Part One: Bucky

"Can you move your seat up?" He asks, without hope.

His balls are getting crushed by the pants he's wearing and the fact that he has to practically hug his legs to fit into this back seat isn't helping. There's just random shit shoved everywhere; in every conceivable crevice of this car. Some of the items are sticking up at weird angles. It's mostly clothes (he thinks) and household items. A Volkswagen does not, in fact, have enough room for a man of his build or stature, plus fifteen feet of crap.

"No," Sam says flatly.

Bucky tries to shift sideways, angling himself so he can ease some of the pressure off himself by stretching out across the backseat bench. He silently wills the pants to release their vice grip.

"No need to be a dick about it." He sighs.

"Bite me." It's muttered, but Bucky still catches it. He opts not to bite back verbally or physically.

Bucky tries to remember the last time he'd been so infuriatingly done with another human being. He comes up short. Not much gets to him these days. Well, actually, everything gets to him these days, but still. Sam has a way of pressing a particular button. It sends off alarm bells in his head and triggers fight mode. He remembers the last thing his psychiatrist had gone over with him: When you feel that anger welling up, try counting to give yourself time to calm down.

Bucky makes it to ten before Sam starts talking again. "You know, you're a real asshole. I can't believe you'd do something as reckless as getting arrested on your first day back."

If counting fails, start reciting all fifty states to occupy yourself.

"After all he's done for you," Sam continues blabbering on.

Feel the anger just melting away.

"New York." It comes out as more of a hiss than he intends.

"Excuse me?" Sam looks over his shoulder, bewildered.

"Delaware. Rhode Island. Micha-"

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Reciting the states. Michigan. Mississippi."


"Colorado. Texas. To keep from punching you. South Dakota. North Dakota."

Sam lapses into silence with a look on his face that reminds Bucky of a suckerfish. That same face someone makes when they unexpectedly eat that one ridiculously sour grape in a bowl full of sweet ones.


"Well, do you have to do that out loud?"

"No. But it helps."

Sam squints at him, petulantly swiveling back around in his seat with his arms crossed. Save for the sound of Bucky naming off the states of the bible belt, they don't speak to each other again.

Then the driver door swings open and their driver, a beautiful blonde man Bucky had recently learned was named Steve, sat down heavily. This man is solid muscle. He makes the whole car shift downward when he sits. Like a fat man squeezing into a space much too small for him. Steve slowly turns in his seat to look over his shoulder; mirroring Sam's earlier movement. Its eerie how stiffly similar they are in physicality.

The weight of his gaze was enough to make Bucky stop speaking. Feeling pinned put him off guard.

With a sigh, Steve says, "Oh, Buck."

"Where do they wanna send me?" Bucky asks, but he isn't sure if he really wants to know.

"Well, they'd like to hold you here, but I advised against it. As your sponsor, I felt it was my responsibility to deal with the outcome. So instead of the arrangements they told you about before, you'll be staying with me."

"Steve." The warning in Sam's tone is thick. He doesn't think it's a good idea and it's plain on his face. "Have you run that by Peggy?"

The two men exchange withering looks. Steve's eyes drop to the steering wheel and he shakes his head. Heavy was the weight upon this man's shoulders. He aged by five years in the span of one comment.

"Not in person; I sent her a text, but there was no time to have a real discussion. She probably won't like it." From Steve's expression, Bucky can surmise that it's either a girlfriend or a wife. Someone with enough say over who stays in their (presumably) shared household.

They'd been "working" together for a handful of weeks, but Bucky has never gotten the sense that they were close enough for Steve to offer his home as a refuge. They got along well. Bucky knew how to talk to Steve. And somehow, Steve made the days just a little more bearable.

While it felt like the rest of the world was always raining down on him, Steve made him feel like he had a modicum of control over his life. Gave him the proverbial umbrella.

A stern silence settles in the gaps between the three of them. Bucky waits for an encouraging quip from Steve or something glib from Sam, but nothing comes.

Eventually, Bucky's head begins to fog; it starts with a dull throb in his forehead. His chest feels heavy like he's sinking in a pit. A knot starts forming in his stomach, gnawing at his insides. He'll feel nauseated soon. He hates this feeling, it usually accompanies guilt.

"Listen, man, you really don't have to do all this. Just drop me off at the nearest gas station. I can take care of myself." He says to ease himself.

Sam is the first to glare back at him, but Steve's expression is softer. He only looks at him for a moment before turning back toward the wheel and starting the car.

"No can do. That's not what we're here for. Unfortunately, I can't leave you on your own. Your situation is too far south for that." Steve says with a wistful smile.

He isn't really sure what that means, but if Bucky wasn't stuck in this ridiculously cramped back seat he would have jumped out of the car by now. It's stuffy and as soon as Steve shifts his seat back to drive, Bucky is in square one all over again. At this point, Bucky's head is full of pressure and his stomach clenches down on the hard ball of anxiety. Now his balls hurt and he's anxious that if he doesn't get situated he's gonna puke everywhere and that is not how he wants to spend this afternoon.

The vehicle reverses and starts ambling down the gravel road, away from the center, and back toward civilization. The whole car shakes when it moves, making the world outside look slightly misshapen and not quite in focus. The stress and uncertainty of where he'll end up is getting to him. And beyond that, the lack of control over the situation is stifling. Beads of sweat began to form on the back of his neck and forehead. Oxygen leaves his lungs in barreling quick huffs.

"Lay down," Sam says out of nowhere-Bucky almost misses it.

It isn't glib or even hostile. He stares at the other man for a few moments, breathing hard. As much as listening to Sam grates on him, he'd rather ease as much discomfort as possible. So Bucky shifts again, maneuvering himself awkwardly in the tight space, and manages to get himself in a far less cramped position by stretching out further along the backseat and propping his feet up on the window. He isn't sure which one of them upfront does it, but the windows on either side of him roll down and the breeze from outside filters in.

The sweat on his skin begins to cool and the pressure eases a little. He still feels like garbage, but at least he feels less like a dumpster on fire.

The car lurching to a stop is what wakes him. Actually, it's the fact that when the car lurches to a stop his head smacks against the side of the car door. That is what rouses him from the brief nap he'd gotten during the drive.

At first, he has the sinking feeling that they've brought him to a warehouse at the end of a dingy street to kill him. They were parked in a small alcove that opened right into an alleyway fit for muggers and murderers. Some kid on a bike wheels by and several people pass by the end of the alley after a few moments. They were somewhere in the city with a moderately high population-he watches a very fit woman sail by on another bike. A gaggle of hipsters filter passed with travel mugs firmly in one hand and a phone clad in artistically bejeweled cases on the other.

Bucky doesn't like people. Crowds make him feel suffocated. The more people in the room he doesn't know the more alone and overwhelmed he feels. At least it doesn't seem like they were going to murder him. Yet.

Steve gets out and walks over to a black metal door that looks like it might lead into the kitchen of a two-star restaurant. Bucky isn't hungry but he also isn't about to complain about not having to sit in this godforsaken back seat any longer than he has to. Sam instantly shuts the door to his side, so Bucky is left to half crawl half climb out of the backseat and squeeze by the steering wheel to get out.

By this time the door is open and Steve leads them into a short walkway that connects to another much nicer looking set of doors. These ones are warm chocolate-colored wood. The likes of which might be attached to an actual house in Manhattan. Steve is quick with his keys and gets one of the doors unlocked, he steps inside without much preamble.

It feels very much like they might be walking into an industrial space, the walls are brick and cement frames the outer hallway. Once they step in through the wooden doors the tone of the building only changes slightly. The floors are all wood, the ceiling is high, and the wall opposite them is covered in windows. Within a few steps, Bucky can spot a staircase in the corner. He pauses in the front room-a living room from what he can tell. To their left is the kitchen, which has an open floor plan that spills back into the room they're standing in.

Sam remains silent as he brushes passed Bucky. He walks across the room and snatches a set of keys off an end table that's practically hugging the arm of the clearly well-used leather couch. The furniture remindsBucky of home. His parents had been older and frugal. They bought huge leather furniture and kept it until the leather was riddled with tears. Steve's furniture was similar but more modern and cozy. Everything looked… inviting.

There are bookshelves lined with a blend of novels and movies. Two bookshelves framed the entertainment stand that housed a large television in the center of the wall facing the kitchen.

"So even though it looks pretty big it's actually kind of tight on bathroom availability. There's a toilet over here by the living room," Steve gestures to Bucky's right.

"My room is on this floor and it's over there. I have a full bathroom if you want to wash up."

He pointed to a space behind Bucky right beside the kitchen that had been overlooked when he first walked in. He hadn't noticed the hallway tucked in between the kitchen and what appeared to be a broom closet by the front door.

"Pete's room is upstairs and the other full bathroom is also upstairs. His room is really open so we can find a way to divide it and get another bed up there. In the meantime, you can take uh..."

Steve looks to be at a loss here. He's looking around like he might find the answer on the floor. He still hadn't mentioned the door in between one of the bookshelves and the toilet in the living room. Bucky briefly wonders if it's an office or somewhere guests aren't allowed to go. "The couch down here."

"Who the hell is Pete?" Bucky says.

Sam snorts, practically sauntering toward the front door. "Let me know how Peggy and the kid take this news. I'm out."

"See ya, Sam." Steve offers with a sigh. He scratches the back of his head, turning his back to Bucky.

It's kind of awkward that they're alone like this. Bucky is used to other supervisors and cameras being on him at all times. With no sense of privacy. The word was beginning to lose meaning to Bucky. What was a man without his privacy? Entertainment? He felt like a worn-out circus act. On his last legs and ready for retirement.

Once Sam leaves they fall into another silence. Bucky tries not to feel tense. Steve is a really attractive person and Bucky tries not to let that put pressure on him.

Steve isn't someone he needs to impress sexually. Or even socially. Bucky tells himself that he just needs Steve to sign off on the paperwork so he can get back to living his own life. Why was he so bent on helping? Steve couldn't care that much about what befell him, right? If he liked him that would have been one thing but-

That train of thought was nothing but trouble.

"Pete is a friend. Well. Family really. He's staying with me while he goes to school." Steve says, tucking his hands into his pockets.

Bucky almost forgot he'd asked about Peter. He's distracted and his eyes are starting to feel heavy.

"Anyway, you must be tired. Why don't you wash up and I'll find some blankets and clothes for you to change into." Though he'd just tucked his hands away, Steve frees one to gesture politely toward his room. Under different circumstances it might've Bucky a little excited.

It's a new environment. Bucky can feel that he's wearing himself out by constantly looking around. He doesn't like owing Steve. But he also wants to stop feeling so gross. So he takes him up on the shower.

There's something intrinsically refreshing about a shower after a long day. The way water first hits the top of the head, trickling down the outside of the skull, and then rushing down the back. It soothes the muscles and seems to compresses everything he worries about till it's no thicker than a piece of paper.

On good days he can compartmentalize and chuck it off into a corner of his brain or process it and move on. On other days as soon as the cone of water was gone it was like all the things he'd been avoiding stacked on top of each other and ambushed him as soon as he stepped out onto the other side of the curtain. Some days he felt better. Other days he felt about the same as he always felt; empty.

The clothes had been set out for him on the bed. He finds them and notices that his hair has grown much longer than he'd meant it too. When he'd been in rehab the days crept by, feeling like an endless cycle of therapy, sitting with his thoughts, pills, eat, more therapy, "free time", therapy, eat, a group activity, and then it was time to lay awake in bed.

The strands of his hair are wet and brown. They stick to his cheek and neck as he dries himself off with a towel. Once dry they might be long enough to touch his shoulders. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and suppresses the urge to shudder. Everything about Bucky is dark. He favors dark clothes, his hair is dark brown, his eyes have dark circles underneath them, it goes on. He's got a darkness attached to him that he just can't seem to shake.

A beer or cigarette right about now would be great.

Bucky finds Steve laying out neatly folded blankets on the couch. There's a pillow amongst the large couch cushions. The coffee table has been moved closer to the TV to allow Steve space to pitter around with more bedding than he needs.

"Thanks," Bucky says. It doesn't feel like enough.

Steve nods. Bucky can't tell if it's because he has nothing to say in return or because he's distracted. He sort of feels like the kid whose parents forgot to come pick him up and had to wait with the teacher. It was like they were both waiting for someone responsible to show up.

"So...what happens next?" He asks.

"Next?" Steve looks as lost as Bucky feels.

It sets in then. Steve hadn't formed much of a plan beyond letting Bucky stay with him.

"Next." Steve says again, the wheels in his head clearly turning. "Next we find you a job or a hobby. Gotta get you active again. Is there anything you like to do?"

The last time Bucky had been an active member of society he'd been in his twenties. He had a jogging route and a gym routine. A balanced diet and a decent haircut. He shaved regularly too."I used to run a lot."

Steve blinks at him a few times. Clearly he was expecting something less athletic. "Running? Running is great! I run every chance I get."

"Yeah. Running is good." Bucky finds himself picking at the hem of his borrowed shirt. The clothes smell fresh and summery. Like a bouquet of fresh flowers being carted right below his nose. It's honestly not what Bucky had expected to be in a house of only guys. He closes his eyes.

There's a lot of awkward silence and small talk before Bucky is finally allowed to lay down and rest. The exhaustion of the day overcomes him and he promptly passes out on the couch before Steve can start fluffing the pillow.

It feels like a crushing weight on his chest. Flashes of bright blinding red. The piercing pain of a bullet ripping through flesh. Ricocheting inside his skull. It's a vicious never-ending cycle. The air is void of oxygen. It's all smoked carbon and poison. It burns.

There's no air.

He can't breathe.

His eyes sting. His chest hurts. Blood is oozing from the holes in his arm and shoulder. Sweat, charcoal, and blood mix together, twining into disgusting ribbons. Dripping down his arm, weaving between his fingers, and falling from his fingertips.

Just when the pain reaches its peak his vision fades and it all starts over again.

The crushing weight. The blinding flash. The piercing pain. The bullets, the screams, the wounds. The sounds and sights of war turned to maximum volume.

Just when it becomes too much he stops breathing.

When Bucky wakes the first time from his nightmare, the sun still hadn't risen. His eyes search for it outside the wall of windows that overlook the coach. But the world outside is dark and offers him no sense of peace. He can't stop himself from hyperventilating. He tries, but no matter how many states he recites in his head his breathing doesn't slow.

He doesn't know how long he lays there covered in sweat and silently reciting every state, city, street, and monument he knows. It feels like sleep will elude him forever.

Sleep is the silent predator that creeps up when he least expects it. Bucky doesn't fall asleep so much as unconsciousness overcomes him. The next time he wakes, it's to an argument. Well. Argument is a strong word. It's more like a whispered disagreement. Although it's the loudest whispering Bucky has ever heard in his life and it's traveling so it's hard to catch what the subject of the argument is at first. Then the voices stop and it sounds as if they're right overhead.

One of the voices is Steve's. Bucky recognizes the smooth tone instantly.

The other voice sounds much younger, more nasally and higher pitched.

"Mr. Stark said that if we have any issues-"

"No, no, no. We are not involving Tony in this. He'll buy a whole new kitchen if we make one complaint."

Bucky cracks an eye open, leans up, and spots the pair. Steve is pacing between the kitchen sink, the kitchen table, and around the countertop. He's doing laps like an Olympic swimmer. The kid, who next to Steve looks like a beanpole with a sweet face, is stationary with the nail of his thumb clenched between his teeth.

The kid stops biting his thumbnail to say, "Okay but what about the washer? It's still leaking."

This makes Steve pause and causes him to look accusingly in the direction Bucky assumes the washing machine is in. "Is it? I thought I fixed that."

Steve swivels back around and continues his pacing around the kitchen. He comes to a stop in front of the sink, and his head disappears behind the counter. The kid comes to stand beside where Steve disappeared, looking down like he's watching a car accident waiting to happen. He continues biting the nail of his thumb.

"Um, well, you didn't use waterproof tape. And I'm pretty sure it needs a component on the inside replaced. Maybe a new tray for the bottom and a panel for the left side. Maybe we should just get a whole new-"

Bucky sees Steve's hand appear. His pointer finger is aimed menacingly at the kid's chest. "We are not buying a new washing machine! I can fix it. "

The kid rolls his eyes. With the dramatics only a teenager could muster he lets his hands flop onto his sides.

"Please don't. Can't we just hire someone?"

Steve's hand disappears beneath the counter. There's the distinct sound of a man trying his damndest to unscrew a pipe by hand. "No, no. I'll just reread the manual."

"But you've read it like five times! I'm pretty sure you've actually made the washing machine worse by trying to fix it. I'm sure if we just call and explain-"

"I'm telling you Tony will make it way worse. "

"...I'm not so sure that's true."

At this point, Bucky can't stand to listen to anymore. He pushes himself up with more effort than he's willing to admit exerting. When he stands the kid's eyes fly to him immediately. He doesn't look surprised, but he does look a little worried. Like he might get his lunch money stolen. Bucky pushes the aggravation to the side (he doesn't look that scary) and walks into the kitchen.

"Steve." He starts, but pauses when he spots water on the floor. Steve really made a mess of this perfectly nice kitchen. The kitchen is adorned with stainless steel appliances and nice granite countertops. How the hell had Steve broken a brand new kitchen so quickly? "Move."

Thankfully, Steve doesn't pose much resistance and reluctantly waddles out of his way. Bucky squints, pushing the long strands away from his face to get a clearer look as he bends down to assess the damage. "Okay. I need a flashlight, a pair of pliers, a bucket, a mop, and towels."

The other two might exchange a look, he doesn't look to check. Steve is the first one to move, standing and practically breaking into a jog to retrieve the items. The kid is left behind, looking torn between fight or flight. After a moment he extends a thin hand and says, "I'm Peter."

Bucky glances Peter's way briefly before he takes the offered hand and gives it a firm shake. "James Barnes. Call me Bucky. Or don't. Call me whatever. I don't care."

Peter seems to visibly unclench after this exchange.

"Okay. Nice to meet you, Mr. Barnes."

"Don't call me that."

And Peter clamps right back up. Bucky prepares himself to start reciting the states. This kid is going to test his patience, he can already tell.

"Oh. Um. Mr…"

"Just call me James or Bucky, kid. Try not to overthink it."

"Yes, sir."

"Don't ever call me that."


"Just...go grab me a flashlight or something. And watch your step there's water everywhere."

He waves Peter off, and the kid looks visibly relieved to be dismissed. He clearly wanted to escape that conversation as much as Bucky wanted to end it.

Between the three of them, it takes collectively three and a half hours to fix Steve's mess.

It takes Bucky making all the decisions with Peter assisting, and Steve staying in the living room-far enough to not make things worse, thank you very much-to actually get the problem fixed.

The lesson of the day?

Steve Rogers can't fix a damn thing.

Bucky learns this within the first three days of living there. After the kitchen sink debacle, he moves onto the laundry room in the garage. Which is an even bigger disaster than he imagined it would be.

"Okay," Bucky starts, pointing at Steve with a wrench, "what the hell did you do to this poor machine?"

Steve has his arms crossed, standing behind Bucky like he's supervising a construction site. He shrugs, with his mouth turned down comically. "I just tried to fix it."

Bucky's eyebrows meet his hairline. Never in his life had he met someone so profoundly insightful when it came to putting another person's life back together, but completely useless when it came to putting their own life in order. He sets the wrench atop the abused washing machine and puts a hand on each of Steve's shoulders. He breathes in deeply and then exhales slowly.

He tries to muster the most sincere and kind tone he can when he says, "Steve...I want you to promise me that you will never touch this machine like that again. Okay?"

On his part, Steve looks embarrassed and honestly a little scandalized. He suddenly doesn't know where to look. His arms uncross. Now his hands are dangling uselessly between them. Like they're being held up as meager shields in the face of Bucky's request. "But. I was just-"

"Steve," Bucky says gently, "I'm gonna need you to stop trying to fix things by yourself. Or ever. Just. Tell me when something breaks, okay?"


The soft sound of someone clearing their throat draws their attention away from each other. There's a woman standing in the doorway with a smart suit and a stern look. Her lips are red and her skin is flawless. Her hair spills over her shoulders in delicate curls. It reminds Bucky of the women in the forties. Yet somehow classier. She's fairly tall, or at least the heels she's wearing make it seem so.

"Peggy," Steve says, visibly melting.

Bucky retracts his hands. The vibe this woman is giving off tells him that having his hands on Steve in her presence was not a good idea.

"Steve," She says, turning toward the door. It isn't a question. He needs to follow her out of the room.

Steve goes with a look that's a mix between breathless and dread. Clearly the conversation they're about to have won't be pleasant. Bucky tries not to dwell on it too much after the other man leaves. He finds that he doesn't like thinking of what Steve does romantically. He much preferred to keep him in the "overly-helpful-hot-guy-that-can't-fix-things-to-save-his-life" box.

Bucky clicks his tongue. Steve was not hot. He was a sponsor and a therapist and there were many adjectives that could describe him. But any that regarded his attractiveness or physically were strictly off-limits.

Steve doesn't return for a long while. Long enough for the stuffy heat of the garage to linger, pressing down on Bucky's skin. The air feels thick and the stone walls of the garage give off an earthy smell. His work on the washing machine had caused a great deal of sweat.

Bucky could even see the sheen on his arms. Could feel it like a wet blanket when he swiped a hand over his forehead. His hair was much too long to leave down. After the first four times, it stuck to his neck he got fed up and was now looking for a method to relieve him of the irritation. He finds a bag of rubber bands in a cabinet. Somehow, miraculously, after shoving and twisting and tying he manages to secure most of the hair off his neck and away from his face.

A few strands fall loose, but they stay out of his eyes and off his skin so he allows them to dangle free. The hairs are too short to easily secure back into place anyway.

"Bad news?" Bucky doesn't look up from the bowels of the washing machine. One of the panels in question had been dented and removed (most likely, Bucky suspects, because Steve may have punched it in anger); and now Bucky is elbow deep into the machine.

He hears a heavy sigh overhead. Really bad news.

"Nothing I didn't expect," Steve says, clearly resigned. "She just has reservations."

He doesn't need to say it to get the confirmation. Bucky knows what the answer to the question is before he says, "Something has to change because I'm staying here?"

Steve doesn't answer.

Removing the faulty bit of piping, Bucky sets it aside on the floor of the garage. He doesn't want to look up and see the expression on Steve's face. He's been looking so happy in between all the chaotic running around to save the planet he's been doing. Saving the planet one addict at a time.

"Don't worry. I don't think everything will need to change. It'll just be an adjustment. We'll work it out.

Why do I get the feeling it won't be that simple?

Bucky says nothing, but he hopes the look he's giving Steve conveys how little he believes that statement.

"Seriously. It'll be fine. It might even be a good thing." Steve crosses his arms tightly.

Bucky sighs, turning away from the other man and back toward his latest source of distraction. "Neither of us believe that, Steve."

In the first month of his stay, Bucky spends most of his time checking around the house for any more broken appliances. He discovers that the dryer needs a new door, Peter needs a new showerhead, and the toaster is fried.

He also discovers they have a waffle iron.

The daily routine at the Rogers-Parker household is somewhat chaotic, but it works. More or less.

Steve is up the earliest, somewhere between 4 AM and 6 AM. Peter usually rises between 6 AM and 7 AM on weekdays, but on the weekends it's a crapshoot. His times awake could range from 9 AM to 2 PM. At night Bucky can hear him tinkering away in his room. But, considering that the kid hardly peels his eyes off his phone, neither Steve nor Bucky have much of a clue what the boy could be working on. Bucky doesn't have a set time to wake up, because on most nights he spends the majority of time staring at the ceiling and willing himself to fall asleep. He's quite restless during this whole process. Whether his eyes are closed or he's completely relaxed, sleep never comes. He also doesn't have much in the way of a life.

On the mornings when Steve trails into the kitchen to find Bucky already brewing coffee, Steve claps a hand on his shoulder and offers an ear if he needs to talk. It's a thoughtful suggestion. Bucky always watches Steve's back as he retreats from the kitchen with a mug of fresh coffee in hand. On those mornings, Bucky gets a sick sense of domesticity. Like he can live in this fantasy of keeping a family. Sure he's fucked up, but he'd been rescued by a duo that might as well be a hero and sidekick.

It's nice. Really nice.

Bucky sincerely hopes from the bottom of his heart that he doesn't fuck it up.

The trouble starts with a pack of cigarettes.

After hours of filling out a seemingly endless sea of applications online, Bucky leaves the house. Being confined in the same space with limited funds and access to travel resulted in the feeling of cabin fever. With little money and no true mode of transportation, he opts circle the perimeter of the house. He ambles down the road and back, across the street and back, around the house again and finally comes to a stop at the back of Steve's house.

They have a yard. Sort of.

It's nothing special, but there's a patio and a walkway with patches of grass and a potted plant that is weeping from dehydration. Still, the air is fresh and it gives Bucky the allusion of freedom.

He needs to get his ass in gear. He keeps getting swept up in Steve and his baby blue eyes, cooing at him about therapy and recovery. When what he needs is a plan to get out of the hole he's in.

While he contemplates how much longer he can afford to put off his debts-a kid appears.

"Uhhhh...Who are you?" The kid says, pointing a piece of duct-taped cardboard toward Bucky's face. It's much too short to pose much of a threat, and bends slightly to the right.

Bucky pauses mid-stride, temporarily missing the owner of the tiny voice because of his height. Another kid. Jesus, is this guy running a daycare?

This one is younger than Peter, probably closer to seven or eight. It's hard to tell beneath the cardboard box he's wearing. Literally. There's a whole cardboard suit that's being held together by duct tape, superhero stickers, and maybe willpower.

"Are you...uh looking for someone?" He hasn't dealt with children much in his life. Other than during his childhood. Even then, Bucky had preferred the company of an older crowd. He thinks it's because he tends to tire of games easily, but it also could have had something to do with the way the older kids treated him.

The kid squints at him like lasers might shoot from his eyes. "Where's my dad?"

Bucky sighs. "Please tell me your dad's name is Steve and not Peter."

"Huh? You know Petey?" The kid perks up a bit at this notion. He starts looking around-clearly expecting Peter to suddenly manifest.

"Peter's out at the moment. So is apparently."

Bucky is caught staring at the whimsical helmet when a young woman steps outside. "Hey little man, I don't see your dad anywhere." This voice is older, feminine and relaxed.

The woman either doesn't notice him or elects to ignore him at first. The child turns to her and points back at Bucky, "Mama! Stranger danger! HE MIGHT BE WORKING WITH THE ENEMY."

When she turns to look at him finally the first thing Bucky notes is her eyes. They're blue-and jesus he has got to stop meeting people with blue eyes it's genuinely one of his weaknesses-and they're piercing right through him. She gives him the impression of a hawk about to swoop down and rip a mouse to shreds. Her eyes narrow at him for a moment, before flitting up and down. Clearly sizing him up. It sends a little thrill up his spine.

Her lips are pink, her hair is red, and she's dressed like she's just walked out of a spy film. Her hair is straight and parted down the middle, the ends just barely curling away from her shoulders. Her pants are fitted, hugging her a little too well, and her blouse is a dark blue.

"You must be Mister Barnes." She practically purrs.

The child is stationed at her feet as if he intends to defend her from an attack. They aren't that far apart, so it's a comical image when she casually reaches over the boy's head and offers a hand to shake. "I'm Natasha."

Bucky takes her hand gently. Her grip is firm.

"James. Nice to meet you, ma'am. Please don't call me sir."

"Don't call me ma'am and you got yourself a deal. "

"Hey!" The kid perks up, pointing a cardboard clad arm at his own face. "My name is James too!"

It's hard not to smile at the kid's enthusiasm. Bucky offers his hand to the boy next, who high fives him instead of shaking it.

His mother looks down at him with a loving smile, patting the top of the cardboard helmet in the same way one might ruffle a child's hair. "Can you put your stuff in your room for me? And get your backpack out of the car?"

The boy beams at her, nodding so enthusiastically he almost shakes the helmet off his head. He turns suddenly, practically bolting back inside to fulfill the request. It reminds Bucky of the kids that ran at full charge toward their loved ones when they came home. Be it from war or a day of work at the office. He appreciates that kind of enthusiasm.

They fall into a short silence. During which Natasha reaches into one of her pockets and pulls free a cheap neon purple lighter and a pack of Natural American Spirits.

She offers him the pack after pulling free a stick out for herself.

To Bucky, it seems odd that she would choose to leave her son at the house when Steve isn't home. But she doesn't seem particularly alarmed by Bucky's presence. In fact, she seems relieved when he tells her it's just him.

"It'll take the edge off. This place can make you a little stir crazy."

She looks at him abruptly, with the cartridge between her thumb and middle finger. "Plus, I stole these so I hear they'll taste extra strong and they'll burn twice as long." She rocks the pack back and forth tilting it to and fro between her fingers. Trying to entice him.

"Is that so?" He says, feeling a smile start to form.

He accepts the offer. She stuffs the pack back into whatever pocket it came from, and offers him the lighter. Honored, Bucky takes it and lights the end of his cigarette.

"Walking around helps. If you go out through Peter's window it's pretty easy to climb onto the roof. It's a good smoking spot. I don't think Steve has found it yet." She says, grinning when he keeps the lighter lit and extends it toward her.

He hands the lighter back to her when the exchange is complete.

They take the next drag in unison.

"So have you slept with him yet?" She exhales the smoke as she speaks, and it makes her voice sound slightly deeper. More suggestive.

Bucky coughs to buy himself a moment to respond. "No."

Natasha snickers, "Taking things slow? That doesn't seem like your style."

"What do you know about my style?"

Natasha shrugs.

"I just know that look when I see it." She says, blowing smoke in his face like a child splashing another with water. She's trying to goad him into a specific response.

"What look?"

She sighs, rolling her eyes. "The hungry look. A lot of addicts have it. Like you won't be satisfied until you get what you want. Having it just once won't be enough."

He drags, eyes turning down to glower at the floor. Just how many people has Steve told about his situation? "Oh yeah?"

He feels a numbness in his fingertips.

"Don't worry," She says. It's strange, but Bucky gets the feeling he might be able to trust her. "I can tell you're one of the good ones. You'll sort yourself out eventually."

Honestly, he doesn't know what to say. She'd waltzed into the house and caught him off guard. It was easy to get swept up in her aura.

"Thanks." He settles on.

"I give it a week by the way."

"A week until what?"

"Till you sleep with him."

Bucky snorts. The sound is surprising and undignified even to his own ears. "Oh, that is so not going to happen."

"Oh believe me, between the bedroom eyes you keep giving off and Steve's sense of romanticism it'll happen."

Bedroom eyes? Bucky pushes himself to keep from lingering on the thought.

"He doesn't really seem like the type."

"The romantic type?"

"That's...not really what I meant?"

She snorts with laughter. She laughs hard enough that she has to hold to cigarette away from her face for a few moments. Bucky hasn't laughed with that kind of enthusiasm in a long while.

"What?" He can't stop himself from smiling in the face of her amusement.

"Steve is not as tightly buttoned as he'd like you to believe."

Bucky purses his lips, curious as to where this line of conversation was taking them.

"Really? He seems extremely old fashioned."

Natasha ashes her cigarette, nodding as she presses her lips together. She takes a drag and exhales before she speaks again.

"Listen, I know he seems very straight-edged. Like an old fashioned bigot who seems like he'd be really polite and maybe a little judgmental on occasion, right?"

Bucky nods, inhaling smoke and enjoying the burn on his tongue and throat. The atmosphere is nice. He hasn't sincerely chatted-gossiped with someone else for a solid eight months. The last time had been on a street corner outside a nightclub with a name that was a little too on the nose. He recalls the evening briefly, smirking on the exhale as Natasha continues speaking.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, but Steve Rogers is about as far from perfect as you're gonna get in this group."

"There's a group?"

"Oh yeahhh. Big time. You should see us at parties."

Bucky represses the urge to make an overly snide comment about how he used to be at parties. "How many are there?"

Natasha pauses, Bucky can see her counting in her head as she presses the remainder of her cigarette into the side of the pot of the drooping plant.

"Well, there's Steve and Sam, who you've already met. Clint, me, Bruce, Tony-"

"He seems fun. I heard a bit about him already."

"Yes well, Tony is definitely...something. Anyway, there's a lot of us. I'm sure you'll meet everyone if you hang around long enough."

Bucky doesn't hate people. But he also doesn't like the idea of being surrounded by so many of Steve's close friends either. He prefers the company of strangers. There's less of a chance of attachment and little to no room for disappointment.

"So you're saying Steve isn't my perfect prince charming? Not the shining white knight?"

This gets a quiet laugh from Natasha. She crosses her arms, pursing her lips as if she's contemplating something controversial. Ultimately she shrugs. "He's less of a prince and more like a really well-meaning but bumbling thief? He doesn't necessarily mean to steal anything but he can't stop the bad things that happen around him. And he can't stop people from freely giving him everything."

"Why a thief?"

"He takes more than he means to and he has trouble letting go of things when everything is said and done. Make no mistake. Steve Roger's will steal your heart and he'll keep it for as long as he can get away with it."

Bucky feels all the air leave him at once. His chest feels pressed. Tight. This conversation has taken a turn he really hadn't been expecting. "Wow. Um. Well. Got any advice?"

"Yeah. Don't let him get away with it."

Lately, his mornings have been starting something like:

"I found you!"

The squeal of a child has been Bucky's alarm clock for the last five days. There's a blanket thrown over his face, which has done nothing to stop the child from finding him. He groans when he feels something poking one of his legs.

"Are you awake? Wake up!"

"Why don't we let him sleep, bud?" Thank God. The voice of reason has appeared.

"Cause. He makes really good pancakes. And bacon."

"I could-"

"Noooo! Dad, you have to come help me defeat the robot frog army in the backyard."

Children are both a blessing and a curse. Bucky was learning this first hand the more time he spent sleeping on Steve's couch.

Eventually, he lands on curse. It takes him a few weeks to come to this conclusion. But it all begins with a "simple" outing.

"I can't do this."

"Oh come on it won't be that bad." Steve thinks he's kidding.

Bucky isn't kidding. "No seriously. I can't-"

"It'll be fine. This will be good for you." Steve says, with no regard for the dreary aura Bucky was trying to exude as clearly as he could.

He scowls (and he doesn't care if Steve thinks it makes him look like a wet cat). Behind him, Peter is chattering away excitedly with James. They're talking about Star Wars and about the latest LEGO release. Bucky tries to focus on their conversation because it makes him feel more at ease. He doesn't have a clue what half of the LEGO references mean but he can follow the Star Wars talk with moderate ease.

He doesn't like being tested. Clearly, Steve thinks he's ready to tackle the public in a big way.

Peter ducks into the back seat of the Volkswagen Bucky had arrived in, with little James close behind him. The two of them hardly pause as they shuffle into the back seat and hunt for their seatbelts. Bucky reluctantly and slowly sinks into the passenger seat, glowering at Steve the entire time.

"Oh come on. It'll be fun!"

"I would rather shove a cactus up my ass."

Bucky watches Peter and Steve both swivel their heads to look at him in unison and almost laughs. Peter looks like he is about to witness a murder and Steve looks beyond scandalized.

Little James squeals in delight from the backseat. "That's a dime."

"Language." Steve hisses. It's like watching an after school special play out in person. Steve is even wearing a vintage sports sweater and dad jeans. Bucky chances a glance at Steve's shoes and finds an old sneaker brand he hasn't seen in years. He looks like the ultimate ninety's dad. Steve starts the car after wagging his finger and chiding Bucky about the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt and swearing carelessly. It feels like ages before he actually starts guiding them toward the street.

"Language?" Bucky hasn't been scolded for his language since he gave the debate captain head in high school.

"Yes. Language."

"Steve doesn't like swear words." Peter supplies.

Bucky rolls his eyes, stretching one arm along the top of the bench seat him and Steve are sharing. He stops his fingers just before they touch Steve. Looking over his shoulder he asks, "You got any cash kid?"

Peter begins the tedious task of digging through his pockets. First the hoodie, then his jean pockets. "I have like two dollars I think."

"Great. How much does the F word cost?"

"A whole dollar!" Little James chirps, throwing up a single finger to illustrate his point.

"Perfect." Bucky swipes the cash from Peter's hand and eyes Steve. "First. The chances of me censoring myself are zilch. Second. I would rather ram my head in a fucking blender than go to the hellhole we're on our way to. I don't give a damn what you say it's going to be awful. Third, the food tastes like a flaming pile of shit and if you think I'm above telling kids to fuck off you're wrong."

The car falls silent.

Peter presses his mouth together at first but has to fold a hand over his mouth to hide the grin. Steve looks like he might have a small aneurysm. And Little James takes this moment to say, "Um. ? You owe like sixty cents."

Bucky sighs. "I apologize. I'll withdraw the first F word I used."

"That's not how debt works," Steve says quietly. Bucky can tell he's trying to keep a stern face but he's cracking in the face of the children's laughter.

"I'm good for it. I'll get it to you by the end of the week."


Steve's eyebrows meet his hairline as he smoothly changes lanes on the highway. Bucky snorts at the kid's enthusiasm.

"I'm not sure about the conversion rate of Chuck. E. Cheese coins to actual cash though. It might be kind of a rip-off." Peter says.

"We'll get it sorted out I'm sure." Bucky mutters.

"I'm sure it won't be as bad as you're thinking." Steve tries to look earnest when he speaks. Bucky takes a moment to silently bless him before he rolls his eyes.

"Oh my god, it's so much worse than I imagined," Bucky says as they exit the car.

For the record, it should be mentioned early on that Bucky sincerely tries with all his heart, to not lose his mind. Really, he does. The first step into the restaurant-on a Friday-feels like he's willingly walking on hot coals. Peter leads James toward a row of racing games, so Bucky trudges after Steve like a dead man walking. Steve requests a large table, Bucky grabs onto his shoulder as soon as they turn away from the host stand to wait for their table.

"Why did you get such a big table?"

Steve looks at him like it should be obvious, but he manages a sweet smile at the same time. It's a patented Steve Rogers talent: being slightly judgemental and polite at once. "Some folks are gonna be joining us."

Great. An ambush. Just what he'd wanted today, a test within a test.

"Are they bringing alcohol?"

As a standard, Bucky knows that he has an addictive personality. They'd gone over it in rehab several times. That you shouldn't trade one addiction for another and that if you're going to live a "clean and sober life" it's better to avoid all temptations. It's highly recommended and one of Steve's specialties. Steve has spent a lot of his time with alcoholics. He's spent even more of his time picking up the pieces when one of them falls off the wagon.

"One drink is too many. And one thousand will never be enough."

Bucky rolls his eyes. Steve is big on the recovery quotes. He has most of them memorized. He reminds Bucky of those people that know a fun fact about every city and state in America. Like one of those peppy parents who always wants to go camping and instill life lessons while the family fishes. He tries to picture James and his cardboard suit on a fishing trip with Steve and Natasha.

It's hard to picture them as a couple. Steve and Peggy make more sense. His stomach clenches with jealousy.

He waves away the sentiment, and Steve gives him a tired smile. Bucky tries not to sound too aggravated when he says, "Yeah, yeah. Who else is coming?"

"A few friends." Steve slips his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. He looks out into the blended sea of children and young teens. Then nods when he spots Peter and James at the machine that spits out coins for the arcade games.

"Are they bringing more kids?" Bucky watches the way Steve's face lights up when he looks at his kids. It makes his heart feel warm and his stomach flutters, unclenching a little. He might very well melt if he doesn't get a handle on whatever these feelings for Steve are. It's only going to lead to trouble.

Steve grins, and Bucky knows he's done for.

Thankfully the first friend that arrives is someone Bucky recognizes. Upon entry, the first thing Natasha does is wave at Peter and the kid-who have taken up shop at the Jurassic Park game-and she looks strangely regal doing it. How did she even spot them in the midst of the chaos?

There's a man with her; a man who honestly looks like he might also be right out of a spy film. It's odd how well they match each other. His color scheme is made up of sleek fabric and dark colors. Although his outfit looks more geared for outdoor sabotage in contrast to Natasha's indoor corporate espionage look. Both sides of his head are shaved down far enough that Bucky can basically see the shape of the man's skull. He looks stern but most of it is from the outfit and the sunglasses he's wearing.

He's got a hand pressed to the small of Natasha's back and he's leaning close enough to have his mouth pressed to her ear. They look like they're discussing the nation's secrets. And could probably pass for secret service if they both wore suits and a matching pair of shades. They spot Steve and wave in unison, but don't approach. The man abruptly glances back toward the front entrance. As he does this, the door of the entrance swings open and shortly after Sam backs through. He's carrying what looks like an extremely heavy set of bags. Too many bags for just one person.

A group is clustered together right behind him, and at first, it looks like they might all get stuck in the narrow doorway-but they manage to push through individually. Like a plastic film bursting open from too much pressure, they ooze in one by one like jello figures.

Steve waves them over, "Hey guys! You made it!"

True to form of the gentlemanly do-gooder, Steve saunters over to help lighten the burden from Sam's shoulders. The group that had followed Sam in is comprised of three more adults and three children. Bucky notes that two of the kids have strikingly dark hair. One child-a girl-has her hair tightly wound in braided buns that are reminiscent of the Star Wars princess from the seventies. The boy frowning beside her is glaring daggers at the third child, which is another girl but with the distinctly orange hair of a ginger. She's attempting (he thinks) to put her hair in a high ponytail. The three of them look like a ragtag bunch wearing clothes that make them look like they're about to be shipped off to summer camp.

The three adult men accompanying them are as conspicuous and different from each other as the children are. The first man, who is the tallest, and the blondest man Bucky has ever seen, approaches with that intimidating sort of friendly confidence. His hand is gripping Bucky's and shaking it within moments. He's got a strong jaw and even stronger smile. Bucky feels like the expression he makes in return is similar to that of a deer caught in the headlights.

"Thor." Oh and he has one of those deep velvet voices too, "Nice to meet you. I hear you've been having some trouble and Steve is helping you recover."

It's not exactly the greeting Bucky had expected, but he isn't surprised that all of Steve's friends seem to know about his situation. He's a little distracted by the fact that this man has a striking resemblance to a girl he knew once. Well "knew" was a relative term. He'd really only known her for the length of time it took to trade oral favors in between scenes and during the intermission of the school's rendition of Great Expectations.

Bucky tries not to frown as he returns the grip on the other man's hand.

"Don," Sam scolds. "Lay off. The man has enough to deal with."

"And would you stop introducing yourself as Thor? It just sounds strange." One of the other adults, a mild-mannered looking man with glasses, is the next to offer a hand. He looks like a professor and just as out of place as the rest of them. Instead of taking the initiative like Thor (or was it Don?) had done, he waits patiently for Bucky to take his offered hand.

"Try not to take him too seriously. His real name is Donald." This guy is much calmer, his voice is more soothing, spreading evenly over syllables. Like the sort of butter that practically melts as it leaves the knife. "I'm Bruce. Don gave himself that nickname, but none of us actually call him that."

"Speak for yourself." The third adult is with them now, grinning with the sort of easy smile that reminds Bucky of a guy he used to know in the army. It's a bit haunting. Makes his chest constrict as they shake hands and his eyes sting. "Scott."

Scott nods at him by way of a greeting, which Bucky appreciates because he's getting a little tired of touching so many new people in such a short span of time. Looking at them as a whole they are a very big and very weird group. They look like haphazard puzzle pieces that shouldn't fit together but

Bucky had met a lot of good people in his life. After a while, it became easy to spot them. The people standing here trading names and handshakes with a known drug addict-acting as if he were a new neighbor-were good people. The sort of good people with a lot to lose. The longer they stand in front of Bucky, smiling and offering small talk, the more he can see the differences between them and him. It's a distinct sense of isolation that sets in when he stands in a room full of people.

That feeling of being alone even when your friends are around.

"You got us a table?" Natasha is lifting her shades off her nose. Bucky didn't hear her approach, or notice the moment she and her companion flanked his sides.


The question is aimed at Steve so Bucky follows Natasha's eye line and waits for him to lead the way. Without asking, as Steve passes, Bucky slips one of the bags out of his hand and trails after him. Natasha remains close to his side and that eases the compression that had set in moments before.

Bucky doesn't learn the children's names until all the adults are sitting at the table and the three kids are standing in the aisle waiting impatiently to be dismissed. One of the girls has her arms crossed in front of her. She's looking pointedly at Scott.

"Cass," He says as he slowly pulls a few bills from his wallet. "I just want you to appreciate this moment because I will never be coming to this location again. Their salad bar is missing mushrooms."

When he hands over the cash the little girl, Cass, giggles. She looks ready to burst from excitement. The ginger girl is up next and she's trying to aim a hopeful look at Bruce. The boy is looking as well, trying his best to look pitiful. From the sidelines, Steve presses his lips together to keep from smiling or laughing.

The seating arrangement Steve has procured for them consists of a table of eight and a table of five. The kids and Peter are at the table of five. While the rest of the adults are at the larger table with one empty seat. The tables are right next to each other, close enough that some of the adults can (in theory) swivel around and exact justice at any given moment.

Scott is on the end closest to the kids, then it's Sam, Bucky, and Steve. Across the table sit Bruce, Donald (or Thor-Bucky hasn't decided which), Natasha, and Clint.

"Why are you both trying to gang up on me?" Bruce sighs, he looks resigned to the fact that he'll be handing out money.

Donald slaps a hand on the man's back with a hearty chuckle. "Come now, Bruce! Let the kids have some fun before the trip."

Bruce looks about as excited for this mystery trip as Bucky felt when Steve had announced they were heading to Chuck E. Cheese. He understood that pain well. Natasha reaches across the table with two twenties and waves them toward the girl like they're made of candy.

"Ginny dear, take this and you and Howie go play some games with everyone okay?" She says this with a grin. Beside her, Clint looks as if she's giving the keys to his car away.

The girl, Ginny, squeals in delight. She takes the cash with more grace than Bucky could have mustered at that age, and the three children dash off to get lost in the sea of other kids.

"God, what are they giving these kids? Crack?" Scott props an elbow on the table and rests his chin on the shelf his palm creates.

"I think it's in the pizza." Sam reflects, looking severely unimpressed with the menu in his hands. It's bent in several spots and doesn't look particularly diverse.

"It's likely in the soda. It's way easier to distribute large doses." Bruce supplies as he cleans the lenses of his glasses with the corner of his cardigan.

"I think that kid over there us throwing up in that trash can." Bucky is watching the kid stand on the tips of his toes to be able to get his little head over the rim of the can.

"I'm pretty sure there's a kid asleep in the tunnels on the ceiling." Clint is staring off to the right, toward the playground area.

"Where?" Donald sounds much more excited than he should about this news, even going as far as rising from his seat to get a better look.

"Oh I see her, she's sleeping to the left of the girl on top of that slide that's trying to kick her shoes off and the boy that's eating ice cream," Sam says.

"Um. I think that's glue actually." Scott is squinting and now the majority of them are watching this scene play out. "Should we like call someone?"

Clint snorts, "Yeah and say what? Excuse me I think that kid over there is eating glue could you confiscate it or give him some markers and paper to go with it?"

"Well, by the end of lunch he could have a whole art project in his stomach," Natasha says, smiling down at menu laid out in front of her. "Ooo boys look. They're having a pizza special today."

Bruce slides his glasses back up his nose and picks up his own menu. "Specials?"

"Whatever it is, you order it. I am not arguing with a bunch of little kids about what kind of pizza we're getting today." It's the first thing Sam has said that Bucky agrees with.

"I think someone just peed on the playground," Scott announces like he's commentating on a horse race. "Oop. That little girl just stepped in it. Annnd now they're both crying. I see an employee-a teen no more than sixteen-trying to make his way through the crowd. He sidesteps an angry parent, ducks behind some arcade games, narrowly misses being run over by that forty-year-old looking man child-aaaaand he's done it! He has made it to the site of the accident. He's made it."

"You have way too much time on your hands," Sam says it but Bucky is pretty sure he heard him laughing during the entire commentary.

The rest of the adults all sigh in unison.

It isn't so bad. With Steve next to him and Sam looking equally as miserable as Bucky feels it might be a tolerable experience. Bucky holds that thought for approximately forty seconds.

Then the animatronic rodents take the stage.

"Okay so in hindsight maybe I shouldn't have brought you today," Steve says this with a hand on Bucky's shoulder. He's crouching next to Bucky like he's going to have to carry him inside.

Bucky is seated on the curb in the back parking lot beside the Volkswagen. He manages to look up at Steve with something slightly below malice. Steve manages to look offended and endearing at the same time.

"I can't keep leaving you alone. That's counterproductive for your recovery. We're making progress though. You've gotta see that."

"Right. Because I'm clearly the one who needs to adjust my perspective on the situation." It's snarkier than he intends, but his heart is still pounding and it's taking all his focus to keep the air flowing in and out of his lungs smoothly. Bucky looks back down at the asphalt because he can't stand to look at Steve's face at the moment.

"What is that supposed to mean?" He can tell Steve is getting just as frustrated. This treatment is not going the way he expected.

"Steve," Natasha's feet come into few, then her legs, but Bucky forces himself to look up quickly to keep from lingering too long anywhere he shouldn't. When he looks at her face she manages to offer him a small smile. "James is looking for you and Bucky."

Steve sighs heavily. It's not like he has to tell the kid Santa isn't real. Bucky doesn't understand what the tone of disappointment is for. "I'll go talk to him. Can you…?"

He doesn't say it but the intention is clear in the way he gestures toward Bucky. Make sure to keep an eye on him. The feelings of panic and stress he'd felt earlier were melting into something else. Boiling into a hard ball of anger in his stomach. He wasn't helpless. He just made the wrong choice tonight.

Natasha and Bucky watch Steve leave in silence.

"Let me guess, Steve dropped this outing on you at the last minute?" Sometimes when Natasha speaks it's like she's revealing someone else's secrets. It makes Bucky feel privileged and included in a way he can't really explain.

"How could you tell?"

"Just a hunch." She winks and Bucky tries not to smile in response.

A Range Rover pulls up in front of them, with the passenger side facing them. The passenger window rolls down and Clint offers them a small wave. Bucky only sees that it's Clint when he stands up.

"Come on. You can have shotgun." Natasha is already heading for the backseat when she says it. If it had been anyone else Bucky might have hesitated. But the idea of going back into the hellhole with the children hopped up on sugar and adrenaline makes Bucky want to stick his head in an oven.

He slips into the passenger seat and nods at Clint. He receives a similar nod in return.

"Where to?" Clint looks in the rearview mirror at Natasha.

"Let's take him on the Brazilian tour." She says, snapping her seatbelt into place.

"The what now?" Bucky barely gets his seatbelt buckled before the car peels away from the curb and swings out of the parking lot.

"We have a series of spots we like to go to. So to make it easier to plan without planning we divided them into tours."

"That sounds like addictive behavior to me. Have you thought about seeking help?" Bucky chirps, with the best impression of one of the clerks that had looked after him in rehab that he can muster. Clint chuckles beside him.

They take him to a strip of bars and clubs. Honestly, he's amazed that they find parking so easily on a Friday night. Some of the spots are just open, like they're waiting for first place is relatively quiet in comparison to the roar of the children's establishment they'd just been at. The moment Bucky gets his fingers around a drink he feels all the negative emotion from the day leave him. Despite the clutter of the people in the bar, the burn of alcohol draining from the cup, down his throat brings him a sense of ease.

The first thing he drains is a shot of tequila. After another five minutes of small talk between himself, Natasha, and Clint another shot is slid in front of him. He eyes Natasha but she only shrugs and nods toward the end of the bar. A brunette woman with red lipstick smiles at him, quickly looking away with manufactured shyness.

Bucky grins, and silently raises the shot in a toast before throwing it back.

Clint sets something else in front of him. Bucky doesn't take much time to process it or the fact he'd just taken three shots in the span of five minutes with an empty stomach. He doesn't keep track of how long they spend at the first location, but by the time the full tilt and warmth of the buzz hits him, they're at the third place on their list.

Somewhere between places three and four, he stops drinking. Bucky wants to enjoy the warmth, the feeling of being weightless but still in relative control. Now they're at some pool on a rooftop, each of them stretched out on a lounge chair beside the glistening light of a pool. Natasha and Clint are on either side of him. He feels secure for the first time in months.

Clint passes Natasha a glass full of clear liquid that has a rainbow bendy straw bobbing back and forth in it. He thinks he hears Clint make a remark about her being awfully thirsty.

"Have you broken your record yet?" Bucky lolls his head to the side to watch Clint grin at the redhead across from him.

"If you're talking about alcoholic beverages she hasn't had a single one. So I doubt it." To his credit, Bucky manages to speak without slurring too much.

The other two look genuinely surprised, Clint more so than Natasha. Her expression melts into one of soft amusement. "When did you notice?"

"By like the fourth shot you gave me." He hadn't been counting his own, but for some reason, it had been easy to keep track of hers. Clint doesn't speak. He's staring at her very intently and if Bucky were less drunk and more sober and in control of himself he might have picked up on the atmosphere a little sooner. "Er, you like pregnant or what?"

Honestly, there are better ways to announce a thing like this. He doesn't mean it to sound like a joke when he says it, but neither of his companions look particularly upset. Well. Clint sort of does. But Bucky can't tell if he starts tearing up because he's pissed or because he's happy or because he's miserable or drunk. Clint shifts to rest his elbows on his knees. He covers his face in his hands.

"Woah. Dude. M'Sorry I was just kiddin'. Relax." Bucky pats Clint on the back haphazardly the best that he can without falling out of his chair. He's leaning so far over that the chair starts to tilt. His balance is off and his body jerks back out of reflex, but he relaxes when he feels Natasha's hand steady him.

"It's a happy cry." She says, but frowns when Clint's shoulders begin to shake. "I think."

"I just," When he lifts his head the tears are freely flowing. It's the sort of crying a person does when they've lost all hope. The sort of crying that makes you want to cry when you see it because it's so heartbreaking. Bucky feels his eyes sting. Pain prickles right behind his eyes. The hand on Clint's back stops, his fingers clutching the fabric. It almost feels like he's the lifeline that's keeping Clint anchored to the spot.

Natasha moves, standing and circling the set of chairs to flank Clint's other side. She curls an arm around his shoulders, right above where Bucky's hand is still clutching onto him. The man shakes with grief.

"I thought-"

"No, it's good. It's really good. I just-what if it's like last time?"

"Don't. It won't be like last time." She pulls him closer, her hand on Clint's shoulder moving minutely in soothing circles. This feels like a scene Bucky shouldn't be privy to. It feels like he's in the wrong scene, the wrong movie, hell... the wrong genre altogether. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I wanted to be sure."

The next sudden sob shocks all three of them. Bucky looks around blankly, trying to remember when he started crying and when he started investing so heavily in people he didn't know. He feels a hand curl around the back of his head. A gentle squeeze.

"Thanks, man." Clint's voice is shaking, quietly fragile.

At the sympathetic crying makes Clint chuckle. They sit like that for a few long moments. Natasha hugging Clint, Bucky with a hand anchored to Clint's shoulder, Clint with his hand on the back of Bucky's head.

Clint is the first one to move, carefully easing out of the others grips and standing slowly. Natasha takes his place on the seat he recently vacated. She and Bucky are left staring up at him as he paces back and forth a few times, before announcing that he needed to get himself a drink.

"He needs some time to process." She says by way of explanation, leaning back in the chair until she's sprawled out like she was on the previous chair. From this angle, she looks exhausted but relieved. Bucky wonders how long she's been holding in that secret. It was hard to keep loved ones in the dark at first, but with enough practice, it can become second nature. Bucky has learned over the years that lying in one of his best skills.

"But...weren't you smoking a few weeks ago?"

She shrugs. "That was my last bad decision before I took the test."

"You know..." Bucky's eyes finally feel dry, but his breath is still shaky. He looks at her and tries to keep himself quiet while she speaks. "I used to have nothing."

"I used to spend a lot of my time doing anything and everything I could to escape reality. To escape the fact that my life wasn't the way I wanted it to be. I didn't have the family I wanted. I didn't have a real job." She laughs-but it sounds watery, like she's trying to hide the sadness beneath the sound. "I used to take a lot of pills."

He doesn't think before he says it. "Yikes."

She doesn't look offended. "Right? I've known Clint for a while, but nothing ever happened. I couldn't get him or...anything that I wanted really. I got a lot of attention and gifts. I lucked into some situations. The thing about most addictive things is that you can never get enough of whatever it is. The hunger just grows and grows. And eventually…"

"You crash."

Nodding, she sits up and edges toward the pool. "Right in this pool actually."

She's looking at the water, scooting closer and closer until the tips of her shoes are right on the edge. If she stretches any further her shoes will get wet. "I almost drowned, but Steve pulled me out. Ironically, I was on a date of sorts with him." The ends of her hair brush across her shoulders as she turns her head back to look at him.

"Ahhh. So the plot thickens. Most places usually frown on the whole 'date your sponsor and have kids with them' thing. Pretty sure it's written on the front bulletin board somewhere."

She laughs and this time it sounds more genuine. "Sam was the one that helped me get it together. Steve was helpful with...other things."

"Do I even want to know how it happened?"

"Nope." Clint reappeared with a drink in each hand. He extends one to Bucky and edges himself onto the chair behind Natasha. "You really don't want to know. Those two would make a hooker blush."

Bucky nearly misses the chance to swallow his drink. "Steve?"

Natasha leans back, heedless to Clint's attempts to enjoy his drink. He moves his arms out of the way to accommodate her, settling them around her when she leans back. "I told you. Steve is like a dirty old man."

"Oh, I have got to hear this." He feels giddy, like a kid on Christmas about to unwrap his presents.

Clint sighs heavily. "Don't say I didn't warn you, man."

When Bucky steps through the door he only has two things on his mind: falling asleep and not throwing up on the couch.

There are two approaches to coming home in the middle of the night. The first approach involves vaulting over the brick "fence" that surrounds the yard, scuttling across the mix of grass and concrete, praying the sliding glass door (or one of the million windows) is open, and scampering inside. The second approach involves going in through the front, where the door often gets stuck and needs to be slammed shut in order to actually close, sneaking by Steve's area (which-good luck because he always leaves his door open), and quietly getting onto the leather couch without letting it squeak too much.

Bucky opts for the first choice, and very nearly has a heart attack when he sees Steve staring at him from the living room. It's like he's fifteen and sneaking back home from a "friend's" house. Natasha had wanted to bring him inside herself, but he didn't need her getting blamed for something that wasn't under her control. It wasn't her job to keep other people sober.

The back door slides open with little ceremony.

"You comin' in or what?" Steve sounds like a tired old man. There's disappointment, resignation, and something else under the surface.

Bucky tries to walk in without staggering and immediately slumps onto the couch the moment he gets close enough. The couch dips slightly under his weight.

It dips further when Steve sits next to him.


Bucky bristles at the name, he flinches and Steve looks equally ruffled by the use of Bucky's first name. Steve holds up a hand as if he were trying to stop Bucky from flying off the handle. He's acting like he said the wrong thing. "Sorry. This is just...serious. So I thought I should use your first name."

"Well, let's not do that again anytime soon."

Steve has a lot of different smiles. Well. He has many different variations of the same smile and they're all dazzling. The smile he was giving Bucky now was something like "I'm really trying not to lose my shit right now. Could you please sit there and shut up?"

Of course, since Steve has the face of an angel it probably read to most people like "Aw you just can't help yourself can you?"

"Why did you leave?" Steve asks, and honestly, it isn't the question Bucky expected.

It becomes hard to look at Steve. So he looks away because he knows what he says next will hurt. "I didn't want to be there to begin with."

"It's good for you to be out with people. I was trying-" Steve speaks with such conviction. He's really convinced that he's doing the right thing.

"You were trying to make me be something I'm not. I'm not the guy that goes to Chuck. E Cheese with other people's kids. I'm also not the guy that has dinner at six in the evening. I'm not a pet, Steve. You can't domesticate me to get me to follow your routine."

The space between them is filled with silence and tension. It presses on Bucky's shoulders, falls on the lines of his skin, pressing down on his chest. His whole body feels like it's clenched like a tightly closed fist. His heart is racing, his heartbeat thundering in his ears. Beside him Steve is quiet. He can't chance a look. Not yet. It's too much.

He can't look.

He doesn't.

Not until he feels a hand settle on his shoulder.

"You're right."

It's like being dunked in freezing water. His entire body ignites with pinpricks and tingles. Bucky has never been so aware of another person touching him in his life. When Steve sighs, Bucky watches the way his chest rises and falls. His eyes drift up, pausing on the neck briefly, and stopping just short of Steve's mouth.

Despite the space, there isn't much room to breathe.

He doesn't really process his next actions.

"Listen, James, I'm really-" Foregoing any sense of caution, Bucky reaches across the rift of the empty couch, curls a hand round the back of Steve's neck, and pulls him till their mouths fit together. He feels Steve pause for the briefest of moments before his mouth is moving just as eagerly as Bucky's. The hand on his shoulder slides down his arm, slipping underneath to rest on his side. It's like hot coal burning in the pit of a fire. The heat is steady and radiating through him.

Kiss after kiss melts together.

Steve's other hand comes to rest on Bucky's free side, his fingers forming a fist in the fabric of Bucky's shirt. He half pulls, half lifts Bucky toward his side of the couch, practically dragging the man onto his lap. It's hard to keep track of everything because he's is sinking-drowning in all of Steve's touches. Each kiss is more desperate than the last, his fingers are in Steve's hair, carding through the blonde strands. Steve's hair is a mix of soft and hard with whatever gel he uses.

"Fuck." He's practically panting into Steve's mouth and all they've done is kiss.

"That's usually the idea." Having never heard this man utter so much as a swear word without an apology, the sudden change of tone leaves Bucky speechless. Sending a shudder of warmth right to his toes.


Steve is the one to close the gap, smiling into each kiss that he presses to Bucky's mouth.

Steve's family is home. Or at least, Peter is. There's a good chance either of the kids could walk in and see them right now and the thought of getting caught in a compromising position with Steve of all people sends a chill down Bucky's spine. He dips under Steve's mouth, trailing kisses from his jaw down his neck, stopping in the small dip above his collarbone to start sucking a bruise into the skin.

"Oh no," Steve says, and suddenly his hands are on Bucky's hips. The next thing Bucky registers is his back hitting the coach when Steve shuffles them so that he's on top. "If you do that I won't be able to focus."

The sudden shift made a few long hairs fall in his face, Bucky cards a hand through his hair in an attempt to tame them back into place. Then he has to reach down to adjust himself because Steve's abrupt assertiveness has made him unbearably hard. Steve watches him with hungry eyes.

"I'm not even sorry."

"Well if you sit still and behave you might find out why me having my focus is a good thing." Steve grins at him, and the sight is so refreshing and hot that a fresh jolt of heat sings right through his body. He can feel a mirrored heat pressing against him as Steve shifts down to settle his weight. He tries to help accommodate Steve as he threads his belt through buckle, but it's hard to stay focused when he's being assaulted by the realness of the moment. Steve is here and hard and stripping him. It's surreal.

By the time he comes back to the present Steve is tugging the pants off his legs. The moment Steve's fingers slip under the waistband of his briefs, Bucky whimpers because he might crash right here. It's new and nice and warm. He hasn't been touched by another person like this in awhile. But this time feels different. Like this might be a turning point in his life.

He inhales as the briefs slide down his legs. His heartbeat is still roaring in his ears. He's not a virgin by any means, but in this moment he might as well be. HIs body is so hot. Bruning with need and liquor. His mind goes blank. What was he supposed to do? Steve's hands are warm, his eyes look bright and happy, the pupils wide and hungry.

"Breathe," Steve says quietly, pulling Bucky's shirt over his head. With the fabric over his ears, Bucky almost misses it.

He hadn't realized that he'd stopped breathing until it was brought to his attention.

Now Steve is leaning over him, looking delighted at the prospect of having a cock in his mouth. He looks torn between diving for it and backing off completely.

"We don't have to do this." He says it as he's kneading Bucky's thighs. It almost rings innocent. He knows deep down that if he wanted this to stop that Steve would. In a heartbeat.

"It's fine. I need this." And he does. He's been so pent up the last few months. Smoking and jacking off have helped tamper it but this-the passion of intimacy, the lingering touches, the way it feels to have someone really looking at you-can't be simulated. He leans up to stroke his thumbs along Steve's cheekbones. Not really directing him one way or the other. He's just cradling Steve's face and staring at him reverently. After a moment he says, "Please."

The smile Steve gives him is like a bolt of lightning. It's blinding and bright.

Then Steve's head dips down. Heat encompasses him. Bucky's whole body trembles, flushing with the rush of white-hot pleasure. The vacuum of Steve's mouth pulls him in. His spine stretches pleasantly when his back starts arching off the couch. It feels like he's screaming, but all Bucky can do is gasp. Like he's been underwater and can't get enough air. One of his hands fists in Steve's hair, trying to grasp at the longer strands on the top of his head.

If it were possible to die by soul extraction through dick sucking Bucky was pretty sure this is how it would go.

He feels Steve nudge his legs apart and obliges a little too willingly. He nearly knocks Steve's leg off the couch in his enthusiasm. It's cramped. It feels like the two of them are squeezed on the surface of a penny. But all Bucky can do is throw his head back, bite his lip to keep from shouting, and hang on for dear life.

It's ultimately Steve that resolves the problem. He suddenly sits up, coming off his cock with a distinct pop, licks his lips, and gets his hands under Bucky's thighs. Moving carefully, he slips off the couch and maneuvers them until they're in a more comfortable position. He urges Bucky to sit upright and shoves a pillow underneath the small of his back so that his hips are tilted toward him and accessible. The whole ordeal leaves Bucky squirming with impatience. It feels a little like he's on display.

"Now, now, patience is a virtue." Steve chuckles, stooping low to press a kiss on the juncture of Bucky's thigh.


Steve licks a line up his inner thigh, and it takes all Bucky's willpower not to scream. He shakily exhales, "South Dakota."

"Mmhm." Steve hums, drifting kisses back up his thigh, closer to the shaft-stopping just short of it with a huff of hot air.

"California. Steve."

"Uh yeah?" He's nuzzling him now. Nuzzling.

"Steve, if you make me go through the southern states you're gonna regret it."

Steve has the audacity to peek up at him and blink like he couldn't fathom what he meant. He kisses the base.

Bucky sighs. "I tried to warn you."

During all the shuffling to get into a better position, he'd lost his grip on Steve and was resigned to laying there and letting Steve have his merry little way with him. However, upon the discovery of Steve's assholery, Bucky has had a change of heart regarding his conduct.

Fitting his hands on either side of Steve's face, he urges the other man's head up and forwards till Steve's mouth his pressed to the head of his cock. "I suggest you relax your throat."

Bucky waits until Steve nods before he pulls the other man down. The rush of heat is back, but Bucky doesn't stop until he hits home at the back of Steve's throat. To his credit, it only takes him gagging once for Steve to start going along with the pace Bucky is trying to set. It feels slick, their movements falling into a synced rhythm. Bucky watches Steve's head bob in a haze. The way this feels right now trumps any of his highs, any buzz, anything before this moment. He watches his cock disappear, in and out, in and out, relishing in the way Steve's throat feels when he swallows, tightening around him.

Steve's hands slide up his thighs, slipping lower and under as they get higher up. Soon Bucky can feel Steve pressing against that tight ring of muscle and tries to moan as quietly as he can. He won't last. He tries to say as much when he feels a finger breach, but he loses any coherency as Steve takes him all the way into his throat and swallows around him again. He tries to pull Steve off, tries to warn him that all the stimulation is going to make him finish much too fast.

He feels another finger enter, "Steve I-"

Steve finds his prostate and the last coherent thought he has is something like; don't scream there are kids in the house. Don't scream, don't scream.

However, Steve Rogers is not the sort of man to ease his lovers into an orgasm. Steve Rogers is the sort of man that finds your sweet spot and assaults it until you're left writhing and keening beneath him. Bucky lasts for approximately sixty-two more seconds before his body tenses, muscles going taunt like the string of a bow. He feels stretched out and tight. Then a sudden flash of white-hot heat hits him and everything releases.

He can only slump against the couch, twitching with delight as Steve works him through it. When they're done, Steve wipes his mouth with the back of one hand and uses the other to pull a blanket over Bucky's prone form.

"You can shower in the morning." Steve's voice drifts to his ears from somewhere above. It sounds like Steve is heading back to his room. Bucky doesn't contemplate this for long. He passes out shortly after.