Steve moves back into his old apartment building on a Tuesday in May.
He can't quite believe it's the same place--the neighborhood is so different--but Howard had bought the building back in the forties, after the war, and Tony'd had it refurbished when Steve decided he needed his own place. There's a gym in the basement and one of the bedrooms on the top floor has been converted into a studio. It faces east, gets amazing light in the morning.
He hadn't expected to have the whole building to himself, but Pepper explained that this way they could minimize the danger to civilians. It's better that way. Steve's not sure he's capable of being sociable anymore with people who aren't involved in top secret government agencies attempting to save the world. Thanks to Darcy, he can fake his way through small talk at Tony's parties, and have a serious discussion about the geopolitical ramifications of the US fielding its own superhero team, but anything that regular people would want to discuss leaves him floundering. He's slowly working his way through the shelves of books and movies the others keep giving him, but sometimes he misses Jack Benny and Count Basie, wishes for the comfort of people who get his references, of people he doesn't have to decode to understand.
The Dodgers are playing the Giants that night, but they're doing it in Los Angeles. Tony assures him he'll be able to watch it as soon as he moves in, thanks to Pepper's ability to wrangle even the normally recalcitrant cable company, and a subscription to some network that shows every game, but Steve chooses to listen to the Mets lose on the radio instead. It's more familiar, even if he doesn't recognize the names of any of the players. He also doesn't really care if they lose (which is good, because they do); it's the rhythm of the game he finds appealing. Comforting, if he's being honest. He lies in the dark and lets the play-by-play lull him. He thinks it's funny, because if SHIELD had chosen a game from sometime after he'd gone off to Europe, he might have bought their little charade at first and maybe he'd have been allowed to live on his own earlier.
In the morning, he wakes up and goes for a run, relearning the streets of the place he grew up. There are a few buildings he recognizes under their new coats of paint, and one or two shops that claim to have been around since 1940, but he can't honestly say they look familiar.
The Starbucks is all new, though, one on every other block it seems, and this modern craze for coffee is one of the few he's appreciated since he got back, so he stops in and gets himself a fancy caffeinated beverage. He's used to it now, doesn't stumble over his order the way he did the first few times, when he felt awkward about ordering a caramel macchiato or a vanilla latte instead of coffee, black, the way he drank it during the war. He picks up a copy of the Times to read with his breakfast.
He's engrossed in a story about the Mets' inability to hit with runners in scoring position when he nearly bumps into the guy walking into Starbucks while he's walking out.
"Excuse me," he says, embarrassed, stepping back and looking up from his newspaper into bright blue eyes and a smirking, familiar face. Steve freezes, unable to breathe, and stares, suddenly transported back to 1943.
"No problem." The guy shows no sign of recognition, and Steve tells himself not to be ridiculous. It can't be Bucky, even though he sounds like him, and underneath the scent of coffee and cigarettes, he smells like him. The guy's holding the door open, eyebrow raised in inquiry, and after a long moment of staring, heat rising under his skin, Steve realizes he's supposed to step through.
He smiles apologetically and walks through the door, but has to stop and stand on the sidewalk for a long moment and breathe through the sudden tightness in his throat. He takes a sip of coffee to relieve the dryness in his mouth, and reminds himself that there are a lot of blue-eyed, brown-haired men in New York City, and none of them are Bucky.
Still, he spends a couple of hours hunched over a sketchpad, trying to capture the exact blue of the guy's eyes, the ridiculous wave of his hair, the curving pink bow of his mouth. Aside from some fine lines around his eyes and mouth, he's a dead ringer for the sketches of Bucky Steve's been drawing since he learned how to sketch. He shakes his head and puts the sketchpad away with a rueful laugh.
Steve settles into a routine over the next few weeks. He spends a couple of nights at the mansion Tony's set up in the city for the Avengers, enough for them to start to gel as a team both on and off duty, and as much time as Fury requires on the Helicarrier when there's a crisis brewing, but the rest of his time is his own for now, and he spends it exploring the city and slowly turning the apartment into a place that he can call home, instead of a really expensive extended stay hotel room.
What with one thing and another, it's a week and a half before he makes it back to that particular Starbucks again, and if he makes sure he's showered and shaved and wearing a collared shirt instead of gross and sweaty from his morning run, well, there's no one around to call him on it, and it's not like he's going to see the guy again, anyway. Steve's always been an optimist, though, and the worst the universe has to offer has yet to beat it out of him.
He orders a venti cappuccino and gives the young woman his name, then pays for his coffee and paper and waits. He's absorbed in reading about the latest corruption scandal in the New York State Assembly--some things never change--when Bucky calls out, "Steve? Venti cappuccino for Steve?"
Steve jerks his head up and stares. It's the same guy, and his voice is--Hearing that voice say his name is enough to make Steve's heart leap. It's not just the longing and loss, either. It's all the old feelings flooding back, shocking in their strength for being buried for so long, because he'd no longer needed to guard against them after Bucky fell, because it's one thing to pine for your best friend while knowing nothing's ever going to come of it, and another thing to pine for someone who's been dead for seventy years, and sure, Steve's an optimist, but he's never liked to think of himself as pathetic.
"Are you Steve?"
He wants to say, You know I am but he bites it back. "Yes." He takes the cup. "Thank you."
"Have a great day." The guy--Steve has to stop thinking of him as Bucky--gives him a wide grin, like he knows the effect he's having on Steve's heart.
"Thanks," Steve says again. "You, too."
The cup is too hot and he fumbles for a cardboard sleeve; his fingers brush over Bucky's and it feels like every nerve ending in his body has been electrified.
"See you tomorrow," the guy says, and now he looks speculative instead of smug.
Steve smiles. "Yeah," he replies. "You will."
For the next few days, Steve gets there around seven-thirty, early enough to beat the morning rush but late enough for him to shower and change after his morning workout. He gets to know the other baristas by name, but they all smile knowingly at him because his gaze constantly strays to Bucky.
Bucky (Steve's given up trying not to think of him as Bucky, especially because James is embroidered on the baseball cap he wears behind the counter) is on the register on Tuesday, and he smiles and says, "Steve, right? Venti cappuccino?"
"Yes." Steve smiles goofily and lingers closer to the counter than he normally would while waiting for his drink, tapping his foot to Glenn Miller playing over the speakers.
Once the customers behind Steve are taken care of, Bucky says, "You like this music, huh?"
"Yes. Yeah. I--It reminds me of good things." Steve's gaze falls to the counter, where the plastic wrapped CDs sit in a little rack, and he waits for the hard sell, but Bucky just nods as Glenn Miller fades into Ella Fitzgerald.
"Yeah, me, too." He shrugs. "I don't even know why."
Steve's cappuccino is ready then, so he doesn't make a fool of himself by answering. Instead, he says, "Have a good day."
Bucky smiles. "You, too."
Their conversations are short, and frequently interrupted by other customers, but over the course of several mornings, Steve learns that Bucky really likes coffee and Ella Fitzgerald (neither of which is news), that he's been working as a barista for almost a year, and that he doesn't like the Yankees, but isn't too keen on the Mets, either.
"I don't know," he says. "Something about them seems off somehow."
"I hear that," Steve answers. "But I keep watching them anyway."
Bucky's mouth quirks in a half-grin. "You must be some kind of masochist."
Steve sputters and chokes on the first sip of his coffee. "It's been said."
"You're just all kinds of surprising, aren't you?"
Steve shakes his head. "No, not really."
Bucky hums noncommittally. A group of customers comes in, but before he leaves, he leans over and says, "Have you tried coffee from the Clover?"
"No," Steve says. "I didn't--I wasn't sure what the point was."
"The point," Bucky says, his voice low and serious as if they're discussing something important instead of a cup of coffee, "is that it's like a French press, except we have even more control over the brewing process, and each cup is individually brewed. It really brings out the flavor."
One of the other baristas gives Bucky a pointed look as the line starts to expand, so Steve says, "I'll have to try it next time."
"Tomorrow," Bucky says, giving him a conspiratorial smile. "I'll make it for you."
Steve nods and has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning too widely. It doesn't mean anything. The guy probably flirts with everyone. Bucky certainly had.
Unfortunately, the Avengers are sent to Bulgaria that afternoon to fight HYDRA.
Tony's flying, and Clint's in the co-pilot seat, and even after a year out of the ice, Steve has a hard time settling down on planes when he's not the one in the pilot's seat. He stares out the window, at the wisps of clouds below, and wonders if they're going to make it back, if this is yet another date he's going to miss because of HYDRA. If Bucky's going to disappear while Steve's gone. If he doesn't exist in the first place and Steve's hallucinated the whole thing. If it even matters, because he's not actually Bucky. And maybe that was originally why Steve was interested in him, but now he likes him--wants him--on his own merits. Wants the chance he and Bucky never got. He clenches and unclenches his fists on the armrest, his right leg bouncing up and down nervously.
Natasha says, "Are you okay?"
Steve starts, jolted out of his increasingly frantic reverie. "What?"
"You're twitchy. I expect that from Tony or Clint, but you're usually much calmer and less," she flutters a hand, "annoying before a mission."
"Cap's got a boyfriend," Tony sing-songs from up front.
"I do not." He glances around at the others. "Not that I have anything against having a boyfriend. I just don't have one at this time."
Tony snickers. "He's been mooning around over some cute barista at Starbucks."
Steve can't help saying, "I have not," even though he has, and denying it makes him sound like a petulant teenager. "How do you even know about that?"
Tony shrugs and tosses an insouciant grin over his shoulder. "Darcy's cubicle is a hotbed of surveillance equipment. I think Coulson's old assistant went off the deep end, so now it's all wired up. And I like to hack the security cameras when I'm bored. Coulson gets annoyed about it and forgets to upgrade security on the other stuff I hack into."
Clint looks up at that. "Really?"
"You are not going to spy on Darcy at work," Natasha says before Tony can answer. "Try to be a little less creepy, Clint."
Clint grunts, and Steve tosses Natasha a grateful glance.
They don't make it back until Friday. Which, it turns out, is Bucky's day off, and he's not working that weekend, either.
"It'll be fine," Darcy says after the debriefing, handing Steve a little plastic card. "Trust me, if he's interested in you, he'll learn to put up with the wacky schedule."
"What's this?" Steve turns the card over in his hand--it looks like the credit cards he can't bring himself to use or the ID card he has to swipe to get around on the Helicarrier, but it has a Starbucks logo on it.
"Starbucks giftcard. Your next few drinks are on us." She pats his shoulder encouragingly. "Go get 'em, tiger."
Steve gets even twitchier and more anxious as the weekend wears on. At least fighting HYDRA required his full attention and kept his mind off his troubles; now, his weekend stretches out long and empty in front of him.
On Saturday, he watches the episodes of MASH that Clint recommended, and while he's not sure he enjoys them, he does find them familiar in ways that are both horrifying and hilarious. He spends Sunday afternoon watching baseball, drawing Natasha badly--she's a woman for sharp lines and bold colors, he thinks; his pastels don't do her justice--and learning how to make chili from a recipe he printed off the internet.
The chili is okay, but not as spicy as he'd hoped. The Mets win on a walk-off home run in the eleventh inning. It almost makes Steve like them. There's still at least thirteen hours before he can see Bucky again.
When Monday morning finally arrives, he runs out his frustration and doesn't bother showering and shaving before he shows up at Starbucks, t-shirt sticking to his chest and hair soaked with sweat, hoping he hasn't completely blown his chance.
"You're late," Bucky says and he flinches, just a little. Bucky must notice--he's giving Steve a long, assessing once-over--but all he says is, "And you look rode hard and put away wet."
Steve hopes his face is already red enough that Bucky can't see his blush. "It's warmer than I expected when I started out this morning," he says, plucking at his sweat-dampened t-shirt and enjoying the way Bucky's gaze follows the motion. "I'm--My job involves a lot of unexpected travel, so I don't always--"
"It's okay." Bucky shakes his head and smiles wistfully, though he's looking down at his hands, not at Steve. "The coffee will still be here when you get back."
"And you?" Steve doesn't quite manage the light tone he's aiming for.
Bucky meets his gaze squarely. "I'll be here, too." Then he looks over at the girl behind the register. "Steve will have a tall Sumatra, April."
April rings him up and he uses his new card to pay for it; he likes not having to fumble with change, especially since he's wearing sweatpants. Then he goes over to where Bucky is working on the boxy coffee machine.
"First, we grind the coffee specifically for you," Bucky says, raising his voice above the noise of the coffee grinder. He kind of reminds Steve of Tony when he's got some new gadget he wants to impress everyone with. "The Clover controls the temperature of the water, and how long it's in contact with the coffee. It's similar to a French press, but instead of pushing the grounds down, it pushes them up."
Steve leans against the counter and surreptitiously gives himself the sniff test; he thinks he passes, but the whole place smells like coffee and cinnamon, so he's not too worried.
"So is this why your apron says 'coffee master' on it?"
"The last time you were in here, pal, you were wearing a cardigan. I don't think you can get away with making fun of my apron."
"I wasn't making fun," Steve protests. Bucky raises an eyebrow, and Steve grins ruefully. "Okay, maybe a little." Bucky makes a humming noise low in his throat that might be amusement. "Wait, what's wrong with my cardigan?"
"Don't worry, you make the earnest hipster thing work." He glances up at Steve through his lashes, and his mouth moves like he's trying to hold back a laugh, and Steve realizes he doesn't care that it looks familiar so much as he cares that he's the one who put that look on his face and he'd like to be the one to kiss it off. He wants to put his hands on Bucky's face to make sure he's real, wants to press his fingers against the arch of his cheekbones and thumb the slick curve of his lower lip to see if it's as soft as it looks. Wants to lick and bite and taste the heat of it.
"I like this look better, though," Bucky says, low voice breaking into Steve's little fantasy. Then he turns away to pay attention to the cup of coffee he's making, which is good, because maybe he didn't notice Steve's blush or his slack-jawed admiration.
"This is the best coffee I have ever had," Steve says, completely truthfully, when it's done. When Bucky gives him a wide, bright smile in return, he feels like his whole body is flooded with warmth, and he stumbles back out into the humid morning with a huge grin on his face that lasts all day.
Late has turned into early and the sky is just starting to brighten when Steve gets home. He's still too pumped up to sleep, so he pulls on his sweats and goes out for his run a little earlier than usual. He detours by Starbucks (he'd like to say it's accidental, but only if by accidental he means on purpose) and finds Bucky standing in the doorway, unlit cigarette dangling from his lips, staring up at the building across the street.
"Hey," Steve says.
Bucky looks at him in surprise. "You're up early."
"Haven't been to bed yet," Steve confesses.
"Oh, I see." It's amazing how he makes those three words sound like the dirtiest thing Steve's heard since, well, since the last time Tony teased him about having a boyfriend.
"Nothing that fun, I assure you. Work-related."
Bucky looks skeptical. "If you say so."
Steve nods his chin at the cigarette Bucky's holding. "Those things'll kill you." He's glad his voice doesn't break. He's starting to come down from his adrenaline high and it's making him a little more emotional than he'd like.
"They haven't yet." And his mouth curves in a familiar smirk that makes Steve want to kiss him.
Of course, Steve also wants to lecture him about the evils of smoking, wants to hector him into giving it up, protect him from all the terrible things lurking in cigarettes that they didn't know about in the forties, when he was wistfully envious of Bucky's ability to look cool while he smoked, when all it ever did was make Steve's coughing worse.
He looks away for a moment to compose himself, and then asks, "What's so interesting about that building over there?"
"I think I saw Spider-man."
Bucky glances over at him. "I don't believe the papers, you know. I don't think he's a bad guy. Just a little...misunderstood."
Steve nods and hums encouragingly.
"I mean, if you had superpowers, I'm sure you'd be doing the tights and cape thing, too."
Steve huffs softly, amused and pleased. "You wouldn't?"
Bucky's laugh is sharp and rusty-sounding. He shakes his head. "I don't think I'm the type."
"I think you're wrong. I think you'd be a real hero."
Bucky gives him a sharp look. "Really?"
"I don't know why you're so surprised. You're a good man, Bu--James."
"Ha! I knew it. I remind you of someone." He looks desperate to change the subject, so Steve lets him. "An ex, right?"
"No, we were never--He was my best friend." He can't say, I think you're him, because that would sound crazy, even though Steve has come to accept that he might not be, he's still convinced deep down that he is somehow. But this isn't a fairy tale; saying Bucky's name won't magically give him back his memories.
Steve looks away again, swallowing hard against the tightness in his throat. "He died."
"Oh. I'm sorry." He sounds like he means it, and Steve is touched by the unusual show of sincerity. Bucky'd always had a way of disarming him like that, of dropping his guard and letting Steve in where he'd never let anyone else, and Steve had reveled in it.
Now, he should shrug off the concern and say it was a long time ago, because by anyone else's standards, it was, and he's letting himself get lost in the overlap of what was and what is, but he can't. He takes a deep breath, releases it slowly. "Thanks. I'm still not used to it."
"Losing someone is hard." There's real pain behind the platitude, and Steve wonders again about his past--how he ended up here. Why he doesn't remember. Bucky touches his arm lightly, the pads of his fingers warm against Steve's skin. "Come on in. I'll make you some coffee."
Steve shakes his head. "You think coffee is the cure for everything."
"Well, it's too early to break out the booze."
Steve laughs and lets himself be guided inside.
Steve orders the tickets in a flush of hope, two clicks on the laptop he's still afraid of breaking if he presses too hard, and it's not like he can't find someone else to go with him if Bucky--James, he tells himself, but it still won't stick--says no.
The game is a month away, more than enough time for him to work up the nerve to ask, to practice his spiel in front of the mirror, and then on Darcy when he finally decides that the teasing she'll give him is worth the advice.
"You've been flirting with this guy forever," she says. "So don't worry about it. He's clearly as into you as you're into him."
"You really think so?"
"Well, I'd need some firsthand observation to be absolutely certain."
"You don't want to introduce me to your boyfriend?"
"He's not my boyfriend."
"Yet." She taps her mouth with her pen. "You're afraid I'll sweep him away with my," she gestures at her chest, "charm and beauty?"
"You've actually named them?" he blurts, and then claps his hand over his mouth to stop himself from talking.
She tosses her head back and laughs, loud enough that Coulson pops his head out of his office to sigh in resignation at them, which makes Steve laugh, too.
"No, but I'm totally going to now. Even better, I'm going to tell Clint you named them." She's still giggling. She puts a hand over her heart. "And I would never argue with Captain America."
"You always argue with me."
"Well, yes, but only when you're wrong." She flutters her hand in a dismissive gesture. "Anyway, to get back to the matter at hand, your cute barista boy is obviously as smitten as you are. You could probably insult his mother and he'd still go out with you."
"That's…incredibly smitten, Darcy."
"Yes, well, you are very smit-worthy."
He raises his eyebrows skeptically. "I don't think that's how that word works."
"Just trust me on this. You have the tickets. He likes baseball. You ask him to go with you. It'll be fine." She gives him a serious look. "Have I ever steered you wrong?"
"There was that time with karaoke night."
"Pfft. We learned a valuable lesson about Asgardians and dancing. And Tony paid for the damage to the bar."
He believes her because he wants to, because he's not sure if he can trust his own judgement about this.
"I'll ask him on Monday."
"Good. You better give me all the juicy details."
Steve grunts in response, because he'd really like there to be some juicy details to share, but he's not convinced it's going to happen.
And then Doctor Doom starts wreaking havoc in Latveria, and a HYDRA cell surfaces in Buenos Aires and Steve doesn't have a free minute for a few weeks, can't think of anything but saving the world and protecting his team.
Steve's exhausted when Tony drops him off on the roof of his building, and he crawls into bed for the first uninterrupted sleep he's had since Doom's rampage started. He wakes up refreshed and ravenous, and after a long hot shower, he heads to Starbucks, because he needs to see Bucky even more than he needs coffee.
He turns the corner and sees him leaning against the faded red brick of the building, head tipped back to expose the crescent moon curve of his throat, cigarette dangling carelessly from his hand.
"Hey," Steve says, brushing his damp hair off his forehead and then sticking his hands in his pockets so he doesn't reach out and grab Bucky, make sure he's still alive, still real.
Bucky's eyes flutter open and there's something like relief on his face. "You're okay?"
"Yeah. Work got hectic but that's done for now."
"Work got hectic," Bucky repeats incredulously. He shakes his head, drops his cigarette, and grinds it out with the toe of his boot. "I'm not an idiot, you know."
"You really are," Steve answers automatically. "But I like you anyway."
That makes Bucky's mouth curve in a half-grin. "Oh, you do, do you?"
"Yeah," he says. "I do."
Steve knows how this goes, the back and forth as easy and familiar as breathing, but before Bucky speaks and the moment passes, he decides it's time to try finally something new. It's time to press Bucky against that brick wall, cup his face gently, and kiss him the way he's always wanted, the way he grew up wanting, the way he hasn't been able to stop wanting the last few weeks. Steve kisses him like he's finally getting what he wants, and he kisses him like he's saying goodbye, like it's the chance he never had to let his best friend go. Steve kisses him like he matters, because he does, and if he doesn't have to carry the weight of all those lost years, then Steve will take it, Steve will hold it all on his own shoulders--he's been given the super strength, he might as well put it to good use. And if this is the only time, if he's going to have to keep pining for this thing he's wanted since he knew what want was, well, god, he's going to make it count.
Steve kisses Bucky like he's jumping off a cliff, like he's going off to war. Steve kisses Bucky like it has to count for all the years he's missed and all the years he's probably not going to get, and Bucky laughs, bright and open and dangerous against his mouth and says, "About fucking time."
Maybe Bucky doesn't remember him from before, and maybe he never will. Maybe he's not even really Bucky and Steve only thinks that because the only person he's ever felt this way about was Bucky and he can't conceive of feeling this way about anyone else, but Steve loves him the way he's always loved him, and he loves him like he was in the forties, and he loves him the way he is now, edges sharper and swagger muted, smelling of coffee and tasting of cigarettes.
He pulls back, breathless and laughing, his hands still tracing the curve of Bucky's cheeks and jaw, the faint stubble rough against his fingertips and the heat of Bucky's body pressed against his hotter than the late June sunshine.
"Yeah," he repeats. "I do."
"Good," Bucky says fiercely, drawing him down into another kiss, this one harder and longer and hungrier.
They neck for a few minutes that feel like forever and not nearly long enough. Steve cups the nape of Bucky's neck, combs his fingers through the soft hair curling there, and presses their foreheads together, not kissing so much as breathing each other's air, feeling just that necessary.
"So," he finally says after they've separated slightly because it really is too hot to stay that close for too long, "I've got tickets to the Cyclones tonight and I was hoping you'd like to go with me."
"Yeah," Bucky says. "I do. Now kiss me again."
Steve is happy to oblige.