Shared Life Experiences

Part Three: Seven Minutes in Heaven

“So, are they, like, a thing?” Clint asked Nat after supper one day when he was visiting the tower.

Nat shrugged. “Not officially. They definitely used to be a thing, but now they’re just kinda… dancing around each other.”

Clint nodded and looked over at Steve and Bucky who were sitting on the couch talking quietly.

“I know that look,” Nat said. “You’re not gonna make us play Spin the Bottle again, are you?”

“I stand by that decision,” Clint said confidently. “It was fun and informative. I discovered that basically none of us are straight – which was new information for more than one of our teammates.” He looked pointedly over at Tony and Bruce.

“True.”

“And I found out that Thor is a great kisser.”

“Alright, I get it.” Nat smiled. “But what are you planning for them?”

“Just another good ol’ classic game originally played by preteens that makes one confront their feelings.” He grinned before turning to the rest of the group. “Anyone up for a fun game of Seven Minutes in Heaven.”

“This is ridiculous,” Bruce said as they all wrote their names on pieces of paper and tossed them into a bowl.

“Yeah, what are we, twelve?” Tony chimed in.

“Remember how much Spin the Bottle did for the group?” Clint asked. “This will help us work together better.”

Nat rolled her eyes but tossed her name into the bowl as well.

“I’m a little confused,” Steve said, gamely writing his name down as well. “How does this game work?”

“It’s quite simple,” Clint said, mixing up the slips of paper in the bowl. “Two names are drawn at random and then they have to spend seven minutes in a dark, enclosed space together.” He looked around. “Like a broom closet or something.”

“A closet?” Bucky asked, incredulously.

“Yeah, I know, it’s a bit on the nose for all of us,” Clint said. “Bear with me.”

“But what’s the point of the game?” Steve asked.

“It gives horny teenagers a chance to make out,” Nat said.

“Or, adults who are bad at expressing their feelings.” Clint wiggled his eyebrows. “So, for our first two lucky candidates.” He paused dramatically as he fished around the bowl for the two slips of paper. He noticed Steve and Bucky glance at each other, one right after the other, so they just missed each other. He grinned. The tension was there, now all that was needed was an opportunity. He read the names of the two slips he’d chosen. “Steve… and Bucky.”

They looked at each other again; smiling nervously, unsure how to react. There really wasn’t that much difference between them and the kids who normally played this game, Clint thought. Adults should really play this more often to force them to confront their feelings.

“Alright, you two,” Tony said, quite enthusiastically. “Into the clo- Well, you know.”

Nat noticed her feeling of excitement with slight embarrassment as the door closed behind them. She wasn’t some teenager at a party happy that her friend got with a boy they liked. But she did really want them to get together already. Even if it was partly to get Steve to stop asking her for advice. He tried to disguise it but was surprisingly bad at lying.

“Hey, Nat, I need some advice about this story I’m writing.” That was the first one.

“I thought you were an artist, not a writer.”

“I am, but I’m trying out new hobbies.”

“Okay, what do you need help with?”

“So, the main character has a love interest,” he said. “and, basically, this character wants to tell them how they feel, but I don’t want it to be some big cheesy speech, you know?”

She’d almost called it out. She would’ve been about to tease him forever about it. Maybe if this game really worked, she could tease him about it after.

Instead, she’d said, “If this character wants it to be really meaningful, have them tell them in a quiet moment, just between the two of them. And just be honest – no big planned speech or anything.” She smiled. “The words and feelings they describe should be the central focus, not the gesture.”

Steve smiled. “That was beautiful, Nat. I had no idea you were such a romantic.”

“And if you tell anyone about it, I will deny it and they will believe me.”

He nodded. “Got it. Thanks for the advice.”

On the other side of the closet door, Steve and Bucky had settled into seated positions on the floor. In the almost complete darkness, Steve could only just make out Bucky’s silhouette.

“So,” Bucky said, drawing out the word. “I guess we’re just gonna sit here for seven minutes.”

“I guess,” Steve said quietly.

They were both quiet for a little bit.

“Not exactly new for us, though,” Bucky said finally.

“What do you mean?” Steve asked. “The literal or the figurative closet.”

Bucky chuckled. “Well, both, I guess, but I mean, you and I and dark spaces have a lot of history.”

Steve wished he could see Bucky’s expression. From his voice alone it was difficult to tell what exactly he meant by that. “True.”

Another long pause.

“How long do you think it’s been?” Steve asked.

“I dunno,” Bucky said. “Maybe three minutes.” He paused. “Do you think Clint picked us on purpose?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Steve said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he suggested the game with the sole intention of getting us in here together.”

“Huh,” Bucky said. “I can respect that.”

In the silence that followed, Steve began to hum ‘Cheek to Cheek.’ Maybe telling Bucky how he felt right now wasn’t the best idea, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t test the waters first.

“Been listening to some old familiar tunes?” Bucky asked.

“Not really,” Steve said. “You played it the other day, remember?”

“Oh, yeah,” Bucky said. “I’d always thought it was way too cheesy, but now, I kinda like it.”

“Mm, it does have an element of comfort to it.”

It was quiet again.

“Did Peggy know?” Bucky asked suddenly. He didn’t need to elaborate but did anyway. “About you and me?”

“Yeah,” Steve said. “She knew before I told her, before she’d even met you.”

“Couldn’t keep your mouth shut about me, huh, Steve?” Bucky knocked a knee against Steve’s. “She must’ve been like, ‘Why’s he so obsessed with this guy?’ and then she met me and was like, ’Oh, I get it. He’s hot, funny –”

“Alright, alright,” Steve said, laughing and trying to swat at Bucky in the darkness. “I can guarantee you, she did not think that.”

“Oh, was she into the ladies?” Bucky asked. “We sure seem to hold the acquaintance of a lot of lesbians, bi and pan girls.”

“Yeah, that night, I’m pretty sure she and Katherine and on of the Star-Spangled dancers had a rendezvous.”

“Was that the red-head?” Becky asked. “She was good looking, and her legs…”

“Alright,” Steve said, rolling his eyes.

“What, Steve, are you jealous?” Bucky reaches forward and patted Steve’s arm. “You know I’ve only got eyes for you, baby.”

Instantly, they both froze, and Steve felt Bucky’s muscles tense. They had just crossed the line into romantic territory. The easiest thing to do at this point was to play it off, but neither of them really wanted to do that – they weren’t straight guys dealing with homoeroticism.

The other option was, of course, to just go for it and confess their feelings, but before a decision could be made either way, the door of the closet opened and light flooded the small space, momentarily blinding them.

Clint, Nat, Tony, and Bruce peered in at them and Steve and Bucky blinked at them.

“Damn, they’re not even making out,” Clint said.

“Maybe because this game is for thirteen-year-olds,” Nat said, rolling her eyes.

The next day, Steve hesitated a moment before knocking on Bucky’s door. “Hey, Buck,” he called. “ready to go?”

The door opened and Bucky stood there, in athleticwear and his hair tied back. Steve would never say it, but he loved it when Bucky wore his hair up.

“Yep,” said Bucky, “Let’s go.”

Soon they were the Central Park, running down the paved paths. They didn’t speak much; they didn’t normally, but today was especially quiet.

At a narrower part of the path, someone coming the other way knocked into Bucky’s shoulder slightly. Bucky stumbled a bit but quickly regained his footing.

“You alright, Buck?” Steve asked from behind him. his hands had shot out to study him but stopped just short of touching him.

Bucky didn’t say anything but kept running, so Steve assumed he was fine.

He started to up his pace though, to the point where Steve knew even he couldn’t keep it up for long. He noticed Bucky flexing his fingers and realized something was wrong.

He was about to suggest they stop for a bit, when he noticed a tremble in Bucky’s leg and managed to have the presence of mind to grab his arms before he fell. Bucky was trembling all over and Steve noticed how his eyes darted all over the place. His breathing was shallow.

Still holding his arms, Steve asked. “Buck? You good?” His eyes flitting over Bucky’s face in concern

Bucky shook his head slightly. He seemed to try to focus his vision on Steve’s face, but his eyes kept flicking elsewhere.

“What do you need me to do?” Steve asked, growing aware of the odd looks they were getting.

“I need to go home,” Bucky whispered.

Steve nodded. “Okay, I’ve got you.”

As he led Bucky back towards the tower, and Bucky’s strides grew stronger, Steve dropped his arm from where it had rested on his shoulders. But Bucky quickly grabbed his hand and held it like a lifeline.

Back in Avengers Tower, they stepped into the element wordlessly, still holding hands. Bucky leaned against Steve slightly. Steve looked down at him and saw that his eyes were closed tightly and his free hand – his metal hand – was clenched in a fist.

When the elevator dinged, Bucky tensed again, and Steve squeezed his hand comfortingly and put his free hand on Bucky’s shoulder. As the elevator door opened and they stepped out, Steve saw Nat, Clint, and Tony in the living room. Nat turned to them and Steve quickly shook his head at her. She understood and promptly pulled out a nerf gun – from somewhere – and shot both Tony and Clint in quick succession. They were adequately distracted, and Steve and Bucky were able to slip past to Bucky’s room without being seen.

In Bucky’s room, Steve closed the door and sat them down on the bed. With one hand he held Bucky’s and the other, he rubbed his back in slow circles.

After a while, Bucky’s breathing evened out and he rested his head against Steve’s chest. They sat like that for a while, in relative peace and quiet – although they could hear some sounds of the nerf war outside the door. With his eyes closed, Bucky looked quite peaceful – like he did when he played piano. Steve wished that Bucky could always be like that – comfortable and at peace.

Some time later, Bucky sat up straight and took a deep, slow breath. He avoided Steve’s gaze.

“Are you…” Steve didn’t want to say ‘alright,’ because he clearly wasn’t alright. “doing better?”

“Yeah.” Bucky’s voice was a little hoarse. He cleared his throat and glanced at Steve quickly. “Thanks.”

“Of course,” Steve said.

Bucky stood up – a little shakily – and walked over to the sink. He splashed cold water on his face and leaned over the sink, staring at his reflection.

“Sorry I couldn’t be of more help,” Steve said, feeling helpless.

Bucky’s eyes flickered to the side, where he could see Steve in the mirror. “No, it’s fine. I’m…” he hesitated. “I’m sorry you had to see me… like that.”

“What do you mean, Bucky?” Steve asked, standing up. “You’re still you. We’ve both got our baggage, but you’re still you.”

“But I’m not!” Bucky burst out, turning around, his eyes welling up. “I’m not Bucky who made mischief in Mrs. Monteiro’s class. I’m not Sergeant Barnes who fallowed you into battle. I’m all these fragments and bits and pieces glued back together after being torn apart. And some bits are in the wrong spot and I’m sure some bits are lost and I’m not fully me anymore, okay?” His voice broke on the last word and the pain – oh, the pain in his eyes and his voice and his words made Steve’s chest hurt.

“You’re not the sum of your parts,” he said, stepping forward and grabbing his hands. “Yeah, you’re not seventeen-year-old Bucky who stole the principal’s underwear from his house on a dare. You’re Bucky right here, right now, okay? And it’s this Bucky I care about. Cause I –”

“With me to the end of the line, I know,” Bucky said quietly.

“That’s not actually what I –” Steve stopped. “I don’t think that fully articulates –” He sighed.

Bucky let go of his hands and for a moment Steve had thought he had lost his chance again. But then Bucky took his face in his hands and kissed him. He kissed him with all the pain and history and closing that final bit of distance between them. And Steve kissed him like it was simultaneously their first kiss and their last; it was hopeful and desperate and messy and everything they needed it to be.

Everything was so muddled and hurried that he wasn’t quite sure who had started pulling off items of clothing first or who had pulled who into bed, but it didn’t matter. For the first time in a very long time, everything made sense and Steve was happy.

Lying in bed, warm and safe and tangled up in sheets and limbs, Steve huffed out a small laugh and smiled at the ceiling.

“What?” Bucky asked, grinning at him as he rested on one elbow.

“I am terrible at reading signals, aren’t I?” Steve looked over at Bucky.

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you are. Good god, Steve, I thought you’d never figure it out.”

Steve chuckled and moved in closer to Bucky, brushing his lips against his cheek.

“I was afraid I would have to get one of those skywriting planes,” Bucky said in mock concern. “Steve, I’m in love with you. Love, Bucky.” He gestured the path the words would make with his hand. “Although, knowing you, you’d probably think it was ambiguous.”

“I’m not that oblivious.”

“Then I would keep rose petals in my pockets at all times and scatter them wherever you went, you know, until you’d get the message,” Bucky continued. “Or, if I got truly desperate, I’d wait for you to get engaged to an arrogant douche and then crash the ceremony and make a heartfelt speech.”

“Alright,” Steve said, leaning in for a kiss.

Bucky pulled away for a moment to say, “Or perhaps a boombox outside your window?”

“Shut up,” Steve said, kissing him.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Bucky said with a smile, pulling him in closer.

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