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Undertones and Overtures

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“I dunno, Nat – I just don’t think Rebecca is much of a Dostoyevsky kinda gal,” said Bucky Barnes as he continued to peruse the shelves of the bookstore that he’d been in for a good twenty minutes to no avail.

His friend, Natasha Romanoff, sighed dramatically on the other end of the phone.

“Well then, I don’t fucking know,” Nat replied. For a Prima Ballerina for the New York City Ballet, she had a mouth on her like a sailor. “Just get her one of those Dan Brown novels that everyone keeps raving about.”

Bucky sighed. He had been friends with Natasha for almost six years now, but sometimes, like when he actually needed some sound advice, he wanted to strangle her for being so damn unhelpful.

“Sometimes, I don’t even know why I like you,” he muttered, turning the corner in the bookstore to scan the non-fiction section.

In truth, he knew exactly why – Natasha knew him like nobody else. She knew when he needed his ass kicked and knew when he needed a shoulder to cry on. Natasha had even taken it upon herself to get Bucky back in shape after the extensive surgery he’d underwent the previous year. He didn’t know where he’d be in life without her.

“Damn it Nat,” he sighed. “You know she doesn’t read shit like that. All my sister wants for her birthday is a book but she told me to surprise her and wouldn’t give me any other hints. Everything I have read in the last 6 years is related to music theory in one way or another, so I have no idea where to even begin and I don’t think that Becca wants to read ‘Theory of Orchestration’, you know?”

“Well, I hear that 50 Shades of Grey series is awfully popular right now…”

“Don’t you even fucking joke about that…” he grumbled.

There was absolutely no way in hell he was going to buy that trash for his little sister.

“So, you’re coming over later, right?” Natasha continued in his ear as Bucky picked up a book with a colourful cover and scanned the back.

“Yeah yeah, keep your tutu on, Anna Pavlova,” he replied grumpily.

“Good,” she said, pointedly ignoring the jibe, “because I really need to practice and to do that, I really need my pianist, so….”

Bucky stopped listening, because at that exact moment, he looked up from the book in his hand and instantly fell in love.

Now, Bucky Barnes had always been a firm believer in love at first sight – he was an annoyingly romantic soul, even though he tried to hide it with snark and sarcasm and bitterness. However, he had yet to actually experience it until that exact moment.

Directly in his line of sight, sitting in the coffee shop part of this particular book store was a guy. The first thing Bucky noticed about him was his hands – they were beautiful, with long slim fingers gripping a pencil and sketchbook lightly, making swift, deft movements across the paper as he drew. The side of his right hand and little finger were stained grey with graphite, but the rest of his hands were clean, nails trimmed short and neat, and he had the most gorgeous and delicate wrists that Bucky had ever seen in his life.

His eyes quickly swept over the rest of the guy, taking in a small, thin frame in skinny jeans and plaid shirt, one Converse-clad foot resting on the small coffee table in front of him and his sketchbook resting on his raised knee. The guy’s face was almost as beautiful as his hands – long, oval, and sharp with big eyes, framed with large-rimmed glasses and straw-blond hair that was swept up and back off his head. His brow was creased in concentration, thick bottom lip caught gently between his teeth as he sketched. Bucky might have forgotten how to breathe for a second.

“…are you even fucking listening to me?”

Natasha’s voice sounded irritable in his left ear and brought Bucky back to the present.

“Er…no,” he replied.

“James…”

“I’ll call you back, Nat.”

“Don’t you fucking da…”

He cut off the call and stuffed his phone back in his pocket, one of the joins on the index finger of his experimental metal prosthetic arm getting caught on a loose thread and forcing Bucky to almost tear a hole in his pocket as he yanked it free. Glancing up again hastily, he let out a relieved sigh when he found that the blond guy hadn’t looked up from his sketchbook to bear witness to Bucky being an absolute loser.

Bucky skirted the bookshelves, trying to be inconspicuous as he attempted to get a closer look, picking up random books and putting them back without so much as glancing at the covers. The tiny blond was engrossed in his work, the side of his hand deliberately brushing over the paper every now and then to smudge the pencil, his tongue delicately flicking out over his lips sporadically. God, but those lips were beautiful. Bucky had been looking for him all of two minutes when he decided that, second to those hands, the guy’s lips were Bucky’s second favourite feature about him, so plump and pale pink. They looked so soft and kissable.

“Get a grip, Barnes,” he muttered to himself, sliding another book off the shelf in front of him before glancing up again.

The book promptly fell from his hands as Bucky found himself staring into a pair of eyes that were as blue as the summer sky and framed with thick dark eyelashes.

“Fuck,” he cursed loudly and dropped behind the book shelf, flattening his back to the books as he retrieved the one that he had dropped and also hoping to hide the embarrassment of being caught checking out a cute guy.

Somebody tittered at him for swearing, but he couldn’t tell who it was. Instead, he took a deep breath and slowly stood up, looking over the top of the bookshelf and over to where the blond was sitting.

The guy had his phone out and was hastily texting something. Bucky was relieved that his enormous fuck-up had seemed to go unnoticed. Moments later, he noticed the guy shoving his sketch pad and pencil into a battered tan messenger bag and grab a navy jacket from the back of his chair before standing and walking out of the book store, phone in hand, still texting. He walked right past Bucky without so much as glancing at him. Bucky did notice just how tight those skinny jeans were as the guy presented him with an excellent view from the rear as he left.

Sighing heavily, he finally looked at the book in his hands and grimaced as he realised that he was holding a copy of ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’. This was officially, the least cool day of Bucky Barnes’ life.

~

Steve Rogers couldn’t quite contain his grin as he walked out of the bookstore in Brooklyn, strongly resisting the urge to look back over his shoulder and confirm what he had suspected. Because what he suspected was that the most beautiful guy Steve had ever seen in his entire life, had been checking him out just a few moments ago.

He had been going to that bookstore every single Saturday morning for two years, ever since his mother received her diagnosis and had weekly appointments to attend, either with doctors or nurses or support groups. While she was out, Steve would take his sketchbook and pencil and just sit and draw totally meaningless things, like the grain of the wooden coffee table or the bumps on the spine of a leather-covered hardback book, or the magnificently gaudy earrings of the book store clerk. It was his time to clear his head while he sipped decent coffee and didn’t have to think about anybody but himself for a couple of hours. It was nice.

Today had been different. Not drastically different – everything was absolutely the same as it always had been right up until the last few minutes that he’d been there. Until he’d had that feeling of being watched. Steve had looked up to find himself looking into beautiful blue-grey eyes and had felt a jolt like electricity run down his spine. The guy was fucking gorgeous, with presumably shoulder-length dark hair tied back into a ponytail, stray tendrils framing a face that sported a strong jaw line and an adorably dimpled chin, and he was wearing a leather jacket.

The guy had near jumped out of his skin and in the seconds that followed, flushed a deep pink and dropped the book he was holding onto the floor. Steve had grinned as the guy ducked out of sight. That didn’t happen to him too often, but Steve knew when he was getting checked out. It was the best feeling in the world when some hot stranger thought you were worth a second glance.

Steve unfortunately had no time to bask in the feeling however, as seconds later his phone vibrated in the pocket of his jeans – his mother had finished her appointment and was waiting for Steve to meet her. Hastily he had stuffed his belongings back in his back and had deliberately walked out of the store past Ponytail Guy with his head held high, possibly moving his hips a little more than he normally would.

As he walked to meet his mother, he began to text his friend Sam Wilson who, Steve knew, spent his Saturday mornings on the couch in his sweatpants, watching I Love Lucy.

{Something weird just happened} he texted as he walked.

Thirty seconds later, he got the reply.

{Sam: Good weird or bad weird.}

{Steve: Good weird. Just got totally checked out by the hottest guy on the planet.}

{Sam: Yeah? You sure he wasn’t wondering if he could use you as a toothpick?}

{Steve: Fucking hilarious, Wilson.}

{Sam: I do my best ;-)}

{Steve: He dropped a book. It was adorable}

{Sam: Loser.}

Steve felt the laugh leave his chest without warning and he glanced around quickly to make sure that passers-by hadn’t noticed. He grinned at texted back:

{At least he got off his ass and found his way to a book store instead of lounging around in his underwear.}

It took Sam a whole thirty seconds before sending his reply.

{Sam: Touché.}

Steve snorted with mirth, knowing that he’d won that round. He was only around the corner from the hospital and he quickly stashed his phone as he saw his mother waiting for him on the corner. She looked very frail these days, long blond hair having been replaced by a colourful silk scarf wrapped her now-bald head, and her coat collar turned up to keep the chill from the back of her neck. Steve’s hear ached every time he saw her now, diminished with several bouts of chemotherapy but he smiled brightly for her anyway.

“Hi, mom”, Steve signed to her.

“Hi, angel,” she signed back, her lips moving as she did so before drawing Steve into a tight hug.

He sighed softly against her shoulder, once soft and fleshy but now as thin and bony as Steve’s. He squeezed her back gently before pulling away, his mother beaming at him.

“How did it go?” Steve signed.

“Fine,” she replied, lips forming the words as she signed them with her hands. Not for the first time in his life, Steve wished he knew what her voice sounded like. “I’m just tired now.”

Steve nodded and held out his arm which she took gratefully. He kissed her softly on the cheek and watched as her lips formed the words ‘beautiful boy’, and he smiled, shaking his head fondly. She was always in high spirits when she left the hospital, but Steve knew that within a few hours, he’d be rubbing her bony back while she rode through the nausea the treatment always gave her.

~

“So, what the fuck was that all about earlier?” Natasha asked, as she dipped forward gracefully, her foot resting on the wooden bar in front of the full length mirrors on the wall of the tiny dance studio.

“Hmm?” replied Bucky, his fingers dancing lightly over the piano keys as he played a soft tune while his friend limbered up.

“Putting the phone down on me earlier,” she said.

“Oh,” Bucky answered guiltily. “Sorry about that.”

Natasha made an indistinguishable sound as she straightened up before slowly bending herself backwards.

“So what happened? Something obviously got your attention.”

Bucky looked up from the small studio piano and sighed. Ever since landing a place with the New York City Ballet, Natasha had favoured this tiny dance studio over the bigger ones, because this one had a piano and she wanted Bucky to play as much as possible.

He did love playing the piano, and even more he loved playing for Natasha. He’d gone for too long being unable to play, until the geniuses at Columbia had brought out their new experimental prosthesis and Bucky had jumped at the chance to play guinea pig. She had stuck by him and hounded him back into fitness after his surgery, so it was the least Bucky could do to be her rehearsal pianist on Saturday afternoons,

“Yeah, don’t worry about it,” he muttered as he launched into some Chopin. “I made a total ass of myself.”

“Pretty girl?” Natasha asked, grinning as she straightened and took her foot off the bar.

“Pretty guy,” corrected Bucky.

Natasha laughed as she put her feet into the first position and relaxed her arms.

“You horribly embarrassed yourself, didn’t you?”

“Oh yeah,” he replied. “Dorkus Maximus.”

He told her about dropping the book, about which book he’d been holding in the first place, and how the guy had breezed past him moments later on his way out, like Bucky didn’t even exist. Natasha laughed again and shook her head fondly.

“You never change, James. For all your confidence and charm, you still turn into a nervous wreck around the object of your affections.”

Bucky snorted.

“I wouldn’t go that far. I only saw him for five minutes.”

However, as Bucky began playing a piece for Natasha to dance to, he knew that he’d be going back to that bookstore the following weekend, hoping to see that tiny blond with the stunning eyes and beautiful hands again.