It was cold. One would think that only his flesh hand would need to be wrapped around the cup of coffee in front of him, but chalk it up to phantom pain. Anxiety. Whatever the fuck was wrong with him at any given moment. He wasn’t even sure why he’d agreed to this in the first place - Sam had become a good friend over the years, but he’d never suggested something like this.
“Look, man, he just broke up with his boyfriend,” Sam sighed. “And I know good goddamn well that you’re single.”
Bucky looked down at his hands folded in his lap, metal fingers twitching. “Maybe I’m not single. M-maybe I found someone. We’ve been fucking like crazy for weeks,” he muttered sulkily, hating the tremor that had crept into his voice. They both knew he hadn’t been on a date since he’d gotten back. He didn’t need to see the smug look in Sam’s eyes. “Fine. One date. And if — when — it doesn’t work, you go back to writing bad anime fanfiction and get your romantic kick that way.”
“...that mean you’re not gonna read ‘em for me anymore?” Sam asked dryly, causing Bucky to sigh again.
Bucky slipped his metal fingers around the cup to warm them, checking his phone. This Steve guy was supposed to be there at 10:30. It was 10:28. Bucky was going to give him exactly two minutes to —
“Excuse me. James, right?”
Bucky tugged the glove back onto his prosthetic hastily and stood, catching himself mid-salute before extending a hand for Steve to shake.
Fuuuuuuuuck. Pull yourself together, Barnes. This isn’t the first date you’ve ever been on. Just get through it and you can go home.
“Nice to meet you, Steve.” He forced a nervous smile, looking back at the chair across from him and wondering if he should have pulled it out Finally, he shook it off and sat back down. “So, uh.. Sam’s told me a lot about you.”
“Has he?” Seemingly unbothered by the fact that his chair wasn’t pulled out for him, Steve managed to take such a massive task on by himself before sitting down across from his date.
Flustered, Bucky looked down at his coffee. “Well, not a lot. I’m not sure I could write a piece on you for the New Yorker, but enough.” He laughed nervously and took a sip of his coffee. “To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure that Sam didn’t try and play matchmaker for the first two gay soldiers he met.”
Steve’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “...you’re gay?” Bucky’s jaw dropped and he seemed to lose the colour in his face. Luckily for him, Steve put him out of his misery. He laughed, reaching across the table to squeeze Bucky’s flesh hand. “I’m teasing. Relax.”
Bucky hated the way his pulse picked up at the simple touch. He didn’t let himself have much physical contact. He didn’t take his shirt off. He didn’t —
“You want to order some food?”
He raised his gaze to meet Steve’s. “Uh, yeah. Food. Sure. Sorry, I’m.. this is.. the first date I’ve been on since I got back. Didn’t want to date anyone while I was all messed up.” He took the menu, sure that Steve was staring at the prosthetic, but when he looked up again, Steve was just watching him. Bucky felt the heat rising up the back of his neck.
“Believe me, I know exactly how you feel. And I’m flattered that I’m your first stateside date. Though, if I know Sam, you didn’t have a choice,” Steve laughed. “This is just a date, James. We’re just gonna get to know each other. We’re just — ah, excellent. Could I get one of your Whole Nine Yard breakfasts, whole grain toast, and eggs cooked…sunny side up. And a coffee.”
Bucky still hadn’t looked at the menu enough to make a decision, but seeing how easily Steve ordered, and feeling the server’s eyes on him, waiting.. Waiting for a grown ass man to order goddamn breakfast… He cleared his throat and put on what he hoped was a charming smile, pushing down the anxiety that was bubbling up in his chest. “That sounds good. I’ll have that.”
“A couple boys with big appetites,” she laughed, causing Bucky to wonder what the hell he’d ordered.
Steve returned the smile and looked back to his date. “I gotta ask. Sam called you Bucky. You don’t look like a teenage sidekick or a crime fighting dog. What’s with the nickname?”
He was still anxious, but couldn’t help laughing. “I got saddled with a pretentious middle name because my mom promised my grandfather. My sister found out he used to go by ‘Bucky’ instead of ‘Buchanan’ when he was in the navy, and.. yeah, it was all downhill from there.” Bucky was starting to relax, and flashed Steve a grin. “I could be a crime fighting dog, pal. You don’t know me.”
“Fair enough.” Steve took his coffee and took a slow sip. “I don’t have a great nickname. Just.. Steve, I guess.” He snorted. “Guys in my unit used to call me Cap all the time, but.. considering that was my rank..”
Before he could stop himself, Bucky interjected. “Did you have a lot of guys in your unit?” His grin widened. Steve choked on his coffee, shocked.
“Prick,” he laughed, pleased that James wasn’t quite as anxious. Steve prided himself on being easy to talk to, but jesus, James had looked scared as hell when he sat down. He’d been worried that there wouldn’t be any chemistry and he’d have to go back to Sam and tell him his matchmaking skills were wrong. Sam had been so damn sure that they’d hit it off. Now, seeing that glint in James’ eye, Steve could see it. It was a glimmer, but it was there. All he had to do was steer the conversation from the army, and the prosthetic. He had a feeling that any mention of it would set James on edge, and really, it wasn’t his place to ask.
Bucky drained the last of his coffee and thanked the server who seemed to appear next to him to refill it. “So, uh.. “ Fuck. “See any new movies lately?”
“I’m a sucker for the classics. I used to watch them with my mom when I was a kid. She figured out I liked boys when I told her I wanted to marry Jimmy Stewart.” Steve chuckled. “In hindsight, most twelve year old boys probably don’t say shit like that if they want people to think they’re straight.” He looked up at James with a sheepish smile. “So, I guess ‘no’ is the answer you’re looking for.”
“W-well, if you want to see a movie sometime, I .. I mean, I’m sure there’s a place here that shows old movies-“
“Why not this afternoon? The IFC shows old movies and on the weekend, they have matinees. It’s just in Greenwich Village. I’m in Brooklyn, so it’s not far from where I live.”
He was surprised. He expected to have the date crash and burn, not … continue. Bucky opened his mouth to speak, but they were interrupted by the food. He looked at his plate, stunned by the size of his breakfast. “Brooklyn,” he said, picking up a piece of toast. “Yeah. I— me too. I live with my sister. Grandpa left me his old place and she just moved in to help me out.” He stabbed at his eggs with the toast and bit a corner of it. “A movie sounds nice.”
Steve hesitantly put his hand on top of Bucky’s and squeezed. “Hey. I just want you to know that I’m not looking for something quick and easy. My ex and I broke up because he wasn’t ready to commit. If you need to take time to be ready, that’s okay. I know how much being over there can fuck with your head.”
“You gonna ask about the arm?” Bucky asked quietly, averting his eyes.
“Not unless you want to talk about it,” Steve replied, giving his flesh hand another squeeze. “I know how hard it can be to talk about that sort of thing. A lot of guys in my company came home missing parts. Or not at all. I was born with a four leaf clover firmly inserted in my ass, so somehow, I made it home.” He ate a piece of bacon, removing his hand from Bucky’s. “Tell me about you.”
“I’m really not all that interesting,” Bucky muttered.
He sighed, spreading jam onto his toast and thinking. “I’m a good cook. Decent. I was shitty in school, I’m good with my hand..” Bucky paused to let the joke land, and earned an eye roll and a groan from Steve. Satisfied, he carried on. “I do a lot of handyman stuff around the house, uh.. don’t really go on dates or anything, just hang out at home. Play a lot of xbox. My sister tried to get me to play Just Dance with her, and I.. have about as much rhythm as you’d suspect,” he said with a self conscious laugh. “What about you?”
“I’m useless when it comes to fixing things or cooking. If it wasn’t for ready-meals and delivery, I’d starve. Uh, let’s see. I draw. A lot. I’m pretty good at it. ” He ate the last piece of his toast. “No family to speak of. My grandma raised me after my mom died, and she passed a few years ago.”
“Sorry.” Bucky said softly. It was a reflex, and one he wished he didn’t have. Years of Irish Catholic guilt were ingrained in him, and Steve must have understood, because he just smiled and nodded once.
He was quiet for a moment and sighed. “It feels weird being on a date.”
“How long were you and your ex together?”
“Year, year and a half. We were just friends with benefits for a while, and in the end, I wanted more than he could give me.” Steve took a long sip of his coffee, and for a moment, Bucky could see how hurt Steve was over it, and how good he was at pretending he was fine with it. That moment told Bucky a lot about Steve that words couldn’t. “We’re still friends. I wanted to hate him, but.. I couldn’t. I don’t have that in me.”
“I do,” he grinned weakly. “My grandfather never forgave someone who wronged him when he was twenty. Took it to his death bed. We Barnes men can hold a grudge like no one else. It’s a gift.”
The two of them finished their breakfast with a sort of easy conversation that neither of them remembered having with anyone else for a long time. Bucky didn’t get anxious when there was a lull in the conversation, and Steve didn’t feel guilty when he took a topic and ran with it. There was a sense of an understanding between them. When the server dropped the bill off and told them to take as much time as they needed, Bucky finally looked at the clock.
“Jesus. It’s almost 11:30.”
“I’d make some stupid joke about how I could lose track of time looking into your eyes, but it’s our first date.” Steve fluttered his lashes, trying to keep a straight face.
Bucky laughed so loudly that the only other people in the cafe turned to shoot him a dirty look. “Fuck, how long have you been wanting to make a crack like that?”
“So long. You don’t even know. “ He put money down on the table and when Bucky protested, Steve held up one hand. “You can get the movie. I got breakfast.” He grabbed his coat and waited for Bucky to do the same. “Are we at hand holding stage yet?”
“You’ll tell me when we are?”
He felt his lips quirking in a smile despite himself. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d smiled so much. “You’ll be the first to know, pal.”
Bucky followed him out onto the street and zipped his coat up, walking close to Steve, who seemed to radiate heat like a furnace. It was nice. Just being out and talking with someone when it wasn’t for therapy or work was nice. He didn’t want to get too much into it with Sam later - less out of a sense of privacy and more because Sam would be so goddamn smug about his success at matchmaking.
“So what movie are we seeing?”
Steve shrugged. “Not sure. But I’ve never been disappointed in their choices, and if nothing else, I get to sit next to a ridiculously good looking man for a couple hours.” He smirked.
Bucky felt the heat rise in his face, all the way to the tips of his ears. “Pffttt,” he managed, averting his gaze. He really wasn’t used to people flirting with him, but then again, he didn’t usually give them the opportunity. It was hard to let people flirt with you when you wrapped yourself in a couple hoodies and blocked out the world with headphones. Safer, to be sure, but lonelier. “You ever see yourself in the mirror, Steve? I’m a mess. You look like you walked out of a magazine.”
It was Steve’s turn to blush. “I was a really scrawny nothing of a kid. I guess I still see that in the mirror. Thank god for puberty,” he added with a laugh.
He stayed close to Steve as they walked, curious about how scrawny he could have been, but decided to wait. Looking at family photos was more of a third date activity anyway.
Assuming there’s even a second date, he thought. Don’t get ahead of yourself, Barnes.
Things were actually going great until they had to get on the subway and Bucky was reminded why he hated riding the subway. He swallowed, holding onto the handle and trying desperately to get his hand to stop shaking. It was so crowded and noisy, and he didn’t have his headphones and—
“You okay?” Steve asked, leaning down to murmur into his ear.
“Just.. a lot of people,” he replied through clenched teeth.
“Close your eyes.”
“I just met you,” Bucky pointed out. Steve gave him a ‘fair enough’ look, and Bucky sighed. “Fine. I’ll try anything to make this st-“
Before he could finish his sentence, Steve had his arm around Bucky’s waist, holding him firmly. Bucky went tense, his metal hand curling into Steve’s jacket. Slowly, his breathing steadied, and he realized how strong Steve was. Stable. Safe. He let out a shaky sigh and released Steve’s jacket.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“No, it’s my fault. Just ‘cause I don’t have a problem with big groups doesn’t mean you don’t. I should have asked.” He didn’t loosen his grip on the shorter man, and Bucky was infinitely grateful for it. He knew he should be even more anxious about being held by someone he barely knew, but it was vastly overwhelmed by the noise in the train car. “I got you,” Steve promised, his hand splayed across the small of Bucky’s back.
He tried to remember the things he’d learned in therapy to calm himself down when he was anxious, but those were always easier to do when you were in a safe space with someone you trusted and not… with a stranger on a first date in a metal tube currently rocketing through an underground tunnel. It was sort of like being in a wartime situation - all the training and the simulations just couldn’t prepare you for actually being there.
He knew they were getting some looks, but he really didn’t care. He was following Steve’s slow, steady breathing and managing to get himself under control. By the time they got off their stop, he was over the worst of it. “Sorry,” he said again, feeling the anxiety drift away and the embarrassment set in.
“It’s okay. Honestly. I’m a little relieved, actually,” he said, chuckling. “Means if I’m ever feeling anxious or anything, I know you’re gonna understand. I’m just glad I could be there for you.”
“You ever get nightmares?”
“Not as bad anymore, but I used to.”
Bucky nodded, finally pulling away from him and exhaling slowly. He wasn’t sure why he’d asked - maybe for a sense of solidarity? - but he was glad he did. “I hope it’s a chill movie we’re going to see after that.” He laughed to try and prove he was okay, even if he wasn’t sure, and climbed the stairs leading to the street.
He was still exhausted from the anxiety attack, but being out would do him good, and if it was a calm movie, he could zone out. Bucky was jerked out of his thoughts when he heard Steve gasp.
“Oh! It Happened One Night!”
“...is that good?” Bucky asked him awkwardly.
Steve’s whole face lit up and he grinned, nodding. “It was my mom’s favourite. I saw it a lot. It’s like.. the original romantic comedy. Oh, you’re gonna love it!”
He hoped so. It was rare that Bucky saw anyone that jazzed about a movie, let alone a movie that came out eighty-some years ago. Really, it was kind of cute. He paid for the tickets and followed him inside the cinema, noting that beyond a couple of people, they were the youngest ones there by a few decades. “You’re sort of an old man in an Abercrombie and Fitch body, huh?” He whispered, hearing Steve laugh next to him. Bucky felt a little rush of pride at making him laugh but tried not to think about it. He used to make people laugh. He used to do a lot of things, but… things change.
Surprisingly, he did like the movie. It was sweet, and funny, and the perfect easy watch for a first date. Halfway through the movie, he felt Steve’s hand squeeze his, but he didn’t complain. He just tried to hide a smile, relieved that Steve couldn’t see him blushing in the darkness of the theatre.
Steve treated him like he was normal. Like he wasn’t broken. People tended to walk on eggshells around him; acted like the wrong word or gesture would cause him to crumble to dust right there before their eyes. He knew they meant well, but goddamnit, he didn’t want to be treated like a fragile fucking doll. He was Bucky Fucking Barnes, scourge of every teacher in his high school. Brother, son, friend. Veteran was one thing to describe him, but he was tired of letting it define him.
He blinked and looked over, his eyes widening. “Jesus. I.. sorry. Lost in thought. I do that sometimes.”
“It’s okay.” Steve seemed relieved. “I thought you were mad at me for holding your hand.”
“What? No. No, it was..”
Don’t say ‘nice’, Barnes. Don’t you fucking do it.
For fuck’s sake.
“Really nice, huh? That mean I could get a second date out of you?” Steve gave him a smile that made Bucky forget how anxious he was for a moment. “I haven’t done the normal dating thing in a while. I don’t know what to suggest.”
Bucky couldn’t believe what he said next. “...I could make you dinner.”
He blinked, surprised. “Yeah?”
“Y-yeah. I mean, it won’t be fancy. I.. I can make spaghetti.”
“I love spaghetti.”
That fucking smile again. God, he was cute.
Steve extended a hand to him as he stood, and Bucky took it, standing with him and grabbing his coat. They left the cinema and got onto the sidewalk, and before Bucky could say anything, Steve was already hailing a cab.
“Why don’t we just take the train?” Bucky asked him, frowning.
“It’s gonna be just as busy as it was before. I’m not gonna risk you panicking again. One anxiety attack is more than enough for a first date,” Steve said firmly. “Besides, if I’m gonna come over for dinner, I should know where you live.” He paused. “...if that’s okay.”
He nodded, swallowing back his nerves. “Yeah. That’s … that’s okay.”
When they were in the cab, and he’d given the driver his address, Bucky looked over at Steve, trying not to let himself get too deep. Steve was nice now, but… who knew how long he’d stick around if things got difficult. But dear god, he was sweet, and he was a dork, and he was cute as hell and he didn’t seem bothered by the initial showings of Bucky’s anxiety. Bucky reached over with his prosthetic and slipped his gloved hand into Steve’s, squeezing briefly. The smile he got in response made his heart thump in his chest. He almost didn’t notice the car slowing down a few minutes later.
Steve paid and got out to get Bucky’s door for him. “I’ll walk you to your door.”
“It’s like.. Two in the afternoon. I’m not gonna get mugged in front of my house, Steve,” he laughed, but Steve simply waited until Bucky rolled his eyes and got out of the cab. “So, uh. This is me.” He gestured to the brownstone, moving to the sidewalk. Bucky could swear he saw the curtains move, but ultimately decided he was imagining things.
“I have a really important question to ask you. And feel free to say no,” Steve told him, looking more nervous than Bucky had seen him so far on their date. When Bucky nodded, Steve wet his lips. “Are you the kind of guy to kiss on the first date? ‘Cause I .. really want to kiss you, but if you’re not … y’know, ready, I’ll wait.” He ran his fingers along Bucky’s jawline and through his hair.
“Normally, no.. but.. I..could give it a shot. “
He wasn’t sure what kind of kiss to expect - a chaste peck on the lips or cheek, or a long, sexy french kiss, or a sloppy awkward one, but what he got was so much better than he remembered kissing being before. He leaned up to meet Steve halfway, and his eyes fluttered shut on their own. Bucky moaned softly, moving closer to Steve and parting his lips. He hadn’t been expecting the romantic movie kiss, but god, he’d gotten it. When Steve broke the kiss, Bucky heard himself let out a little whine.
“I should get going,” Steve said quietly, kissing him on the forehead. “But, uh.. Sam never gave me your number, and I’m probably going to get lost tomorrow. “ He pulled his phone out and unlocked it, handing it to Bucky to put his number in. “I’ll text you tonight, and we’ll work out the details.” He put his phone back in his pocket and headed off towards the nearest subway station, not caring that it was still pretty chilly out. What a first date.
Bucky was sure he saw the curtains move again and he sighed heavily, unlocking the front door and walking inside. “Were you spying on me?” He called.
“It’s not my fault you decided to go all gay romantic comedy in front of our house. I was waiting for a pizza and spotted you insidead. He’s cuuuuute, Jamie. You owe Sam a fruit basket or something.” Rebecca laughed, leaning against the counter. Bucky sank into the couch and let his head fall back.
“Fuck, he’s so cute,” he groaned. “And he’s sweet, and he calmed me down when I had an anxiety attack on the subway, and.. Jesus, what a kiss.”
She moved to flop next to him, resting her head on his shoulder. “How long into the date were you thinking about just .. getting into his lap and riding him like a stud pony?”
“That’s a terrible thing to say to your big brother.” His jaw dropped. “I deserve my privacy just like everyone else, Becks.”
“So, like… twenty minutes?” She pressed, grinning wider.
“...give or take.” He sighed. “I invited him for dinner tomorrow. I’m gonna make spaghetti. Maybe we can watch a movie or something. I don’t know. “
“You want me gone?”
“Up to you. If you’re here, I might have the sense to not make out on the couch like a drunk teenager on prom night.” Bucky put his arm around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. “Plus you can get a read on him. I… think he’s a good guy. I don’t get a bad feeling from him, but a second opinion might be a good idea.”
She grabbed his metal hand and squeezed it. “You know he’s not gonna give a shit about this. Or anything bad going on in your head. Sam wouldn’t have set you up with someone he didn’t think was good for you. And you need this, Jamie. You need someone else to tell you how amazing you are. Cause your stubborn ass sure as hell isn’t listening to me or Mom and Dad or Sam. “
Bucky felt his throat muscles tighten. He knew she was right about it all. They’d been thick as thieves since they were kids, and she knew him better than anyone. Of course, as her big brother, he replied “Maybe.”
“Fuck off,” she replied, kissing him on the cheek. “I’ll make dinner tonight. In honor of you having a date with a sexy guy, I’m making hot dogs.”
He snorted, checking his phone.
‘Wasn’t sure how long I should wait to text you. But honestly, I really like you, and I had a great time with you today.’
Bucky’s cheeks turned pink and he was about to type when the next text came in, causing him to laugh.
‘Fml. It’s Steve, by the way.’
‘It’s okay. I figured.’
He hesitated on the emoji button and scrolled through them. Did people normally send emojis? He and Sam sent them, but they were friends already. This was new. “Hey, Beck!” he called. “Should I use a smiley face or a winky face when Steve does something dorky?”
Rebecca re-entered the room. “Fuck, he texted you already? I wish I could date a gay guy. Lemme see. “ she took his phone and grinned. “Smiley face.”
Bucky took it back and added ‘:) I had a really good time too. Except for the subway part.’
‘I’m glad I was there. I’ve been through that alone, and it’s hard. On a lighter note, has anyone ever told you that you’re gorgeous?’ A pause, then another text. ‘Coming on too strong? Sorry. I’m kind of giddy.’
‘I like it. I haven’t had anyone flirt with me in a long time.’
‘That’s a shame.’
He was very aware of Rebecca leaning over his shoulder and put his phone against his chest. “Yes?”
“Just nice to see you smile like that again.” She nudged him and went back to the kitchen. “Plus, I never knew you were the kind of guy to kiss on the first date.”
He had a feeling there were all kinds of things he was going to learn about himself the longer he was Steve. Really, he just couldn’t believe it was actually happening. They were going to have to take things slow, and it was going to take some patience on Steve’s part while Bucky continued to heal, but … god, he was happy.
They texted back and forth throughout the evening, and wished each other a good night when Bucky felt himself starting to fall asleep. Just before he nodded, off, he heard his phone vibrate again. This time, a text from Sam.