly complaining about the crick in his neck that he suffered from having to sleep alone in his bed, without his boyfriend.

Promptly, Steve makes Bucky sit on his bed, shirt off, so he can kneel behind him and work on his sore, tight neck muscles. Then the massage oil comes out. Then Bucky has to lie down on his stomach so Steve can work on his upper and mid back. Then Steve has to straddle him to work on his lower back. By now, both of them are getting pretty horny, what with all of Bucky’s exposed skin and Steve’s warm, eager hands moving all over him.

On top of all that, Steve’s hands were then followed by his lips and tongue, kissing and lapping over all of that bare skin. That got things heated up rapidly, with the end result being the two of them naked, and Steve fucking into him until they both passed out in blissful, mindless fatigue.

Fortunately they are now well-prepared for such events. Bucky has dog food and a water bowl for Strider, and Steve has some bathroom supplies safely ensconced in Bucky’s bathroom, plus an extra work uniform tucked into his closet. That way, if he decides to crash there for the night, it’s no big deal. All taken care of.

Because nine times out of ten, they spend their nights together now. Steve realized their first night apart that the situation was completely unacceptable. His bed, which previously felt fine, was now cold, empty and lonely without Bucky in it. It doesn’t matter to him whose place they stay at, as long as they are together, but most of the time it is at Steve’s. It’s just easier to let Strider out into the back yard, rather than have to take him down the stairs and out on the leash at Bucky’s.

Steve will gladly do it, though, if it means he gets to share Bucky’s bed. He wants and needs to be with him, to have that physical contact and his presence. It’s not just about the sex, although the sex is an especially rewarding part of it. One other benefit of staying at Steve’s house is that there are no neighbors on the other side of walls or floors to hear them making any noise. Try as they might, sometimes they just can’t help the occasional vocal outburst.

As Steve lies next to Bucky, on the edge of sleep, he wonders if the neighbors got an earful tonight. Then he drifts off into dreamland, not really caring what the answer is.

--

Thor’s first day back at the station is joyous, if Steve has to put a name to it. They decide as a group that they all need a pick-me-up after the events of the last few weeks, and will have Fun Night over the coming weekend in order to celebrate properly. No one dwells on what a near escape Thor has had, but everyone acknowledges how sweet it is to have another member of the team back again.

In fact, Steve finds two of his team members celebrating Thor’s return in a surprising way. He, Sam, Clint and Thor are out washing down the engines when Steve realizes he needs a bathroom break. When he skips upstairs and passes through the bunkroom, he discovers Darcy holding Thor’s locker tipped down almost horizontal to the ground, door open to the ceiling, while Natasha pours in tiny Styrofoam balls, like the kind used in bean bag fill.

Both women freeze when Steve enters the room and stops, staring in disbelief.

“Well this is awkward,” states Natasha, holding the large bag in her hands.

“You’re supposed to be downstairs,” accuses Darcy, jiggling the locker to distribute the balls evenly.

It takes Steve a second to find words. “You’re the practical jokers?” he eventually gets out, and the two women smile deviously.

“Hold up.” Steve lifts a hand and points at Natasha. “Who put the flour in the kitchen cabinet that got me?”

Darcy smirks and Natasha shakes her head. “I’m afraid that wasn’t really meant for you, Steve darling. That’s what you get for being helpful.” She shakes the bag, allowing the last of the tiny, white balls to trickle out into the locker. Darcy carefully shuts the door.

Steve is silent, wrapping his mind around this new information. “And the Fixodent for cake frosting?”

“Oh, that was me,” Darcy confesses.

Steve’s eyebrows lift comically. “And the Kool-Aid in the shower?”

Natasha raises her hand slowly as Darcy giggles softly. “Me,” Natasha admits, then crinkles up the bag and shoves it deep into a trash can to avoid detection.

Steve’s hands go to his hips as the pair lift Thor’s locker back into a standing position, being careful not to open it. “You mean we we’ve been blaming each other all along for things you two did?”

Both women nod, grins plastered to their faces.

“You guys are hilarious the way you jump on each other,” Darcy notes.

Natasha rounds Thor’s bunk and approaches Steve. “Now we have to swear you to secrecy, Steve. You can’t tell anyone.”

“I can’t tell Sam?” Steve is aghast. Keep it secret? No way.

“No!” Both women shout. “And you definitely can’t tell Bucky,” Darcy adds.

“What?” Steve protests. “No way.”

Darcy stalks forward to stand next to her co-conspirator as Natasha folds her arms across her chest. “If you don’t keep quiet,” she threatens, “We’ll make sure you get the blame for every prank we pull.”

Steve’s mouth drops open. “You wouldn’t!” He looks from Natasha to Darcy, who nods her head in agreement.

“We would,” confirms Darcy.

That shuts Steve up right away. The thought of Clint, Thor and Sam all taking their revenge out on him is scary enough to give him pause and consider things. He supposes he could keep quiet. Eventually the ladies will be found out by someone else, right? On the other hand, they’ve been doing this for a long time and have evaded discovery so far. Steve might be expected to keep his vow of silence for some time. Can he do it? Both women are staring expectantly at him.

“Come on, Steve,” Natasha coaxes him persuasively. “It’s not that big a deal.”

“Yeah,” Darcy says lightheartedly. “We’re improving morale.”

Steve laughs at the absurdity of it all. Always the last people you expect. Oh, all right. “Fine,” he grumbles, feigning testiness. “I’ll keep your secret.”

They both smile broadly; Darcy bounces and claps her hands. “Great!” she squeaks. “Now let’s get out of here before we’re all caught.”

Pointing to the bathroom, Steve questions them half sarcastically, half seriously, “Any surprises in there?”

“No,” Natasha sings gaily as they troop past him. “Knock yourself out.”

Darcy’s laughter can still be heard as they start back down the stairs. He trusts them. Of course he does. But he still checks the top of the door for a pail of water, and the toilet seat and sink for saran wrap, just in case.

--

It isn’t until later in the day that Thor has any need to get into his locker. They have returned from an extensive, multi-car accident scene and Sam, Steve, and Natasha are all sacked out and lounging either on the couch or armchairs in the great room. Tony and Darcy have come up to check on them all, since those situations are highly stressful. Clint follows Thor into the bunk room. A minute later they all hear a long, drawn out “Aaarrghhhh,” followed immediately by heavy laughter from Clint.

Thor emerges, with tiny Styrofoam balls clinging to his face, his hair, his body. Everywhere. As he walks by, some fly off into the air behind him and are drawn by static cling to the nearby furniture. Clint trails behind at a safe distance, still snickering. Thor stops in front of them and they all, including Steve, are laughing and giggling at the ridiculousness of his appearance.

Pursing his lips, Thor then intones gravely, “I just want to say that I hate you all, and this is the worst station to work at in the entire city of Brooklyn.” He then turns on his heel and disappears, ignoring the even louder laughter that came with his statement.

After dinner that night, which Thor still prepares for them despite his declaration of hate, Sam comments to Steve, “So, you think it was Clint? Had to be Clint, right?”

Steve pretends to think about it. “Yeah, had to be Clint.”

From across the room, hidden from everyone else’s view, Natasha gives him a thumbs up sign.

--

Thor’s first two shifts pass otherwise uneventfully and then Fun Night is upon them. Since Bucky is new to the tradition, Steve explains that they started having them years ago as a way of bonding. Only members of the crew, serious significant others, and roommates (since Maria had been included long ago) were invited in order to keep the group small. They always went to someone’s home rather than a restaurant or bar. The entertainment was decided upon by the host; they could do anything: indoor or outdoor games, watch a movie, play cards, whatever the host wanted, as long as they could do it together. Everyone brings something to share, be it food or drink.

Steve and Bucky decide together that they will have a barbeque in the back yard and then play Cards Against Humanity, because Bucky loves it. He, of course, has been at Steve’s house most of the day already before the party even starts. Sam, Natasha, and Darcy are the first to arrive, all bearing various food items for the barbeque.

Natasha is also carrying two square, heavy fabric cubes she calls “poufs”, which baffle Steve until she explains they are for sitting on while they play their game, since Steve’s living room isn’t big enough to have furniture seating for twelve.

“Trust me, you’ll thank me later.”

“Oh. Okay. Where’s Maria?” Steve questions, and she informs him she was hung up at work and would try to get there later.

Pepper arrives with chips and salsa, but no husband, explaining that he had to go out and would be here soon. Despite those losses, the house fills up with the additional arrivals of Clint and Laura, and Thor and Jane. Steve gets the grill warming up, and by the time they get all the burgers and brats cooked up, Tony has arrived. He sits next to Steve and Bucky as they all enjoy the pleasant evening breeze and eat outside on Steve’s deck, using the patio chairs and Steve's extra Adirondack chairs. They take turns listening to and making fun of each other's playlists on their phones, hooked up to a portable speaker.

“So, what have you been doing tonight, Tony?” Steve queries; Tony holds up a finger, opens his mouth, and shuts it again.

“I’ll tell you later,” he promises, smiling.

When the food is gone and the supply of beer is seriously diminished, they all go inside to play cards. The entire group crams into Steve’s living room, piling onto his couch and chairs, pulling in kitchen table chairs, and using Natasha’s poufy things. Well, Natasha and Pepper use the poufs. The men had eyed them suspiciously and steered clear. Thor announces happily that he doesn’t need his donut to sit squarely on his ass again.

They are deep into the game and have laughed until their sides hurt when Maria finally arrives, looking tired but pleased to be there. She slides in between Natasha and Pepper, sitting cross-legged on the floor, and announces very loudly that at eleven o’clock, they all need to stop and watch the evening news. Everyone is curious, badgering her with questions which she refuses to answer, but she is still smiling, so Steve relaxes and doesn’t worry about it. She wouldn’t keep them in suspense if it was something bad. When the hour draws near, they wrap up their game and turn on the TV.

“Steve,” Maria calls out to him. She mimes pushing a remote control button. “You may want to record this.”

Her eyes are merry and Steve feels a sudden spike in his level of interest, but he pushes the record button as suggested. A minute later the familiar faces of the news anchors come on, one male and one female. The headline at the top of the screen reads, “FDNY Fire Marshall Facing Charges.”

Immediately there is an outcry from everyone in the room, or that’s how it sounds to Steve at any rate. Loud oh’s and what’s and hey’s fill the air. Darcy’s screech is loudest of all. His friends all sit up very straight, or look around the room, pointing at the TV. Right away, Steve turns to Bucky, seated next to him, who looks as shocked as everyone else. Sam, on his other side, is jabbing him in the ribs. The noise is so raucous that they miss the anchorwoman’s initial words, but Maria is shushing them diligently and they all quiet down in time to hear her finish.

“…Alexander Pierce, who has been with the FDNY for thirty-four years, was arrested earlier today. He faces charges of receiving and distributing stolen property.”

Steve can’t believe what he’s hearing. But seeing the video of Pierce in handcuffs, being led to a squad car by none other than Phil Coulson, helps make it real. The look on Pierce's face is one of shock mixed with fury. It's fabulous. Bucky takes his hand and squeezes it, still staring at the TV screen. Steve doesn’t even take in whatever else is said about Pierce. His mind reels. How did this happen? He squeezes Bucky’s hand right back, then turns to him and kisses his cheek.

“Buck,” he whispers in his ear. Bucky smiles at him and laughs. They both turn to Maria, eyes asking a million questions. She is smiling back just as broadly.

Sam claps his hands once. “Woman of the hour! How’d you do it?”

The others in the room echo his sentiment, asking her to explain. Maria holds up her hands for quiet.

“The surveillance on Pierce was stopped as soon as I asked. He was left alone, as requested. But Petey had already gotten a lot of information on Rumlow’s brother that we were able to use. It was enough for the department to start their own investigation into the black market ring they had going.”

“Black market on what?” Natasha asks.

“Anything and everything, just about,” Maria reveals. “A lot of electronics, but they had a pretty extensive reach. And Rumlow’s brother was in deep. When we caught him, he was only too eager to roll on Pierce and give us what we wanted in order to plead down.”

“Natasha,” Steve pounces. “You didn’t know about any of this?”

She shakes her head violently. “Nope.” She narrows her eyes playfully at her roommate. “She didn’t breathe a word.”

Steve’s eye is caught by Tony, who is not looking as shocked as the rest of the group. “Tony,” he starts, “Did you know about this when you got here? Is that why you were late?”

Tony smiles enigmatically. “Maria called me after Pierce was arrested this evening.”

“AND?”

It is Bucky who speaks up, eager for Tony’s next words.

The smile on Tony’s face grows wider. “And I’ve already spoken to the Fire Chief personally. It should only be a matter of days before your suspension is revoked. Congratulations.”

There are cheers all around, and Maria pops up from the floor. “I asked Tony to keep it under his hat until I got here, since we were still questioning Pierce.” She steps over and around Pepper, then makes her way to the front door and pulls it open. “I brought something to Fun Night as well,” she hints, and points to a plastic bag filled with ice, left sitting outside Steve’s door. Or it used to be filled with ice, but a lot of it melted sitting outside, so now there is a large puddle around it. She reaches down, and there is a clinking sound as she gets into the bag. “Champagne for toasting!” She stands back up, holding two dripping champagne bottles in her hands.

The fresh influx of booze garners more cheers, and Steve is happy to head to the kitchen and get out champagne glasses for everyone. The bag contains several bottles, but they leave that mess outside. Maria carries the two bottles to the island, with Bucky right behind her with another armful. As soon as they set them down, he envelops her in a slightly damp bear hug.

“Thank you,” he tells her, and she pats his cheek with a wet hand.

“You’re welcome. I told you I wanted to do more. I just couldn’t tell you how much.”

Steve uncorks the first bottle of champagne with a loud pop and starts pouring. Everyone crowds around either the kitchen island or the table, and they share many toasts. Toasts to Maria, toasts to Pietro and Phil, toasts to Tony. They even toast Pierce being in the slammer where he belongs. The last toast is one Steve makes himself, for Bucky coming back to work and making their crew whole again. The look in Bucky’s eyes as Steve toasts him makes his heart flutter. He thinks if he smiles any more, his face will crack, but he can’t stop.

Their party continues on for some time, but eventually all of their guests leave for the night, and Steve and Bucky are left alone to celebrate in private. They have stacked all of the glassware next to the sink to wash tomorrow, and Strider has already made his last trip outside for the night.

“So,” Steve asks as they turn out the living room lights and head for the bedroom. “What do you feel like doing now?”

Bucky takes his hand and kisses the back of it. “I think a shower would feel nice.”

Steve looks at him sideways as they pass through the bedroom door. “You want any company during that shower?”

Bucky spins him around and pins him up against the wall, then works his eyes up and down over Steve’s body deliberately. “You know I do.” He presses a hot, slow kiss to Steve’s lips. “Now start stripping, before I rip those clothes off your body.”

“As you wish.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

Backed up against the wall, Steve smiles deliberately and pulls his shirt off over his head, taking his sweet time, hyperaware of Bucky’s eyes on his body. They move unhurriedly down over his chest and stomach, taking in every curve of muscle. Steve crumples his shirt up into a ball and throws it, layup style, toward the hamper on the other side of the room. It hits the ground two feet short of its target, prompting a smothered laugh from Bucky. He peels his own shirt off, wads it up, and throws it. His lands directly on top of the hamper lid.

“Yessssssss!” He pumps one fist in the air.

Steve cocks his head to one side. He’s not taking that shit lying down. Kicking off his shoes, he pulls off his shorts and tries another shot, this time landing it on top of Bucky’s shirt.

“Ha!” he crows, looking back to Bucky with a smirk.

Bucky stares back jauntily. “What do you say we make this worth our while, baby? You wanna bet on the next shot?”

Steve arches one eyebrow. “What’d you have in mind, gorgeous?”

Bucky slaps both hands up on the wall on either side of Steve’s head and leans in close, inches away from touching his lips to the blonde’s. “If I make this shot, I get to tie you up again on the bed.”

Now both of Steve’s eyebrows rocket upwards. So Bucky liked that. Steve is intrigued by the possibilities here. He slides his index finger down the center of Bucky’s bare chest and tugs at the waistband of his shorts.

“And if you miss…” he pauses while he thinks. What does he want? Something that will drive Bucky mad. He’s stumped for a second, then it hits him. As much as Steve likes to use his hands, that’s how much Bucky likes to use his eyes. He likes to see everything. “If you miss, I get to blindfold you and have my way with you.”

Bucky’s eyes widen and his lips form a perfect, silent “O”. Fast as lightning, he’s got his shoes off and shorts in his hands. “You’re on,” he challenges, and turns to the hamper. This time he is slower, making a couple of practice motions. Then he lets the shorts fly. They soar through the air, hit the top of the hamper… then slide down over the side, taking Steve’s shorts with them and hitting the floor with a whump.

“FUCK!” yells Bucky.

Laughing triumphantly, Steve slides his hands around Bucky’s trim waist and reels him in. “Don’t worry… I’ll be gentle… until I’m not,” he teases.

“Who’s worried?” Bucky razzes back.

He tips his head in and kisses Steve softly, starting with a barely-there touching of lips and progressing to a deep, needy sliding of his tongue around Steve’s. They continue kissing and touching each other, exploring each other’s chests and backs with busy hands until Steve feels his own gigantic erection, in a bid for freedom, pushing out against his boxer briefs.

In exploratory mode, he reaches one hand down and finds Bucky’s erection, which is just as developed as his is, hard and thick against his fingers. Just to be a shit, he rubs up and down his length; that gets a low groan out of Bucky’s mouth. That sound alone makes Steve break off their kiss to put his lips directly on his ear and declare, “Shower,” in a bossy voice.

Then he pushes off the wall behind him, taking Bucky’s hand and leading him into the bathroom. While he turns on the water and leans in with a hand under the spray to check the temperature, Bucky shimmies out of his underwear and sidles up behind him, snagging him by the waistband and pushing his undies down off his hips. He nuzzles the back of Steve’s neck and slides his palms down over the cheeks of his bare butt.

“Remind me to thank Sam later,” he purrs.

Steve straightens up, wondering that in the world Bucky is talking about. “Thank Sam? For what?” he says over his shoulder.

“Well, you said you’d never work out if you didn’t go to Sam’s gym with him, right?” Bucky squeezes both cheeks in his hands.

“Yeah,” Steve admits.

“You have the sexiest ass on the planet,” Bucky whispers, and Steve smiles as he steps out of his clothes as well.

Once in the shower and wetted down, they take turns soaping each other up and rinsing off, accompanied by more kissing. As Bucky’s mouth glides over his collarbone and his fingers stroke over the length of his erection, Steve thinks he can’t possibly get any harder than he is at this moment. Bucky’s fingers tease and coax, sliding wetly over his hot skin, cupping around him and creating the exact, perfect amount of pressure. His cock is on fire, pulsing with need, sending heat to every other part of his body as well.

Bucky kisses his mouth again and growls, eyes locked onto Steve’s, “I want you.”

Something about those three little words drives Steve wild; once they make it to the bed it may be another story, but at this moment he has no intention of depriving Bucky of anything.

“You can have me,” he whispers wantonly, and feels his cock twitch with lust.

Dropping to his knees in front him, Bucky devours him in a single swallow, like a starving man devours a meal suddenly laid out in front of him. Soft, wet lips surround his cock and suck down his length, completely engulfing him. Steve gasps with the sudden sensory overload.

“Oh my God, Buck!” he wheezes, and grips Bucky’s head in his hands. His hair is slicked back, wetted down on his head. Steve digs his fingers in and doesn’t let go. Bucky grips his thighs and hollows his cheeks, sucking Steve so hard he wants to scream with the intense pleasure of it. Bucky is moaning around his cock and bobbing his head like giving Steve the best fucking blow job he’s ever had is his main mission in life.

Steve thinks he is succeeding. He’s going to totally lose it, sooner rather than later. Bucky’s mouth flies over his hardened shaft, his lips tight and wet, until Steve is panting with need. The water beats down on them, but he pays it no attention. The only thing that matters is Bucky’s tongue lapping over him, Bucky’s mouth sucking at his head, Bucky’s hand pumping up and down his shaft.

“Oh, fuck fuck fuck!” Steve babbles. “Don’t stop.”

As if sensing Steve is close to his finish, Bucky steps it up, licking and kissing his tip, then swallowing him down again as deeply as he can. Steve clutches at the hair on top of Bucky’s head and whimpers uncontrollably. Bucky keeps his mouth locked down tight and rhythmically pulls back and drives down in just tiny increments, keeping Steve mostly sheathed within the snug confines of his mouth.

“Oh God!” Steve cries out, and his hot release comes, his body tightening up in a giant spasm.

Bucky manages all of it, only releasing him when his body calms and his fingers unclench in his hair. Steve grabs his hands and draws him back up to standing, then takes his face in his hands and kisses him thoroughly, opening his mouth and searching with his tongue for the entrance to Bucky’s. He is granted access immediately; Bucky’s tongue twists around his sensuously and his hands wrap around Steve’s waist to hold him tightly.

Steve only allows this kiss to go on for a minute, though, because he’s still completely horny, and has other plans for the brunet. He fumbles behind Bucky’s back, reaching around him to turn off the water, and they come out of the shower to quickly dry off. Bucky takes in the sight of him while they towel dry.

“Jesus, baby, you’re still hard!” he says, with a hint of wonder and a larger amount of hunger.

“So are you,” Steve replies, tossing his towel to the ground and capturing Bucky’s hand. “Come on,” he encourages him, reaches up to open the medicine chest door and seize a roll of gauze, then pulls Bucky with him into the bedroom. Bucky stops short, though, tugging back on Steve’s hand to slow him down.

“You forgot the scissors!” he reminds him, and they retreat for a second so Bucky can pluck them out of the bathroom drawer as well.

Directing Bucky to sit on the edge of the bed, Steve winds the gauze around his head a few times, then cuts it off with the scissors and tucks the end under. Bucky pats the gauze now covering his eyes and grimaces slightly, prompting a laugh from Steve.

“Lie down, gorgeous,” he commands, and Bucky obeys.

Steve practically drools as he watches Bucky get into position. His erection is massive, his cock purpled and delectable looking. He opts to straddle him on the bed first, leaning forward onto his hands and knees to kiss Bucky’s chest and make him think he’s going to go right for his cock. He’s not. Bucky’s not getting off that easy. Oh, no.

Moving over one pectoral muscle, he plants kisses along its surface till he reaches a nipple. That he sucks into his mouth, delighting in both the whine of desire it elicits from his partner and the responsive tightening of the darkened skin. He kisses it, slides his tongue around in a circle over it, and kisses the hardened nub again. It feels good in his mouth, the skin clean but still tasting like Bucky.

His fingertips rub over the second nipple, while he continues suckling the first. When he is satisfied there, he kisses down the center of his chest and fans out over his abdominals, ghosting his mouth across Bucky’s cut stomach.

“Steve, mmmmmm Steve,” Bucky groans, sliding his hands up Steve’s arms to his shoulders. “I want to see you.”

“Uh-uh,” Steve grunts, still exploring Bucky’s stomach with his tongue and lips.

Bucky’s breathing picks up its pace, his chest rising and falling more quickly as his arousal reaches dangerous levels. Steve withdraws one hand so that he can fish into the bedside table drawer for the lube. He then sits up, uncapping the bottle with a clicking sound that Bucky recognizes. His head lifts from the pillow it rests on as Steve slicks up his fingers.

“Steve,” his gravelly voice catching, “I want this blindfold off. Now.”

Steve would giggle out loud if he wasn’t so desperately horny. “Bet’s a bet,” he denies him.

He’s still straddling him, so while Bucky pouts and moans, with his knee he nudges one of his legs. “Spread ‘em,” he tells his lover, and steps his legs over to one side so Bucky has space to comply. He does so without complaint, though Steve knows this part is going to be tough for him. He kneels inside Bucky's legs and pulls them up on top of his and around him.

With cool fingers, he searches until he finds Bucky’s entrance. He doesn’t breach him yet, just circles his fingers around his hole, massaging and stimulating him. Bucky’s breaths are raspy before Steve even penetrates him with a finger, and once Steve does, pushing in slowly, Bucky makes soft keening cries. He uses two fingers, scissoring and plunging in and out to prepare his lover for what he really wants to penetrate him with.

Even after the fantastic blow job he got in the shower, Steve is still rock hard, fully aroused and determined to get what he wants. And what he wants is to be inside Bucky, thrusting until they both lose control, until they both cry and moan and beg.

“Steve,” Bucky’s voice calls to him. “Steve, fuck me. Now,” he pleads, and Steve realizes he’s more than ready to receive what he’s going to give him.

He removes his fingers and quickly slicks up his shaft, then lines up. Fuck, the head of his cock against Bucky’s hole feels so indecently good, he can’t help a low grunt from escaping. He waits and wants Bucky to notice that he’s waiting, pressed up against him. That doesn’t take long.

“Baby, come on,” Bucky entreats him.

His head is up, turned in Steve’s direction even though he can’t see him. But Steve can see Bucky. With his head up, his six pack is pulled taut and stands out against his chest muscles. It’s awe-inspiring and so erotic, Steve licks his lips in appreciation of it. Bucky reaches down with his hands, searching for Steve’s hands but not finding any, because Steve still has one hand on his cock, directing it, and the other out of reach. He pushes against Bucky’s entrance again, not enough to penetrate that ring of muscle, and slides his other hand up Bucky’s thigh to grasp one of his hands. Bucky clings to him eagerly.

“You’re so beautiful,” Steve tells him. “I’m gonna fuck you so hard.”

Bucky just groans and drops his head back down. Steve pushes past the barrier, sliding his cock all the way in, driving in as deeply as he can in one smooth stroke.

Bucky moans in a decidedly slutty way. “Oh God, yes!”

Steve fucks into him, slow but deep, and his cock is so hard, it’s easy to thrust in completely, till his pelvis is flush against Bucky’s ass. He finds Bucky’s prostrate right away and rocks against it over and over. The sounds Bucky produces…oh shit, the sounds…every time he impales himself inside that tight, soft channel, Bucky makes a noise like he’s about to orgasm as hard as he can, like he’s never felt this good ever.

Taking it all in and delighting in it, Steve uses it to fuel his own arousal. He speeds up, knowing he is close, knowing it won’t take much more before he’s yelling Bucky’s name. And Bucky’s already there, shouting out something that could be Steve’s name over and over, or just random syllables his brain is generating. Either way, it’s sexy as hell, knowing Bucky has already lost his self-control.

In order to get a better grip on his legs, Steve lets go of Bucky’s hand. He hikes Bucky’s hips higher up on his legs and fucks into him with even more brute force. He’s sweating now and can feel the sheen on his chest and back. One bead trickles down the middle of his back, annoying and fabulous at the same time. Bucky looks red-faced and sweaty too, and his cock is leaking so much, Steve thinks he might possibly have come already.

That is, until Bucky really does come, hot and heavy, white ropes shooting up his stomach and chest without even being touched, by his own hand or Steve’s. He cries out loudly when it happens, head thrown back on the pillow. Steve takes in gulps of air and continues his barrage, but it only takes a few more strokes before he sees stars behind his eyes and empties himself into his partner, feeling like a whole year’s supply must have just been ejected in force.

Waves of pleasure crash over him as he comes and comes and comes, and he does scream out Bucky’s name once or twice (or thirty times, give or take a few). He’s weak-kneed when his orgasm finally winds down and his body relaxes. Bucky is panting below him, with that fucked out look that Steve loves, minus the unfocused, black eyes, which he can’t see. He lets his softening cock slip from Bucky’s body and leans in, reaching up to pull the blindfold from Bucky’s head and kiss him gently.

“Ahhhhhh,” Bucky breathes, and smiles at him. “That’s better. I hate that fucking blindfold.” He grins again and shakes his head while Steve chuckles.

“I know.” Steve admits and collapses down onto his elbows around his head, kissing him once more. Then he makes a serious face. “But we’re not out of gauze yet.”

--

In the days immediately following the bombshell of Pierce’s arrest, information trickles in slowly. There is no immediate change in Bucky’s status—he has to be patient and wait for the bureaucratic wheels to start turning. Tony shares the news that the BFI is re-opening the investigation into the fire that killed Brock. That gets things going more rapidly. Bruce calls Bucky a few days later to tell him they are all being re-interviewed by another Fire Marshall, and Bucky gets the same call.

He’s nervous for the interview, giving Steve a shaky hug before reporting for it. Afterwards though, he tells Steve he felt it went well and that he was completely honest about everything. They would have to trust in the system not to let them down again. They spend nerve-wracking days with no new information, but by the following week, Tony calls them both in for a meeting in his office, bright and early on a shift day.

“Do you think it’s good news?”

They are walking to the station, Steve in his blue uniform and Bucky in shorts and a Dr. Who t-shirt. It’s Steve’s favorite. Bucky thinks so because it’s got Daleks on it, but really it’s because the shirt is old and has been washed so many times it is slightly small on him, and pulls tight over his chest and back muscles, showcasing his amazing body. They both are nervous, but Steve takes Bucky’s hand to comfort him.

“Yes,” he insists. “I think it’s good news.” He rubs his thumb over the back of his hand lovingly, and Bucky gives him a thankful smile.

Tony’s face is unreadable as they file in and sit down in the cramped space. He leans back in his chair.

“So, how’s it going?” he asks carelessly.

Steve makes a clucking noise and Bucky groans and puts his head in his hands.

“Tony, if you don’t skip the small talk, Buck here is going to vomit all over your desk,” Steve jokes, and Tony chuckles.

“I’d prefer no vomiting, so I guess we can get right to it.” The corner of his mouth lifts. “Your suspension has been rescinded. You can return to work next scheduled shift.”

Bucky and Steve both smile and breathe out giant sighs of relief. Steve lands one hand on his shoulder, squeezing it. Tony stands up and leans over his desk to shake Bucky’s hand.

“Welcome back, Bucky. We’ve missed you.”

“What happened?” Bucky looks a bit dazed, shaking his hand distractedly.

Tony sits back down. “Brock’s death was ruled accidental by the second Fire Marshall, no fault of yours.” He rubs his goatee. “One Jasper Sitwell has been formally reprimanded for his management of the fire.”

Steve and Bucky exchange glances and Steve inquires, “And what about Bucky’s record?”

Tony lifts his hands and lets them fall back to his lap. “Expunged completely.”

Steve closes his eyes. Suddenly the world seems a much brighter place, and the knot of worry he didn’t realize he’d been carrying around with him is gone. It’s the best outcome they could have hoped for. The news spreads before they can blink, thanks to Darcy, and there’s a party-like atmosphere at the station for the entire day. Bucky doesn’t get to stay today, but receives congratulatory texts and calls from every person on their crew within ten minutes of their meeting.

As for Pierce, Maria wasn’t able to share right away, while the investigation was still ongoing, so they have to wait to get the juicy details. Pierce had initially denied everything, of course, but when faced with the evidence against him, pled guilty in order to get a reduced sentence.

After his plea bargain was completed, Maria could tell them everything. How Pietro had figured out that Brock’s brother and a few other men in their ring were performing the thefts, storing the goods in Pierce’s properties, then using his contacts to sell stuff off and share the profits. How the NYPD sent in undercover agents to get enough evidence on Brock’s brother breaking his parole to make him freak out when confronted. He couldn’t wait to turn on Pierce, who he claimed was the mastermind, and treated him like an inferior whenever Brock wasn’t around.

“Gosh, that’s so hard to believe,” joked Bucky.

Maria went on to say Pierce had started using another empty building he owned after the first one burned. This one required his key card for entry, plus there was a bank across the street with camera surveillance. Those cameras captured him entering and exiting the building on numerous occasions, so there was no way he could claim he didn’t know what was going on. According to Phil, that’s when the man’s bravado crumbled. Rather than face a lengthy trial and possible lengthier sentence, he pled down.

“I don’t care how much time he serves,” Bucky had proclaimed. “As long as he gets what’s coming to him and is out of the FDNY for good.”

Steve had squeezed his hand and agreed with him. The bastard had lost his position of power over them; that was what was important. So Bucky returned to work, and Steve felt like he wanted to sing and dance all damned day long. Finally, they were a whole crew again and Steve got his partner back. It was the first shift they actually worked together as something other than friends, and if Steve had any worries about it being weird or awkward, they very rapidly dissipated into the wind.

He and Bucky fall into a natural rhythm, and it feels to Steve like they have been partners for years, not months. His co-workers are awesome about it, as always. The “Welcome Bucky” banner makes its second appearance, strung up across the bay. Darcy falls on Bucky’s neck when he arrives in the morning, she’s so thrilled to see him.

“Bucky,” she squeaks. “We’re so happy you’re back!”

Bucky hugs her in return. “It’s good to be back, Darce.”

Later in the morning, Sam, Thor, Steve and Bucky are in the bay, inspecting equipment with the garage doors open to the sun, when some visitors approach. Steve and Bucky are the first to see them, as Thor and Sam are behind one of the pumper engines. Betsy and Nick are walking up the driveway; Nick has the leash of Sweetpea in his hand, while Betsy has weaned herself down to a cane.

“Betsy! Nick!” Steve calls out to them, grinning. He knows Betsy will ask again about him and Bucky, and can’t wait to tell her. Nick sticks out a hand, which Bucky grasps firmly.

“Nick, thank you,” he says sincerely.

“Anytime,” Nick insists genially. “Tony filled me in on all the latest. About time that asshat Pierce got caught.”

Steve is busy giving Betsy a hug, leaning down to her level.

“Steve, you look wonderful, honey,” Betsy tells him. “Anything… new?”

Grinning like a loon, Steve’s eyes flick to Bucky and back. “Yes.”

Bucky, watching these proceedings, smiles unsurely. “What?” he asks, and Betsy laughs with glee.

“It finally happened?”

Steve nods and a thrill races through him. It finally happened.

Bucky looks from Betsy to Steve. “What finally happened?”

Steve feels himself redden a little in the cheeks. Bucky never knew about the conversation in the back of the ambulance.

“You mean us?” He points to himself and Steve, and looks back to Betsy. “You knew?”

Betsy shrugs nonchalantly. “Women know things,” she states, making Steve laugh and Bucky scratch his head.

Just then, Thor and Sam approach from the interior of the bay, having heard voices carrying inside. They turn the corner around Engine One; Sam, seeing Sweetpea for the first time, stops in his tracks and stares. Sweetpea, seeing new people, makes a menacing growling sound. Steve and Bucky aren’t fooled this time, but Sam jumps in place.

“Holy shit!” he yells out, much to everyone else’s amusement. Even Thor is nonplussed, and reaches a hand down in front of her to submit for inspection.

“What a beautiful animal!” he compliments her. Sweetpea sniffs his hand wheezily, while Betsy beams.

Steve puts a hand on Sam’s arm. “You can relax, Sam. She’s friendly.”

“Sweetpea the friendly giant?” he replies dubiously, but does relax a little in his spot.

When greetings have all been exchanged, they go inside to visit with Tony and Darcy. Natasha and Clint miss out, off on a run in the MIDI. Betsy takes Steve’s arm and pats it before they go in.

“I’m glad for you two, honey,” she tells him.

If Steve was a cookie, he would be warm and gooey on the inside. “I’m glad too, Betsy.”

--

Epilogue

It is four months later, cool and colorful October, and autumn is upon them. The air has turned cold, but Steve and Bucky’s relationship hasn’t cooled in the slightest degree. They have just returned from a Rangers hockey game with Sam and Natasha. Steve unlocks the door to the house and they are both attacked by Strider, who jumps and dances around them excitedly.

Bucky is staying the night, as usual. What’s not usual is the subject Steve wants to talk about. He’s thought about it countless times, and now he’s going to do it. After Strider makes his trip outside and they have retired to the bedroom, Steve sits down next to Bucky on the bed as he is taking off his shoes.

“So, Buck,” he starts tentatively. “Have you thought about not renewing your apartment lease for another year?”

Bucky’s movement stills and he looks at Steve questioningly.

“You told me your lease was up in October, remember?” Steve reminds him.

A slow smile makes its way across Bucky’s face. “Yeah, I do.”

Steve is less nervous about this than he thought he’d be. In fact, he’s never been more sure that this is right. He just hopes Bucky agrees with him.

“I mean,” Steve adds, “We spend so much time here anyway, it seems a shame to pay rent at another place.”

Bucky’s smile gets wider, white teeth showing. “Steve,” he says, his voice a combination of surprise and pleasure. “Are you asking me to move in with you?”

Steve shakes his head. “No.” He pauses, searching Bucky’s face. “I’m asking you to marry me.”

While Bucky stares at him with a stunned expression, Steve drops to one knee in front of him and pulls out the ring he had made, a simple platinum band, from his pocket. “I love you,” he declares, and now the butterflies have taken flight. His stomach and chest flutter crazily. “Would you do me the honor of marrying me?”

He holds the ring up and finds Bucky’s eyes. They hold all of the love Steve feels in his own heart, and his shock gives way to another expression. He opens his mouth and utters the one word that changes both of their lives from that moment on.

“Yes.”