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run your fingers through the knots of my soul

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There are some feelings you will never find words for;
you will learn to name them after the ones who gave them to you.

Maza Dohta

 

+

 

Sometimes Bucky thinks it would be really cute to meet someone in a coffee shop, like in those silly romantic comedies Clint makes him watch. He wonders what it would feel like if, like the implausibly petite blonde heroine, he would look over the coffee machine and make eye contact with the implausibly stacked blonde hero, and be taken on a wild adventure worth retelling in 180 mind-numbingly predictable and yet somehow uncomfortably adorable minutes onscreen.

Their fingers would brush, and Bucky would look up, and Implausibly Stacked would share a cheeky, shy grin, and it would feel like electricity, in a world where he'd never have to wonder if Implausibly Stacked was into dick. They could skip past that whole mess and straight to the part where there are romantic misunderstandings and mysterious ex-boyfriends and drunken declarations of love underneath balconies.

Bucky's not ashamed to admit he likes romcoms, even if he does give Clint crap over his addiction to unrealistic standards of romance and fratboy humour.

But as he sets up shots for his next batch of takeaway coffees, wiping grind off his hand on his apron, he hears a barked, "Soy latte, one sugar, the largest size you've got," and looks up to see a middle-aged woman, purple-grey hair arranged into an artfully messy french roll, sunglasses still on her face. And then he remembers—

There is a reason why meet cutes in cafes don't happen in real life. And it's because customers suck.

People see him standing behind the coffee machine all day in a packed cafe and still think he has the time to come and take their orders, or process their bills, or take out their meals, and he hates them. He's a barista. He's not here to make nice with customers, he's here to give them their caffeine fix so they'll leave him alone and he can make rent for another week.

God, he hates people.

"Sorry," Bucky says, half-assing his smarmiest hospitality voice. He doesn't move from the coffee machine, just carries on his merry way, blissfully stretching the milk out for his next three coffees. "Natasha will be with you in just a second."

"Soy latte, one sugar, the largest size you've got," the woman snaps again at Nat, who leans over the counter, elbows on the marble countertop like she has all the time in the world, coffee cup in one hand and pen in the other.

"I'm sorry, what was that?" she says, sickly sweet, staring up at the woman with big eyes, and Bucky has to choke back a laugh as he plugs his group handle home.

He makes Soy-Latte-One-Sugar-Extra-Large's coffee and delivers it to her outstretched, waiting hand. Their fingers brush. There is no electricity, and Bucky rolls his eyes as she swans out the door, climbs into her convertible Mercedes and drives away. She never took her sunglasses off the entire time.

Who is he kidding? Sometimes the fantasy really is better than the reality.

 

+

 

So yeah, it'd be nice, but as Bucky clumsily knocks a half-full paper coffee cup into his group handle and spills espresso all over his brand new work boots, he reminds himself that:

  • life isn't a movie
  • he is not petite, blonde, or female,
  • he is, in fact, an untameable looking amputee male war vet who:
    • is perpetually coated with a fine layer of coffee dust
    • has permanent resting bitch face
    • and lanky brown hair that looks like birds have attacked him on the way to work each morning
    • and a state of the art prosthetic that he only received because rude assholes like Tony Stark don't react like normal people when said army vet accidentally-on-purpose tips coffee into their laps and then innocently blames it on their bum arm
  • he does not, contrary to popular opinion, have the time or patience to make eye contact with anyone over the La Marzocco unless it is to hand them coffee at the pass, and
  • customers suck.

The whole coffeeshop meet-cute thing is overrated.

And besides, love fades.

But coffee? Coffee is forever.

 

+

 

This is the time of the day that he loves the most: 7.30am on a Friday morning, before the doors open and the waiting list kicks in. It's a little, quiet world, the calm before the storm, and it's all Bucky's, white walls and soft blue pillows and wooden benches, terrariums dangling peacefully from the ceiling, the scent of freshly-ground coffee filling the air.

It's post-modern hipster-pretentious in the worst way possible, and Bucky loves it with every fibre of his being.

Natasha, who wields her Spotify playlist with a ferocity that scares even Bucky, is running late, and it's quiet enough that the cafe feels like it's holding its breath; just the tinkle of Thor opening and closing oven doors in the kitchen and clattering up and down the back stairs to the fridge, and the peaceful, comforting rumble of his La Marzocco filling its reservoir as it wakes up.

 

+

 

Bucky had learned to make coffee in high school. Three hours of coffee training and he was off like a shot, pouring shitty excuses for hearts at the bookstore on the corner on his weekends so he could earn enough to take girls out to the movies, maybe buy Becca a chocolate bar, bring home books that she would tear through like there was no tomorrow.

The work was easy; he had no idea how the owners made any money with their main clientele buying singular coffees so they could sit and read for an hour, but he wasn't complaining. It just gave him time to muck around with the grind. Taste test every shot until he got it to the right level of creamy, nutty, caffeinated goodness. Stretch his milk to the perfect amount of silky smoothness.

It had blossomed from there. Hearts had grown to tulips, and the next thing he knew, he was working six shifts a week when he wasn't at school, watching in amazement as his own hand sketched out silky-soft tulip stacks and winged rosettas, and the customers kept coming back, asking for him when he wasn't there.

 

+

 

Bucky came back from the war three years later, broken and angry, with a dud arm and unable to hold a job for longer than two months. Between his panic attacks and lousy mood-swings and inability to focus on anything for longer than half an hour, he was too fucked up to do anything that would pay him enough to keep a roof over his head.

He'd been out of the army for a year and a half when he ran into Clint at a bar. It's not like they'd ever been friends in high school, beyond the occasional class they shared and dismissive joke they snickered over on opposite ends of the room, or the rare coffee Clint bought from him half-asleep before archery practice in the morning. But that was enough for Clint to want to sit with him and ply him with alcohol for three hours.

Clint circa-2013 had been pretty fucking different to Clint circa class-of-2008, but Bucky guesses anyone could change in five years. He knows he sure as hell did, but unlike Clint, he was pretty convinced that it wasn't for the better.

He'd gotten slammed on whiskey sours. Started telling Clint about how he was on the verge of losing his latest job at a call centre because he couldn't keep his hands still and his temper down long enough to finish a conversation. He didn't have a degree to fall back on, he was coming home so stressed out and anxious he was haemorrhaging sleep, and waking up felt like he was struggling to take his first breath after trying not to drown. He needed to do something that required just enough attention to get the job done, but not so much that he would feel like he was constantly crawling out of his skin.

Turns out Clint knew someone who knew someone who was looking for a barista. Turns out Clint's shitty excuse for a brother had gotten a girl pregnant and dropped off the face of the planet, so he was down a roommate and needed to make rent.

Turns out Clint was the answer to a lot of his problems.

 

+

 

And now here Bucky is, standing in front of the most beautiful machine he's seen in his life at 7.30am on a Friday morning. His boss may float in and out as he feels like it, but Fury's got his health insurance covered and pays Bucky enough that he can make rent. He gets as many shifts as he wants, and it's tough to make ends meet, but between his disability pension, his pay, and his tips, he gets by.

His hands have stilled after a year and a half of post-war panic—the best coffee requires smooth, sure hands. He's had to adjust, sure. Even a state of the arm prosthetic can't feel heat for shit, and it's even worse at getting traction on holding a metal milk jug or handling delicately slippery latte glasses and cappuccino cups—but it's better than no hand at all. He's still nervous about picking up porcelain plates, but Natasha covers him so seamlessly that he can't even be angry at her for it.

His attention span has evened out, feeling less like a fly doped to shit on speed and bashing itself against windows, and more like holding his breath, keeping the pressure and the stress safe and warm and calm in his chest where he can wield it, until he's done with the next order. And the next one.

Lather, rinse, repeat. It's like taking control back, one coffee at a time.

He sips his first latte of the day and giggles, watching as Natasha attempts to shoulder her way through the door with a giant tray full of beetroot burger buns and the day's newspaper under her arm. He runs a hand over the warm, gleaming silver of his machine and scrubs off an errant water mark. His coffee is just on the right side of warm, with a perfect finger-width of froth on top, and his army of cappuccino cups sit double-stacked, gleaming and ready, in three perfect lines on the top of his machine.

He smiles, and goes over to give Nat a hand.

It's going to be a good day: he can feel it in his bones.

 

+

 

Bucky doesn't notice the guy until he's paying. It's 9.30am and the pre-work rush is trickling out, giving way to the gym and brunch crowd.

He's finally caught a break in the midst of the avalanche of dockets, and he's resetting his station, stacking his cappuccino cups on top of his machine. Handles just slightly to the right, ready for him to grab them and go, little army guys, ready to take on whatever he throws at them.

He knocks the biscuit into the knock box and reloads his basket.

The guy at the counter has got the bluest eyes Bucky's ever seen, although it could just be the silky blue tie he's wearing that makes them look like they're all lit up from the inside. He's digging in the pockets of his dark grey trousers for change, but comes up empty, and looks deeply apologetic when he only has a fifty to pay Natasha with for his $3.50 coffee. Every nerve in Bucky's body is set alight, and he feels hyper aware of the guy standing by the register even as he tamps the gring and plugs it into the group head.

"I get it, hot shot," Natasha jokes, handing the guy his change back. "If it was a hundred, I'd probably have to get Bucky here to rough you up a little, take you down a notch."

"I've never been here before and the coffee was excellent, if it makes him any less likely to beat me up," Hot Shot says, grinning shyly, his cheeks stained a soft pink, slipping his wallet into his back pocket.

Bucky eyes the broad curve of his shoulders in his crisp white work shirt. He doesn't dare risk another glance at the guy's face; doesn't know what he'd do if he found him looking back.

"Good enough to warrant another visit, I hope?" Nat says, turning her head to glance at Bucky, a teasing tilt to the curve of her eyebrows. Bucky ducks his head and watches in consternation as the milk spins in his steel jug, feeling his ears warm.

"God, now that I've tasted it, you can't keep me away," the guy says, dropping the rest of his change into the jar. The flirting should sound suggestive, in the guy's deep voice and Natasha's throaty laugh, but it sounds more like innocent teasing. And anyway, Bucky knows what Natasha's hospitality voice sounds like, and this is as fake as it comes.

He flicks a glance up up to find the guy looking back at him, amused, over the top of the coffee machine. "Thanks for the coffee, Buck," he says. His shirt sleeves are rolled to his elbows, and there's a bashful quirk to his lips that makes Bucky's breath catch in his throat, makes him bite his lip nervously. He opens his mouth—say something, Bucky—

The milk overflows and spills all over his shoes. Bucky swears and fumbles to grab a chux, and when he looks up, the guy's gone.

"Your ears are red," Natasha says innocently as she unnecessarily shoulders into his space to fill his docket rail.

 

+

 

Most people are creatures of habit. Bucky doesn't remember names, not really, but he remembers faces and times, and he remembers coffee.

Tall and serious looking with a salt and pepper beard and a pot-belly—small cappuccino, full cream, no lid. Short, bald and cantankerous—long macchiato, two sugars stirred in very, very vigorously. Brunette gym-bunny, inconceivably full face of makeup and arms that could probably strangle Bucky to death—long black with exactly three blocks of ice and a stevia.

Sometimes, if he's paying attention, he can identify them by the docket, without even looking up. Two soy magics on a Tuesday morning, one at 10am and the other following half an hour later, means the well-dressed early-twenties hipster douche is conducting his daily meetings in the corner of the cafe. Four skinny cappuccinos and two hot chocolates on a Thursday at 11.30am means the group of college girls have come back to order everything on the menu with edible flowers on it and take photographs for Instagram.

But Bucky can't pin down Blue Eyes to save his life, and the lack of predictability is—he is loathe to admit—killing him. It was a simple latte the first time (Bucky did not, whatever Natasha said, check the sales history to see what he had).

This time, it's a double ristretto, and Bucky doesn't even realise he's there until Natasha is teasing, "I even kept small change for you this time, rich boy!"

He's laughing and paying with coins and leaving, and Natasha is calling, "Have a great day, Steve," after him.

"How do you know his name? He's never had a takeaway coffee," Bucky hisses at Natasha after she waves him out the door.

"What, having trouble identifying someone as their coffee order when they never order the same thing, Barnes?"

Bucky's hand clenches on his milk jug, and he scowls at her. He'd kept his acidic running commentary on customers to himself as he filled coffee orders, but apparently Natasha's cottoned on. Without looking, she pokes him hard in his side with the end of a long teaspoon. It's unlikely to skewer him, but he squawks and slaps uselessly at her with his free hand anyway.

She scoffs, "You think you're all aloof and mysterious, but I've heard you refer to Victor as soy-latte-extra-hot-extra-foam-what-a-bag-of-dicks before."

"Well, now I know he has a name as punchable as his face," Bucky grumbles, holding his cappuccino cup up to his nose to drop thick dollops of milk into the cup. What kind of a name is Von Doom, anyway?

Natasha ignores him in favour of restocking the latte glasses on the top of his machine. She jostles his arm and ruins his tulip stack.

He swears Natasha makes a game out of giving him shit.

"Some of us are brave enough to ask people for their names, Barnes," she sings, and dances away.

Bucky hates his job.

 

+

 

Bucky is loathe to use metaphors like ‘as bright as the sun', but he has to admit he's a little shellshocked the first time he calls out "Large cappuccino for Steve?" and the man himself steps up to the pass, untangling his earphone cords with a bright grin.

"Morning, Bucky," Steve says, far too cheerful for this early in the morning, and takes a sip of his coffee, humming. It's early enough that his cologne still smells warm and spicy, wafting in Bucky's direction as he turns towards the door. The sunlight flooding through the front windows is gilding his hair a translucent gold. "Thanks for the coffee. Have a great day!"

"Bye…" Bucky whispers, stunned and caught off-guard, free hand caught in a half-wave as Steve steps out the door, and tries to ignore Teddy and Kate laughing at him from the other end of the counter.

 

+

 

Clint is not helpful in the slightest. Bucky thinks he's being sneaky and shit, but he forgets about Clint and Natasha's freaky telepathic connection (Steve orders an iced coffee, no ice cream but lots of ice, gesturing apologetically to the sunshine outside with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and his shirt unbuttoned at the neck, and Bucky wants to unravel. Then he comes back in to apologise more and ask Bucky for a refill on his bottle of water, and Kate very deliberately does not smile around her straw. She does, however, casually note how interesting it is that he's asking the barista for help when there are two floor staff waiting at attention, and then spends the rest of the afternoon making allusions to tall drinks of water), and he's unprepared for Clint's particular brand of sly teasing.

Bucky drops onto his back on the couch and flops a hand over his eyes. Everything from his knees to his ears hurt after 10 hours of standing behind a coffee machine.

Clint doesn't even pause his video game. "Dude, you look bushed. Can I get you a tall drink of water?"

Bucky groans. "What the hell, how are you in on this too?"

Clint explodes a zombie's head with enthusiasm, and ducks absentmindedly as Bucky aims a half-hearted kick at his shoulders.

"Do you not remember who got you the job, bro?"

"Fuck you," Bucky sighs, and then rolls over to plant his face defeatedly in a cushion.

"Aww, wanna talk about it?" Clint asks.

Bucky has to hand it to him; he sounds genuinely interested, underneath all the teasing. Bucky wouldn't put it past him to fake interest so that he can report everything back to Natasha, though. Even if she usually knows what he's going to do before he does it, even if she sees through him so well that he might as well be invisible--he has at least the pretences of a reputation to maintain. So he zips his lips.

"I'd rather starve, but thanks," Bucky says, and heaves himself up off the couch. He smells like bitter coffee grind, which is less attractive than it sounds when your hands have been coated in it for an upwards of eight hours and it's literally all your entire wardrobe smells like. He wants a shower, and he wants it bad.

"There are so many thirsty jokes to be made, Barnes, you don't even know. It's like you want to make this easy for me."

Clint ducks when Bucky throws a shoe at him.

 

+

 

Bucky is ready this time, when Natasha plonks an empty cup down on the top of the coffee machine, right in his line of sight. Sugar crystals rattle around at the bottom. ‘Steeb', the cup announces cheerfully, in Nat's neat, loopy writing. 'st fw 1/2'.

He lines up two fresh shots and moves to the end of the machine to start on stretching his milk. Steve is blinking down at his phone screen, looking sleepy and spaced out in the watery morning sunlight.

"Hey," Bucky says, casually, and Steve looks up, startled. "How's your day been?"

He instantly wants to brain himself. It's 8am—there's barely been a day to be had. Good one, Barnes.

Steve sways closer to the coffee machine, though, and huffs a laugh, scratching the back of his head.

"It's been pretty terrible," he admits. "Had to get up at 4am to write a brief for the higher ups."

"I noticed you asked for an extra shot," Bucky asks, pulling the milk off the steam wand and flushing it out. He taps the jug on the counter, absentmindedly, gets rid of the last of the yucky little bubbles.

"Yeah, I'm going to need the caffeine if I want to even make it to lunchtime," Steve says. He sounds as tired as he looks, and Bucky looks at him in sympathy.

"What do you do that requires you to be up at 4am?" Bucky asks, swirling the sugar and espresso together. He tilts the cup and pours the milk down the side, getting it all smooth and mixed in with the espresso.

"I'm a policy analyst," Steve says, and stifles a half-yawn behind his hand. "Mostly I just research and write recommendations and stuff."

"At 4am," Bucky asks, disbelieving. He lids the coffee and slides it across the pass. "Coffee for Steeb?"

"Politics doesn't stop for the clock, I guess," Steve says, shrugging. He holds up the cup and looks at his name, misspelled in Nat's artful scrawl, and laughs, then takes his first sip with a relieved moan. "God, this is amazing."

Bucky blushes to the roots of his hair, but by the time he can unravel his tongue to say something that isn't,‘you're amazing', or, ‘of course it is, I made it,' Steve is smiling at him and saying, "Have a great day, Buck! See you later," and is out the door.

"Better," Eli says, nodding approvingly, arms full of oranges. Natasha, who's been quietly observing from the register, high fives Bucky in congratulations.

 

+

 

The first time Steve comes in with the gorgeous, dark-skinned guy in the navy blue suit, Bucky's heart drops to his knees. He didn't even think he was that invested, and yet, watching them converse over their omelette and buttermilk pancakes—short macchiato for Steve, latte for his friend—Bucky has never been so thankful for a giant coffee machine to hide behind.

"You're being pathetic," Natasha says, after sweetly thanking a pair of customers and sending them off. It would be scary to see her switch her personality on and off between serving customers if Bucky hadn't been in the industry for so long—or known Natasha for as long as he had.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he murmurs, concentrating on pouring out the wings for his rosetta.

"They might not even be together."

"Who isn't and why do I care," Bucky quips, biting off the end of his question. He knows he's being petty, but Natasha can take it.

"You can just go over and ask him how his coffee was. You're the barista."

"That's a dumb opening line. My coffee is excellent. And it's not my job to talk to customers," Bucky says, even though he knows that the latter a blatant lie. It's just as much his job to talk to them as it is anyone else's.

And he does—he clears their plates away and cashes off their bills and asks them how their days are going, when he has the time to. He can be charming; he was before the war, and he still is, even after, even if it comes with a little more effort, even he has to try a little harder to make it sound genuine. The college girls make great repeat customers, especially when he tips his head and lets his hair fall out from behind his ears, and stays for five seconds to ask them how their meals were, jokes about the flowers on the pancakes, tells them the french toast is just as sweet as they are, flashes them the cheeky grin that had him getting into trouble all over town as a teenager.

He's just as good as the rest of the team at faking it. He just doesn't want to be fake to someone like Steve.

The thought of talking to him, watching Steve watching him back, makes Bucky balk. He shakes his head and plates up his coffee cup.

"You're not better than the rest of us because you're a barista, asswipe," Nat says, and for the first time, she sounds icy under all that cockiness.

Bucky instantly feels guilty; he knows he's toeing the line. He offers her a small grin in apology and bumps her with his hip.

Against the far wall of the cafe, the guy that Steve is with laughs uproariously and beautifully at something that Steve has said. Bucky swallows the small, petty part of himself that wants to tell Natasha that Steve obviously has a (gorgeously funny) boyfriend, and Bucky doesn't stand a chance.

"Quit being a scaredy cat, Bucky," Teddy says as he picks up Bucky's coffee. "Steve's nice."

"Sure, kid," Bucky says, shoving the docket at him. Of course even Teddy's had enough of a conversation with Steve to find out that he's nice, and the kid only works here two afternoons a week. "How long did it take you to work up the guts to ask that boyfriend of yours out, huh?"

Teddy flushes, but tips his chin up belligerently. He counts off on the fingers on his spare hand. "Firstly, I never said anything about asking him out. And secondly, at least I have a boyfriend now, right?"

"Sick burn," Natasha murmurs.

 

+

 

It feels like everyone knows Steve—really knows him—except Bucky.

It's late enough in the day that there are more empty tables than full ones, and Bucky can catch a breath, so he goes to restock the milk. He comes back to find Thor sprawled next to Steve on the bench, his chef's hat askew and his black shirt covered in flour where he's wiped his hands off. He's showing Steve videos of kids doing stupid things on his phone. It's a apparently a cappuccino sort of day, and Bucky notes with a vicious sense of righteousness that Steve has drunk every last drop of coffee in his cup.

Steve's hunched over himself laughing, and Sam is patting him on the back, looking amused. Bucky grits his teeth and sets to filling up the milk fridge. If he sits on the floor, he doesn't have to look at anything.

After five minutes, Eli finally gives up trying to move around him. "The space between the counter is literally two feet wide and you're taking up one and a half of it," he complains. "If I make you a fresh OJ, will you get off your dumb ass and stop moping? You're harshing my vibe."

Bucky rues the day he took this job and agreed to work with a bunch of college kids who a) are way more intuitive than they should be and b) see his murderface and still treat him like an overgrown puppy instead of quailing in his wake. But freshly squeezed orange juice is like liquid gold here, where every orange is lovingly and individually peeled before juicing. Bucky huffs, but the temptation is strong, and he gets off the floor.

Unfortunately, Steve corners him by the coffee machine. Sam is waiting by the door, studiously examining the front page of the day's newspaper, and Bucky determinedly doesn't look over at him.

Bucky's pretty sure he looks like a deer in headlights when Steve leans against the countertop, looking bashful with his shoulders hunched forward.

"So we're going out with a few friends to celebrate Sam's birthday on Saturday. We're probably just gonna go out for food and drinks or something, and—uh—do you and Natasha want to come? She mentioned that you guys would be interested, but she's not here today, so I can't ask her, and—"

Bucky deflates. "Oh. Do you want me to pass it on to her? Sorry, she doesn't usually work on Thursdays—"

Steve looks surprised. "No!" he says, a bit too loudly, then flushes pink and ducks his head. His hair looks a little ruffled, like he's been running a hand through it. Sam is still standing by the door, trying not to laugh. He hasn't turned the page yet. Steve glares at him over his shoulder, and turns back to Bucky. He takes a deep breath. "I'm trying to ask you. If you want to come. And bring Natasha along, but I'm asking you."

"Oh—uh. Sure? I'm working really early on Sunday though, so I don't think it'll be a late one, but, uh—yeah, I can come," Bucky stammers. He accidentally leans on the steam wand knob, and it hisses, leaving a damp spot on his apron. He jumps back, embarrassed.

But Steve is fumbling in his pockets for a pen, and doesn't seem to notice. He comes up empty.

"Look, why don't I grab your number, and I'll message or call or something and let you know what the plan is?"

"Uh," Bucky stammers out, and then has to collect himself enough to grab a pen and a napkin.

Steve smiles shyly as he tucks Bucky's number into his inside pocket. Bucky has to pick his jaw up the floor before Eli has to coax him back to the coffee machine, where his orders have been piling up.

"Dude," Kate says. "That was so fucking cute, I need to text Clint."

"I am never making coffee for you again," Bucky threatens, but Steve turns to wave before he walks out the door, and Bucky almost doesn't care that he has five dockets to catch up on and that Clint is going to give him so much shit when he gets home and he's probably going to make Kate her latte anyway.

 

+

 

Bucky doesn't even know what this is, anyway. They've had a grand total of two conversations and neither of them really count for anything, and Bucky's charm is seemingly irretrievably broken, at least when it comes to Steve. Steve just texts him on Friday afternoon saying, "We're heading out to Treehouse at 10pm. See you there!" and it sounds a lot less like 'Steve wants to date Bucky' like it does‘Steve wants to be totally platonic buds with his new bud Bucky'.

The Treehouse is all Brooklyn hipster dank back alleys with questionable intentions and secret doorways, opening up to a glowing, candle-lit rooftop bar and trellis draped lazily with greenery. It's spacious, but packed to the rafters, and yet Natasha somehow manages to instantly locate Sam in the corner of the bar, sprawled on the pallet couches.

"Yo, JB!" Sam says excitedly, jumping up and slinging an arm over Bucky's shoulder. He's already tipsy, but warm and friendly as he tugs Bucky over to meet his friends. Bucky almost wants to hate him, but up close, Sam exudes a calm happiness that makes Bucky feel a little less like crawling out of his skin.

He guesses Steve could do a lot worse.

"These are my new pals, Natasha and JB!" Sam shouts over the noise to the small group of people huddled on the pallet beds.

"Bucky, it's just Bucky," Bucky mumbles, but the heat is lost when he looks over and Steve's sitting on the edge of the couch, hand wrapped around a sweating glass of beer, face upturned and smiling softly at him. He's wearing a deep blue shirt and jeans; his hair is ruffled, different from the usual neat part he has it in, and Bucky's mouth goes dry.

He instantly hates himself for it, and averts his attention; pretends to ignore Natasha watching him like she knows something he doesn't out of the corner of his eye.

"JB makes the best coffee ever," Sam adds, patting Bucky hard on the shoulder and then pushing him gently down to sit next to Steve.

"Sorry," Steve says, and gestures towards Bucky with a pitcher of beer. Bucky nods, and Steve pours out a glass and offers it to him. "He gets a little boisterous when he's been drinking."

Nat's smiling up at Sam amusedly, holding on to a cocktail she seems to have magicked out of nowhere. Sam is gesticulating wildly, and the group he's entertaining is looking more and more excited, waiting for the punchline of whatever story he's begun to tell.

"Nat doesn't seem to mind," Bucky says.

"God, I hope not," Steve murmurs. Bucky can barely hear him over the crowd, and he leans closer to Steve. "He hasn't been able to stop talking about her for weeks. I swear half the reason I'm there all the time is because he keeps coming up with reasons to go back."

Bucky looks at him, confused. From this angle, Steve's head is tilted down at him, shoulders and chest angled towards Bucky like they're shielding him from the rest of the group. It's like Steve almost knows, how Bucky's heart is nearly beating out of his chest at the number of people in the room and the volume of the crowd; it's like he's trying to protect him from the sheer amount of stimuli in the bar, keep him all to himself.

And for once, Bucky doesn't feel cornered or cramped. He feels warm and secure, in their own little world, and Steve doesn't even know—doesn't even know how much his body language, open and welcoming and protective, is driving Bucky's libido up the wall, how much Bucky's eyes are being pulled to the soft, tantalising triangle of the open shirt of his collar, how much he wants to touch.

Steve just keeps looking at Bucky expectantly. Bucky has to shake himself out, reaching out to play with the coaster to distract himself, trying to ignore Steve's eyes tracking his movement, feeling the attraction sizzle in the air between them, even if he knows, he knows—

"I thought you guys were together?" he blurts, and instantly wants to crawl into a hole and die.

"Who, me and Sam?" Steve says, eyes wide.

"Yeah, you just—I don't know, I assumed—"

"Oh God," Steve says, laughing, and leans back, running a hand down his face.

Bucky freezes. God, he's fucked everything up. How is it that flirting comes so easy until it's someone he's genuinely interested in? Years of hospitality charm—it just leaves him all in a flood when he's faced with pretty blue eyes and broad shoulders and hands that dwarf cappuccino cups.

"Shit, sorry, I just figured that you—you know, you're really cute, and he's really cute, and it just made sense that—"

"Bucky," Steve says, letting his hand fall into his lap. He's still angled towards Bucky, which is probably a good sign; he's even leaning in, and Bucky finds himself gravitating closer, despite himself. "Sam's been my best friend since college. And I'm pretty sure that even if I was into him, which I assure you, I'm not, the whole thing around him not being into guys would probably rule anything out of the equation."

"Oh," Bucky breathes, then takes a large gulp of his beer. "Wow, I feel kind of stupid now."

"Nah," Steve shakes his head, then looks up at him, teasing. "You think he's cute, huh?"

Bucky laughs, and picks at the label of his beer. In the corner, Sam's collapsed on the couch next to Nat and their heads are bent close together, deep in discussion. He's looking at her with the most naked expression of adoration Bucky's ever seen on anyone's face—but the surprising thing is that she's looking back.

"Not as much as Nat seems to think, I'd say," Bucky says, nudging Steve with his elbow, and Steve looks over and almost snorts his beer through his nose.

 

+

 

Steve walks Bucky home that night, and stands on the sidewalk, watching Bucky fumble for his keys. They'd ditched the crowd to head out to the balcony of the bar, and sat side by side looking out at the city, sharing a pitcher of beer.

Bucky still feels warm inside from Steve's attention, and he opens the door to his building and pauses in the doorway, looking down at him.

"You mentioned before that Nat was half the reason you and Sam are at the cafe all the time," Bucky says, haltingly. Steve looks up and him and tilts his head to the side, smiling gently, encouragingly. Bucky bolsters the last of his courage. "What's the other half?"

Steve scuffs a foot along the ground. Bucky can't see very well in the dim streetlight, but he thinks Steve could be blushing.

"Well, I wasn't kidding when I said the coffee's really excellent."

It doesn't feel dismissive the way it probably would sound, coming from anyone else. It feels like an unspoken promise: all the things it doesn't say, the world of untold possibilities sitting on Steve's tongue. Bucky clings to the doorway, feeling lightheaded. Steve looks up at him, his golden hair haloed around his head in the flickering yellow streetlight, his hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans.

Bucky looks at him, really looks—at the strong curve of his shoulders and the slope of his neck and the confident set of his feet, planted sure and steady against the pavement, and wants, and wants, and wants.

"Good night, Bucky."

"See you soon?"

"Yeah. Yeah, definitely."

Steve only looks back once as he's walking away, and Bucky doesn't feel like a dumb idiot when he raises his fingers to wiggle them goodbye—if only because Steve half turns and does the same.

 

+

 

On Wednesday afternoon, Steve's back in the cafe, looking at a stack of paperwork with a crease in his forehead that Bucky wants to smooth out with his thumb. He's ordered a long black, a sure sign that he's stressed out and jittery, but doesn't hesitate to stop and say hello to Bucky.

Bucky doesn't know how to do it, though, get rid of the crease in his forehead—doesn't know how to gather up the courage to touch him, scared he'll shatter the illusion.

He doesn't have a lot of time to stop and chat. Steve hasn't picked the best time to come in, and has to wait ten minutes for Cassie to get a table cleared and set up again for him. But Bucky's not self-centred enough to believe that Steve's only come to see him, even given the long, rambling conversation they'd had the other night at Sam's party, and he's not worried. So he takes a deep breath and puts extra care into preparing Steve's long black, even if he has to make the shot three times to get the timing perfect: 31 seconds on the clock, the water just hot enough to warm him up from the inside but cool enough that he can drink it straight away. The crema is perfect, but he has to get it out to Steve quickly before it disappears.

He snags a minute between dockets to plate up an avocado brownie and takes it to Steve's table, arranging the saucer and plate carefully away from Steve's paperwork where it can't spill.

"What's this?" Steve says. He puts down his pen and leans forward on his elbows, looking up at Bucky with interest.

"Avocado brownie," Bucky says, and smiles when Steve's nose wrinkles.

"Buck, I like avocados, and I like brownies, but I'm not sure how I feel about the both of them together."

Bucky runs his finger around the rim of the plate and pushes his hair behind one ear. Steve's looking up at him, expression bright and open. "It's nice, I promise! It doesn't taste like avocado, it just tastes like chocolate. It's, uh, the avocado just makes it really nice and squishy and not too dry and—you know what, just eat it and you can thank me later when you don't look like you're going to pass out from stress, okay?"

Steve pushes his paperwork aside to pull the brownie closer, and as Bucky turns to head back behind the counter, Steve grabs him by the wrist.

"Hey," he says, softly, looking at Bucky with wide, warm eyes. He's leaning halfway around the table, and Bucky turns back to him, feeling instantly drawn. His hand is so warm where it's wrapped loosely around Bucky's wrist. "Thanks, Buck."

Bucky feels warmth bloom through his chest, and he musters up the little bit of courage he needs to reach out like he's been wanting to, pressing a thumb to the crease in Steve's forehead. It instantly eases out.

"Stop stressing out so much. You'll give yourself wrinkles," he murmurs. "Coffee's on me today, okay?"

 

+

 

It's like the slowest courtship ever, if they can even call it that, but Bucky finds he doesn't mind. He likes the slow ebb and flow of it; likes that Steve is giving him time and space to settle into it, feel out all the nooks and crannies and make himself at home.

The long game is a lot more fun when he knows what's waiting for him at the other end.

He likes the predictability of Steve's visits; once every morning during the pre-work rush, Monday and Wednesday afternoons to read over paperwork or type away on his laptop. He's pretty good at picking out the quiet times—2pm, before the kitchen closes, so he can grab a late lunch while the last of the lunch crowd trickles out. At 2.30, Bucky has enough time to sit down and take his break with him, but he refuses to believe that Steve's timing it like this on purpose.

On Friday afternoons, Sam joins him so that he can blatantly flirt with Natasha while Steve looks on in amusement, sipping his coffee and rolling his eyes at Bucky.

Steve finally reaches some level of predictability in his coffee orders: cappuccinos, every day, and it's only when Natasha brings it to his attention that Bucky realises that it's because he's been dropping hearts onto all of Steve's coffees like the lovesick idiot that he should probably be more ashamed of being. Cappuccinos are the best to practice his art on, and Steve knows this; knows because Bucky drank a lot of beer and expounded upon his love for coffee at The Treehouse.

Instead, Bucky just grins at her and keeps going with a vengeance. Tulips with hearts on top. Chains of hearts. Bouquets of hearts. And Steve drinks every single one.

Steve leaves little doodles in their place; under his empty coffee cups, there are drawings and cartoons of Bucky hugging his coffee machine with hearts fluttering around his head, Natasha opening a giant bag of sugar only for Sam to pop out instead, Eli covered in a mountain of oranges.

Bucky's not worried—that they haven't kissed, or moved beyond casual touching—other than the bar, they haven't taken this outside the cafe yet, where Bucky still feels safe and secure. He's not sure he wants Natasha or any of the kids giving him any more shit than they already do, anyway.

He's happy, right where they are.

And besides: if he can already feel the fireworks exploding every time Steve rubs an absent minded thumb over his wrist while he turns the page of his newspaper, Bucky can be patient to see how much better it's going to get.

 

+

 

If he stops to think about it, the kids all side with Natasha, really. Eli, Teddy, Kate, the weekenders—somewhere along the way, they all picked up Natasha's example and started ganging up on him. They're not scared of him, and Bucky isn't happy about it.

Bucky isn't sure what she's doing to buy their allegiance. Natasha is terrifying, and nobody should be siding with her. She's either illegally buying them all beer, or scaring them into blindly agreeing with her.

At least that's what he tells himself, after Steve tucks Bucky's hair behind his ear and tells him sweetly that he looks like an adorable hobo before he leaves for his afternoon meetings.

Kate corners him against the drinks fridge to say, "You guys are so cute it makes me want to throw up."

"Your face makes me want to throw up," Bucky says, slapping her hands away. He knows he looks like a starstruck idiot. He doesn't need her taking photos of him to prove it.

"No, actually!" Teddy says, setting a box of napkins down on the countertop. "We're making a collage. We're going to give it to Steve after you guys get together. It's going to be entitled, ‘Bucky's stupid Steve face.'"

Cassie groans. "Please tell me that's a working title. Natasha is not going to be impressed."

"I've taken more photos for the collage than you have," Teddy says, crossing his arms over his chest. "I win, and Natasha will love me more."

Cassie looks around to make sure nobody's listening, then ducks her head closer to whisper-yell, "This is not a competition, Theodore Altman."

Teddy tilts his chin up, cocky and grinning. "Yeah, yeah, I'm pretty sure what losers say."

Bucky isn't sure when this entire conversation got derailed, and he's not sure if they're serious or not about this competition to take more dumb photos of his face. He is going to have strong words with Natasha.

"We're not even together," he says, weakly, and sighs when all three of them turn incredulous stares at him.

"Wow, Barnes," Kate says, shaking her head. "When I first started working here, I thought you were scary, but you're actually just kinda dumb."

"I need to text Billy. I think there's someone who's actually dumber about their relationship than we were," Teddy says.

Kate pokes a finger into Bucky's chest. "Dude, do you hear that? Do you know how bad that is? There is literally nobody in the world dumber about getting together than Teddy and Billy. You'd better do something. Quick."

 

+

 

It's late when he messages Steve that night. He's been lying in bed for an hour and is staring at the ceiling, wondering, wondering—

 

Bucky: can i take you out?

The response is almost immediate; 1am, and Steve's awake, somewhere in the city, looking at this conversation thread. Bucky shivers with anticipation, snuggling down into his bedsheets.

 

Steve: God yes. I thought you'd never ask

Steve: But no to going out. Can I cook you dinner?

Bucky: i asked you out first, rogers. stop trying to skip my turn

Steve: Technically, I asked you out first.

Bucky: to sams party! it doesnt even count! it was a group thing! dont kid yourself

Steve: Hey, it took a lot of guts

Steve: You are very intimidating looking

Steve: And I seem to recall sitting on the balcony and talking for 2 hours at that party, so it obviously worked out fine.

Bucky: actually thought you were trying to ask nat out thru me

Steve: Well, I am not the smoothest person on the face of the planet, okay?

Steve: And besides, you could've said no. And I'd never be able to come and get coffee ever again, probably.

Steve: It was very brave of me.

Bucky: have you seen you? why the fuck would I say no? im not an idiot

Steve: Back to my point though, you make me coffee all the time, so it's probably my turn.

Bucky: you pay for them!

Steve: And it's worth every cent :)

Steve: I wanna do something for you. Is that ok?

Bucky: ok

Bucky: you ruined all my plans to ask you out, btw

Bucky: i feel really emasculated right now

Steve: Literally nobody in this relationship is a woman, Buck.

Bucky: oh is it a relationship now?

Steve: Let's see whether or not I fuck up dinner and then we'll reassess, okay?

Bucky: pretty sure you fucking it up isnt gonna make a lick of difference to me

Steve: We'll see once you're done eating my cooking.

Steve: Good night, Buck.

Bucky: night, steve :)

 

+

 

Steve's apartment smells cheesy and warm and delicious when he opens the door to let Bucky in. Bucky toes his shoes off at the door and stands, curling his toes in his socks, feeling stupidly vulnerable in his socked feet.

Steve smiles affectionately at him, though, and reaches out for a hug, and Bucky steps in willingly, stretching his arms all the way around Steve's waist. He almost doesn't want to let go, except then Steve leans backwards and tilts his forehead against Bucky's, and Bucky can feel the huff of his breath against his mouth when Steve greets him with a soft, "Hey."

Steve kisses him on the cheek and leads him to the kitchen, and Bucky lifts himself up onto the counter to watch as Steve putters around the kitchen. He pulls a pot of half-mashed potatoes into his lap and starts absentmindedly mashing them.

"How was work?" Steve asks, pouring out two glasses of red wine.

"Well, Natasha didn't eviscerate me, so it could've definitely been worse," Bucky says, watching with interest as Steve bends over to check on whatever's in the oven.

"Sometimes I'm not sure if Sam's attracted to her or terrified of her," Steve says. He looks adorable, standing in his kitchen in his grey sweater and blue jeans, barefooted and wearing oven mitts.

"Both? There's a reason the kids call her the Black Widow," Bucky confides. He lets go of the pot with one hand to take a sip of his wine. He swings his feet, knocking his heels against the cupboard.

"Natasha's not that scary," Steve scoffs.

Steve's made basil pesto and garlic and parmesan crumbed chicken, and the most delicious smelling cheesy mashed potato Bucky's ever smelled in his life. If the quality of Steve's cooking is the yardstick for whether or not this is a relationship, Bucky anticipates them signing papers in no time. But he unceremoniously stuffs that errant thought back into the box it popped out from in his brain, and concentrates on mashing his potatoes.

"Nah, she's a big marshmallow. She's just a big marshmallow who could rip your throat out if you pissed her off."

Steve whacks his hand gently with a wooden spoon when he catches Bucky stealing his second spoonful of mash out of the pot in his lap. "Hey, leave enough for dinner," he says.

Bucky wrinkles his nose and glares until Steve steps between his legs and pulls the pot away. Steve tips Bucky's chin up, and Bucky's breath catches in his throat. Steve's so close. Steve's so close that Bucky can see every fleck of hazel in his blue eyes, can see the tiny baby hairs that fluff up from his hairline like downy chick fuzz, the dry skin of his lower lip where he's been picking at it nervously, the careless sprinkle of faint freckles over the high arches his cheeks, stained pink in anticipation.

Bucky takes a deep breath, and leans forward.

Steve tastes like basil pesto—he'd obviously been taste-testing before Bucky got here, and Bucky pinches him in the side.

"Who did you say was spoiling their appetite, Rogers?" he admonishes, pulling back just enough that his mouth brushes Steve's when he speaks.

"Shhh," Steve says, and kisses Bucky again until the taste of herbs gives way to the slick softness of his mouth, the full, tempting curve of his lower lip.

Bucky slips his arm loosely around Steve's neck, holding him close, and sucks softly on Steve's lower lip. Steve wraps both his arms around Bucky's waist. The kiss is sweet and light, despite Steve's arms wrapped around him, and Bucky presses his free hand to the flat of Steve's chest, feeling Steve's heart flutter wildly against his chest.

He tilts his head back, surrenders himself to Steve's kisses, and lets Steve have all of him.

Steve pulls back after an interminable number of minutes and swipes a thumb across Bucky's bottom lip. He looks impossibly sweet and broken open, and he cups the back of Bucky's head, presses a kiss to his forehead.

"Ready to eat?" he asks, and Bucky nods, eager, and doesn't complain when Steve gives him an extra big serving of mashed potatoes.

 

+

 

There's cheesecake for dessert, and Bucky is so, so full, but he moans happily from the couch when Steve tells him so.

"I'm not so great at baking," Steve says as he sits down with a slice. They're on the last of the red wine, and Bucky is feeling pleasantly warm all the way through. "So I made the no-bake kind. You'll have to tell me if it's any good or not."

"That's what you said about your cooking, and I just ate every last bite."

They're sitting mirrored at each other on the couch, Steve's whole body turned sideways on the couch towards Bucky, his plate propped up on the inside of his knee. The cheesecake is, indeed, delicious, and Bucky expresses his approval by eating every last bite and then helping himself to Steve's. Bucky asks how he wound up in politics.

Steve laughs self-deprecatingly. "Would you believe I used to be tiny?"

Bucky narrows his eyes at him. "I'd have to see it to believe it, Rogers."

"No, I'm not kidding. I was such a sick kid. I got bullied all the time because I was so tiny. I had asthma, and pneumonia twice, and I had to have heart surgery. I mean, modern medicine is great, but I would've died if it weren't for that, and probably for mom being a nurse."

Steve pulls up his t-shirt to show Bucky the jagged scar down his chest, and Bucky reaches out to touch him, gently running a finger down the faded, white scar, not quite believing that big, healthy Steve Rogers could ever have been the kid on the playground who kept getting knocked over in fights.

"Mom basically had to work herself to the bone to pay for my medication. Everything went into paying for health insurance and hospital bills," Steve says, holding on to Bucky's wrist. He looks sad, suddenly, and Bucky wants to crawl close and hold him, but instead he laces his fingers into Steve's and just listens.

"That's why I got into politics, I guess. I wanted to change things. I started volunteering at a not-for-profit while I was studying art history, and I saw all this potential for change, so I switched over, did my post-grad in polisci. I wanted to see it change for the better. I wanted to advocate for more support for poor families and sick kids and single parents and people like mom, you know?"

Bucky runs a hand along his knee. Steve Rogers—blue eyed and blonde-haired, built like a brick shit-house. Who knew?

Steve sighs. "But politics is…really tough. It's pretty devastating. It makes you realise that the people up there, running this country—they don't have as much expertise as we think. I have to condense decades-long political issues down to a 500 word brief with recommendations. That's all they base their decisions on, sometimes. There are so many hoops to jump through, so many people to get on your side, so many people to convince that the good thing is the right decision to make, because sometimes it's just not, and it can all just change on a dime."

Steve turns Bucky's hand over and runs his fingers over the ridges in his palm. Bucky shivers, and the plates readjust, rippling up his arm. Sometimes this happens, little spotty glitches in the arm where they recalibrate themselves at any kind of stimuli whatsoever. It's never been irritating or glitchy enough to get it fixed, and Bucky stays out of Stark's workshop as much as he can get away with. Steve watches, fascinated.

"How did this happen? Is that okay? Can I ask?"

"Yeah, it's fine. It happened a couple of years ago. IED."

Steve looks devastated. "How the hell did you wind up in the army?"

Bucky shrugs, and leans in. He slips an arm around Steve's waist and tugs him close; Steve sets aside the plate of cheesecake and goes willingly, folding himself comfortably into the curve of Bucky's body.

"I don't know. I wanted to do something no one expected me to do, I guess. I had no idea what I wanted to do after school. Engineering, maybe? But I just wasn't ready. I thought going away would be a good thing. Make me feel like I was doing something good, you know. Make me feel like I was part of something bigger than me."

"Guess you're more noble than you think you are," Steve says quietly.

"You mean I'm more of an idiot than I thought I was? I got my arm blown off, Steve, And I came home realising that we didn't do jackshit over there."

Steve touches his arm and looks sorrowful.

"I just, I knew so many guys who went over and came home fine. Or at least relatively okay. They went back to college, they did things. There were guys who came home with this whole brotherhood of guys they served with. Got married. Started families. I mean, I figured I could be the one unlucky fucker who'd get blown up, but I don't think I ever thought it would actually happen. And then..." Bucky trails off, stretching his metal fingers out curiously in front of him.

"I'm sorry," Steve says, determinedly. "I'm sorry for what you had to give up. And I'm glad that you're still here."

"Steve," Bucky says, sighing, dropping his hand, and when Steve tilts his head up, he can't help but press their mouths together, again and again, until Steve's frown fades. The wine's gone, and Bucky's eyes and head feel cottony and heavy.

"I'm glad I met you," Steve says, cupping Bucky's face in his large hands.

Bucky leans forward to bite at his lip, feeling broken-open and needing to dispel all of the vulnerability shivering just under his skin. Conversation seemingly over, Steve sighs into mouth and pushes Bucky playfully back onto the couch, kisses his mouth open, thumbing at the hinge of his jaw.

Before Bucky knows it, his heavy eyelids are sliding closed, their limbs comfortably and hopelessly entangled, the sleepy pout of Steve's mouth pressed lazily to the flat of his chest, just under his collarbone, like a promise.

 

+

 

Bucky takes Steve out to the Met a week later, after Steve confesses his love for art over a coffee break. Bucky hasn't been in years, but it's almost like every experience with Steve renders makes everything he's done before pale in comparison. He can't even remember what his other visits were like; so long as they didn't have Steve, wide eyed and eager, reading every single description plate accompanying each piece of art, they didn't matter.

It's like an out-of-body experience, watching Steve look back at him over his shoulder, grinning, as they climb the steps to the entrance; watching himself guide Steve out of peoples' way with a hand on the small of his back. He can't believe this is happening to him, that he's allowed to touch, that Steve would even encourage it, but here he is, letting Steve tug him this way and that, showing Bucky his favourite exhibits and staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the pieces that fascinate him.

Bucky's sipping on his takeaway latte, sitting by the reflecting pool in the Egyptian exhibit. Steve's eyes have been bright with naked wonder all morning; he hasn't had time to come for years, either, not in between college and work, not since his mom died. He's admiring the architecture and the lighting of the room, waving his coffee cup with abandon as he explains it to Bucky. He's leaning backwards on one hand, body tilted towards Bucky.

The sunlight coming through the skylight is illuminating Steve like a beacon, and Bucky can't stop looking at him, the dark stubble along his jaw, the little healing scar where he nicked himself shaving last week, the tiny creases around the corners of his eyes, his sure fingers wrapped around the small coffee cup. God, he's so—Bucky can't stop brushing the curve of his mouth with his thumb and leaning in to kiss him, even if it takes a little bit of effort to dodge the waving coffee cup.

Steve tastes like the coffee they stopped to grab from the cafe. He wrinkles his nose whenever Bucky interrupts his sentences for kisses, but leans forward obligingly whenever Bucky slips his fingers between the buttons of his flannel shirt, tugging him in again. He just keeps talking like nothing's happened.

Bucky nearly drops his cup for lack of attention when Steve stops talking to run his hand through Bucky's hair and pull him close, kiss him deeply.

They take a slow walk back through Central Park afterwards, and Bucky feels drunk on wonder and the courage it's taken to take Steve's hand, to keep holding onto it. They have no plans, but there's a food truck parked at the exit, and Bucky buys them both burritos and laughs as Steve spills the filling all over himself, trying to catch the sauce running down his hand on his tongue.

Their fingers are sticky when Steve tangles them together, but Bucky holds on tight and doesn't let go.

 

+

 

The laptop has been relegated to the side of Bucky's bed so that they can fit together under the covers. Bucky's warm and sleep-fuzzy; he's been at work and he smells like coffee and the backs of his knees hurt from standing all day. But here, under the covers and wrapped up in Steve, he can stop thinking about the aches and pains and the way his hands still smell like grind even though he's had a shower and washed his hands about a million times.

They're just in their t-shirts and briefs, and it's been three weeks; three weeks of coffee dates and home-cooked dinners and excursions to Coney Island and hidden art markets in Brooklyn, and Bucky wants, he wants Steve so much. Steve's head is heavy where it's lying on the pillow and Bucky's arm, and he feels so good, so full with Steve lying here in his arms, trusting and relaxed and all Bucky's.

Bucky's stopped paying attention to the movie and given into temptation, pressing his mouth to the nape of Steve's neck.

He's been so patient, but he's ready to be brave.

Slowly, Bucky hitches the bottom of Steve's soft cotton shirt up and brushes his hand along Steve's belly, soothing and exploratory, feeling it quiver under his touch as Steve takes a short, sharp breath. The rest of the world falls away, the sound of the movie fading to a distance buzz as Bucky zeroes in, nearly dizzy on the feeling of Steve's skin under his dry, calloused palm.

Steve is soft around the edges, pliant and sweet, and he tilts his head to the side, exposing the line of his neck in encouragement when Bucky leans up to kiss his shoulder, mouth his way up to the hollow behind his ear. Bucky splays his hand over Steve's taut belly and kisses his neck, his hair falling out of its loose ponytail to brush across Steve's skin. Steve tilts his head further into the pillow, mouth open, soft and tantalising, against the pillow, his lashes nearly glowing in the flickering light of the laptop.

Bucky pushes himself closer, fitting every inch of himself against Steve's back, and feels hot all the way through when Steve pushes back against him, ass fitting perfectly against Bucky's groin. Steve isn't stopping him—Steve is lying there and letting Bucky touch him, lying there and breathing softly against the pillow, face relaxed as Bucky strokes his fingers along his belly.

Bucky presses his face to the back of Steve's neck and huffs a hot breath against his skin. His thumb dips into Steve's bellybutton. With Bucky's fingers spread this wide, this possessive, over Steve's stomach, he can feel the trail of hair leading downwards into Steve's briefs, and he suddenly realises he's achingly hard against Steve's back.

His hand slips daringly lower, toying with the band of Steve's briefs. Steve's breaths are coming in harder, and he wraps a hand gently around Bucky's wrist; not stopping him, not guiding, just to touch.

"Can I?" Bucky whispers hotly against his neck, and Steve reaches down, pushes the band of his briefs down just enough that Bucky can slide his hand all the way down. Steve is half hard against his thigh, his balls soft and vulnerable in Bucky's hand. Bucky wants to touch him all over, Bucky doesn't know where to touch first. He bites his lip and curls his hand around Steve; he's the perfect size and length, at least to Bucky, anyway, and he jacks him slowly, feeling Steve fill out, hard and tantalising, in Bucky's hand.

Bucky doesn't know what he wants, he knows he just wants more—more of this, more of Steve coming apart in his hands.

Steve reaches back, grabs Bucky by the hip and pulls him closer so he ruts up against Steve's back. His fingers dig bluntly into Bucky's skin like a brand, and Bucky stifles a moan in the back of Steve's neck, hopelessly turned on. Steve wants him back. Steve wants this too. Steve—

"Steve," Bucky gasps raggedly.

Steve rolls over to face him. He kisses Bucky, open-mouthed and insistent. He slings his leg over Bucky's hip and pulls their groins together, moaning quietly into Bucky's mouth when their cocks rub up against each other. God, Steve's so hard. Bucky can feel it, the heat settling in, roaring up through his chest, in his ears. He feels dizzy, like he's slammed back a shot of whiskey and it's gone straight to his head. Steve's hot, clammy in a way that speaks of sex and lust and it drives Bucky insane, he wants him so much—

Bucky hooks his fingers into Steve's briefs and pulls them halfway down his ass, too dizzy with need to push them all the way down. Steve's fingers are yanking at his briefs, too, and then they're sliding together, skin to skin. He clutches Steve to himself and grinds against him, every touch lighting his skin on fire.

"Buck, please," Steve moans. Bucky kisses it clumsily from his mouth, stains his lips down the side of his neck when Steve tilts his head back.

Bucky pushes him onto his back, pins him to the mattress by his shoulders, and pulls his t-shirt up. Steve half-sits up for as long as it takes to get it off his head, then sinks back to the mattress, looking up at Bucky with a dark, provocative look on his face. Steve's mouth is slack with want, pink and wet from Bucky's attention, and Bucky bends forward to lick the curve of his mouth and push his knees apart. Bucky's mouth trails a heated path from Steve's mouth to his chin, over his dusty pink, peaked nipple, into the dip of his belly button.

Steve's hands go from gently cupping his head to trying not to grab and pull by the time Bucky's mouth hits the crease where his hip becomes his thigh.

Steve laughs when Bucky sits up to pull Steve's briefs the rest of the way off. It gets caught on his ankle, an incongruously goofy moment, and Bucky flings it aside. Then Steve is flopping back to the bed, gloriously naked and grinning, eyes daring Bucky to do his worst.

Bucky pins his cock to his belly and licks him, slowly, from his balls to the tip. Steve pulls in a long, jagged gasp, head falling gently back to the pillow, one knee coming up to bracket the side of Bucky's head. Bucky leans his head on his thigh and licks him again, curious. Steve tastes musky and masculine, like clean sweat, and Bucky's mouth waters.

He's missed doing this; hasn't done it recently, but watching Steve sink luxuriously back into his pillows and slowly lose himself has been worth the wait. He kisses the head of Steve's dick wetly, flicks his tongue against the ridge under the head of Steve's cock, then does it again, fascinated, when Steve's hips hitch upwards reflexively. He fits his mouth around the tip of Steve's cock and sucks, softly, watching as Steve's back arches off the mattress.

Bucky licks his lips and sinks slowly down, feeling the weight of Steve's cock sit heavy and gorgeous on his tongue. Steve's quiet above him, chest heaving, fingers clenching in Bucky's hair. Bucky flicks his tongue against the underside, wets Steve's cock enough to get a hand around him and jerk him off slowly where he can't quite reach with his mouth.

Steve brushes Bucky's hair out of his eyes and leans up onto his elbows to watch him as he sinks down onto his dick. He's looking at Bucky in abject fascination, like he's a work of art, and Bucky feels like preening. He strokes a thumb against the soft spot behind Steve's balls, and Steve shudders. Bucky lets his eyes flutter closed, opening his jaw wide to try and take Steve in as far as he can.

He's really getting into the rhythm of it when Steve tugs gently at his hair, hanging loosely around his face, then the neck of his t-shirt. He gets Bucky up to his knees and yanks it the rest of the way off. He pulls Bucky between his open thighs, writhing and eager.

Bucky doesn't know where Steve's gotten the lube from, but here he is, pressing it into Bucky's hands, whispering, "C'mon, Buck," into Bucky's mouth, and—

God, Steve's so hot on the inside, so tight even just around one finger, and Steve's gasping, head thrown back against the pillow, the long arch of his neck begging to be bitten, so Bucky does, and then it's two fingers, deep, and Steve's sliding back down onto him, moaning, and Bucky's slipping three in, searching for that spot, watching Steve take him—Steve's knees spread wide, just waiting for Bucky—

Bucky sits up and fumbles breathlessly to pull his briefs off. He bites his lip and does a bit of a sexy wiggle when Steve laughs at him from flat on the bed. He pulls it off his ankle and throws it at Steve's head, laughing when it lands on his face and he squawks in indignation. Bucky fumbles for the condom and runs a lube-slick hand over his cock, and then Steve's tossing the briefs aside and getting a hand around Bucky's wrist, pulling him down with a playfully demanding, "Come here," and then Bucky's leaning over Steve and pressing in, slowly, and Steve's hands are clenching on his back, and—

God, he feels amazing.

He feels fucking amazing. He feels better than anything Bucky's ever done before, and Bucky tips his head forward to Steve's chest, feeling his heart beat wildly against his ribcage, feeling them breathe and come together.

Steve runs his fingers down Bucky's side, and his lip is bitten pink, and he's looking at Bucky with this warm, soft look on his face, the remnants of laughter fading as wonder clouds his face. Bucky can't help but fit his mouth to Steve's, panting and open, to kiss him again and again, push his knee to the side and thrust in, slow, slow, slow.

He gets his fingers in Steve's hair and messes him up, pulls his head back so he can kiss the warm little nook under his ear, lick the long column of his neck. He fucks Steve in deep, sure thrusts, letting the head of his cock catch on the rim of Steve's hole, then pushes all the way back in, feeling Steve shudder around him.

Steve, the control freak, evidently gets bored with him, gets a knee up and rolls them over. He's got a mischievous grin on his face, and he pins Bucky's wrists to the bed and rolls his hips, taking Bucky all the way in. Steve looks beautiful above him, all reckless abandon and relaxed, open playfulness.

God, what Bucky would give—to just remember this forever, keep it in his pocket like a photograph—the teasing, sinuous roll of Steve's hips as he fucks himself on Bucky's cock, the way he bites his lip, the hitch of his breath when he finds the angle he likes. Bucky's drunk with need, fingers digging bruises in the dip of Steve's hips, so turned on it hurts as he watches Steve move like liquid above him. His strong thighs flex around Bucky's hips as he rides him, and Bucky runs his hands over his belly, his chest, brushes a thumb over a peaked nipple, in amazement.

Steve's cock is starting to drip pre-come on his belly, and Bucky wraps his fingers around him, doesn't realise they're the metal ones until Steve gasps and shoves his cock forward into the circle of Bucky's fist. He's so hard, it's making Bucky's mouth water. He doesn't know where to look—the seductive, open gape of Steve's mouth and the flutter of his eyelashes—the soft pink of his cock slipping in and out of Bucky's fist—the way Bucky's cock is disappearing into his body—

Next time, next time, God, he's going to pin Steve to the bed, spend a while loving on him, so much he won't be able to get the taste of him out of his mouth. But right now, it doesn't take long, alternating long, sure strokes with quick jerks with his hand, bringing Steve to the edge and then pushing him back down again. And then Steve's gasping, coming on Bucky's cock, all over his fingers and his belly. He falls forward, onto Bucky's chest, and Bucky slips a hand up the back of his neck, cupping his head as he kisses the moans out of his mouth.

When Steve catches his breath, he starts moving again, breathing hotly against Bucky's mouth. Bucky slings an arm around his waist and thrusts upwards, into Steve's welcoming heat. He can feel it building, hands clenching against Steve's warm skin, toes curling in the bedsheets. Steve presses a thumb to his jaw and kisses him, hot and open mouthed, and Bucky holds on to him and closes his eyes and comes, and comes, and comes.

 

+

 

He's covered in bruises the next day—Steve had slid on top of him at 4am and they'd gone again, sleep-hazy and clumsy with need, just sliding against each other, Steve's hand wrapped around the both of them and his mouth leaving bruises all over Bucky's neck and shoulders. Bucky feels achey in the best kind of way today, and his hands are still itching to touch Steve.

Steve leans against Bucky's kitchen counter, shirtless and in Bucky's loosest pair of track pants. Bucky wants to press him against the counter and swallow him down. He tamps down the urge in favour of stirring their cheesy scrambled eggs on the stove. Food first, then making out.

"I thought you'd at least have a coffee machine in your house," Steve says, inching closer up behind him. He wraps an arm around Bucky's waist and hooks his chin over Bucky's shoulder, and Bucky feels warmth bloom through his chest. He doesn't try to hide his smile.

"I love coffee. I don't love it enough to drop a few thousand on a machine," he hums.

"You could just get one of those Nespresso things—" Steve says, then laughs when Bucky turns to stare at him, scandalised.

"Don't speak like that in my household, Rogers," he scolds, waving the eggy spatula at Steve.

"Okay, okay, fine," Steve says, backing off with a grin and his hands in the air. He finally finds the coffee cupboard and starts pulling jars down to the countertop. "Is instant coffee okay?"

"It'll do," Bucky says. The instant coffee is Clint's. Like Bucky would ever have instant coffee in his house. He chooses not to share that information with Steve.

Steve pours the coffee into two mugs and passes one to Bucky. Half a sugar and a splash of milk—Bucky accepts it, along with a long kiss and a squeeze of his ass. He turns the stove off and turns to lean against the counter, warming his hands on his coffee mug.

Steve grins against the lip of his mug and says, "I know it's not like anything you make and I can't do hearts or anything, but if you want we can go back to the cafe and I can buy a coffee for you and you can make it and show me how much you like me back with your latte art—"

Bucky interrupts him by pressing him up against the fridge and kissing the hell out of him. Instant coffee tastes almost bearable straight out of Steve's mouth.

 

+

 

He confides in Steve, one night, curled up against him in Steve's warm bed in his warm apartment. About the stupid little fantasy he'd had, about a meet cute in a coffee shop that never left the confines of his own brain. That their story could have been the stuff of $8 dollars a stub, first-date movies. That Steve might have been the only person who ever walked into the cafe who stood a chance of making it a reality.

"But I just really hated customers. I didn't expect you to come along," he whines into Steve's chest.

Steve huffs laughter, and trails his fingers up Bucky's arm. "Is that why you always look like you want to murder people?" Steve asks.

Bucky leans back to glare at him. "I just have resting bitch face!" he says, outraged.

Steve laughs, presses a soft smile to Bucky's chin, then his forehead, then the indignant moue of his mouth. "Well, maybe I like a guy who looks like he could kill and eat me for breakfast. Thought it was really cute."

Bucky groans, then settles closer and buries his nose into Steve's neck. "Shut up, Rogers. You just love a challenge, that's all."

Steve shifts to pull him close, close enough that Bucky needs to sling a leg over his middle, just to make sure they fit together, from top to toe.

"Yeah," he sighs, as Bucky wriggles to readjust himself. Steve's deliciously naked, and Bucky has lots of ideas. "Pays off, though, doesn't it?"

 

+

 

Steve comes in during the morning rush and Bucky looks up from his docket line to find Steve looking back, blue eyes happy and amused. He doesn't think Steve's fixed his hair from where Bucky's messed it up this morning.

He finishes Steve's cappuccino and pulls him around the end of the counter. Presses a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth, uncaring that Natasha will simultaneously tease him affectionately and whoop his ass for being unprofessional on the clock after this.

He really doesn't have the time, and his dockets are piling up, and he can hear Kate taking photos of him, and Natasha's accepting low fives under the counter from Eli.

But all of it pales in comparison to the feeling of Steve's calloused fingers brushing against his as he collects his coffee, the electric look he gives him over the coffee machine as he leaves.

 

+

 

It might not be a Hollywood movie romance, but as romances go, it's pretty damn good.

 

+

 

finis.