Bucky sees him every morning. He’s always wearing a variation of the same thing regardless of the weather – grey jogging pants and a white t-shirt that’s stretched too fucking tight over his chest that Bucky is sure one day he’ll flex wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it) and it’s going to rip off. He may keep a close eye on him when he’s stretching for that exact reason, but no one can prove it except the blond who he also sees almost every day. She’s about as subtle as a brick too – she stops to drink at the fountain beside Bucky and they try to watch without watching.
Some mornings she’ll sigh. One day he may have whimpered a little (seriously, who the fuck bends like that in public?) and got a commiserative nod in return. Her name is Sharon. She sometimes offers him a dextrose tablet if she thinks he’s looking a little pale. They’re orange flavour, and some days, she’s the only person he interacts with.
Bucky always ran in the mornings. It had been part of his physical therapy and then part of his regular therapy and now it’s just part of his routine. He noticed the tall, blond, muscular man about three weeks into his route. The first three weeks he’d not been paying much attention because he’d been hyper aware of his own self – the hoodie wasn’t going to hide the fact that he’s lost an arm – and people looking at his lopsided run. Three weeks later his run was still lopsided but he’d started to notice other things, like Sharon who runs in a pink top for breast cancer and the other ‘vet who never smiles but jogs past with his metal leg clearly visible in his shorts.
And he’d noticed… Him. Grey shorts and sensible running shoes and that fucking white t-shirt that must have been made of firmer stuff than cotton because the strain on the seams must be unbelievable and Bucky tore a shirt a week - his metal prosthetic was to blame, fucking plates caught on everything.
He didn’t listen to music like One Leg Vet, or audio transcripts like Pink Sharon, but his expression was blank, fixed – his mouth a flat line as he ran. Unlike Pink Sharon, One Leg Vet and even Bucky (at the start) he ran. Flat out, legs pumping, arms moving – ran like he was in a race. Bucky hadn’t managed more than a jog at first (fucking centre of gravity screwed with his one arm) but now he was running. Running in black sweats and a black hoodie and only stopping at the fountain if He was stretching.
The frost was probably the sign that maybe going for a run was a bad idea – but Bucky had been running every day at the same time for 8 months and he wasn’t gonna let some ice beat him. Not if he’d already beat the lopsided running thing into an actual gait.
He got a wobbly walk around the park before he landed on his ass and glared at the sky. Fuck the sky.
“Yaxtrax.” Someone said, and He was there. He was holding out a hand, looking blond and glorious and not even a little red in the nose from the cold. Shit, he wasn’t even wearing gloves.
“Huh?” Bucky managed, eloquently as ever.
He blushed, a soft pink that looked oddly innocent on his golden skin. “Sorry, I mean… there are these things, you put on your shoes. Yaxtraks. Stop you slipping on the ice.”
“Right.” Bucky managed. Fucking great. First conversation with the hottest guy he’d ever seen and he’s sitting on his ass in the freezing cold looking like a total tit. He struggled to his feet – one fucking arm and all, ignoring the hand that He had extended. Couldn’t take it anyway.
He realised His mistake as soon as Bucky got to his feet and his soft pink blush turned a mottled red. “Sorry!” He stammered, holding out his other hand – too late though, Bucky was on his feet. His hand soft of hovered in the air and Bucky took the initiative. Just so he’d have something to tell his therapist at least.
“James.” He said, shaking the hand like he thought that was what He had planned.
“Rogers. Steven. Steve.” He (Steve) said, words tripping over themselves. His blush was just red splotches on his skin, high colour and burning ears. “I’m Steve.”
Then he nodded, smiled like he hoped the earth would swallow him up, and jogged away.
The running store knew exactly what he wanted when he arrived and told them he was looking for “Yacks?”
Normally he’d just go online and order off of Ebay but he wasn’t sure how long that would take and he was pretty sure he was asking for the wrong thing. He ended up buying a new pair of running shoes (they made him go on some machine that measured his steps when he ran) and some insoles that would stop his lopsided running from screwing up his hip, as well as a pair of clip on metal tracks that worked a bit like snow shoes, and a rubberized set that would do him better over ice.
His therapist was pleased. Her red hair shone in the mid morning light as she nodded to the bags he’d brought in. He told her about the shoes and the fall – and the blond. He hadn’t mentioned the blond before. Didn’t like to think that she’d read too much into his crush.
“I shook his hand.” He said. “His name is Steve, and he’s blond.”
“Hmm?” She said, not writing anything down. “Did you start the conversation?”
He’d been tasked with starting one conversation a week. So far he’d failed. “No. He started it. But I asked the girl in the shop. I started that one.”
“Steve talked to you.” She said. She didn’t think sales people counted. He knew that, he’d just been hoping she’d let it slide. “What happened.” It wasn’t a question. She didn’t even phrase it as one.
“I fell over. Fucking ice.” He grumbled. She’d told him in their last session that he should try skipping his morning run if the weather was bad, try something new, break the mould. He was glad she didn’t bring up the ‘I told you so’. “And he must have saw me, and he held out his hand to help me up.”
“Did you accept his help?”
“Wrong hand.” He glared, moving on quickly. “But he musta saw that, ‘cause he held out his other one.” He paused. “So I shook his hand and introduced myself.”
Her eyebrow shot up at that, and Bucky wanted to crow, because he’d known she’d like that. Obviously, she schooled her expression into something like polite interest like normal, but he’d seen her reaction. “And he introduced himself as Steve. Rogers.”
“Steve Rogers.” She said. Her voice flat, like she was squeezing any emotion out of it. She’d done this before, when he’d first shown up at her office and couldn’t deal with… well, with anything really.
“Hmm.” He nodded, taking a leaf out of her own playbook, and got a sharp glare for his effort. He grinned at her, and he saw the corner of her mouth twitch only once, fighting a smile. “And then he told me about the shoe things, and I went and got the shoe things.” He paused. “And I tried a new coffee on the way here.”
“Fucking disgusting thing with pumpkin or some shit like that, from the mermaid place.”
“I know you know it’s called Starbucks, James.” She said. This was a running joke. He liked the name, because it was his name.
“Never heard of it, Miss Romanov.”
The VA centre was never ‘busy’ but it was also never empty. Bucky went every Tuesday afternoon and Friday night, because he liked the guy that worked those meetings. He was called Sam and he’d also lost people. Not as many as Bucky, but (as Miss Romanov liked to remind him) loss was not a competition. Bucky didn’t talk much at the meetings, because he never knew where to start. Does he apologise for the people he killed? The good people he killed? The soldiers like him who were just doing their fucking jobs before Bucky came along and retired them, or the kids? Shit, the kids were the worst, those faceless names in a long list, names and ages, that haunts his nights. So he sits there and lets the people around him assume he’s like them. He’s there because of his arm, his PTSD. Not because he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people – bad intel, rotten fucking liars in power who sent him in with explosives and didn’t expect him to get out – hunched on his shoulders.
His CO had known, and the documents had been leaked through the web by some hacker chick that was facing life in prison for cyber terrorism had shown that they’d picked James deliberately. His black ops record was spotless, his ‘can do’ attitude. His loyalty to his team and his drive to prove himself – everything about him screamed ‘pick me for this mission’ and they had. And he’d blown up the ‘terrorist base’ and lost his arm and then later (much later, and only because he’d been taken out of hospital by men in black Kevlar and beaten and accused) that he’d found out that it hadn’t been a terrorist base.
American soldiers. School kids. Refugees. All because some shadowy figure in the background known only as ‘Pierce’ in the leaked files needed it to look like a terrorist attack. Bucky was supposed to have died in the explosion. He’d almost died in their ‘interrogation’ of him. Only the leaked emails that clearly stated that he knew nothing had stopped him from being locked up. Only the leaked files that had the secret location where James was being illegally held (beaten, tortured, starved) had saved his life.
Romanov helped. Told him that he’d done as he was ordered, without the information that he required to make a judgement call. He’d been operating under the assumption that he was taking out terrorists. He’d been lied to, he’d been innocent. He’d done his job and his superiors were to blame.
So he sat in the back and he let people think he was just like them. Tuesdays and Fridays, where he’d drink the bad coffee and listen to Sam talk about how they were good, and strong and all the other bullshit that his first four therapists tried to ram down his throat. Romanov didn’t bother.
He liked her best.
Winter came fast and hard and Bucky used his new shoes (yeah, the guy at the store must have known his shit, because the new running shoes were fucking superior) and he saw Steve every morning and he sometimes would blush at Bucky as he ran past. Bucky had stopped watching him stretch. Too fucking cold to stand around, it looked suspicious, and he was fully aware that he’d been a creeper. He jogged past.
The next day, Steve didn’t stop to stretch mid run. He changed his route instead and ran counter clockwise to Bucky. Bucky could no longer check out his ass when Steve overtook him. He could, however, check out his dick as Steve ran toward him.
Creeper or not, Bucky took his small pleasures where he could.
“Have you talked any more to Steve?” Romanov asked when Bucky had finished complaining about the guy who pushed in front of him at the checkout. Bucky was hoping she’d be pleased that he hadn’t thrown him through the fucking window, because he almost had, and then managed to stop himself from moving even so much as a muscle.
“Uh,” He said, because it was a little out of left field – even for her. “No?”
“Hmm.” Was all she said, but there was a frown between her eyebrows and Bucky wasn’t sure if he’d done something wrong.
“Should I have?” He asked, because… shit, he was fucking confused. He’d only ever mentioned Steve once. He wasn’t about to tell his therapist he’d worked his day around Steve and his mid-run yoga poses. Which he no longer did.
“It’s nothing.” She said, and then seemed to catch herself. “It’s not related to your sessions.” She amended, and yeah, Bucky was completely lost.
“Okay.” He said, and looked at his hands. Both hands, because he’d put on his Stark Prosthetic today in an attempt to ‘come to terms’ with his disability and ‘accept help’ where it was offered.
“I know him.” She said, after looking at her notes for a moment. “Not as a patient.” She looked at Bucky like she knew what he was thinking. “I have never mentioned you, or our sessions.”
Okay, so maybe she did know what he was thinking.
“Okay.” He said. The less said the better. She looked… well, she looked like she always looked, which was unruffled and coolly detached, but he could see that she was… well, something was up. “So… okay?”
“I keep my personal and work lives completely separate.” She said, and Bucky had never, not once in the 8 months he’d been seeing her, fidget. And yet there she was, rolling the pen between her fingers.
“Do I need to get a new therapist?” He asked, because fuck, he liked Romanov. She didn’t try to get him to talk about his feelings or get him to knit or any of that bullshit, she just helped him – he’d been doing so much better with her. He felt good. He talked to three new people the other day, and only one of them was a salesperson. He made dinner three times a week from a recipe book she’d given him to work through.
“Hmm?” She said, and then seemed to realise that Bucky was having a small panic. “No.” Her tone was firm. “I only asked because Steve told me he had spoken to a man at the park and I thought it was you, and I thought you might want to share, for a change.”
“Steve doesn’t talk to anyone at the park.” Bucky found himself saying, which was way too much information for him to know about a guy he’d only ever mentioned once.
“He does.” She replied. “He talks to everyone.”
“No.” Bucky argued, and wanted to punch himself in the throat when she cocked an eyebrow at him. “It’s my job, it used to be my job,” He corrected quickly before she could do it for him. “To notice things. I noticed him.” A lot, he didn’t add although the arched brow seemed highly aware that he was omitting that.
“He doesn’t talk to people.” She repeated.
“He arrives at 5.30pm and he runs till 7.” Bucky rattled off. “He used to stretch half way, but he doesn’t now, and I really don’t want a lecture about how I shouldn’t notice this, but he’s cute and it’s hard not to notice, okay? It’s not an army thing.”
“Sharon notices him too.” He tried to defend himself.
“Pink Sharon. She runs most mornings if the weather is okay.”
The eyebrow smoothed out. “You know her name?”
“Yeah, I know her name.” Bucky said. “She carries orange dextrose tablets in her pocket.” He supplied. “She runs marathons to raise money for breast cancer.” And he wanted to punch the air when Romanov smiled at him.
“What meal did you make last night?” She said, going back to her notes, Steve Rogers removed from the conversation completely.
“I want to ask you a question – and I want you to know it is completely unrelated to anything you’ve said in this, or any other session.”
“It’s about Steve.”
“He told me that he talked to you.” She said, and the pen was rolling between her fingers again, and Bucky knew that was her tell by now. The weather had gotten better, the snow gone and spring just around the corner. He’d been seeing Romanov for a year. He’d only talked to Steve Rogers once.
“Ah, nope.” He said. He bought her a present for Christmas. It was a set of knitting needles. She’d actually laughed before she threatened to stab him with them. He counted that as a win.
“He doesn’t know I know you.” She advised. “He told me he talked to you and that he ran with you.”
“Nope.” Bucky said.
“I didn’t think you’d be able to keep that to yourself.” She smirked, and Bucky through a pillow at her head. Their relationship had become much better. He felt like he was talking to a friend now, although he was careful. He knew it was just her job. He was just her job. “Nevermind.” She smiled, tossing the cushion back at him. “His issues are not your issues.”
It rained a lot, in the spring, and Bucky spent most of his morning runs squelching. He wasn’t the only one. One Leg Vet was back now the snow had cleared. Bucky said “Hi.” One morning and now they had one of those weird relationships where they would smile at each other as they passed, and sometimes they’d stop together and chat. His name was Gabe, he’d lost his leg in a car crash – not a ‘vet. They got a coffee from the stand that was set up in the park, and bitched about the rain.
Pink Sharon was back too – she frowned when Steve didn’t stop for his yoga bendy poses. Bucky grinned: “He stopped doin’ it.” As he ran past, and Sharon chased him down to ask why. Sometimes she’d join him and Gabe for coffee.
They would watch Steve run past. “Gay.” Bucky said, one morning as he sipped his coffee.
“Married.” Sharon shot back. “Look at that. Someone snapped that up a long time ago.”
“Not wearing a ring.” Gabe pointed out. “Looks like the type who’d wear a ring.”
“He’s straight.” Sharon said, poking Bucky in the ribs. “You’re projecting.”
“I’m fucking praying.” He shot back, and all three of them cackled with laughter.
Bucky had a date. Bucky was happy, Romanov was happy, Sharon was happy too – she offered to help him shop for dating clothes (which he had none) and Bucky had bought a new pair of very (very) tight jeans and a soft grey sweater that made him look kinda warm. Cozy. Dateable.
The date sucked, although Bucky knew it wasn’t his fault. His date, a guy who went to the same Starbucks as him and asked him out after only a quick chat while waiting for their drinks, was nice enough. They had dinner and desert and then Clarke kind of assumed that sex was on the cards. “One date?” He’d asked Romanov. “Is that all it takes?”
“Yes.” She shrugged. “Apparently romance is dead. You’re not the first person to ask me that this week.”
“You got a Mr Romanov weeping about the horrors of modern life?”
“I’ve got a Mr none-of-your-business who is very, very appreciative of my modern outlook on sex and sexuality.” She replied, primly, and he snorted a laugh.
“I bet,” He grinned. “Poor guy.”
Steve started doing his yoga poses again, although after his run. This timed perfectly with Bucky, Gabe and Sharon’s now ritual coffee morning after their own separate-but-together runs. Bucky was working on his stamina, Gabe was breaking in a new Stark Tech prosthetic, and Sharon was training for another marathon, so they all had different speeds and routes. Steve just ran, flat out, the same every day.
And now, yoga.
“Sweet jesus.” Sharon said, looking over the rim over her paper cup. “Surely he’s not real.”
“You know, you are both really pervy.” Gabe advised, ignoring the sight – the work of fucking art – on the other side of the path. Just far away enough that he’d not hear them. Close enough for them to make out every bulging pectoral.
“Look,” Bucky explained. “It’s like this: Shut your goddamn mouth, we’re appreciating. You’ve got a girl, you don’t get to criticize us – you’re just as bad with the goo-goo eyes when she comes by.”
She worked at a local pet shelter, and she walks the dogs some days early enough that Gabe managed to introduce them all. Bucky liked her. He liked best the fact that she obviously had Gabe whipped within an inch of his life – and that the other man loved it.
“I think you should see another therapist.” Natasha said, not entirely out of the blue. She’d been dropping hints for months. “You know I’ve done about as much as I can with you. You need someone who can push you further.”
“I like you though.” Bucky pointed out. “I’m not gonna like anyone else.”
“James, when you first came to me you were a mess. You didn’t talk to anyone. You had no social life, you had no hobbies, or routine. The progress you’ve made is outstanding – you need to move on.” She paused. “That also means moving on from me.”
“You gonna let me buy you a drink, soldier?” She asked him a month later, walking up to him at the bar where he was trying to get served. He’d been waiting for an age – fuck New York and it’s hipster crowds.
“Get your own.” He shot back, and she hugged him.
Steve was bending, and Bucky had given up any pretence of not watching. Gabe was on vacation with his girl and Sharon was away visiting family and the weather was good and the coffee wasn’t, and Steve was bending.
Bucky watched as he flexed and folded himself into new shapes (interesting shapes. Shapes Bucky wouldn’t mind seeing in the bedroom) and then finally straighten up.
Something went wrong though – or, if you’d been watching him like Bucky had been watching, something amazing happened. The white shirt ripped. Ripped right down the front – a jagged line of fraying cotton.
Bucky couldn’t help it.
He may have cheered.
“Thanks for the hoodie.” Steve was saying, his ears still red, still burning and cheeks still mottled and hot.
“Any time.” Bucky grinned. The sun was beating down now, high in the sky and warm. “Gotta say, I’ve been expecting that shirt to give out for a while.”
“It’s a flaw in the fabric.”
“It’s about four sizes too small.” Bucky corrected. “Poor Sharon. She’ll be heartbroken she missed the grand reveal.”
“Hey soldier.” Natasha said. They’d kept in touch. She was a friend now, the type of friend who had drinks and ate junk food and watched movies on her couch. This was one of those nights.
“Hey yourself.” He said. Hands full, two hands. One not quite his, but he was getting there. The shirt he was wearing under his jacket had the sleeves rolled up, like the guys on the posters in the store. It took him three attempts and an online tutorial, but fuck it – he looked good.
“Clint invited Steve over, I hope you don’t mind.” She smiled, and Bucky almost dropped the beer as she sashayed back into the living room, leaving him standing open mouthed at the door. “Have you met Bucky, Steve?”
“I told Natasha I spoke to you at the park.” Steve admitted, a month later. The movie had sucked. The food at the restaurant was terrible. It was the best date he’d ever been on.
“I know.” Bucky said. “She was my therapist.”
“Fuck.” Steve ran his hands through his hair. “I may have mentioned you more than I realised and she wouldn’t get off my back about it, and I just wanted her to stop pestering me, so I told her I talked to you.” He paused. “She knew I was lying to her.”
“Yeah.” Bucky nodded, and stole a fry from Steve’s plate. It was limp and undercooked and even worse than the ones on his plate. “But I spent the better part of a year watching you run around the park praying your shirt would rip off, so I think I win.”
Steve blushed. He still didn’t do it attractively, turning blotchy under the terrible lighting of the terrible restaurant. “I stopped doing the stretches when you stopped stopping to watch me.” He blurted. He really didn’t blush well, and Bucky laughed so hard they got thrown out. Best date ever.