Taking this class was your own personal form of torture. Actual torture. You hated having it late in the afternoon, the tension building up all day. You’d slide into your seat in the hall, your leg bouncing, waiting for the first moment you’d see him. Every time you’d think it would be a relief, seeing him there in one of those shirts that showed off his arms dissipating the anticipation in your stomach, but then you’d look up at and he’d be standing there and it would get worse.
Today was no difference. He was in that blue shirt you loved so much. It brought out the blue in his eyes and the blond of his hair beautifully. He was reading over his notes, his nose scrunching in a way that made you want to run your finger over it to smooth it out. You shifted in your seat, trying to ignore the heat of your skin.
He glanced up, his eyes roving over the filling lecture hall. You waited, your stomach clenching in anticipation of the brief moment of eye contact you may get. He got distracted by the influx of young girls, giggling amongst themselves as they took their seats at the front of the room. He flashed them a quick smile and the green eyed monster reared up in you. You hated he made you feel that way.
Other than a few brief conversations you’d had little to do with him. You did well in his class, and you tried to keep out of any trouble that may arise. You had assumed that a course on World War Two would be dry and boring but he kept you hanging on his every word. You could listen to him talk all day.
Professor Rogers was the bane of your existence and if you could you would go back in time so you had never known of his existence.
You lowered your gaze at the blank page in front of you. You twirled your pen in your fingers, counting the seconds for when it would be appropriate to look up again. You didn’t need to be caught staring like some kind of stalker. You bit down on your lower lip, worrying it between your teeth.
Your eyes flickered up again. They met his and your whole face became hot. You knew you must be bright red but you couldn’t look away. It was as if he’d ensnared you in his trap and you could do little more than wait for him to release you. It took a student coming up to talk to him to set you free.
Needless to say, you didn’t look at him for the rest of the class.
Then, he started to frequent the coffee shop you worked at. The first time you stumbled through taking his order, so entranced by the smiles he was giving you that you lost the ability to think. You’d passed it over with shaky hands, concentrating so hard on not spilling it you didn’t hear him talk to you. By the time his voice registered you’d already turned away.
You assumed he wouldn’t come back given the weird customer service you’d provided. You were gobsmacked when he walked back in the next day, smile in place. You’d bit your lip, sneaking glances at him in line while serving the other customers. He’d smiled at you when he got to the front of the line, asked you how your day was going, if it had been busy. Idle chit chat but it made your heart sing. You’d tried to be charming.
Seeing him in class later that day you’d done everything you could to stop the blush rising in your cheek. Seeing him outside of the learning environment made the build up worse. He’d caught your eye and flashed you a smile, the corner of his eyes crinkling.
You were glad you had the next day off work.
“You weren’t here yesterday”
You looked up from the cash register. Professor Rogers was standing in front of you, his eyes sparkling as you dropped the coins over the floor. You ducked behind the counter to pick them up and place them back in register. You took a deep breath and looked up again. He was still watching you.
“You’re not going to talk to me?” he asked, his mouth quirking up.
“Sorry,” you muttered, “what can I get you?”
“Where were you?” he asked instead.
“It was my day off. One of my professors set a lot of reading for class,” you sniped, annoyed from staying up late trying to get it done for the class today.
“Sounds like you should complain to your professor,” he said.
“I’m sure he won’t care. You know what professors are like,” you replied, shrugging. He chuckled, looking down then back at you from under his eyelashes. Your heart skipped a beat. “Now what can I get you?”
He placed his order, looking amused. You scrunched your nose at him as you took his money. He moved over to the side to wait for his coffee. You caught his eye as you made it, unable to stop the flush rising on your face.
He smiled as you handed him the coffee, your fingers brushing against one another. It made your heart stutter and you had to take a deep breath.
“See you in class,” he said before turning and walking out. No one person should have such a good ass.
Seeing Professor Rogers at work became part of your routine. You never expected for him to become such a big part of your day. He was legitimately the high point of your shift. You’d heard the whispers from the other servers, about the good looking blonde who bestowed smiles so often. Your friend made the observation he only seemed to come in when you were on, that he’d asked about your schedule. It gave you a little thrill to know that.
You couldn’t understand the reason behind it. You had no idea what was going through that man’s mind. You had to wonder if he was actually trying to kill you. He must have noticed the effect he had on you. Maybe he found it amusing.
You knew he liked to catch your eye in classes. Every time he’d flash you that half smile of his that drove you crazy and you’d become breathless. You began to live for those little moments when he made you feel more than just a student, as if you were in on a joke together.
You glanced over from your place at the bar. A pair of familiar blue eyes were twinkling down at you and a bright smile that made you blush.
“Professor Rogers,” you said in greeting, glancing down at the glass put in front of you.
“You can call me Steve you know,” he said.
“Steve,” you said to yourself, savouring it for a moment.
When you glanced back up at him. He had a slight flush on his cheeks which you assumed was from the hot air blasting through the room. It made him look like a bashful child. It was very endearing. You could almost see the small child he’d been
“Are you here with someone?” he asked.
You glanced over your shoulder, at your group of friends. They’d clocked your conversation partner. You best friend started fanning herself when she saw you looking. You heard Professor Rogers, Steve, chuckle.
“Your friends?” he asked.
“Yeah,” you admitted, turning back to face him. You regretted it when you saw the amusement dancing in his eyes. He must get so tired of women falling at his feet. Knowing you were one of them made you feel pathetic.
“Is this guy bothering you?” someone asked over your shoulder.
You turned, ready to reply with the negative until you saw the cheeky grin directed at your professor.
“If I’d wanted your help I would have asked for it,” Steve said, also grinning at the man.
“You don’t even know you need help,” the man said, “it’s just sad watching you.”
He slid his arm around your shoulders, leading you away form Steve, to a table past your friends. He pulled out the chair for you and you sat, hesitantly looking over your shoulder for Steve. The man sat in the chair across from you, Steve sliding into the one beside you.
“Bucky Barnes, at your service,” the man, Bucky, said, pressing a kiss to the back of your hand.
You couldn’t stop the blood rushing to your cheeks. You took a long drink from your glass, glad you’d forgone alcohol. You sensed you would need your wits with this one.
“Buck,” Steve warned.
You turned to look at him, surprised by the tension in his shoulder. Bucky laughed and lent back in the chair. Steve gave him a reluctant smile before turning to you. You quirked your eyebrow at him, wondering if he would explain all of this to you.
“I don’t think your friends are happy we’ve stolen you,” he said instead.
You turned in your seat to look at the table, their heads together, furious whispering going on. Your best friend looked at you. You gave her a thumbs up. She held up her phone but you shook your head and turned back to the two men.
“Secret code?” Bucky asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” you said and took a sip of your drink.
“You sure know how to pick ‘em, Cap,” he said, winking at you.
“Cap?” you asked, turning to look at Steve. He flushed again, looking down at his fingers spinning the glass. You got distracted watching them, shifting in your seat. It took Bucky laughing for you to pay attention again.
“Captain of the nerds,” Bucky said.
“Just because you flunked out of college doesn’t mean you have to be jealous,” Steve shot back.
“You spent time reading in the library, I spent time meeting girls,” he said, “I know which I prefer.”
“Remind me which one of us is unemployed,” the blonde said, “don’t forget you’re sleeping on my couch.”
“Not for much longer, my friend. Give me a week,” he said, taking a sip from his own pint.
“If you boys are going to continue this pissing contest, I think I’ll rejoin my friends,” you interrupted before Bucky could respond.
You stood from the table, both men following suit. You picked up your glass, stopping when Steve put his hand on your arm. You shivered at the feeling of his bare skin against yours.
“I’m sorry for him,” he said, jerking his chin at Bucky, “I did tell him not to come over.”
“He was more fun than you,” you said with a wink to the brunette.
Steve’s face seemed to fall as you said that, his hand dropping from your arm. You stepped back, suddenly feeling on the wrong foot. You weren’t sure what had happened to make that happen. Surely he understood it was a joke.
“I like her,” you heard Bucky say as you turned away, “if you don’t lock that down, I will.”
“Hey there, pretty lady.”
You looked up the notebook you were writing in. Bucky was standing in front of the counter, smirking at you. You smiled at him, straightening up.
“Hi there, what can I get you?” you asked.
“I’d say you but you’re not on the menu,” he replied.
You flushed but you scrunched your nose at him. He laughed and you realised what a nice sound it was. You could see why Steve was friends with him.
“Gimme whatever it is Cap gets,” he said.
“Coming right up,” you said, moving to make him the coffee.
He took a sip from the cup you gave him. He winced and you quirked an eyebrow at him.
“I fucking hate coffee,” he said.
“Then why’d you order it?” you asked.
He shrugged and took another sip.
“I get why Cap comes here,” he said, “if all the servers are as pretty as you.”
“I think he comes here for the coffee,” you replied, refusing to let him drag you into whatever game he was playing.
Bucky turned around to look at the man calling his name. You watched as Steve walked towards the two of you, pulling his sunglasses from his face. You almost swooned under the image of him in that tight t-shirt, each and every muscle on display. You could see the other women in the coffee shop stopping to watch him, whispering to each other. You tried not to care.
“What are you doing here?” he asked Bucky.
“You won’t shut up about how good this place is so I thought I’d come give it a try,” he replied.
“You hate coffee.”
“But I like pretty girls.”
Steve glanced at you over Bucky’s shoulder then pulled the other man away. You tried not to watch their whispered conversation, tried to ignore his entire presence. It had been agony after seeing him at the Irish pub you and your friends frequented. Bucky had managed to get in your head.
You looked up when you heard Steve tap on the counter in front of you. He flashed that heart stopping smile in your direction and you had to remind yourself to breath.
“Your usual?” you asked.
“Here you go mate,” Bucky said, reaching over his shoulder to hand him the coffee cup, “you have shit taste.”
“I don’t want your cast offs,” Steve said, looking down at it with a nose scrunched up in disgust.
“You were singing a different tune when I introduced you to that blonde,” he said, patting him on the back, “see you later, darling.”
You saluted him as he waved goodbye to you. Steve looked at you with a raised eyebrow. You shrugged, not able to explain anything his friend was on about. You owed him no explanation if he was the one enjoying Bucky’s blonde cast offs.
“I’d like one he hasn’t drunk out of,” he said.
“Coming up, Professor Rogers,” you said.
He groaned, a pained look on his face. You ignored him, concentrating on his order. You didn’t want to think of him wrapped up in some faceless blonde’s arms. You didn’t need him. Bucky seemed as if he’d be up for it and he was as handsome as any man you’d seen.
You handed him the cup, accepting the old one to throw out. He lowered his head, looking you in the eye.
“There was no blonde,” he said, “Bucky is full of it.”
You ignored the thrill that information sent through you. You gave him a smile and it seemed as if he let out a breath he’d been holding. He smiled at you too.
“I’ll see you later?” he asked.
“I’ll be there in the back row,” you replied.
You watched him walk out trying not to overthink what me meant by that.
One day, a few weeks later, he brought the most gorgeous woman you’d ever seen to the coffee shop. You tried to ignore the curl of jealousy in your lower stomach or the way you wanted to throw up just looking at them. You barely smiled at him when he reached the counter. He was in the middle of a conversation with the woman, so you doubted he even noticed.
You handed them their coffees, hoping he’d look at you, hoping he would notice. All he did was flash you a quick smile then walk out with her again.
You were so used to him asking after your day, caring about you. You were used to sharing a joke and a laugh with him. You felt like you were at least his friend, even if your heart wanted something more. But his actions made you feel as if you were being tossed aside for something better.
And it was obvious that woman was better. In every way.
When it came time to show up to his class you kept your head down, not risking a glance in his direction. You sat in the furthest corner, setting everything up so you wouldn’t look at him. You sat there, taking notes, trying so hard not to get lost in his voice. You only had a few weeks left of the class. All you had to do was get through them then you never had to see him again. If he made you feel like this just by having another female friend, then you needed out of whatever kind of relationship you had built.
You heard him call out your name at the end of class as you tried to hurry past. You turned, taking a deep breath, readying yourself for the sheer force of his charisma to hit you.
“Is everything alright?” he asked, trying to look deep into your eyes.
“Fine,” you replied, averting your gaze to your feet.
“Are you sure?” he asked, “you don’t seem it.”
“Professor Rogers, I’m fine. Promise.”
“Steve.” That pained looked was back.
“I’m going to go unless there’s something else, Professor.”
He didn’t say anything so you turned away. You looked down at your feet, wrapping your arms around yourself, trying to keep all the emotions in check. You ran headlong into a hard body as the door thumped shut behind you. You glanced up into a pair of familiar eyes.
“Hey Bucky,” you said.
“You alright, darling?” he asked, his hands on your elbows to steady you.
“Yeah,” you said.
“I was going to see Cap, but I think you might need my attention more,” he said, leading you away from the class. He pulled you outside, taking you to one of the tables in the quad. He sat you down before sitting across from you, his hands crossed under his chin.
“It should be a criminal offence to make a beautiful woman cry,” he said.
“I’m not crying,” you replied.
“But you want to.”
You looked down at your twisting hands. There was a part of you that did want to cry. There was a bigger part of you that wasn’t going to let some man make you fall apart, especially when you’d never been promised anything from him. Even if he’d made you think he might one day.
“Look, Cap isn’t very savvy when it comes to the ladies. But he likes you,” he said, “it’s obvious to anyone who knows him.”
“Please don’t,” you said, “I’d rather forget he exists.”
“Want to go get drunk?”
You awoke with a pounding headache and a mouth tasting of a dead rodent. You rolled over, groaning when the light hit your eyes. You climbed to your feet, clutching your stomach. You stumbled off to the side, pushing open the door to bathroom. You emptied the contents of your stomach into the toilet, heaving hard enough to hurt your abdominal muscles.
You rested your head against the cool tiles, letting out a long sigh. You felt like hell. All you wanted to do was curl up and go back to sleep. You climbed to your feet, sticking your head under the faucet in the sink, washing out your mouth and drinking as much water as you dared.
You looked around the room, realising you had no idea where you were. You pushed open the door again, walking through the unfamiliar bedroom. You could hear a low murmur of voices in the other room. You walked out, hoping it would be Bucky.
Your eyes met a familiar pair of blue ones and your heart sunk. You turned around and walked back to the bathroom, the nausea rolling over you. You heaved over the toilet again, bile and water all that was left to come up.
A pair of cool hands pulled your hair out of your face and you tried to ignore the tears gathering in your eyes. You hated throwing up. It was the worst thing to do.
“Get it all out, doll,” Steve said, rubbing his hand over your back.
You tried to push him off you, not wanting this man to see you in such a sorry state. You were so weak it did nothing. All he did was continue to run his hand over your back in comforting circles.
“Let’s get you cleaned up.”
He held you steady as he rifled through Bucky’s medicine cabinet. He handed you painkillers and a glass full of water. He kept you upright as you downed the water and painkillers. You lent against him, closing your eyes against the harsh light.
He led you back out of the bathroom, settling you on the couch. You keeled over, burying your head in one of the cushions, trying to block everything out. You heard Steve and Bucky murmuring off to the side.
“Come on, doll, I’m going to take you home.”
You felt a pair of hands pull you up from the sofa. You opened your eyes, squinting at Steve. He put his arm around your waist to steady you.
“Can’t Bucky do it?” you asked.
“He’s not doing too well himself, doll,” he said.
“Well, can’t I stay here then?” you asked.
“I don’t think that would be such a great idea.” His hand tightened on your waist, “I’ll carry you out if I have to.”
“But you don’t know where I live,” you said.
“I guess I’ll have to bring you home with me, then,” he said.
You ignored the shiver of pleasure that went down your spine at that thought. You stepped out of his hold, wanting to feel as if you had made the choice to let him take you home. You gave Bucky a hug before you left the apartment. You waited for Steve in the hall while he said whatever he had to to Bucky.
He put his arm around your waist when he emerged, leading you into the elevator. You tried to ignore that little thrill in your stomach you had every time he touched you. He pressed the button for the garage and held you steady as the lift jolted to start your descent.
You groaned at the feeling of your stomach curdling. He pressed his lips to your temple, in what you assumed he thought was comforting but just made the whole thing worse. All this physical contact was ruining any chance of you maintaining your sanity.
He led you to a beautiful car, sleek and shiny. He held the door open for you to duck inside. You settled in the seat, leaning back and closing your eyes. If you threw up in his car you would die from embarrassment.
You didn’t notice as he started the engine and pulled out of the garage. You squinted your eyes open at the new influx of light. The world was moving too fast outside. You closed your eyes again.
“I think I might have kissed Bucky last night,” you said into the silence, pieces of unconnected memory surfacing.
You didn’t notice the shift in the air as tension entered Steve’s body. He clenched his jaw, his fingers tightening around the steering wheel. You didn’t see any of it with your eyes closed.
“That’s good information to have,” he said.
“I think he might have also told me it was a bad idea because of you,” you said, trying to work through what had happened.
“Because of me?” he asked.
“I think so,” you said, “it’s all kinda fuzzy.”
He hummed but didn’t ask you to talk any more. You were almost certain you had kissed Bucky and he had told you it was a bad idea because of your feelings for Steve and his for you. You were pretty sure he was full of shit and was trying to help you not make a fool of yourself because he didn’t see you that way. You squeezed your eyes tight.
“You still don’t know where I live,” you said, “where are you taking me?”
“To get some food into you,” he said.
“Are you trying to kill me?” you groaned, turning away from him.
“If I wanted to kill you I wouldn’t go to all this trouble to do it,” he said.
You groaned again. You could hear him chuckling and you would have tried to hit him if you weren’t sure your arms weren’t made of jelly. You curled up in your seat, refusing to look at him.
The door opened and you almost fell out of the car. If it weren’t for the arms catching your body, you would have strangled yourself with the seatbelt. Steve was laughing at you again as he unbuckled you and got you on your feet.
“I’m not a child,” you mumbled.
“Are you sure about that, doll?” he asked.
You tried to stride away from him, but you had no idea where you were meant to be going. He put his hand on the small of your back, guiding you to the cafe. He held the door open for you. You would have melted into a puddle if you weren’t so annoyed at him treating you like a misbehaving child.
You slumped in the chair he pulled out for you. You rested your head on your arms, the light still too bright. You wanted to curl up in bed and the fact Steve was forcing you into being out was the worst kind of torture you could imagine.
He ordered for both of you when he realised you weren’t going to be helpful. You were sure you looked ridiculous, that you were living up to your role as a petulant child.
“Two coffees,” the waitress said, putting them down on the table.
You sat up, pulling the mug towards you. You closed your eyes as you inhaled the smell. It was the sweetest nectar you’d ever smelt. You would have married that cup of coffee if you could have.
You looked up at Steve. He was holding the mug between his mouth and the table, giving you one of those small smiles that let you know how amused he was with your antics.
“Are you going to drink it, or just smell it?” he asked.
You scrunched your nose up at him but you lifted the cup to your mouth, taking a long drink of the hot liquid. You closed your eyes, moaning at the taste of it. It was better than anything you ever made at the shop. How was it so good?
You opened your eyes again to see if you’d gained Steve’s approval. There was a flush on his cheeks and you titled your head, trying to figure out what had happened.
“Everything okay?” you asked.
“Everything is perfect, doll,” he replied, taking his own sip.
Two plates of food were put down in front of you. Your stomach roiled and you gulped. You put down the cup and pushed away from the table.
“Be back in a minute,” you murmured.
You walked through the cafe to the bathroom. You pushed open the door, thankful to get away from the smell of food. You stood in front of the faucet, running cool water over your face. You looked up, catching sight of yourself in the mirror for the first time. You’d never seen yourself look worse. You groaned at Steve seeing you look that haggard. He’d never take you seriously again.
You splashed some more water on your face and took a deep breath. You pushed back out into the cafe, doing your best to not run into anyone’s table.
A woman was standing beside Steve, hand on shoulder, leaning closer to talk to him. You stopped a little way back, watching as Steve smiled up at her, engaging her in conversation. You were taken back to where you were the day before, wanting to go out with Bucky and get drunk.
He glanced over the woman’s shoulder and lit up. He stood from the table, bidding the woman goodbye. He moved past her, coming to stand in front of you. He put his hand on your shoulder, leaning forward to look at you properly.
“You alright, doll?” he asked.
You nodded, trying to give him a small smile. He cupped your face, making you look him in the eye. He seemed satisfied, nodding as he led you back to the table. You settled in your seat, looking down at the food that had sent you running.
You picked up your cup, taking another drink from it before facing the food. Steve was watching you, half his plate already gone.
“Am I going to have to feed you?” he asked.
You flushed but you picked up your fork and began eating. He kept watching until all the food was gone. He only started eating again once your plate was clear. You watched him, trying to figure out why he was taking care of you, why he was putting up with all your bullshit.
“Are you going to tell me where you live now?” he asked as he finished up, “or are you trying to get me to bring you home with me?”
You tried not to blush again, you really did, but Steve had the inexplicable talent of making you feel like one of those heroines in those trashy romance books that swooned any time the hero opened his mouth. He stood up, pulling his wallet from his back pocket, ignoring you as you protested his paying for your breakfast. He was doing too much for you. He’d held your hair back as you’d thrown up for christ’s sake.
“You ready?” he asked, putting his wallet back into his pocket.
You pushed away from the table and stood up, feeling a little more steady with the food in your stomach. At the very least you were no longer worried you’d fill his car with vomit. He still put his hand on your lower back, leading you back to his car. He held the door open as you slid into the interior.
“Your address?” he asked after he did up his seat belt.
You gave it to him and he pulled out into traffic. You lent back in your seat, taking this time to look at him. His profile was too perfect. No single person in the world had such a perfect face. His hair was swept off his face and caught the light in a way that made your heart clench.
“So why WWII?” you asked, pulling your legs up to wrap your arms around your knees.
“What do you mean?” he asked, flicking his eyes to you then back to the road.
“That’s your area of interest, right?” you asked, “why do you love it so much?”
You watched his face light up in understanding. You bit your lip at the soft smile on his face, so pure and perfect. He was all kinds of wonderful.
“It was such a transitional time in our history. Nothing fascinates me more than the way the world changed during that period. It laid the foundation for the world we live in now,” he said.
“So you’re not just in it for the war?” you asked.
“War is so full of death and pain. No one can like that,” he said, shaking his head.
“Some people do,” you said.
He shrugged but didn’t respond. You let your eyes rove over him, watching the way his fingers were wrapped round the steering wheel, the way biceps bulged in a way no normal human’s would, the little crease he got between his eyebrows as he concentrated. Your fingers itched to smooth it.
“Thank you for taking care of me,” you said, “I’m sure you had better things to do with your Saturday morning.”
“Not really,” he replied, flashing you a quick smile. Your heart skipped a beat.
“Thank you anyway.”
His smile softened again, his eyes staying trained on the road. There was nothing more for you to do but settled against the seat, watching him. His fingers tapped along with the song on the quiet radio, barely noticeable. The smell of his cologne wrapped around you in a comforting hug, filling your every orifice. You were sure you’d be able to smell it for days to come. His fingers tightened then relaxed on the steering wheel.
“I didn’t realise you were so close with Bucky,” he said into the silence.
“I’m not,” you replied, “or at least I wasn’t. I don’t know. People are hard.”
“But you went out with him?” he prodded.
“He was there and he offered,” you replied with little more than a shrug, “I didn’t want want to be with anyone I knew well. Just someone to have fun with.”
“What happened that made you want that?” he asked, “you seemed upset yesterday.”
You looked out the window, not wanting to look at him. If you did you’d remember the way he’d ignored you the day before. You couldn’t admit it to him without sounding like a petulant child, an image you’d been doing your best to get rid of despite your antics that morning.
“Was it me?” he asked, his voice quiet. You would have missed it if your entire body wasn’t so attuned to him.
“Was what you?” you asked.
“Did I upset you?” he asked.
You clenched your jaw. You didn’t want to lie but you couldn’t admit the problem. There was no way you’d live down sounding like a jealous girlfriend when you had no more claim on him than anyone else. He reached out, his hand resting on your knee. You froze.
You spent the rest of the car ride in silence. When he pulled up outside your building you offered a quiet thanks and got out of the car. He let you go without a word. You paused at your door, turning to look back. He was watching you, his gaze oddly intense. You shivered and turned back, entering your building. Your bed was calling to you.
You weren’t sure where you stood with Steve anymore. He was still friendly, flashing you those smiles that made your heart skip a beat but you didn’t want to let him too close anymore. You didn’t want to have that same kind of break down again, those same kind of feelings attacking you. You did not want to get your hopes up again.
Bucky was still checking up on you. You’d catch up for coffee between classes and you realised he was refusing to take sides. He’d avoid talking about Steve completely, which was fine by you as you were trying not to think about him too much. If you did you’d think back on that morning when he was taking care of you.
You managed to get through the last few weeks of the year without getting into a situation with Steve beyond professor and student. It was a relief once the class was done. You knew you’d run into him, he did keep coming to the coffee shop after all, but now you didn’t need to see him all the time. You didn’t have to pay attention to him.
You took some time off from the coffee shop to go travelling over the summer with some friends. It was one of the greatest experiences of your life, driving across country, doing your best to visit every single state. You’d never felt more free in those few weeks on the road.
It was a relief to get home and catch up on all the sleep you’d missed. Your bed was the most comfortable thing in the world and you promised you’d never leave it again. You woke up to find Bucky in your kitchen the morning after getting back. He told you to sit down, drink up the coffee and tell him everything you’d seen, despite the fact you’d been sending him pictures every couple of hours.
It was nice to have someone to debrief with, who didn’t judge you after seeing you at your worst more than once. Seeing him did bring up questions about Steve, but you figured that was to be expected. You had assumed he’d forgotten about you in the intervening weeks. You were nothing more than one of his ex-students.
You didn’t expect to find Steve leaning against the side of his car outside your apartment building.
You had been heading out to meet Bucky at your cafe. He’d asked for you to join him to get him the employee discount. You’d agreed because you’d been sleeping for the last two days and needed time to reestablish contact with the outside world before going back to work. You’d been given an extra week off after you’d gotten back from your trip to get your head back in the game. Sometimes you really did appreciate your manager.
“Hey,” you said, walking up to him.
He walked around the car and held open to the passenger seat. You crossed your arms over your chest and raised an eyebrow at you.
“Are you kidnapping me?” you asked.
“We’re going for coffee,” he replied in that voice he used when he was refusing to be dragged into an argument.
“I already have plans to get coffee with someone.”
“Yeah, with Bucky,” he said, “He agreed to swap with me.”
“I’m not a toy you can pass around with your friends,” you replied.
“I meant he’s going to see Natasha about access to the private collection for me and I’m spending the afternoon with you. He’s better at charming people than I am,” he said, “are you going to keep being difficult?”
You clenched your jaw and stomped over to the car. You slid onto the seat, letting him close the door on the humid air of the city. He started up the engine and pulled out into traffic. You stared out at the city speeding past, thankful for the cool air but not much else.
“I’m sensing you’re mad at me,” he said into the silence.
“I’m not,” you snapped.
You heard that wry chuckle you’d grown used to over the last few months. You didn’t want to feel those same feelings you’d felt then, the way you’d wanted to keep amusing him. Now all you wanted to do was forget he’d ever had such control over your feelings.
He pulled over. You clenched your jaw again, squeezing your eyes shut for a moment. When you reopened them Steve was holding the door open for you. You took a deep breath and stepped out of the car.
You had no idea where you were.
He hummed, leading you away from the road.
“Where are we?” you asked, “I thought we were getting coffee.”
“We are,” he replied.
He opened a door to a building, putting his hand on your lower back to lead you inside. You shivered at the contact, every previous touch flashing through your mind. You shook your head, trying to stop from falling back into old patterns.
“Where are we?” you asked.
“I thought you’d appreciate not having to pay for coffee,” he replied.
“That didn’t answer my question, professor,” you said.
He looked down at you with a raised eyebrow as he pressed the button for the lift. He ushered you inside, leaning forward to press the button for one of the middle floors. In such an enclosed space you felt as if his cologne was wrapping around you like a second skin.
The doors opened and he held his arm out, letting you leave the lift first. You followed him down the hall, ignoring the noises coming from behind the other doors. He pulled a bundle of keys from his pocket, inserting one into the door he’d stopped in front of. He pushed the the door open and you stepped inside.
It was the most Steve-like place you’d ever seen. The sunlight poured through the window leading out onto a tiny balcony. You could see the dust particles spin through the air. The brown leather of his sofa looked worn and well loved, the blanket over one end hand knitted and the cushions plump and soft. It smelt like paper and ink, reminding you of an old second-hand bookstore.
Books were piled up all over the room, most on history but many worn paperback novels amongst the collection. The coffee table was covered in loose paper, some with mug rings staining the pristine surface. Beyond the general clutter of his work the rest of the room was well organised and clean.
“Home sweet home,” Steve said, pushing you forward again so he could close the door.
“What are we doing here?” you asked.
You followed him towards the kitchen, watching him move through the space as comfortable and confident as he was when he lectured on history. Visions of an impossible future flitted through your mind. The uncomfortable weight of sadness settled in your stomach.
His fingers brushed against yours as he passed you a mug. You turned away, walking over to the glass door leading to the balcony. The air was warm in the sunlight and you turned your face up to the sun, drinking it in. It was the most comforting part of your afternoon so far.
“Why am I here, Steve?” you asked with a sigh.
You turned back around to find him sitting on the sofa, one ankle resting on his knee. He was watching you, one of those soft smiles on his face that he gave whenever he listened to Bucky. You took a sip from the mug he’d given you, trying to shake off the feeling you were out of your depth. You were tired of feeling like a child in this man’s presence.
“I thought it was time to talk,” he said.
He arched his brow and held out his hand to you. You ignored it, staying by the window. At the very least it was a handy exit should you need to make a quick escape. He looked exasperated and stood up, walking towards you. You backed up until your back hit the cold glass of the window. He stopped too close to you.
“I’ve done something to upset you,” he said, “don’t argue.”
“It wasn’t-“ He put his finger on your lips, silencing you. You could feel your hands shaking and clutched the mug tighter.
“I told you not to argue,” he said, “Bucky won’t tell me what it is. He’s been telling me to talk to you for weeks but then you went away. I wish I’d done this weeks ago.”
He dropped his hand from your face, instead taking the mug from your hand. He turned back, putting both yours and his on the low coffee table. You trembled as he turned back, his eyes boring into yours.
“Please tell me what I did.”
“You didn’t do anything. It was me,” you said, your voice quiet. You looked down at your feet, shuffling against the carpet. He tucked his finger under your chin, pushing your face up to look at him.
“What happened?” he asked.
You shook your head. You didn’t want to vocalise the insecurity, the hope and the dreams, the way you’d felt crushed. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t. It was you placing all your hope on him without ever saying anything. You’d hurt your own feelings.
He brushed away some of the hair that had fallen in your eyes. You hated how he touched you, as if it was no big deal, as if it didn’t send your heart into overdrive every single time. His fingers trialed over your cheek, lingering as he looked down at you.
You knocked his hand away from you and ducked out from where he’d crowded you against the window. You walked back to the centre of the room, needing to put distance between you and him. He was still watching you, his gaze almost burning your skin more than the sun ever could.
“I thought we were friends,” he said.
“We were,” you replied.
You closed your eyes, squeezing them shut, wishing this was nothing more than a bad dream. When you opened your eyes you’d be in bed, ready to meet Bucky for coffee just as you planned. You squinted your eyes open.
You were still in Steve’s apartment.
“You can’t say that and then not explain what you mean,” he said. He really wasn’t to let you get away with it.
“I think it would be better if we weren’t anymore,” you said, “I think it would be best for both of us if we just went our seperate ways.”
“Why?’ he asked. He stepped towards you and you stepped back. You knew when he was too close all rational thought disappeared. He managed to dazzle you with little more than a lopsided smile. He looked hurt but didn’t try to get closer.
“I just don’t think we click,” you said, “I think we’re too different.”
“I think that’s bullshit.”
You started, the swear word so at odds with the man you knew. He was watching you, his arms crossed over his chest. You’d never seen him look this way, a terrible combination of frustration and almost unconfined anger.
“I think I did something that upset you and you’re not willing to admit it to me. I think you think it’s easier to push me out of your life because you’re scared of what the alternative is.”
“And what’s the alternative?” you snapped.
He strode across the room, grasped your face in both his hands and drew you up into a searing kiss. All thoughts flew from your head and you succumbed under the fire of his touch. He pulled you close and you melted against his body, moulding yourself to every bump and dip of his body. You wanted more. You wanted everything.
He drew back, pressing his forehead to yours. His eyes were closed and he was breathing heavily. He slid his hands from where they cupped your cheeks to tangle his fingers with yours. You couldn’t catch up, couldn’t put together the kiss and the argument and all the feelings in your chest.
“You have no idea how long I’ve been wanting to do that,” he said.
He blinked his eyes opened, the deep blue so easy to get lost in this close. You couldn’t look away as he lent forward, capturing your lips once again. This kiss didn’t last as long, so fleeting, leaving you wanting more.
“What?” Your voice was barely there, soft and broken.
He smiled, almost sadly as he let you go. Your fingers clenched as if you were trying to stop him once he was already gone. You shook your head. You couldn’t remember why you were so angry before.
“The first time I saw you in that first class you took my breath away. And it only got worse from there. You were my own personal form of torture,” he said, “I spent months feeling like I was a creep, unable to tear my eyes away from you while giving my lecture. I felt like one of those sleazy teachers praying on young girls. But everything you did, everything you do, drives me wild.”
“I don’t understand what’s happening right now,” you said, shaking your head again.
“I’m trying to confess my feelings for you,” he said, one corner of his lips quirking up.
“Why?” you asked.
“I need to stop you disappearing from my life,” he said, “I need you.”
“No you don’t.”
“Don’t tell me what I do and don’t need,” he said.
You walked to him, looking up into his face. He was pushing his hand through his hair, tugging on the ends as he watched you. You reached up, pulling his hand from his hair. His shoulders slumped and he ducked his head.
“If you’re going to tell me you don’t feel the same way it’s okay,” he said, “I had to try.”
You cupped his cheek, pulling him down into a soft kiss, hoping it would be enough. His hand settled on your waist, crushing you to him. Your free hand clutched at his shirt, doing your best to make sure he couldn’t get away from you.
You couldn’t stop him from drawing away again, or from him curling forward to rest his forehead on your shoulder. You slid your hands up his back, holding him as he breathed deeply.
“Does this mean you’re not leaving?” he asked, his voice muffled in your shirt.
“Not now I’m not,” you replied, running your fingers through his hair.
It didn’t surprise you that Steve drew stares from strangers. He was literally the most attractive person you’d ever seen so if he drew admiring looks from people who didn’t know him you couldn’t find fault. You used to be one of those strangers. There was nothing wrong with stares.
It was the random women flirting with him.
He never explicitly encouraged it but he was polite and there were times you thought he didn’t realised what they were doing. You’d be sitting in a cafe or a restaurant with him, your hands clasped on the table or one of his hands resting on your leg, and they’d come over all giggles and twirling hair. In those moments you’d become invisible.
Bucky was good during these times, diverting their attention onto him. You still felt like an ass for feeling so jealous, especially when Steve never did anything to indicate he was anything less than ecstatic with you. You trusted him not to cheat. You trusted him not to leave you.
But there was a nagging voice in the back of your head telling you that you weren’t good enough to be with him.
It all came to a head when you were getting off work, about a week before semester was starting up again. Steve was sitting at a table, waiting for you, one leg crossed over the other as he read one of those books from his impossibly large collection. You were just finished up one last transaction when a woman walked in.
You’d looked up at the tinkle of the bell, the move so automatic it wasn’t until you’d looked down again that it registered with you. You watched over the customer’s shoulder as she spotted Steve and made right for him. Her red hair barely brushed her shoulders but her hips swayed with each step, her form fitting dress making you swear off cake for the next century. You watched as one of the patrons dribbled coffee into his lap as he watched her walk by. You felt something curdle in your stomach.
You pulled your apron off your body and folded it over your arm. Steve was talking to the woman, her back to you but she was leaning towards him. Steve’s eyes flickered over her shoulder and you say him visibly perk up as you walked towards him.
“All done?’ he asked, interrupting whatever it was the woman was saying.
You nodded. He held you his arm to you and you automatically went to him. He put his arm around your waist as you stood next to him, your own arm sliding over his shoulder, your fingers tangling in the hair at the nape of his neck. You looked at the other woman who was watching with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.
“Nat, this is the girl I’ve been telling you about,” Steve said, squeezing your hip.
“He will not shut up about you,” the woman, Nat, said, extending her hand out towards you, “everyone in the office is growing sick of him.”
You grasped her hand, her grip strong as she shook your hand. You gave her a weak smile, still not sure what was going on. This was the woman Steve had ignored you for all those months ago. You could see she was far more beautiful than you and had an easy camaraderie with him that you sometimes felt you couldn’t emulate. You wanted to curl up in your bed and never deal with this problem. If you could just ignore it it would go away.
“Nat is negotiating with us to let me in to see the Stark collection,” Steve said, looking up at you with that brilliant smile. He’d been talking about the Stark collection for the last week, everything coming back to those documents he was desperate to get his hands on.
“Tony is being difficult again so just ignore any emails he sends you until I can talk to him,” she said to Steve.
“I always do,” he replied.
He stood up, his chair scraping against the floor. He pulled you against his body, pressing a kiss to your temple. Nat smiled, her face softening. She seemed more approachable, less cold bitch which had been your first impression of her.
“Call me when you have more you need from me,” he said, “I need to go spend some time with my girl.”
He led you out of the cafe, his arm a comforting weight around you. You settled against him more comfortably, letting him decided where you went. You didn’t want to think about it. You couldn’t stop remembering how he had ignored you for Nat, how small you’d felt in that moment.
“You’re quiet,” he said, “bad shift?”
“No, it was fine,” you replied slowly, “maybe I’ve been on my feet too long.”
“If you don’t talk to me I can’t help, doll” he said.
“I’d rather we didn’t talk about it in public,” you replied.
You knew Steve hated making you feel uncomfortable, or causing a scene. You figured if you asked to talk about it in private you’d be able to distract him before you got back to his apartment. If you could keep him mind on something else you wouldn’t have to admit your own weaknesses. It was hard when he seemed not to have any.
He led you down the street, not saying anything. You couldn’t gage how he was feeling or what was running through his mind. Sometimes he seemed like a whole other species to you. You always felt like you didn’t know what was going through his mind.
You didn’t realise he’d managed to walk you the entire way back home. He held the door open for you, just as he had that first day, and you ducked inside, glad for the cool air of the foyer. You followed him into the lift, realising you needed to come up with a plan to distract him before he could ask you about your day. You could kiss him, that always distracted him.
You fell on the sofa as soon as he let you into the apartment. You let out a grateful groan at the pressure on your feet being relieved. You buried your face in one of the cushions, closing your eyes against the warm light of the room. You could fall asleep right here. You had plenty of times before.
Maybe if you pretended to be too tired Steve would drop it.
“Talk to me, doll.”
No such luck then.
You hauled yourself into a sitting position. Steve was sitting on the coffee table, leaning towards you, his arms resting on his knees. You closed your eyes and took a deep breath. You supposed you always knew this moment was coming, that you’d have to admit all the irrational feelings that sometimes built up in your chest.
He put a hand on your knee. You opened your eyes.
“That night when I went out with Buck and got drunk,” you began, “it was because of you.”
A pained look crossed his face but he didn’t do anything to make you stop. You took another steadying breath.
“That day you came to coffee shop,” you said.
“I remember,” he interrupted, “you had on a blue t-shirt the same colour as your eyes.”
You blushed, not sure if he really had noticed then or if it was later in the day during the class when he’d seen. Either way, it was a nice touch on his part.
“Well, you brought Nat,” you said, “and you kind of ignored me.”
“I would never ignore you,” he said, shaking his head.
“You were talking to her and all you did was smile at me when I gave you your coffee,” you said, “I know I’m blowing it out of proportion but it made me feel like shit.”
“I’m sorry, that was not my intent,” he said.
“No, don’t apologise,” you said, “you’re perfect, you’ve done nothing wrong. You were talking with a person. It happens. I do it all the time. But she’s literally the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and you’re so gorgeous you take my breath away and sometimes I can’t help but wonder why you’re with me. It makes no sense. And it’s not because of you, because you’re perfect, you never do anything to make me think you don’t want me. Maybe that’s what gets me. I don’t know why you want me. You could have anyone. Why me?”
“You’re beautiful, and you’re kind, and you’re funny. Just seeing you makes me smile,” he said without hesitation, “you always make me smile. You’re the best part of every single day.”
You smiled, looking down at the twisting hands in your lap. He always had the perfect thing to say. You didn’t deserve someone like that.
“Sometime my brain just tells me you’re gonna leave me for someone better,” you said.
“When you told me you kissed Bucky that night I thought I’d lost any chance to be with you,” he said, “I thought you liked him more than me and I had no chance. Buck is the greatest man I’ve ever known and it wouldn’t have surprised me to know you’d chosen him. You wouldn’t have been the first.”
“You don’t see yourself very clearly,” you said, your voice quiet.
“Neither do you, doll.”
He shifted from the table to the sofa, cupping your cheek. You looked up into his eyes, surprised to find tears gathering. You reached up, tracing your finger over his cheekbone. His eyes closed as if he were in pain.
“I see how well you get on with him. You go to him when you have a problem, when you want to have fun, when you want to talk. I love that you’re such good friends, but sometimes it’s hard to shake the thought that you kissed him,” he said.
“I was sad and hurt and drunk. I never thought I had a chance with you. I didn’t really want him. He was just there.”
He surged forward, kissing you, the most desperate he’d ever been. You gasped into his mouth. You fell back against the arm of the sofa, his arms caging you in. Your fingers buried themselves in his hair, not letting him leave you.
“Next time you feel this way,” he growled, drawing back a minuscule amount, “tell me.”
“As long as you promise to let me know if you think I’m leaving you for Buck,” you breathed.
He kissed you again, driving any thoughts from your head.
You forgot Steve had an office until he asked you to meet him there on the first day back at college. You’d never been there while in his class, never needing to. Now you wondered how you could have ever been anywhere else.
It had the same vibe as his apartment. There were pot plants all over, a worn sofa shoved against one of the walls, and books stacked on the desk. He had a window facing out onto the lawn outside the building. You could see other students sitting on the grass .
He was leaning back in his chair, a pen tapping against his lower lip. He looked up as you shut the door, leaning back against it. He smiled, dropping the pen onto the table and getting up.
“You asked to me to come here,” you said, wrinkling your brow, “why the surprise?”
“I thought maybe you wouldn’t want to be seen with me.”
He gave you one of those shy half smiles. It made your heart swell with how much you cared for him. He stepped out from behind his desk, reaching for your hand. You let him lead you to the sofa, sitting you down on the soft cushion. You looked up at him, watching as he gazed down at you.
“I always want to be seen with you,” you said.
“Even though I’m a crotchety old professor?”
You could hear the laughter behind his voice. His eyes were sparkling and you were getting ready to role your eyes at him. He was well aware he left a line of heartbroken girls at the end of every semester. Bucky had told you all the stories. He’d comforted more than a few of them.
“Did you need something or did you just want something pretty to stare at?” you asked, tossing your hair over your shoulder.
“I always want something pretty to stare at,” he said, “it’s why I keep Bucky around.”
You laughed, your head thrown back. You felt the sofa dip and you opened your eyes, still laughing as Steve pulled you closer to him. You pressed a quick kiss to his lips. He pulled you back towards him when you tried to draw back. His hand was so warm on the bare skin of your waist from where your shirt had ridden up.
“I just needed to hear your voice,” he said when he let you go.
“Bad day?” you asked.
“Freshmen at 9am are the worst bunch of people I’ve ever had to deal with,” he sighed.
“Just flash them that gorgeous smile of yours and they’ll be too entranced to be annoying,” you said, running your thumb over his lower lip.
He smiled, pressing his forehead against yours. You threaded your fingers through his hair, holding him in place as you smiled with him. He made you feel so happy.
“I’m cooking for you tonight,” you said.
“Really?” His smile got brighter.
“Uh huh,” you said, “and if you give me your key I can go home and start preparing.”
He leapt off the sofa, rummaging through his desk draw. He struggled with the key ring, pulling his apartment key from the rest of them. He tossed the key to you, and you fumbled it, dropping it into your lap. You picked it up, holding it up to the light and looking at it.
“You trust me not to set your place on fire?” you asked.
“You never have before,” he said, “I trust you.”
You got up, slinging your arms around his neck and pulling him down to you. You’d never felt closer to him, not even during your first time together. Knowing he trusted you enough with his space made you feel so warm inside.
He pressed a kiss to your forehead as you drew back from him. His smile was soft and you bit your lower lip. He tucked some hair behind your ear.
“I’ll see you when I get home.”
Home. That was a such a nice word.
The last few months had been the happiest of your life. You hadn’t believed it was possible to be this happy. Steve was the single greatest thing to happen in your life and there was no part of it you were willing to give up. You basically lived with him these days.
You’d gone to bed, leaving Steve up to finish his marking. He’d been complaining about the utter lack of literacy in some freshmen. He’d read you some of the sentences, earning eye roll after eye roll from you. You’d left him there as the hour grew too late and your eyes became too heavy.
In a half asleep state you felt a pair of arms wrap around your waist. You rolled over, burying your face in his chest, breathing in the familiar scent of soap and sandalwood. You felt him nuzzle against the top of your head, letting out a long sigh.
“Let’s stay in bed all day tomorrow,” he said, his voice gravely and tired.
You murmured something in agreement, settling against him more comfortably. He let out a long sigh and you were sure he’d closed his eyes.
“You work too hard,” you said.
He chuckled, the tired kind that let you know he was desperate for sleep. You pressed a kiss to the bit of chest you were closest to.
“Go back to sleep, doll,” he murmured.
“Okay,” you mumbled, “love you.”
“Love you too.”
It wasn’t until the morning that the impact of those words hit you. You’d never told him you loved him and he’d never told you he loved you. It was hard to remember it had happened, your tired brain making it difficult to pull it back into your memory. Until you passed him a cup of coffee.
“I really do love you.”
You froze, your eyes meeting his. He was smiling at you, so bright and open. You tangled your fingers in his hair, sitting on the arm of the sofa beside him.
“I really do love you too.”
He pulled you onto his lap, kissing you deeply. You straddled him, feeling lighter by confessing your feelings. You’d known it for a while but hadn’t been sure how he’d been feeling. It was nice to know you were on the same page.
You were so glad you’d taken that history class.