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Belonging

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Waking up almost seventy years into the future, in a world with people he didn't know and people who didn't care about the man under the suit, was hard and depressing and lonely. But, after the initial shock and after forcing himself to look at the positive side for once, there were still a lot of things that Steve liked and found enjoyable about the twenty-first century.

The evolution of technology, for example. Steve had a computer in his pocket. A fucking computer. The fact that computers and the internet were even a thing was mind blowing but knowing he could have all of that in his pocket was even more overwhelming. He could talk to thousands – millions – of people at once with a click of a button. Not even that because smartphones were a thing and he could just touch the screen and be on the internet, just like that. Amazing.

People had wheels in their shoes now. Well, not so much anymore, apparently. Steve had been told, by several people, that it was considered “lame” to have wheel shoes. Heelyes, they were called. Except for Barton, of course. Steve had seen Barton wheeling down the halls of the Triskelion more than once, coffee in hand and usually with more than one agent calling after him to cut it out.

Steve liked Barton. Barton was alright.

Television had color now. So many colors that Steve could actually see because the serum had fixed a lot, including his color blindness, and it was incredible. There were colorful explosions in the form of fireworks, beautiful and aesthetically pleasing visuals of landscapes and the sky and deep space. Close ups in high definition and amazing quality you just couldn't find anywhere but in paintings back in the day.

Speaking of television; Disney movies. Steve had been slightly (correction: very) overwhelmed when he had found out just how many Disney movies he had missed over the years of being... well, dead. But he was an artist by heart, not so much by practice since he hadn't done any art since before everything, and a huge fan of Disney before, so he had been delighted to know he had future marathons to look forward to.

Of the few he had managed to watch between missions and in his own downtime, his favorite was, by far, Mulan. Peter Pan was a close second.

In the twenty-first century, there was easier access to things. The internet, Steve learned, was very helpful in that regard. He could order clothes online with a click and a press and have the order complete within a few minutes, unlike back before he went into the ice where it would take ages. He had more money now too so he could actually afford things and didn't have to walk around in holed socks and shoes that were too big for him.

Not that he was very keen on spending that money. Some habits you just don't let go of that easy.

Another thing Steve really liked about this century was the visibility of the queer community. Or, as he'd been told was more appropriate, the LGBTQ+ community. It was amazing reading up on that history, pride filling his chest at the incredible people fighting for their cause.

And, of course, he finally had labels to put on himself; bisexual, transgender. It was nice knowing he wasn't alone and that he had words for these things he had been struggling with his entire life. God bless this part of the twenty-first century, for making him feel more accepted.

Speaking of that, another thing Steve liked about this century was that trans people were getting more recognition, more visibility. Not a lot and certainly not enough and not always good, but it was a hell of a lot more than he was used to. It was nice– no, it was more than nice to see people like him on screen and in books and in the real world, unafraid and proud of who they were and not getting immediately beat up or a lot worse.

It was more than nice to see the flag of the community waving in the crowd of people during the Pride parade, which was another thing Steve fucking adored about this future he had found himself in. He wished, more than anything, to be a part of that for real one day and not in disguise, baseball hat low over his eyes because he wasn't out and, well, a part of him was still terrified.

Transgender people had easier access to resources, Steve learned when he went searching for them. Binders were a thing for transmasculine people like himself but, looking down at his chest that, despite having never had surgery for his breasts, still looked more like pecs than anything else because he had never had that big of a chest, he determined he didn't really need that. There was far less dysphoria and discomfort for him there so it was unnecessary.

Instead he had purchased a packer for himself and that, Steve was pleased to discover, worked a lot better than the sock he used to stuff down his pants for appearance sake and for his own sake. It was a comforting and incredible feeling to have that in his pants, to be able to look down and see a bulge where he hadn't before.

It was fucking amazing and Steve loved it.

Reading up on the transgender history that he had missed over the near seventy years of being frozen lead to learning about the development in the medical world. A good portion of the many, many illnesses and ailments that he had had to deal with for the majority of his life and that he had to watch friends deal with were not only curable but also no longer a death sentence.

Good. Steve was glad medicine was better now. It settled a worry in his chest that he hadn't even realized he'd walked around with.

Steve had always been a fan of music. He'd listened to his mother hum a tune as she'd cooked or cleaned or lulled him to sleep whenever he had been too sick to leave the bed. He'd turned the radio up when he drew or did his best to patch his ruined clothes or cut his hair when it go too long. Music made him feel things when all he felt was numb and that hadn't changed.

No amount of time spend under the ice could make him fall out of love with music. And yeah, music was a lot different now a days than it was back then but that didn't mean he didn't like it. In fact, he loved that it was so different. It was a long track of voices and tunes to fall in love with, to make him feel a variety of things. Some of it was good, some of it wasn't, but that's how it had always been.

There were a lot of things Steve liked about the twenty-first century. The list was, thankfully, long and still growing. There were also a lot of things he didn't like about it and the list for that was, unfortunately, also very long and growing faster and faster.

One of the many things he didn't like was the fucking annoying alarm clock Sam had given him a while back.

Steve rolled over and groaned into his pillow the moment the sound of a way too awake and way too cheery radio host's voice greeted him a good morning and told him it was going to be a nice and sunny and beautiful day outside followed by a warning for rain as night fell.

“I hate the future,” Steve complained in a grumble and buried his face in the pillow, pulling the blanket over his head in an attempt to shut out the sound of terrible, happy-go-lucky music that followed the way too upbeat radio host.

Who the fuck was this chipper this early? It took Steve at least five minutes post morning piss to properly wake up and even then he was nowhere near that level of awake. Ever.

He let it play for as long as his still slumbering temper would allow it but then, after a torturous nineteen seconds, he shot up and shut the alarm clock off, willing himself not to put a fist through it. He had thought about it countless times but Sam had been kind enough to give it to him – although Steve wasn't entirely convinced it wasn't just Sam being an asshole – and he wasn't about to destroy a gift from the best friend he'd ever had.

His bedroom was pleasantly quiet once again, aside from the chirping birds outside his window as the sun rose slowly, and Steve pressed the palms of his hands against his face, letting out a drawn out groan. He scrubbed his face a couple of times, rubbed the sleep gunk out of his eyes, and ran a hand through his sleep mussed hair before he finally swung his legs out from under the blanket and dragged himself out of bed.

The sun wasn't quite up yet, the sky still mostly dark when Steve shoved the curtains apart in front of the window in his bedroom. He didn't spare the city and mostly quiet streets outside more than a quick look before he looked upward to check whether it really was gonna be a nice and sunny and beautiful day like the annoying radio host had told him.

The radio host hadn't been lying, it looked like, so Steve grabbed a short sleeved shirt, his packer, and sweatpants on his way out of the room. His apartment was small and, even though he'd lived there for a couple of years now, still bare of personal items. He didn't want them. The place was a mess enough already and his personal items were limited to a small box in the back of his closet anyway.

He took a piss, washed his face, and downed a glass of cold water before he stepped into his running shoes, shoved his keys into his pocket, and left his apartment. He jogged his way toward the usual meeting place with Sam, a grin growing on his lips the moment he spotted his friend stretching near where they had first met.

Well, met might be reaching. It was where Steve had ran by him the first time.

Sam spotted him shortly after Steve did, his eyes narrowing immediately and lips stretching thin.

“I know that look!” he called out to him, and Steve's grin grew wider. “Don't you say it!”

“On your left!” Steve called back and jogged right past him.

“You're such an asshole,” Sam groaned.

Steve laughed, swirled around, and came right back to throw an arm around Sam's neck, pulling him into a headlock. “I'm just kidding,” he said. “I plan on slowing down to your pace today.”

“How nice of you,” Sam said dryly and wrestled his way out of the headlock. “Should give yourself a gold star for that one.”

“Isn't that your job?”

“What am I, your teacher?”

“A little bit, actually, yeah.”

“Okay,” Sam said and chuckled, patting Steve's chest for a brief moment. “Then be a good boy and start running, Rogers.”

“Yes, mister Wilson,” Steve said and shot him a quick salute before he turned and started running, grinning when he heard Sam laughing behind him.

Sam wasn't necessarily a slow runner, not in any way. Steve just liked to go fast. When he ran, he ran until all he could think about was the sweat beading on his forehead and making his clothes stick to his damp body, and the wind blowing against his exposed skin and rustling in his hair.

When he ran, he ran until all he could think about were his feet slamming against the ground underneath him, until his mind was nothing but that. He hated going slow and, for him, Sam's pace was slow. Yeah, he did say he was going to slow down to that pace, but...

Well...

“On your left.”

“Come on!”

Some things never change.

Steve lapped Sam only once before the sun brought out light and people started filling the streets. Which meant that when Sam moved to trip Steve when he came around to lap him for a second time, Steve had to dodge both his outstretched leg and a woman coming jogging in the opposite direction with a stroller.

He managed though, smiling apologetically at the woman before flipping off a chuckling Sam and sprinting ahead again.

Steve had been doing morning runs with Sam on and off for the past year, give or take, since Sam had officially joined the Avengers after he'd helped Steve, Natasha, and Fury take down the HYDRA group trying to infiltrate the SHIELD facility in Washington.

(And man had that been a nice surprise for Steve, to know that he still, even after seventy years, had to deal with fucking HYDRA.)

On and off meaning only when they were both in town, neither of them send out on missions.

But Steve had quickly figured out when Sam was going to tire out. Usually, when he lapped him for the second time, Sam would start to slow down a little and sweat would usually already have created a dark spot on the back of his shirt. Sam had been running a lot more and was getting a lot better at keeping up with Steve but Steve was still enhanced and it took a lot more to tire him out than it did Sam.

And by the third time Steve came to lap him, Sam would usually be about to call it a day and go lay in the grass under the shade of a tree until he could breathe again. Which was usually around the time Steve would join him, not too tired to keep running but rarely in the mood if he didn't have a goal.

That morning was no different than the rest.

With his eyes zoned in on Sam coming to a slow jog instead of a full run in the distance, Steve avoided a small group of teenagers and sped up to lap his friend for the third time this morning alone. A grin was already forming on his lips when he neared, the grin only growing wider when Sam looked over his shoulder to glare.

“Don't,” Sam started to warn but Steve didn't listen to him.

“On your left,” he said and ran past him. His grin, toothy and amused and smug as hell, only grew that much wider when he heard Sam groan exasperatedly behind him and he twisted around a little to look over his shoulder, his feet still carrying him forward in a run.

Sam, now slowed down into a walk, lifted both hands and flipped him off. Steve lifted a hand to flip him off right back and–

– and crashed right into something hard. He tumbled and fell, bringing whatever he had crashed into down with him. The ground was solid and hard under him and the thing he had crashed into groaned under him the same time he did.

Wait a second.

Getting his hands onto the concrete, Steve pulled back enough to look at what was under him. And when he saw what or more like who it was, his lips parted in a slight gape and a flush rose to his cheeks.

“Oh,” he breathed and blinked owlishly.

The man under him was grimacing and groaning, one eye closed and the other squinted nearly shut but Steve could still see the gray or maybe very light blue color in them. His hair, dark brown, looked to be long, pulled away from his face with a few wild strands of hair falling along his face. There was a stubble artfully covering his jaw, surrounding a pair of pink lips that showed off a row of white teeth as he grimaced.

The man blinked a few times before he seemed to became aware of where he was. He opened both eyes fully and looked up at Steve, Steve's face heating up more when their eyes locked and stayed there.

The man under him looked bewildered. Steve didn't blame him.

“Hi,” Steve said lamely.

“Uh,” the man said and oh, that was a nice voice. “Hi?”

“I'm Steve,” Steve said after a beat. There was a familiar snort somewhere behind him but he ignored it. Sam could wait, Steve was busy.

“Uh,” the man repeated, a little more drawn out this time, and his lips twitched briefly while the corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement. “Bucky.”

“Hi, Bucky.”

Bucky let out a small huff of a chuckle and said, “Hey.”

Steve's lips twitched and moved into a smile. “Nice weather, right?”

“Wonderful,” Bucky deadpanned. “Shame about the raining men.”

“Something's eating my foot.”

“Yeah, it's– Wait, what?”

Bucky blinked up at him, brows furrowing with confusion. Steve twisted slightly to look down at himself, down to his feet laid out on the concrete ground below them. And sure enough, something was actually eating his foot.

A pit bull had its teeth firmly dug into his right running shoe, growling lowly around it and tugging at it– at him. It was white with a large brown spot surrounding its left front leg and a random splattering of smaller, brown dots along its body. Its snout had a brown spot too, as well as its right ear while the left was full of small ones.

Had it not been because the dog was currently attacking his foot, Steve would probably have found it incredibly adorable.

Oh, who was he kidding? It was still adorable despite attacking his foot.

“Oh, right,” Bucky said under him and huffed. “Yeah, that's Astro. My service dog.”

“Your service–”

Cutting himself off, Steve blinked and dragged his eyes further along the dog– Astro's body. He hadn't even noticed the vest it was wearing, the words Service Dog clearly displayed on the red background. He cringed a little at himself and looked back down at Bucky. An apology was already formed on his lips but Bucky spoke before he could get a single syllable out.

“She'll stop biting you if you get off me,” he said and raised both brows pointedly at him.

“Sorry,” Steve said in a lowered voice and moved to get back up and off of Bucky. The moment he had his left foot planted flat on the ground, Astro's teeth retracted from his other foot and she stepped away from him, letting him get to his feet.

When he was off the ground and on his feet again, he instinctively reached down with his right hand to help Bucky up as well. Belatedly, he realized his mistake. Because he was using his right hand, he was reaching to Bucky's left side and, after taking a proper look down, he realized Bucky's left side was empty and missing an entire arm, the sleeve of his jacket clipped to his shoulder.

Steve did nothing but switch his hand to reach for Bucky's right side instead and, when he locked eyes with him again, he smiled at him and said nothing about it. Especially not when he saw the suddenly tense line in Bucky's shoulders and the sudden guarded expression on his face.

It didn't change, however, when Bucky wrapped his hand around Steve's and let himself get pulled to his feet. The tense posture and the guarded expression stayed and Bucky let go of his hand the second he could stand on his own.

Steve took no offense, just took a small step back and let his smile stay put. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Sam stepping closer to him but he kept his eyes on Bucky, watching as Astro trotted over to him and sat down by his side, head tilted up to look at him.

Bucky bend down in his knees slightly and scratched behind her ear before he grabbed onto the leash attached to the collar around her neck and muttered, “Good girl.”

“I'm really sorry,” Steve said again. He briefly took his eyes off of Bucky when Sam came to stand by his side, an amused grin on his lips that Steve responded to with a warning look, before he looked back at Bucky. “I wasn't looking where I was going and–”

“It's fine,” Bucky interrupted and shrugged. “I wasn't really hurt or anything, so...”

He trailed off slowly while his eyes flickered from Steve to Sam and back on repeat several times, his brows moving together in a furrow little by little. Steve bit his tongue and stiffened slightly, watching the gears turn in Bucky's head. Beside him, Steve knew that Sam was puffing out his chest a little.

A long and slightly awkward silence stretched between them as Bucky clearly recognized them but struggled to figure out why. Part of Steve was grateful for that, to not have to deal with being Captain America with yet another civilian for the billionth time, but another part of him felt bad for Bucky because the guy was clearly struggling.

Sam was the one who took pity on him, finally.

“Falcon,” he said and pointed at himself, then at Steve. “Captain America.”

Bucky's brows jumped up at the reveal and his eyes flickered between them for another moment before they settled on Steve. Steve put on a smile and forced himself not to fidget or shift awkwardly even though he felt it, uncomfortable under the calculating gaze as Bucky's eyes drifted over him slowly.

“Not every day you get floored by Captain America,” Bucky said, then side-eyed Sam. “Or get laughed at by the Falcon.”

“Hey,” Sam said and held up his hands. “I wasn't laughing at you, man.”

“He was laughing at me,” Steve said dryly.

“Because you're a damn disaster, Steve. It's really easy to laugh at you.”

“Oh, fuck off. You just love making fun of me for every single embarrassing and stupid thing I've ever done because you're a giant piece of shit.”

“Well, there are a lot of them. You're not exactly making it hard for me.”

“Or maybe you're just paying too much attention to me.”

Sam narrowed his eyes. “If you're implying what I think you're implying, the answer is still no.”

“Oh, come on. Not even a little bit?”

“No.”

“But–”

“Uh,” Bucky interrupted with, cutting in through their banter.

Steve blinked, slightly startled, as his attention was pulled back to Bucky. For a minute there he had forgotten Bucky was still there, as terrible as it sounded. Sam was good at that; making him forget about everything else because things were so easy with Sam while the rest of everything was very much not.

Bucky was watching them, eyes going from one to the other like he was watching a tennis match. A confusing match of tennis, if his facial expression was anything to go by. Although, Steve noted after a second of staring, there was a slight, amused curl in the corner of his lips so Steve figured it wasn't all bad.

Still, he couldn't help the guilt that pooled in the pit of his stomach at having completely and rudely ignored the guy. And after crashing into him and probably spooking the shit out of him, no less.

“I think I'm just gonna,” Bucky continued and gestured ahead of himself, shaking the leash attached to his service dog with the movement, “continue my walk, then.”

“Right,” Steve said with a nod. “Sorry again for, uh... for running into you like that.”

“'s fine,” Bucky said and moved forward. Astro moved with him immediately, sticking to his side and making the leash look unnecessary. But Bucky was still holding onto it tightly, like it was a lifeline. “Though maybe you should keep your eyes ahead from now on. Not everyone's gonna appreciate Captain America running into them.”

“Duly noted,” Steve said and moved out of the way to let Bucky pass between them. “And uh, nice meeting you, Bucky.”

Bucky offered him a little smile and a nod, both of which looked strained and awkward. Both still looked strained and awkward when he offered the same to Sam. He said nothing as he continued to walk, shoulders square and tense and hand curled into a tight fist around Astro's leash. It looked like she was the one guiding him, not the other way around.

With a frown, Steve turned and watched him walk away. He tried not to, tried to get himself to look away so Bucky could walk away in peace like he probably wanted to. He didn't mean to ogle him, didn't mean to maybe not so subtly let his eyes wander over his backside, checking him out.

He wasn't even really aware of what he was doing. Not until he was shoved out of his admiring gaze by a sharp elbow jabbing into his side a couple of times.

Steve blinked as he snapped out of it and he turned, sending Sam a look as he swatted his elbow away. Sam grinned in return, teasing and knowing. Steve glared at him and tried to ignore the blush that rose to his cheeks, warming them and painting them pink.

“Maybe you should've asked for his number,” Sam said a minute after Bucky had been well out of earshot.

“Ha!” Steve exclaimed humorlessly and smacked Sam's shoulder. “Hilarious.”

“I'm just saying,” Sam said, smacking him back. “This could have been the start of an amazing meet cute.”

“I don't know what that is.”

“Yes, you do. Don't lie to me.”

“Fuck off.” Steve rolled his eyes. “Now c'mon, we're not done with your run yet.”

He didn't wait for Sam to reply. Instead, he took of running before Sam could get a single word out, whether that was about Bucky or anything else. He didn't care, he just needed to run away from that conversation no matter what.

“Do you ever stop being an asshole?” Sam yelled after him.

“Nope!”

 

 

Steve had always hated clothes. Not in the sense that he wanted to walk around buck ass naked all the time, fuck no. That would be even worse, he could barely get himself to take a shower naked some days. But he had always hated clothes in the sense that he had always been uncomfortably aware of everything when wearing them and it wasn't until the most recent years that he had started to feel more confident in his style, his body.

Before the war – before the serum, back when he was still skinny as a twig and short as hell, back when people didn't see him as the man he was or as less of a man because of his body type – he wore clothes that were at least a size or two too big for him. The shirts always sat weirdly on his thin frame but he preferred it that way because, even though his chest had always been small, it was better that way.

He used to buy the cheapest set of clothes he could find and reuse them for years because he couldn't afford new ones. Even if his shirt ended up ripped or with blood on it, sometimes both, he would still keep it. He'd patch it up and clean it as well as he could and continue to wear it because it was all he had. His mom used to help him but after she died and he was left alone, he had no choice but to do it himself and patch his clothes until he had money for something new.

It hadn't always been easy, noting in his life ever had been. And sometimes he hadn't been able to leave the apartment. Not because he had been too sick to leave the bed, although that did happen often, but because he'd hated his body too much to come out from under the covers or even think about looking himself in the mirror.

During the war, back when he wasn't a captain and was instead used as a dancing monkey rather than a lab rat, Steve had been put in tights. They had been terrible and he had felt like puking every time he so much as even dared to glance downward.

His chest hadn't been the problem anymore. No, he had actually been fine with that for the first time since he hit puberty. The problem had been lower, much lower. He'd fixed it though. The USO girls, as it'd turned out, had known a few tricks and had helped and he had carried that trick with him when he had become an official captain instead of just playing pretend.

In the future, it had taken him almost a year to catch up with the times, clothes wise. He was still trying to get there with everything else, catching up in this slow pace, but it only took him about a year to get tired of all those fucking grandpa jokes before he'd grabbed Natasha and hesitantly asked her to help him.

She had taken offense at first, had told him that just because she was a woman didn't mean she knew shit about fashion, though there had been a twinkle in her eye like she'd been teasing him. And he had hurried to let her know that he was well aware of that but that she was his only friend in this confusing future and he didn't trust anyone but her to not make fun of him.

After she'd accepted, Steve had taken a deep breath and told her about his secret that only a handful of people before her knew about. Somehow, it had only made her more enthusiastic about finding him clothes and Steve had found out that he hated shopping more now than back in the day because there was just so much.

It was overwhelming, even more so without Natasha by his side, picking things out for him to try and telling him whether or not it looked good enough on him. Which was something he learned now, on this sunny Tuesday, as he walked through a clothing store, a bag of two pairs of pants in his one hand and the other tentatively touching a baggy sweatshirt.

There weren't an awful lot of people around, maybe a handful of two around the store. It was, after all, only around noon on a regular workday so most people were probably at work rather than walking around town and shopping like he was. If it wasn't for the hole he had accidentally ripped in one of his pants, he wouldn't have been out either nor would he be considering buying something like a sweatshirt which he didn't even really need.

However, after taking one look at the price tag, he made a face and immediately decided against getting it. He had money, sure, but that didn't mean he should just go buy whatever.

Steve sighed, shoved the sweatshirt back into its previous place, and turned to walk right back out of the store. His eyes scanned his surroundings briefly while he reached up with his free hand to tug down the brim of his baseball cap a little.

No one had recognized him so far, which was nice. He wasn't exactly up for being Captain America at the moment, he just wanted to be Steve Rogers for a change. Just once, he wanted to be himself and not have to worry about how he presented.

He stepped out of the store empty handed, aside from the bag he went in with. There were a lot more people out and about on the streets than there had been in the store and for just a second Steve wanted to run back home and hide before anyone recognized him.

He didn't, though. He just lowered his head, tugged his baseball cap further down over his eyes, and slumped his shoulders a little in an attempt to make himself look smaller than he really was.

Sometimes, and it wasn't often, but sometimes he wished he could press a button and go back to being short and skinny and small in every way. People didn't notice him, back then. It was easier to hide and while he had hated it at the time, had wished for someone, anyone, to notice him and look at him with anything but confusion or disgust or ridiculed amusement, he sometimes wished he could go back to being invisible now that he was so much in the public eye.

It was overwhelming and, most of the time, he didn't like it. Sometimes he wanted to give up the shield and become a recluse somewhere far, far away, out in the middle of nowhere. He could grow a beard, now that he finally had the ability of doing so, and become a nobody.

It was a stupid fantasy that he liked to indulge himself in at times when being him became too much. But that was all it was; a fantasy. It was never going to become a reality because he didn't know how to not fight, didn't know how to stay somewhere and do nothing. So, it remained nothing but an unrealistic fantasy.

From under the brim of his cap, Steve let his eyes wander over a few of the people on the street with him. There were several people in business suits, a handful of them walking with their phones held to their ears and some with that hands-free phone that still confused the hell out of him. There was a group of teenagers heading into a diner further down the road, one of the girls hopping onto one of the guys' back and the guy stumbling inside before they disappeared.

His eyes landed on a girl with bright blue hair pulled up into a messy ponytail. She was leaned against the side of a bus stop, eyes firmly on the phone in her hands and foot tapping along to, he assumed, whatever was playing in her green headphones. Next to her, a middle aged man dropped his sandwich on the sidewalk, visibly cursing.

Steve bit back the amused smile and turned to start walking, burying his free hand deep in the pocket of his jacket. His eyes lowered to where his feet were moving across the pavement but it wasn't long before he looked back up and across the street to continue people watching.

A man was talking animatedly to a camera that was turned to face himself, a small smile on his moving lips, uncaring about the few people who gave him questioning glances as he passed them. Two women were laughing and leaning into each other by a clothes stand, one of them clutching her stomach while the other was wiping under her eyes carefully. And–

Steve stopped walking, throwing a muttered and half-assed apology over his shoulder when someone nearly walked right into him. He couldn't be bothered to do it properly, too focused on Bucky standing across the street and looking through the window of a book store.

His feet were already moving before his brain could register it. He hastily crossed the street, moving in a half jog and long strides, and he was across the street in the matter of seconds with only one car honking at him.

He was no more than a foot, maybe less, away from Bucky when movement further down caught his attention. His eyes wandered downward and landed on the pit bull standing by Bucky's right side, ears perked and stood at attention, vest clearly displaying her duty and need to not be pet, leash attached to her collar and held in Bucky's hand.

Steve searched his brain for the name of the dog. It didn't take long. Bucky and Astro weren't names one would forget so easily. Especially not with the way they had met.

A little smile tugged at his lips when Astro's ears twitched and she turned a little to look right back at him. However, the second she turned all the way around, her ears went flat against her head and she let out a long, low, and rumbling growl while baring her teeth at him.

Steve stopped walking and let his smile fall from his lips.

Astro didn't bark. She kept her growl lowered but made sure to keep her teeth bared, almost like she was reminding him that she could and would bite through his shoe. She moved closer to Bucky immediately, protectively.

Bucky seemed to finally notice that his service dog was acting up. He turned bodily toward her and lowered his gaze with a small frown tugging down the corners of his lips. Astro stood her ground, didn't move an inch, and kept baring her teeth at Steve.

Steve blinked at her once, then dragged his eyes up to look at Bucky, really look at him now.

His hair was pulled back into a bun that sat loosely on the nape of his neck, several locks of hair having escaped the elastic trying to keep it all in place. A pair of white earbuds hang from his ears, the loose locks of hair nearly hiding them if it wasn't for the wires traveling down into his right pocket.

He looked almost exactly like he had the last time Steve had seen him which was a bit over a week ago now, except his stubble was slightly thicker and he looked more tense than the last time.

Maybe that was partly because Astro was still growling. Steve had a feeling she only did that when danger was coming and he tried not to feel hurt that she saw him as danger. He did tackle her owner the last time they saw each other after all, so he didn't blame her in the least.

Steve looked up again, tearing his eyes away from the way Bucky's pants hugged his thighs in all the right places. He found Bucky already looking back at him, jaw tense and face blank and guarded in a way that seemed careful and intentional, so Steve put on a smile that he hoped was kind and not in any way threatening or suspicious.

“Hey,” he greeted and pulled his hand out of his pocket, just in case.

“You plan on tackling me again?” Bucky asked in lieu of a greeting.

“No,” Steve said and shook his head. “I won't tackle you again, I promise.”

Bucky eyed him cautiously for a moment, then he let out a breath and nodded. “Stand down, Astro,” he said and Astro stopped growling immediately, shifting until she was sat by Bucky's side instead. Like flipping a switch, she went from looking threatening and angry to looking adorable and attentive.

“She's a good dog,” Steve commented and smiled when Bucky looked back at him.

“She is,” Bucky said with a nod, the corner of his lips twitching a little. “She's pretty much the only reason I get out of the house these days, so.”

Steve nodded and asked, “Lots of exercise?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said and looked down at Astro. “She needs at least an hour long walk a day.”

Steve hummed noncommittally and fell silent for a beat, long enough for Bucky to look back up at him.

“Look,” he started after a moment. “I wanted to apologize, again, for running you down–”

“Steve,” Bucky interrupted, rolling his eyes. “Stop apologizing. I wasn't even hurt so stop beating yourself up over it.”

“I'm not,” Steve denied immediately. It was an obvious lie, even to his own ears.

Bucky gave him an unconvinced look. “Anyone ever tell you you're a terrible liar?”

Steve let out a humorless chuckle and said, “You'd be surprised, actually.”

“Yeah?” Bucky quirked a brow, his shoulders seeming much less tense. “Didn't know Captain America was allowed to lie.”

“I wouldn't call it lying,” Steve said and took a careful step closer to Bucky. When Astro stayed put and Bucky didn't seem to protest, he took another. “It's more like,” he shrugged, “bending the truth a little. Or, in another situation, compartmentalization.”

“What kinda situation we talking about here?”

Steve smiled. “That's classified.”

Bucky made a face at him. “You're no fun.”

“Oh, come on,” Steve said with a chuckle. “Did you really think I would tell you my secrets? We barely know each other.”

“Barely is stretching it a little,” Bucky said. “You don't know me and I only know you from what I was told and read in school. Which is to say, I don't know you either.”

“Guess we could change that,” Steve said. He took a third and final step closer, stopping with a comfortable distance between them.

Bucky hummed and asked, “And how you planning on doing that?”

“Well, the future has this great thing called cellphones,” Steve said and smiled when Bucky rolled his eyes, “and if I had your number, we could figure something out.”

In his mind, an imaginary Sam applauded him for taking the leap and asking for someone's number instead of his usual way of interacting with people; by being the biggest asshole he possibly could be. Sam's words, not his.

Bucky looked at him for a long moment, hesitating. “I don't usually give out my number to strangers,” he said after a silent minute.

Steve couldn't deny he was disappointed and he probably didn't do a good job at hiding it either. He never was good at hiding what he felt. He wore his heart on his sleeve, his mom always told him. But he nodded anyway and moved to take a step back. He knew how to take a hint and wasn't about to push.

He may be an asshole but he wasn't about to cross any of Bucky's boundaries and make him uncomfortable.

“But,” Bucky continued before Steve could move more than an inch. “I think I can make an exception this time. I mean, you are Captain America. Pretty cool to brag about having his number, ain't it?”

Steve waited for the uncomfortable feeling of being put on a pedestal to arrive but it didn't, surprisingly. A slow smile spread across Steve's lips, relieved and glad. It only widened when he noticed a smile forming on Bucky's lips seconds later. It was small and barely even visible on his lips, more in his eyes, but it was still there and Steve liked the look of it.

“Having a national hero's phone number?” Steve said and lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “Yeah, I'd say that's pretty cool.”

Bucky's brows jumped up in what could only be judgment. “Wow,” he said dryly. “How's the weather up on that high horse of yours?”

“Oh, it's great. Sucks about the lack of air up here but,” Steve said and trailed off with a shrug.

Bucky huffed and rolled his eyes. “Alright,” he said and held out his hand. “Give me your phone, national hero.”

Chuckling, Steve pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket and took another half a step forward to put it into Bucky's hand. Astro was watching him carefully from where she was still sitting by Bucky's side but she was doing only that; watching. So Steve stayed where he was, barely two steps away.

Bucky flipped the phone around in his hand, only to roll his eyes and hand it back over to Steve. “Unlock it, genius.”

Steve flushed and hurriedly took it back, calling himself an idiot in his head. “Sorry,” he said and quickly unlocked the phone. “I'm still not really used to phone.”

“Well,” Bucky said and took the phone when it was handed back to him. He lowered his head to look down at it and, with the movement, a few loose locks of hair shadowed over his face. Steve tried not to find it pretty and failed. “At least your background isn't anything weird.”

Steve's background, after figuring out how to change it without asking anyone, not even Google, was a picture he had taken before a mission a few months ago. It was of Natasha and Sam, both in full gear with their backs turned to him, Natasha with her hands on her hips and Sam with his arms raised up in the air. He liked that picture.

His lock screen was just a boring picture of the Brooklyn bridge that he had found on Google a long time ago. He hadn't bothered changing it, didn't see a reason to.

“People have weird things as their background?” Steve asked and let out a breathy laugh. “Like what?”

“Like, my last bo– erh, my last partner had a picture of...” Bucky cut himself off and let out a sharp sigh through his nose. He seemed to hesitate for a long moment, his head lowering just an inch more, before he started over, shoulders tense. “My last boyfriend had a picture of his own abs as his lock screen. His background was even worse but we are not close enough for horrible dating stories.”

“A picture of his own abs?” Steve laughed. “He sounds awful.”

“He was,” Bucky said, looking relieved. “Self centered asshole.”

With Bucky's number programmed into his phone under Bucky With The Good Hair – Steve lifted a questioning brow at Bucky when he saw it but Bucky just shrugged and told him to Google it – Steve decided to get on with his business and let Bucky get back to his.

“I'll text you,” Steve said as he backed away, keeping his eyes on Bucky.

“That's why I gave you my number, yeah,” Bucky said. He hesitated for a moment, shifting awkwardly in place and when he spoke again, he sounded almost nervous. “Don't, uh... If you could just... not call me?”

Steve paused and blinked. He watched him for a moment, saw the tense way Bucky was holding himself all of the sudden, the way his fist clenched around the leash attached to Astro, the way he dipped his chin as if he was ashamed, the way Astro's attention went from Steve to Bucky instantly.

Steve smiled softly and nodded. “Of course, Buck. I promise I will only text you.”

Bucky let out a breath, visibly lost some of the tension in his shoulders, and nodded a silent thank you. There was even a small smile forming on his lips so Steve took it as a success and left with a smile on his lips and his cap pulled low over his eyes again.

 

 

Steve didn't text Bucky right away. Not because he was planning on waiting the usual three days, although he had been told that it was a social rule or something. Multiple times, in fact, by Stark but it was by Stark so he'd dismissed it, let it run through one ear and right back out the other. Natasha had told him it was a stupid rule and he trusted her more.

He didn't wait to text Bucky because he was planning on it. He didn't text Bucky right away because, well... because he forgot. He did plan on waiting a day or at least more than five hours, not wanting to seem too desperate or overeager even though he was, and he'd spend the rest of that day constructing the perfect text in his mind.

But then he'd been rudely woken up by his phone going off the following morning, he'd been send off on a mission to take down a HYDRA base in central Germany, and he'd just forgotten all about it.

That's the thing about having a phone; Steve wasn't used to it. He had lived in the future for a few years now and he still couldn't remember to bring his phone with him. Most days, he even forgot he owned one because it still felt so surreal to have such a device in his pocket. It felt surreal that he could just reach into his pocket, press a screen, and call up a friend or anyone.

But what made it feel the most surreal was that he, of all people, was able to afford one. He grew up in a time of crisis with a single mother and barely enough money to get by, his health and need of medicine making it hard to buy food and clothes and the essentials for living too. So the fact that he had something as expensive as a phone was baffling to him, still.

It wasn't just that he forgot to text Bucky, it was that he forgot his phone even existed. Sam always yelled at him for forgetting his phone, especially when he had been send out on a mission and Sam hadn't been put on the same one so he had to find out why Steve wasn't answering his phone through someone else.

Steve had tried to get better at it, he really had. But it was hard.

Which was why he didn't remember that he had gotten Bucky's number until the day after his head was clear after the mission to Germany, nine days after he had gotten the number in the first place.

He was in bed, baggy sweats and a shirt a size too big on because it was one of those days, when his forgotten phone buzzed on the bedside table. He almost didn't hear it, the music playing from his stereo turned up loud enough to drown out his thoughts, but it buzzed twice in a row so he heard it the second time.

Steve sighed and opened his eyes to stare up at the ceiling. He contemplated ignoring it. It had only buzzed twice so it could only be a text, he'd figured out that much. And there were only three people who could be the sender: Sam, Natasha, or Barton.

He quickly scratched Barton off on his mental list. Barton texted him so rarely, he was starting to think the guy had broken his phone. Again.

So that left him with either Natasha or Sam. When another three minutes passed without his phone buzzing again, Steve made an educated guess. It was most likely Sam.

With a groan, Steve pulled himself up to sit, adjusted his shirt a little, and blindingly reached for his phone on the bedside table. He narrowly missed the near empty glass of water standing forgotten by the lamp casting a light into the otherwise dark room, his fingers clinking against the glass before his hand found the phone. He pulled it to him, rubbed at his eyes, and opened the message.

› Sam Wilson, 14:38: hey it's you [picture]

Steve clicked on the picture to enlarge it and smiled down at it when it opened. It was of a dog – a golden retriever, maybe, but he had never been good with dog breeds – with an American flag wrapped around its neck like a cape, tongue lolling out of its mouth and ears tipped forward.

He snorted, rolled his eyes, and went to reply.

‹ Steve, 14:43: Is that your way of telling me you think I'm cute?

It took Sam a few minutes to respond and when he did, it was with a string of emojis, the ones that winked, immediately followed by a couple of middle finger ones. Steve huffed out a laugh and didn't bother responding, shaking his eyes as he backed out of the conversation in his phone.

He mindlessly thumbed through his phone for only a second or two before he got bored and twisted around to put it back on its previous spot on the messy table. It was when he was about to let go, the top of the phone touching down on the wooden surface, that it suddenly hit him.

Bucky. He still hadn't texted Bucky.

Immediately, he grabbed his phone again and brought it back in front of him. He tapped around for a bit, opening up his contacts to find Bucky With The Good Hair (mental note: Google that) and getting a new text message started.

It was when he was about to start typing, thumbs hovering over the touch keys, that he froze.

What the hell was he supposed to say?

Frowning, Steve let his hands drop down into his lap, phone falling with them, and lifted his gaze to the darkened room he was in. His brows furrowed, his front teeth worried his bottom lip, and his mind started to wander, tuning out the music still playing from the stereo.

He tried to come up with a good way to start a conversation, tried to think of something to say to Bucky. An apology would probably be pretty good considering the nine whole days he'd done nothing with the number that Bucky trusted him with.

He quickly dismissed that thought with a shake of his head though. An apology didn't feel right, not as a first text. A first text had to be impressionable.

… Right?

With a heavy sigh that turned into a groan, Steve threw himself back onto the bed and closed his eyes for a minute. His mind had stopped wandering, coming to a dead and sudden stop. People always made texting out to be something so easy but Steve always struggled with it. He could barely figure out how to text his own friends, let alone someone he didn't know.

But he wanted to, that was the thing. He wanted to get to know Bucky because there was just something about him. Steve couldn't place it, he just got this feeling when he looked at him, this feeling that he had to know him. That Bucky had to be in his life and Steve was going to make that happen.

He sighed again and opened his eyes to stare stubbornly at the ceiling for a while. When he could think of no other way to figure this thing out, he groaned, lifted his phone, and send a text to Natasha.

‹ Steve, 15:04: What's a good thing to say in a first text to someone you've just met?

Her reply came almost instantaneously and was quickly followed by another.

› Natasha Romanoff, 15:04: hi is pretty standard
Natasha Romanoff, 15:05: who are you texting? ;)

Steve rolled his eyes exaggeratedly and dropped his phone next to him on the pillow. It buzzed again a couple of minutes after and, even though he told himself to ignore it and get his ass out of bed already, he found himself reaching over and picking it up to check the text anyway.

› Natasha Romanoff, 15:08: STEVE TELL ME D:

He sighed but replied anyway.

‹ Steve, 15:09: No.

› Natasha Romanoff, 15:09: you're mean and i hate you :(

‹ Steve, 15:10: You're nosy and I don't like you.

› Natasha Romanoff, 15:11: 凸(`0´)凸

Steve made a face at the screen of his phone. He then wrote one last quick reply before he put his phone away, rolled over onto his stomach, and buried his face in his pillow.

‹ Steve, 15:12: (ง •̀_•́)ง

The phone buzzed wildly on his bedside table afterward but he ignored it. It started to annoy him when it kept happening for a solid minute and he very nearly reached out to punch it just to make it stop. But then the buzzing stopped and he was left in blissful freedom without it, nothing but the music of his stereo filling the otherwise quiet apartment.

He shifted, shoving his arms under the pillow and making himself comfortable where he lay, and closed his eyes. His mind started to wander again, mentally constructing several possible texts he could send to Bucky, but it wasn't long before his mind stopped completely and he fell asleep.

Apparently, he could worry about the text later.

 

↔ 

 

Fast forward two days and Steve had yet to come up with a single draft of a first text. He had a basic, rough idea of one – Natasha had said hi was standard. He could do standard, even if it was boring and not really what he wanted but what other option did he have?

He had been procrastinating on it for far too long, had gone too long thinking and not doing, and when a whole twelve days had passed without anything happening, he decided to make a move because this was honestly getting stupid and ridiculous.

Steve was at a boxing gym he'd discovered in his first few months after being defrosted. The owner was an old man who had recognized him as Captain America the second he'd stepped foot in the place. But he was respectful and, being a veteran himself, understood Steve's need to be a nobody. So the old man – his name was Clive – gave Steve his own key to the gym and told him to use it whenever he wanted to.

Steve was grateful and made sure to always replace anything he broke.

Now, he was seated on a bench on the side with his elbows resting on his knees. He was panting slightly, sweat beading on his forehead, making a few hairs stick to it, and stains had formed under his pits and on his back a while ago. He had his phone in hand, thumb pressing down to wake up the screen every once in a while, while his mind ran to find something to write to Bucky.

When nothing came to him after two minutes, Steve lifted his gaze from the phone and looked around instead. To his right was Natasha, kicking and punching at a ragged looking dummy with a determined and concentrated look on her face. No one else was at the gym. Clive had told him he was out of town for a few days to visit his grandson so the gym was all his.

Steve took his eyes off of her and looked to the punching bag laying on the ground a few feet in front of him instead, the sand inside falling out of a fist shaped hole in the middle and out onto the floor in a pile. He stared at it for a minute before he made up his mind and went to the camera on his phone, snapping a picture of it and attaching it to a message to Bucky.

‹ Steve, 12:46: People need better punching bags.

He hit send before he could find a reason not to. However, he hurriedly send another only seconds later, wincing at his own stupidity.

‹ Steve, 12:46: This is Steve, by the way.

Locking his phone, Steve shoved it into one of the front pockets of his bag and flew up from the bench to grab a new and whole punching bag. He tried very hard not to think about the texts he'd send or whether or not Bucky had answered him. Instead, he focused on ruining another bag of sand with the force of his punches.

He tried really hard not to think about it, too nervous, but it wasn't until Natasha came over and dragged him over to a mat to spar with her that his mind stopped wandering to the phone in his bag and the potential text from Bucky waiting on him. Sometimes, without even realizing it, Natasha had the best timing.

They sparred for what felt like forever, neither willing to go down long enough to be pinned, but, ultimately, Natasha ended up pinning him to the mat and refusing to let him get up so he surrendered and tapped out with a chuckle.

“You're off your game today,” Natasha commented as she got to her feet and reached a hand out to help him up. “Something on your mind?”

Steve ignored the flush that rose to his cheeks, hoping that it would come off as exertion from the work out rather than embarrassment. This thing with Bucky – which was really nothing at the moment but could build up to a friendship – was just for him. He shared so much with his teammates, with the world, with everyone. There were some things he wanted for himself and this was one of them.

He grabbed her hand, let himself get pulled to his feet, and said, “None of your business.”

Natasha narrowed her eyes at him, tightening her grip on his hand when he tried to pull away. “Is this about whoever you were texting last week?”

“No,” Steve lied and yanked his hand free.

“Liar,” Natasha said and pointed an accusing finger at him.

Steve rolled his eyes and turned his back to her before he walked back over to the bench where his bag was. His fingers twitched, heart jumping in his chest, while he eyed the front pocket where he knew his phone was stored. He itched to see if Bucky had answered but not while Natasha was right behind him and would probably look over his shoulder.

“Steve,” Natasha said slowly and Steve looked at her over his shoulder. “Do you have a secret girlfriend?”

Steve gave her a look. “No.”

“Boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Part–”

“Nat,” Steve said firmly and gave her a warning look. “Shut the fuck up.”

Natasha held up her hands in defeat. “I was just asking, no need to get so pissy.”

“You were being nosy,” Steve said. “You know how I feel about nosy.”

“Or maybe I was being genuinely interested because you're my friend. Did you ever consider that?”

“Were you though?”

Natasha paused for a beat. “Yes.”

Steve gave her an unconvinced look. “You know, for a spy, you'd think you would be better at lying.”

Natasha stuck her tongue out at him and walked over toward the punching dummy again. Steve flipped her off with a smile before he sat down heavily onto the bench. He reached over to grab the bottle of water that was sticking out of his bag and took a big gulp of it, then ran a hand through his hair, pushing the damp with sweat strands out of his face.

He leaned back against the wall, stretched his legs out with a groan, and let himself watch Natasha kick the dummy's face for a little while. But it wasn't long before he couldn't wait any longer.

With his free hand, he dug into the front pocket of his bag and pulled out his phone. He held his breath and ignored how fast his heart was beating while he unlocked the phone. And when it was unlocked, he let out a heavy breath and felt himself relax a little.

One new message from Bucky. He didn't hesitate to open it.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 12:52: mayb u need to be less aggressive w ur punches

Steve couldn't and didn't stop the smile that formed on his lips while he read the message once, then twice, then a few more times for good measure. The smile was still firmly on his lips when he typed a reply but it had grown into a grin by the time he hit send.

‹ Steve, 13:59: That's how you text? I regret asking for your number.

Bucky's reply was almost instant.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 14:00: fuck off mr high horse u try textin w 1 hand

‹ Steve, 14:01: I'm doing it right now.

Bucky's reply was slower this time. Steve watched as the bubbles popped up, disappeared, popped up again. He kept his eyes on the screen, waiting for the reply while telling himself he was totally patient, and raised his bottle to his lips to take a sip.

Which was a mistake, he immediately found out.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 14:04: r u jerkin off???

Steve choked on the water and spluttered, only just turning his head enough to not get water all over his phone. He coughed and coughed, slowly regaining his ability to breath. And when he did, he pointedly ignored Natasha's questioning look and typed out a reply to Bucky.

‹ Steve, 14:07: NO!

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 14:09: shame

“Oh my fucking God,” Steve moaned into the palm of his hand and choked back the laughter that bubbled in his throat, an airy chuckle leaving him instead. He shook his head, rolled his eyes, and replied.

‹ Steve, 14:10: I was drinking water, jerk.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 14:11: ok pal whtevr u say

Steve huffed and put his bottle away before he went to reply, now with both hands. However, before he could write more than a single word, he spotted a pair of feet coming into his field of view and quickly locked his phone before Natasha could get close enough to peak.

“Stop trying to snoop,” he said and shoved his phone back into his bag.

“I will if you tell me who you're texting,” Natasha said, coming to a stop in front of him.

Steve hesitated for a long moment, then he sighed and stood up, bringing the strap of his bag over his shoulder as he did. “A friend,” he told her and moved to walk around her.

“Does this friend have a name?” Natasha asked and followed him, grabbing her own bag on the way toward the door leading out.

“Yes,” Steve said. “His name is none of your fucking business.”

Natasha scoffed at him. “Rude.”

 

 

Steve denied Natasha's invite to grab some post work out lunch with her. He didn't do it just because he didn't feel like dealing with her undoubtedly endless list of nosy and curious questions, although that was part of why, but he declined because he was tired, both physically and mentally.

So he went home, dropping his bag unceremoniously onto his bed before stripping out of his clothes and tossing his packer somewhere on the floor along with them. He didn't care about the mess, he could worry about that later.

Naked, he walked into the bathroom and showered off the sweat cooling on his skin. When he was clean and dry, he stepped into a clean pair of underwear and a pair of baggy and comfortable sweats. He hesitated once he had his hand on a shirt and, eventually, he decided against putting it on because, for once, he was actually okay with being shirtless.

It was a weird feeling, still, but sometimes it happened and he was grateful for each and every time.

Steve threw himself onto his back on his bed, landing on the comfortably stiff mattress with a heavy and tired sigh. For a moment, as his eyes slowly closed, he considered taking a nap. A nap sounded great, to be honest, but his stomach growling loudly and pointedly reminded him that he needed to eat more than he needed to nap.

He forced himself to sit up before he could get too comfortable laying down and briefly scrubbed at his eyes. His eyes flickered down to his chest momentarily – the lack of sudden need to puke or cover up was comforting – before they shifted and landed on his bag by the foot of the bed. Specifically, he eyed the front pocket of it where he knew his phone was.

He didn't hesitate for long before he shoved his hand inside and pulled out his phone, nor did he hesitate to open up his text conversation with Bucky and send the message that probably should have been his first one.

‹ Steve, 15:14: I'm sorry for taking ages sending you a text. Things kept getting in the way but I swear I didn't forget.

He winced a little at the blatant lie he'd typed out but it didn't stop him from hitting send anyway. It was only partially a lie. He didn't forget about Bucky, he just forgot to text him because he forgot cellphones were a thing and that he had one more often than he would like to admit.

Steve slid his phone into the pocket of his sweats and got up from the bed to head to the kitchen. He was staring at the nearly empty fridge, trying to figure out what to eat since he could make exactly one thing and that was putting butter on bread, when his phone pinged twice with new messages.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:19: its ok
Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:20: tbh was low key afraid u didnt text cuz u found out im gay

Steve frowned down at the messages. Suddenly, eating was the last thing on his mind. He closed the fridge door and leaned his lower back against the kitchen counter, phone raised to his face and thumbs moving over the screen.

‹ Steve, 15:21: Because I'm from the 40s?

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:21: yeah

His frown deepened. He understood where Bucky was coming from, he really did. The 40s were terrible and he would never blame anyone for thinking he was like the majority of people from that time.

A part of him had just thought, or maybe hoped, that Bucky would be different. That Bucky wouldn't be like the rest of the country who saw him as Captain America™, the Straight, all American man who was Good and Pure and stood for bla bla bla.

Captain America wasn't him, he was a front he put on because it was his job.

Steve always laughed when people assumed anything about him because, more often than not, it was laughably far from the truth. He swore like a fucking sailor. He wasn't a rule follower and definitely not one to follow orders. He was trans and liked women just as much as he liked men. Hell, he wasn't even all that American, his parents were Irish.

People's perception of him was so far from who he really was, it was hilarious.

But sometimes, like now, it wasn't funny.

Steve's phone pinged with a new message, shoving him out of his thoughts. He blinked and woke the screen up again to see it.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:23: i know thats a shitty assumption im sorry

He replied and hit send before he could even think about it.

‹ Steve, 15:24: Bucky, I know this might come as a shock but there were gay people in the 40s too. Some of them were the best people I've ever known.

His thumbs hovered over the letters, hesitating. But, sucking in a breath, he gathered his courage and wrote another message.

‹ Steve, 15:24: Besides, I may hate myself but not enough to be homophobic.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:25: ???

Steve held his breath as he typed and hit send, jaw clenching and heart leaping up into his throat because even typing it was still exhilarating and terrifying all at once.

‹ Steve, 15:25: I'm bisexual.

He wanted to throw the phone away and not look at it for the next seven years, the feeling of nausea making it hard to focus on anything. He reminded himself to breathe and took in a slow, deep breath while he watched the dots appear, disappear, reappear on the screen.

It couldn't have been more than a minute but it felt like an eternity.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:27: wow thats kinda a big thing to tell someone u dont know

A humorless chuckle left him in a huff.

‹ Steve, 15:28: Yeah, well. You're not gonna tell anyone, are you?

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:30: fuck no i remember what being closeted is like id never do that to anyone

In a quick breath, the nerves and anxiety left Steve's body and a smile replaced the small frown that had been stuck to his lips previously. In his mind, he added Bucky to the list of people who knew about his sexuality. The list was short; only Sam, Natasha, and now Bucky. No one else needed to know.

For a brief moment, he considered airing out the whole closet and tell Bucky about his other secret. But that, somehow, felt like a much bigger thing and not something he was ready to come out with until he was certain he could trust Bucky. And trust took time, so he decided against it.

‹ Steve, 15:30: Thank you.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:31: np wyd

And there he was; back to frowning because what the fuck? Steve hated the future.

‹ Steve, 15:32: Please text like a regular human, I don't understand any of that.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:32: get w the times old man

‹ Steve, 15:32: (ง •̀_•́)ง

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:33: omfg u kno how to do that btu u dont know what wyd is ???

‹ Steve, 15:33: I will punch you in the fucking nuts, Bucky.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:34: ok chill out it means what are u doing

Steve's rumbling stomach reminded him of what he had been doing before he'd stopped to text with Bucky. He glared down at his stomach, resisting the urge to flip it off for being so loud, and quickly answered Bucky.

‹ Steve, 15:35: I was just about to get something to eat.
Steve, 15:35: Wyd

“Fucking stupid,” he muttered quietly to himself as he send the latter text. He doubted he would ever get used to those acronyms, they just weren't for him.

Steve pushed himself off the counter and put his now locked phone down. He turned, pulled the fridge open once more, and stuck his head inside. It took him a while and two pings from his phone, but eventually he found something to eat that only required a few minutes in the microwave. That, at least, he had figured out how to use fairly quick.

While he waited for his food to heat, he grabbed his phone and checked the messages.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:37: there u go ur learning
Bucky With The Good Hair, 15:38: [picture]

Steve was already smiling before he even tapped the attached picture to enlarge it. The camera was angled downward, showing only a stubble covered chin and a small, tired smile of Bucky himself. The rest of the picture was of Astro, laying asleep on his chest that was covered in a dark red hoodie. It looked adorable and Steve didn't even think twice before he saved the picture, heart squeezing a little with something he didn't know what was so he ignored it.

He ended up texting with Bucky until his food was done and eaten and until Bucky had other things to do. And not for one second was it exhausting, it was just... easy.

 

 

Texting Bucky became like second nature for Steve. Whenever he read about something new, learned about an aspect of this century he hadn't discovered before, he would text Bucky about it without even thinking first. His hand just moved, grabbed his phone, and told Bucky about it even though Bucky probably already knew it all.

But Bucky let him do it and responded in kind. Sometimes with a bit of snark and sarcasm, and occasionally a lot of teasing, but Steve liked that. He liked that they could be assholes to each other right off the bat, liked that he felt like he could text anything to Bucky and Bucky would be there with his rebuttal.

They had been texting each other back and forth for a good two weeks before Bucky showed that big, nerdy brain of his rather than just leaving subtle, little hints in dorky references that Steve didn't understand.

It was close to midnight on a night where Steve hadn't been able to fall asleep despite the tiring day of briefings and running with Sam and training with Natasha and despite his whole body feeling heavier than a tank. He just couldn't sleep, his mind racing with thoughts of negativity and sorrow, and after trying for an hour, he gave up, grabbed his phone, and went online.

Somehow, he found himself reading about the moon landing in '69. Before he knew it, he was typing out a message to Bucky and hitting send.

‹ Steve, 00:28: Did you know that on the Apollo 11 moon landing they left a symbol of peace; a small gold pin shaped like an olive branch?

Despite the late hour, Bucky's reply came within minutes.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 00:30: did u kno they also left messages from 73 world leaders

And then another.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 00:32: or that one of the astronauts knocked the circuit breaker to ignite the engine thatd get them back home loose but aldrin fixed it w a felt tip pen

And another.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 00:33: or that armstrong had a piece of wood from the wright brothers (inventors of the airplane heyo) with him

Steve blinked at the messages, surprised. He stared down at the dots as they appeared and then quickly disappeared again for a long moment before he grinned and snorted in amusement.

‹ Steve, 00:35: Wow, I can't believe you're a giant nerd.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 00:36: i named my dog astro the fuck did u think iw as

Steve threw his head back and laughed before he made himself comfortable and asked Bucky to tell him more about the moon landing, forgoing to read up on it himself. It felt less lonely this way, having someone else to guide him through catching up.

And then there were other times where Bucky made him feel as alien as he had felt the first several months of living in this future. Like when he, a near month into their budding friendship, was walking down the street toward the subway station, heading home after a long and annoying briefing at SHIELD, and saw a man wearing a top hat ride a unicycle while a girl played the violin behind him.

Unthinkingly, Steve reached into his pocket for his phone and snapped a picture. He send it to Bucky with a little smile on his lips, tossed a few bills into the upturned hat laying in front of the unicycle rider as he passed by, and continued on to catch his train.

He was sitting on a lone seat, absently staring out the window, when his phone buzzed in his hands.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 16:13: o shit whaddup

Steve frowned.

‹ Steve, 16:13: ?

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 16:14: its a meme

Steve frowned harder.

‹ Steve, 16:14: What's a meme?

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 16:14: im ashmaed to call u my friend

‹ Steve, 16:14: ??

Bucky didn't respond right away so Steve sighed heavily and shoved his phone into his pocket, his gaze returning out the window. He got home and had just pulled his notebook out to find the next movie on his list when his phone buzzed on the couch pillow next to him.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 16:54: did no one explain memes to u?

Steve sighed, grabbed his phone, and made himself comfortable slouching on the couch.

‹ Steve, 16:55: No one explained anything to me. They just watched my every move for the first six months and screened all my devices.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 16:55: what the fuck

‹ Steve, 16:56: I smashed the devices they gave me and bought my own. They think they kept an eye on me but I sneaked out every night and no one noticed. Obviously Shield needs better agents if they can't even keep an eye on a guy from the 40s.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 16:57: i cant believe captain america is a rebel

Steve found himself grinning at his screen as he typed.

‹ Steve, 16:57: I disobeyed direct orders from my colonel and infiltrated a Hydra base to save the 107th. The fuck did you think?

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 16:57: touche

A minute passed with nothing but before Steve could put his phone away and turn back to his notebook still laying open in his lap, Bucky responded.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 16:59: a meme is p much a joke on the internet

‹ Steve, 17:00: Hm. Sounds dumb.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 17:01: excuse me it is art

Steve rolled his eyes. With a huff, he closed his notebook, put it away, and responded to Bucky.

 

 

Steve spend way too long looking at memes, most of which he didn't understand. But he couldn't get himself to stop once he started and suddenly he hated Bucky for leading him here.

 

 

‹ Steve, 01:36: HELP!
Steve, 01:36: BUCKY, HELP!

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 01:37: whtas wrong

‹ Steve, 01:37: I've fallen and I can't get up!

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 01:38: ….. really, steve?? youre pulling old person memes on me???

‹ Steve, 01:39: It's your own fault. You're the one who introduced me to memes.

› Bucky With The Good Hair, 01:40: i suddenly regret everything

 

 

It didn't take more than a month before Steve grew tired of the contact name that Bucky had saved his number under. He had Googled it, several times in fact, but he still didn't really understand the reference or joke. He'd asked Bucky about it but he hadn't given him a clear answer and a part of Steve thought he never would get a clear answer so he let it go.

But seeing that name pop up every time Bucky send him something started to irritate him a little too much. He hated not understanding something so often and feeling confused and it bothered him to have Bucky under a name like that.

Not that it wasn't fitting. Bucky did have good hair but Steve didn't understand the reference. So he made the decision to change it. Only problem was he didn't know how to.

He could ask Natasha. He knew she would tell him without hesitation, always happy to help, but she was currently miles away on a mission and while he knew she would answer her phone eventually, whenever she found a minute to check it, he didn't want to disturb her with something as dumb as this.

He could also ask Sam but Sam was in the briefing room Steve was currently seated outside of, which meant he would have to wait. Not that there was a time limit on changing Bucky's contact information but Barton was seated right next to him so why wait?

“Barton,” Steve said and reached over to tap Barton's shoulder to get his attention. Barton wasn't wearing his hearing aids, after all.

Barton startled, jolting slightly, and turned to him, blinking again and again and again, groggily and–

“Were you asleep?” Steve asked.

“What?” Barton yawned widely and rubbed at his eyes. “No way, man. I'm wide awake. Always.”

Steve snorted and rolled his eyes, shaking his head.

Barton stretched and groaned, scratching his belly. “What's up, bro?”

“Well,” Steve said and looked down at the phone in his hand. He flushed a little, embarrassed, and shifted awkwardly in his seat before he continued. “How do you change a name in your phone?”

“Oh, easy peasy,” Barton said and held out his hand. “Gimme.”

Steve hesitated momentarily before he unlocked the phone and handed it over, trying his hardest not to feel like his privacy was about to be invaded for the millionth time in this century. Barton was a good guy, he reminded himself. A disaster, sure, but a good guy nonetheless.

“Nice background,” Barton commented, a smile on his lips.

“Thanks.”

“Okay, so.” Barton tapped around for a second, then leaned over to show Steve the screen and what he was doing. “You go to contacts and find the one you wanna change. Which one?”

Steve pointed. “That one.”

Barton laughed and said, “Nice one. I can see why you wanna change it.”

Steve shot him a brief, crooked smile.

“Okay,” Barton continued. “You press it, then edit, and voila.” He handed the phone back to him. “When you're done, press save, and there we go. All done.”

“Thank you,” Steve said and quickly changed Bucky's name, angling his phone away from Barton even though the guy wasn't even looking at the phone anymore. Instead, Barton was looking at him.

“Sure thing, bro,” Barton said. He paused for a beat. “Who's Bucky?”

Steve pressed save and shoved his phone into his pocket, ignoring the flush that rose to his cheeks. “No one.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Barton eyeing him suspiciously. He very pointedly did not look back and kept his eyes straight ahead, watching the closed door to the briefing room in front of them instead.

Barton stayed quiet and made no comment. Steve liked Barton.

 

 

‹ Steve, 19:46: Wyd, fat head?

› Bucky, 19:48: excuse me my head is not fat tf

‹ Steve, 19:49: Google it.

 

 

› Bucky, 21:58: hey steve

‹ Steve, 22:02: Yes?

› Bucky, 22:03: ur a real fuddy duddy

‹ Steve, 22:04: Fuck you, wise guy.

 

 

Steve texted with Bucky a lot, almost daily, but there was one thing they still didn't do, not even six weeks into their friendship; they didn't call each other. Bucky had told him from the start not to call and Steve had promised him he wouldn't because he could tell Bucky wasn't okay with it. He had wanted to call him plenty of times but he always stopped himself before he could.

What he had with Bucky was something good, something special, and he didn't want to screw it up just because he found himself wanting to hear Bucky's voice, found himself wanting to know what his laugh sounded like, found himself wanting to know how he sounded when he was annoyed and angry and happy and everything in between and around.

He wanted to but he never did. Bucky didn't either, didn't even mention it.

Which was why Steve was more than a little confused and a lot surprised when he was woken up at two am by his phone ringing loudly on his bedside table, lighting up with Bucky's name. This never happened and Bucky never did anything out of the ordinary.

“Bucky?” Steve answered the call with and slowly sat up, rubbing at his eyes and clearing his throat. “It's two am. Are you okay?”

“Sorry,” a breathy voice answered, one that was undoubtedly Bucky's even though Steve had gone weeks without hearing it. “I– I don't really have anyone else to call.”

Steve was instantly more awake, clutching the phone in his hand. “What's wrong?”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line, Bucky letting out a slow and shaky breath. “I'm sorry,” he choked out after a minute. “It's late, I shouldn't have called. I just–”

“Bucky,” Steve interrupted firmly. “You're my friend. If something's wrong, I want to help.”

Bucky took in a shuddering breath. There was a shifting sound on his end, a small whimper that couldn't have been from Bucky himself, it sounded too far away. Astro, Steve figured. It was probably Astro.

“It just,” Bucky started but cut himself off with a groan. “I thought I heard a noise so I freaked out and did a perimeter search around my apartment for twenty fucking minutes before I let Astro stop me and then I went to sleep and had a fucking nightmare and woke up panicking and now it's just all– I can't– My head is–”

“Bucky,” Steve cut in again, softer this time. “I'm gonna need you to breathe. Can you do that?”

“Of course I can fucking breathe,” Bucky nearly spat out. “I'm not a fucking imbecile, asshole.”

“Humor me.”

A beat passed before Bucky took in a deep breath sharply. It sounded almost annoyed, the way he did it, and Steve repressed the urge to roll his eyes. Instead he listened to Bucky take another deep breath in, this one sounding less annoyed, and another and another until they weren't coming out as shaky and until they were slow and calm.

On Bucky's end, Astro stopped whimpering.

Steve let him breathe for another few minutes, then he asked, “You good?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said roughly. “Sorry. It's just– Bad night, I guess.”

“I get it,” Steve said and he did. He had plenty himself. “You wanna talk about it?”

“Nothing to talk about,” Bucky said, voice monotone. “Like I said, it's just a bad night. Got a lotta those so it's fine. I'm fine.”

“Bullshit,” Steve didn't hesitate to say.

Bucky sighed but Steve continued before he could even think about speaking.

“You called me, Bucky. You called me. You never do that. Hell, you told me not to call you when you gave me your number, remember that? So, I'm guessing you're so far from fine, fine might as well be on a whole different planet. Am I wrong?”

Bucky was silent.

“Bucky, am I wrong?” Steve insisted.

“No,” Bucky finally said, voice lowered.

“Then talk to me,” Steve nearly begged. “Please, Buck.”

Bucky was silent for a long, long minute. But then he took in a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and started talking.

“I'm a veteran,” he said. “Pretty easy to figure out, right? Missing an arm, looks like a fucking mess, has a service dog, it ain't hard to put two and two together on that one. I wasn't even a soldier for that long 'cause I got my fucking arm ruined and amputated halfway through my first goddamn tour. And I thought joining the army would be better than living on the streets. Guess fucking not.”

Steve frowned. “Living on the streets?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said and let out a bitter, humorless laugh. “My dad found out I'm gay and decided to kick me out of the house–”

Steve's jaw clenched. His hand curled into a fist in his lap, the other tightening its hold on his phone. In a split second he was angry, fury boiling his blood.

“– so I joined the army 'cause it had to be better than living on the streets with no money, no job, no nothing, right? Well, I was a fucking moron.”

Steve took in a slow, quiet breath and did his damnedest to keep himself in check before he accidentally broke his phone in anger. Bucky needed him, he couldn't lose it no matter how much hearing that infuriated him.

Seventy fucking years later and these things were still happening. It made Steve unbelievably angry and furious but what good would it do to lose it right this moment? None, was the answer. It would do no good, especially not since Bucky needed him level headed.

“I still talk to my sister sometimes,” Bucky continued, “which is nice, I guess. She doesn't really... know how bad I am though, so... can't talk to her about it.”

“What about your mom?” Steve managed to ask.

“Dead,” came the short, clipped answer.

Steve closed his eyes, clenched his fist. “Fuck,” he let out in a breath. “Bucky. I'm sorry.”

“'s fine,” Bucky muttered lowly.

“No, Bucky, it's not,” Steve said and blew out a breath sharply. “It's not fucking fine, it's shitty and it's not right. If I ever meet your dad, I'm gonna punch him right in the fucking face.”

Bucky laughed, low and quick. “I'd love to see that.”

They both fell silent for a while. Steve didn't want to say anything because he knew that if he opened his mouth, nothing but anger would come out and he doubted Bucky needed someone yelling in his ear, doubted Bucky needed him to lose it and accidentally punch a hole through the wall or crush his phone.

They were both silent, listening to each other breathe, for several minutes. Bucky broke that silence.

“I'm sorry for waking you,” he said.

“Don't be,” Steve said, cutting off anything else Bucky was going to say. “I'm glad you did. You can always call me, Buck. Anytime.”

“Right, because you're so good at keeping your phone on you.”

Steve narrowed his eyes at the deadpan tone in Bucky's voice. “I'm trying to be nice and that's how you repay me? With sarcasm?”

“Sarcasm's my middle name, pal. Thought you knew me.”

“I take it back. Never call me.”

“Fine, I'll just block you then.”

“Not if I block you first.”

“Ha, like you know how to do that.”

“I will fucking fight you.”

“Good luck with that, old man. I've got a guard dog.”

Steve huffed and rolled his eyes, smiling a little when he heard Bucky chuckling on the other end. Neither said anything for only a moment and, this time, Steve was the one to break the silence before it could get too long.

“Seriously though,” he said, voice soft. “Call me anytime. I'll glue my phone to my hand if that's what it takes.”

Bucky was silent for a moment. “I don't like talking on the phone,” he said stiffly. “I don't– I don't like not being able to see who I'm talking to. Makes me anxious, don't know why.”

“Okay,” Steve said and nodded even though Bucky couldn't see. “The offer still stands though.”

“But,” Bucky continued, ignoring him. “I'd like to try. With you.”

Steve dipped his chin and smiled down at his lap, a flutter in his heart.

“And, well, if it doesn't work, there's facetime.”

Steve blinked. “Facetime?”

“Video chat,” Bucky explained. “Might work too.”

“Or,” Steve said, “we could meet up. Face to face?”

“Sure,” Bucky said after a beat. “Yeah, that too. Sometime.”

“Okay,” Steve said and smiled to himself. When Bucky said nothing more, Steve did. “You good to go back to sleep?”

Bucky sighed and said, “Probably not, no.”

“Okay,” Steve said and laid back down, making himself comfortable. “Did you know there was a dick on the cover of The Little Mermaid's original release?”

They ended up talking until the early hours of the morning. The sun was rising outside of his window by the time he hard a soft snore in his ear, a clear sign that Bucky had fallen asleep. Steve let himself listen for a while longer than was probably appropriate and platonic.

 

 

There was one thing that still made him feel a little less alone in the future, one thing from his past that still stuck around; Peggy. She couldn't always remember him, couldn't always remember their last several conversations, but she was there, still breathing although probably not for much longer, and, after gathering the courage to face her after so long, Steve took every opportunity to be with her.

A lot of time had passed, more for her than for him, but he still loved her. Not in the way he used to but she still meant the world to him and having her here, now, in this future he was still learning how to get used to and finding a place in... well, it helped him feel less like an alien on foreign soil.

“Did you know you become taller in space?” Steve asked one day, a small smile on his lips and his eyes looking out the opened window in Peggy's room.

Peggy hummed from where she lay in her bed. “Where did you read that?” she asked.

“A friend told me.”

“A friend?” Peggy's smile was audible in her voice. “Someone you have mentioned before or is this a new one?”

“A new one.” Steve's smile grew a little. “His name's Bucky. He, uh– He's pretty great.”

Peggy was quiet for no more than a second, maybe two, before she said, “You like him.”

Steve blinked, his smile falling from his lips. He flushed and shifted awkwardly and maybe a little uncomfortably in his seat as he shot Peggy a quick, sideways glance.

“Oh, stop it,” Peggy said with a chuckle. “There's no need for that anymore, remember?”

Steve looked at her for a moment, then huffed and looked down at his fidgeting hands. “Yeah,” he said. “Took a while to really sink in but yeah, I remember.”

“So?” Peggy prompted.

Steve lifted his gaze to meet hers, blinking. “So– What?”

“So you like him, Steve,” Peggy told him and gave him a pointed look. “Tell me about him.”

Steve looked down again, down at his hands hanging motionless between his spread knees.

There were a lot of things he could tell her about Bucky; Bucky was smart, he was funny, he was an asshole, he was kind, he didn't care about Captain America but he did care about Steve Rogers, he was strong. He was just about everything Steve found attractive physically as well as mentally and he made him feel safe and wanted.

Steve could tell her all of that and more but what came out when he opened his mouth was none of it.

“He doesn't,” he started, then cut himself off with a sigh, his shoulders slumping. “He doesn't know that I'm... you know–”

“That you are trans?” Peggy finished for him questioningly.

Steve nodded. “Yeah.”

“Do you want him to know?” she asked after a minute.

Steve took in a deep breath slowly, held it for a second, then exhaled even slower.

Did he want Bucky to know? Most of him was screaming yes. Yes, he wanted him to know because, for some reason he still couldn't fully wrap his head around, he trusted Bucky. He could count the people he trusted on one hand and still have a few fingers to spare and Bucky was one of them, had become fairly quickly which was odd for someone like Steve, someone who didn't trust easy and someone who usually took years before he let himself open up.

Most of him was screaming yes but a part of him was whispering no and the whisper was loud, like a little, anxious voice in his head hitting him with what ifs and every horrible outcome of coming out to Bucky, of opening up to him about this part of him that he had only ever told a handful of people.

The list of people who knew had always been kept to the minimum; his mom, Erskine, Peggy, Sam, Natasha. That was it. He hadn't told anyone else and no one else had found out. To add another person to that list was a terrifying thought.

“Maybe,” he said when he'd been silent for too long. “I don't know. Honestly, I'm scared he'll hate me if he finds out. Or that he wouldn't wanna be friends with me anymore or it'd be weird or,” he sighed, “I don't know.”

“Please,” Peggy said and tutted. “Don't be so dramatic.”

Steve rolled his eyes a little but kept his head downward.

“If he hates you for it, that is his problem,” Peggy continued. “Not yours. And I will personally destroy him, if that is the case.”

Steve smiled and looked at her. “And you call me dramatic.”

“That is not being dramatic,” she said and reached a hand out that he took without thought. She looked at him, eyes soft. “That is being protective of someone I love.”

Steve looked at her for a long moment, heart squeezing. He smiled a little, knowing it would be sad but trying his hardest to mask it, and squeezed her hand gently before he raised it and gave the back of it a brief kiss. When the hand moved out of his and pressed to his cheek instead, thumb brushing over his cheekbone, he closed his eyes, leaned into it, and willed down the urge to cry.

Steve stayed until Peggy's memory started to slip again. He stayed until she forgot, breaking his heart for what felt like the thousandth time. He stayed until a nurse came and told him it was time to go and he left even though Peggy was looking at him like she was seeing him for the first time in seventy years.

It hurt but he smiled, promised her he would be back before she knew it, and left. He went home to his small, messy, lonely apartment, ignored every text he'd received during his visit, and curled up in bed, letting himself break for a while.

 

 

Steve was staring blankly up at the ceiling, eyes red and cheeks flushed, when his phone started to ring by the foot of the bed where he'd carelessly tossed it hours ago. He couldn't get himself to move even though his brain yelled at him to get up and answer his damn phone. He couldn't so he stayed still and listened to the ringing until it stopped.

It wasn't until it started to ring again, only a few minutes after, that he finally managed to move. He sat up with a groan, grabbed his ringing phone, and pressed answer without even bothering to see who was calling.

“What?” he bit out, not even trying to sound like he wasn't annoyed.

“Uh,” a familiar voice answered him and Steve immediately cursed himself. “Hi?”

“Bucky,” he breathed and pressed his free hand to his temple, rubbing. “I'm sorry, I didn't know it was you.”

“It's why we have caller id, Steve,” Bucky said, sounding cautious. He paused for a beat. “You okay, pal?”

Steve sighed quietly and said, “Sure.”

“Uh huh,” Bucky said. He didn't sound convinced. “Well, you weren't answering your texts and I got worried, so...”

“I'm fine,” Steve lied. “Sorry for worrying you.”

Bucky hummed quietly on the other end. “You wanna try that again? Only this time, you be honest.”

Steve huffed, going for amused but it came out humorless and tired. He sighed and rubbed his temple again, head pounding. His hand moved further down and rubbed at his still stinging and wet eyes, and he groaned into the palm of his hand.

“I guess,” he started with a heavy breath. “Rough day, 's all.”

Bucky was quiet for a moment. “Wanna talk about it?”

“Honestly,” Steve said and laid back down on his bed. “I'd rather talk about literally anything else.”

“Alright, I can do that. You wanna, I don't know, hear about my boring ass day?”

Steve smiled a little. “Yeah, I'd like that.”

“Okay, so I took Astro out on a walk through Meridian Hill and there was this flock of pigeons–”

He shifted and made himself comfortable on his side, head resting on his flat pillow and phone pressed against his ear. He closed his eyes, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he listened to Bucky talk about his day that was, admittedly, uneventful and boring but it was Bucky's day so it was nice to hear about.

While Bucky talked and talked, an occasional boof from Astro in the background, Steve kept his eyes closed and allowed himself to imagine, for just a bit, that Bucky was laying next to him, telling him about his day like it was something they did every night.

And just for that bit, Steve didn't feel as alone or as sad. Until he opened his eyes and realized it was nothing but a sad, pathetic fantasy.

 

 

“You're telling me you fought a man the size of a fucking ant?”

Steve made a face and turned his head to look at where Sam was laying next to him in the grass, arms behind his head and eyes up at the clouded sky that Steve had been looking at too a moment ago.

They were both sweaty and both of them had caught their breaths by now. Their run had ended a good twenty minutes ago when Steve came to join Sam on the grassy field next to the trail to relax for a bit before either of them bothered to get back up and get home to wash off the sweat.

“Dude, I know,” Sam said with a snort. “It's crazy but it happened.”

“Well,” Steve said and looked back upward. “I'm a science experiment. I fought actual aliens a few years ago. One of our teammates is a God. I really shouldn't be surprised that there are bug people now, too.”

“Tell me about it.” Sam brought a hand out from under his head and rubbed it over his face before he spoke again, reaching over to poke at Steve's bicep. “By the way, I totally kicked his ass. Ain't no ant gonna beat the Falcon, man.”

Steve looked at him, eyes narrowed and lips stretched thin. “Did you really though?”

Sam turned his head, met his eyes, and asked, “Are you questioning my fighting skills?”

“What fighting skills?”

“The ones I can use to fight even you, Captain Small Ass.”

“Fight? Yes. Beat? Eh, I doubt it.”

Sam sat up a little and turned, propping himself up on his elbow. “Wanna fucking go, Rogers?”

Steve held up his fists and knocked them into Sam's chest, not bothering to sit up. “Fight me, Wilson,” he said and laughed when Sam fell backwards onto the grass at the push.

“I'm too tired for fighting,” Sam complained with a groan. He spread himself out, one of his hands landing heavily onto Steve's stomach. “Was that your plan all along? Wear me out with a foot race and then challenge me to a fight when I can barely move?”

“You figured me out,” Steve deadpanned. “Darn it, you are just too smart.”

Sam laughed and, throwing an arm over his eyes to shut out the sunlight despite it disappearing behind gray clouds, let out a heavy breath. Steve watched him for a moment but before he could open his mouth to say anything, his phone buzzed in his pocket. It brought his attention away for long enough to make him forget what he was about to say.

Already distracted, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. When he saw there was a new message from Bucky waiting for him, he couldn't help but smile softly, his heart beating just a tad faster.

› Bucky, 10:57: [picture]

The picture was of Steve and Sam, Sam halfway through falling back onto the grass and Steve laughing at him. It looked like it was taken a good distance away, the quality a little shitty like it had been zoomed in.

Frowning, Steve lowered his phone and sat up to look around. In a second, his eyes found Bucky coming walking over toward them, Astro loyally by his side with her tongue lolling out of her mouth. There was a smile on his lips, his hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and fuck did he look good.

“Bucky!” Steve called out, his smile growing wider unconsciously.

“Bucky?” Sam repeated questioningly next to him, lifting his arm up and off his eyes and sitting up enough to look at the approaching company.

Steve ignored him. Instead, he smiled at Bucky and shoved his phone back into his pocket before he stood up and quickly dusted off the bit of grass that Sam had ripped out of the ground and thrown at him earlier.

He momentarily entertained the thought of hugging Bucky hello but his arms did no more than lift an inch before he changed his mind. He didn't want to seem overeager, so he ended up putting his hands on his hips, trying very hard not to think about the way his shirt stretched over his chest at the movement.

He very pointedly ignored Sam snorting behind him, kept his attention solely on Bucky as he came to stop a few steps in front of them with a responding smile that was small but soft and there. Next to him, Astro sat down and looked up at Steve.

“Hey,” Steve continued, subtly stretching a leg out to kick at Sam. “What are you doing here? Other than being a creepy stalker and taking pictures of me, of course.”

“Oh, I just come here to take shit quality pictures of cute boys,” Bucky said with a shrug. “Gotta add to the collection, right?”

“Yeah, of course.” Steve nodded, mock serious. “It's the most important collection.”

“Yeah? You got one yourself?”

“Of course. Well, not until recently. I started it when this one, particular cute boy send me a picture of him and his dog.”

Bucky smiled a little wider, cheeks tinting a pretty pink. “Sounds real cute.”

“It was the cutest. Real swell guy.”

Bucky huffed out a chuckle, shook his head, and looked away briefly. His eyes quickly returned to Steve though, locking with his and staying. Steve said nothing and just smiled at him. Bucky did the same, cheeks going a shade darker pink.

“Oh my God,” Sam groaned from the grass. “Just go make out somewhere.”

Flushing, Steve turned and looked down at him. Sam had his hand hovering over his eyes, shielding them from the sun. He was watching them, a small, amused grin on his lips when his eyes met Steve's. Steve couldn't see because Sam's hand was blocking them, but he knew Sam was wiggling his brows. If he wasn't, the brow wiggling was implied.

Steve kept looking at him, expression going from embarrassed to deadpan in a matter of seconds.

“Don't look at me like that,” Sam said after a while.

“I will punch you.”

“You're gonna punch a man who can't move? 'Cause I'm not standing up for the next hour.”

Steve rolled his eyes and looked back at Bucky. “I'm not carrying you home,” he said to Sam.

“I carried your heavy ass through the damn sky more than once,” Sam said. “The least you can do is give me a piggyback ride once.”

Steve stuck his tongue out and was ready to repeat Sam in a mocking tone, but Bucky spoke before he could do more than retract his tongue.

“I didn't think the Falcon would be such a wimp,” Bucky said in a flat tone.

Steve bit back a laugh, snorting instead, and looked down to see Sam narrowing his eyes in a glare directed up at Bucky. When he glanced toward Bucky, he saw a small, barely there grin trying to form on Bucky's lips but it was forced away.

“Oh, you did not just call me a wimp,” Sam said after a long pause.

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn't,” Bucky said with a shrug. “What 're you gonna do about it,” he paused for a beat, “wimp?”

Steve looked from Bucky to Sam and to Sam from Bucky and back, eyes flickering between them while the two of them stared at each other, Sam glaring and Bucky looking unimpressed and with his brows quirked.

Steve tried really hard not to laugh.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity but was likely less than a minute, Sam groaned in defeat and got up slowly, the groan turning painful as he pulled himself into a crouch and then stood with a heavy sigh. He stood still for a moment, collecting himself with his head thrown back and eyes closed, before he looked at Bucky and flipped him off.

“I changed my mind, Steve,” he said with a sigh. “I don't like him.”

“When did you say you liked him?” Steve asked, brows furrowed.

Sam waved a hand dismissively in his direction. “It was implied. You've looked a lot happier since you started talking with this one so I gave a silent seal of approval. I take it back now though. Don't like him.”

Steve flushed a little and shoved at Sam before he looked at Bucky. Bucky looked a little flushed himself but he was smiling, eyes already on Steve. Steve looked away before his cheeks could get redder, although they probably already were.

“Good thing he's not your friend then,” he said to Sam. “And now he probably doesn't even wanna be 'cause you insulted him.”

“Hey,” Sam said and gave him an offended look. “He offended me first. Why aren't you defending me? I'm your best friend.”

Steve paused, shrugged.

Sam scoffed and said, “Some best friend you are. Won't even defend me just because you have a cru–”

“So Bucky!” Steve said loudly, cutting Sam off hastily. He turned to Bucky and put on a smile, ignoring the knowing grin Sam was shooting him. “You wanna join me and the official asshole of the Avengers for some lunch?”

Bucky looked from Steve to Sam and back again, a brow quirking. “Isn't it kinda early for lunch? It's barely noon.”

“Brunch then,” Steve said and shrugged.

“We usually go to this juice bar after a good run,” Sam said. “It's just 'round the corner.”

Bucky seemed to hesitate for a long, silent few seconds. He looked between the two then lowered his gaze to Astro who was still sitting obediently by his side, head tilted up to look at him and her ears perked. Bucky shifted from one foot to the other, a sign of discomfort, and Steve almost opened his mouth to tell him he didn't have to come if he didn't want to.

But then Bucky opened his mouth and said, “Okay,” and Steve smiled softly at him.

It was a short walk to the juice bar on the corner of the next street over, one they spend in mostly silence. Steve and Sam, like usual, had a steady flow of casual chitchat but Bucky was quiet. He talked a lot less than he texted, Steve realized, and when he did talk, it was short and brief.

He didn't seem uncomfortable though, not even when Steve shifted the tiniest bit closer to him to avoid a kid coming running down the sidewalk. So Steve stayed there and offered him a smile. Bucky returned it crookedly.

The juice bar was nothing special. Sam had introduced him to it several months ago after a mission gone wrong that had resulted in hundreds of people dead or injured and Steve had driven himself into a spiral until Sam had pulled him out. It was small, quiet, and rarely had many customers at the same time.

The owner was a friend of Sam's. Aisha was her name. She was friendly but not too friendly and she didn't care that she served Captain America every other day. He was just another customer. He liked that. In his eyes, it was perfect and Steve had quickly added it to the list of things he liked about the twenty-first century.

After ordering and paying for their juices, they moved over to a table and sat down, Astro making herself comfortable underneath Bucky's chair with her head between his feet. With a lot less people around, no one but them and Aisha who wasn't paying them any attention, Bucky was easier to rope into conversation.

They sat there for a while, talking and laughing and drinking from their freshly pressed juices. It were times like these, when Steve was with people he genuinely considered his friends and who he knew thought of him as a friend too, that he felt the most at ease and like he was in a place where he belonged.

He never had before. There never seemed to be a place for him, back in the day. Sure, he had a friend or two and, until his mother passed, some family, people he cared for. But he never felt a sense of belonging. Not quite like this.

 

 

Steve had a mission.

Brock Rumlow (code name: Crossbones, a former SHIELD agent who had been part of the HYDRA group that had infiltrated the SHIELD headquarters and one of the few who had managed to escape under the radar) had been spotted in Lagos, Nigeria. Rumlow had been part of Steve's STRIKE team – a team that Steve was assigned, not one he had put together himself like he had with the Commandos – so Fury handed him the assignment to hunt him down and bring him in.

Steve had a mission which meant leaving his phone in his apartment. He had a mission which meant not being able to be in contact with Bucky for a week at least, if everything went according to plan. The thought alone made him feel somber, his mood dropping the second Fury called him in for the briefing. The thought made him want to lift his middle fingers at Fury and quit.

For a brief moment he entertained that idea; the idea of taking a break, not fighting for a while, and laying in bed with Bucky, talking about their boring, every day lives and laughing and having that sense of belonging Steve so desperately craved now that he had gotten a taste of it.

And in the next moment, he found himself giving Bucky a heads up, telling him he would be gone and unreachable for a week, give or take, and Bucky responded with don't do anything stupid, only with more mistakes. In the next moment, Steve found himself strapping into the Captain America uniform and boarding Natasha's quinjet, all thoughts of taking a break long gone.

They found them, Rumlow and his group of fellow HYDRA men, attacking the IFID headquarters in Lagos, trying to steal a biological weapon. They never made it to the weapon. Steve, Sam, and Natasha managed to chase them off into the nearby town's market where the chase came to an end. Sam and Natasha took out the four HYDRA agents that had split and Steve, well...

Steve lost his cool a little when Rumlow ran his mouth in a failed attempt to distract him while Rumlow pulled out a grenade.

At least the casualties were kept to a minimal; only a few innocent civilians who were stood too close and one less disgusting Nazi in the world.

Steve spend the trip home in a daze. He only managed to make sure both Sam and Natasha were okay, both tired and uniforms dirty, before he sat himself down with a heavy sigh, dropped the shield by his feet, and closed his eyes. His hands curled into fists where they rested on his thighs, the leather of his uniform gloves scrunching at the strain, and his mind replayed his fight with Rumlow–

Steve took in a deep, deep breath and fought those images away for the majority of the trip. The rest was spend in a daze, eyes closed in a pretend sleep that fooled no one. Steve could feel his friends' eyes on him every few minutes but neither of them went over to him, let him have his space.

When they landed and parted ways, Steve went straight home without bothering to strip out of his uniform at the base. He never did. He didn't want anyone to accidentally walk in on him and find out the secret only a handful of people had ever known. He didn't want that so even though cleaning off the dirt and blood and whatever else was on his body would be easier there, he never did it.

He went straight home, placing his shield carefully against the wall by the front door. And then he allowed himself to crumble.

He started to strip out of his uniform before he even took the first step away from the door but once he had started to move, the movements of his hands became frantic. He nearly clawed at the uniform, desperate to get out of it. Every piece that was detached from his body was thrown carelessly around his apartment, his packer included once he'd managed to get past the kitchen and could reach into his underwear to pull it out.

He was stripped down to nothing but his underwear and socks when he finally made it to his bedroom and, once there, he didn't hesitate to fall face first into bed. The last thought he had before his eyes slid closed was that he should probably let Bucky know he made it home safe. But his body wouldn't move, not even when he yelled at it to. It was too heavy.

It couldn't have been very long before he opened his eyes again though because when he did, he still felt exhausted and his body still felt like it was heavier than a fucking tank. He groaned into the pillow his face was pressed into when he realized why he'd opened his eyes again; there was a steady and loud knocking coming from his front door, the sound carrying through the empty apartment.

It took him a whole fuckload of willpower before Steve managed to roll over and blindingly reach out for his phone that he had left somewhere on his bedside table, charging. Grabbing it and unhooking it from the wire, he unlocked it and cursed out loud at what he saw through squinted eyes.

The first thing he saw, the first thing that shocked him, was the seventeen missed calls and thirty-two messages from Sam, Natasha, and Bucky. The second thing that shocked him was that fourteen hours had passed since he'd made it home to his apartment. Apparently he had slept, or had at least been unconscious for fourteen hours without even knowing.

Wonderful. More time lost.

Which meant it was probably either Sam or Natasha now banging annoyingly loud on his front door, there to check and see if he was still breathing and kicking, and Steve groaned louder, burying his face into his palms after dropping his phone beside him.

He wanted to be left alone, wanted to sleep and do nothing for the foreseeable future. He knew that wasn't possible because he still had to do debriefing in, what would now be, twelve hours. But that was what he wanted to do; be alone.

The knocking started again, louder and more determined this time, and Steve groaned louder along with it but finally pushed himself out of bed. On his way out of the bedroom, he grabbed a pair of sweatpants that he quickly stepped into and a shirt that he pulled over his head to cover himself up. The knocking was still going on when he made it to the entrance way and, with a hand going through his sleep muzzled hair, he rolled his eyes before he reached out and yanked the door open.

His annoyed glare washed away with a blink of an eye the second he saw who was on the other side, his brows shooting up with surprise and his hand, the one not currently gripping the doorknob, falling limply to his side.

“Bucky,” he said dumbly in greeting and blinked owlishly. “What are you doing here?”

Bucky, in return, raised a brow briefly before his face fell into a deadpan expression and he said, “Well, Sam told me you guys were home from the mission which I thought was weird 'cause I could've sworn I had heard dick all from you.”

Steve lowered his gaze to his still socked feet in shame. On the way down, he noticed Astro sitting by Bucky's side, vest and leash on like always, and a full bag in Bucky's hand. But he didn't question it, too busy feeling guilty.

“So,” Bucky continued, “I asked him why the fuck you hadn't bothered texting me to tell me the news yourself and he told me that you usually just shut down after a mission and apparently this one was real fucking bad and guess what? I ain't letting you spiral so that's what the fuck I'm doing here.”

Steve clenched his fists and his jaw. He took in a deep, slow breath and very pointedly ignored the way his heart fluttered at the knowledge that Bucky was here because he cared.

“I don't need a babysitter,” he told him and finally looked up from his feet, his gaze stern and brows low. “I'm Captain fucking America. I can take care of my own damn self.”

For a brief moment, he considered slamming the door shut and returning to his bed. But he decided against it and left the door wide open in a silent invitation when he turned around and walked back through his apartment. His fists stayed clenched by his sides, annoyed and tired and, for some reason, hollow all at once.

“I don't care if you're the damn king of the universe,” Bucky said behind him, followed by the sound of Atro's paws against the hardwood floor and the door closing. “You don't know how to take care of yourself so you gotta let someone else do it. That someone being me, right now.”

Steve rolled his eyes and let out a long groan that nearly sounded like a whine, not that he cared. Grumbling incoherently to himself, he headed into the kitchen when his dry mouth reminded him that he had spend more than fourteen hours without food and water.

“Jesus, Steve,” Bucky exclaimed from somewhere behind him. “It's like a damn pigsty in here. Do you not know what a fucking laundry basket is?”

“Fuck off,” Steve called back and took the first step into the kitchen. “How do you even know where I live–?”

He stopped abruptly when his eyes landed on his packer that laid casually on the kitchen floor. Shit, he didn't put it away. His eyes widened, panicked, and he stayed frozen for only a split second before he surged forward to grab it off the floor and whirled around to hide his hands behind his back just as Bucky came walking into the kitchen.

It wouldn't be the end of the world if Bucky saw it. Actually, as crazy as it sounded, it may even be okay. Steve had been thinking about coming out to Bucky for a while now but the time just never felt quite right. It still didn't really feel right, nothing did that the moment, and that little, nagging voice in his head, the one whispering negativity and what ifs, still made him want to put off the bad reaction Bucky may or may not have.

There was no right time, Steve had told himself over and over again. And yet he still kept putting it off. Even now, standing there with his hands behind his back and trying to look as casual as possible when Bucky walked in, he was putting it off.

Because he was terrified. He didn't want to lose Bucky.

Bucky, however, didn't seem to notice the sudden change in Steve, his eyes wandering over the kitchen floor with his face scrunched.

“I asked Sam,” he said and lifted his arm up to put the full bag down on the island. “Seriously though, do you even own a laundry basket?”

Steve bit his lip and swallowed thickly, staying quiet.

“Look at this mess, Steve,” Bucky continued. “Can take care of yourself, my bare ass. If this is what your kitchen looks like, I don't even wanna think about the state of your bathroom. Or any other part of your apartment. God, your bedroom is a damn mess, ain't it? I mean, look at this! You've got– Is that blood on your uniform? That's blood, oh my fucking God. And you just leave it around in your fucking kitchen? Do you even–”

Bucky stopped talking abruptly when his eyes landed on Steve. Steve cursed at himself and held his breath while Bucky's eyes narrowed and gave him a calculating look. It was nerve wracking, being looked at like that and knowing what was undoubtedly about to happen.

“What's with your face?” Bucky asked.

“Nothing,” Steve said, maybe a bit too quick. “Why? What's– What's with your face?”

Good one, Steve. Nice.

“You're being weird,” Bucky said and took a step closer, eyes narrowed into slits. “Why are you being weird?”

“I'm not,” Steve denied.

“You are.” Bucky paused. His eyes dropped down to Steve's middle. “What are you hiding behind your back?”

Steve flushed, heart pounding. “Nothing.”

Bucky was quiet for a long, awkward moment. “Is it a dildo? 'Cause listen, pal, we all–”

“It's not a dildo,” Steve interrupted firmly.

“Okay,” Bucky said slowly. “Then what it is?”

Steve hesitated for a long minute, his fists clenching around the packer hidden behind his back. Part of him wanted to run away and avoid this conversation for as long as he possible could. But the more rational part of him reminded him that this was the moment he had been waiting for, handed to him on a silver platter. Maybe it wasn't exactly how he'd thought it would happen but might as well rip off the band aid, right?

“Bucky,” he started and took in a deep breath, trying to calm himself. “There's something I need to tell you. And maybe I should have told you weeks ago but... I put it off because... Well, I don't know why.”

Bucky was looking at him, a small frown on his lips and his brows furrowed. But he was staying quiet, letting Steve talk and listening intently. He didn't even look away when Astro came into the kitchen too to sit down by his side after, Steve assumed, having gotten to know the place.

“This is, uh...” Steve cut himself off with a humorless laugh and shifted awkwardly. “I don't know how to do this. I've done a lot of research, watched a lot of videos, but I don't know...”

He took in a deep breath, lifted his gaze from the floor to meet Bucky, and said, “I'm trans.”

It was like time stopped the moment the word left his mouth. Steve, with his heart pounding loudly in his chest, watched Bucky's reaction carefully. Not that there was much to watch, actually. Bucky's brows jumped briefly and he looked surprised but that was it.

“Oh,” Bucky said, breaking the silence. “So, what's behind your back then? Your,” he paused for a beat, his eyes dropping down for only a split second, “binder?”

“Uh,” Steve said, drawing it out as his cheeks warmed. “Not exactly.”

He hesitated but it wasn't long before he decided to just get it over with. Bucky knew now, he wasn't running or calling him a freak or any of the other thousand things Steve had been called throughout his life or any of that. He just seemed curious.

With his grip looser now, Steve brought his hands out from behind his back and held out the packer for Bucky to see. Bucky blinked down at it, that small frown returning slowly.

“Why was your, uh– packer?” Bucky glanced up at Steve questioningly.

Steve nodded silently.

“Why the fuck was your packer on the floor, Steve?” Bucky asked. “That's unhygienic.”

Steve blinked.

Blinked again.

He saw the stern but not disgusted or repulsed look on Bucky's face. A smile formed on his lips before he could stop it and he chuckled. The atmosphere was no longer tense and awkward but rather light and easy, back to how it always had been with Bucky.

It was easier to breathe, a warm feeling settling in his chest rather than the tightness before. He was relieved, so unbelievably relieved that this didn't seem to be a big deal to Bucky.

“Do not,” Bucky said and pointed a stern finger at him, “put that down your pants before cleaning it.”

Grinning, Steve saluted him with the packer. “Yes, sir.”

Bucky's stern expression melted away into a fond and amused smile as he rolled his eyes. Shaking his head, he stepped forward and crossed the distance between them, stepping right into Steve's space like it was normal.

“You're a punk,” he said fondly and then wrapped his arm around him, pulling him into a hug.

Steve wanted to insult him back, wanted to call him a jerk, but nothing came out when he opened his mouth, too stunned to get any words out. It had been a while, a long while, since he had last been hugged and he hadn't realized, not until Bucky squeezed him and pressed his cheek to his, that he was completely and utterly starved for the human touch.

Tentatively, he raised his arms and wrapped them around Bucky to hug him back. He was careful with his strength, having finally learned to be more aware of it, even though he wanted to hug Bucky as tightly as he possibly could and never let go.

The realization hit him like a baseball coming flying at him full speed and hitting him right smack in the middle of his chest, knocking the air out of him and causing him to momentarily see stars; he liked Bucky. More than he had originally planned or thought possible. He liked him, as more than a friend.

The noise that left him was involuntary and came out as more of a sob than anything, which was probably why Bucky's arm suddenly tightened its grip around him, hugging him tighter, and why there suddenly was a hand stroking his hair and a whine from Astro still by the island.

Steve didn't care though. He just hugged Bucky a little tighter and buried his burning face in his neck, willing himself not to breathe in the scent of him.

They stayed there for a while, wrapped in each other. For how long, Steve wasn't sure but it wasn't long enough before Bucky started to loosen his grip little by little and slowly lean back. Taking the hint, Steve leaned back as well.

“I'm sorry,” Bucky said and looked at him, an apologetic smile on his lips.

Steve frowned. “For what?”

“For making you come out like that. That–” Bucky cut himself off with a shake of his head. “It should've been on your own terms and not like that. I'm sorry.”

“Bucky,” Steve said and smiled at him a little. “It's fine. I've, uh... I've actually been trying to find the best time to tell you and... maybe it wasn't perfect but... Well, I wanted you to know. I trust you.”

Bucky looked at him for a long moment, his eyes the tiniest bit wider. The intensity of his stare was enough to make Steve's cheeks start to feel warm, nearly enough for him to start shifting uncomfortably.

But then Bucky moved forward again and wrapped his arm back around him, pulling him in for an even tighter hug. Steve didn't hesitate to hug him back and, this time, he didn't stop himself from burying his face in his neck, close his eyes, and breathe in as quietly as he possible could.

This hug, while tighter and probably better than the first, wasn't as long. It wasn't Bucky who pulled back though, it was Steve. Not because he wanted to, because he wanted to stay wrapped around Bucky for the foreseeable future. But because he needed to.

“Should we, um,” he started as they parted. “Should we talk about it?”

Bucky paused for a beat, his hand lingering on Steve's shoulder. “Only if you want to,” he said.

Steve hesitated for a while, contemplating. “I kinda don't,” he admitted. “At least not right now. I'm not really,” he trailed off with a vague gesture to his head.

“Right,” Bucky said, nodding. “Bad headspace.”

Steve nodded, letting out a breath. “Yeah.”

“I've got the perfect cure for that,” Bucky said with a soft smile. He stepped back, grabbed the bag he'd put down on the island, and motioned toward the living room area, Astro standing up to follow him. “C'mon. I've got a bunch of movies and take out with our names on it.”

Alone in the kitchen, Steve took a moment to breathe. His shoulders slumped a little as the air left him, relaxing bit by bit.

That had been a lot. It hadn't been bad, had gone a lot better than what he had imagined. Not because he thought Bucky was a transphobic asshole but because Steve had been terrified. As it turned out, he had no reason to be and the thought made him smile.

He quickly tossed his packer almost carelessly onto the kitchen counter and then followed after Bucky. The kitchen counter was better than the floor, at least.

When Steve walked into the living room area, Bucky was already sitting on the cheap, three person couch, his hand digging into the bag and pulling out a container of take out food. Astro had made herself comfortable on the couch cushion next to him, her ears perking when she noticed Steve.

Steve had a brief moment of hesitation before he continued toward the couch.

“Here,” Bucky said when he approached and pulled a movie out of the bag, handing it to him. “Put this one on. It's a good one, trust me.”

I do, Steve wanted to say but he didn't.

“After you told me to watch Spaceballs,” he said instead and grabbed the movie, eyeing it briefly before he went to put it on, “I'm not sure I trust your taste in movies.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Bucky said. “That one was funny. Just be glad I didn't tell you to watch the holiday special. Now that one's torture.”

Steve huffed and sat himself down on the couch, grabbing the remote. He didn't think about how close he was sitting to Bucky or how nice it felt knowing Bucky knew both of the things he usually kept under lock and key and hidden away or that it wasn't weird and that it had changed nothing.

“I'll take your word for it,” he said and smiled at Bucky.

Bucky smiled back easily, bumping their shoulder together shortly before he made himself comfortable against the couch's back. Astro moved her head into his lap with a soft huff and Bucky balanced a container of take out on his knee, somehow making it look effortless.

Steve barely managed to eat anything because, when they had made it almost halfway through WALL-E, he found it near impossible to keep his eyes open. And before he knew it, he had fallen asleep, head rested on Bucky's shoulder.

 

 

When Steve woke up, it was to sunlight hitting him in the face and the sound of sizzling from somewhere in the distance. He groaned and squeezed his eyes firmly shut, shifting and turning to press his face into the pillow under his head, shutting out the sunlight.

It took him several long minutes before he was able to get himself turned onto his back and his eyes open. And when he did, he frowned up at the ceiling above him, confused.

The last thing he remembered was the cleaning robot struggling to clean WALL-E and Bucky chuckling next to him. He didn't remember laying down, didn't remember getting a pillow under his head, and he certainly didn't remember getting the blanket that was currently wrapped around him.

Which meant that he hadn't done it but Bucky had.

Cheeks warm, Steve looked toward the kitchen where he could hear someone puttering around. For a moment, he just listened. He listened to the sizzling and the puttering and the distant sound of a familiar but hushed voice, and a soft smile spread across his lips before he knew it.

Steve laid there for a few minutes, smiling up at the ceiling, before he heard approaching footsteps. They weren't human, that was obvious with the claws clacking against the floor. He lifted his head slightly and looked toward the kitchen where he saw Astro come walking over toward him, tail wagging behind her and sans her service vest.

He smiled at her when she came trotting over. When she got closer and her tail started wagging wilder, he reached out a hand and let her sniff it for a moment, then he reached up to pet her head. She immediately moved closer, leaning into his petting hand and sitting down by the couch, tail slamming between it and one of the coffee table's legs.

Steve managed to get himself up to sit after several minutes of dozing off while he pet Astro. But he eventually did, Astro putting her head in his lap in a silent plead for more pets which she got, and it was barely a minute later when Bucky came walking in from the kitchen, hair loose and the same clothes he'd worn the day before, sans the shoes and now only in his short sleeved shirt, the left sleeve hanging loose against his side.

“Morning,” Bucky said and offered him a crooked smile, motioning toward the kitchen with his head. “I made breakfast.”

Steve smiled back, deflated a little, and said, “You didn't have to do that.”

“I know,” Bucky said. His smile growing, he turned and headed back to the kitchen. “You coming or not?”

Steve huffed and shook his head. Bucky was already out of view so he wouldn't hear his answer even if he bothered giving one. So he stayed quiet, smiling down at Astro who was looking back at him. He tried very hard to ignore how warm he felt.

From the kitchen came a whistle and Astro was gone in the blink of an eye, trotting hurriedly toward her owner. Steve watched her go, hands now empty in his lap, but his smile didn't fade the least. It only grew when he heard Bucky praise Astro in a soft and sweetened voice.

Eventually, Steve dragged himself off the couch. He made a quick detour to the bathroom for a leak and then walked straight to the kitchen, forcing his smile to fade ever so slightly so he didn't come in looking like a smiling maniac.

It was hard though. Especially when the view he was met with nearly made him sob; plates of eggs and bacon and toast with jam and plain butter, glass filled with juice, and Bucky sitting by the island, Astro laying on the floor next to him with her ears perked, obviously begging for a taste.

And the kitchen was near spotless. There were no bloody and dirty uniform pieces thrown carelessly around, no pots and pans and dishes in sight, no packer laying on the counter like it had the night before. Nothing.

Steve took a moment to take it in before his eyes landed and stayed on Bucky. Bucky looked back at him and smiled after a beat, and it was like he understood. Although, Steve doubted he could ever properly understand how much work Bucky had taken off of his shoulders. Steve wasn't even sure he could wrap his head around it himself.

“Don't say anything,” Bucky said and gestured to one of the plates on the island. “Just sit down and eat your breakfast.”

Steve stood there quietly for a while. But then he nodded, moved over to sit down, and started eating.

They ate in silence for a while. Steve barely tasted the first couple of bites, he was shoveling them in so fast. His metabolism was fast, he could and should eat a lot, and he had barely eaten any of the take out Bucky had brought over the night before, so his stomach rumbled its appreciation for finally being filled up.

But after shooting Bucky a glance and seeing him taking it real slow with his own plate, his hand disappearing under the island and feeding Astro a strip of bacon every once in a while, Steve forced himself to slow down a little. As hungry as he was and as good as the food was, he didn't want to finish it too soon and have Bucky sit and eat by himself.

“How are you feeling?” Bucky asked when Steve's plate was half empty.

“Better,” Steve said, absently flipping the scrambled eggs on his plate with his fork. “Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Bucky said and smiled at him. He paused for a moment, hesitating. “Can I ask you something?”

Steve nodded. “Yeah, of course.”

“Did you ever, uh... Did you ever tell your parents?” Bucky asked but then quickly shook his head. “Sorry, you don't have to answer that. I'm just–”

“It's okay,” Steve said, cutting him off. “I get why you wanna know.”

Bucky let out a quiet breath but said nothing. He only gave a short, uncertain nod and looked at him.

“My dad died when I was a kid so I never got to tell him,” Steve said. He paused for a beat, smiling down at his hands. “My mom cried. She cried so fucking much when I shouted at her to stop calling me a girl and when I asked her to stop calling me– uh, by my other name. I was... I don't know, maybe eight?”

“Wow,” Bucky said, brows jumping. “That's pretty young.”

“Yeah, but apparently it's common for kids to know.”

Bucky stared at him for a second, a soft smile forming on his lips. “You did research on it, didn't you?”

“Of course I did,” Steve said easily.

Bucky huffed in amusement. “Dork,” he said. “So, did your mom get over it or?”

“Eventually, yeah,” Steve said with a nod. “I was fucking terrified she'd kick me out 'cause she didn't talk to me for a few hours after. But then she hugged me, called me her sunshine boy, and helped me cut my hair off.”

Bucky smiled at him. “She sounds pretty great.”

“She was,” Steve said. He smiled, a little sad. He missed his mom something fierce but talking about her no longer felt like someone was squeezing his heart with the intent to hurt. Now, it felt more like talking about a fond memory, something his mom always had been.

“Does anyone else know?” Bucky asked after taking a sip from his own glass of juice.

“A few,” Steve said. “You, Peggy, Sam, Natasha... I think Fury knows but he hasn't said anything. Erskine knew too. I keep a list of people who know, people who I might wanna tell one day, and people who can never know. In my head, of course. I'm not an idiot.”

Bucky smiled at him. It almost looked fond. “You really like lists, don't you?”

Steve shrugged and said, “It's a nice way of keeping track of things.”

Bucky's smile grew a little softer, a little wider. There was a long stretch of silence before he moved, sliding off his chair and went around to wrap his arm around Steve's shoulders. It was a little awkward, considering the angle and the fact that Steve was sitting down and Bucky was stood up, but it was nice. More than nice, actually.

Steve didn't hesitate to let go of his fork and wrap his arms around Bucky's middle to hug him back. He buried his face in his shoulder, closing his eyes and trying to ignore the warmth spreading through him. It hard though, especially when Bucky squeezed him and stroked the back of his head, but the warmth was nearly forgotten when his heart did a somersault at the gentle touch.

They didn't hug for long, at least not as long as Steve would have liked, but he loosened his grip despite not wanting to when Bucky started to pull back. Bucky smiled down at him when they parted and Steve smiled back, hoping his cheeks weren't as red as it felt like they were. They probably were though but Bucky made no comment and just sat back down to continue eating.

The silence stretched on for another minute. Steve only broke it when he realized he'd been watching Bucky for longer than what was appropriate.

“What are you doing today?” he asked and busied himself by taking a swig of juice.

“Well, it's Tuesday,” Bucky said and shoveled eggs up onto his fork, “so I'm getting my nails done.”

Steve stared at him. Bucky chewed his eggs and looked back at him, face blank and deadpan. The corner of Steve's lips twitched and he snorted. From the tone of Bucky's voice and the look on his face, Steve figured he was joking.

“Okay, sure,” Steve said and hesitated for only a second before he continued. “You mind if I come with you?”

Bucky swallowed and gave him a questioning look. “Why?”

Steve shrugged. Because he wanted to avoid having to deal with his mission debrief. Because he wasn't ready to leave Bucky's side yet. Because he wanted to spend more time with Bucky. Because he wanted to feel like Steve Rogers and not Captain America. Take your pick, there were a lot of reasons why.

“I like hanging out with you,” he settled on and looked down at his nearly empty plate of food, willing down the warmth in his cheeks. “And I'd like to do more of that.”

Bucky was silent for a beat. “You do know my days are boring as hell, right?”

“Nothing wrong with boring,” Steve said and looked at him. “Besides, I think I could use a bit of boring these days.”

Bucky stared at him, considering, then he nodded. “Okay, but only,” he said and held up a finger, “if you buy Astro something nice. She's gonna have to deal with your ass all day too.”

“I'll buy her the finest chew toy we can find,” Steve didn't hesitate to promise and smiled, letting out a relieved breath.

“Then fine,” Bucky said and returned the smile crookedly. “Tag along.”

 

 

They finished eating and while Steve went into his bedroom to get dressed, Bucky borrowed his bathroom to get himself ready. When Bucky emerged again, Astro right on his heels with her vest on, Steve was standing by the front door, already dressed with his shoes and jacket on and his phone out to reply to the several messages from both Sam and Natasha.

Bucky went up to him, held out a hair tie, and asked him for his help with getting his hair put into a ponytail. Steve tried really hard to will down the blush that rose to his cheeks the second he got his fingers into Bucky's hair. It was intimate, touching someone's hair, and with his recent realization that he had a crush on Bucky, this was making his head spin and his knees weak.

But he did it and very pointedly ignored the look Bucky gave him afterward. Instead he busied himself with grabbed the keys to his apartment and holding the door open for Bucky after Bucky had clipped the leash onto Astro's collar.

They left, the door locked behind them, and went onto the already busy streets. Astro immediately plastered herself to Bucky's side, making the leash look unnecessary. Her ears were perked and her attention was straight ahead of them with such an intensity that it felt like she was on watch.

Steve fought the smile that pulled at his lips and took his eyes off of her. He looked to Bucky instead, held out a hand to silently tell him to lead the way, and followed him when Bucky started walking.

Neither of them said much for the first several minutes. Steve wanted to, he really did, but Bucky was uncomfortably tense by his side and it was obvious he needed a minute to collect himself. So Steve let him have it and waited until Bucky let out a heavy breath and started to loosen up a little. It was then that Steve turned to him and asked if there were any new memes which immediately had Bucky groaning and calling him an old fart.

Before Steve knew it, Bucky turned ever so slightly and came to a stop, indicating that they had arrived at their destination. Curious, Steve took his eyes off of Bucky and looked at the shop they had stopped in front of.

Only to stop and freeze and maybe gawk a little when he looked through the wide windows in front of them, displaying the nail salon on the other side.

“Seriously?” he asked and raised a brow at Bucky.

“Did you think I was kidding?” Bucky asked and gave him a look.

Steve winced. “Kinda?”

“Steve, I've only got one hand,” Bucky said. “I can't cut my own nails. How the fuck else am I supposed to get it done?”

Steve shrugged but said nothing.

“Besides,” Bucky continued, his face hardening ever so slightly. “These ladies are my only friends aside from you and I will kick your ass if you so much as even think about saying anything shitty.”

Steve blinked, face falling into a deadpan expression. “Do you really think I would do that?”

“No, but they're my girls and I'm overprotective,” Bucky said with a shrug.

Steve smiled and held up his hands in surrender. Bucky gave him a warning look, which didn't come off as threatening in the least because he was smiling, before he reached out to open the door and stepped inside.

Steve took in a deep, calming breath and followed him.

He had barely made it a step in after Bucky, the door only partly shut behind him, before he came to an abrupt stop when all the workers in the salon looked their way, smiled brightly, and simultaneously called out, “Good morning, Bucky!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Steve saw Bucky's shoulders shake with a quiet chuckle. “Morning,” Bucky said back, his smile soft.

Steve couldn't help but smile too. Bucky seemed comfortable here, that much was painfully obvious. Good. He deserved a place like that, a place he could feel at ease and at home. Steve knew how horrible it was to feel uncomfortable everywhere. Finding a safe place was like finding heaven.

Steve let himself look around for a moment. However, it wasn't long before his eyes met with someone else's who was already looking back at him. The girl was young, maybe in her early twenties. Her dark brown hair hang loose over her shoulders, one side tugged behind her ear, and the corner of her lips was twisted back into a near smirk, her eyes shifting from Steve to Bucky and back again.

Steve felt nervous under her stare and he send her a hesitant smile.

“Rosanna!” the girl suddenly called out, her voice accented. “Bucky brought a boy!”

Bucky groaned at the same time a shrieked, “What?!” came from somewhere in the back of the place.

Ten seconds later, a short, chubby, older woman came storming out from a room to the right. Her hair was dyed bright purple, graying toward her roots, and was put up in a high ponytail. Her eyes, half hidden by a pair of stylish glasses, immediately went to Bucky.

“Oh boy,” Bucky breathed and shrunk in on himself a little. “Prepare yourself, Steve. Rosanna is a handful.”

Steve smiled when he noticed the fond smile on Bucky's face. “I like her already.”

“Of course you would, she's amazing,” Bucky said and shot him a glance. “I'm just saying– Oh, never mind. Here she comes. Don't be a shit.”

Rosanna came to a stop a few steps in front of him and put her hands on her hips, her eyes going from Bucky to Steve and back several times before finally resting on Steve. Her gaze was intense and Steve felt the sudden urge to shrink in on himself. For a brief, flashing moment, he was reminded of one of the ladies at a queer bar he'd gone to back in the day who had, more than once, protected him and he found himself smiling rather than shrinking.

His smile only grew when he noticed that there didn't seem to be any flash of recognition in Rosanna's eyes. He had looked for it and had seen none, unlike the younger girl who was still watching them from further into the salon. She had obviously recognized him immediately, something Rosanna hadn't.

Or maybe she didn't care. Either way, Steve liked her immediately.

“Who is this young man you've brought with you, Bucky?” Rosanna asked, her eyes firmly glued to Steve.

Steve's smile grew the tiniest bit wider.

“Don't play dumb, Rosanna,” Bucky said beside him. “I know you recognize him.”

Rosanna's expression shifted into one of offense and her eyes snapped to Bucky while her mouth dropped open in a slight gape. She tutted and lightly smacked the back of her hand to Bucky's chest. Steve chuckled quietly under his breath while Astro harrumphed from where she was stood by Bucky's side.

“I was being polite,” Rosanna said and pointed a finger at Bucky. “Something you, apparently, don't know how to be.”

“So you punch me to lecture me?” Bucky asked, quirking a brow. “You know Astro doesn't like that.”

Rosanna's eyes flickered down to Astro briefly before returning to Bucky. “I know but do you see her pushing me away? I don't think so. Obviously she's on my side.”

Bucky looked down at Astro and mumbled, “Rude.”

Steve snorted but he quickly stiffened when Rosanna's eyes returned to him, calculating this time. He went for a polite smile but even he could tell it was wobbly and nervous when it formed on his lips. He couldn't help it, Rosanna was intimidating. And knowing she was important to Bucky just made it that much worse.

“Hi,” she said after a long moment and smiled kindly. “I'm Rosanna.”

“Steve Rogers,” Steve introduced himself as and shook her hand when she held it out. “Nice to meet you, ma'am.”

“Ma'am, huh?” Rosanna smiled wider and let go of his hand. Her eyes never left Steve when she leaned over to Bucky and stage whispered, “He's got manners, I like him. Keep him.”

“I'd like to see him try to get rid of me,” Steve said, smiling even when Bucky jabbed at his side with his elbow. He glanced at him and his smile only grew when he saw the pink flush that painted Bucky's cheeks a pretty pink.

“Oh, I really like him,” Rosanna said with a chuckle. “But enough of that. Bucky, Wanda is free for you. Steve, do you wanna get a manicure? I'm sure we can squeeze you in somewhere.”

“I'm good, thank you,” Steve said.

“Suit yourself,” Rosanna said with a shrug. She then motioned over toward the young girl from before (Wanda, Steve assumed) who smiled and lifted a hand in greeting.

They both went over and while Bucky wrapped his arm around Wanda in a greeting hug, one that she returned instantly, Steve grabbed a chair and rolled it over to the station to sit down. Bucky and Wanda sat down a moment after, Astro making herself comfortable by Bucky's feet under the chair, and Bucky placed his hand on the desk while Wanda got to work.

“How's your brother doing?” Bucky asked after a minute.

“Pietro's good,” Wanda said and shot Steve a hesitant glance before she continued. “He ruined another pair of running shoes yesterday.”

Bucky let out a breathy chuckle. “Maybe he should think about getting better shoes instead of constantly buying new ones.”

“If you find a place that makes shoes for someone like him, let me know,” Wanda said and smiled at him.

Curiosity tickled at Steve's mind but he bit back any questions that popped into his head. He didn't want to push, it wasn't his place to. Instead he leaned forward a little, crossed his arms on the edge of the table, and let his eyes settle on Bucky, watching him as he talked with such ease with Wanda, laughing and smiling and chucking quietly.

Steve found himself smiling softly as he watched. He wasn't even really listening to what they were talking about anymore, couldn't find himself to care because Bucky was so fucking pretty. He was so pretty with the way a few hairs had escaped the ponytail, falling along his stubble covered jaw, and the way his pink lips stretched into a pretty smile, his eyes shining when he laughed. And with the way his shoulders relaxed and the way–

A foot kicked against his chair and Steve was abruptly knocked out of his thoughts. He whipped his head around and saw Rosanna giving him a knowing look from where she was stood behind him, a hand on her hip and a smile on her lips.

Steve flushed bright red, cleared his throat, and hoped that she understood the silent plead he was trying to telepathically communicate to her. Apparently she did because, a moment later, she winked at him, mimed zipping her lips shut, and left with a pat on his shoulder.

It was partway through Bucky getting his nails cut and filed down that Steve felt his phone start to buzz and vibrate in his pocket. He shifted, annoyed to have his moment of peace and quiet and normality with Bucky interrupted and annoyed because he had a gut feeling of who was trying to reach him.

Breathing in deeply, Steve settled back in his chair and ignored his phone.

Two minutes passed in pleasant silence from his pocket, Wanda and Bucky chuckling with each other over some inside joke that Steve didn't understand but smiled at anyway. Well, maybe not so much at the joke as it was at the way Bucky's eyes crinkled at the corners when he laughed, Steve's heart doing a somersault in his chest.

But then his phone buzzed again and, after ignoring it, a third time.

Annoyed and grumbling under his breath, Steve reached into his pocket and was in no way surprised to see SHIELD having called him all three times. He was late for his debrief, he didn't need to reminder, but SHIELD could kiss his ass at the moment.

He deserved a break, fuck their debrief. Sam and Natasha could handle it for now.

Oh, he was going to get his ass kicked and there would be consequences, most likely involving agents looking over his shoulders.

Whatever. He could deal with that later.

“Got somewhere to be?” Bucky asked and Steve looked up at him with a smile.

“Nowhere I'd rather be,” he told him truthfully and turned his phone off before sliding it into his pocket.

Bucky looked at him for a long, calculating moment before he smiled softly and turned back to Wanda, his cheeks flushed a pretty pink that had Steve's face softening, worries and annoyance long forgotten.

 

 

Bucky had his nails done within the hour but he stayed the full hour out, sitting by Wanda's station and talking with the rest of the employees. And Steve happily sat in his chair, observing and listening and enjoying being a fly on the wall that only occasionally was roped into the conversation. He didn't mind not being included. It was nice getting to just sit and watch the man he lo–

Yeah. That was one word he wasn't ready to use. Not even in his own head.

“Where to next?” Steve asked once they stepped out of the salon, hands in his pockets.

“Well,” Bucky said, wrapping Astro's leash around his fist a couple of times. “I usually grab something to eat and go home to take a nap or watch Netflix but we don't–”

“Let's do that,” Steve interrupted.

Bucky raised a dubious brow at him. “Seriously? You really wanna go through my boring day?”

“I told you, I could use a bit of boring. Besides, I'd like to do that. With you.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes at him and Steve smiled back, his cheeks warm.

“Okay,” Bucky said slowly. “But I get to decide what we're eating.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Oh, and you're paying for it.”

“Now why the fuck would I do that?”

“Because I'm nice enough to let you tag along on my exciting day, obviously.”

“Ah, of course. Then fine, I'll pay for the food.”

They ended up grabbing some take out Thai food, their server more than friendly the moment he recognized Captain America. Steve smiled tightly, ignored the discomfort, and let the guy get a picture. He left as soon as he could without making it obvious how uncomfortable and tired he was. If Bucky noticed, he didn't say anything.

While they walked to Bucky's apartment, a brisk twenty minute walk that stretched into twenty-nine because they were in no hurry, they talked and talked and talked and Steve felt himself relax along with Bucky, laughing and smiling in a way he hadn't done in... well, in a long, long time.

With Bucky, he felt the kind of ease he had only felt with a few people before; Sam, Natasha, Peggy, Erskine, his mom. Although, with his added crush, the kind of ease he was feeling with Bucky was more and different, in a way.

Not to compare the two, because they were very different people, but this kind of tingling feeling he had around Bucky was eerily similar to one Steve had had back in the war with Peggy.

Steve could see himself falling in love with Bucky. And maybe one day he would be able to drop the big L bomb, even if it was just to himself.

Bucky's apartment was considerably smaller than Steve's, both the kitchen and living room visible from the front door along with a door that Steve assumed lead to either the bedroom or the bathroom. They stepped out of their shoes and shrugged out of their jackets by the door, Astro getting her vest and leash off, and then they went further inside, Steve taking it all in.

It was nice, kept squeaky clean compared to Steve's own place. It was very Bucky, with the poster of the solar system hung up in a frame above the television and the shelves filled with books next to it and everything else. Steve liked it.

“Astro,” Bucky said and put the bag from the pet store they'd stopped by on the way onto the kitchen counter, digging into it to pull out the toy Steve had bought. “Look at this, girl.”

Steve smiled, put down the take out bags, and stepped back to watch them.

Astro's ears perked the moment her eyes landed on the toy that Bucky was now wiggling temptingly. Her tail started wagging wildly and she bend down slightly on her front legs, like she was preparing to attack. She stayed still until Bucky tossed the toy further into the apartment. She sprinted after it, nearly tripping over her own paws to catch it in the air.

“I bet you she's gonna have chewed that thing to shreds in a couple of days,” Bucky said, a smile on his lips that was unmistakably fond.

“If you're trying to rope me into getting her more toys,” Steve said and started pulling their food out of the bags, “you're gonna have to be more persuasive than that.”

Bucky huffed, smiled, and shook his head with a roll of his eyes. Steve smiled back and quickly averted his eyes, looking down at where he was pulling out the last few containers. A silence settled over them but it didn't last long before Bucky broke it.

“So, are you finally gonna tell me what this is really about or what?” he asked.

Steve froze. Blinking, he looked over at him.

Bucky was stood leaning against the counter, his hand in the pocket of his jeans and his eyes on Steve, watching him carefully. His smile had disappeared from his lips but his expression still came off as soft and kind and relaxed, as did his body language.

Steve smiled, a little nervously, and asked, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, why'd you wanna hang out with me?” Bucky asked. “Really. And don't lie. You're a terrible liar.”

Steve stared at him, mouth hanging slightly open and heart pounding in his chest. He had two options; one, lie and hope Bucky would let him get away with it, or two, tell the truth – not the truth about avoiding SHIELD work but the real truth about how he felt – and open himself up. It was terrifying but Steve wasn't known for turning tail and running the other way.

“I like you,” Steve said in a breath. “As more than a friend.”

Bucky was silent. His eyes widened the tiniest bit, maybe, but otherwise he didn't react.

“And I'm not expecting you to feel the same,” Steve hurried to say, putting on a smile even though it killed him to know rejection was right around the corner. “It's okay. You just... I don't know. When I'm with you, I feel like I belong. And when I'm not with you, you're all I can think about. You're just so–”

“Shut up.”

Steve stopped talking and lifted his gaze from the floor to Bucky hesitantly, tentatively. His heart jumped into his throat at the way Bucky was looking at him. It was intense, made Steve want to shrink in on himself a little, but he couldn't figure out if it was intense in a good way or in a bad way.

Automatically, his mind went to bad and he silently prepared himself for the worst.

However, he got the opposite.

Bucky moved, hand slipping out of his pocket. With a few steps forward, he closed the distance between them until he was right in front of Steve. His hand went up to cup Steve's jaw and Steve only managed to catch the brief glance Bucky's eyes did downward before Bucky leaned in and kissed him firmly on the lips.

Steve's eyes widened and he breathed in sharply in surprise. His hands gripped the edge of the kitchen counter tightly for a very brief moment but then he didn't hesitate to move. His hands went to Bucky's face, cupping it, and he leaned in to kiss him back just as firmly and maybe a bit too enthusiastically.

Bucky chuckled against his lips, his thumb brushing over Steve's cheekbone, and gently showed him how to kiss properly. Steve got the hang of it pretty quick, if the soft sigh Bucky let out had anything to say, and Bucky easily gave over the control after.

Steve let his hands wander, moving down along Bucky's sides until they found his hips. He tugged him close and felt incredibly proud when Bucky moaned into his mouth at the contact between them.

Steve felt like he was in heaven. He kind of wanted someone to come pinch him, convinced that this couldn't possibly be real, but he also really didn't because this? For all the times he had imagined kissing Bucky, the real thing did not compare. This was so much better and Steve didn't want it to stop. Ever.

Of course it did, though. Not that he was happy about it.

Bucky softened the kiss little by little and then slowly pulled back, his hand still on Steve's face to hold him back when Steve tried to chase after his lips. There was a smile on Bucky's wet lips, soft much like the look in his eyes when Steve finally tore his eyes off of his lips to look.

God, Steve really fucking lo– liked him. So much, his heart was aching.

“If we're gonna date,” Bucky said and shifted the tiniest bit closer, bringing his hand around to rest on the nape of Steve's neck, “you better get yourself a secret phone or something so you can text me on missions.”

The smile that grew on Steve's lips was involuntary but not unwelcome so he let it grow, wide and toothy and happy. He chuckled and nodded, whispering, “Yes, sir,” before he dove in and kissed him again.

Because he could do that now and that thought was thrilling and exciting and the best goddamn feeling he'd felt in ages.

Bucky kissed him back, throwing his arm around his neck and pressing himself as close as possible. And Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky's waist and kept him there.

Steve spend the rest of the day on Bucky's couch eating take out food, watching both good and shitty movies, trading kisses, soft and firm, smiling against each other's lips, making out until his lips were red and tingling and all he could taste was Bucky.

He stayed until night fell and ended up falling asleep with Bucky curled up in his arms, head rested on his chest and legs tangled, with Astro asleep on the floor beside them.

He had never felt quite this happy, this wanted in this way, for a long, long time. If ever.

 

 

Steve ran his fingers along the cool chain resting around Bucky's neck, down until his fingers found the tags attached to it. There, he traced his own name and other personal information. He was still amazed that it was his name and not the dead name he had been given when he was born that was on them. And he was grateful that SHIELD let him keep them after digging him out of the ice.

He didn't usually wear them, had kept them in a box with the rest of his previous belongings currently stuffed into the back of his closet, but he had taken them out this morning and put them around Bucky's neck.

Back in the day, the other soldiers had talked about giving their wives or girls back home a pair of their dog tags. Steve had always been jealous of that, aching for someone to love like that. He had briefly thought about handing a pair to Peggy but he had never gotten to actually do it.

But now he was here with someone to possibly love one day.

That morning after he'd returned home from his debriefing with an added lecture from Fury and found Bucky still in his bed from their night spend together, Steve had grabbed them and put them around Bucky's neck, watched the tags land against the bare skin of his chest and the chain get caught on a few locks of hair on the way.

Steve felt warm all over, the warmth radiating from his chest, and he didn't hesitate to join Bucky in bed.

“These look good on you,” he said after a while and lifted his gaze from the tags, a smile on his lips when his eyes found Bucky's.

Astro was somewhere out in the living room area, playing with the toys Bucky had brought with him. Neither of them had seen her for a while, which probably meant she had fallen asleep.

Bucky hummed and brought his hand up to wrap it around Steve's. His thumb caressed the back of it and he leaned over to kiss Steve's forehead. Steve closed his eyes and leaned into it, sighing softly and finding himself smiling.

“You wanna wear mine too?” Bucky asked and laid back down, tugging at him until Steve followed and put his head on his shoulder. “I got 'em somewhere at home.”

“I mean, if you trust me not to lose them, sure,” Steve said and shifted a bit closer.

“Actually, that's a good point,” Bucky said. “I think I changed my mind.”

Steve scoffed and yanked his hand free from Bucky's to pinch his nipple. “Jerk.”

Bucky laughed and swatted at his hand. “Okay, move your ass, punk,” he said and shoved at him. “I gotta piss.”

With a groan, Steve flopped onto his back on the other side of the bed and watched as Bucky sat up, stretched, and got out of bed. He couldn't help but let his eyes slowly wander from the back of Bucky's head and downward, appreciating the view in front of him shamelessly.

Bucky, of course, noticed and grinned at him over his shoulder. Steve just smiled innocently at him and made himself comfortable, spreading out on his bed with his hands behind his head.

Bucky left the bedroom with a shake of his head and a little, fond smile on his lips.

Steve contemplated closing his eyes and maybe falling asleep a little, tired even though it was barely after noon, but he never got to do anything because, barely a minute after he'd left, Bucky came storming back into the bedroom.

“Stop leaving your dick everywhere, asshole!” he yelled and flung Steve's packer toward the bed where it bounced by the foot of it before landing right beside Steve's knee.

Steve laughed brightly and sat up, grabbing his packer. “Oh, come on! It's funny!”

“It was funny the first time, not the millionth time!”

“Okay, now you're just exaggerating unnecessarily.”

Bucky lifted a stern finger at him. “I'm serious. Stop leaving your dick anywhere but where it's supposed to be.”

“In your ass?”

There was a beat of silence, Steve grinning widely while Bucky stared at him deadpan, before Bucky charged toward the bed and pounced on him. Steve yelped and didn't put up much of a fight when Bucky grabbed him and pulled him into a headlock.

Steve laughed brightly while Bucky called him an idiot and, with a happy smile on his lips, he leaned back against Bucky's chest and took in every single insult that Bucky threw at him. With every insult, his happiness grew, warmth spreading through his body, and he couldn't stop himself from laughing.

Not because it was funny, although it was, but because he was just so fucking happy.

“Stop laughing, asshole!” Bucky said, voice raised and a smile audible in his voice, and it only made Steve laugh harder. “I'm serious, you fucking turd! Quit it!”

“Buck,” Steve managed to breathe out in between laughs, forcing himself to calm down enough to speak. “Fuck, I like you.”

Behind him, Bucky relaxed and Steve could feel his smile against the back of his neck when Bucky pressed his face there, lips kissing just below his hairline.

“I like you too,” Bucky said and squeezed him.

Steve wiggled around to face Bucky and pushed him down onto the bed to hover over him. They smiled at each other for a moment, then Steve leaned down to kiss him. Bucky kissed him back only briefly before he pulled back just enough to speak.

“But I still really gotta piss.”

“You ruined the moment.”

 

 

Steve dodged with a lean back, the bottom of Natasha's shoe narrowly missing the tip of his nose. He smiled at her when she landed back on her feet facing him and she returned the smile with ease, both of them only slightly damp with sweat and panting.

“You're in a good mood today,” Natasha said and broke her stance, reaching up to tighten her ponytail. “Did you get laid?”

Steve huffed out a laugh and rolled his eyes but he couldn't seem to stop his smile from growing the tiniest bit wider, his cheeks flushing. “What, am I not allowed to be in a good mood for once?” he asked.

“Sure you are,” Natasha said. “But you're practically beaming.” She made a face. “It's actually really unsettling.”

“You make it sound like I'm a giant grumpy asshole,” Steve said.

“Because you are!” Sam called out from where he was punching a speed bag. “The biggest asshole in history!”

You're the asshole!” Steve called back because he was secretly five years old.

Sam barked a laugh. “But not as much as you!”

Steve narrowed his eyes at him in an attempt to glare. He didn't need to look in a mirror to know it failed because his smile was still stuck on his lips and didn't seem to be going anywhere, ruining any attempt to resort to his old habits.

Sighing, he turned toward the last person in the gym. Barton was laying on his back on one of the benches, one leg bend and the other dangling off the edge, his hands folded on his chest and the string from his hoodie between his lips.

“Barton!” Steve called out.

Barton didn't respond. He didn't even seem to have heard him even though Steve could clearly see the hearing aids in his ears, which meant they were either turned off or the volume was turned down significantly.

Steve rolled his eyes, shared a quick look of exasperation with Natasha, and walked over to Barton to poke at his shoulder.

Barton startled and whirled around as he sat up. “What?” he asked and finally looked up, fiddling with the aid in his left ear. “Oh. Hey, Cap.”

“What's the point of wearing those if you're just gonna keep them off?” Steve asked, gesturing to his ears.

Barton looked at him for a long moment then he shrugged. “For appearance sake.”

Steve gave him a flat look.

“Is that all?” Barton asked. “'Cause I was having a real nice nap.”

Steve rolled his eyes briefly and asked, “Am I an asshole?”

“Duh,” Barton said. “Obviously.”

“Ha!” Sam said, now over by Natasha with an an resting on her shoulder. “Told you!”

Steve turned to them and narrowed his eyes, his smile finally gone from his lips.

“I thought that was, like, common knowledge,” Barton said. “We're all assholes. The Avengers, more like the Asshole-vengers.”

“Nice one,” Natasha said dryly.

“Thank you, I try.”

“Go back to sleep,” Steve said and walked back over toward Natasha and Sam.

“Aye aye, Cap,” Barton said.

“Seriously, Steve,” Natasha said when he neared. “Did you get laid?”

Steve tried to fight it but the smile was back on his lips in a second, his cheeks reddening. “Maybe,” he said with a shrug.

“Atta boy,” Sam said and held up his hand in a silent offering.

Steve huffed a little but gave him the high five anyway, blush spreading down to his neck.

“So you got a partner now, huh?” Natasha asked, her eyes glinting and smile soft on her lips.

“Boyfriend, yeah,” Steve said in a breath, heart jumping in his chest because he had a boyfriend and he could talk about it. If he told himself just three years ago – seventy, for the rest of the world – that he would be here, alive and maybe not completely well but happy and in a relationship with a wonderful man, he wouldn't have believed himself.

“Is it Bucky?” Sam asked, smiling too. “I feel like it's Bucky.”

Steve nodded and said, “It's Bucky.”

Sam smiled at him and gave him a firm pat on the shoulder in a silent congratulations.

“So,” Natasha drawled. “When are you gonna introduce us to your boyfriend?”

“More like introduce you to him,” Sam said. “I've already met him. Twice.”

Natasha scoffed and gaped at Steve. “Uh, rude. Why has he met him but I haven't?”

“Obviously 'cause I'm his best friend.”

“And I'm not?”

“Relax, Nat,” Steve said. “He's actually–”

“Hey, Cap!” Barton called out, interrupting them. “Your boyfriend is here!”

Steve would never admit to how fast he turned around. He didn't care anyway, honestly. Because when he did, he instantly smiled widely and happily at the sight of Bucky standing a few feet away from Barton by the entrance of the gym, Astro by his side and looking as gorgeous as ever.

It hadn't been long since they kissed and decided they would try dating. A few weeks, tops. But Steve would never get tired of the feeling he got just from seeing Bucky, just from thinking about him or getting a text or anything to do with him. It was a warming feeling and he never wanted it gone.

He would never openly admit but he wouldn't deny either how quickly he turned his back to his friends and headed over toward his boyfriend in long, quick strides, yearning to kiss him and hold him and be near him.

“Dude,” Barton was saying when Steve neared. “Can I pet your dog?”

Bucky's eyes lingered on Steve before they moved to Barton, his soft smile fading just a tiny bit but Steve noticed it immediately. He also noticed how Astro subtly shifted a bit closer even though she was already pressed firmly against the side of Bucky's leg.

“Sorry, pal,” Bucky said and tightened his grip on Astro's leash. “She's working.”

Barton nodded, didn't argue or press, and gave Astro a thumbs up. “Good doggy,” he said.

With a shake of his head, Steve stepped the rest of the way up to Bucky, took in a deep breath, and leaned forward to kiss him hello. He could feel Bucky smile against his lips which, in return, made him smile too but neither of them leaned away and both of them kept kissing, Steve's one hand reaching up to touch Bucky's cheek while the other rested on his hip.

Behind him, Steve could hear Natasha wolf whistle and Sam cheering loudly, both of them applauding. Steve didn't move his attention away from Bucky as he lifted his hand from Bucky's cheek to flip his friends off over his shoulder but he did break the kiss, leaning back with one last, lingering kiss.

“Hi,” he let out in a breath after a second of just looking at Bucky.

Bucky smiled softly a him. “Hey yourself,” he said. “You ready to go?”

Steve didn't hesitate to nod and swung an arm over Bucky's shoulders. “We're going for lunch!” he called out over his shoulder to the others, all three of them being obnoxious behind them. But he ignored them, too busy smiling at his boyfriend.

He doubted he would ever get tired of calling Bucky his boyfriend, even if it was only to himself.

They headed out of the front door and only made it a block down the street when Steve suddenly remembered something.

“Oh,” he exclaimed and dug into his pocket to pull out his phone, a grin growing on his lips. “Have I shown you my new lock screen yet?”

“Is it as bad as your last one?” Bucky asked, giving him a side glance. “'Cause if so, I think I'll pass.”

“You'll like this one, I promise.”

Bucky looked at him, eyes narrowed and unsure, but then he sighed and held out his hand. Grinning but trying to bite it back, Steve handed his phone over and watched with amusement when Bucky woke his phone up and saw the lock screen.

“Are you fucking serious?” Bucky groaned and shoved the phone right back at Steve, pushing him a few inches away too.

“What?” Steve asked, trying hard not to laugh and failing.

“A picture of your fucking abs? Seriously?”

“Oh, come on. I thought you liked them.”

Bucky gave him a look. “You know how I feel about having your own goddamn abs as your background.”

“Technically, it's not my background though.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes at him.

“Okay, fine,” Steve said and leaned in to kiss the side of his head. “I was just kidding. I'll change it right away, how 'bout that?”

“You fucking better or this relationship is gonna be real short.”

Steve shook his head but said nothing and instead focused on changing his lock screen. He already knew exactly which picture to put it as and, when he found it in his folder, he smiled softly and took a moment to just look at it. Once it was set and saved, he turned his phone over and showed it to Bucky.

What was before a shitty mirror picture of his abs was now the most recent selfie Bucky had send him. In the picture, Bucky was in bed, a soft smile on his face, the corners of his eyes crinkling a little, his hair fanning out over the pillow, and Astro's head was only barely in frame where she lay cuddled to his side.

“Better?” Steve asked and smiled when he saw the blush painting Bucky's cheeks a pretty pink.

Bucky huffed and rolled his eyes but even as he turned his head away, shaking it, he couldn't hide the fond smile that pulled at his lips. Steve chuckled when he saw it and wrapped his arm around his shoulders again to pull him closer, both of them coming to stop.

“You're a fucking dork, Rogers,” Bucky said and leaned in to kiss him.

Steve didn't hesitate to kiss him back, smiling against his lips.

With his arm sliding down to around Bucky's waist, Steve leaned back to smile at him shortly after and, together, they started walking down the street again. While they ate lunch at the diner Bucky had decided on, Steve held his hand whenever Bucky didn't need it and even leaned over to kiss him once or twice.

Because he could do that now, was allowed to, and he wasn't going to pass on that opportunity.

And sure, it would blow up if– when Captain America got caught kissing another man but he didn't care. He was happy and he belonged and that was all that mattered. He could fight the backlash, easily. It would be like fighting flies compared to everything he'd been through; annoying but doable.