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The Way To A Man's Heart

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It all starts with a text from the Parker kid — "Omg mister bucky did you really used to eat this kind of stuff?!?!?" — followed by a link to a tiktok video. Bucky rolls his eyes but clicks the link obligingly. He's not sure what he expects, but it certainly isn't the most beautiful man he's ever set eyes on.

He has to watch the video a second time to actually pay attention to the food that the man is making, and even then he keeps getting distracted by full lips, high cheekbones, a slender waist, and long, delicate fingers. 

On the third watch, he finally registers the running (scathing, hilarious)  commentary but he's still not sure if his current lack of ability to breathe is from laughter or from how stunning the man is. 

“Nah, we weren’t *that* poor, but I knew some who did. Funny vid tho!” he sends back. He’s got a soft spot for the kid—he’s a pure soul, extremely sweet and caring, and was the one who’d been the least awkward of everyone around Bucky at first. 

Bucky sets his phone down and grabs his laptop, navigating to the main tiktok page for the man who made the video Peter had sent. The page is full of videos of him—his name is Steve, Bucky quickly figures out—recreating old recipes and then trying the results. Bucky already can tell how most of these are going to end up, since he's eaten several of them. While they were passable at the time, he much prefers the food he eats now. There's also some personal videos about his music and various places he's traveled. 

The tiktok stuff leads to finding Steve's YouTube channel, which has a few longer versions of the videos with more detail about the recipes. A short time (and every single video) later, and Bucky has subscribed to the YouTube channel and created a tiktok account to follow the guy.

By the end of the night, two things have happened: the first is that Bucky has laughed more in a few hours than he has since before WWII, and the second is that he’s pretty sure he’s in love.

 

***

 

Bucky’s phone dings, and he absently checks it. He's sitting in the common room, relaxing after a workout with Peter, Natasha, and Clint, during which he misjudged his new arm only a dozen times instead of a hundred. 

"Oh hey, Pete, look there's a new one," he says, and tips his phone in Peter's direction as tiktok opens up.

"Did you… You're following him?" Peter asks, surprised. 

"Yeah. The guy's hilarious. And it's funny to see someone reacting to the recipes. I remember a bunch of these things."

"This is a 'water pie' from—" 

"Oh god, no, Steve don't—" Bucky groans.

"What're you watching—" Clint starts.

"Oh my god I love this guy," Natasha says, leaning over the back of the couch between Bucky and Peter.

The four of them erupt into laughter when Steve takes a bite of the final result and retches, spitting it out off screen.

"That is a war crime dear god that was disgusting." Steve says as the video cuts off.

"Mister Bucky you should message him! Give him suggestions!" Peter says, bouncing in place. 

"Sounds like he gets plenty of those already," Bucky answers. 

"Oh wait! You could do your own videos. You know, like reactions to his. Have you seen those? And give feedback on the stuff from a firsthand perspective!"

"I'm pretty sure that goes against every safety and privacy protocol in place regarding my continued freedom instead of getting soggy on the raft."

Peter deflates for all of half a second—his eternal optimism is endearing beyond belief—before his face lights up. "I bet Mr. Stark could set something up! Get you an ultra secure connection that nobody could trace back."

"Nah, that's okay, Pete. Fun idea, but not practical." Bucky musses up Peter's hair affectionately as he swipes out of the app.

Peter has put an idea into his head, though, and despite himself, later that evening Bucky logs into his Instagram—Steve has said that he’s not on Instagram often, so hopefully he gets less messages there than he does on tiktok and will be more likely to see it. Bucky’s own page is mostly for PR and is managed by someone from the Avengers’ official PR team since he almost never uses it himself, but it’s a verified account, which is likely to get Steve’s attention whenever he finally finds it.

 

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~

 

Steve sits down to his laptop with a cup of coffee, preparing for his weekly session of checking his messages. He scrolls through the bazillion comments and dm’s on his latest tiktok, and then the handful of comments on YouTube. There’s not as many as on previous vids, and that’s fine. He’s started to get really popular and it’s been taking longer each week to go through them all, but he refuses to devote more of his free time to this than he already does, with searching for recipes and ingredients and editing videos. Out of habit he goes to his insta, even though he hardly gets any activity there since he almost never posts to it. 

There’s a handful of new followers, and he nearly chokes when he sees “jbbarnes is following you” with a little blue checkmark next to the name from a few days ago. The name is familiar, but he’s not entirely sure who it is. Regardless, the question of why someone official is following him is a curiosity that he can’t ignore. He clicks on the name and jumps up from his chair in his shock, knocking it over and nearly dropping his cup.

“What the fuck?” 

The Winter Soldier Official Instagram, it says, with a link to the Avengers Official insta underneath it.

“What the fuck?” he repeats, as if an answer will make itself known out of thin air. He doesn’t follow any of the superhero pages. He has to deal with them enough just living in the same damned city with them. A quick scroll through the page makes it pretty clear that the man doesn’t make most of his own posts and a lot of it is just PR. The other accounts that The Winter Soldier page follows are mostly the other Avengers, SHIELD, and a few political organizations, like the UN. Of all the Avengers, the Winter Soldier is definitely the most reclusive, most quiet in terms of social media presence, especially once his trial had ended. So why the fuck is he following Steve?

He returns to his home page and checks the rest of his notifications to find a fucking dm from jbbarnes. 

From three days ago.

He’s left a message from one of the fucking Avengers— or at the very least someone from his PR team, which really is just as bad—waiting on him for three fucking days. 

Fuck his life. 

Steve paces his living room as his heart races. He absently rubs his hand over his chest, as if that will settle the arrhythmia while he’s seconds away from a full-blown panic attack.

He needs Darcy.

“What?” she asks grumpily when she finally answers the phone. 

“It’s nearly eleven, get up. Even if you are hungover. I’m having a crisis here.”

“Not hungover,” she says, and his phone dings with the request for facetime. He taps it and sees Jimmy’s face tucked over her bare shoulder. 

“We were about to get out of bed, don’t listen to her,” Jimmy says, smiling and waving at Steve. 

“Speak for yourself,” Darcy shoots back. “I’m not getting out of bed until there’s coffee.” Jimmy laughs as he presses a kiss to her temple, and then gives Steve an eyeful of naked ass as he gets out of bed and heads out of view. “So what is this big crisis?” she asks, focusing the camera back on herself.

“The fucking Winter Soldier is following me on insta and sent me a dm.”

“What.” 

“I’m fucking serious! Look!” He turns the camera to show his laptop screen. 

“You haven’t read it yet?” she cries.

“I just found it!” he yells back. “What do I do?!”

“Read it, of course! Jesus, Steve, it’s from three days ago!”

“I KNOW!” 

“Open it!”

“Stop yelling at me!”

Steve takes a deep breath and sits back down. 

 

Hi. 

I know you likely get a million messages all the time, but you said in one of your videos that you’re not on Instagram much, so hopefully that means you get less messages here and will be more likely to actually see this eventually. I wanted to tell you that I enjoy your videos immensely, especially as someone who actually ate some of the things you’ve made. (they were just as horrible then, but we didn’t have much choice at the time.) If you’re ever stuck for a recipe to try, I could offer plenty of suggestions. 

~Bucky

 

"Oh my God what! That's crazy!" Darcy says, when Steve finishes reading the message out loud.

"Right? Like what do I re—aauuuughhh!" Steve cuts off with a scream. "Jesus Christmas he just sent another message right the fuck now!" 

"What?!"

"I know! Fuck, do you think he knows I'm on now? Shit, he's a fucking Avenger, and a spy, he probably knows where I fucking live by now oh my god what do I do?" 

"What does it say?" 

Steve glances at his phone to see Darcy on her couch, now out of bed and clothed with a cup of coffee in hand. 

"God, does it even matter? I'm going to have a heart attack any second now."

"You're so dramatic, jeez. Just read it to me."

Steve takes a deep breath, and with a shaky hand he clicks on the new message.

 

Hi Steve! 

(I hope it's okay that I call you Steve. I know we haven't actually spoken at all yet but I don't know your last name and I need to call you something. Apologies if I'm being too forward.) I realized that you might not know who I am, and I didn't introduce myself last time, which was terribly rude of me. I don't know if you've even seen my last message yet, but either way… 

My name is James Barnes but I prefer to go by Bucky. I am also the Winter Soldier, and I'm sure *that* will be familiar to you, especially if you're from NYC, as you seem to be, based on your accent. So, uh, yeah, like I said, I've had some of the food you've made, but promise I'm not some creepy hundred-year-old guy sliding into your dm's. I mean, I am a hundred, but also really only about thirty-ish because of all the time I spent frozen in cryotubes while the bad guys had me brainwashed. Anyway. Just wanted to say that I'm a big fan and if you have any questions about the food or anything else from the 30s and 40s you can feel free to contact me. Or not, I'm sure you get a million suggestions all the time. 

Hope you have a great day 

~ Bucky 

 

"’Sliding into your dm's?’ ‘Or anything else?’ Steve, this dude is totally hitting on you!" Darcy cries.

"What? No he's not. That's preposterous. What the hell would a guy like him want with me?"

"Clearly he wants your toothpick little ass. Tell him he can slide into anything of yours. Oh! Ask him about gays in the thirties and forties!"

"Darcy, come on, guys couldn't go around being openly gay back then. And there's no reason to think that he is gay, he's never been seen with anyone, like ever."

“So? If he had to hide it back then, he’s probably just doing the same now.”

“Darcy he’s not gay.”

“Prove it. Tell him you want to do a taste test of vintage sausage so you wanna suck his cock. Oooooh, do you think he’s uncut? Did they do circumcisions back then? Hey, maybe that superserum stuff gave him a monster schlong. You’re such a size slut, that’d be perfect for you.”

“Jesus why does Jimmy let you have coffee?”

“It actually helps calm her, since she won’t take her ADHD meds,” Jimmy offers helpfully as he sits down next to her.

“I need to be able to fixate on work with Jane and I can’t do that if my brain is properly regulated.”

“Darcy, eat something so you’re quiet because you’re not helping.” Jimmy hands her a pastry, and Darcy pouts but takes it as he continues talking. “Steve, just be yourself. He likes your videos because you’re so funny and real. And if you don’t want to reply you don’t have to, he says it right there. So there’s no pressure. I’d say that the second message was just a clarification one.”

“Okay, yes. You’re right. Thank you, Jimmy.”

“No problem, buddy.”

They say their goodbyes—with Darcy yelling that Steve better tell her the moment Bucky replies—so that Steve can message Bucky back without distraction. After several minutes of thinking and building up the courage, he starts typing.  

 

Hi! 

I’m always interested in recipes that don’t require lard, so if you have suggestions feel free to pass them along! Thanks!

Steve

 

Steve hits send and then about thirty seconds later freaks out.

“What the fuck am I thinking? ‘No lard?’ Jesus, Steve!” He buries his face in his hands and screams. “The man sends me a very nice, polite message with actual paragraphs and grammar and punctuation, and I say ‘no lard.’ God, he’s gonna think I’m just some asshole millennial kid.”

Before he can type out a more genuine and thoughtful reply, he gets a ding back.

 

Hah! Yeah, I’m sure. In hindsight that stuff is disgusting, but it had some good uses. ;) So glad there’s better options nowadays. I’ll see what I can remember and try to find recipes for you.

 

Steve laughs as he begins to type.

 

I’m glad you enjoy the food now! I love cooking—real meals, not just these crazy old recipes (although they’re probably not old to you, huh?)—and there are so many options now easily available from all over the world. 

I am aware of who you are, of course. Yes, I am a native New Yorker, and still live in the city. I want to thank you, both for reaching out to me (I am genuinely excited about what you might come up with, and look forward to talking history with you if you’re so inclined) and also for your service. My great-grandfather was in WWI, and I have an uncle currently in the service as well. You have been through hell and walked out the other side. I know some people badmouth superheroes and what you do, but you have saved countless people, including some of my friends and family, and for that you deserve praise. 

Oh and it’s totally fine to call me Steve! Although I fully admit it will take a little bit for me to wrap my brain around being on a first-name basis with someone famous and that you want me to call you Bucky. 

Steve :)

 

Steve sends the reply before he can start second-guessing himself, and gets up to wash the breakfast dishes. And then tries desperately to not freak out about the fact that he’s talking to a superhero on a Sunday morning like it’s normal.

 


Image: Steve, comfy in his kitchen || Art by: kocuria


 

Bucky sucks in a watery breath and wipes at the tears running down his face. He stares at Steve’s reply, reading and re-reading it. Steve’s words had hit him unexpectedly hard. Eventually he comes up with a response.

 

Thank you. I can’t tell you what it means to hear that. Some days I don’t believe I deserve that, because I have so much to make up for. Easier to just stay in the shadows and try to do good and earn that kind of trust back. My therapist says I need to put myself out there more but I’m still learning how to deal with the way the media is today. Not used to everyone knowing everything I do. Makes it hard to just be a normal guy, make friends, or even try to date. Which, I haven’t really been interested in until very recently. So I’m trying.

 

He sends it before he can delete it all. He’s not used to opening up to people, but he knows he has to start somewhere, and given what Steve had said, he seems like the kind of guy who would at least understand some of what Bucky was saying. Bucky slips his phone into his pocket and heads for the gym so he can’t obsess over waiting for a reply.

A few hours later, he finally gets another message. Not that he was checking his phone every five minutes waiting for it to come, or anything.

 

You’re welcome. And I absolutely meant it. To hell with the ones who don’t know or understand what it’s like.

Oh god dating. Just… don’t do it, lol. Way more trouble than it’s worth. Most people only want one thing or they’re lying about who they are/what they want. There’s plenty of easily available toys to use instead from lots of websites these days. Don’t even need another person to make yourself feel good. Although sometimes it is nice to have snuggles. :) 

 

Bucky chokes on his dinner. Before he can unscramble his brain enough to reply, he gets another message almost immediately.

 

Shit, I’m sorry. That was probably out of line. I don’t know if your PR person checks this regularly? I should probably keep things PG-rated for them. And for you. I don’t know if you’re even comfortable talking about that kind of stuff. My apologies.

 

Bucky takes a deep breath and shifts in his chair, trying to ease the pressure on his sudden erection. On the one hand, he was glad for it, because he’d been worried that he only seemed to get hard after missions, from all the associated adrenaline and violence. It was reassuring to be getting hard just from the implication that Steve had a bunch of sex toys that he regularly used. On the other hand, it was distracting, and Steve had raised a good point about the PR person. They probably shouldn’t continue to have conversations through instagram dm’s. 

He swallows carefully and leans back as he types. 

 

You’re probably right. About both the toys being better (but agreed on the snuggling) and also on this possibly being seen/read by someone else. Let me give you my private number and you can message me that way. Don’t have to worry about prying eyes then. :) 

 

***~~~***

Two months later… 

 

“You’re on your phone an awful lot lately, James. Anything you want to share with the rest of us?”

Bucky looks up to see Natasha grinning at him from across the conference table. He narrows his eyes and glares at her.

“Nothing to share,” he grumbles.

She raises a single brow in obvious disbelief. “If you say so.”

He silences his phone and slips it into his pocket as Hill comes in. Natasha might be a Widow but Bucky is terrified of Hill. He knows better than to be distracted during meetings. 

When they’re done, he snags Peter’s arm. “Hey, do you have a minute?” 

“Yeah, of course. What’s up?”

Bucky can feel Natasha’s eyes on him. “I wanted to ask for your help with something. In private,” he adds, looking pointedly at her. “Can you come to my floor for a bit?”

“Sure,” Peter agrees, looking back and forth between Bucky and Natasha. “Whatever you need, Mister Bucky.”

Bucky waits until they’re on his floor, doors closed, before he’ll talk to Peter. He doesn’t want Natasha to know anything because he doesn’t want her to go digging and poke around in Steve’s life. He knows she’d do it out of friendship, and from a desire to help, but he doesn’t want to scare off the first person he’s been interested in since getting his own mind back.

“Okay, listen. I know that things are different these days in the dating world since I was last with someone. How do I get through to this guy that I like him? I’m so used to having to hide and double-speak with innuendo and shit. But I’m positive he’s gay, he’s said so.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Peter. You’re a twenty-something gay man. He is a twenty-something gay man. I am a thirty-ish year old gay man from the depression. Back then you found a partner by lingering in certain places too late at night. There was no wining, no dining, no romance. Not like today. So how do I make it clear that I’d like to break him in half?”

“Mister Bucky!” Peter cries, his face flaming crimson. “How—How did you know I was gay?”

“Seriously, Peter? Anyway. We’ve been chatting for a couple of months. I know about his family. I know about his friends. I know about his college classes. What I don’t know is if he’s interested in me or not. I’ve been trying to flirt with him—at least I think I’m flirting with him—and he’s not responding? At all? Like, not even acknowledging to say ‘no thank you’ or anything else. Here. Look.” Bucky pulls out his phone and brings up his chat with Steve. “Am I doing it wrong?”

“I… I didn’t know you were gay.”

“Peter! Focus! I’m having a serious crisis here. I really like this guy. How can I tell if he likes me or not? Read!” Bucky snaps his fingers and points at the phone now in Peter’s hand. 

Peter scrolls back through the couple months’ worth of texts, stopping and skimming at random. Bucky wasn’t sure that the kid’s face could turn any redder, but somehow it kept getting darker. 

“Yeah. Uh.” Peter clears his throat and holds the phone out, barely looking Bucky in the face. “He’s absolutely flirting also. You’re just, uh, not flirting at the same time? I’d say he’s probably definitely interested.” 

“He is?”

“Yeah, see, here, where he says something about you wanting something to eat…” Peter takes the phone back and starts pointing out different messages and suddenly Bucky sees it plain as day. 

“Jesus. Some fucking spy I am. Okay. Thank you, Peter. So. What do I do now?”

“I think you should just come out and say it. Tell him that you want to, uh… I’d start with a date? Probably? Like, take him to dinner or something? Maybe, maybe um, don’t lead with wanting to ‘break him in half.’ Not everyone is looking for sex right off.” 

“A date. Okay. I can do that. I’m good at that. Or, at least, I was good at that. I mean… with women. Who I wasn't really even attracted to. Oh god, what if I'm not good at it?” 

"I'm sure you're going to do just fine, Mister Bucky."

Bucky takes his phone back again, and mentally prepares himself to ask Steve out on a date. Better to just do it now, get it over with, and be done with it. 

Just as he begins to type, sirens blare within the tower. 

Bucky and Peter look up at the ceiling, and then to each other. 

“Guess that timeline was shorter than Nat’s intel said,” Bucky says. He looks down to his phone. With a heavy sigh, he deletes what he has and quickly types out a new message.

 

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~~

 

Hey heads up, I'm gonna be out of contact for a bit. Don't want you to think I'm ghosting you. Work trip… 

 

Steve's hands shake as he reads the message. In all the time they'd been chatting, it hadn't occurred to him to think about Bucky being gone for Avengers business, or fighting some alien invasion, and how he’d feel about that. They're just friends, but Steve likes to think that they've become good friends—even if they've never actually spoken to each other. 

 

Okay. Thanks for the warning. Uh, good luck? I'll be thinking of you.

 

He definitely doesn't think about how terrified he is or what it might mean that he feels that way or what could happen to Bucky if he is working.  

 

***

 

Steve scrambles to grab his phone when it dings with Bucky’s notification a week later. He'd been trying and mostly failing to focus on his school work all day, and just knows he’s going to fail his midterms. 

 

Alive, the message says, and Steve takes the first deep breath he's had in days.

That's good, he sends back immediately. 

Missed talking to you. Almost back to the tower. Don't worry about whatever you saw on the news. I heal fast. 

What???? Steve grabs the tv remote and turns to CNN. He’d been very consciously ignoring all news since Bucky had first told him he’d be gone for a bit. 

Don't worry Stevie. Promise I'll be fine. Gonna go drink a very large bottle of whiskey and probably sleep for two days. 

Straight? Surely Bucky wasn't really going to chug an entire bottle of whiskey, serum or not, and also he didn't think a person could actually sleep for that long without being technically unconscious. 

Gay, actually. Catch you in a day or two. Gotta debrief and shit.

 

“Wh—what?” Steve sputters, staring at his phone in shock and disbelief. Did Bucky Barnes—The Winter Soldier—just come out to Steve? 

“Darcy. Darcy! Holy fuck. Holy fuck.”

“What? What happened? Did you hear from Bucky finally? Is he okay? I saw the news earlier, looks like he got hurt.” 

He doesn’t even remember dialing the phone, but he’s happy that she answered. 

“No—Yes—I don’t know. I mean. Yes, he contacted me. I think he’s okay. But. Uh. I think—Darcy, I think maybe he’s gay?”

“No shit, Sherlock. I’ve been trying to tell you that.”

“No, but like. Okay so listen—” Steve reads her the conversation they’d just had. “I’m reading that right, yes?”

“Yes, you idiot!”

“But I’ve been trying to flirt with him and he hasn’t responded to it!”

Darcy heaves a long-suffering sigh. “Steve. Read me some of your messages and his replies.” 

Steve goes through, scrolling all the way to the beginning of their messaging a few months ago, and reads ones where he’s made an attempt to flirt and Bucky’s replies.

“Steve. I love you. I really do. But you are so fucking stupid sometimes. He’s been flirting with you from the start!”

“No he hasn’t.”

“Yes, he has! The very beginning messages on your insta, remember? When he talked about sliding into your dm’s. The one with the lard and the winky face? Steve. They used to use it as lube. He was flirting.” She goes on to list a dozen other instances where Steve had misread the situation—giving a lot of emphasis to when Bucky had offered up his personal phone number and not just his email or something, and he feels like a colossal idiot.

“So… What do I do now?”

“I think you need to come right out and say that you’re interested. You know your history. Back in his days he wasn’t allowed to be open about it. If he hasn’t been dating since getting his freedom, it’s probably because he’s not sure how to? But he definitely seems very interested in you. So, if he’s not catching your hints, make it very, very clear to him.”  

“But… I mean, flirting aside, look at me compared to him. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn. A very small, skinny gay kid who makes dumb tiktok videos. And he’s a literal supersoldier who saves the world. He could probably snap my arm with one finger. Why would he actually want me?”

“Steven Grant Rogers. If you chicken out on this I swear I will never talk to you again.”

Steve sighs heavily. “Okay. I will try one time. And that’s it. If it doesn’t work, I’m moving on and saying I told you so.”

“And I’ll say the same when he breaks you in half on his dick.”