Bucky sat morosely in the cafe, staring at the classified ads in the local paper. He had assumed that finding an apartment would be easy—he was twenty five, for fuck’s sake; he was too old to be living in a squat. Especially given that everyone in the squat was a directionless loser, whereas he was going places. He was going to be the best journalistic writer the magazine world had ever seen.
He read the classifieds again, just in case he'd missed something. He hadn't, and sighed.
“Mind if I sit here?”
Bucky looked up, and saw a really cute guy with short blond hair and blue eyes looking at him, coffee cup in hand.
“Uh, go ahead,” Bucky said, gesturing to the seats opposite. The guy smiled at him, and Bucky felt a lurch in his chest.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, each sipping at their coffee, before the guy caught his eye.
“Anything interesting?” he asked, gesturing to the newspaper.
“Yes. Well, no. I'm trying to find an apartment, which you'd think would be easy in a city, but they're either too expensive, or too small. Or that one I went to see yesterday which smelled of cat piss,” Bucky sighed.
“Did they have a lot of cats?”
“Not that I could see.”
“Do you mind if I have a look?” the guy asked. “My girlfriend cheated on me with her boss, some asshole called Brock, and just kicked me out, so I guess I'm looking for an apartment too.”
“Oh, man, I'm so sorry!” Bucky replied, shocked that anyone would cheat on someone so hot. “That sucks.”
The guy shrugged. “She was the love of my life, but I'm sure I'll get over it. Why are you looking?”
“Well, I've been living in this place… well, it's more of a squat, really, you couldn't really call it an apartment because that implies that there’s enough bedrooms for everyone, and—”
“Skip to the end?” the guy said, and Bucky realized he'd been babbling.
“—so now I'm looking for an apartment.”
The guy nodded, as Bucky took his last sip of coffee.
“Anyway,” Bucky said brightly, “I have another apartment to look at, but it was great to meet you!”
“You too,” the guy replied with a grin, and Bucky wandered out the cafe, even more determined than before.
The next day, Bucky went back to the cafe, newspaper in hand, and saw the same guy already sitting in there. He got his coffee, then went over to the guy’s table.
“Mind if I sit here?” he asked with a smile when the guy looked up.
“Oh, hey! No, go ahead!” The guy spotted the newspaper in his hand and grimaced. “Still not found anything?”
Bucky shook his head. “The one I saw yesterday afternoon? The landlord tried to convince me to join his cult.”
“Yeah, so I got out of there as soon as I could.”
“Can’t say I blame you.” The guy smiled, and Bucky felt that weird feeling in his chest again.
It had become a routine, almost. Sometimes Bucky would show up first, sometimes the guy, but they always met in that cafe. Every day for a week, until finally, as the guy sipped his coffee and Bucky ended another fruitless search in the classifieds, Bucky broke down.
“I can’t do this anymore!” he wailed. “I’m never going to find anything and I’m going to be stuck in that squat forever!” He folded his arms on the table over the open newspaper and thumped his forehead down on them, sobbing loudly.
“Hey, it’s okay!” the guy said, patting him awkwardly on top of his head. “It’s not that h-hopelessss,” he finished, dissolving into tears himself. Their sobs echoed each other, when suddenly an ad that Bucky hadn’t noticed before caught his eye on the page below.
“Wait a minute,” he said, lifting his head and wiping his eyes. “What’s this? Two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, fully furnished… Oh. Professional couples only.”
The guy frowned. “That sucks. You got any single friends who are homeless and who would pretend?”
A thought struck Bucky. “Well. I do know one possible candidate?” The guy looked at him blankly as Bucky shot him a hopeful look.
“Okay, so you were born on July fourth, 1993, to Joseph and Sarah Rogers,” Bucky recited as they walked down the street. “Your father was killed in action in Afghanistan when you were seven years old, and your mom, who was a nurse, raised you until she passed away from comorbid tuberculosis and pneumonia when you were 19. Sorry about that, by the way, that sucks.”
“Aside from that, pretty normal childhood. You got your first bike for your sixth birthday, and in terms of love life you had your first girlfriend at 12, and your first boyfriend at 15. Your preferred method of transport is your skateboard, although you’re not above taking the subway. You aspire to be a graphics artist working on comic books—“
“—graphic novels, although you’re currently waiting on your big break and supplement your income by working at Five Star Comics as an assistant.”
“Very good. Okay, your birthday is March tenth, 1992. Your parents are Winifred and George Barnes, who still live in Brooklyn. You have a younger sister called Rebecca who is currently working on her PhD in Mathematics. Your father is ex-Air Force, now retired, and your mother is a homemaker. You always wanted to play the drums but you were thwarted by the fact you lived in an apartment. You studied journalism at college and dream of one day being sent by a fancy magazine to far flung corners of the world to write think pieces.”
“Excellent!” Bucky said with a laugh. “Okay, time to make some memories!”
They wandered around Brooklyn that day, taking selfies together in different outfits and trying to make it look as though not all of the photos were taken in Brooklyn. They got the photographs developed and put them in an album, titled “Love”.
“Okay, I think we’re ready to go meet the landlord!” Bucky said, grinning. “Oh, hey, by the way, I’m Bucky,” he added, holding out his hand.
“Steve,” the guy replied, taking Bucky’s hand and shaking it. They smiled at each other before turning the corner and walking up to the small apartment building.
Steve pressed the buzzer and the two of them waited. Bucky could feel his palms sweating—what if the landlord asked a question that they hadn’t thought of the answer to?—but suddenly the door opened and it was too late.
“Helloooo?” the man in the doorway said slowly, holding his satin kimono dressing gown closed with one hand, and a cigarette hanging between the first two fingers of the other.
“Hi! We’re a couple!” Bucky blurted out, pulling Steve in by his waist. Steve gave him an exasperated look.
“We’re here about the apartment to rent?”
“Oh, right, come in!” The guy led them up to the top—third—floor, and into the apartment there. “We’ll do the interview first and then I’ll take you to see the apartment,” the man said. “Now, my name is Tony Stark. And you two are?” Bucky and Steve told him their names, as Tony took a sip of red wine from a large glass, even though it was only ten a.m. “So, what do you two do?”
“I’m a writer,” Bucky said quickly.
“Artist,” Steve said at the same time.
Tony narrowed his eyes. “Working?”
“Oh, yeah, of course,” Steve and Bucky said simultaneously.
“Okay. Well, the apartment is yours if you want it,” Tony said, beaming at them both.
Steve and Bucky looked at each other in surprise. “Wow, thanks,” Bucky managed.
“So how long have you two lovebirds been together?” Tony asked.
“Two years, three months, twenty one days,” Bucky and Steve said together, then laughed.
“Aww. Well that’s sweet. Come on, I’ll show you the apartment.”
They followed Tony down to the second floor, and into the apartment there. It was small, but light and airy, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a combo kitchen-living room. Both Steve and Bucky enthused about how lovely it was, and Tony looked pleased.
“And you’ve got a spare room just in case you ever decided to adopt,” Tony said brightly.
Steve and Bucky both laughed nervously, and Bucky cleared his throat. “Um, yeah, this would be a great room for a kid.”
“So you can move in whenever you like! Rent is due on the first of the month.”
They thanked Tony and left together, smiling at each other.
Bucky’s departure from the squat was uneventful. Everyone was too busy sleeping in amongst the myriad pizza boxes and beer bottles to pay attention to him leaving. He went out into the street and took a deep breath. He was finally free.
By the time he arrived at the apartment, he could hear voices coming from inside. He opened the door to see Steve alone, and looked around in confusion.
“Bucky, this is Natasha, my best friend,” Steve said brightly, and Bucky was about to ask if Natasha was imaginary when a woman’s voice came from behind the door and Bucky nearly jumped out of his skin.
Bucky shut the door and there, behind it, was a young woman with red hair, what looked like a glock in hand. Bucky’s eyes widened. “Um?”
Steve nodded at Natasha. “I think the place is secure, thanks.”
Natasha put her gun in a holster underneath her leather jacket and flopped down on the sofa between all the boxes.
Steve looked at Bucky. “So, we gonna unpack now or leave it a while?”
Bucky shrugged. “The sooner we get it done the better, I think.”
Between the three of them they managed to unpack in pretty good time, and by that evening they were sitting around the dining table eating pizza and drinking wine. When they had finished, Natasha belched.
“Well, I’d better leave you two to it. Got maneuvers in the morning.”
“Cadets?” Bucky asked.
Natasha shook her head. “Hudson Valley Hikers. We’ll catch up tomorrow.”
After Natasha left, there was a somewhat awkward silence. Bucky suddenly realized that, for better or worse, he had moved in with a complete stranger.
Steve eventually broke the silence. “I’ll take the pizza boxes down to the trash.”
Bucky nodded, and as soon as Steve left, Bucky dropped his head into his hands. What had he let himself in for?