Actions

Work Header

Hearts Like Ours

Chapter Text

“An espresso with a shot of charisma for Bucky!”

Bucky walks to the counter, grabbing his cup and uttering a small ‘thank you’ to the barista. The pixie winks at him, already fluttering away to take care of the next order, the coffee shop surprisingly busy for mid-morning on a Tuesday. Bucky squeezes past a couple of angels waiting in line, sidestepping the goblins as they rush to get an empty table, and accidentally bumps into a vampire on his way out.

Once outside, Bucky takes a deep breath, shoulders finally losing some of the tension he’s been carrying around since he woke up this morning. The feeling only gets better once he takes a sip of his coffee, the tingly rush of charisma shooting through him, making him shudder.

Bucky thanks the heavens for fairy run coffee shops and their special drinks. He doesn’t know how he’d make it through life without his daily dose of caffeine with a shot of good fortune or patience or concentration.

Especially today.

Because today, of all days, and for reasons Bucky can’t fathom, is the day he is going to meet the love of his life.

 

**

 

The thing about Bucky is that he is cursed.

In fact, half of his family is.

Long long long ago, someplace far away from the city of New York, one of Bucky’s ancestors — a Barnes, son of Barnes, and as human as can be — made the mistake of saving someone’s life.

Except that someone wasn’t just someone, but a warlock princeling.

As a way to settle the life debt, because warlocks hate to owe anything to anybody ever, especially to a mere human, they decide to bestow onto Barnes’s line a gift.

And the gift they chose was that of sight.

So from that day forward, passed down from Barnes to Barnes to Barnes, they have all been able to see the future. Never all of it, though, only tiny little glimpses from time to time, and not about anyone or anything not related to their own family. Those glimpses are always enough to make them aware that something important will happen, but not how or why or where.

The only thing they know is who and what and when.

 

**

 

That morning, Bucky wakes up from dreams of fire and gold and smoke.

He wakes up to the feelings of love and longing deep in his soul, to the taste of salt on his lips, and to the shadowed silhouette of a man both as large as the world and as small as Bucky’s own heart seared in his mind.

That morning, Bucky knows that little glimpse of the future, and he knows his life is about to change forever.

So it’s a little bit of a comfort when the door to his room bursts open — even though he lives alone —, a flash of brown and white runs past, and his little sister throws herself on top of him.

“You’re getting married!” Becca yells, wrapping her skinny little arms around his shoulders, hugging him tight.

Bucky groans, and he also knows that she’s had a glimpse of what is going to happen to him. Never mind that Becca is wrong. Just because the love of his life is out there waiting for him, it does not mean Bucky will marry him. Even though that is exactly what happened to his parents.

Parents, who are standing just outside the door to his room, both sporting wide smiles. His father is dangling the key to Bucky’s apartment in one hand, and his mother has tears in her eyes.

Like Bucky said, it is only a little bit of a comfort.

 

**

 

Bucky is on edge all day, eyes darting to every person who stands a little bit too close, waiting to feel that little rush of aha! the moment his prediction comes true. It doesn’t happen, and the longer his shift at the hospital goes, the worse Bucky gets. He knows he only gets away with it because the shot of charisma is still doing its job, making him charming and likeable to everyone he comes into contact with.

Or at least almost everyone.

“Did you accidentally get a shot of paranoia with your coffee?” Claire asks, raising an eyebrow at him and grabbing a new pile of patient charts from the nurses’ station.

Claire’s been a nurse at the hospital since before Bucky was hired, her no-nonsense attitude and ability to keep a flat expression and steady hands through the worst of times making her one of Bucky’s favorite colleagues. She doesn’t ask a lot of questions Bucky doesn’t want to answer, and she always listens when Bucky has something to say.

Bucky thinks that has something to do with the red devil who likes to hang around the hospital’s roof from time to time, but he pays Claire’s silence with some of his own and does not ask any questions.

“No.” Bucky glares, sighing when Claire just keeps looking at him. “I’m waiting for something.”

Claire blinks, lips pressed in a tight line. “Should we be worried?”

Bucky shakes his head, offering her a kind smile. “No. It’s just me this time.”

The last time Bucky told Claire he was waiting for something to happen, they ended up with a full ER after a fight broke out between rival werewolf packs in a pub near the hospital. It was bloody and gruesome, and a lot of hard work from the staff to keep them from tearing each other to pieces while they healed.

“Good luck then,” Claire tells him, clapping on the shoulder. “It seems like you’ll need it.”

Bucky sighs again, shoulders slumping.

It seems that he will.

Especially when his shift ends, the screen of his phone telling him it’s twenty minutes to midnight. Figures he’ll meet the love of his life after working for twelve hours, his hair tied up in a messy bun at the top of his head, his skin smelling of disinfectant and latex.

Bucky is so distracted thinking about the injustice of it all as he makes his way home that he misses the man walking the towards him, the crack on the sidewalk, and the little family of brownies crossing his path. At least until one of the brownies lets out an ear piercing scream, stopping Bucky short of stomping one of their family members to death.

Bucky startles, sidestepping the brownies only to have his foot catch on the crack of the sidewalk.

The world tilts on its axis as Bucky falls forward, eyes closing tightly and muscles tensing as he prepares himself for the impact. He braces for the pain to come, for the sound of crushing bones as his nose breaks, for the hot thick feeling of blood sliding down his face.

Except it is not pain and the harsh ground that greet him.

Instead, Bucky falls face first into something hard but surprisingly soft, that smells not of urine and dirt and trash, but of leather and mint and smoke. This something also wraps itself around Bucky’s waist, grip tight and sure, keeping him in place.

This something is warm and alive.

This something is a person that Bucky is leaning on, with his nose tucked against their collarbone and his hands curled into the fabric of their shirt.

Bucky makes a garbled sound as he opens his eyes and tries to step away from whoever it is that caught him, only to lose his footing again and tilt sideways. The arms around his waist tighten their hold, hauling Bucky up so he can get his feet under him, and in the process pull him closer.

“Are you okay?”

“Uh,” is all Bucky can say, because he is not okay. He can feel his cheeks burn in embarrassment, and his hands are still clinging to this person despite Bucky wanting to get away.

“Hey, do you need to sit down?”

“No,” Bucky says, because what he needs is for this day to be over. “No, I’m okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m fin—” Bucky starts, glancing to the man, and then promptly shuts himself up.

Because the person holding on to him? That’s Steve Rogers.

Captain America himself.

A firestarter.

And when their gazes meet, Bucky feels that little rush of aha! as his prediction comes true.


Surprised Bucky

 

**

 

Everyone knows about Captain America, the Howling Commandos, and Peggy Carter.

If there is one thing the world loves, then that thing is stories.

Steve Rogers was human until he was not, fire burning hot and bright from the middle of his heart to the tips of his fingers. It was a result of the supersoldier serum, as history tells, which changed him into one of the first firestarters the world had seen in centuries.

And when it comes to stories? Well, theirs is the best of them all.

A merry band of shifters who caused havoc and helped win wars, the mermaid who traded her tail for legs and went on to change the world, and the little sickly human who burned brighter than the sun.

Together, they made history.

Together, they helped shape the world as it is now.

 

**

 

Pressed against him at night in the middle of an empty New York City street, Bucky can attest to the heat emanating from Steve’s body. It seeps into his clothes, touching his skin, making him want to snuggle up against the chiseled chest in front of him and never move again.

Bucky briefly wonders if that is also one of Steve’s powers: make people feel so warm and cozy that they decide not to attack.

“Sir?” Steve prompts, brows furrowed as he takes a step back, hands still resting on Bucky’s sides, as if he’s afraid Bucky will fall again. “Is there anyone I can call?”

Bucky shakes his head, both to answer and to clear his thoughts, forcing himself to pry his fingers away from Steve’s leather jacket. “Sorry,” he says, licking his lips. “It’s just been a long day.”

And you’re the love of my life, Bucky thinks to himself, still having a bit of a hard time believing this fact. It does explain the dreams of fire and smoke, though, and the shadow of someone both small and larger than life.

“I guess almost cracking your head didn’t help,” Steve murmurs, surprising a laugh out of Bucky.

“No shit,” Bucky says, happy when that gets a small smile out of Steve. “Thank you for the save, by the way. Wouldn’t want to go back to the hospital to get a broken nose fixed.”

“It was no trouble.” Steve drops his hands from Bucky’s sides, burying them in his pockets instead. “You’re a doctor?”

“Nurse Barnes, at your service,” Bucky says, extending a hand, and then immediately wants to slap himself for his dorkiness.

Although it does make Steve’s small smile widen a little, as he takes Bucky’s hand in his own for a firm shake. “Steve. Nice to meet you.”

“Bucky,” Bucky blurts out, and then adds at Steve’s confused look, “It’s my name. I mean, the name I go by. My real name is actually James, but Becca couldn’t pronounce it when we were kids and—”

“Bucky,” Steve cuts him off, smile now a full grin. “And you wanted to stick with that for the rest of your life?”

Bucky gapes, embarrassment forgotten to give place to absolute joy at being faced with Captain America’s brand of assholery. So of course Bucky says the first thing that comes to mind, “Says the Star Spangled Man with a Plan.”

Steve grimaces, touch turning a little bit too hot against Bucky’s hand. Which he apparently is still holding.

Huh.

They must notice it at the same time, because Steve’s grimace turns to sheepishness and he lets go. Bucky watches in fascination as the tips of Steve’s ear turn pink, the air around him almost sizzling hot.

“In my defense, I’m not the one who came up with that,” Steve replies, fidgeting in place.

“Yeah, I don’t think you’d saddle yourself with such a dumb name,” Bucky tease, trying to lighten the mood, and is glad when that gets a low laugh from Steve.

“I guess we have that in common,” Steve offers, and then asks him in a more serious tone, hands finding their way back to his pockets. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” Bucky answers, “I promise.”

Considering his entire life has just changed, he thinks he’s doing pretty well.

“Good,” Steve says, and then tilts his head to the side. “Are you on your way home?”

“I was going to stop by to grab some food first,” Bucky lies, biting down on his bottom lip and only feeling a little bit guilty about it. “How about you let me get you something? As a thank you for not letting me fall flat on my face.”

Bucky might know Steve is the love of his life, but he doesn’t know how or when they will fall in love with each other. All he knows is that they were meant to meet today, and now that that is done, it is up to Bucky to move things along. He figures a tiny little lie won’t mess things up for him, and grabbing some food with Steve beats going back to his empty apartment and making some Pop Tarts.

But Bucky also doesn’t blindly trust his glimpse of the future. Just because Steve is the one for him, it doesn’t mean he is the one for Steve. As much as Bucky likes what he’s seen so far, he wants a real chance to get to know the man meant for him. He won’t fall headlong into this without protecting his heart.

And even more, he wants the opportunity to redeem himself. He didn’t miss the way Steve’s body reacted to the reference of him being Captain America, with his touch growing uncomfortably hot, probably reflecting his emotions on the subject. Bucky wants a chance to apologize, although he doesn’t think Steve will appreciate him bringing up the subject again. So, food it is.

Steve is frowning again, lips turned down. “You don’t have—”

“I want to,” Bucky interrupts him. “Please. My Ma will hit me over the head if she finds out I didn’t give proper thanks to someone who saved me from trouble.”

“How will she know?” Steve gives him a look, eyes narrowed.

“Ma’s a witch,” Bucky says. “She knows things.”

Steve snorts, and then takes a step to the side, opening the path for Bucky. “You better lead the way, then.”

 

**

 

They end up at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves one of the best tamales Bucky’s ever eaten. Bucky has no idea who owns and runs the place, only that it is open 24/7, but he likes the atmosphere and the way the air inside always smells like chili: spicy and delicious.

Bucky notices Steve’s curious glances as they pick a table near the back, with Bucky taking a seat with his back to the door, letting Steve have a clear view of the room. As soon as their butts are on their respective chairs, drinks appear in front of them, the glasses full to the brim.

“Oh,” Steve gasps with a little surprise, before letting out an embarrassed laugh. “I forget there are some places where the food just appears in front of you.”

“At least you didn’t jump like my little sister and spill coke all over your guacamole.”

Steve wrinkles his nose in disgust, something that looks entirely too cute for Bucky’s taste. “So, you have a sister?”

“Yeah, name’s Becca. She’s a little devil.”

“Oh, what kind?” Steve asks, and then looks appalled at himself. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. That’s so rude of me to—”

Bucky waves a hand at him, torn between bursting out laughing and reaching out to give Steve a hug. “It’s fine. You’re okay,” he says, giving Steve a reassuring smile. “And she’s not a literal devil, just, you know, a pain in the ass sometimes.”

“Oh my god, still, I’m so sorry,” Steve says, entire face red, eyes big and a little devastated.

“Hey, I’m not offended,” Bucky promises. “And I won’t tell anyone about it. Your lack of manners is safe with me.”

Steve doesn’t look that convinced. “Are you sure? Because I’m really sorry.”

“I’m sure. And I cross my heart,” Bucky tells him, making an X over his heart.

Bucky feels the pinprick of magic as he makes the vow, tying him to his word. Steve’s eyes widen, mouth parting as he stares at Bucky, looking equal parts grateful and horrified.

“You didn’t have to—” Steve starts, voice low and colored with surprised.

“I know.” Bucky shrugs. “But you seemed really worried about it. And this is something I could do, so.”

Steve considers him for a few seconds, as if not knowing what to make of him. Bucky doesn’t mind, because he also doesn’t know what to make of himself. To say he’s been a little out of it since meeting Steve would be an understatement, but Bucky figures that’s what happens when you meet the love of your life.

And, you know, they turn out to be someone like Steve.

“You’re kind of a weird one, aren’t you?”

Bucky gasps, all mock-offense. “We’re rolling with the insults today, aren’t we?”

Steve flushes again, shoulders tight. “Sorry. Just… Sorry.”

Bucky’s expression softens, and he goes with his gut as he reaches a hand out, fingers grazing the back of Steve’s hand on the table. Steve’s skin is warm, just as Bucky thought it would be. “It’s okay. It’s actually kind of nice knowing you can match my level of asshole.”

Steve blinks, relaxing a little. “There are levels?”

Bucky laughs, carefree. “Pal, you have no idea.”

“I think I do, a little bit,” Steve tells him, and then smirks. “You did almost kill a brownie today.”

It’s Bucky turn to groan, and he feels the blood rushing to his neck, turning his skin pink. “I’m usually really good at paying attention to where I’m going. Today’s just been a weird day.”

Because I’ve been worried about meeting you, Bucky doesn’t add, but knows it to be true.

“Yeah, I get that,” Steve sighs, running his fingers through his hair.

“Weirdness the reason for your midnight stroll?” Bucky asks, biting at his bottom lip.

“It was only ten when I left,” Steve answers, but doesn’t offer anything else.

“Well,” Bucky clears his throat, feeling a little awkward, “I’m glad, though. If it wasn’t for you, I’d probably be in some serious pain right now. And you wouldn’t know the amazingness that is—,” Bucky stops talking when in front of them two plates appears, “Fajitas, nice.”

Steve snorts, drawing Bucky’s attention to him. “I take it they’re good?”

“Everything here is good,” Bucky answers honestly, already preparing himself to eat. “But the fajitas and tamales are the best, in my humble opinion.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“You should,” Bucky says, batting his lashes, “because I’m always right.”

Steve bunches up a napkin and throws it at him, smiling when Bucky bats it away with a hand and it ends up plopping back on their table. Steve looks a lot more relaxed than he did before, embarrassment and tension gone. Bucky is pleased with himself, knowing he’s helped Steve feel a little more comfortable.

“So,” Bucky starts after they’ve demolished half their plates, the food tasty and delicious as always. Bucky almost wants to kick himself after the words are out of his mouth, though, because Steve tenses again, just slightly, his grip tightening around his fork.

“Yeah?” Steve asks, cautious, as if he’s waiting for Bucky to start badgering him with questions.

When Bucky takes a second to run that over in his head, he realizes that must happen a lot. People curious about Steve and his life, his work as Captain America, questioning him about what it was like to be alive back then, to go to war, to put himself in danger all the time.

Bucky remembers the first couple of months after Steve came out of the ice, after the Battle of New York, with the interviews and magazine spreads and conferences. Bucky didn’t pay attention to it all, busy with work and his own problems, but he recalls Steve’s stoic face, the tightness of his lips, the far away look in his eyes whenever someone asked him about what he’d been through, as if he hadn’t been living that mere months ago.

Most people don’t really treat Steve like a person, Bucky realizes with a sick feeling in his stomach. They treat him like a relic.

So Bucky does the only thing he can think of in that moment and blurts out, “What’s your favorite color?”

Steve blinks, startled, before he leans back in his chair, eyebrow arched. “My favorite color?”

Bucky shrugs, stuffing some food in his mouth so he doesn’t end up saying anything else as stupid as that.

“It’s red,” Steve says, with a little sad smile playing at his lips. “It was one of the first colors I saw after… It stuck with me.”

Bucky doesn’t need Steve to say ‘after the serum’. They all know his history, and Steve must be perfectly aware of that. That the people around him nowadays know more about his life than he’s probably comfortable with.

“Mine’s blue,” Bucky tells him, figuring he can at least offer a little bit of himself back. “My Ma used to make charms in the kitchen when I was little, and some of them let out blue sparks when they were done. Little me was very impressed.”

Steve huffs out a laugh, tension already seeping from his shoulders. “That sounds fun.”

“It was, for the most part,” Bucky admits. “Unless she decided to use her magic on us when we didn’t do our chores. It’s not cool having a trash bag stuck to your hand until you put it in the garbage bin.”

“My Ma would just look at me, all disappointed,” Steve says, the sad smile back. “She didn’t even have to say anything, and I’d already feel like the worst person on earth because I didn’t wash my plate.”

“I wonder where they get it from,” Bucky muses. “And if it’s just something that happens when you’re a parent. Because it’d be kind of useful for me at the hospital to just get people to do things without making a fuss so I can help them.”

“What made you want to be a nurse?”

“My dad was in a car accident when I was a kid,” Bucky tells him, shushing Steve’s apologies. “He’s okay. Stronger than ever. But he had to spend some time in the hospital, and my Ma would take me and Becca to visit sometimes. One of the nurses, Melissa, would always sneak in some jello for us when she came to check in on him, and she let us help read out the numbers on his monitor. I think she was just trying to make us not feel so scared, you know?”

“She sounds like a nice lady.”

“She is.” Bucky grins. “She retired last year, and I had the chance to work with her for some time. So I chose to be a nurse because I wanted to help people, and maybe give something back, some comfort to someone who needed it, you know? Like she did for us.”

“That’s wonderful, Bucky,” Steve says, sad smile now gentle and proud.

Bucky wants to squirm in his seat, warmth rushing through his body. “Thanks,” he says, and then adds, “Also, I look really good in scrubs.”

That gets a sharp laugh out of Steve, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “I don’t doubt that,” he says, smirking when that makes Bucky blush.

Bucky wonders if Steve’s flirting with him, but the moment passes when Steve starts eating again. The whole world knows Steve identifies as bisexual, after a disastrous interview where the reporter kept pushing his anti-LGBTQ+ agenda at Steve, to the point where Steve let the polite mask slip and tore him a new one, also coming out in the process. Bucky himself is bi, and he can’t begin to find the words to tell Steve how much Steve making a stand meant to him. As it is, Bucky keeps quiet, eating his fajitas, and hoping one day he gets to tell Steve about it.

 

**

 

The rest of the dinner goes by smoothly, once Steve knows none of Bucky’s questions are related to what he’s been through. They talk a little more about Bucky’s work, with Steve offering some information about his mother, who used to be a nurse. They move on to talking about their favorite foods once Steve’s plate fills up again, while Bucky’s remains empty.

“I guess they know you’re still hungry,” Bucky comments when Steve looks sheepishly at his plate.

“You don’t mind if I…?”

“I won’t keep a man away from his dinner, Steve,” Bucky says. “You go ahead and eat until you’re full.”

“That might take a while.”

“Lucky for you, I don’t have an early shift tomorrow.”

“Lucky for me,” Steve mutters, and then goes back to eating.

They leave the restaurant nearing two in the morning, their bellies full, and after Bucky insists on being the one to pay their bill.

“I invited you,” Bucky points out. “And I did say this was supposed to be a thank you for not letting me fall to my death.”

Steve frowns. “You wouldn’t have died. And I ate a lot.”

“That means you liked the food and had a good time,” Bucky says, and then raises a hand when Steve opens his mouth to keep complaining. “I’m paying. Stop arguing with me. You’re not going to change my mind.”

Steve closes his mouth, teeth worrying at his bottom lip before he sighs. “You’re really not going to let me pay, are you?”

“Nope.”

“Split?” Steve suggests after a few seconds.

“No,” Bucky says. “And it’s too late now. My money’s already on the table.”

Steve looks from Bucky’s face down to their table, just in time to see their money disappear along with the dishes. Steve scowls, then turns back to Bucky. “You planned this. You distracted me on purpose.”

Bucky’s lips twitch. “Maybe a little.”

Steve narrows his eyes. “So this is your level of asshole.”

Bucky grins, bumping Steve’s foot with his own under the table. “Now you know.”

Steve rolls his eyes, bumping Bucky back. He’s still grumbling under his breath as they spill into the empty street, which only makes Bucky smile harder. At least until Steve says, “Then you’re going to let me walk you home.”

“What? You don’t have to,” Bucky protests, alarmed.

“I know,” Steve says, all kinds of smug. “But I need to make sure you don’t end up almost killing anyone on the way.”

“It was an accident,” Bucky groans, scrubbing a hand over his face.

“Then how about because I don’t want you to fall on your face?”

Bucky drops his hand, raising his eyebrows at Steve. “Want to make sure nothing damages the goods?”

“I don’t know, Bucky.” Steve frowns, tilting his head to the side. “You’re kind of ugly-looking.”

Bucky blinks, shocked, before he bursts out laughing, entire body shaking with it. Steve joins in, and both of them just stand there, in the middle of an empty street, until someone opens up a window in a building near by and yells at them to shut up.

“I guess I deserved that,” Bucky says between laughs, bumping his elbow against Steve’s side as they start walking. “And you’re not much to look at either, pal.”

Steve grins at him, bright and happy. “Thanks.”

Bucky snorts, shaking his head. They both know they’re lying, and as they walk Bucky tries to ignore how beautiful Steve looks under the moonlight, features sharp and defined, a contrast against the softness of his hair and how plush his lips look.

As they get closer and closer to Bucky’s building, he starts dreading having to say goodbye to Steve. Bucky doesn’t know if part of that is because he knows how much Steve will come to mean to him, or if it’s because of how much fun he had tonight. As it is, he doesn’t want to bring their night to a close, doesn’t want to let Steve go and maybe never see him again.

The thing is, though, Bucky doesn’t want to come off as a creepy. He knows he could invite Steve up for a cup of coffee, but they were complete strangers to each other less than three hours ago. He also doesn’t want to give Steve the wrong idea, that Bucky just wants to have sex with him, to satisfy some fantasy about banging Captain America.

Bucky wouldn’t be opposed to that, if he’s being honest with himself. Although it’s not the idea of fucking Captain America that appeals to him. He much rather likes thinking of having sex with Steve Rogers, who’s as hot as the sun, both literally and figuratively. He wants to get to know Steve as a person before any of that, if they ever get to that point.

Bucky has glimpses of the future, sure, but they didn’t show him anything more than this: you will meet the love of your life.

That is all Bucky knows, and that is no guarantee that anything will happen between him and Steve at all.

“I’m in the next block,” Bucky mentions, deliberately slowing his pace so he can have a few extra minutes with Steve, pleased when Steve matches him without question.

“We live kind of close,” Steve tells him, smiling a little. “I’m a few blocks after that.”

Bucky doesn’t ask for more details than that, butterflies flipping in his stomach as he catches sight of his building. In just a few short minutes they’re standing in front of it, Steve with his hands in his pockets, Bucky fidgeting with his keys.

Bucky doesn’t want to say goodbye, but it is time.

“Thanks again,” Bucky starts, clearing his throat, “for the whole saving my life thing. And for letting me pay for our meal.”

Steve huffs, giving Bucky a long look. “I didn’t let you do it. I was just momentarily outsmarted,” he reminds Bucky, sounding all kinds of annoyed.

Bucky can’t help but laugh, a little bit of the tension he’d been carrying just a few moments before disappearing entirely. Especially when Steve smiles back at him, and they stand there, in the middle of the night, staring at each other.

Bucky’s aware they must look like idiots, but he doesn’t particularly care. It feels somewhat precious, this moment, just both of them under the moonlight.

The silence between them breaks when Steve clears his throat, shifting a little in place, hands curling in his pockets. “I should go. Now that I know you’re home safe.”

“Yeah.” Bucky nods, unable to hide his disappointment. “Despite everything, it was a fun night,” he adds with a small smile, “and, you know, a good ending to a really weird day.”

Where I found out you’re the love of my life, Bucky’s brain supplies, much to his displeasure.

“It was, yeah,” Steve agrees, eyes bright and soft. His expression hardens into one of determination a second later, laced with a bit of uncertainty when he asks, “Maybe we could do this again sometime?”

Bucky just kind of stares at Steve for a few seconds, not believing his luck. Of course he wants to see Steve again, possibly lots of times in addition to this one. He wants them to get to know each other, to maybe become friends, to see where all of this goes and what the future has in store for them.

Maybe it takes Bucky too long to answer, because Steve’s expectant looks dies, face turning into a blank mask. “Of course, you don’t have to. I was just— You have no obligation to say—”

“Yes!” Bucky interrupts him with his very enthusiastic answer, promptly shutting Steve up. “Yes, I’d love to hang out,” he adds, excitement making his skin tingle. “Maybe I could show you some not-so-well-known places around the city. You seemed to really like the restaurant.”

“I did like it,” Steve answers, smiling this tiny beautiful hopeful smile that about kills Bucky in a hundred different ways. “And that sounds good.”

“Yeah?”

Steve laughs, nodding. “Yeah.”

“Fuck yes,” Bucky blurts out, knowing he sounds like a huge fucking dork and should probably chill out a little. Steve doesn’t seem to mind, though, still smiling shyly, which serves to encourage Bucky to ask, “Maybe you could give me your number?” Bucky doesn’t get a ‘yes’ from Steve like he thought he would. Instead, Steve hesitates, his smile slipping, and that’s enough for Bucky to be filled with dread. “You don’t have to,” he amends, trying to fix his fuck up. “You can just give me your email or something.”

“How about you give me your number?” Steve suggests, fishing a little notebook and a small pen from one of his jacket pockets. “Here.”

Bucky tries not to think of how cute it is that Steve carries around a notebook with him at all times. He flips to one of the blank pages at the end, writing down Nurse Bucky Barnes and his number, and makes a last minute decision to add a smiley face at the bottom. He’s a little nervous, if he’s being honest, because this way he has no idea if Steve will ever really contact him.

He wonders if Steve not wanting to give out his number is a spy thing, or more of a consequence of him being a celebrity. Bucky’s aware Steve has no way of knowing if Bucky would reveal this kind of information to the public, and all of Bucky’s reassurances that he would never do something like that wouldn’t be that believable in this situation.

Steve grins when Bucky gives him back the book and pen, big and bright and making him look younger than he is. “Great. I’ll call you.”

“Please do,” Bucky tells him, not caring about how pathetic it makes him seem. “I guess I’ll see you?”

“You’ll see me,” Steve answers, giving Bucky a small wave. “It was nice meeting you, Nurse Barnes.”

You have no idea, pal, Bucky thinks, but what he says is, “You too, Captain Rogers.”

 

**

 

Bucky doesn’t hear from Steve.

It’s Sunday, five days since Bucky’s life took a turn he was not expecting, five days since he’s met his soulmate, five days since Steve’s had his number.

Five days of no calls, no texts, no nothing.

Bucky angrily spreads cream cheese over his bagel, brows furrowed, trying not to let the disappointment he’s feeling ruin breakfast. It’s a Barnes tradition for him and his family to get together every weekend and share their first meal of the day, and Bucky is not about to call even more attention to himself by venting off his frustration or accidentally cutting through his bagel with a knife because he’s upset.

Oh, well, too late for the second one now.

Bucky licks some cream cheese from his palm, doing a wonderful job of ignoring how quiet his parents and sister are being. He doesn’t have to look up from his food to know they’re all looking at him, expectation clear all over their faces.

After another five minutes of that, though, Bucky gets tired of it. He can’t appreciate his bagel when his family is being so quiet. They’re usually a loud bunch, so the wrongness of it starts setting Bucky on edge.

So he sighs, drops his bagel on his plate, rests his chin on his hand, and says, “Okay, go.”

And that seems to be all they were waiting for, because a second later his mother and Becca start asking him a hundred different questions, all at once, the loud volume of their voices making him wince. Bucky can’t really understand much of what they’re saying, but he gets the gist.

They all want to know about his, and Bucky uses the word he just caught coming out of his mother’s mouth, soulmate. Isn’t that kind of a punch in the gut.

“Yes,” Bucky interrupts them. “I met him on Tuesday.”

“We know that,” Becca snaps, because she’s had the same glimpse Bucky did of his future, which means this will affect her in some way.

Bucky tries not to think about how, but he figures Steve being Captain America has something to do with it.

“We just want to know who he is,” his mother adds, adding sugar to her coffee and stirring it.

Bucky suddenly has about ten different disaster scenarios in his head, all about his family knowing that the love of his life is Steve Rogers, their own Captain America. He can imagine Becca high-pitched screaming and shattering all of the glasses in the house, his mother weeping over the loss of her fine china and because Steve seems like such a good person and Bucky is just so lucky, and his dad letting out a huge sigh and looking at the ceiling as if asking for strength.

So Bucky just says, “His name is Steve. That’s all you’re getting.”

“But Bucky,” Becca whines.

“Honestly, James,” his mother protests. “You could give us a little more than that.”

Bucky’s dad is the only one who’s quiet, frowning a little as he looks at Bucky with this considering look on his face. It seems as if he’s reaching into the depths of Bucky’s soul and reading his mind. So Bucky quickly looks down at his bagel.

“C’mon, tell us something,” Becca begs.

Bucky uses that moment to grab his bagel and stuff half of it in his mouth. He shrugs helplessly at Becca, because they all know not to speak with their mouths full in front of their mother unless they want to find plastic butterflies in their food next time.

James,” his mother warns him, stern.

Bucky sighs, because he knows that tone. Their mother also raised them not to be jerks to each other, much to Bucky’s dismay. Still, he takes his sweet time chewing and swallowing his food, and even goes as far as reaching for his glass and taking two sips of his orange juice. All the while Becca stares at him, getting so red in the face out of sheer frustration that it looks like she’s about to explode.

Bucky wouldn’t mind if that was true. But only for about three seconds. Then he’d miss his little sister.

“I don’t know much,” Bucky tells them, which is not exactly a lie. “We only just met a few days ago, but he seems to be a really nice person.”

And isn’t that the understatement of the year.

“Really?” his mother asks, smiling.

“Really.” Bucky nods. “He has my number, so maybe we’ll see each other again soon.”

Becca frowns. “That’s it?”

“Yep,” Bucky says, because that’s all he’s willing to give them.

At least for now.

Becca deflates, leaning back against her seat and looking at Bucky with so much disappointment Bucky kind of wants to laugh. “That’s so lame.”

You have no idea, Bucky thinks to himself. “Can we go back to eating breakfast now?”

“Yes,” his dad says, the first words out of his mouth since they sat down at the table. And then, much to Bucky’s shock, he adds, “And don’t worry, son, you’ll see him again.”

 

**

 

It takes until Thursday for his dad’s words to come true.

Bucky wakes up that morning and stares at his ceiling, the lingering images of the little glimpse he just had running through his head. Nothing more than the vision of a bird with a broken wing, lying on a bed with white sheets.

“Well, okay,” Bucky murmurs, voice rough with sleep. He scrubs a hand over his face, and then reaches over to turn off his alarm clock. He pointedly ignores how awfully early in the morning it is, reminding himself that he actually loves his job, despite the weird hours he has to keep sometimes.

As he walks to the hospital that morning, Bucky keeps an eye out for any injured birds in his path. He doesn’t find any, but he does almost get trampled by an ogre when he goes to buy his daily dose of coffee, this time with a little shot of good luck so he can get through the day.

Claire passes him by on her way out, looking exhausted. “Bucky.”

“Rough night?” Bucky asks, already doing his mental checks in case he has a lot to worry about today.

“Rough yesterday morning,” Claire tells him with a humourless smile. “It was a calm night.”

“Your devil giving you trouble?”

Claire rolls her eyes, bumping Bucky’s shoulder as she resumes walking. “Goodbye, Barnes.”

Bucky shakes his head, gulping the rest of his coffee and throwing the cup on the closest trash can.

Claire was right: it was a calm night. And, for once, that turns into a calm morning, with Bucky taking his time with his rounds and checking on the overnight patients as he goes. The most exciting thing that happens is when Bucky manages to avoid getting puked on by a five-year-old who stapled his fingers together.

That is, until Bucky grabs a chart for one Mr. Wilson.

Bucky is glad he asked for a shot of good luck with his coffee today, because as soon as he pulls the curtain around Mr. Wilson’s hospital bed, his heart almost jumps right out of his chest in surprise.

The man sitting on the bed has beautiful red and white wings spurting from his back, the left one bending at an awkward angle. It’s obviously broken, some of the feathers missing, and the man winces a little every time he shifts in place.

Beside him, with a hand on his shoulder providing comfort and support, is Steve.

“Well, that explains it,” Bucky says out loud, caught between the rush of aha! he gets when he sees the man with the broken wing and the absolute surprise that is seeing Steve after over a week of nothing.

Steve’s attention snaps to him at that, his eyes widening in a mixture of shock and panic. He looks from Bucky to Sam and back again, drops his hand as if he’s been burned, and immediately says, “He’s not my boyfriend! He’s just my friend.”

“What?” Bucky blinks, flabbergast.

At the same time, Mr. Wilson glances up at Steve, offense written all of his face. “Excuse you, I’m the best friend you’ve got.”

Bucky is torn between confusion at Steve’s outburst and relief so deep that Steve is in fact single that he finds himself without knowing what to do. Which is probably why he says, “That’s good to know.”

Mr. Wilson turns to him, eyebrows almost climbing to his hairline, now looking at Bucky with interest. Bucky flushes, words catching up to him, and clears his throat, avoiding Steve’s gaze.

“So, Mr. Wilson—”

“Bucky,” Steve interrupts him, sounding upset.

“Wait,” Mr. Wilson says, eyes going from Steve to Bucky. “You’re Nurse Barnes? The one Steve rescued from death?”

“He wouldn’t have died,” Steve mumbles, shoulders slumped.

“That’s what the name tag says,” Bucky answers, pointing at his badge. He can’t deny he’s pleased that apparently Steve talked about him to his friend, warmth rushing through him and almost making him forget that he was upset about the no contact from Steve.

“It’s nice putting a face to the name,” Mr. Wilson says, grinning at Bucky. “Steve talks a lot about you.”

A wave of heat catches Bucky by surprise, and when he turns to Steve is to see him blushing so hard his entire face and neck are red.

Sam,” Steve hisses, and Bucky could swear his eyes are glowing.

“Okay, okay,” Sam says, and then addresses Bucky, “As much as I’d love to keep embarrassing him, I better stop before he sets the building on fire.”

That only makes things worse, the air around them hot and sticky.

Bucky kind of laughs, already feeling himself sweat under his scrubs. “How about you go grab some water while I take care of your friend’s wing?”

Steve ducks his head, looking more dejected than Bucky’s ever seen him. “Okay,” he says reluctantly. “Are you going to be okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” Sam answers, and then smiles. “Your boy will take care of me.”

Bucky isn’t sure if the rush of heat he feels is from Steve or from his own embarrassment. As it is, he ignores the spark of pleasure at being called Steve’s boy, and instead focuses on the work he has to do.

“Alright, let’s take a look at your wings,” Bucky tells Sam, giving his back to Steve and listening to his footsteps as he walks away.

The air turns blissfully cool around them once again, and Bucky lets out a breath of relief.

“I wasn’t lying, you know,” Sam starts, and then hisses when Bucky starts splinting his wing.

“About Steve burning down the building?” Bucky asks, playing dumb.

Sam has his number, giving him a look so flat that Bucky can’t help but shrink back a little. “He’s only met you once, but you made an impression. Enough for him to mention you in conversation at least three times.”

“You were counting?” Bucky snarks, somewhat uncomfortable.

Part of him likes hearing this and knowing he made a big enough impression on Steve for him to talk about Bucky to people he is close to. Another part of him thinks Sam shouldn’t be the one telling him this. And a very small, pathetic, and kind of dramatic part of Bucky wonders why, if that’s the case, Steve didn’t call him like he said he would.

“I just wanted to let you know,” Sam answers patiently, voice a bit strained as Bucky works on his wing. “Steve’s a great guy.”

It’s such a small sentence, but the meaning it carries echoes in Bucky’s heart.

“I know,” Bucky says, and then offers Sam a smile. “He’s lucky to have a friend like you.”

“He is,” Sam agrees, staring past Bucky’s shoulder. “Especially considering how fast I forgave him for drinking all the coffee this morning.”

“I made you a fresh pot,” Steve says, glancing between Bucky and Sam with curiosity, “which you drained, by the way.”

“I need my caffeine,” Sam sniffs, and then hisses as Bucky finishes tying his wing.

“There you go,” Bucky says, taking a step back. “Did the doctor explain—”

“I know the drill,” Sam sighs, and at Bucky’s disbelieving look he adds, “Pararescue.”

“Ah.” Bucky nods in understanding. “Still, I need to go over this with you again. Protocol.”

Sam and Steve pay attention as Bucky goes over the care Sam must have with his wing. It only takes a few minutes, and because of Sam’s experience Bucky doesn’t need to go over the details more than once.

“I’ll miss flying,” Sam mumbles, which earns him a pat on the shoulder from Steve.

“A doctor will be here soon to check on you,” Bucky tells him, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear, “but I can already start on your discharge papers.”

“Thanks, man.”

“No problem. Just be more careful next time.”

“I will.”

Bucky sneaks a glance at Steve, just in time for their gazes to meet. Blood rushes to Bucky’s cheeks, making him jerk back in embarrassment. “I’ll just—,” he points a thumb behind him, then promptly turns on his heels and starts walking away.

“Bucky!” Steve calls out to him, following behind.

Bucky only manages to turn a corner into a less busy part of the ER before turning to Steve, heart in his throat.

“Yes?”

 Steve lets out a slow breath, eyes flitting over Bucky’s face. “Hi.”

Bucky blinks, dumbfounded. “Hi? Really?”

“I knew you were mad at me,” Steve mutters, lips turned down, looking like a kicked puppy.

“I…” Bucky sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I’m not mad. Disappointed, yes. But not mad. I mean, we don’t really know each other. I shouldn’t have expected you to ca—”

“I was going to,” Steve protests, cutting him off. “I even got a new phone separate from all of the,” he waves his hand and makes a face, wrinkling his nose, “you know.”

“Superhero stuff?” Bucky offers.

“Yes! But I—”

“Look, you don’t have to explain.” Bucky shakes his head. “It’s okay.”

“I want to explain,” Steve replies, jaw tight. “I meant to call. I had a really good time, and I was going to call you the next day, but I was sent out for work. No outside communication. I couldn’t—”

“Call me,” Bucky finishes for him, realization dawning. “It’s okay, Steve.”

Because now it is. Bucky’s kind of pissed off at himself for not considering that Steve might have been busy with work. He’s a superhero, for fuck’s sake, and he’s obviously needed to take care of situations from time to time.

“I only got back yesterday,” Steve continues, as if he hasn’t heard him, “but it was too late to call, and then Sam broke his wing and—”

Steve,” Bucky says loudly, resting a hand on Steve’s arm. “I get it. You were busy. It’s okay.”

Steve doesn’t look like he believes Bucky much, but his face softens, gaze falling on Bucky’s hand on his arm. Bucky takes his hand back, fumbling with his hospital badge, trying to will his cheeks not to flush.

“Hey, Bucky,” Steve says, throat working as he swallows, his chest rising and falling as he takes a deep breath and prepares himself for something.

“Yes?” Bucky licks his lips, butterflies in his stomach, not knowing what to expect.

So he’s all kinds of surprised when Steve asks, “Would you like to go out for coffee sometime?”

Still, Bucky smiles a slow smile and says, “Yes.”

 

**

 

Unknown Number [9:27AM]:

Hi, Bucky :D

Unknown Number [9:27AM]:

Thought I’d text you so you could keep my number

Unknown Number [9:27AM]:

I can’t wait for Friday. Hope you have a nice day!

Unknown Number [9:28AM]:

This is Steve btw ;)

 

Bucky looks down at his phone, cheeks hurting from smiling so hard. Both because Steve finally texted him and now Bucky has his contact info, but also because of how cute Steve’s texts are, emojis and all. So Bucky taps on the screen, smile widening, and saves Steve’s number to his contact list.

 

**

 

The thing is, Bucky is cursed.

Okay, maybe not cursed, aside from the whole psychic thing, but he does have bad luck. Bucky suspects it has something to do with him abusing good luck shots at Cafae, the fae café, and this is the universe’s way of balancing things out.

So of course, when Friday comes around, the day he is supposed to go on his maybe-date with Steve, he has one of his worst shifts in a while.

It starts with Bucky getting fairy dust stuck to his hair when sees to a fae with iron burns on their hands, their wings fluttering so fast they make a mess of the bed, the floor, and of Bucky. It follows with a teenage shifter puking all over Bucky’s scrub pants while getting wolfsbane out of his system, face pale and skin shiny with sweat. It continues with Bucky having to tackle and sedate a vampire trying to glamour one of the patients into letting her drink their blood. And to top it all off, just as Bucky thinks things are about to calm down, they get news of a building collapse and paramedics sending patients their way.

To say that Bucky is tired when his shift comes to an end is an understatement. He drags himself to his locker, muscles tight and feet hurting, his hair coming out of the ponytail at the back of his head. He tries his best to make himself presentable, changing into the skinny jeans, red henley, and black jacket he brought along with him. He even runs a comb through his hair before tying it back into a bun this time, a few stubborn strands coming loose.

Bucky startles a little when his phone vibrates in his pocket, blinking heavily as he checks the screen.

 

Steve <3 [3:11PM]:

I’m out front :D

 

Bucky snorts out a laugh at Steve’s apparent love for emojis, typing out an answer that he’ll be right out. He opens the camera and checks himself on his phone, ignoring the dark circles under his eyes and the spots of glitter still sticking to his hairline. He’ll do.

Steve is waiting just a few feet away from the hospital doors, dressed much like Bucky is, with the addition of a cap and sunglasses. He lights up when he catches sight of Bucky, lifting a hand up in a wave. Bucky bites back a smile, and just waves back.

“Hey, Bu— why do you look so tired?” Steve asks, happiness at seeing Bucky turning to concern.

“Busy shift,” Bucky answers, scrubbing a hand over his face and trying to hide a yawn. “Lots happened. Hi, Steve.”

Steve huffs, brow furrowed. “Are you okay?”

Bucky shrugs, because he doesn’t really know how to answer. Shifts like this are always difficult, both because they make Bucky tired as hell but also because it’s never easy to see people hurt. Some sights stick with him more than others, like the victims of the building collapse, and it’s hard to let go.

Steve makes a little sound in the back of his throat, taking a step closer and resting his hand on the small of Bucky’s back. “C’mon.”

“The coffee shop is that way.” Bucky points in the opposite direction, but lets Steve lead him where he wants him.

“We’re not going to the coffee shop,” Steve tells him, hailing a cab.

“I… what? But our…” Bucky doesn’t say date, the word stuck in his throat, but the disappointment is evident in the tone of his voice.

“We’re rescheduling,” Steve says, gently pushing Bucky into the car, cupping a hand on the back of Bucky’s head so he doesn’t hit it on the door. “I’m taking you home.”

“Steve, no,” Bucky protests, without much heat.

Steve ignores him, giving Bucky’s address to the driver. “You’re exhausted,” he turns to Bucky, “so the only place you’re going right now is your bed.”

“But—”

Steve shuts him up by wrapping an arm around Bucky’s shoulders. He’s impossibly warm, and Bucky can’t help the little sigh that escapes him, his tired muscles relaxing, eyes almost fluttering shut.

“See?” Steve murmurs. “You’re asleep on your feet. We can do this some other time.”

“But I wanted to go out with you today,” Bucky complains, slurring his speech as he leans against Steve’s side, chasing the heat.

“Me too,” Steve admits, lips curled up at the corners. “But I’m not doing this when you can barely keep your eyes open.”

“They’re open,” Bucky blinks, only to realize that they were closed a minute ago. He widens them, focusing on Steve. “Huh.”

Steve snorts, pulling Bucky closer. “See?”

“Shuddup.”

Bucky yawns, feeling all kinds of warm and cozy under Steve’s arm, eyes heavy with sleep. The day catches up to him on the drive to his place, and he must doze off, because the next thing he knows they’re in front of his building and Steve is gently shaking his shoulder.

“C’mon, Buck,” Steve murmurs, words soft. “Help me out a little.”

Bucky lets out a little sleepy sound, rubbing his cheek against Steve’s shoulder, feeling the cool leather of the jacket against his skin. “Five more minutes,” he mumbles, eyes heavy with sleep.

“Sorry, Buck, can’t do that,” Steve laughs, tucking a loose strand of hair behind Bucky’s ear. “We gotta get you to bed.”

“Sounds nice,” Bucky agrees, letting Steve pull him out of the cab and wrap an arm around his waist. “I like my bed.”

“I’m sure it’s a great bed.”

“The best,” Bucky corrects, tripping a little on his feet as they walk to his building. Steve tightens his hold on Bucky’s waist, and Bucky shamelessly leans against him, his head on Steve’s shoulder. “‘M sleepy.”

“You worked hard today, huh?”

“So hard,” Bucky groans, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Too hard.”

“Yeah, I get it.” They stop in front of the door, and when nothing happens Steve turns to him, “Bucky, you need to get your keys.”

“Oh, okay.” Bucky fishes them out of his pocket, trying his best to find the right one without taking his head off Steve’s shoulder. It takes him a few tries, but eventually gets the door unlocked, Steve helping him inside.

“What floor are you on?” Steve asks, hand on the small of Bucky’s back as they get on the elevator.

“Seventh,” Bucky answers through a yawn. “Unlucky 13, with the red door.”

Bucky leans against the elevator door, shivering at the sudden cold now that Steve isn’t holding him up anymore. He blinks through half-lidded eyes, taking in Steve standing by his side, the sharpness of his jaw, his pink lips pressed together, the tiny furrow between his brows.

Bucky reaches out without thinking, thumb brushing over Steve’s skin, successfully making his concerned expression disappear. It gives place to something akin to fondness, as Steve smiles a little, his eyes bright when he looks up at Bucky.

“‘M sorry I suck,” Bucky tells him, dropping his hand.

The furrow is back in full force, as Steve turns fully to him. “What? You don’t suck.”

“I ruined our coffee thing by being too tired.”

Thing. Bucky refuses it to call it a date, at least for now. Especially when he has no idea if Steve was going to end up kissing him at the end of it, therefore actually confirming if it was a date or not.

Steve shakes his head, bumping his arm against Bucky’s. “You didn’t ruin anything. And it’s not your fault you had a rough shift.”

“Promise?”

Steve offers him a smile, crossing an X over his heart. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Bucky lets out a relieved breath, amused at Steve’s vow. “You didn’t have to do that,” he says, and then adds, “You didn’t have to bring me home, either.”

“I disagree.” Steve raises an eyebrow at him. “You can barely stand you’re so tired.”

“I’m standing right now.”

“You’re leaning all of your weight against the door.”

Bucky huffs. “Stop being reasonable.”

The elevator pings, signaling its arrival on Bucky’s floor.

“Saved by the bell,” Steve snarks, once again wrapping an arm around Bucky’s waist.

Bucky hands Steve his keys, letting him worry about unlocking the door. Bucky is already using all of his energy to avoid sliding down and curling up on the floor for a nap, limbs syrupy as he gets inside his apartment and is filled with the sense of home and comfort and safety.

Steve gets to him to his room, and Bucky can’t help the groan he lets out when he flops down on his bed.

“Sweet heaven,” Bucky sighs, hugging his pillow to him. “I love you.”

Bucky can hear Steve laughing at him, not that he minds. Steve’s already been witness to more than one of Bucky’s dorky moments, and this just adds to the list.

“Let’s get you out of your boots,” Steve says, hands wrapping themselves around Bucky’s ankle, warm and strong.

Bucky hums, letting Steve make work of his laces before he kicks off his shoes. He wiggles his toes, hissing at the low-grade pain he feels on his feet, a result of standing all day. Now that he’s in bed, Bucky registers all the little aches and pains he’s feeling, as well as how uncomfortable he feels still in his jeans and jacket.

Bucky squirms in place until he’s on his back, throwing his jacket on the floor before he focuses on his pants, popping the button of his jeans and pulling down the zipper. He doesn’t hear the sharp intake of breath, nor does he notice how the air around him turns hotter, turning his room into an oven. All that he cares about is getting out of the leg traps that are his pants, kicking his legs around until he’s free.

“Yes,” Bucky breathes out, start-fished on the bed, eyes closed, already half asleep.

He’s so tired he can barely string two thoughts together, body already melting into the mattress as the tension slowly leaves his body. Before he falls under, though, he feels someone cover him with a blanket and a warm hand run through his hair.

“Sweet dreams, Bucky,” someone says, and a second later everything goes dark.

 

**

 

Bucky wakes up disoriented, his apartment dark, wearing only his red henley, black boxer briefs, and fuzzy grey socks. His mouth tastes like someone died in it, and he smells less than pleasant, like sweat and hospital and the lingering scent of puke.

“So gross,” Bucky grumbles, wrinkling his nose at himself.

He rubs sleep out of his eyes, blindly reaching for his phone. His hand meets the cool surface of his nightstand, fingers hitting the sharp edge of paper. Bucky frowns, grabbing the paper between two fingers and bringing it up in front of him.

 

Hey, Bucky

You fell asleep and I didn’t want to wake you.

I went down to the bodega across the street and bought you some food, because I saw you didn’t have any and thought you might be hungry when you woke up.

I also locked everything behind me when I left.

Hope you don’t think that’s too weird.

Feel better!

  • Steve

 

“Oh, no,” Bucky whispers as he sits upright on the bed, note falling on the floor next to him. “Oh, no.”

Panic slams into Bucky as memories from earlier in the afternoon come back, from him snuggling Steve in the cab to— Bucky makes a dying sound, covering his face with his hands and lying down again. He took his pants off in front of Steve.

His soulmate.

And not because they were about to get down and dirty together.

Bucky whimpers, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes. He wonders if he can will himself to forget this ever happened if he wishes for it hard enough, embarrassment making him hot and clammy with sweat. That only adds to the disgust he was already feeling, the sanctuary of his bedroom not enough to bring his spirits up.

Especially not after this disaster.

Bucky lets out a long breath, curling on his side and tucking his hands under his chin. He blinks a few times, eyes unfocused, trying to think of what to do. The most pressing matter is his need for a shower, because he knows he’ll feel marginally better once he’s clean and his hair is smelling of lemons. Next is probably sending Steve a thousand different apologies, and hoping to fuck he accepts them. And if that doesn’t work, Bucky figures he can just pack his bags and move someplace far far away.

Bucky gets up, pulling his shirt off and throwing it in the hamper. He doesn’t look at himself in the mirror, not wanting to be faced with what Steve must have seen when he took Bucky home. The hot water is soothing against his aching muscles, bathtub sparkling with the last remnants of glitter stuck to his skin.

He’s more clear-headed when he’s out of the shower and dressed in comfortable clothes, although the embarrassment still lingers. He’s also starving, stomach rumbling loudly, begging for food.

Apparently Steve’s concept of some food, Bucky discovers as he stands in his kitchen, mouth parted in shock, involves a variety of fruits, milk and orange juice, everything Bucky needs to make a sandwich, and packaged chocolate chip cookies. It all sits in Bucky’s kitchen, waiting for him to need it.

“What the fuck,” Bucky mutters, pinching the bridge of his nose. That’s all he needs, really. To find out that not only is Steve nice enough to take Bucky home and tuck him into bed, but he’s also kind and generous. “Really, Barnes.”

Bucky shakes his head at himself, grabbing the orange juice and sandwich ingredients, trying to ignore the butterflies fluttering in his stomach. There is absolutely no need for him to feel all warm and fuzzy at the thought of Steve taking care of him like this.

And that’s what Bucky keeps telling himself when he settles down to eat, queueing the last two episodes of Westworld he missed because he was working. There’s something soothing about tv shows that fuck with his reality, mostly because his life has been so unbelievable lately that Bucky wonders if this is all really happening to him.

Bucky gets his answer when he goes in search of his jacket, finding it folded and on top of his dresser. Courtesy of Steve Rogers, no doubt. He grabs his phone, eyes scanning the email and text notifications, stopping when he finds Steve’s name.

 

Steve <3 [7:47PM]:

Hey Bucky, just wanted to make sure you’re okay :D

Steve <3 [7:47PM]:

And let me know when you want to go grab that coffee!

 

Bucky insides melt, relief sweeping through him. He didn’t ruin this, then. Thank fuck.

 

Bucky [9:03PM]:

Hi Steve

Bucky [9:03PM]:

I’m okay! Thanks for making sure I got home safe

Bucky [9:03PM]:

And for all the food. You really didn’t have to

Bucky [9:03PM]:

I’m free next Friday if you still want to see me ;)

 

Bucky hits send on the last message, making himself comfortable on his couch, opening his package of cookies, and stuffing one in his mouth as he waits for an answer. Two minutes later his phone vibrates on his knee, tickling him a little.

 

Steve <3 [9:05PM]:

Next Friday is perfect

Steve <3 [9:06PM]:

And I wanted to. One moldy orange doesn’t count as having food in your fridge >:(

 

Bucky snorts through his nose, eyes crinkling at the corners. He’s just getting to know Steve, but he already has a fondness for Steve’s sassy replies.

 

Bucky [9:06PM]:

Excuse you

Bucky [9:06PM]:

I happen to be very fond of that orange

 

Steve <3 [9:07PM]:

…………

Steve <3 [9:07PM]:

Well that’s awkward because I threw it in the trash

 

Bucky eats another cookie, changing his keyboard to the emoji one so he can type out a proper response.

 

Bucky [9:07PM]:

:O :O :O :O

Bucky [9:07PM]:

HOW COULD YOU :(

 

Steve <3 [9:08PM]:

Steve <3 [9:08PM]:

Accept this rose as a symbol of my deepest and sincerest apologies

 

Bucky grins, cheeks flushing a little.

 

Bucky [9:09PM]:

I don’t know…. that orange was really important to me

 

Steve <3 [9:09PM]:

I’ll make it up to you ;)

 

Bucky’s stomach flips, flush deepening as his mind comes up with a thousand different ways Steve might do that. He has to admit he has one particular scenario in mind, which involves Steve’s lips and Bucky getting a second chance at taking his pants off in front of him.

Not that he texts back any of that, though. Instead, he sends:

 

Bucky [9:09PM]:

Can’t wait.

 

**

 

Bucky drinks plain coffee the entire week.

The second time he stops by the fae cafe and just orders an americano without an extra shot of anything, the barista frowns at him and asks if everything is okay.

“I’m fine,” Bucky answers, fixing the strap of his bag on his shoulder. “Just wanted to be totally myself this week. See how it goes.”

That’s not a complete lie. It’s been a while since Bucky spent more than two days without some kind of charm to aid him through his shifts, be it either a shot to help him along or a protection charm from his mom.

This time, though, he doesn’t want to risk the universe having to get even, to balance things out. So he goes through the week just as his plain self, without a sprinkle of good luck or charisma or patience, just so nothing prevents him from going on his maybe-date with Steve.

And it works.

Despite having his usual car accident victims and taking care of stab wounds and shifter bites, nothing out of the ordinary happens the entire week. Bucky is still tired at the end of his shifts, but nothing compared to the bone-deep exhaustion of last time.

Bucky has to admit that the texts he and Steve have been trading throughout the week also have something to do with his ability to maintain a good mood day after day. His stomach flips and his face breaks into a smile whenever he sees Steve’s name flash on his screen, making him forget for a few seconds the catheters he has to insert and the infected wounds he has to check.

 

Monday

Steve <3 [10:15AM]:

I pet a dog today :D

Steve <3 [10:15AM]:

His name is Lucky and he only has one eye

Steve <3 [10:16AM]:

He’s the best dog in the entire world

 

Bucky [11:56AM]:

Steve pls all dogs are the best dogs

 

Steve <3 [2:13PM]:

He took a shit in one of Tony’s Iron Man helmets :’D

Steve <3 [2:13PM]:

So he’s the best of dogs

Steve <3 [2:13PM]:

Doggo Supreme

Steve <3 [2:13PM]:

My hero

 

Bucky has to find an empty call room to hide in, face red from trying to hold back the laughter that wants to burst out of him. When he manages, he collapses on the bed, entire body shaking as he laughs until his stomach hurts and tears stream down his face.

 

Tuesday

Bucky [5:33PM]:

Are you missing your shield?

Bucky [5:33PM]:

Bc some kid came in to the ER today bc she SWALLOWED IT

 

Steve <3 [8:23PM]:

Oh shit is she okay???

Steve <3 [8:23PM]:

It was from one of those toys wasn’t it?

Steve <3 [8:23PM]:

I told the PR team they were a hazard

 

Bucky [8:35PM]:

She’s fine

Bucky [8:35PM]:

She just has to poop it out

Bucky [8:35PM]:

Her dad was really freaked out though

 

Steve <3 [8:37PM]:

I should send them something to apologize

 

Bucky [8:37PM]:

????????

Bucky [8:37PM]:

It’s not your fault though???

Bucky [8:38PM]:

And like I said she’s okay

Bucky [8:38PM]:

I actually think she thought it was kind of cool tbh bc she started smiling when we told her dad all they had to do was wait for it to come out

Bucky [8:38PM]:

Kids are weird

 

Steve <3 [8:43PM]:

Yeah I’m gonna send them something

 

Bucky shakes his head, but he isn’t surprised when, two days, he hears a few of the nurses gossiping about the little girl who swallowed the shield.

“The picture is all over Twitter,” Kamala comments, smiling as she leans against the nurse station counter. “It’s so cute. She has this huge smile on her face.”

“And the Captain looks hot as fuck, too,” Billy sighs, scrolling through his phone. “With the muscles and the grin and his entire face.”

Bucky snorts, trying to hide it with a cough. The noise still calls attention to him, making Billy and Kamala turn to look at him.

“What? You don’t think so?” Billy raises an eyebrow, and pushes his phone in front of Bucky’s face. “Look at him. He’s so beautiful he makes angels weep.”

Bucky stares at the picture, smiling despite himself when he sees Steve with the little girl on his lap, both of them holding shields. Hers is a small plastic version, meant for kids to play with it, while Steve’s is the real deal.

“He’s alright, I guess,” Bucky lies, shrugging one shoulder.

“You obviously have no taste, Barnes,” Kamala shoots back. “That man is fine as hell. But I guess I shouldn’t expect much from someone who thinks wearing lime green crocs is acceptable.”

Bucky gasps, offended. “That was one time!” he hisses. “We promised to never speak of it again.”

“Did we?” Kamala smiles, batting her lashes.

Bucky huffs and walks away, but not before he hears Kamala and Billy laughing. He grabs his phone, flicking through his recent texts until he finds Steve’s name.

 

Bucky [2:20PM]:

You’re an absolute gem

 

He isn’t expecting a response right away, so he’s a little startled when he sees his phone light up with a new incoming text.

 

Steve <3 [2:20PM]:

??????

Steve <3 [2:20PM]:

Although my jaw has been described as being so sharp it could cut glass so I guess that’s okay

 

Bucky presses his lips together, fighting back a smile. He has to admit people aren’t wrong to describe Steve that way, though.

 

Bucky [2:21PM]:

Punk

Bucky [2:21PM]:

You did a really nice thing for that little girl :)

 

Steve <3 [2:21PM]:

Jerk

Steve <3 [2:21PM]:

I just wanted to make her feel better

 

Bucky’s heart clenches in his chest, affection rushing through him and making him smile. That sounds like the Steve Bucky is getting know: a man who deeply cares about others.

 

Bucky [2:22PM]:

Like I said

Bucky [2:22PM]:

An absolute gem

 

**

 

“Someone’s awfully happy today,” Claire pipes up, eyeing Bucky with suspicion.

“And someone’s awfully grumpy,” Bucky throws back, giving Claire a pointed look. “Did your daredevil do something stupid again?”

Claire doesn’t say anything, but after a few seconds she sighs, mumbling, “When does he not?”

Bucky rests a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it a little. “Let me know when you want to go out and get blackout drunk. I’ll be your designated driver.”

Claire smiles, just a little twitch of her lips. “You’re not so bad, Barnes.”

“Please, you love me.”

“Let’s not exaggerate,” Claire deadpans, her smile reaching her eyes when Bucky clutches at his chest.

“Shot through the heart,” Bucky gasps. “See if I buy you coffee at the beginning of our shifts ever again.”

“You never did,” Claire reminds him, bumping against his side when she walks away, smile still in place.

“And I’m not gonna start!” Bucky yells back over his shoulder, grinning when Claire lifts a hand and flips him off.

What she said is true, though. He is in a good mood. It’s Friday, his shift is almost done and there have been no disasters, his hair looks fucking fantastic and just the right kind of wavy as it curls under his ears, and in about thirty minutes he is going on his maybe-date with Steve.

So Bucky has a bounce in his step as he finishes his rounds, making sure all of his patients for the day are okay and their charts are updated. It takes him a little longer than usual to get everything set, and he shoots a quick text to Steve letting him know he’ll will be a little late. They’re meeting at the coffee shop this time, instead of walking there together from the hospital.

 

Steve <3 [3:07PM]:

It’s okay I just got here

Steve <3 [3:07PM]:

I’ll grab us a table and order the last two blueberry muffins I see on the display

 

Bucky [3:12PM]:

U r a true gentleman

Bucky [3:12PM]:

I love blueberries

 

Steve <3 [3:12PM]:

Oh I’m sorry I’m ordering them just for me ;)

 

Bucky [3:13PM]:

THE BETRAYAL!!!!!!

Bucky [3:13PM]:

I’m heading out and will be there in about 10min to KICK YOUR ASS

 

Bucky gets a picture from Steve about five minutes after that, while he’s on his way to the cafe, now dressed in jeans, a grey long sleeved shirt, and his black leather jacket. Bucky opens the text, faced with the image of a muffin wrapper covered in crumbs with the caption: one down.

If Bucky picks up the pace and starts walking faster after that, well, no one needs to know.

The door opens for Bucky when he gets to the cafe, his eyes scanning the room in search for Steve. He sees him by one of the far tables tucked in one of the corners, with a clear view of the room and all of the exits.

Steve catches sight of him as Bucky moves through the small crowd of people, eyes shadowed by the cap he’s wearing. Bucky can still see him smirk, though, and the way he grabs the last blueberry muffin, slowly bringing it to his mouth.

Bucky is on him before Steve can take a bite, one hand wrapped around Steve’s wrist while the other plucks the muffin from his hand. “Nope,” he says, taking a huge bite of the pastry before letting go of him and sitting down in front of Steve, eyes narrowed.

Steve, for his turn, is laughing, head ducked and shoulders shaking, one of his hands clutching at his chest. Bucky just chews, cheeks puffed out, and every time Steve lifts his head up to look at him, it sets him off again.

Bucky steals Steve’s mug, grimacing at the bitter taste of black coffee without sugar. It helps him wash down the muffin, though, clearing his mouth so he can say, “Are you done?”

Steve snorts out a laugh, wiping his eyes, his cheeks flushed. “Yeah, I’m good.”

“You’re such an asshole,” Bucky murmurs, but grins when Steve bumps their feet together under the table.

“Good thing I brought this,” Steve says, and next thing he knows Bucky is being handed a rose, bright red and beautiful.

“What.” Bucky blinks, reaching out to take it, fingers brushing against Steve’s and making him shiver.

“A symbol of my deepest sincerest apologies,” Steve tells him, ears red. “Again.”

“Oh my god.” Bucky laughs, remembering their previous text conversations. “Are you serious?”

Steve shrugs, lips quirked up. “Do you forgive me?”

Bucky shakes his head. “There’s nothing to forgive, you big lug.”

“Oh, good,” Steve breathes out in relief, and then adds, “So does this mean I can eat the rest of the muffin?”

Bucky snatches the muffin from the table, holding it close to his chest. “No.”

Steve rolls his eyes, although his expression is fond.

They order drinks after Bucky apologizes for stealing Steve’s coffee, a cinnamon latte for Bucky while Steve sticks to his plain black coffee with no sugar and no cream. They sit in silence for a few beats, just watching people move through the shop, occasionally bumping feet under the table.

“You look better today,” Steve comments shyly, rising his mug to his lips in an attempt to hide the red tinging his cheeks.

“I feel better today,” Bucky admits. “I’m sorry again for last time. I should’ve canceled when I realized how tired I was.”

“It’s okay. And I have to admit, you’re funny when you’re sleepy.”

Bucky groans, covering his face with his hands. “I’m really really sorry for that. And if I did anything that made you uncomfortable.”

Like taking my pants off in front of you, Bucky thinks, although he doesn’t say it. Not that he needs to, if judging by the way Steve is looking at him.

“You didn’t,” Steve says firmly, blush receding, and then adds with as much seriousness as he can muster, “Maybe aside from professing your love to your bed. I did feel like I was intruding in a very special moment.”

Bucky makes a little dying down in the back of his throat, dropping his head and resting it on the table. He can hear Steve laugh, which only makes him hit his forehead gently on the table.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Steve tells him, and Bucky doesn’t need to be looking at him to know that he’s smiling. “It was kind of cute.”

Bucky lifts his head, stomach flipping, and glances at Steve from under his lashes. “Only kind of?”

“Maybe a little more than kind of,” Steve replies, smiling.

It’s Bucky’s turn to blush, eyes falling to his blueberry muffin so he doesn’t have to look directly at Steve. “Well, thanks.”

Steve lets Bucky’s awkwardness pass, changing the subject. “So, things are going okay at the hospital?”

“Yeah.” Bucky nods, grateful. “The little girl who swallowed your shield was pretty much the most interesting thing that’s happened this week. Oh, and the dude who came in with a candle stuck in his ass.”

“What?” Steve chokes, eyes widening in horror. “Why would anyone— What?”

Bucky laughs at Steve’s reaction, taking a sip of his latte. “It’s normal, actually.”

“People coming in with candles up their asses?” Steve asks, scandalized.

“Or phallic foods and sex toys,” Bucky adds. “And yeah. We get at least one of those every month.”

Food?” Steve gapes. “Oh my god.”

“Some people don’t have money to spend on good toys. It happens.”

“Can’t they just use their fingers like everyone else?” Steve asks, and then immediately snaps his mouth shut, face turning an alarming shade of red.

Bucky can recognize panic when he sees it, and he can feel the heat coming from Steve, so he offers Steve a smirk, nudging Steve’s foot with his own. “I guess they like to go deeper.”

Steve makes a little choked up noise, expression twisting as if he’s in pain. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Sure,” Bucky agrees, because this line of conversation is making him hot, the air around them warm and a little stifling. “Pet any dogs besides Lucky this week?”

Steve lights up, lips stretching into a breathtaking smile. “I did. She was a Corgi named Killer and she let me give her belly rubs.”

Bucky listens as Steve talks excitedly about dogs, breaking down his muffin so he can eat the blueberries separately. It’s cute, seeing how excited Steve gets when talking about animals, hands moving in front of him and his eyes bright.

“I’ve always wanted a dog,” Steve tells him, sighing a little. “Couldn’t get one before the serum, though.”

“Allergies?” Bucky asks tentatively, not knowing how open Steve is to talk about the past, even though he was the one who brought it up.

“That too, but I was I poor as shit, Buck,” Steve answers, shaking his head. “Barely had money to feed myself, let alone care for a dog.”

“You could get one now.”

Steve frowns, considering. “I don’t know. I’m home most of the time, but sometimes I’m away for days, if not weeks. I don’t know if I’d be a responsible dog owner.”

Bucky doubts anyone would be as responsible as Steve in any situation ever, but he keeps his mouth shut. He understands Steve’s reasoning, which is actually the same obstacle Bucky is faced with whenever he thinks about adopting a pet. He tells Steve as much, both commiserating about their shitty schedules.

The conversation then moves on to the TV shows they’re watching and their favorite movies, and Bucky is pleasantly surprised to find out how well their tastes match. Steve is pretty well versed in today’s pop culture for someone who’s been living in the future for a little over two years, much to Bucky’s delight.

“Sam and Nat helped a lot with that,” Steve sighs, long-suffering but obviously fond. “So did Tony. Although I still like to pretend I don’t know what he’s talking about when he calls me Mr. Freeze.”

Bucky knows Steve is an Avenger, and he’s met Sam before, but it still throws him to hear the names Nat and Tony casually mentioned in conversation. That’s the Black Widow and Iron Man Steve is talking about, and a little part of Bucky can’t help but freak out a little.

Not that he shows it. Instead, he just says, “He doesn’t.”

Steve nods, lips turned down. “He does.”

“Oh my god.”

“It’s better than Nat’s old people jokes, though.”

“Oh my god,” Bucky repeats, delighted that one of the deadliest women on the planet tells old people jokes. “How many times has she called you a fossil?”

“Too many,” Steve deadpans, resting his cheek in one hand.

“If my opinion counts any,” Bucky starts, licking his lips, “you look really good for a 90-year-old.”

Steve grins, slow and genuine, the tips of his ears turning red. “It counts.”

Bucky laughs, ducking his head, but before he can say anything Steve’s phone rings. His stomach sinks and Steve’s entire demeanor changes, going from relaxed and like he’s having fun to tense and worried.

It’s like he’s a different person than he was a second ago.

And that’s when it hits Bucky that he kind of is. Because Bucky isn’t looking at Steve Rogers anymore, but Captain America.

“Rogers,” Steve barks, jaw clenched and brows furrowed as he listens to whoever’s on the other side. His eyes flicker to Bucky’s, expression darkening. “Understood.”

“You have to go,” Bucky says, shoulders slumping a little.

Steve nods, clearly unhappy, already taking out his wallet and grabbing a few bills. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Bucky waves him off, because he understands. “Go save the world.”

Steve stares at him, seeming at war with himself. “Can we do this again?”

“Text me when you can,” Bucky answers, offering Steve a smile. “We’ll work something out.”

“Okay.” Steve reaches out a hand, grabbing Bucky’s own and squeezing it. “I’ll be seeing you.”

“Be careful.” Bucky squeezes back once before letting go.

“Cross my heart,” Steve says, making yet another vow before he leaves.

Bucky doesn’t take his eyes off of him until Steve disappears into the crowd.

 

**

 

“Why so glum?” his Ma asks him when Bucky shows up for Sunday breakfast, grabbing his face between her hands and squishing his cheeks together.

That used to make him laugh when he was a kid, but sadly it doesn’t work now.

“Nothin’,” Bucky slurs between squished lips, frowning a little.

Winifred sighs, placing a small kiss on Bucky’s forehead. “He’ll be okay.”

Bucky squacks. There’s nothing else he can call the kind of sound he makes, eyes going round in surprise and body tensing. “What?”

“Your soulmate,” his Ma repeats, a slight glint in her eyes. “He will be fine.”

Bucky blinks, grabbing his Ma’s wrists and bringing her hands down, before tangling their fingers together. “How do you know?”

“I did some scrying,” his Ma admits, and then leans in and whispers, “Don’t tell your father.”

Bucky sighs, deep and long-suffering. “I’m not getting in the middle of this.”

It’s an ongoing fight, Bucky’s mother’s taste for the future and his dad’s dislike for it. While Winifred wants to know when things will happen, will fall to scrying and cards and tea leaves, George wants nothing to do with it.

Bucky gets it.

Why would he, when that is his curse?

“You’re a good boy,” his Ma says, hooking her arm around Bucky’s and leading him further into the house. “Now you should stop worrying.”

“Easier said than done,” Bucky mutters, and a second later regrets his words.

“Then do the dishes,” Winifred orders. “That’ll certainly take your mind off of things.”

Bucky presses his lips together, knowing better than to argue. It grows incredibly difficult when Becca comes down, though, her teenage face brightening when she sees Bucky elbow deep into water.

“Loser,” Becca says, dipping her fingers into the water and flicking some at Bucky.

“Brat,” Bucky snaps back, considering for a second grabbing Becca by the waist and dumping her into the sink.

“Rebecca,” Winifred sing-songs, in that way of hers it means something bad is about to happen.

Becca freezes, hiding her arms behind her back. “Yes, Ma?”

“I remember asking you to clean your room. Why don’t you go do that while I get breakfast ready?”

Bucky smiles to himself as he listens to Becca stomp around the house, rinsing the last bowl before putting it to dry. He loves his sister to death, but at seventeen, Becca can be a pain in the ass.

“Hey, kiddo.”

“Hi, Dad,” Bucky greets him, drying his hands before he pulls his dad in for a hug.

“Try not to worry too much,” George whispers, clapping Bucky on the back.

Bucky pulls back, looking from his dad to his mom and back again. “How do you guys even know I’m worried about something?”

“Because,” his Ma pipes up, pouring the last of the pancake batter into the pan, “we’ve known you all of your life.”

“What your mother means is,” his dad starts, side-eyeing Winifred, although his expression is fond, “you got here and didn’t try to eat one of the banana muffins we got for Becca. That means something is on your mind.”

Bucky slumps, dragging a hand over his face. “It’s nothing.”

His parents make identical sounds of disbelief, but his dad is the one who says, “If something bad was going to happen, you’d know.”

Bucky blinks up at him, heart twisting at the sad look on his dad’s face, making his wrinkles more pronounced. He wonders what his dad has seen in his fifty-odd years of life, but keeps his questions to himself.

“Okay.” Bucky nods, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “Thank you.”

His dad claps him on the shoulder, hand warm and heavy and comforting. His mother twirls around, going on her tiptoes so she can kiss his cheek.

“What happened?” Becca asks from the door, frowning.

“Your brother needs a hug,” Winifred says, much to Bucky’s embarrassment.

“I’m fi—”

Bucky doesn’t get to finish his sentence, suddenly finding himself with an armful of skinny teenager, Becca’s forehead bumping against his chin. Bucky hisses but hugs her back, relaxing at the feeling of having his family close to him, of knowing he is loved and cared for and has their support.

At least until Becca says, “You smell like wet dog,” because she might love him with all of her heart, but she’s still his little sister.

So Bucky laughs, burying his face against her hair and taking a deep breath. “Better than smelling like dragon’s breath.”

“I swear, it’s like you’re five-year-olds,” Winifred sighs, separating them by pushing a plate stacked with pancakes at Bucky and the milk jug at Becca.

“I miss being five,” Bucky sighs, and then throws over his shoulder as he rushes out of the kitchen, “I was an only child!”

Bucky!” Becca screeches, making Bucky cackle.

As an apology, though, he lets Becca have the last two pancakes at breakfast, kicking her lightly under the table while they make faces at each other. Their parents just look at one another and shake their heads, but Bucky doesn’t miss the smiles they try to hide behind their coffee mugs.

It settles him, spending some time with his family. It takes his mind off of things, and while he still worries about Steve’s safety, it is not to the point where it messes up his entire day. He manages to laugh and enjoy breakfast with his parents and sister and, later, to complete all of his errands before he goes back home, settling on the couch and catching up on season two of The Americans.

Bucky is in the middle of the season finale when his phone vibrates on the coffee table, startling him a little. He pauses the episode, sitting up so he can grab his phone, heart beating faster when he sees it’s a new text from Steve.

 

Steve <3 [10:10PM]:

So… when can I see you again?

 

**

 

Bucky dreams of water.

It runs down his body and flows to the ground beneath him, sticking to his skin and hair, making it difficult for him to see. It weighs him down, his clothes heavy and damp, constricting his movements. The cold of it spreads through his bones, turns his fingers numb, and chills his very soul.

Bucky dreams of water and then wakes up really needing to pee.

 

**

 

Bucky agrees to meet Steve for a late lunch that following Wednesday, before he needs to head off to work. He smiles up at the blue skies, even as he pulls his blue leather jacket tighter around himself as he walks, wind cold on his face, happy that he pulled his hair up in a bun before leaving the house.

The place Steve invited him to is one Bucky’s never been to before, but Bucky has no trouble finding the small diner across the street from the VA’s office, its red neon sign flickering on and off even in the light of day.

Bucky takes a deep breath as he pushes the door open, a little bell above it announcing his presence. He’s instantly hit with the smell of home and fried food, mouth watering, and he already knows he’ll be coming back to this place.

Steve has taken his customary place at a table with a clear view of the diner, so Bucky is quick to find him. This time, though, Steve is staring down at his hands folded on top of the table, cap lowered, and when he smiles at Bucky it’s a little forced, more like a grimace than the ray of sunshine Bucky is used to.

That puts Bucky on guard, his lips pressing tight as he looks at Steve, dropping his bag on the floor between his feet. He hesitates for a split second before asking, “What’s wrong?”

Steve shakes his head, eyes sad. “It’s nothing. How are you doing?”

Bucky frowns, poking the back of Steve’s hand. “I’m worried. You don’t look like you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” Steve lies, and at Bucky’s raised eyebrow and pointed look he clenches his jaw. “Really, Bucky. Quit worrying.”

“Afraid I can’t do that, pal.” Bucky leans forward, trying to meet Steve’s eyes. “It’s kind of my thing knowing when my friends are upset and doing what I can to help them.”

“I don’t need help,” Steve grumbles, a scowl smearing his features.

“So you are upset,” Bucky says, letting himself sound a little smug. It only makes Steve’s scowl more pronounced at being called on his shit, but at least they’re getting somewhere. “C’mon,” Bucky murmurs. “You were there for me when I needed it. So let me be here for you now.”

Steve stares at Bucky for a few seconds, about ten different expressions playing across his face. Bucky just looks back, unwavering, drawing circles on the table with his index finger as he waits.

“You can’t really help,” Steve finally tells him, curling more into himself. “It’s something I need to learn to deal with on my own.”

“I can still listen,” Bucky replies. “And I can still support you while you learn to deal with whatever it is you’re having a hard time with.”

Bucky has his suspicions, based on what he knows of Steve’s history. But Steve himself hasn’t shared much about his struggles or the state of his mental health in this new century, so Bucky will keep his mouth shut and his guesses to himself.

Steve licks his lips, glancing down at his hands again. Bucky notices the scabs covering Steve’s knuckles, a flash of worry running through him, especially when Steve starts picking at them, short nails scratching at his skin.

It makes Bucky reach out before he thinks about it, hands covering Steve’s own and stilling them. Steve’s skin is hot to the touch, just like it always is, the warmth of it making Bucky’s palms tingle. He pushes those feelings aside, focusing instead of squeezing Steve’s hands in his, giving him something else to concentrate on.

Steve’s mouth parts, tongue darting out to wet his bottom lip. He stares down at their hands for a few seconds, not doing anything, and just when Bucky is about to pull away and apologize, he squeezes back. It’s a gentle pressure against Bucky’s hold, almost as if Steve doesn’t know his own strength.

“I was at the VA before coming here,” Steve starts, confirming one of Bucky’s thoughts. “Things can get kind of rough.”

“That sounds tough.”

Steve snorts, no humor in the sound. “It is. I mean, it’s good, but... PTSD group brings up a lot of stuff sometimes.”

Bucky tightens his hold on Steve’s hands, thumb rubbing circles against Steve’s busted knuckles. He’s not surprised at knowing Steve has PTSD, being very aware of the kind of horrors Steve must have lived through, both in the war and after he woke up.

It still makes his heart twist painfully in his chest, though. He knows that is not something easy to live with, and right in front of him he sees how much it can weigh on Steve.

“Like it did today?”

“Kind of,” Steve answers, clearing his throat. He lifts his head up, eyes going to one of the diner windows, gaze far away and sad. “Today wasn’t the worst.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Bucky asks, feeling Steve’s skin go a touch warmer at the question.

Steve looks back at him, eyes now soft and fond, though a bit of sadness still lingers. “You’re already doing it,” he says, giving Bucky a half smile.

Bucky smiles back, just a quirk of his lips. “Thanks for trusting me with this.”

“That’s what friends do, right?” Steve says, so low Bucky almost doesn’t hear him. His expression turns serious once again, smile gone. “You know, it hasn’t really been easy… adjusting, making friends,” he admits, eyes falling once again to their hands, “but it’s easy with you.”

Bucky is glad Steve isn’t looking at him. There is no way he can mask the sappy look on his face at hearing those words, his cheeks flushing as warmth spreads over his body.

“It’s easy with you, too,” Bucky tells him, and he’s proud of himself when his voice doesn’t waver.

Steve smiles at him, this shy small smile that he only seems to wear when he is around Bucky. They just look at each other, hands entwined, trapped in their own little world.

At least until the waitress finally stops by their table, the crystal charms on her wrists clinking together as she pushes her glasses up her nose. “Your auras say you are ready to order,” she says, voice smooth and sweet.

Bucky blinks at her, and then turns back to Steve, eyebrows up. It’s not unusual for some people to be able to see auras, but they’re often not as forward about it as — Bucky looks at her nametag — Maura seems to be. Figures.

“We are.” Steve nods at her, obviously already used to this routine. “But we need a few minutes to look at the menu.”

“That is fine.” Maura clicks her pen against her notepad, crystal charms jiggling. “I will wait.”

Two minutes later Maura is walking off to ring their order, while Bucky stares at Steve with a curious expression, fighting back a smile.

“She’s interesting,” Bucky comments, hands feeling oddly empty now that he’s not touching Steve.

“I like her.” Steve shrugs. “She always gives me an extra apple pie slice when I’m having a really bad day.”

“Really?” Bucky asks, already making a mental note to give Maura a very generous tip.

“She said it makes my aura look not as wobbly,” Steve answers, and then frowns at himself, “whatever that means.”

Bucky laughs, eyes crinkling at the corners, happy when it makes Steve smile again.

Maura comes back with their orders a few minutes later, the food hot and smelling so good Bucky has to stop himself from falling mouth first into the plate. Steve seems to notice, smirking a little and looking awfully pleased with himself as Maura sets down their drinks.

“Enjoy.”

Bucky thinks he’s died and gone to heaven at the first taste of his dish, the flavors bursting on his tongue and making his eyes roll to the back of his head. He lets out an embarrassing moan, a shiver running through him as he chews.

“What the fuck,” is all he can say, opening his eyes and staring down at his plate in awe.

“Their cook is fae,” Steve explains, and when Bucky looks up at him is surprised to see Steve’s gaze trained on his mouth. “The food isn’t dangerous to us, but it still has an effect.”

“No shit,” Bucky mutters, licking his lips and enjoying the way it makes Steve’s eyes darken. At the fae cafe Bucky frequents, the baker is a witch, so this is his first time tasting something made by a fae. “And no wonder apple pie makes your aura sing.”

Steve rolls his eyes, breaking the staring contest he was having with Bucky’s lips. “Shuddup and eat.”

Bucky does just that, humming in delight every time he takes another bite, and fighting back a smile when the sounds he makes bring Steve’s gaze back to his lips. Maura brings them pies for dessert once they finish the main dish, and Bucky can’t help but smile at the way Steve’s eyes widen in appreciation. He understands that look as soon as he eats some of the pie, the sweetness of it seeping to his soul.

“This is my new favorite place,” Bucky says around a mouthful of pie, only to have Steve grin back at him.

“I’m glad you like it.”

“I love it,” Bucky corrects him, and then quietly adds, “and it’s good that this place helps you feel better.”

Steve sucks in a breath, giving Bucky a slow nod. “You kinda have something to do with that, too.”

“Just kinda?” Bucky teases, the words warming his heart.

Especially when Steve says, “A tiny bit.”

Bucky smiles, nudging Steve’s foot under the table with his own. Before he can say anything, though, a flash from outside catches his attention, and a second later it starts to rain, heavy and hard, the drops of water hitting the diner’s window.

“Fuck,” Bucky curses, freezing in place as that familiar little rush of aha! makes itself known. “Well, fuck that.”

“Buck?”

Bucky turns to Steve, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Yeah?”

“You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Steve raises an eyebrow at him, looking from Bucky to the rain outside and back again. “You don’t look it.”

“It’s nothing,” Bucky tells him, waving a hand in front of him.

“Bucky,” Steve starts, leaning forward and resting his hands over Bucky on top of the table, a mirror of their position from earlier. “Don’t make me throw your words back at you.”

Bucky huffs out a small laugh, biting down on his bottom lip. He doesn’t really know how to start this conversation, never has, even though he’s been dealing with it for as long as he’s been alive.

Because how does someone tell a person they just met, someone they want to keep in their life, that they're cursed?

Well, apparently, when that person is one guy named James Buchanan Barnes, he just blurts out, “I’m cursed.”

 

**

 

In all his years, Bucky’s had to tell maybe five different people about his family curse.

The entirety of the Barnes clan already knows, as they are afflicted themselves. His mom’s coven is aware, although they don't care much since they can neither break the curse nor make use of George’s glimpses of the future.

Claire found out after Bucky’s first shift at the hospital ended without disaster, when they went to Josie’s and got drunk on cheap margaritas, Bucky’s life story stumbling out of him the looser his tongue got. Her reaction was just to sigh and pour them another glass.

It was much different than how Bucky’s first girlfriend reacted: getting angry and dumping her milkshake all over Bucky’s lap, asking him how he could ever joke about something like that. His first boyfriend wasn't much better, asking him a million questions about it and taking notes, going as far as asking if he could use Bucky as an example on his final project about warlock magic and its danger to humans.

So to say Bucky's dealt with the most varied kind of responses to his family curse is an understatement.

But that still doesn't mean he's ready for Steve's.

 

**

 

Bucky wants to take the words back as soon as they leave his mouth.

They're not gentle, the delivery harsh and abrupt, and they seem to make this entire thing more of a big deal than it actually is. As much as the curse is a pain in Bucky's ass sometimes, especially when he can't interpret his glimpses in the correct way, it is not all bad.

It did warn him about Steve, after all.

Steve, who goes from looking concerned to like he's about to kill someone, eyes glowing with righteous anger and muscles tight.

“You're what?” Steve asks, voice low and rough and sending shivers down Bucky's spine. “Who was it? What kind of curse? Are you—”

“Oh my god, Steve, no,” Bucky starts, shaking his head. “I'm okay. It's nothing anyone did to me.”

Steve frowns, still looking pissed. “But you said…”

“It's a family curse,” Bucky explains, which doesn't seem to help, as Steve goes from looking upset to looking horrified and then right back like he's about to get up and go punch someone. “Fuck, I'm bad at this. I'm explaining it all wrong.”

“Are you in danger?” Steve asks, grip tight in Bucky’s hands, keeping him in place.

“I'm not, I promise,” Bucky tells him, tangling their fingers together. “This is one of those supernatural gifts kind of situations.”

Steve frowns, but listens intently as Bucky talks to him about his ancestor, the warlock gift, the sight. The anger recedes the more Bucky keeps the words flowing, hold gentling on Bucky’s hands, although he doesn't let go.

“So you can see the future,” Steve muses, a little bit of awe bleeding into his tone.

“Only a little bit of it,” Bucky shrugs, cheeks flushing under Steve's gaze, “and only if it affects me personally. Today I dreamed about water, but I didn't figure out until now it meant it was going to rain and I'd get soaked.”

He doesn't tell still he thought it meant he just needed to go to the bathroom really bad. Some things are better kept to himself.

“Does that happen a lot?” Steve wonders, head tilted to the side. “You not figuring out your visions?”

“Sometimes,” Bucky is a little embarrassed to admit. He should be able to know exactly what each one of them means,  but he's been known to interpret them wrong some of the time.

Okay, most of the time.

With the one noticeable exception of the glimpse he had of Steve, of his soulmate.

“Don't divination classes help with that?”

Bucky suppresses a groan. “They should, yeah. But it's not a flawless art.”

Bucky even tried taking one once, when he was a teenager, after a particularly scarring experience involving one of his visions. He still remembers the panic surging through him when he woke up to glimpses of a rotten banana when he was sixteen, convinced it meant he caught an STD after having unprotected sex for the first time, and that the dream was warning him about his dick falling off.

Imagine his surprise, and absolute embarrassment, when it only meant that he'd forgotten a banana in his bag, which eventually got crushed and ended up all over his school books.

“There's a story there,” Steve says, lips tipping up at the corners.

He doesn't tell Steve about the banana. That is something he'll take to his grave. Unless his parents decide to reminisce and end up spilling the beans when Steve is around.

Instead, he offers another reason why the divination classes were such a bust for him.

“There is,” Bucky sighs, stomach churning a little at the unpleasant memories. “Let's just say my teacher was too busy looking at his students instead of teaching us how to look at our dreams.”

Steve scowls, a flash of anger coming back. “Did he do anything to—”

“Not to me,” Bucky assures him. “He did try to get fresh with one of the other girls after class, but she tore him a new asshole. Literally.”

“Wow,” Steve says, impressed.

“Yeah.” Bucky laughs a little, without much humor in it. “So no more divination classes for me after that.”

Bucky does think of getting back to it sometimes, maybe buying some books and trying to teach himself the language of dreams. He knows it'd help him make fewer mistakes, but he's not sure he's ready — or has any time — for that kind of commitment right now.

“I'm sorry you had a bad experience with it,” Steve murmurs, thumb rubbing circles on the inside of Bucky's wrist.

“Thanks,” Bucky answers, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. “So now you know my secret.”

At least one of them, Bucky thinks to himself. Not that he has a lot of secrets to keep.

“Thanks for trusting me with it,” Steve says, sounding so earnest and grateful that Bucky's heart tugs in his chest.

“I just wish I had figured it out sooner.” Bucky looks out the window, the rain still falling. “It won't be fun going to work all wet.”

Steve straightens up at that, a considering look washing over his face. “I might be able to help with that.”

 

**

 

“Holy cow,” Bucky says when the car pulls up outside, black and sleek and way too expensive.

“Yeah.” Steve nods, dropping a few bills on the table and getting up. “Being friends with Tony has its perks.”

“I'll say,” Bucky mutters, grabbing his bag so they can leave.

The driver meets them at the door, greeting Steve by name. He’s holding a black umbrella open, sheltering them from the rain until they climb inside of the car and close the door. Steve gives him the address to the hospital and settles back in the passenger seat, thigh pressed against Bucky’s.

“Thanks for this,” Bucky says, bumping Steve with his elbow.

“Just glad I could help.” Steve smiles at him, bumping back. “So what are you doing this week?”

“Work,” Bucky sighs, pouting a little. “More work. And then—”

“Let me guess. More work?”

“You got it.”

“So no Halloween parties for you?” Steve asks, biting down on his bottom lip.

Bucky’s stomach flips, the feeling quickly followed by disappointment. “Nope. Halloween is one of the worst nights we have at the hospital. They need all hands on deck.”

“Oh, okay,” Steve says, scratching at the back of his neck, looking a little awkward. “It’s just that Tony is throwing a Halloween party, and I thought…”

“I would if I could.”

“But you can’t.”

Bucky shakes his head. “I definitely can’t. Something always goes wrong on Halloween night.”

“That sounds ominous.” Steve raises an eyebrow at him. “Did you have a vision?”

Bucky snorts. “No, but I have experience. Years of working during Halloween taught me that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And in the most spectacularly fucked up way possible.”

Steve nods slowly, brows furrowed. “I guess it’s not that much different from when I was a kid.”

“Oh?”

“Halloween was an excuse to fuck shit up, as you young people say,” Steve says, so casually and deadpan that it makes Bucky bark out a laugh.

“That sounds about right. I don’t know if it’s gotten any worse since then, but it’s definitely bad.”

“I don’t know…” Steve trails off, clearing his throat. “That first year back here, I wasn’t… I didn’t really pay attention to what other people were doing.”

There’s sadness in Steve’s voice, his eyes far away and unfocused.

“Did someone visit you?” Bucky asks gently, breath catching in his throat at the utter devastation and grief on Steve’s face when he nods.

All Bucky can do is slide his hand into Steve’s, offering him something to hold on to. Steve entwines their fingers, palm rough and hot to the touch.

They don’t say another word for the rest of the ride.

 

**

 

Steve <3 [12:23AM]:

Sorry if I was kind of a wet blanket today

Steve <3 [12:23AM]:

And thank you for listening

Steve <3 [12:23AM]:

It meant a lot

 

Bucky [3:56AM]:

Always.

 

**

 

Bucky wakes up on Halloween with a sense of impending doom lingering in the air. It makes him want to snuggle up in bed with his mountain of pillows and blankets, close his eyes, and forget the entire world.

But, as his alarm clock reminds him, he can't.

So Bucky gets up, already dreading having to spend the day at the hospital, dealing with curses and spells gone wrong, ghost related injuries, and people with upset stomachs from eating too much candy. It is as if Halloween night is an excuse for people to do things they've never considered before, as if the veil between worlds thinning gives them an excuse to be idiots.

Needless to say, Bucky isn't a big fan of Halloween and the chaos it brings to his life.

Especially when he goes to brush his teeth, mind still slow with sleep, and misses the ghost standing behind him in the bathroom until they whisper, right against Bucky’s ear, “Boo.”

 

**

 

It is not news that, on Halloween night, the veil that separates this world from the others isn't as strong. Magic runs free, more potent, and with it the lines blur, making it possible for otherworldly beings to stop by and visit.

For humans, that means spirits.

It is usual for ghosts of their loved ones to stop by and chat, see how things are going, learn the new family gossip and offer some of their own. It is a way for people to stay connected with their relatives and remind themselves of where they are from, to see again someone they miss dearly and have a few hours with them.

The problem with ghosts, though, is that they never warn people they are coming.

 

**

 

Bucky yells and throws his toothbrush at the mirror, turning around and tripping on his own feet, the momentary lack of balance sending him falling backwards. He grabs at his shower curtain to try and stop his fall, eyes widening with horror when he hears it rip.

“Fuck!” Bucky yells as he screws his eyes shut, legs hitting the side of his bathtub and sending him crashing down, arm flailing and taking a few bottles of shampoo and the citrusy soap he loves so much down with him.

A laugh echoes through the tiled walls, booming and oh-so-familiar to Bucky.

“Ah, every year,” the voice says between chuckles. “One would think you'd know better by now, boy.”

One would think so, but sadly that is not true.

“What the fuck, Pops?” Bucky asks, finally opening his eyes to be faced with the ghost of his great-grandfather, caught in that weird sense of déjà-vu he gets whenever Bucky sees him.

James Buchanan Barnes senior and Bucky share more in common than only their names.

They look so alike it's a bit unsettling, both with sharp, defined jaws and cheekbones, pouty lips, blue eyes and the same fluffy brown hair, although Pops’ is shorter and slicked back with pomade. Even their chins are the same, with a little dimple on it, but Bucky’s is hidden behind two days worth of stubble.

“Language, Bucky,” James says, trying to sound stern, but failing when he ends up smiling.

“Whatever,” Bucky grumbles, squirming around until he can get out of the tub, ending up on his knees on his bathroom floor. He does a mental check of himself: aside from the muffled pain on his ass, he’s okay, which means no trip to the hospital for ghost related injuries. “Did you have to do that?”

“No,” James admits, shrugging one shoulder. “But I gotta get my fun where I can.”

Bucky snorts, putting the bottles back in their places and thanking fuck one of them didn’t blow up. That’s not a mess Bucky wants to clean up again. His toothbrush, on the other hand, somehow ended up in the toilet, floating in the water.

Bucky scrunches his face up in disgust, grabbing one of the disposable gloves he keeps under the sink and slipping them on. “I hate you,” Bucky mumbles under his breath as he rescues his toothbrush, only to throw it in the trash along with the gloves.

“You look forward to seein’ me every year,” James sniffs, crossing his arms over his chest as he floats a little bit over the floor. “I’m the best part of your day.”

Bucky rolls his eyes, knowing better than to argue.

Truth is, he likes the visits from his great-grandfather every other year or so. When he was a kid, he loved listening to old war stories and what life was like back when James was alive, at the beginning of the twentieth century. When he was a teenager, he loved getting tips from James about how to talk to girls and, on one memorable occasion, about how to talk to boys.

Bucky holds that memory to heart, remembering how nervous his 15-year-old self was to finally admit out loud something he’d been keeping a secret about himself for so long. James’ kind smile and even kinder words made Bucky glad he chose his Pops to be the first person to know he was bisexual.

“Keep telling yourself that, pal,” Bucky answers, side-eyeing him.

“I will.” James grins, moving so he’s hovering by the sink while Bucky grabs another toothbrush, restarting his morning routine. “So, I heard you’ve met your soulmate.”

Bucky bites back a groan. “Who told you?”

James snorts. “Who didn’t? First words out of Becca’s mouth when I came to see ‘em. Your Ma looked like she wanted to cry she was so happy it finally happened.”

Bucky shakes his head, but he can’t help the fond smile that spreads across his face. “We’ve only just met.”

“Almost a month ago. Don’t try to trick me, kid. Becca told me everythin’.”

“Becca needs to know to keep her mouth shut.”

“She’s your little sister,” James points out. “‘S what they do.”

Bucky sighs, scratching at his jaw. He trusts James, but ghosts are known to be gossips, and he’s not sure he’s ready for people to know his soulmate is Steve.

Clearly seeing the hesitation and doubt across his face, James smiles a little, expression softening. “You go do what you hafta, kid,” he says, reaching out a hand and letting it go through Bucky’s shoulder, his ghostly version of a shoulder clap. “We can talk once you’re done.”

Bucky swallows, nodding his head in assent and seeing as James flickers out and disappears. Bucky brushes his teeth and steps into a quick shower, taking his time shaving and drying his hair, all the while thinking if he should come clean about Steve’s identity.

He trusts James, truth be told. His Pops hasn’t let him down once, and he’s always kept the secrets Bucky wished him to keep. He’s also never judged Bucky for anything, saying he’s too old and too dead to care about what Bucky does, as long as it doesn’t hurt him or others.

James doesn’t come back until Bucky is halfway through eating breakfast, toast crumbs covering the kitchen table and jam smearing on the corner of his mouth. He doesn’t say anything, just looks at Bucky, as if waiting for Bucky to make his decision.

“You have to promise not to say anything to anyone,” Bucky starts, taking a sip of his orange juice.

“Cross my heart,” James says, crossing an X over his heart, even though vows don’t work for the dead.

Bucky knows he means it, though, and that makes him relax.

“It’s not because I’m ashamed of him,” Bucky says, running a hand through his hair, “but because he’s kind of… well, famous.”

James perks up. “Really?”

“Really,” Bucky says dryly. “That’s why you can’t rush off to tell the others. He’s kind of a big deal, and we’re not really dating, so we haven’t had a conversation about how we want to deal with all of this. We don’t need my family sticking their noses into our business on top of all of that, while we’re trying to figure things out. He also doesn't know he's my soulmate. Not yet.”

Truth be told, Bucky has no idea how he is going to bring that up to Steve. He figures he can worry about that later, after he is sure they have something real between them. And after he's asked his dad for advice.

James nods, understanding. “We Barneses are kind of a handful.”

“We really are. So, no gossiping.”

“I got it, kid,” James says, face serious. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

Bucky takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly through his nose. This is the first time he’s actually going to say this out loud, to someone else, instead of repeating the words inside his head. It’s fitting that James is the one who gets to hear it first.

“My soulmate is Captain America.”

There’s a second of silence and then James bursts out laughing, his entire body shaking with it. Bucky just stares, blinking, waiting for him to be done. It figures, after building it up so much in his head, of course the first reaction he’d get from someone at knowing Steve is his soulmate would be something like this.

It takes James a few moments, but he soon notices Bucky is not laughing with him. He abruptly cuts off, eyes bugging out and mouth snapping shut.

“Oh shit, you’re not kiddin’.”

Bucky shakes his head, offering him a humorless smile. “Nope.”

“Damn, kid.” James sobers up, although he still looks a little astonished. “Captain America, huh?”

Bucky knows his Pops never met Steve, with him being stationed in the Pacific during the war, but everyone is aware of exactly who he is. Or at least they are aware of the title he holds.

“His name is Steve,” Bucky says, words sounding right in his mouth. “And he’s actually kind of an asshole.”

James grins, delighted. “Tell me more.”

 

**

 

After James is gone, leaving Bucky with a Happy Halloween and good luck wishes, as well as a promise the he won’t say anything about Steve, Bucky breathes easier. He hadn’t realized until now that a little bit of the weight he’s been carrying ever since meeting Steve disappears, making him feel lighter.

It makes sense, though, this was — and still is — a huge secret for him to keep, and secrets always take their toll.

 

**

 

The hospital, as predicted, is in complete chaos when Bucky arrives.

He tries to ignore the screaming, the crying, the harried nurses and doctors running from one place to the other, but without much success. He knows he'll have to deal with all of it soon, but as he hurries and gets ready for his shift, he takes a few seconds to breathe in and appreciate the silence.

Just a few seconds to get his game face on, and then Bucky is pushing past the doors to the locker room, ready to start his day.

And what a fucking day it is.

From spells backfiring and leaving people unconscious and wounded, to misplaced curses of various kinds and different degrees of awful — all because people think it is okay to try more complicated magic than they should when the veil thins —, to people coming in for minor injuries because a ghost relative of theirs surprised them at a bad time. There are also the regular fight injuries and stabbings, the upset stomachs from too much candy, and the drunk and disorderly.

It all leaves Bucky exhausted and grumpy, and he curses himself for not going to the fae cafe and grabbing an espresso with a shot of good luck. He entertains the idea of leaving to get one during his lunch break, but as the hours pass and the ER stays full, it becomes evident he'll be lucky if he even gets more than a five minute break between things.

At least one that doesn't involve him having to change out of his scrubs because someone who was cursed started throwing up slugs and they got all over Bucky's clothes. Because yeah, that happened.

Classic Halloween shift.

“Do things seem worse this year or am I just imagining it?” Claire asks as they go pick up more charts, her hair a mess and dark circles under her eyes.

“All years are the worst,” Bucky answers, retying his hair up in a ponytail. “I fucking hate this. It's like people never learn not to mess with shit they don't understand.”

Claire raises an eyebrow at him. “This is because of the slug guy, isn't it?”

“They're so fucking gross, Claire,” Bucky whines, shuddering. “And one almost got in my hair!”

“Poor baby,” Claire says, patting him on the head.

“Barnes! Temple! Get moving.”

Claire sighs while Bucky runs a hand over his face.

“Good luck,” Bucky tells her, already walking away.

“We’ll need it!”

And so they do, at least for a couple of hours more. Around six in the afternoon things slow down a fraction, which everyone knows is the calm before the storm. It is just starting to get dark, which means kids will go trick or treating soon, and whoever thinks they know how to work with magic will conjure spells and cast curses, thinking the darkness and the moon will help.

They won't, by the way.

Bucky has a witch for a mother, and while spells and curses are stronger during Halloween, people’s proficiency when it comes to magic doesn't change. If someone can't cast a proper protective spell any other day of the year, they won't be able to do it on Halloween.

Not that anyone believes Bucky when he tells them as much, when they end up at the hospital. People like to think they're capable of doing great things, even when they are not.

All of that only adds to Bucky's grumpiness, and he's ready to go to one of the empty call rooms and scream on a pillow when he finally gets a 15 minute break. Not that he gets to his destination, oh no.

As soon as he turns the hallway corner, five steps away from the room, he hears someone call, “Bucky?”

Bucky stops in his tracks, anger vanishing as he twirls around. “Steve?”

Steve smiles at him, cheeks pink, and scratches the back of his neck. “Uh, hi?”

“What are you doing here?” Bucky asks, taking a step closer.

Bucky’s eyes fall to the tight black skeleton shirt Steve is wearing under his jacket, lips curving at the corners. At least one of them doesn't hate Halloween with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

Steve's smile disappears, brows furrowed. “Oh, you didn't get my texts.”

Bucky blinks, shaking his head. “I don't have my phone with me. Is everything okay?”

“Everything is swell,” Steve drawls out, making Bucky snort. “I just thought I'd stop by? I remember you said something about Halloween being awful, so I guess… I just wanted to know if you're okay. Oh, and bring you lunch.” Steve raises a bag, and Bucky is happy to see it it's from his favorite sandwich place. “It’s a meatball sandwich.”

“Oh my god, come here,” Bucky groans, grabbing Steve by the wrist and pulling into the call room. Steve trips a little but follows along, letting Bucky push him down into one of the bunk beds. “Gimme it.”

Steve grins, handing Bucky the bag. Bucky practically tears through it, stomach rumbling and mouth watering when he catches a whiff of the delicious meatball smell coming from the sandwich.

“My love, it's been so long,” Bucky says to the sandwich, right before he takes a huge bite, sauce running down his chin. He can't bring himself to care, eyes closing in ecstasy as he finally gives in to his hunger and starts eating. He doesn't open his eyes until he feels something pressed to his chin, seeing Steve holding a napkin and cleaning him up.

“You're kind of a mess, Barnes,” Steve comments, giving Bucky a pointed look as he wipes at the sauce.

“When you've had the day I had, you can complain,” Bucky says around a mouthful of meatball sub, beyond caring about how gross he looks, “until then, shut your trap.”

“Yes, sir,” Steve teases, saluting.

“Punk,” Bucky grumbles, bumping his knee against Steve's.

“Has it really been that bad?” Steve asks, frowning a little in concern.

“Someone threw up slugs on me today,” Bucky answers, feeling smug when Steve’s expression twists in disgust, “so yeah.”

“I'm sorry.”

Bucky takes another bite of the food, patting Steve on the knee. “Not your fault. And what about you? Halloween treating you well?”

Steve gets this soft sad smile on his face as he ducks his head, nodding slowly. “It's been okay.”

Bucky licks his lips, grabbing water bottle inside the bag and taking it a sip. He remembers his conversation with Steve a few days before, and while Steve doesn't look as upset as he did when Bucky asked him if anyone visited him on his first Halloween back, he still doesn't look happy.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” Bucky asks, voice low and gentle.

Steve swallows, shredding the napkin he's holding as he thinks. Bucky stays quiet, letting Steve have the time he needs, and contents himself in eating his meatballs.

“The Commandos stopped by,” Steve starts, sounding small and sad, but his lips still curve into a smile. “It went a lot better than the first time they showed up after I came back.”

“Steve,” Bucky breathes out, stomach churning.

It makes sense, the grief in Steve's gaze when they talked about it. Bucky can't imagine what it must have been like for him, to wake up in a new world where everyone he knew and loved was either dead or dying, and then have the ghosts of his friends show up on Halloween night to say hello.

Especially when to Steve, they had been alive just a few months before.

“It was hard,” Steve says, voice cracking, “really hard, the first time. But it's better now. They told me about their families, and we talked a little about… about the war. It was good, seeing them again.”

“I'm glad you had that,” Bucky whispers, wrapping an arm around Steve's broad shoulders.

Steve slumps a little against Bucky’s side. “Me too. Dum Dum even asked me if I found myself a nice lady or fella to settle down with, or if I was still running around getting my ass into trouble.”

Bucky laughs a little between them. “Definitely the second one.”

Steve turns his head, forehead resting against Bucky's temple. “I don't know,” he murmurs, breath ghosting over Bucky's cheek. “There might be someone.”

Bucky sucks in a breath, suddenly aware of how close they're sitting. He can see the sparks of green in Steve's eyes, the little freckles covering the bridge of his nose, the pink shine of his lips as Steve leans in—

“Barnes, we need— Oh.”

Steve and Bucky jump back as if burned, both looking up at Claire with wide eyes. Bucky can feel his heart beating in his chest and the blood rushing to his cheeks, his meatball sub gripped right in one hand.

“Yes?” Bucky asks, voice higher than usual. “What do you need?”

Claire looks between Bucky and Steve, eyebrows almost to her hairline, and then shakes her head. “I don't want to know,” she says, and then turns to Bucky. “Break’s over. We need you in the ER.”

There's something in her tone that makes Bucky go into high alert, stomach unsettled now for an entirely different reason.

“What is it?”

Claire bites down on her lower lip. “You better come see.”

 

**

 

Halloween night is not only for spells and curses and potions. It is not only for ghosts who stop by to visit, and people who get to say hello to them. It is not only for candy, treats, and tricks.

Halloween night, to some stupid fucking idiots, is for summonings.

 

**

 

There’s a devil’s trap sketched on the floor at the back of the ER waiting room. It is done in chalk, the lines uneven but connected, and it is only now visible because people are stepping away from it.

“Great,” Bucky grumbles, scowling as he lowers himself to the floor, trying not to be seen. “Just what we needed.”

The guy standing in the middle of the trap seems to be in his mid-sixties, hair greying and slicked back away from his face in an attempt to cover the bald spot at the top of his head. He’s sweating, pale skin flushed red and shiny, staining his tailored black suit. His eyes are wide and wild, scanning the people around the waiting room, while he mumbles under his breath.

Bucky wonders for a brief second why he didn’t have a glimpse of this. It’s not something small and incapable of causing harm like the slugs. Demon summonings always require a blood sacrifice, sometimes of an entire group of people instead of just the prick of a needle to your index finger. The best Bucky can guess is that he won’t die or suffer permanent injuries, but as the guy waves a knife around, that doesn’t mean much.

“Security guards?” Bucky asks Claire, crawling on the floor, trying to get closer to the doors without catching the guy’s attention.

“Spread out,” Claire replies, mouth tight. “Some are busy handling a shifter fight, others trying to contain the spiders that someone set free in the children’s yard.”

“He came prepared,” Bucky concludes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Amazing. Like today wasn’t bad enough.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Steve says, and only then does Bucky realize he and Claire were followed.

Steve’s jaw is clenched, hands curled into fists as he crouches, his eyes glowing bright. His gaze is focused on the old man through the glances through the open door to the waiting room, like Steve is about to make him burst into flames at any second.

“No, you will not,” Bucky hisses, poking Steve in the chest. “No setting fire to the hospital. Or anyone inside of it.”

“I wasn’t—” Steve starts arguing, eyes dimming a little and going from angry to confused.

“What you’re gonna do is help us get these people out, so no one is around when that guy summons whoever it is he’s trying to summon,” Bucky says, already moving to the nearest exist. “Our priority is getting them to safety. When no one is around to be considered collateral damage, then Claire and I can go in and try to talk to this guy. Unless the guards or the police get here first, then they can do it.”

“You and Claire?” Steve asks, gaping. “You’re nurses.”

Bucky doesn’t know what his face is doing, but he can see Claire staring at Steve straight in the eye, looking all kinds of unimpressed. Whatever Steve sees on their faces makes him startle a little, mouth opening and closing a few times.

“We’ve done this before,” Bucky tells him, every part of him wishing that wasn’t true. “It’s not the first time someone tried to do this on Halloween night. Everyone here is trained to deal with situations like this.”

“What the fuck.”

“At least there aren’t any ninjas this time around,” Claire comments, glancing at the waiting room. “We should get moving.”

“You get him talking?” Bucky asks, ready to move.

“Yeah.” Claire nods. “I’ll try to focus his attention on the left side of the room, you get people out through the opposite exit. Kamala and Billy are there, they’ll help.”

“Thank fuck,” Bucky breathes out, and then turns to Steve. “If I see one spark coming from you, I’ll knock you on your ass.”

Steve is still staring at him like he can’t quite believe what he’s hearing, but he nods. With that, they leave Claire and move, quickly and staying low so they won’t be seen.

Bucky sees Claire stand up and step inside the waiting room, arms raised and palms facing forward, drawing the guy’s attention to her. That makes it easier for him and Steve to go where they need to, a breath of relief escaping him when he reaches Kamala and Billy.

“How are you doing?”

“Ready when you are,” Billy says, purple sparks coming from his fingers. “I can cast the illusion and you and Kamala can—” Billy stops, eyes widening and mouth dropping open. “Is that Captain America?”

Bucky looks over his shoulder at Steve, who has the grace to blush and raise his hand in a small wave.

“We don’t have time for this,” Bucky hisses, glaring when Kamala snickers. “We need to go save people.”

“Right,” Billy says, eyes still round. It isn’t until Kamala pokes him in the ribs that he snaps out of it, gaze moving away from Steve. “Let me know when to cast. I can hold the illusion for about ten minutes when I have to replicate this amount of people, so you’re going to have to be fast.”

“Got it,” Bucky says. “On three?”

“One,”  Kamala says, ready to run.

Steve is at her side, eyes glowing again. “Two.”

“Three,” Bucky whispers under his breath.

A second later, a shimmery wall stands between the people in the waiting room and the devil’s trap. A perfect mirror of everyone inside.

 

**

 

Getting people out isn’t as difficult as Bucky thought it would be. Despite the threat of everyone dying a bloody death, people don’t run away screaming when the wall is in place. That might have something to do with the way Steve identifies himself as Captain Rogers and asks everyone to keep quiet, but still.

It helps, and with Bucky, Kamala, and Steve working to get everyone out while Billy works his magic, soon enough the waiting room is empty, save for Claire and the old man who wants to do the summoning.

“What now?” Steve asks once the last person is gone, eyes glued to Claire.

“We still have a couple of minutes,” Billy says, forehead beading with sweat.

“We need to break the circle.” Kamala points to the devil’s trap. “And get that knife away from him.”

“Okay.” Bucky breathes out, mentally preparing himself. “Kamala, you can use your badge to break one of the lines. Steve, you’re faster than any of us, so you get to Claire and make sure she’s safe.”

“But that means you—” Steve starts, not that Bucky listens to him.

Because a second later the illusion breaks as Billy slumps to the floor, and the old guy swirls around, face red with rage. Bucky doesn’t think twice before he’s on his feet and tackling the man to the floor, just as the man starts chanting, his hand wrapped tightly around the man’s wrist as he tried to get him to give up the knife.

Bucky can feel the magic rising around him, making his ears pop and making it difficult to get air in his lungs. The pressure of it is almost unbearable, as if crushing Bucky to the floor, and he can't help the scream that crawls itself out of his throat. The sounds around him are muffled, but he can make out Steve's voice, frantic and strained as he shouts.

And then, just as quickly as it all started, the magic flickers and disappears, like a balloon being popped and deflating.

“It's broken!” Kamala yells, badge in hand and chalk on her fingers.

The circle isn't connected anymore, and with it, the magic is void. The energy used for the summon whispers into the air, and then it is set free into the world again, without causing anyone harm.

Bucky pins the old man to the floor, who dropped the knife as soon as the casting was undone, and turns him on his belly, hands behind his back. Bucky is panting with effort, ears ringing and muscles aching, feeling like he got hit by a truck.

At least he's still alive, he thinks, just as the doors burst open and police officers swarm inside.

 

**

 

“He’s dying,” Claire tells him once Bucky is done getting checked out by a doctor, her arms crossed over her chest and face grim. “He thought he could make a deal: sacrifice all of those lives in exchange for more of his.”

“Asshole,” Bucky mutters, rolling his shoulders.

His muscles are stiff and he has a low grade headache, but aside from that, he's perfectly okay. He'll probably be sent home for the night, though, along with Billy, as the hospital doesn't want to risk having them keel over in the middle of the ER in case something else happens.

“Pretty much,” Claire sighs, and then rests her hand on Bucky’s shoulder, squeezing a little. “You did good today, Barnes.”

Bucky snorts, patting her hand. “Right back at you.”

“And don't think I forgot about catching you and Captain America in one of the call rooms.”

Bucky flushes, cheeks heating up. “Listen—”

“I honestly don't want to know,” Claire interrupts him. “I already have too many superheroes in my life. Just take care of yourself, okay?”

Bucky nods, and with a last tap on his shoulder, Claire walks away.

 

**

 

“I'm sorry about all of this,” Bucky says, he and Steve walking shoulder to shoulder through the hospital hallways so Bucky can go change and grab his things. “Halloween usually sucks, but I didn't think it was going to be this shitty.”

“Buck, you don't have to apologize.” Steve shakes his head at him. “None of it was your fault.”

“Yeah, well.” Bucky shrugs, letting out a slow breath. “I didn't even get to finish my meatballs.”

Steve laughs a little, bumping his shoulder against Bucky's. “Go change and I'll buy you another one.”

“Really?” Bucky perks up, mouth already watering at the mere thought.

“Yes, now go.”

Bucky gets ready to leave in record time, feeling a little more relaxed once he's back in his jeans and soft grey sweater. He swings his bag over his shoulder, hair now up in a bun on top of his head. Steve is waiting for him outside the locker room, hands in his pockets.

“Hey,” Bucky says when Steve looks up at him, a soft smile on his lips.

“Hi,” Steve answers, throat working as he swallows, eyes trailing up and down Bucky's body.

Bucky shivers, even as he feels the air around them get hot. “I didn't say it before, but thank you  for bringing me lunch.”

“Anytime,” Steve says, eyes fond.

“And I'm sorry if I was rude to you before,” Bucky clears his throat, shifting in place. “But we are taught to deal with these kind of things, and I didn't want—”

“It's okay,” Steve stops him, one hand coming up to rest on Bucky's arm. “I get it. I know I could've escalated the situation. I'm not mad.”

“Still. And you were a great help too, with making sure everyone remained calm.”

“It was the least I could do,” Steve says, taking a step closer, “when you and Claire were risking your lives.”

“We weren't…” Bucky trails off, feeling a little breathless as Steve moves his hand up Bucky’s arm, slow and sure.

“You were,” Steve murmurs, eyes dark. “And you were great out there, Buck.”

“I just did what needed to be done.”

“Don't sell yourself short,” Steve tells him, hand now cupping Bucky's cheek, palm rough and almost too hot. “You were… you are something else, Bucky.”

And with those words between them, Steve leans in and kisses him.

 

**

 

Bucky is pretty sure he's dead.

He's pretty sure he's died and gone to heaven, and that Steve's mouth on his is his reward.

The kiss is chaste and sweet at first, a barely there press of lips, just to test the waters. But then Steve pulls back slowly, nuzzling his nose against Bucky's, and stares at him through half lidded eyes, his cheeks flushed.

All Bucky can do is wrap his arms around Steve's waist and pull him closer, chin tilted up so he can capture Steve’s lips in another kiss. Steve moans against his mouth, hands sure on Bucky’s face, and then moving to tangle through his hair, messing up Bucky's bun.

It is a different kind of kiss entirely, just as sweet as the first one, but deep and slow as they taste each other, taking their time. It sends a shiver down Bucky's spine, and he presses even closer, hands sliding under Steve's stupid skeleton shirt, touching skin.

The air is hot and heavy around them as they kiss, and Steve is steady and sure against Bucky, skin and lips so warm Bucky never wants to let go. He needs to, though, to catch his breath, lips tingling when they break apart, red and swollen from Steve's kisses.

“Wow,” Bucky whispers, grinning when it makes Steve laugh.

“I'll say.” Steve places a kiss to the dimple in Bucky’s chin, fingers busy tucking Bucky's hair behind his ears. “I messed up your bun.”

“I don't care,” Bucky says, way too giddy to care about his hair right now. Steve just kissed him, and he's petting Bucky's hair, and Bucky is about to explode he's so fucking happy. “Go on a date with me.”

Steve frowns a little, untying Bucky's hair so he can card his fingers through it, nails occasionally scratching at Bucky's scalp. “I thought I was going to? You know, the meatballs?”

Bucky blinks, heart soaring as he registers the meaning of Steve's words. They have all been dates, to Steve. Every time they met to go somewhere, every outing, all dates.

Not maybe-dates.

Dates.

And then all Bucky can do is smile, says, “Yes,” and pull Steve into another kiss.