„I just don’t know why she won’t sleep with me. She always says no, or makes up some excuse and I have been nothing but nice to her. Why do girls always go for the assholes, I just don’t understand it!”
The radio crackled for a moment and the sharp intake of breath could be heard before a moment later a different man spoke.
“This might come as a surprise to you, Justin, but women are people too. She is in no way obligated to do anything with you just because you know how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.”
“But I helped her with her bags that one time.” That legitimately sounded like a whine.
“You want a medal? Next caller.”
Any protest was cut short as the line was cut.
The radio went silent for a moment.
“Hello, this is James, who do I have on the line?”
“Hello, this is Karen.” The voice was timid and almost inaudible.
“Hello Karen, you are the last caller for tonight, how can I help you?” The kindness present in the voice was a stark contrast to the tone the man had with the earlier caller.
“Uhm. I… recently found out I’m a lesbian and… “ She broke off.
“It’s alright, Karen. Take your time.”
She seemed to catch herself again and when she spoke her voice was louder.
“My family is super conservative and I’m afraid of coming out. They might kick me out of the house. I’m only 15, but my friends online say staying in the closet is causing harm to the LGBT community. I don’t know what to do. I’m so afraid.”
“Listen Karen, the most important thing is that you are safe. Nothing else matters. If you fear that you will be kicked out of the house by your family when you come out, then don’t come out. I know coming out is important and you might feel like you need to do it as fast as possible, but your safety is more important and if you feel like your family is not a safe place then don’t do it. No matter what your friends say.”
The girl let out an audible breath.
“You have to stay safe, Karen, can you promise me that?”
“Yes. I promise.”
“There will be a time when it will be safe for you to come out and it will get better. I promise you that.”
“Thank you, James.”
“You’re welcome, stay safe.”
A click and silence again.
“That was the last caller for tonight, folks, and this is the last song from me. After four you will hear Sharon and her Early-bird show. This is James and you were listening to the late-night show on Station Thirteen. Thank you for tuning in. Good night!”
Steve sighed and put his pencil down. It was exactly four o’clock in the morning and he had worked all night again, he hadn’t meant to do that but ever since he had to resign to listing to the radio while working his sleeping schedule had gone to hell. It had started with an accident of course, he had left his mp3 player, some cheap ipod rip-off, in his jeans when he had thrown them in the wash and needless to say the poor contraption had not survived the onslaught of water. Of course he had only noticed once he was all settled down at his desk, dressed in his pajamas and no intention of leaving the apartment again until the following morning. So he had dug out his old radio in the hopes that he would have at least some music to listen to while working.
He had first stumbled across Station 13 when he had stopped his search on a popular oldies song and he had soon found out that the station played almost nonstop oldies from 8 to 11pm with the occasional commercial break and comment from the moderator. After 11 the late-night show with James started. It was vastly different from the previous format as James took callers and conversed with them about almost every topic possible and only played music after every other call or so. At first Steve hadn’t liked the format but he had had a page to finish for the night and was too lazy to change the station so he had stayed up and listened. He liked James’ voice, it was dark and smooth and he soon found himself not even listening to the words being said just taking in the tone of the voice and enjoying it. But as the days progressed and he stayed up later and later each night just to listen to James he also found out that he shared most of James’ opinions. He put sexists back into their place, encouraged people in abusive relationships to leave their partners and people struggling with mental disorders to seek professional help, promoted a positive self-image and most of all he was a LGBT supporter.
The guy was perfect in Steve’s eyes and he only had heard his voice. Steve secretly hoped that he was at least a little bit gay (or bisexual), but he didn’t get his hopes up; he didn’t even know the guy’s last name.
Steve yawned, it was the third time in a row he had stayed till the end of James’ show now and it was really messing with his sleeping schedule. At least he got things done, Steve thought, looking over the three neatly inked pages of the next issue of his comic that had been blank pages hours earlier. He wasn’t exactly sure how he had managed it, as he was sure he was purely focused on James’ voice the entire five hours. He must have subconsciously continued working. Steve shrugged; the pages looked fine to him, so it didn’t matter.
Sharon played mostly the newest pop songs in the morning, sometimes four in a row. Steve secretly suspected that she wasn’t quite awake herself yet.
Steve found himself humming along the newest Beyoncé song as he started on a fourth page, he was on a roll tonight, hadn’t he want to go to bed? It was almost half past four when Steve finally peeled himself out of the chair and stretched his tired muscles.
There was a noise outside, something crashing to the ground and bouncing down the stairs, followed by a string of curses.
That was one thing Steve hated about his apartment. The walls were so thin he could literally hear everything that went on in the hallway and in the neighboring apartments.
The cursing didn’t stop and Steve could not resist the urge to tell the person of for making such a ruckus. No matter that he was already in his pajamas.
He threw open the door and poked his head out. “People are trying to sleep here.” He said maybe a bit more forceful than strictly necessary. He didn’t see the person making the noise and figured they were down the stairs.
Steve rounded the corner and heard more grumbling.
“I’ll be quiet don’t worry. I just need to get my stuff.” The voice was deep and raspy, either from too much use or not enough, Steve couldn’t tell.
The man was kneeling at the bottom of the stairs a plastic bag propped up in front of him. He was collecting his fallen groceries, mostly cans, with one hand and putting them back into the bag one by one. He wore a black leather jacket and worn jeans. His hair was unkempt and even though his head was partially turned away, Steve could see at least a couple of days’ worth of stubble on the man’s face.
When he had collected all the cans in reach, the man got up and walked over the stray can that rolled further away and Steve only now saw that the man’s left sleeve was entirely empty and pinned neatly to his shoulder.
Steve didn’t hesitate and walked down the few steps to where another can and a few candy bars were lying. No, not candy bars, protein bars he noticed on closer inspections, of the chocolate variety.
The man finished collecting his groceries, picked up his bag again and turned around. He narrowed his eyes as he noticed Steve.
“I told you I’d be quiet. Stop hassling me.”
Steve took the last few steps down and held out can and the protein bars. Even though Steve stood on the bottommost step and the man still had a good few inches on him. “Sorry.” Steve muttered.
The man glanced at the food in Steve’s hands and then back at Steve. Without looking down he released on of the handles of the bag, making it fall open and held it out to Steve. Steve dutifully dropped the items into the bag and the man walked past him up the stairs taking two steps at a time. Steve hurried after him.
When Steve caught up with him the man was already fumbling with his keys, the single loop of the bag now over his wrist. Steve wasn’t sure what to do, should he apologize again? He honestly had expected some drunk person stumbling home, not a very sober person dropping their groceries down the stairs at half past four in the morning and least of all had he expected that person to only have one arm and be his next door neighbor.
The man turned to him and fixed him with a glare, door still locked. “What do you want?” He was slightly hunched over, his shoulder tense.
“I wanted to apologize. I didn’t know...” Steve stumbled over the words.
“Didn’t know what? That I’m an invalid incapable of carrying his groceries up the stairs?”
“I thought it was some drunk guy.” Steve shrugged and smiled awkwardly. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m sorry, it was a long night. I’m your neighbor by the way.” He pointed at the half-open door at the end of the small hallway. “Steve.” He offered his hand and the futileness of the action escaped him until the man moved the keys and the noise drew Steve’s attention to the fact that his only hand was occupied.
Steve withdrew his hand, rubbing his sweaty palm on the side of his pajama pants and gave the other man an apologetic smile. He was watching Steve now with an expression that Steve could not quite place, the hostility from earlier was gone and his face was neutral. His eyes however held a barely hidden curiosity as he let his gaze wander over Steve’s skinny frame. Steve self-consciously turned his head away, not able to meet the other man’s eyes. He was about to turn around and head back to his apartment when the other man spoke again.
“Huh?” Steve said unintelligently.
“That’s my name.”
When Steve looked at Bucky again his whole demeanor had changed, maybe it was the way he held his shoulders or the relaxed grip on his keys. Steve felt like he had just passed some test he hadn’t known he was taking.
Steve knew he had a problem when he hurried to the door after he heard someone climbing up the stairs at half past 4 the next night. James’ show had just finished and he was still reeling, the show had been LGBT+ issues heavy this time and Steve had almost called himself, even though he didn’t really have anything to talk about. Except maybe the problem that was walking up the stairs right now.
He wasn’t even sure if it was him, but the chances were pretty good and against every better judgment Steve opened the door a tiny bit and glanced outside. His apartment was right at the corner of the hallway so he had a perfect view of part of the stairs that went down and Bucky’s door that was facing the stairs. The problem was, should Bucky, or whoever it is that was walking up the stairs so much as glance to the left they would see Steve peeking out.
When a head with long disheveled brown hair came into view Steve knew it was Bucky and it took everything he had to not slam the door shut immediately. Bucky didn’t have any grocery bag with him this time and instead already fumbled with his keys in his hand. He wore the same leather jacket and jeans as yesterday. His head was bent down, his shoulders slumped. He made no indication of looking anywhere except the ground directly in front of him.
Really Steve had seen enough but closing the door now would certainly alert the other man, so he opted to just carefully pushing the door against the frame without actually shutting it completely. From the outside it would look closed hopefully, Steve thought. He heard Bucky’s door open and close and then leaned against his own, finally shutting it. He slid down and sat on the ground in front of it, head resting back at the wooden door.
He had a problem.
Steve fished for his phone that was somewhere on the small counter next to the door and started a new text message. Technically he knew it was almost five in the morning, but the person he was texting had woken him up with a not-quite-an-emergency-but-can’t-wait-till-tomorrow call or message in the past before, so he considered it payback. Plus he wasn’t sure if Natasha was even asleep right now. He wasn’t sure Natasha slept at all.
STEVE: I got a problem. It’s got long brown hair and listens to name Bucky.
About 20 seconds later he got a reply.
NAT: I thought you were allergic to dogs. :o
STEVE: He’s my neighbor.
NAT: Your neighbor’s dog? O_o?
STEVE: No. My neighbor’s name is Bucky and he’s hot.
NAT: What kind of name is Bucky and now I am actually awake. Keep talking, Rogers.
STEVE: I don’t know, I didn’t dare asking. Seconds earlier he was trying to turn my brain into mush with his glare.
NAT: What did you do?
Steve rubbed his eyes, he was tired there was no denying it, but now that he had already woken up Natasha he couldn’t just go to bed. Somewhere in the house someone turned on the shower and he could hear the water gurgling through the pipes in the wall. He had never noticed it was so audible, but there were no other noises in the house to cover it up at this time of the night.
STEVE: Yelled at him. :<
STEVE: He was making a lot of noises in the hallway. >:(
NAT: and then?
STEVE: I helped him with his groceries and then I was my normal very charming awkward self and we kind of exchanged names.
NAT: Mhmmm. What’s he look like?
STEVE: Well, dark long hair, not sure he owns a hair brush, lots of stubble, blessed with very nice facial bone structure, wears a leather jacket and he’s about foot taller than me.
STEVE: I think he might also work out. He’s had a bunch of those protein bars in his bag, doubt he eats those just for the taste.
It didn’t really occur to him to mention the missing arm, when Steve’s attention had mostly been drawn to the strong jaw and those grey eyes, that, even though they had had that hint of murder in them at the time, had been really nice to look at.
NAT: Stevie’s got himself a nice strong man! :>
STEVE: He might never want to talk to me again after yesterday. :(
NAT: He’s certainly not going to come knocking at your door ready to swipe you off your feet.
STEVE: I don’t need to be swiped off my feet!
NAT: What I’m trying to say is that you need to take the initiative here if you want to get anywhere.
Steve could practically feel Natasha roll her eyes at him, but she had a point. The problem was that he had no idea how go about it. He’d need some reason to talk to Bucky again and he was certain that stalking him from his door when the man got home was not the way to go about it.
STEVE: What do you suggest?
There was no answer for several minutes and Steve already thought that Natasha had fallen asleep again when his phone buzzed.
NAT: Bring him food. Neighbors bring each other food… sometimes.
NAT: Okay, I might be hungry and I might be making a sandwich right now because somebody woke me up in the middle of the night. It was the first thing that came to my mind.
STEVE: You can go to bed…
NAT: You go to bed! I’m eating my sandwich. >:(
Steve heaved himself of the floor, grabbing the counter as support. One of his legs had fallen asleep so he hobbled to the bathroom to brush his teeth, thankful that he had already put his pajamas on hours earlier.
He turned on his alarm for the next day, or technically later the same day. It was the weekend now and Steve taught a few art classes on Saturday and Sunday and once again he was really glad that they were all scheduled in the early afternoon this semester.
Steve was out as soon as he hit the mattress.
Steve didn’t have a lot of time to think about Bucky the following day as he barely made it to his class after a few hours of sleep, but as he sat on the bus home he came to the conclusion that Natasha’s idea was not the worst in the world. He’d have no time and energy to do anything today, but tomorrow he’d probably get more sleep and could plan something. Steve was not exactly sure what, he thought about getting something sweet from a bakery or maybe trying to bake something himself. He was lost in thoughts, weighing the possible demise of his kitchen against the slim chances of actually producing something edible with an oven when Natasha texted again.
NAT: What’s the plan?
Hell, if he knew. Steve leaned his head against the cool glass of the bus.
STEVE: No idea.
STEVE: Maybe pastries?
STEVE: Don’t mhm me. I only met the guy once, not like I could interrogate him for his favorite food. -.-
NAT: You helped him with his groceries didn’t you?
STEVE: yeah, but there were just cans, those one-person meal things. I didn’t look too closely, I just picked them up.
NAT: You definitely have to make him something homemade then. :>
The bus reached Steve’s stop and he got out before answering.
STEVE: I’ll think of something.
That didn’t help him at all.
Back in his apartment Steve dropped his bag on the floor and flopped unceremoniously face first on the couch. He groaned into the cushion. Cooking something was no problem, Steve was a decent cook, baking on the other hand would most likely end in disaster. But cooking would look like a lot of effort and that’s exactly what Steve wanted to avoid. If only he had the talent for home-made cookies.
Steve rolled over and draped an arm across his eyes; he was too exhausted to think of anything.
James’ show was only on Monday through Friday so Sunday found Steve with eight hours of sleep and much more confidence in his endeavor. Now if only his phone would stop vibrating in his pocket he might actually be able to concentrate on his class.
In a quiet moment he fished his phone out of his pocket. Natasha was non-stop texting him picture of decadent meals one grander than the other. Eventually he also got texts from Sam with recipes and really it shouldn’t have surprised him that Natasha had found a partner in crime. He eventually turned his phone off; he would try to get some inspiration from the pics on the way to the grocery store later.
Eventually he ended up with way too many things that he wanted to do and bags that were way too full and way too heavy but a few hours and one averted asthma attack later he stood before a bowl of freshly made potato salad after his mother’s recipe.
And then he got a text from Clint.
CLINT: Whatever it is that you made, if it’s not pancakes it’s not going to work.
Steve flopped down in a kitchen chair and dropped his head in his hand.
STEVE: I wondered when you would write.
CLINT: What did you make?
STEVE: Potato salad.
CLINT: Your mother’s recipe?
STEVE: Don’t you mhmm me!
CLINT: Just saying.
CLINT: Pancakes! <3
Steve turned his phone silent and dropped it on the table. Sometimes he hated his friends. Clint was right though, pancakes were a good idea, but it was too late to switch plans now. He’d never be able to eat that much potato salad on his own so was going to stick with the original idea.
The salad needed some time to develop a nice flavor so he tried to spend the next couple of hours sketching the new pages he was supposed to be working on, but his mind was elsewhere. A thousand questions were running through his head. Was this really a good idea? Would Bucky think him totally nuts for bringing over food even though they only met once? Did Bucky even like potatoes? His resolution was slowly dwindling and it wasn’t until he checked his phone again and found encouraging messages from his friends that he was actually going to go through with it. How they knew what he needed to hear all the time he didn’t know but he was grateful nonetheless.
Steve had figured he’d walk over to Bucky in the early evening, hoping that the man was at home at that point and give the salad to him. His excuse was that he simply had made too much, which was technically true, even though Bucky was the reason he had made the salad in the first place.
When he felt himself start to panic, he knew it was time. He did some breathing exercises and washed his hands and face to make sure he was not sweating all over the place. His hair was fine, he was wearing decent clothing that were not pajamas; he had no more excuses to stay in the apartment, so Steve grabbed the bowl with half of the potato salad and made the short trip through the hallway to Bucky’s apartment.
Before he could change his mind he quickly knocked a few times and then had to fight his flight instinct to stop him from running back into the apartment.
There was no immediate answer and Steve felt his hands getting clammy again. Then there was a loud thud from somewhere inside Bucky’s apartment, like someone had just walked into a wall and then the door was unlocked.
When Bucky opened the door, Steve knew he had made a severe error in judgment.
Whatever Steve had prepared to say was completely wiped from his mind when he laid eyes on Bucky.
The man was a mess.
Steve couldn’t see a lot of him, but that was enough. Bucky had only opened the door far enough to peak out, eyes hooded and hair hanging in his face. His shirt was sweaty and sticking to his chest and stomach, it had halfway ridden up on his right side and Steve had a good view of a very prominent hip line disappearing into boxer shorts.
Steve also became painfully aware that that was in fact all that Bucky was wearing, a shirt and boxer shorts, combined with the fact that his apartment was pitch black behind him, it became clear that he had just woken Bucky up.
Steve tried to swallow, but his mouth was suddenly too dry, he clutched the salad bowl to his chest like a life line.
Bucky squinted at him, face neutral. He was leaning against the doorway, his left side hidden from view and he was holding open the door with his right hand.
“You.” Was all he said, but it held no animosity.
“Yeah, me. Steve, from next door. I made potato salad.” Steve wanted to punch himself as soon as he blurted out the words, but Bucky just blinked at him lazily, probably not even half awake yet.
“I was wondering if you wanted some.” The bowl almost slipped out of his sweaty hands when he held it out to Bucky, who didn’t show any inclination to actually take it. Instead he gave a one-sided shrug and pushed the door open.
He didn’t switch on the light when he turned around and walked away, but Steve figured he was supposed to follow him inside. He noticed that Bucky’s apartment had a similar layout to his own. The kitchen, half shrouded in darkness with the only light coming from the open hallway door, was in the same relation to the apartment door, but the single bedroom and bathroom were on the other side, to Steve’s right, while in his apartment they were behind the kitchen to his left. That put their bedrooms almost next to each other, Steve noticed.
Bucky stood behind the counter in front of the fridge. He had turned around but had closed his eyes. Steve shifted his weight from one foot to the other, not sure what to do. Bucky swayed slightly to his left and Steve already feared he was about to fall over, when he suddenly jerked and his eyes snapped open again. He caught himself before he fell against the fridge and then looked at Steve, confusion written all over his face.
Steve held up the bowl again. “I made salad.”
Bucky nodded and absentmindedly rubbed his left side, squeezing his left shoulder or what was left of it. Now that he was only wearing a shirt it was painfully obvious that he really had nothing left of his arm, it was a straight line from his shoulder to his hip.
He then patted the fridge. “Fridge.” He mumbled before he turned and headed back to his bedroom. He stumbled on the way and almost walked into a wall. It made Steve wonder if the guy was actually awake or maybe had some balance problems.
The bedroom door closed with a click and then the apartment was silent again, except for the soft hum of the refrigerator that drew Steve’s attention.
Steve shook his head trying to realize what just happened. He was not standing in his neighbor’s kitchen, alone, with the front door still wide open and said neighbor back in his bedroom probably already asleep again?
Before he could make sense out of the situation Steve opened the fridge and found it completely empty except for half-gallon jug of milk that was almost empty and a ketchup bottle. He put the salad bowl on one of the empty shelves and closed the door again.
He was about to leave when a thought struck him. Would Bucky even remember that he had been over the next day? The guy had been more asleep than awake and it didn’t look like he actually used the fridge very often, maybe he wouldn’t even find the salad in time before it spoiled.
Steve huffed and made a decision. He quickly went back to his apartment and grabbed a few sticky notes.
“Salad inside :)” he wrote on one and then cringed at the smiley. Was it appropriate? Before he could overthink it and change his mind he stuck it on the fridge. Quickly adding a second one that read “from Steve” and a third with “your neighbor” in parenthesis. Satisfied with his work he left the apartment, pulling the door shut behind him and checking that it was indeed firmly closed.
“You know you can tell a lot about people by their behavior when only half awake. It brings out their most primal instincts. Same with drunk behavior, but that’s another story.”
“He left me standing in his kitchen while he went back to bed!”
“See, he classified you as non-threatening, that’s good.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know, if he’s a shark you would be one of those little fishies that stick around and clean the shark or whatever they do.”
“Worth keeping around, I guess?”
“You’re saying I’m like a little pest to him?”
“No, man, those fishes are really helpful!”
“You suck at this, Clint. Give me Natasha! Why are you on her phone anyway?”
“Had my ears adjusted yesterday, wanted to test them out.”
Clint meant his hearing aids, Steve figured, but before he could respond to that there was a muffled “Ow!” and then Natasha was at the other end of the line.
“I made potato salad and brought it over and I totally woke him up and he probably doesn’t even remember me because he was still asleep when he opened to the door or he hates me forever.”
Steve sucked in a sharp breath and almost coughed when he let it out again, trying again with more control until his breathing evened out at last.
“When did you bring it over?” Natasha asked after Steve told her he was fine again.
“Around 7pm-ish maybe a bit later. I didn’t check.”
Natasha hummed. “That’s not an unreasonable time. Normal human beings are awake at this time of the day. If he gets mad at you I will kick his ass.”
Steve groaned. “Please don’t. I’ll just apologize if I ever see him again.” Then Steve remembered that Bucky might actually bring back the bowl at some point and he put his face in his hand. Natasha noticed of course and asked what was wrong.
“He might actually show up here. Bring back the bowl. I am so dead. All I wanted was to get to know the guy and I messed everything up.”
“Shh, Rogers, you need to calm down, you are not thinking rationally. I’m starting to think that guy must look like an underwear model with sculpted abs that he has you in a state like that and the visuals you described to me just don’t add up to that.”
“Pretty sure he has some nicely sculpted abs.”
“His shirt was kind of sticking to his stomach so… uh…”
“Go work on your comic and wait what happens. You are overthinking that’s all I’m saying.”
“Fine, I can do that.”
“Good boy.” With that Natasha hung up leaving Steve alone with his misery. It was barely half past eight and maybe he should just go to bed and catch up on sleep. It was Sunday, so there was no Late-Night show he felt compelled to stay up for.
He ended up rearranging his drawing utensils in an attempt to get some work done for almost an hour before he gave up and headed to bed. He almost managed to fall asleep having banned all thoughts about his previous encounter with his neighbor to the back of his head, when he heard the pipes gurgling again. Somebody was taking a shower.
Bucky was awake again and so was Steve.
Steve groaned and shoved his face into the pillow.
I apologize for taking so long. I started this way back, but never finished. It turned out a bit longer than normal so I hope that makes up for it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Natasha was right. Steve had been overthinking. The next day he was a lot less panicked and actually thought that it went pretty well, the only thing still occupying his mind was when Bucky would show up to bring back the bowl or if he should just go over at some point and ask for it. He wasn’t exactly sure what etiquette dictated here, but for now he would just go about his day and not worry about it too much. Knowing his body he would probably end up with stomach ulcers if he kept it up much longer.
He spent the morning busying himself with his work, deadlines had to be met and meetings with his boss had to be arranged. He finished up two more pages with his thoughts only occasionally drifting to his neighbor wondering if Bucky had already tried the salad and if he liked it. He hoped he did.
The thought suddenly sent him into a minor panic again. What if he didn’t like it? What if he hated it?
Knocking on the door interrupted his thoughts and Steve scrambled to the door, glad something took his mind of the kind of thinking that earned him a scolding from Natasha. Of course that didn’t prepare him for seeing Bucky standing on the other side of the door when he finally managed to get it open.
Steve stared with his mouth wide open and Bucky shrunk back, ducking his head to his chest and turning his left side away.
“Your bowl.” He said, holding the item out with his hand, the lid precariously resting on top of it.
“Hey!” Steve finally said and couldn’t help but smile with all his worrying he actually hadn’t expected Bucky to come over this soon. He took the offered bowl, careful not to drop the lid.
“Sorry, couldn’t get it to stay on.” Bucky muttered, he rubbed his hand on his jeans and looked to the side.
He looked a lot better than last night, not exactly well rested but not sweaty and exhausted and his hair was brushed. That answered that question at least. He had shaved and was wearing a fresh shirt and worn jeans. Steve also noticed that he wasn’t wearing shoes, apparently he hadn’t bothered with them for the short walk from his apartment.
Bucky cleared his throat. “Thanks uh... for the salad.” He wasn’t meeting Steve’s eyes but lifted his hand in a mock of a wave then turned away.
“Hey, wait.” The words were out before Steve could stop himself. “Do you want to come in? For a coffee? Or something?”
Steve was smiling dumbly at Bucky’s back before the other man looked over his right shoulder a look of apprehension on his face, like he wasn’t exactly sure of Steve’s intention. He looked him up and down once narrowing his eyes slightly before nodding once.
Steve broke out in a full blown grin as he held open the door for the other man inviting him into his apartment.
He busied himself with the coffee maker leaving Bucky to look around. It only struck him now how different their apartments are. Bucky’s had been dark and hardly had any decoration as far as Steve remembered. His apartment walls were scattered with prints and lithograms of his favorite artists. He even had put up some of his own art at the insistence of his friends and there were photos scattered in the few free spaces in between. Along with the book shelves and his desks his apartment was pretty cluttered, but he liked it that way. His friends had added their personal touch by giving him knick-knacks here and there and he treasured every single one of them, even if they were a bit pointless at times. Clint had given him a dart board made out of solid wood and he couldn’t even lift the damn thing to get it on the wall. It was currently resting behind the door gathering dust. Maybe he should work on that, get someone to hang it so he could maybe play with Bucky?
His thoughts were going down unreasonable paths again. He didn’t even know the guy yet, he only offered him coffee. Suddenly his mind registered what was happening. Bucky was actually in his apartment. Steve’s eyes widened as he turned around, coffee forgotten.
Bucky was standing in the middle of the room looking more than a little lost as he studied the paintings on the wall.
“Sugar or milk?” Steve asked.
“Black.” Bucky answered, back to his one-worded responses again. It discouraged Steve a little, but maybe he was just shy.
Once he was done with the coffee Steve found Bucky standing in front of the wall with his personal photographs, staring intensely at one particular one.
“Is that your bike?” Bucky asked without looking at Steve and Steve’s eyes traveled to the picture in question. It was from a few years ago, back at his parents’ house upstate. It showed Steve sitting on a black Harley Davison cruiser motorcycle. The bike dwarfing his small frame but he was grinning from ear to ear.
“Yeah, it’s mine now, used to be my dad’s. That’s the day he gave it to me, because he knew he wouldn’t be able to ride it anymore. He passed away a couple of months later.” Steve wasn’t sure why he had just told Bucky that, he usually wasn’t as forthcoming with family history like that, and especially not when it still hurt to think about.
Steve watched Bucky who had not stopped looking at the picture; there was a longing in his eyes and the muscle in his jaw twitched. It looked like he wanted to say more, to ask something else, instead he said. “I’m sorry.” Then looked away from the picture to the ground between them.
Steve cleared his throat. “Coffee’s ready.” He held out the two mugs rather pointlessly since Bucky had already seen them. He also realized that the way he was holding them both at the handle it would make it really awkward for Bucky to get ahold of one of them without burning himself on the hot mug.
“Wanna sit down?” He nodded his head in the direction of the coffee table by the couch. Bucky’s eyes followed the gesture and he nodded once.
They settled down on the couch. Steve to Bucky’s right as the other man had laid claim on the leftmost spot on the couch without hesitation.
Steve refused to let the situation drift into awkward silence, because he had Bucky here in his apartment, on his couch, drinking his coffee, he just couldn’t mess this up.
“I still ride it from time to time.” He started. “The bike I mean.”
At that Bucky looked at him over the rim of his coffee cup and raised his eyebrows. Steve put his free hand up.
“I know, I don’t really look the part, but I basically grew up on that thing. My dad used to take me on road trips all the time when I was a kid. It was a thing we did on the weekends, as soon as the weather was nice enough. During summer break we’d go a week or two just riding around the country, I looked forward to it every year.” Steve finally took a sip from his coffee, which consisted of more milk and sugar than actual coffee really.
“Do you ride?” Steve asked.
Bucky put his mug on his knee and loosened his grip on it.
He stared into the brown liquid for a while, brows knit together, looking like he was thinking something over really hard. Steve took another sip of his coffee, wondering if that was already the most he would get out of the other man when Bucky suddenly spoke again.
“I used to.” He looked up at Steve and Steve almost chocked on his coffee.
“I bought myself a machine as soon as I was old enough, scraped together the money from little jobs here and there. Nothing as fancy as yours, but it was mine. Used to ride it to school, pick up the ladies.” The coffee had his attention again and he paused.
“But then life happened.” He shrugged his good shoulder. “Lost an arm.” He took a large gulp of his coffee.
“My mom sold it when I enlisted, I was so fucking pissed when I found out, but… doesn’t matter now, can’t ride shit with just one arm.” He slid the empty coffee mug on the table, balled his hand into a fist and then with visible effort relaxed it against his thigh. Steve could see the tension in his whole body as Bucky leaned back on the couch.
“That sucks.” He said, he didn’t really know what else to say.
“Yeah.” Bucky huffed a dry laugh. There was that silence again, but before Steve could think of something else to say Bucky stood up.
“I should go.”
Steve hastily put his mug down and watched Bucky walk unsteadily to the door before he remembered to get up and at least open the door for the other man like a good host.
“Thanks for the… uh… coffee.” Bucky mumbled to the floor again as Steve opened the door for him.
“No problem. We should do this again… some time.” Steve said and maybe he was a bit too enthusiastic about it, because Bucky looked extremely uncomfortable, but he gave Steve a nod anyway.
Steve watched Bucky walk down the hallway when he suddenly remembered something.
Bucky stopped and looked over his shoulder. Steve shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“Uh, just wondering, in case I make too much food again… what’d be a good time to come over?” Steve tried his best smirk and hoped it didn’t look to weird. For a few crucial seconds Bucky just stared at Steve and Steve really just wanted to close the door and disappear, maybe move out, move to another state. Too much food, what was he thinking?
“I usually go to sleep around four or five, so any time before that is fine.” Bucky said.
Steve let out the breath he had been holding and loosened his cramped hand from his door.
“Great.” He smiled and then closed the door before he could say anything else. He threw himself face down onto the couch and groaned into the cushions. He mulled over the past ten minutes for a while, but he eventually stopped beating himself up about what happened. It really hadn’t gone too horribly wrong, except that Bucky had basically fled his apartment, but he’d seen Bucky often enough now to know that maybe that was just his thing. Maybe he really just needed to warm up to people and he hadn’t refused when Steve suggested meeting in the future. All in all Steve thought it went well, plus he finally had some information about the guy.
Steve’s phone suddenly vibrated on the table with a text from Natasha.
How on earth does she do that?
This is Steve's bike, if you click on the 360° view and select the two very last options (vivid black and wide whitewall) That's how it looks like.
Bucky closed the door behind him and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly and then repeating the action several times. He leaned his back against the door and threw his head back against it. He let out a long whine that turned into a sob and then slowly slid down the door to sit on the floor. He put his head in his hand as another sob wrecked his body.
“It’s just your fucking neighbor. Why can’t you even handle that?” He said to himself, breathing heavily.
Bucky sat at the door for a while, counting breaths, his thoughts circling around Steve and how he actually liked his quirky little neighbor, that had left potato salad in his fridge and put post-it notes with smileys on them. He had almost had a panic attack when he had found the notes on his fridge that morning; he hadn’t been able to recall when Steve had been in his apartment. He only remembered the encounter on the stairs; he had absolutely no recollection when he had let him in or when he had put the salad in his fridge. Even when he saw the salad, nothing had trigged in his memory, but once he had calmed down he figured that Steve must have brought it over when he was sleeping sometime in the afternoon and that Bucky had to have opened the door at some point to let him in. Steve’s comment earlier had confirmed that, yet it still left Bucky with a sense of unease. With his medical history he really couldn’t be sure if it was just because he was too tired and fell asleep again before the encounter could be committed to long term memory or if it was something else.
He had his life under control, he told himself. Regular meals, a secure job, semi-constant sleeping schedule and yet such a small thing had thrown him off so easily. Bucky clenched his fist in his hair and pulled hard, face contorting in pain. Then the chime from his phone startled him. He needed moment to remember why he was on the floor in the first place and what the noise was.
The alarm on his phone told him to make lunch.
He dropped it back on the table and sat down on the sofa. Steve’s salad this morning had been delicious and had had the added bonus that he didn’t have to prepare a meal himself, but now he would have to cook something if he wanted to eat and he didn’t really feel like eating anything.
He really shouldn’t stray from his routine any further than he already did, but getting up from the couch seemed an impossible task, so he stayed where he was, staring at the blank wall, back to berating himself.
“Can’t even have a cup of coffee with your fucking neighbor without freaking out.” He mumbled, then groaned and put his head in his hand again. “Fucking shit.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, then glanced up and eyed his laptop laying on the coffee table in front of him.
He spent the next few hours reading news and blog articles, taking a few notes here and there. He tried not to let his thoughts drift to his neighbor, or rather his encounter with his neighbor and his utter failure to act like a normal human being, but that was nearly impossible. He found himself staring at the end of an article without knowing what it was even about over and over again, his thoughts spiraling out of control into more and more self-loathing.
Bucky eventually gave up, let a few youtube videos play and curled up on the couch. He couldn’t focus on those either, but the constant noise kept him a grounded a little bit better.
Then his phone chimed again and this time he got up to make dinner.
He almost had a nervous breakdown when his electric can opener gave out halfway through, but after he hit it against the counter a few times, it finished opening the can. He would have to get a replacement for that.
He ate his dinner contemplating whether it was easier to go to a store that was not the 24/7 convenience store he got his food from, that unfortunately didn’t carry electric can openers, which he found was not very convenient at all, or ordering one of the internet.
Going to a store would entail leaving the apartment outside of his routine, going a different route, talking to a different cashier; the store might not even have it… but he could have it by tomorrow.
Ordering of the internet involved dealing with the mailman at his door, if the parcel was too big for the mail box. He would definitely be home when the package arrived though, but it would take at least a few days till he got it.
Bucky finished his meal and then ordered an electric can opener from amazon. They didn’t have the same model, so he picked a similar one in the same price range, hoping it would be just as good.
When he was done he powered his laptop down and cleaned the dishes. When he put them away in the cupboards, the post-it notes from Steve that were still on his fridge caught his eye. In a way he was glad that Steve had put them there, even if they had caused a moment of panic and breathing exercises, but he might not have found the salad in time before it went bad, he rarely opened his fridge.
He traced over the drawn smiley with a finger and something tugged at his heart, he felt the corner of his mouth turn up just a little.
He left the post-it’s on the fridge and went to bed. Sleep didn’t come for a long time.
Sorry it's so short, it's more of an interlude really. Next one will be longer and we'll see more interaction.
Steve really didn’t beat himself up too much about Bucky’s sudden departure the other day. The guy was still warming up to him and that was fine.
A couple of days later he enthusiastically carried a baking dish that was still half full with homemade lasagna down the hallway at a more Bucky appropriate time of the day and knocked.
Bucky opened the door after a little while and no audible crashes so that meant Steve had at least gotten the time right. He seemed surprised to see Steve but not displeased. Steve held out the baking dish.
“I’ve got some lasagna.” He stated the obvious and Bucky gave him the tiniest hint of a smile.
“Come in.” Bucky said and stepped aside, gesturing to the kitchen.
Steve obediently carried the baking dish over and put it in Bucky’s fridge, which was still just as empty as the first time and left Steve wondering what the guy actually ate, if he didn’t eat his neighbor’s leftovers.
This time around the light in the apartment was on, but the blinds still closed. A laptop sat on the coffee table with everything minimized so the black desktop was visible. A glass of water stood next to it and Bucky’s phone was lying on the table as well. The apartment was as bare as Steve had remembered, but now with the light on, he could also see a treadmill in the corner as well as some dumbbells lying on the floor next to the training bench. Steve had expected a barbell to complete the assemble but then realized that Bucky wouldn’t be able to use that.
“Should I put some post-it notes this time as well?” Steve jokingly remarked before he noticed that his last notes were still stuck on the fridge, which oddly enough made them the only personal item in the apartment at least as far as Steve could tell, and they weren’t even from Bucky. Steve wondered how someone could live in a place for so long and not put up any personal affects, but then again, it wasn’t his business, maybe Bucky just didn’t like knick-knacks and things like that.
“If you want. The notes saved your salad by the way. I probably would have missed it if you hadn’t done that.” Bucky admitted.
“You couldn’t remember I was here?”
Bucky looked to the ground and shook his head.
“I almost figured as much, you were pretty out of it to be honest. That’s why I put the notes, just to be safe.” Steve chuckled. “I think you actually fell asleep for a second standing in the middle of your kitchen.”
Bucky rubbed the back of his neck, still not looking up.
“Can’t remember any of that.”
“Uh yeah.” Steve mumbled. “Anyway, enjoy the lasagna, made it myself.” He walked over to the door and was surprised that Bucky actually followed him.
“Thanks.” Bucky said and opened the door for him again.
It became a strange routine. Steve ended up bringing over food to Bucky’s place a couple of times a week. He really got into it and found that he was able to cook more elaborate things with a little practice. Natasha and Sam helped looking for recipes as well, they seemed to get a kick out of it as well. Some things didn’t turn as good as he liked and he didn’t bring those over but for the most part it went pretty well and so salads, different casseroles and pasta dishes found their way into Bucky’s fridge and Bucky always brought back the dishes the next day.
So Steve was quite surprised to find Bucky in front of his door when he hadn’t brought over anything the previous day. He looked quite disheveled, dressed in baggy clothes and unkempt hair and overall emitted a very miserable vibe when he looked through a curtain of hair at Steve, mouth pressed into a thin line.
“Bucky, hey!” Steve greeted. “I didn’t expect you, you wanna come in?” Steve really didn’t know what to make of the sudden visit.
“Uh. No. I actually wanted to ask if you have a can opener that I can borrow. If not that’s fine, I’ll just leave again.”
Steve blinked at him a few times. “Can opener. Sure, I got one.” He hurried into his kitchen and returned shortly with the device. Bucky hadn’t moved but had ducked his head again, hiding behind his hair.
Steve held it out and Bucky mumbled a thanks before taking it.
“Uh…” Steve said. “Is that alright?”
“What?” Bucky asked.
“I mean, can you use that? It’s kind of a ..uh..” He made the motion of operating a mechanical can opener with both his hands then pointed to the device in Bucky’s hand.
Bucky just looked at the opener in his hand then back at Steve.
“Yeah.” He brushed his hair to the side of his face, which didn’t really do much.
Steve shrugged. “Huh, I didn’t know you could operate these one-handed.”
“It’s not that hard.”
“Uh-huh…” Steve couldn’t imagine how on earth that would work though and before he could shut his mouth he blurted out. “Can I watch?” He shook himself.
“I mean, could you show me? I’m kinda curious. I mean, nevermind, that was rude, forget it.” He already stepped back to close the door, when he noticed Bucky’s amused expression, which was little more than a quirk in his lip, but Steve had been getting better at reading his micro expressions.
“You’re cute when you’re flustered.”
Steve’s knees almost buckled underneath him, he bubbled something incoherently and his eye started twitching. Bucky just watched him make a fool of himself.
“I can show you.” Bucky held up the device and opened and closed it a few times. “I haven’t used one of these in ages though, so I’ll probably make a mess.” He brushed the hair out of this face again and Steve had moderately collected himself again.
“Cool. I mean, thanks.” They walked over to Bucky’s apartment and Bucky pushed open the door with his foot, he had left it ajar.
The inside looked exactly the same as the last time Steve had brought over food. Laptop and cellphone on the coffee table, along with a glass of water. This time the kitchen looked a bit different though, there was a pot on the stove and a can next to it.
Bucky put the can opener next to it and picked up another object that was red, roughly an oval shape and fit perfectly into his hand.
“This piece of shit broke on me and I’ve only had it for a week. Fucking technology is not reliable anymore.”
When he held it up Steve could see it was a small electric can opener.
“You should return it.”
“Yeah.” He sighed and glared at the thing in his hand before setting it back on the counter. He picked up Steve’s opener again and got to work on the can. He needed a few tries to get the opener to puncture the can, which Steve suspected was mostly due to the opener not being the greatest piece of machinery to ever exist. He also felt an awkward silence fall over them again with him just standing and watching, so he said the next best thing that came to his mind.
“I almost got in a fight last weekend.”
“Oh?” Bucky looked up at that and Steve shrugged, he turned and leaned against the counter next to the stove.
“Yeah, I teach a few classes at the art institute and it’s kinda in a bad neighborhood. Well, not bad per se, but bad if you’re a black kid. So I just got done, class has been out for a while now, but I have to clean up and stuff, so I stay later than the kids… teenagers actually. I walk out of the building and one alley over one of my students is getting harassed. Three burly guys had him cornered, so I walk up to them, grab one by the shoulder and turn him around, ask what the hell they’re doing.” At some point Steve had stopped watching what Bucky had been doing when he recalled the encounter, instead gesturing wildly in the air. He pushed himself of the counter and faced Bucky again. The other man was watching him, leaning against the counter with his left hip and his arm held over his chest, hand in a fist. Steve realized that was the equivalent of crossing his arms over his chest.
Bucky was scowling at him.
“What happened next?”
“Uh.” Steve noticed that the pot was no longer empty and the contents were happily boiling away already. Bucky had opened the can without him noticing. “Ah, I didn’t see how you did that!” Steve whined.
“What happened next?” Bucky asked again, a bit more forcefully this time.
“Well, they turned on me so I got ready to fight.” He lifted his fists and reenacted the approximate fighting stance, but before he could go on further, Bucky took a step towards him and poked him in five different spots with two fingers, fast.
“Kidneys, solar plexus, neck, chin, side of the head, you’re defense is non-existent and how on earth are you making a fist?” Bucky grabbed his left hand and Steve opened his fist out of surprise. Bucky’s hand was larger than his and easily wrapped around his thin arm.
“No no no. Make a fist again.”
Steve did so and Bucky glared at him.
“You really want to break your thumb when you hit someone, do you?” He dropped Steve’s hand and made a fist himself. “The thumb goes on the outside, you dumbass.”
“Uh…” Steve looked at his own fist, he had his fingers closed around his thumb. He quickly changed the position and wondered why he hadn’t done that in the first place.
“How did you even survive your encounter with three Nazis?” Bucky stepped back and leaned against the counter again.
“One of the other art teachers saw it and stepped in, he’s about twice my size, does karate or something like that, they bailed when they saw him.”
Bucky shook his head and stirred his food around. Now that Steve took a closer look it was some kind of pasta with tomato sauce.
“Yeah, I was lucky.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” Bucky left his food alone again and fixed Steve with a stare, making him duck his head a little. “When do you usually get up?”
“Around 8 or so…”
“I’ll be over at 9.”
“Okay, but why? Not that I don’t enjoy your company, but…” This was a bit sudden.
Bucky pointed a finger at him. “Because you are a dumbass who can’t throw a punch and I’ll teach you how.”
“You heard me. Now take your can opener and mentally prepare yourself for tomorrow. I have food to eat.” Bucky held out his can opener for him and that reminded him.
“Wait, how did you do that?” He gestured to the open can and the pot on the stove.
Bucky rolled his eyes, but indulged him. He clamped the opener onto the already open can and held it up. “Watch.” He walked over to the sink and positioned the opener with the can inside the sink and the handle on the ledge of it. Then leaned forward and held the handle with his stomach so he had his hand free to turn the opener. He dropped the whole thing after one turn and fished out the can opener from the sink holding it out to Steve again.
“No magic involved.”
The next day came earlier than expected. Steve woke up way before his alarm and was more or less ready to start the day an hour earlier than usual. It was going fine, shower, breakfast, getting ready to draw a few pages ... and then he remembered what had transpired yesterday and he promptly choked on his cereal.
Bucky had actually said he would come over and teach Steve how to fight, it hadn’t been a dream, Steve realized, and suddenly his palms were sweaty and his breathing worse than before the choking.
The use of his inhaler helped his breathing but the panic stayed.
He had to prepare.
All thoughts about getting anything done in terms of comic pages were forgotten as he rummaged around the apartment trying to figure out how to go about it.
He moved a few things out of the way as he cleared a space behind the couch that he thought would probably be suitable for whatever Bucky had planned. It had a large carpet and not much stuff he could hurt himself on other than couch on one side and a few shelves on the other, and if Steve was honest he was fully prepared to get hurt in some way or another. His general lack of fitness would see to that.
The next thirty minutes he spent looking through his closet and deciding what clothes would convey that he was actually up to the task of doing sports in some form, all in an effort to forget that it was actually Bucky who would come over soon.
When he had settled on a comfy t-shirt that wasn’t too loose on his skinny frame and some sweatpants it was already past 9 am, which immediately had him in a panic again. Had he missed the knock? No way, the laptop and the radio where both turned off, the apartment was silent. Had Bucky forgotten then? Or did he not want to come?
Steve wandered over to his front door a little disappointed, despite the panic he had looked forward to it, but it was almost half past nine. He peeked through the peep hole in the door and backed away a second later.
Bucky was standing in front of his door, or rather leaning against the wall. Had he been waiting all this time?
Steve pulled open the door.
“Bucky? I’m so sorry, I didn't hear you knocking.”
Bucky didn't react at first, he had his head turned towards the wall, hair covering his face as usual. When he turned to Steve he seemed to need several seconds to focus on him before he answered.
“I didn’t knock.”
“Oh…” Steve said dumbly. “Are you alright? You wanna come in? I made some space for uhm… training? You don't look so good though.”
Bucky just nodded and pushed himself off the wall with his right shoulder. Steve didn't know whether that meant he was alright or if he wanted to come in. He stepped aside to make space for the other man though and Bucky unsteadily walked into his apartment.
Steve watched him carefully as Bucky took a few deep breaths and then turned around, seemingly collected again.
"Can we start?"
"Yes, sure." Steve quickly closed the door and walked over to stand opposite Bucky. "Hope this is enough space."
"Sure, get in a fighting stance."
Steve did as he was told and Bucky corrected him.
"This will only help if you're getting attacked with fists, if they have a weapon, knifes, batons, whatever, you run, okay?" Bucky said as he moved Steve's arms up so that he was protecting his face.
Steve started to protest but Bucky interrupted him before he could get a word out.
"This ain't the movies, you don't stand a chance. I can't turn you into super fighter but maybe a few tricks can prevent you from bleeding out from internal injuries because you got hit in the stomach too many times. Understood?"
After Steve nodded Bucky showed him how to dodge several common punches, left hooks unsurprisingly turned out to be awkward to demonstrate but they managed and Steve quickly ran out of breath when the other fastened the pace. He had to call for a short break when he felt an asthma attack coming and Bucky stepped back.
"That's enough for the punches, I can show you how to get out of a choke hold next if you want." Bucky rolled his right shoulder and shook out his arm, a small smile on his lips.
Steve on the other hand was bent over, hands on his knees and breathing heavily. He was exhausted and they had barely been at it for 20 minutes. He wondered what would actually happen in a real fight where he couldn't just call a break. Probably what Bucky predicted.
He had been in choke holds a couple of times in his life, mostly in school and he hadn't even known that you could get out of one, he was eager to try it out despite his miserable condition. Before he could answer though he could see Bucky stumble towards the couch from corner of his eye and a string of curses came from the other man.
Steve was at Bucky's side a second later, who was holding himself upright against the back of the couch with his hand.
"Are you alright?" He asked worriedly.
"I'm.. I'm fine. Just gotta sit down." Bucky's voice was tense and with some visible effort he rounded the couch and sat down, hand never leaving it. He closed his eyes and rubbed his face. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."
Steve stood confused for a moment, wondering what the hell just happened, then sat down next to Bucky, waiting for him to feel better. Maybe he had a headache or something.
Several minutes passed, Steve had pulled his feet up under himself and waited, sometimes glancing at Bucky but most of the times he stared at this hands and fiddled with the seem on his sweatpants.
"Sorry." Bucky said eventually, he had lowered his hand and he was looking straight ahead.
"It's alright, you want some water? Painkillers?"
Bucky nodded. "Some water maybe, painkillers wouldn't do shit. I'm not in pain." He sighed and hung his head.
Steve quickly got up and made the other a glass of water, handing it to him before sitting down next to him. He was sitting to Bucky's left, he noticed, and he was certain if it had been possible Bucky would have it the other way around. He kept his distance instead, giving Bucky some space.
Another minute ticked by, Bucky sipped his water and Steve watched awkwardly and wondered what on earth he should say or do, but it was Bucky who spoke first.
"You probably figured I'm a vet by now." He started and Steve just nodded, not wanting to interrupt. "And it's not just the arm I lost over there. I ended up with some serious head trauma." He took a deep breath and stared into his water. "I sometimes lose time, can't remember things anymore and sometimes, like just now, I get vertigo attacks. It's like something turns off my sense of balance and bam, I just keel over."
He glanced up at Steve apprehensively before quickly turning his head away.
Steve wanted to reach out, but kept his hands where they were.
"I know I act strange sometimes and ... " He took a deep breath. "You've become somewhat of a friend to me over the past weeks, I thought I'd let you know why."
Steve's head spun. Everything Bucky had just said made perfect sense, he had always assumed the worst, that Bucky didn't like him or was just indulging him but the thought that the other might have been dealing with some serious medical problems had never crossed his mind. Stupid, he berated himself. He had been volunteering at the VA often enough he should have seen the signs, Bucky probably had some form of PTSD too, and Steve was so blinded by his developing feelings for the other he completely overlooked it. The cute confusion when Bucky opened the door, the way he seemed exhausted all the time, his disheveled looks when he left the house, the bare apartment. It had been there.
He was staring at Bucky, frozen in place as he sorted his thoughts trying not to cringe at himself. To Bucky it must have looked like he was recoiling because his face dropped suddenly and he took a shaky breath.
"I'm sorry, shouldn't have said anything, I'll leave you alone from now on." He stood up so quickly he had to hold onto the couch for support again, that was when Steve finally reacted.
"Bucky, no. It's fine. I'm glad you told me." He got up as well and rounded the couch to stand in front of Bucky to stop him from getting to the door. "Thank you. That must have been hard for you, telling me all that. I'm really sorry this happened to you, but maybe I can help you deal with it?"
The taller man clenched his jaw as he eyed Steve, it was their first encounter all over again.
"As your friend." Steve added, sincere.
It took another moment of suspicious scrutinizing before Bucky's shoulders went slack and he dropped his head, breathing out shakily. He let himself fall back on the couch, his body like jelly as the tension seemed to drain from him. Admitting his problem had taken a lot out of him and Steve knew he hadn't exactly made it easy on the other. Steve lightly rested his hand on Bucky's right shoulder.
"I'll make us some coffee, what do you think, Buck?"
Bucky glanced up and nodded, smiling gratefully.
Bucky closed the door behind him and walked over to the couch. He let the keys fall onto the couch table and sat down. He was exhausted. Not physically, as the few punches he had shown Steve hadn't even made him sweat, but emotionally. The last hour had been a rollercoaster of emotions, good and bad, and he felt drained. On the table his phone gave a pitiful beep and somewhere in his mind he recalled that it was probably time for lunch. His body didn't react, he wasn't hungry anyway. His mind was in a daze and he felt like he was about to have a nervous breakdown like it had happened so often after he had met Steve the past couple of weeks, yet nothing happened. Instead he somehow managed to lie down, the ceiling spinning in front of his eyes. The thought that maybe he hadn't quite recovered from the previous vertigo attack crossed his mind and he closed his eyes.
Confessing his problems to Steve had been hard, he had pondered it for a long time. He had really come to like the quirky guy who had started to bring him food every now and then. The way he always stumbled over his words when he was flustered was adorable. It was the reason he had indulged him with the can opener. Anybody else would have probably earned a punch in the face if they had asked him how he used a can opener one-handed. But Steve had shown him respect and never asked inappropriate questions and it seemed he had asked more out of concern at first than anything else, which then turned into curiosity. He couldn't blame him.
Steve's initial reaction to his confession had shocked him. The look of disgust on his face was not something he had expected from the other guy and so he had wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. In that moment he had doubted everything. How could he have been so mistaken? He had regretted the decision to open up immediately.
But then Steve had turned around and done exactly what Bucky had hoped for. He hadn't made a big deal out of it, but had accepted him and his problems.
After that, while Bucky had sipped his coffee and calmed down, Steve had told him how he volunteered at the VA now and then and had a good friend who worked there as a group counselor.
Now, lying on the couch, eyes closed, Bucky remembered his own time at the VA, how everybody had told him the group meetings would help him. Just talking to people at the counter who helped him get his affairs in order and find a new apartment after he had been discharged from the hospital had been horror to him. Putting him into group sessions right after had resulted in nervous break downs and him practically fleeing the room more times than not.
Eventually he had resigned to calling them when he had questions and stopped going to the group sessions at all. Sam, his group counselor, had called him a couple of times, trying to get him to come back to the meetings, but he had refused. Bucky had stayed in his apartment instead, only going out at night when there were less people. He had found a little convenience store that was only a block from where he lived and that he could reach without taking the bus or having trouble with his balance.
He stayed up as long as possible watching TV, only falling asleep when he was too exhausted to stay awake, but woke up from nightmares or memories only a few hours later. His missing arm was hurting and cramping almost constantly, phantom pain syndrome, they said. It would go away, they said. The constant pain made him nauseous, or maybe it was the missing sleep, but he never ate much, if at all. He was miserable, in pain and with no way out of the downwards spiral. His tour overseas had taken more than just his arm and it had become more clear the more he had tried to go back to a civilian life.
Sam kept calling.
Bucky never had a problem talking to people on the phone. It provided the distance he needed to feel comfortable talking. If he had been in a more sound state of mind he would have been able to deal with the stares that came with facing people. Before he had enlisted he would have had no problem telling people off for rude remarks, but Bucky found himself at the verge of a panic attack more days than not and the constant fear to lose control over his body at any moment did the rest.
Their talks on the phone got longer every time. It gave Bucky a constant in his life that he could hold on to. With Sam's advice and support Bucky had managed to figure out how to live again, the panic attacks had lessened and he had slowly accepted his disability, learned how to do everyday things with one hand. Eventually he had started to work out again, the training helping him to stay grounded and giving him back a sense of control over his body.
He hadn't called Sam in a long time, there had been no reason because nothing had changed in his life for almost a year now, but Bucky felt himself slipping and the conversation with Steve had reminded him of Sam. Maybe he could help.
Bucky awkwardly felt for his phone on the table and searched his few contacts for the correct number. He didn't sit up and stayed where he was, closing his eyes again after he brought the phone to his ear.
"Hey, James." Sam answered on the other line.
"Sam, I need some advice."
"Sure, man, go ahead, that's what I'm here for." That's what he liked about Sam, he didn't ask questions, just let Bucky say what he needed to say.
Bucky swallowed and collected his thoughts before he started.
"You know I thought I was doing pretty well. I had a routine down, job is working out pretty good too, but recently I've been losing it." He took another deep breath and wet his lips. "I met a guy, my neighbour actually. First meeting was rough, but I think he's nice... genuine. I've been over at his place a couple of times, we had coffee."
"That sounds to me like you are making progress, James."
"Right? But it's not working, I'm getting worse. I-I can't handle it!" Bucky's breathing quickened, he felt like he was loosing it again, just thinking about it made it hard to stay focused.
"Hey, James, take a deep breath, tell me what exactly you feel is not right." Sam's voice was calm and collected on the other end and Bucky quickly calmed again. He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath.
"It makes it hard to stick to the routine when I don't know when he comes over and brings food. It throws me off, the timers don't work then, I skip meals, I can't sleep because I keep thinking about the guy."
He paused and Sam waited on the other end.
"I think I like him."
Bucky was close to hanging up after he said that, but resisted the urge, this was why he called.
"You're afraid you're gonna fall back into your old habits."
Bucky nodded before making an affirmative noise, not trusting himself to speak as he felt like he was about to start sobbing. Hearing it like this made it more real and it terrified him.
"Everybody needs time adjusting to something, just because you have a few bad days, doesn't mean you're slipping. You're still going to work, buying groceries and working out, aren't you?"
"Yeah." Bucky used his shoulder to hold his phone to his ear and rubbed his eyes.
"See, you said the guy brings over food, maybe you can try to incorporate that into your routine, keep the meals for the next day, then you can plan ahead. As for sleeping..." Sam sighed on the other end. "If only it was that easy to shut up thoughts. You haven't really met someone in a long time, James, I think it's just natural that you are focusing on him a lot now. Listen, I gotta go, I got a meeting. But you know you can call me any time."
Bucky took a deep breath, Sam was right.
"No problem, man."
They had agreed to continue their training lessons another time and Steve was glad for it. It seemed Bucky needed a break from social interactions for a while and Steve, well, Steve was lying on the couch groaning in pain from his sore muscles the next day and didn't want to think about how he would feel if they had actually continued.
"Steve, cut it out, you are not dying." Nat's voice came over the speaker of his phone. He had no energy left to hold it to his ear.
"Might as well." He mumbled and draped his arm over his eyes, hissing slightly as his muscles protested.
"You sure he didn't actually beat you to a bloody pulp?"
"He barely even touched me... I'm just bad at this."
"But he did touch you." Natasha snickered and Steve groaned.
He sluggishly turned around to lie on his stomach and buried his face in the couch cushion. It wasn't a much better position.
"Nat please. We're just friends, I doubt he's even into guys and certainly not into me. And even if he was, we barely know each other. I don't want to ruin things. I finally got to know Buck a little bit."
"You shouldn't sell yourself short, Steve, you're an awesome guy and just because your previous boyfriends were assholes doesn't mean you're not gonna get a decent guy one day. But alright, take it slow then, you gotta show him to us soon though. How about we come over next weekend and you conveniently invite him over?" Nat suggested and Steve could hear Clint cheering in the background.
This was a terrible idea. Bucky would freak out if he met them without warning.
"Or I could just come over and knock on his door, give him the Talk, threaten to kick his ass if he doesn't treat you right." Natasha continued when Steve didn't answer.
"NO!" Steve jumped up so fast that he totally forgot his aching muscles until he had already moved and his body was in pain again. "Urgh." He groaned and doubled over, face down, onto the couch.
"I'm fine." He mumbled. "Please don't come over and harass Bucky. He'll never talk to me again if I let that happen." He rolled onto his side and picked up his phone, finally putting it against his ear again. If he knew one thing for sure it what that Bucky didn't do well with meeting new people and he felt he needed to protect him from his crazy friends ... at least until he had a decent talk with Bucky about them. If at all he might introduce Sam first, get an ally and stop his overly enthusiastic friends from attacking and possibly driving away a potential... boyfriend? Steve shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Why don't you come over with Clint and we watch some movies and cook together, but I'm not gonna invite Bucky." He instead said to Nat, trying to appease her.
There was some grumbling on the other end of the line before Nat spoke again.
"Okay, but we're gonna choose the movie. But let me be clear. I don't like it that you keep this guy from us, we want to see this adonis of a man that you describe, unruly hair and all. You can't keep him from us forever. Oh and Clint has an bow and arrow thing on Saturday so maybe Friday is better."
"It's an archery competition, Nat." Clint yelled in the background.
"Whatever, is Friday good, Stevie-boy?"
"Sure, maybe I can move again by then."
"It's four days, Steve, you'll survive. Unless you invite him over again in the meantime." Steve could almost hear the eyebrow wiggle in that one.
"You know, I might just do that." He said defiantly, getting a little bit sick of Nat's teasing. "Maybe I'll invite him for dinner. He seems to like my cooking."
"Going into the offensive, Steve." Natasha whistled.
"I mean... I gotta get him interested somehow and just bringing him food is a bit one-sided and never actually resulted in a conversation. And I already invited him for coffee twice, it's not that big of a step, is it?" Steve suddenly wasn't so sure of his plan anymore.
"Are you gonna tell him it's a date or just invite him as a friend?" Nat asked exactly what he had just thought, this was a stupid idea and he knew it. It would only result in disaster and him having a nervous breakdown or two.. or three.
"I don't know...you think I should risk it?"
Natasha was silent for a while, probably mulling it over just like he was.
"You could always not say anything and if he asks, joke about it, test the water a little. You know what I mean?"
"Or, and this might actually be easier, just ask him."
"Nat, this is too much for me right now. I have to think this over and I'm getting a headache just thinking about thinking it over. I also have to draw like a bazillion more pages till next week and I don't think I can move off of this couch till at least next year."
"You want me to put Clint on to give you a few 'Awwww's and 'Poor Steve's to make you feel better?" Nat asked and Steve knew she wasn't joking, he could hear Clint in the background going 'Awwwwww' already.
"Nah, thanks. I think I'll manage. I'll just lie here for a bit feeling sorry for myself and then I'll get back to work later." He just remembered that James' show would be on today and it lifted his mood considerably.
"Don't worry your pretty little head too much, Steve, it's gonna be fine and if not I will kick some ass." With that Natasha hung up and Steve dropped his phone on the couch next to his head where it vibrated a couple of times just seconds later. Clint had sent a few 'Awwwwww's.
Steve held true to his promise and stayed on the couch for a little bit longer until he felt the self pity was getting a bit too much and there was actually work to do. Once he had managed to get up and moved around a bit, doing a few stretches even, he felt the soreness wasn't that bad anymore. After a quick lunch consisting of a sandwich and a leftover apple he felt good enough to head to the store and buy some groceries.
Nowadays he always had Bucky in mind when planning for his next meals, he didn't even question it anymore when he automatically grabbed the bigger pasta package or a few more vegetables because he was sure he'd bring some over to his neighbor once he'd make the dish. He wondered though if he had the guts to actually ask Bucky to come over for dinner for one of the meals he had planned, but he didn't linger on the thought for too long, knowing it would only cause him to get anxious.
Back at home he got to work on his comic pages. He mostly stuck to layouting and sketching a few poses, wanting to save the actual drawing part for when James' show was on. It kept him busy the next couple of hours. Around eight he turned on the radio to listen to the non-stop oldies and finally at eleven he heard the voice of the guy he might as well be just as attracted to as his next door neighbor.
"Hello, you are listening to Station 13. My name is James and this is the Late-night show. Thank you for tuning in."
Next chapter is going to have some Steve Bucky interaction again. I promise.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10.1
I have to apologize for the long wait.
I've had a this part of the chapter done for some time but lost inspiration and when I came back to it my computer didn't save my progress and I didn't feel like typing it up again, so I wrote other stuff in the meantime and in the end the program I use to keep track of all my stuff corrupted the file somehow. I have all the individual files but sorting through them is a pain and I just found this part so I thought I at least give you what I have instead of letting you wait maybe another month.... This is not the whole thing...would be really short if it were...
TL:DR Shit got messed up.
Steve had decided to go through with his plan and invite Bucky over for dinner, despite all of his fears and doubts. He had gone through all the possible outcomes and was prepared for everything. Or so he thought.
Bucky always had this little shock reaction when Steve was in front of his door, no matter how often Steve had brought over food that had never changed. His eyes widened and he needed a couple of second before he said anything, but then a small smile appeared on his face. The exact same thing happened only a few seconds later when Steve actually asked if Bucky wanted to come over for dinner.
"Yeah, sure but maybe not today? Maybe tomorrow? I - " Bucky paused and hung his head, his hair obscuring his face. Steve would have found it cute had he not been occupied with the fact that Bucky had just said yes. Maybe not directly, but it was definitely a yes. Steve's brain had short circuited.
Luckily Bucky needed a moment as well it seemed, because once Steve's brain decided to work again, he had still said nothing. Another couple of seconds passed before he swallowed and took a breath.
"Tomorrow is better." He just said, offering no explanation.
"Yeah, no problem. What's a good time for you?"
"Three... Four. Ish?" Bucky more asked than answered. "Not exactly dinner time, I guess."
"That's fine. Really." Steve assured the other seeing how uncomfortable he had gotten. "It's a late lunch for me then, dinner for you."
Steve could barely contain his excitement and before he accidentally jumped Bucky he decided a tactical retreat was in order.
"I'll see you tomorrow then." Steve grinned and gave a small wave already taking a few step backwards towards his apartment before turning around and skipping, yes skipping, to his door.
What a wonderful day.
He had planned a pasta dish with salad and none of the ingredients would spoil till tomorrow. Steve used the free time to go out and buy some dessert too. Just in case of course.
Steve woke up early the next day despite listening to James' show until three in the morning. That guy continued to fascinated him and he really hoped he would work up the courage soon to maybe call in on the show some time. He had thought about calling to get some advice regarding Bucky, get some input from a neutral source but then he realized that he couldn't ask the guy he had a little crush on about the other guy he had a crush on. It just didn't feel right even though he didn't actually see any chances with James it made somehow sense in his head. Nevertheless he would like to let the guy now that he admired what he did.
Drawing and cleaning came easy that morning, Steve turned the radio on while working to listen to some music. It wasn't the Late-night show, but it was something. He had to admit he wasn't quite as nervous that Bucky came over as he expected to be, despite the post-ponning. Maybe their relationship had come to a point where it wasn't unusual anymore. It felt familiar having Bucky over. We've become friends, Steve thought as he prepared the sauce for the lunch/dinner and it put a permanent smile on his face.
When he had everything ready except the pasta itself it was almost three o'clock. They hadn't made out an exact time but it didn't bother Steve, the sauce could be kept warm and the pasta only needed a couple of minutes to cook anyway. He sat down at his desk, humming to the current song on the radio, and started sketching until he heard the faint knock on his door. Steve almost missed it.
He opened the door excitedly and then stared wide eyed at the sight before him. It was Bucky, definitely Bucky, but also... different.
Bucky wore a black button down shirt, the right sleeve rolled up to just under his elbow, the left one folded and pinned to his shoulder. He had left one button open at the top and the fit suited him perfectly. Nice black jeans and shoes completed the outfit. But it weren't Bucky's unusual nice and fancy clothes, no, it was what he had done with his hair that had Steve in a fit. Because for the first time since he had met him Bucky wore a pony tail.
Steve gasped a little as he laid eyes on Bucky and it only occurred to him to actually say something when Bucky turned his head away in his usual fashion, but there were only a few loose strands of hair to hide behind.
"You look nice." Steve finally said and Bucky looked back to him.
Steve wasn't quite as dressed up as Bucky but he had put on a button down as well, though it was a little loose on him.
He gestured the other inside and went back to the kitchen.
"Make yourself at home."
It helped to focus on something other than Bucky's face and hair and everything else because it was quite distracting. Steve put on the pot of water for the pasta and warmed up the sauce again.
He set out two dishes and some cutlery, putting all of Bucky's on the right side of the plate, figuring ettiquete wasn't as important as the others comfort. He didn't have a dining table but the free standing counter that seperated the kitchen from the rest of the room would do nicely.
Bucky stood a little awkwardly in the middle of Steve's apartment, reminicent of how their first meeting had gone. Steve stole occassional glances over to the other while he worked.
The water was soon boiling and Steve dropped the pasta in. Bucky had wandered over to Steve's desk, looking over his work, Steve luckily had hidden all the occassional sketches he had done of Bucky.
"What station is this?" Bucky suddenly asked and Steve perked up, not knowing what the other was talking about. The radio, of course, Bucky was standing in front of it, looking at it, or rather glaring at it.
"Station 13, why?"
"Can I turn it off?"
"Uh sure..." Steve took the pot of boiling pasta off the stove and almost burned himself when he poured it into a sieve in the sink. The music soon cut off.
"I just put it on while I cooked, music helps me concentrate." It wasn't the total truth because in fact it was James' voice that helped him concentrate but Bucky didn't need to know that.
"When I work late I listen to this show, it's quite good, and I just love the guy that modera-"
"What show?" Bucky interrupted, he had gone back to his desk and was looking over his drawings. Steve took it as curiousity and started babbling.
"Late-night show actually. I just love it, the guy has such a soothing voice. It's one of those shows where you can call in and get advice for personal problems, relationships, etc, and James, that's the guy's name, always amazes me." Steve smiled fondly as he recalled the previous nights where he had listened to him.
"Might call him some time." He said absentmindedly, plating the pasta.
There was a loud bang and Bucky cursed. Steve looked up to see him kneeling next to the desk.
"Sorry, dropped this." Bucky stood back up and put a small object back on the table. It was a rubix cube Clint had gotten him at some point, he had never spent much time on trying to figure it out.
"Sounds.. uh.. good." Bucky mumbled and turned his back to Steve as he looked over the shelfs on the wall.
"Yeah, it really is, you should listen to it sometimes, if you stay up late." Steve suggested, excited that Bucky was interested. He arranged the small salad bowls on the counter and got ready to plate the pasta. The conversation was really pleasant, Steve found, even though he found it a bit weird talking about his obsession with Bucky.
"Can't. I work. Oh, this is nice." Bucky said suddenly. "Why haven't you put it up?"
When Steve looked up, surprised at the sudden change of subject, he found the man holding up the dart board that he had been neglecting for years now. The dart board he couldn't lift if his life depended on it, the dart board Bucky was holding with just one hand.
"Because I am pretty sure I would break my back if I tried to lift it."
Bucky nodded and put it back down.
"It's quite heavy", he admitted. "I could help you, if you want."
Steve grinned and already saw them playing darts together, one more reason to invite Bucky over.
"I'd like that, but after dinner. It's getting cold." He plated tha pasta and sauce and Bucky sat opposite him, he looked nervous and somewhat uncomfortable. Steve chalked it up to it being their first date.
It really was a date, wasn't it? They both had dressed up, Bucky looking downright gorgeous and Steve had at least tried, he told himself. He had cooked dinner and now they were sitting in his kitchen, eating together. Steve's heart fluttered a little.
"So were do you work?" Steve asked trying to make small talk while they ate. It seemed he chose the wrong topic when Bucky visibly tensed, not looking up from his plate.
"Just the nightshift. At some place." He gave a one sided shrug and put some pasta in his mouth, clearly not wanting to tell more. Steve had already expected he worked at night somewhere with his odd sleeping hours, but he had been curious what exactly Bucky did.
Steve tried to get Bucky to reveal some more about himself and what he did by telling him about his own work on the comic and at the university. Bucky relaxed when the topic wasn't on him and Steve babbled his heart out, even getting a few laughters out of Bucky. It almost made his chest burst to hear that precious sound.
When they both finished Steve started to do the dishes, thinking about how he would introduce the dessert he bought. Bucky was standing next to him with his plate in his hand.
"I should probably go." He suddenly said when Steve took his plate. "I'm pretty tired and I have to work later."
Steve looked up at him a bit dumbfounded at having his plans thrown out of the window so suddenly.
"I'll come over tomorrow and help you put that board up, if that's alright with you." Bucky gestured to the dart board in the corner before rubbing his neck, looking down.
"Yeah, sure, no problem." Tomorrow would be fine, maybe they could talk some more then. If Bucky stayed long enough for them to play a bit they could still eat the dessert then.
"Thanks for the nice meal, Steve."
"You're welcome." Steve dried his hands before walking Bucky to the door. He had enjoyed the evening immensly, even with Bucky leaving so early. This was the longest he had stayed over and Steve couldn't help but smile at the progress their relationship had made. Maybe this was going to be something after all.
He watched Bucky walk back to his own door and gave a little wave when the other vanished inside. When he closed his door he fistpumped and had to hold back on messaging Nat immediately. They would be in for a surprise when he told them on the weekend.
Second part of chapter 10
Not really pleased with how it turned out. I think there was just too long of a break...
Chapter 12: Chapter 11
The chapter numbers are a little messed up because I posted chapter 10 in two pieces. I think I will reformat that soon.
That was the only thing going through his head when Bucky finally closed the door behind him. It was a miracle he had held out so long, had held it together over the course of the whole dinner.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck."
How had he messed that up?
He knew, technically he hadn't messed up anything, but how on earth did Steve knew about James' Late-night show? It wasn't supposed to go like this. Nobody was supposed to know.
Bucky was on the edge of a panic attack, he ran his hand through his hair and stumbled into the bathroom. He fumbled with the tap until he got some cold water and splashed it onto his face. The water helped a little and he focused on his breathing, holding onto the sink with an iron grip. After a couple of minutes of just listening to his own ragged breathing and the running water he closed his eyes and sighed.
He was falling for his neighbour and he was falling hard.
Bucky didn't want to admit it, but it had been clear after he had talked to Sam. He had made an effort to not freak out when Steve stood in front of his door, had even managed to accept the dinner invitation, tried not to read too much into it. He had even put on his best clothes, worked up the courage to look up how to tie a pony tail one-handed and had even managed to do it and now everything was threatening to fall apart.
Steve wanted someone like James.
'James' the persona Bucky had created for the radio show. Of course it was also his real given name but not many people called him that so in a way he had distanced himself from it.
He hadn't done it on purpose, it had just happened over time. Hiding behind a microphone, out of anybody's sight, had made him confident. It had reflected on how he had answered the phone calls and he had even subconsciously changed how he spoke when on the radio, giving a different tone to his voice. It had surprised him too when he had first heard a recording of himself. At this point, they weren't even the same person anymore.
Steve could never know.
He could never know how broken Bucky really was, that James was just a farce. A shield he was hiding behind to cover the mess that was his life.
A shudder ran through Bucky's body and he slid down to the floor. What if Steve really called in? What if he called in today? Bucky was sure he would not be able to keep up the act, he'd break down then and there, live on air. He'd lose his job, his security, the small bit of safety he had carved out for himself in his fucked up life.
Why did he have to fall for his neighbor? His first instinct now was to just cut off all communication but he quickly realized there was no point, Steve was the one who initiated contact and he couldn't just start ignoring him and quite frankly, he didn't want to. Bucky wanted Steve in his life, he was the reason he got out of bed for work, to eat regular meals (not only because Steve was the one who brought them over).
Steve gave his life a purpose that he had lost so long ago. Steve was his friend. He didn't want to lose him.
Bucky cried himself to sleep on the bathroom floor that night and later startled awake when his phone's alarm went off. He was sore from sleeping on the hard floor having lied on his left side, which he usually avoided and he had a severe headache. Nevertheless he pulled himself together and got up. He had to get to work.
The realization from just a few hours ago still plagued him, but he come to a decision. He would enjoy the time he had with Steve now, enjoy the friendship that knocked on his door one day and gave him a bowl of salad. Steve might never find out and he could live with that, he thought. It might break him, but he would live.
Without breakfast he hurried to work. His coworkers thankfully left him alone even though he knew he must look terrible. Sitting in the booth in front of the microphone was pure horror though. Every time the phone rang he felt a panic attack rising and it was only thanks to muscle memory that he was able to take the call and say his usual line. None of the calls turned out not to be Steve, but it was a struggle with every single one. Once he had someone on the line he fell back into James' mindset and was able to do his job, but as soon as he hung up Bucky's shattered mind was back in control.
He was paranoid, he knew that, but that didn't change his feelings. He had to play a couple of songs after every call just to calm down again. His thoughts drifted back to what Steve had said.
He "just loved the guy".
Bucky's heart broke over and over again just thinking about those words.
He was glad when Sharon pulled him out of the booth 15 minutes early and told him to go home, his head was spinning. He barely made it back to his apartment and collapsed on the couch the moment he closed the door behind him not even taking off his shoes. Somewhere in the back of his mind he realized that he hadn't eaten anything since his dinner with Steve, but he didn't care.
It wasn't until an hour later when his phone beeped again, not only telling him to make food but also saying it was in desperate need of charging, that Bucky rolled off the couch. He held his head for a minute, trying to focus before he got up on his feet.
A bowl of cereal was the easiest he could think of for now and as soon as his stomach wasn't complaining anymore he took some painkillers for the headache, he had some serious thinking to do and he needed his brain.