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The Winter Suitor

Chapter Text

These are uneasy times

Good friends are hard to find 

In this life that we live

Reach out and lend your help

Sit back, ask yourself

"Without me, what are you?"

Tell me, what's the world coming to?

We've got a lot of work to do

We've got a lot of work to do

My name is Love 

I'm your announcer

You bring the heart

I'll bring the answers

-"My Name is Love" by Amy Diamond 

The bell attached to the restaurant’s front door jingled at eight o’clock exactly on Friday night. Automatically, you felt yourself smile. It was downright Pavlovian at this point.

You wiped your hands on your apron and turned around to see the dark-haired diner faithful loping towards you, hands in his coat pockets, a faint smile crossing his lips as he spotted you. “Mr. Barnes.”

“It’s Bucky,” he reminded you. “Mind if I take my usual spot?”

“Not at all.” You gestured for the booth by the window, dead center. “I’ll be over with a menu in a sec.”

“Thanks.” He headed over and sat down. You swooped by the maitre’d podium and grabbed a menu. It was a bit of a formality by now; Bucky had eaten dinner here every Friday night for the past three months. You knew what he’d order and so did he, but he liked to pretend he was going to order something else and you didn’t mind playing along.

You brought him a Coke and baked rolls with butter without even needing to ask and he thanked you, sipping it, no straw, crunching into the ice. He browsed for a second before chuckling and handing the menu to you. “My usual.”

You grinned. “Steak, medium, mashed potatoes and homemade gravy, and broccoli coming right up. Any appetizers?”

“Nah, I’m good with just the bread, thanks.”

“No problem. I’ll be back in just a bit.”

You made your rounds and finished up with a couple more customers in your seating area, then brought Bucky’s dinner over to him. Once he’d gotten down to just polishing off the broccoli, you brought him a slice of apple pie and ice cream, his usual dessert choice, again without asking. It tickled you that he seemed to like having something consistent and reliable. You were like that, too. You liked ordering the same thing if you loved it because there was something comforting in it.

You placed his order ticket on his table and smiled. “Take your time, no rush.”

“Appreciate it.” He paused. “Ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“And I apologize in advance if this is a weird question…” He licked the corner of his lips, frowning a bit. “Do you know anything about online dating?”

You blinked at him. “Oh. Um, some, why?”

He ruffled his dark hair. “I…guess I might be…interested, but I don’t really know how that stuff works. I’m not exactly the most social guy, you understand.”

You lifted an eyebrow, your voice playfully dry. “I kind of figured.”

He gave you a sheepish, lopsided grin. “Hey, hey. This is a no judgment zone.”

You grinned. “I wouldn’t dare judge you, sir. So you’re thinking about starting up, huh? Well, I know a few things to get you going, at least. Do you have your phone on you?”

Bucky winced. “Uh.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. You stared. “Bucky, that’s a flip phone.”

“I know.”

You sighed and shook your head, examining it. “I didn’t even know they still made them.”

“It’s a burner phone,” he explained, his cheeks slightly pink, which also delighted you, since he was cute as a button when he blushed. “Made for emergencies, not socialization.”

“Yes, well, if you want to hit the online dating scene, you’ve got to get another regular smartphone, I’m afraid,” you told him, handing it back. “Now, are you looking for a relationship or just to hookup?”

He eyed you. “What’s hookup mean? Like cable?”

You giggled. “No. Hookup is a polite term for one night stand.”

“Ah. Why, uh, why does it matter which one I pick?”

“There are different apps for different things,” you continued. “Some apps are just for hookups, others are for more serious relationships.”

The discomfort in his features started to deepen, so you jostled his shoulder gently. “Hey, we just established this is a no judgment zone. You can tell me, relax.”

He cleared his throat. “Ah, I guess maybe hookup, then, given…well…you know.”

You nodded. By now, the Blip and the war had caused the world to focus on other things. Bucky Barnes, while still a famous figure, could now operate mostly under the radar. Especially since he’d cut his hair; the long hair had made him more recognizable. You imagined trying to find a serious relationship when one was the ex-Winter Soldier was going to be hell. It was probably better for him to meet some girls and have some fun while he got things figured out for himself.

Bucky scratched the back of his neck. “Well, aside from a new phone, what do you suggest?”

“It’s not too difficult to set up a Tinder. I don’t mind showing you the ropes. Can you get one by next Friday night?”

“Yeah, shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Cool. I’ll show it to you then. It can get a little tedious, but it’s not so bad once you figure out what you like in a woman.”

“Thank you. Really. You don’t have to show me everything, either, just the basics, if it’s not gonna take up too much of your time.”

“I don’t mind.”

“You swear?”

“I swear.”

“Okay.” He smiled again and fished out his wallet. He paid for the meal and as always, gave you an enormous tip. You shook your head at him as he stood up. “See you next week, Bucky.”

He saluted you. “Next week.”

“Alright,” you said, sidling up beside Bucky and pointing to the screen. “This is Tinder. It’s very simple. You swipe in one direction if you like the person. Doing that means they are sent a notification that you’re interested in them and you can either speak to them first or wait for them to respond. You swipe in the opposite direction if you’re not interested. Before we get to that, we have to set up your profile.”

Bucky squirmed a bit. “So am I gonna have to tell ‘em who I am?”

“It’s up to you. Given that you’re a semi-public figure, I’d just do your first name and then keep it vague. There are no rules that you have to disclose everything.”

“Good,” he muttered. “How do we set it up?”

“May I?”

He handed the phone to you. “Do you have any selfies?”

“Any what?”

You shook with suppressed laughter. “Pictures of yourself.”


You stepped back and held up the phone. “Say cheese.”

Bucky gave you an “are you kidding me look” and you giggled openly that time. “Fine, no smile, just look natural instead of glaring, please.”

He relaxed his posture and you snapped the photo. “Thank you. Let’s see.”

You didn’t have anyone else seated in your area, so you sat across from him and brought up the profile page. “Obviously, we’re not going to put your real age in there.”

“Yeah, pretty sure that’s a turn off.”

“We’ll say 35 for now. Occupation?”

Bucky snorted. “That’s a loaded question.”

“True,” you said, tapping a finger against your chin. “How about we just list you under the military?”

“That’ll work.”

“Good. Now tell me a little bit about yourself, doesn’t have to be too detailed, just the basics.”

He scratched the back of his neck again, seeming to think about it. “I dunno. Uh, I guess I like classic cars and dancing. Like, slow dancing. I’ve seen the stuff you guys call dancing now and it looks a lot more like fully upright dry humping.”

“You’re not wrong,” you admitted as you type that in. “What else?”

“You tell me. What sounds appealing to a girl like you?”

You glanced up at him, surprised. “Like me?”

“Yeah, someone your age, I mean.”

“Oh.” That phrasing had thrown you off. For a second there, you thought…well, it didn’t matter what you thought since he’d clarified. “Um, what about pets? Do you like animals?”

“Yeah, I like cats and dogs.” He arched an eyebrow. “Wait, that works?”

“Well, yeah. Even if it’s just for hookups, guys who like cats and dogs are usually more trustworthy. It’s a good judge of character, if you ask me.”

“Wow. I’m learning so much.”

You chuckled. “Okay, lastly, any hobbies? Y’know, walks in the park, movies, sports?”

 “Sure, I like hiking.”

You added that. You asked what neighborhood he lived in and he told you. “Great. I think that’s the basic stuff and so now…”

You finished the profile and flipped the phone around to show him. “Your bachelorhood is official.”

“Great,” he said, taking the phone back. “So now what do I do?”

“It’s up to you. You can either be proactive and message girls that you think might be a good fit for you or you can wait for them to message you first.” You pointed to where in the app he could look at his choices. Once again, his eyebrows rose.

“Wow. Lot of girls on here.”

“Oh yeah, you’ve got the pick of the litter, trust me.”

He blinked at you. “What makes you say that?”

You arched an eyebrow. “Bucky, come on. You’re gorgeous and genuinely a nice person. You’ll be an instant hit, trust me.”

“You think I’m nice?” he echoed with complete disbelief.

You rolled your eyes. “Yes, Bucky. You say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and you hold the door for other people and you always give me a ludicrous tip and pretend it’s because you don’t understand how tipping works but it’s actually just because you’re a nice guy and you want me to have a great tip since most customers aren’t good tippers.”

He gave you a sheepish look. “I’m that obvious, huh?”

“It’s adorable. You’re like a sweet little old man inside a thirty-year-old body.”

Bucky laughed. “Gee, thanks. That makes me feel good.”

“You’re welcome.”

He glanced at his watch. “Well, I think I’ve kept you long enough. You probably wanna head home since it’s after your shift. Mind if I walk you out to your car?”

“No, that's fine. I’ll go get my stuff.”

You headed into the back and made sure everything was done for the night, since Bucky had stayed past the restaurant closing and no one minded, not since they knew him well by now. You took off the apron and added a coat, grabbed your purse, and said goodbye to the crew before meeting Bucky by the door. Your coworker Deidre locked the door behind you and you and Bucky walked down the sidewalk towards the car.

“So what do I say?” Bucky asked. “I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve talked to a girl.”

“Not counting me?”

“Not counting you,” he confirmed.

“Bucky, honestly, just be yourself. You’re thinking too hard. Ask her all the stuff you’d have asked her back when it was the 1940’s: what she does for fun, what her interests are, where she works, all that stuff. Besides, depending on who she is, you might just jump right to the, ah, physical stuff and it won’t matter as much.”

“Sorry, I just…I don’t wanna be this weird Neanderthal type of guy, you know? I still want to be respectful and a gentleman, even if all we do is…” He blushed slightly. “Well, you know.”

You beamed at him mischievously. “No, I don’t know, please elaborate.”

He laughed. “You’re mean when you’re off-shift, you know that.”

You chuckled. “Sorry, it’s just too easy to mess with you. I can’t resist.”

“Clearly. I mean, you basically called me an old fogey.”

You reached your car and he opened the door for you, because of course he did. You tossed your purse inside and batted your lashes at him. “I mean it as a compliment. Being old-fashioned in this day and age is refreshing. You wouldn’t believe what a lot of guys are like these days.”

“Is that why you’re still single?”

You gave him a mysterious smile, folding your arms and leaning back against the side of the car. “What makes you think I’m single, Mr. Barnes?”

“You’re letting me walk you to your car,” he said, matching the sly look on your face. “I don’t see some strapping young man meeting you after a late shift.”

“Hmm…maybe he’s waiting for me at home naked with a rose in his teeth.”

Bucky laughed again. “Right. Lucky guy.”

You shook your head. “Night, Bucky.”

He surprised you by leaning in and kissing your cheek. It was just a quick, sweet little peck, nothing salacious, and yet you blushed furiously as if he’d just given you a hickey. “Thanks for helping me out. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“Yeah,” you said, hoping he couldn’t hear the little bashful squeak in your voice. “See you next Friday, Bucky.”

“Night, girlie.” He smiled again as you stepped into the car and shut the door for you, watching you as you revved the engine and pulled out into the street. You could still see him in the rearview mirror, waving, that warm smile on his lips. Which had been just as soft as they looked, it turned out. You found yourself already envious for what lucky girl would get to bring him home someday soon.

Too bad it wouldn’t be you.

Chapter Text

“I’ll be honest with you: this is terrifying.”

You collapsed into a giggle-fit at the seriousness in Bucky’s voice the next Friday he showed up to the diner. “Oh no. What happened?”

“Well, first of all, someone posted online that I’m on Tinder and so now I have…” He paused and squinted at the screen. “Five-thousand, six-hundred and fifty-two messages.”

You covered your mouth to try and staunch another flood of giggles. “Oh, fuck, I’m sorry. I didn’t think people would recognize you with all that’s been going on in the world.”

“Yeah, we definitely didn’t think that through,” he said, shaking his head. “Sam sent me the link to the article. I could hear him laughing at me all the way from New Orleans. Jerk.”

He flipped the phone around so you could see. The article title read Shoot Your Shot at the Winter Soldier.

You groaned. “People are just the worst sometimes.”

“Right? They kind of are.” He set the phone down and sighed. “And the stuff these women are saying to me in these messages…I could write an article to Hustler and Penthouse. Is that normal?”

“Yes and no,” you admitted. “Some women are just that thirsty with all guys. You’re a famous public figure and you’ve got that bad boy thing going on too, so it made it even worse. Some women go berserk if it’s a celebrity.”

He dragged his hand down his face. “Well, I don’t know what to do now that I’ve been outed. Think we should pack it in?”

“No. It’s just a little speed bump, that’s all.” You picked up the phone. “First off, that was my mistake for using your nickname. We’ll put James on your profile page so that it’s harder if someone’s trying to actually search for you. Second off, it’s probably a good idea to only respond to women who messaged you before that article went live so you have less of a chance of picking up one of your crazed fangirls.”

He paused, squinting at you. “Fan…girls? What’s that mean?”

“You have a shitload of fangirls. As in women who think you’re the bees’ knees.”

“I…” He cocked his head, frowning in confusion. “Wait, what? But they don’t know me.”

“Don’t need to know you. They’re know you’re hot and you’re best friends with Captain America and you used to be a spy, so that’s enough for them to want to sleep with you. More than enough, to be honest. All the Avengers have fangirls. Just ask them.”

“You were right,” Bucky said. “I am definitely an old man. I don’t understand any of that whatsoever.”

You chuckled. “It’s fine. You’ll get used to it. Alright, I’ve managed to scroll down to the messages before the article came out. What do you like in a woman?”

“What, like physically or in general?”

“Either one.”

Bucky thought about it for a moment. “I dunno, I guess I like the more low key girls? Kind of laidback, low maintenance, you know?”

“Got it. Um, what about her, Josie?” You flipped the phone around for him to see. “She’s a teacher and she also likes classic cars.”

“Okay, she might work,” he said, sitting forward in the booth. “What’d she say?”

“She said she thinks you’re interesting and she’d like to meet you for drinks this weekend at Le Chiffre. That’s a bar in the entertainment side of town.”

Bucky met your gaze, his eyebrows lifting in question. “Think I should say yes?”

“It would be good to get your feet wet, yeah.”

“Okay.” He took the phone back and typed a reply. “Ask you something else?”


“Don’t laugh,” he warned. “But can I have your number so I can use you if I need to bail?”

You laughed. “I’m your exit plan?”

“Please. I’m already helpless and out of my league here.”

You shook your head and took his phone, adding yourself as a contact. “It’s fine, Bucky. I’m happy to be your emergency parachute. If something’s up, text me 911 and I’ll call you pretending to have an emergency so you can leave.”

“You are amazing,” he said seriously. “Thank you. I owe you one.”

“You do, actually,” you said, giving him another mischievous look. “This is gonna cost you big.”

“Oh God. What do you want?”

“I’m kidding. I just want a selfie with you. None of my friends believe me when I tell them you’re a regular here and most of them work nights, so they can’t come by for proof.”

He smirked. “You talk about me to your friends?”

You gave him a look. “I’m an ordinary waitress, Bucky. Of course I talk about you to my friends. When is something this amazing ever going to happen to me again, if ever?”

“Amazing, huh?” He snorted softly. “Maybe you’re one of the fangirls I need to be avoiding.”

He ducked as you threw his crumpled-up napkin at him, chuckling. “I’m kidding, c’mere.”

You got up and went around to his side of the booth, excited. You leaned down beside him with your phone out on selfie mode. Just before you hit the camera button, he turned his head and kissed your cheek. You laughed in surprise, swatting him on the shoulder. “Cheeky bastard.”

“Hey, you’re the fangirl,” he teased.

You rolled your eyes and tucked the phone into your apron. “Uh-huh. Keep it up and you’re on your own, Mr. Barnes. You’re not gonna woo me into your nefarious clutches no matter how hard you try.”

“Nefarious?” he asked, widening those big blue eyes to look innocent. “Me? You got the wrong guy, girlie. I’m a sweet old man, remember?”

“Yeah, right.” You checked your watch. “Ready to go?”

“Mm-hmm.” Once again, you headed to the back and got your stuff, said goodbye to your coworkers, and left with Bucky to head to your car.

“Really, though,” he said. “Why hasn’t someone scooped you up yet?”

“Well, for one, I work crazy hours. We’re still short-staffed and extra hours also mean more money and living here with a car is pretty expensive. Other than that…” You shrugged. “I don’t know, just haven’t met someone I like in that way yet. Besides, most men aren’t as charmed by me as you seem to be.”

“Men are dumb,” he said seriously. “Just so you know.”

“Believe me, I know. My last relationship was a doozy. Ended so badly I didn’t go on another date for a year and a half.”

“Sorry,” he said, a sincerity to it that was actually pretty reassuring. “That’s rough. Need me to beat him up for you?”

“Nah, I got over it. But thank you for offering. It’s good to know your services are available should some future suitor treat me badly.”

“Hey, always. Might as well use my powers for good, for once.”

You reached the car and turned to him, studying him. “For once?”

“I…” He shrugged. “I’ve done a lot of bad stuff. Unforgivable stuff. No point in pretending I’m not still responsible even if I wasn’t in control when it happened.”

Sympathy rushed through you. “Bucky, that’s…”

You sighed. “I know I can’t possibly understand, but that’s so much guilt for you to carry on your own. I mean, you were…tortured, for God’s sake. Brainwashed. It’s just…it hurts me to see you blame yourself for something you had no control over. I mean, you’re trying. You fought a war. You helped save half the universe. You’re trying to have a normal life and get through the aftermath, right? Isn’t that enough?”

He smiled sadly. “I wish I could say it was, but…I don’t know.”

You pulled his coat closed and buttoned it for him. “You’re better than you think you are, Bucky. A lot better, in fact. I hope you realize that sooner rather than later. I mean, I’ve known you for like three months and I’d already pretty much take a bullet for you.”

“Over my dead body,” he said, scowling. “But I appreciate the sentiment.”

You nibbled your bottom lip, deciding to go for it. “And you can text me anytime, okay? It doesn’t have to just be about the date. If you need someone to talk to, I’m here.”

Bucky shook his head. “I’ve already asked you for enough help.”

“Everyone needs help. Even strong people. Hell, especially strong people.”

He looked down at his shoes for a moment, seeming to struggle to respond. Your heart broke in half. Poor guy. He really deserved something nice in his life.

Finally, he looked up at you. “Thank you. My life’s not normal and it’s not ever gonna be normal, but…kinda feels that way when I talk to you.”

You smiled. “Good. You deserve normal. Better than normal, if I’m being honest.”

He smiled back. “Would it be weird if I hugged you?”


Bucky slipped his arms around you. You held onto him. It was nice. Just a simple embrace. God knows how long it had been since you’d had one and probably even longer for him. He also smelled nice, like mild cologne and aftershave.

He kissed your cheek again before he let go. “Get some rest, huh? You work too much.”

“Pot calling the kettle black there,” you mused. “But I’ll do my best. Good luck on your date. See you next Friday, Bucky.”

“See you then, girlie.” He shut the car door for you, once again watching you safely pull out into the street.

You were delightfully surprised when he texted you Saturday night and asked about what to wear. You told him it was pretty standard to do something like a nice sport coat, a t-shirt, and jeans these days, but he didn’t have to dress up if he didn’t want to. He sent you a picture of his date outfit and he looked cute as a button, which you told him. You had done a mid-shift today, so you were at home eating popcorn and watching Castlevania on Netflix. He also asked if he should bring flowers or candy and you told him no. He needed to meet her first and see if she was a girl who appreciated flowers. Not all women wanted them, after all.

You had your fingers crossed for him by the time the actual date had started. He didn’t text you throughout, so you assumed it was going well. Around ten o’clock, he texted again to say it had gone okay and he wouldn’t mind seeing her again. You congratulated him and went to bed at midnight as per usual, glad that he’d gotten a little more normalcy in his routine.

That is, until your phone rang at three o’clock in the morning.

Given that Bucky had been alive in the 1940’s, you’d thought it amusing and prudent to program your phone to play “I’m Just a Square in Social Circle” by Betty Hutton if he were to call. The jazzy swing music woke you and you reached for the phone, clearing your throat so you wouldn’t sound so husky. “Bucky?”

“Hey,” he said quietly. “M’sorry, I know it’s late. I just…”

He was breathing heavily. You realized he’d probably just had a nightmare, maybe even a panic attack. “Shit, I don’t know why I called, I’m sorry—”

“No, no, it’s okay, Bucky,” you told him as soothingly as possible. “What’s on your mind?”

“I just…” He took a few breaths. “I’m in therapy. It’s state mandated. There was something we talked about today, it’s just…I can’t talk to her. Not yet, anyway. She looks at me like I’m a bug under a microscope, you know? And, uh, I can’t get to sleep sometimes and when I do, I have nightmares. This last one kind of freaked me out.”

“Yeah, that’s understandable. You’ve been through a lot. Especially with the war and Thanos and everything. Do you want to talk about the nightmare?”

“No. I think maybe…I just needed to hear a friendly voice to come out of it. I get in this bad place when they happen. Hard to leave it. I think about all the stuff that I did and…”

“It’s okay,” you told him softly. “I’m here. Where are you right now, in bed?”

“Uh.” He hesitated. “Sort of?”

You frowned. “What do you mean ‘sort of’?”

“I’m not exactly a fan of modern mattresses and pillows at the moment.”

You palmed your face. “Bucky, tell me you’re not sleeping on the floor.”

“…I’m not?”

You sighed. “Bucky, get off the damn floor. You don’t have to get in bed, but that’s horrible for your back. At least get on the couch for now.”

“You’re bossy after hours, y’know that?” You heard shifting and movement. “There, I’m on the couch now, happy?”

“Yes. Do you have a nice boring book around somewhere?”

“Yeah, I think there is something about molecular biology lying around.” More movement. “It’s the one I keep on the coffee table.”

“Good. I want you to read that for at least half an hour to take your mind off of things. Don’t turn your phone on; the little blue light from the screen can keep you awake. After that, I want you to lie down with a nice blanket and count backwards from one thousand. See if you can get to sleep then, okay?”

“Yeah, okay, I’ll try that. I’m just glad you didn’t tell me to make some tea. I hate that stuff.”

You chuckled. “Of course you do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked haughtily.

“You can be kind of macho when you want to be, Mr. Barnes.”


“Just calling it like I see it.”

He paused again. “Thank you. Sorry I woke you.”

“Don’t be. You’ll get through this. Just take it a day at a time, okay?”


“Text me in the morning, huh?”

“I will. Night, girlie.”

“Night, Bucky.” You hung up and lay down again, staring at the ceiling. You closed your eyes and willed the universe to let him have peaceful dreams for once. No one deserved it more.

The next Friday, Bucky surprised you yet again. After he ate, he handed you an envelope and said mysteriously, “Open it.”

You lifted your eyebrows, but peeled it open. Inside you found two fucking box seats to the next Yankees game. Your jaw dropped to the linoleum.

“Bucky, what the shit,” you screeched.

“What?” he laughed. “I’m trying to say thank you for the other night. What’s wrong?”

“Bucky, how much did these tickets cost?” you demanded.

He shrugged. “Well, when you save half the universe, sometimes people just give you stuff for free.”

You swatted him in the arm. “This is ridiculous. I can’t accept these, dammit.”

“Yes, you can,” he said firmly. “You never get a break. Now you have an excuse to go do something fun. Take one of your friends with you, have a good time, on me.”

You flopped into the booth seat across from him, shaking your head in disbelief. “Why didn’t you use these and take Josie out?”

“She’s not a baseball fan.” He winced. “And, um, not sure it’s gonna work out. She hasn’t answered my last couple texts this week, so…”

You frowned. “Seriously?”


You narrowed your eyes. “What’s her address? I can mess her up real good. I got a mean left hook for a waitress, honestly.”

Bucky smirked. “I bet you do. But it’s okay, it was just one date, there’s plenty more fish in the sea.”

“Well,” you said, tossing the envelope down between the two of you. “I’m only gonna accept this gift if you go with me.”

His brows rose in surprise. “Excuse me?”

“Clearly, you need to be in the company of a finer class of woman than someone like Josie,” you sniffed. “And who finer to accompany you than me?”

“You are pretty great,” Bucky agreed.

“Besides, she’ll get super jealous if they show you on the Jumbotron with me. Bonus petty points for us.”

He grinned. “I do like being petty sometimes.”

“Cool. I’ll meet you there half an hour before the game starts so we can get some junk food. In the meantime, since things didn’t work out with Josie, who’s your next lady of interest?”

Bucky pulled out his phone. “Uh, let me see…her name is Emma. She wants to do something called Netflix and Chill.”

“Oh God.” You shook your head. “No, no, that’s a trap, Bucky.”

He frowned. “It is?”

“Are you DTF on a first date?”

“What’s DTF?”

“Down to Fuck.”

“Oh.” He looked at the girl’s picture. “I mean…not sure. Why? Was that code for something?”

“Yes. To put it bluntly, Netflix and Chill is shorthand for luring someone over to watch movies or TV shows, but in reality, you just want to fuck them. It’s a common tactic in hookup culture. It’s fine if you’re okay with it. I just wanted you to be aware that is the expectation.”

Bucky blew out a breath. “God, I’m glad I have you. Um, what do I tell her if I’m not…ready for that on a first date?”

“Dinner and a movie is an easy way to feel it out. You can talk about the movie at dinner and then decide if you feel the chemistry with someone. Then just offer to come over for coffee and that’ll seal the deal instead. I never recommend Netflix and Chill as the first date. It’s risky.”

“Right. Thank you. That would’ve been kind of awkward.” He typed a message into his Tinder and then tucked the phone into a pocket. “Are you gonna be nice and let me buy the snacks at the game?”

“Only if we go halfsies on it, since you procured the tickets.”

“You drive a hard bargain.” He extended his hand. “Deal.”

You shook it. “I’m gonna go request off for it, be right back.”

You headed to the back and wrote the request up on the posted schedule, then headed to the computer system with your timesheet in it to make a formal request. Deidre happened by while you were working on it. She was short and brunette with freckles, her long hair back in a ponytail. “Hey, what’s up? Need some time off? Have you finally listened to me?”

You snorted, rolling your eyes. “Yes, finally. Going to the ball game.”

“Oh, cool. What made you decide to do that?”

“Bucky got me tickets as a thank you for helping him out.”

“Oh?” She crossed her arms and flashed you a Cheshire cat grin. “He did, did he?”

“Don’t start,” you warned. “He’s a nice person. He’d have done the same thing if I were a guy. Don’t make it weird.”

“Mm-hmm,” she said, clearly unconvinced. “I’m just saying. It’s been a few months and he’s still coming around to see you. Maybe he’s a little attached.”

“That’s what happens when you meet a new friend.”

“Sure. He’s friendly with everyone here…” Deidre leaned forward, waggling her eyebrows. “But he is extra friendly with you.”

You groaned after hitting submit on the time off key and logged out. “I am literally helping him get dates. That speaks volumes.”

“True. And I believe you on that front, but at the same time…” She let her brown eyes stray towards the dining room. “It’s also a good tactic to get to know you on a personal level. And vice versa. Kind of a slow burn attempt through becoming your friend first.”

“Deidre, come on. The guy fought Thanos. Fucking Thanos. You really think he’d go through all this trouble if he wanted to ask me out? No. He’d just do it. You’re reading too much into it.”

She held up her hands in surrender. “Hey, I’m just saying what I’m seeing. You don’t have to believe me.”

You took off your apron and put it in your locker, grabbing your purse. “Well, I appreciate it, but don’t worry. We’re just friends, okay?”

She grinned and started snapping her fingers to an imaginary beat, swaying as she sang, “Oh, baby, you! You got what I neeeeed! But you say he’s just a friend! But you say he’s just a friend!”

You swatted her with your purse on your way out, calling back, “Not listening, byeeeee!”

Chapter Text

Going to the game with Bucky went insanely well. You laughed and chatted easily as you ate a metric ton of junk food together. Bucky told you all kinds of neat things about the teams that he’d learned over years and the stadium too, since he’d had so many things to catch up on after his big freeze. For the sake of protecting your identity, you’d worn big fuck-off shades and a baseball cap with your hair pulled back to make you less easy to see in case the nosy media wanted photos. However, no one did anything inappropriate; Bucky said hi to a few people when they recognized him, but for the most part, people didn’t notice him as easily with his cap on as well.

You even coaxed him into taking a couple pictures to post on Instagram, since it couldn’t hurt to soften his image up just a bit. Plus, it meant he’d have more pictures for his Tinder, so he didn’t mind. You took a few candid photos of him too, since it made him look natural and approachable. There was one with him at the window looking over the field from the side profile that you chose as his new profile picture. It was a rare moment where you’d caught him smiling as he watched a homerun drive. Once more, you felt something warm in your chest at seeing him enjoy himself. In the end, that was what you found yourself wanting more than anything—to see him smile and be comfortable in the world around him.

“This was fun,” you said as you and he headed for the steps to leave the stadium after the game ended. “I think you even cracked a smile a few times, Mr. Serious.”

“I’m a barrel of laughs,” he deadpanned, which made you laugh. “But I’m glad you had a good time. You should do this more often, you know. Cut loose, have some fun, stop working so much.”

“I’ll think about it,” you sniffed.

He nudged your shoulder playfully. You looped your arm through his as you both headed down the steps.

When you neared the bottom, something odd happened.

There were three guys in baseball caps standing at the bottom. Bucky’s gait slowed a little when you were on the landing above them. You frowned when you noticed, glancing at them more carefully this time. They looked like they’d gotten trashed already based on their reddened faces and unsteady stances, but all of their eyes were trained on Bucky. You slipped your arm free and unzipped your purse, palming your pepper spray.

Bucky slid his hand along the small of your back, guiding you to walk by them. The tallest guy up front stepped into his path. Bucky stopped and took a deep breath, giving him an expressionless glance. “Something I can help you with?”

“Yeah,” the guy said, glaring. “You him? The Winter Soldier or whatever they call you?”

“Not anymore.”

“Not anymore,” the guy said, turning to his buddies. “You hear that? Slate’s wiped clean. Well, let me remind you of something you did when you were still the Winter Soldier.”

The man stepped in closer and growled out, “You wiped out my brother’s infantry back in the Iraq War.”

Bucky didn’t move. You stayed behind and to one side of him, your phone in one hand, covertly dialing 911 with your thumb. “I’m sorry for your loss. I would take it back if I could, but I can’t. It’s not going to do you or me any good to get into it right now. It’s not gonna bring them back, man.”

“You’re right, it won’t. I’ll just fucking feel a little better wiping the floor with you in front of your girlfriend.” The man threw a wild haymaker at Bucky. He dodged it easily and kicked at the man’s ankle. He overbalanced and hit the concrete face-first, busting his nose.

The other two guys charged Bucky together. One of them swept him off his feet and rammed him into one of the metal railings behind him. The other tried to close in to team up, but by then, you’d darted forward. You sprayed him directly in the eyes with the pepper spray. He shrieked in pain and squeezed his eyes shut, blindly lashing out at you. His fist caught you in the chin and you hit the ground, stunned as pain rattled your skull.

From the ground, you spotted Bucky elbowing the guy who tried to tackle him between the shoulder blades and then kicking him away. He hit him twice with a jab and a cross and the guy hit the ground in a senseless heap. He saw you on the ground, blinking away stars, and rage filled his features. He grabbed the guy who had hit you and held him up by the throat with his metal arm, then punched him with enough force that he hit the side of the stairwell.

Bucky turned to the first guy and dragged him to his feet, pinning him to the wall. “You want to take it out on me, fine. I can do this all day.”

Bucky leaned in, his voice raw. “But don’t you ever take it out on someone innocent like her again.”

He shoved him to one side and the drunken man slid down to the ground, still moaning and nursing his injured nose. Bucky strode over to you and very gently helped you up, his anger gone, concern in its place. “Hey. You okay?”

You nodded. “S’fine.”

Bucky tilted your head a little and looked at the spot where the man hit you. It ached, which probably meant you’d have a nice bruise there pretty soon. “I live a few blocks over. Let me have a look at you before I get you home, okay?”

Your ears were still ringing and your head ached, so you just nodded and mumbled, “Okay.”

He wrapped his arm around your back and led you away from the handful of spectators who of course had their phones out to film the encounter. You’d be headline news within an hour. Hooray. People really were the worst sometimes.

You called an Uber and took it to Bucky’s apartment. He let you inside and locked the door—and boy, were there a LOT of locks—and ushered you to sit on the couch. He came back with a military grade cold pack. The pain dissipated after just a couple of minutes. Bucky checked to make sure nothing seemed broken and you didn’t have a concussion before quietly tucking you in on his couch and telling you to rest for a little bit. The adrenaline had worn off during the silent ride in the Uber, leaving you exhausted, so you nodded off almost immediately.

When you woke, the headache was gone, as was the pain. You’d slept on your side with the ice pack under your cheek. You checked in the compact mirror and there was a bruise forming, but it wasn’t too bad. You’d had worse playing volleyball back in college.

Bucky wasn’t sitting next to you, so you sat up and glanced around, listening. You could hear his voice in the kitchen. He spoke in soft, low tones. You heard footsteps and then he appeared in the living room, blinking when he spotted you sitting up.

“Hey, you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s better now,” you said, handing him the cold pack. “Not dizzy, not in pain, it’s just a little sore, that’s all.”

“Good. I can call another Uber to take you home, if you want.”

You studied him, how soft and apologetic he sounded. “No. I’d rather just spend the night, it’s already pretty late anyway, if it’s okay with you.”

Bucky nodded. “Yeah, it’s fine. I’ll make the bed up for you.”

He turned to go. You cursed yourself and called out to him. “Bucky, wait.”

He glanced at you, sounding bone tired. “Yeah?”

“Say something,” you whispered. “Anything, I don’t care what it is. Just…talk to me about what just happened.”

He smiled sadly. “Just what always happens: getting someone caught up in my shit.”

“So we’re just gonna act like three assholes didn’t assault you of their own volition?” you demanded.

“Wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t killed his brother.”

“Bucky, you were tortured and turned into a weapon. It doesn’t matter if they understood that or not. They had no right to try to hurt you.”

“Maybe not, but they still did, and you were there, and you could have gotten hurt,” he said, his face drawn with pain and anger and regret. “Just for…for being with me at the time. And that is my fault.”

“No,” you snapped, standing up. “It’s my fault. I chose to be there. I could have run away. I could’ve gone for help. I stayed. That’s on me, not you, Bucky.”

“That’s not true—”

“Yes, it is,” you said firmly, locking gaze with him. “I’m a grown woman. If I want to be your friend, then shut up and let me be your friend.”

Bucky swallowed hard. “You could have died. Are you telling me I’m worth that? What if one of them had a gun?”

“Then you’d have protected me. So what?”

“So what?” His hands balled into fists. “That’s all you have to say to me?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know, be angry with me for getting you mixed up in this like a normal person,” he snapped.

“No. Just because you spend all your free time flagellating yourself doesn’t mean I’m about to join in.”

He shook his head, a bitter laugh escaping him. “Why do you want to see so much good in me, huh? Because it’s not there. There’s just more shit. There’s always more shit.”

“Y’know why? Because even while you’re standing here insulting me, you’re still trying to be a good person.”


“You heard me. You think I don’t know why you’re trying to argue with me? You want to push me away so I’ll be safe. You may think of yourself as the big bad wolf, but I don’t. You wouldn't have gone to that game with me if you were some kind of an asshole. Maybe you are fucked up, but that doesn’t make you worthless and that doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to care about you.”

“So, what, you think you can fix me with the power of friendship, is that it?”

“No. I’m not trying to fix you, Bucky. I’m showing you that broken people deserve the same chances as everyone else. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be here.” You stepped even closer to him. “But I am here. Do you know who’s not here?”

Bucky took a deep breath. “No. Who?”

“The veterans like you who isolate themselves,” you murmured. “I’ve seen them come to the diner and the ones who don’t come back are the ones who cut themselves off from friendships and relationships. That’s why I agreed to help you find someone, Bucky. I don’t want you to end up like them. They’re good people who got lost and couldn’t fight their demons.”

You gently lay a hand on his cheek. “Bucky, you’re trying. You’re still trying. That’s enough, okay? You’re enough.”

He stared at you for a long moment, his long lashes fluttering. He was fighting tears, fighting at the guilt and the anger inside of him. He’d been through so much shit. It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t.

He reached up with his metal arm and touched your wrist. Then he turned his face and kissed your palm, his voice ragged. “Don’t know why you’re so good to me. But I’m not gonna question it anymore.”

“Good,” you said quietly. “Do you trust me, Bucky?”

He nodded. “Then trust that I want to be here. I made a choice to be your friend and I’m gonna stand by it. Yeah, it’ll be rough, and yeah, you’re gonna worry about stuff like this happening again.”

You smiled. “Tough shit. You can’t get rid of me that easy.”

Bucky chuckled. “Guess I should’ve known that from the start.”

You nodded to the phone in his other hand. “How bad is it?”

“The video shows them attacking first, so I’m not liable for that part, but they’ve extended my therapy for another three months.” Bucky rolled his eyes. “So that’s that. They may want to try and file assault charges, but I doubt it since they were already in the middle of a drunken disorderly.”

“Good. Just let me know if the cops want a statement. I’m not filing anything against them unless they try it against you.”

“Such a tough guy,” he mused.

“Or too dumb to run away,” you admitted. “Guess that answers the fight-or-flight question from yours truly.”

“Yeah, no shit. C’mon.” He led you into his bedroom. It was cool and dark, sparsely decorated, the bed untouched. Everything was clean, including the sheets as he drew them back. You kicked off your shoes and put your phone on the nightstand. After he’d drawn the covers down, he turned to leave, but you caught his hand.


Bucky looked at you then. You summoned up the courage to say more. “You haven’t been sleeping well. Might be a good idea to have someone next to you that makes you feel safe.”

You sat down, still holding his hand. “And you need to normalize sleeping in a bed anyway.”

Bucky stared at you, then the bed, then you again. He cleared his throat. “You sure?”

“Yeah, it’s okay. I trust you.”

He stayed there for a moment longer, just looking at you, and then nodded. “Okay.”

You gestured to the jeans. “Any chance you have some shorts I could borrow? Jeans are hella uncomfortable to sleep in.”

“Yeah, hang on.” He went over to the dresser and pulled out a pair of boxer shorts with drawstrings. He went over to the other side of the bed, his back politely turned while you shimmied out of the jeans and into the shorts. He took his off as well, seeming to understand you’d be okay with it, and climbed in beside you. Both of you settled into the bed after a moment or two. You lay on your stomach, looking at him, and he lay on his back, staring at the ceiling.

“Do you sleep with the metal arm on?” you asked.

“Not usually, but it depends,” Bucky said. “Sometimes I nod off with it still on, but it’s built for that.”

“Yeah. I thought you had like a little kickstand for it or something.”

Bucky chuckled. “It goes in the case it came in, you weirdo.”

“That does make more sense.”  

You glanced at his phone on the other nightstand. “Did Emma text you back about dinner and a movie?”

He shook his head. You groaned. “Geez. These women are seriously blowing it.”

“To be fair, I was just filmed beating the stuffing out of three drunk guys at a baseball game.”

“That should make you more attractive, not less.”

Bucky laughed. “You are warped, girlie.”

“Probably, yes.”

“At least you’re self-aware. What do you think? Should I go for one more blind date or call it quits for now?”

You winced. “Kind of hard to say. Maybe let the controversy die down first. Who knows? Maybe third time’s the charm.”

“Maybe.” Bucky shut his eyes. “Go to sleep, girlie. It’s late.”

“Hey, you’re the one that kept me up all night getting into brawls with random strangers.”

“You’re the one that pepper sprayed one of them.”

“Point taken.” You grabbed your phone and did a quick search on a hunch. “Oh, good. I already have a nickname courtesy of your fangirls.”

Bucky looked at you. “What?”

You showed him the phone. “I’m the Winter THOT.”

Bucky stared at you. “What the hell’s a THOT?”

“Stands for That Ho Over There.”

Bucky pinched the bridge of his nose. “I really hate the Internet.”

“I dunno, it’s kinda catchy,” you said. Then you adopted a dramatic, scratchy voice. “Who am I? I’m…the Winter THOT.”

Bucky snatched the phone while you giggled and tossed it back on the nightstand, narrowing his eyes at you. “Can you Winter Not right now? It’s bedtime. Don’t make me get ugly.”

“Oh, really? You gonna rough me up if I don’t go to bed?”

“I’ll put you in a bear hug until you pass out.”

You scowled. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Bucky reached for you and you yelped, trying to roll away. He grabbed you around the waist and dragged you up against him while you giggled like a schoolgirl. “S-Stop it, I’m ticklish!”

“Then go to sleep like I told you.”

“You’re so mean when you’re off the clock.”

His chest shook with silent laughter. “I mean it. Lights out. Not another word.”

You settled into the pillow and the sheets and the warmth of Bucky’s chest and arm. He ran hot, it seemed, but you didn’t mind since the bedroom was cool. And, truth be told, it felt…nice. You hadn’t been in bed with a guy in a while. You’d forgotten the little comfortable things about it, like how his breathing synced up with your own and the way he buried his face in your hair once he found a position he liked. His right arm was a welcome heavy weight on your hip. You found yourself drifting off to a deep, dreamless sleep in his arms without a care in the world.

Apparently, your subconscious very much liked waking up next to an attractive male person; you were draped all over Bucky when you woke up the next morning. He lay on his back, his left arm curled around your hips, snoring slightly. You had your head on his chest and one leg throw over his thigh, curled up at his side like a slumbering kitty cat. You woke up slowly, which meant you’d slept pretty well, and the soreness in your jaw had already gone away, thank God. You didn’t feel like getting up yet, so you just drifted off again for another half hour until Bucky woke up.

Once he did, he stirred and rubbed your back, brushing his lips across your forehead. “Hey. S’morning, girlie. Get up.”

“Are you always this bossy in the morning?” you asked, rolling your head up to look at him. He had bedhead and it was completely adorable.

“Yes, when it’s my bed,” he deadpanned. “And when you’re…” Bucky glanced at the sheets. “…most of the way on top of me.”

You snorted. “Didn’t hear you complaining.”

“I was asleep.”

“You’re still not complaining.”

He shook his head. “One of these days, I’m gonna do something about that smart mouth of yours.”

You rolled over enough to fold your arms on his chest, staring at him in challenge. “You’re not gonna do shit. You’re all talk. Big bad super spy likes to cuddle.”

Bucky blushed. “Technically, you cuddled up to me.”

You rolled your eyes. Then you softened your voice a bit. “How did you sleep?”

“I slept,” he said. “I slept in a bed, no less. That’s as good as I can do these days.”

“Good. Anything to eat for breakfast around this joint?”

Bucky thought about it. “Bacon and eggs?”

“That’ll do.” You slithered off the bed and headed for the kitchen. It wasn’t hard to locate a couple of pans and a bowl and the food. You heard Bucky make a stop in the master bathroom and then he padded into the kitchen after you, yawning.

Then he did something else surprising.

He wrapped his arm around you from behind and pressed a kiss to your hair.

And he didn’t let go for a few seconds.

“Bucky?” you whispered.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “About last night. Thank you. For staying, I…it means a lot to me.”

You rubbed his forearm gently. “You’re welcome.”

He let you go a moment later, but that same warm, familiar feeling lingered long after the two of you finished making breakfast and ate it together. And it wasn’t until after you left in the afternoon that something clicked for you.

It was the same feeling you’d had in your last romantic relationship.

Oh, shit.

Chapter Text

“Alright, let me see if I’ve got this right.”

Bucky paused to munch on some popcorn, squinting at your flat-screen TV. “The one with the long blonde hair is Phoebe, the brunette is Monica, and the hot waitress is Rachel. Then the sarcastic guy is Chandler, the kinda dumb actor is Joey, and the whiny asshole is Ross.”

“Yep,” you said as you reached down into the bowl of popcorn resting on Bucky’s chest, careful not to hit him since his head was in your lap.

“And you said this was on for how many seasons?”

“A lot,” you chuckled.

“S’weird. I mean, it’s funny, but I can’t believe it lasted so long.” Bucky frowned. “Also, how come there are no black people? I mean, it’s based in New York.”

“Excellent question that everyone’s been asking.”

Bucky shook his head. “Sometimes I think I’m never gonna understand modern culture.”

“Eh, you’re on your way there, just need more exposure to it.”

“If you say so.” Crunch, crunch. “After this episode’s over, can we watch Die Hard?”

You fought down a giggle. “Yes, Bucky, we can rewatch Die Hard for the hundredth time.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault it’s a such a good movie.”

“Macho,” you said in a sing-song voice and Bucky rolled his eyes. You were only teasing, though. You loved Die Hard as well, so you switched to it after the Friends episode finished. When the popcorn was gone about a third of the way through the movie, Bucky sat up and you tucked yourself into his side, using his shoulder as a pillow. He relaxed into your couch like a big cat, his long legs sprawled out in front of him, his arm resting along the back of the couch behind your head.

By now, it had been a month after the incident at the baseball stadium. Bucky hadn’t yet picked up on the hunt for a hookup, instead spending time with you on occasion. While he still had grumpy old man tendencies, Bucky was easy company and you enjoyed your visits. Often, you acted as his ambassador to the modern world, introducing him to various things he wouldn’t have known about otherwise. He still came to see you at the diner on Fridays since he was a man of habit who found comfort in routines.

After Die Hard ended, you poked him in the side, rolling your head up to look at him. “How was therapy?”

Bucky sighed. “Same as always: infuriating. I hope they get me a new shrink. This lady’s the worst.”

“Well, no one said it would be easy. Are you at least sleeping better?”

“Sometimes,” he grunted. Then he flashed you a little lopsided smile. “I think you ruined me. Can’t sleep as well in that bed if you’re not there.”

“I can get you a stuffed teddy bear, if that helps.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Yes, that’s exactly what I need.”

“Oh, lighten up. If you want me to move in with you, just ask. I could use some help paying rent.”

Bucky laughed. “Like you want me as a roommate.”

You shrugged. “I’ve heard worse ideas.”

“Not sure your future boyfriends would approve.”

You snorted. “What future boyfriends? At the rate I’m going, becoming an old cat lady is pretty much assured.”

“I swear, if I come over someday and you have fifty cats in here, I’m leaving and never coming back.”

You pushed your bottom lip out in a pout. “Aw, Bucky, you’d ditch your poor cat lady friend?”

“A man can only take so much. I mean, you’re already relentlessly annoying.”

You pinched his thigh. “You’re no walk in the park yourself, James.”

He scowled. “I’ll have you know I am an outright jog through Central Park compared to you.”

“Yes, you’re very likely to end up at gun point, in that regard.”

“Oh, you are just asking for it.” He gripped your sides and dug his fingers in. You collapsed onto your back laughing as he tickled you mercilessly.

“S-Stop it, you jerk!” You tried to whack him with a pillow, but he dodged it, his grin smug.

“No, I’m annoying, remember?”

You squirmed underneath him, giggling maniacally. “Why are you so mean to me?”

“It’s kind of fun, actually,” Bucky admitted once he finally relented, smirking down at you in victory.

“Big bully.”

“Little pest.”

“Shut up, you love me.”

He inhaled sharply. You realized how that had sounded. Oops. Better not say that to the shell-shocked veteran with few friends. You quickly jumped in to save yourself. “I mean, who else would you torment if not for me?”

Bucky relaxed a little. “Sam comes to mind.”

“Yeah, but he’ll just punch you in the face if you mess with him.”

Bucky arched a haughty eyebrow. “He can try.”

“Macho, macho maaaan!” You started to sing, snapping your fingers. “I’ve got to be a macho man!”

He huffed and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, whatever, fangirl.”

“Yes, I’m just so infatuated with you,” you said in total deadpan. “Take me now, sub-creature.”

“Keep playing with me and I will.”

“You are so full of shit, Bucky.”

He eyed you for a moment and then leaned all the way down until your faces were mere inches apart. Your pulse skyrocketed. You stared up at him, completely dumbfounded, as he glanced purposefully at your lips, then flicked his gaze up to your eyes, cocking his head slightly. A slow, evil smile made its way over those soft lips. “Am I?”

You couldn’t think of what to say. Wow. You didn’t know he could flip the switch into seductive that easily. It was quite alarming. Thankfully, you were rescued by your phone chirping with a text message notification. You rolled over onto your belly and crawled to the end of the couch to reach the little table beside the it, checking the text. You groaned. “Fuck, boss wants me to come in early tomorrow.”


You heaved a sigh and texted back that it was fine. The lack of sass in Bucky’s response made you crane your neck, one eyebrow raised. Then you noticed he was still above you on all fours and his eyes were very much fixed on your ass.

Your jaw dropped. “James Buchanan Barnes, are you checking me out?”

He glanced up at you, blinking as if he hadn’t even noticed where his eyes were. He cleared his throat, his cheeks turning a bit red. “Technically speaking, I’m ogling you, not checking you out.”

“Yes, of course, that’s an important distinction. Should I go get you a glass of water since you’re so thirsty?”

“Ha-ha. I’m only human. And to be fair, these are also my boxers that you refuse to give back.”

“They’re comfy,” you protested, rolling over. “Can you blame me?”

“Yes, I can. A lot, in fact. Stealing my clothes is usually reserved for girlfriends.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll survive without these until you find her. She can come steal these off me herself.”

Bucky smirked again. “I’d watch that.”

You whacked him with the throw pillow. “Thirsty ass. C’mon, help me clean up.”

The next day, you pulled an unfortunate twelve-hour shift, so by the time Bucky came by for his usual Friday night dinner, you were exhausted and happy to see him. He could see it all over your face, so he gave you a warm hug and one of those reassuring smiles instead of his usual teasing. You were so glad to be in the last hour of the day before closing. You were definitely going to go home and crash hard.

Which, of course, was why the jerk walked in.

A brown-haired guy in a leather jacket strolled in and sat in your area two tables down from Bucky’s usual booth. You couldn’t put your finger on why, but something about him was off. You ignored the intuition and walked over, greeting him. Well, your instincts were right. The first thing he did when he saw you was leer at your bare legs. It had been warm during the week, so you wore a black skirt instead of slacks today. The length was perfectly fine, stopping just above the knee, but the way this guy looked at you was like you were a pinup model in not a stitch. You sighed inwardly and kept up your usual routine in spite of his rude staring.

“What can I get you, sir?”

He dragged his eyes up your body and then smirked. “Coffee.”

He then winked. “Wouldn’t mind your phone number, either.”

You gave him a frigid smile. “One coffee coming right up.”

You turned on your heel and marched over to the coffee station, muttering insults along the way. Again, being a cute waitress always had its bad moments. Bad tips were one thing, but you hated getting stuck with skeezy guys hitting on you during a long shift. You returned with the coffee and asked him if he was ready to order.

The guy made a show of looking on and around the coffee mug. “I don’t see your phone number.”

You forced the smile further across your lips. “I’m sorry, sir, but I can only give you things that are actually on the menu.”

The jerk scowled. “Fine. Meatloaf special. And hop to it, huh? I’m hungry.”

You wrote it on the ticket. “Right away, sir.”

You took it back to the kitchen, but along the way, you noticed that Bucky had his blue eyes trained on the guy like a tiger in the underbrush. The jerk had no idea, too busy on his phone, and that was probably for the best. Bucky’s stares were pretty unsettling.

The kitchen had a good turn around time, but you’d been called in to cover since one of the cooks and Deidre were out with the cold that had tried to spread around the restaurant. As such, the food took about an extra ten minutes to be ready. Normal patrons didn’t much mind, but the jerk checked his watch a few times and glared when he saw you checking on other tables. He caught your sleeve when you passed by after your other table left. “Hey, where’s the food?”

“It’s coming, sir,” you said, trying not to let your annoyance show as you pried your arm loose. “I’ll go check on it now.”

“Yeah, you do that. And it better be hot.”

“It will be, sir, don’t worry.” You headed to the kitchen and this time his order was up. You brought it out to him and he accepted it with minimal grumbling. You cashed out the other three tables and passed by to refill his coffee once. When he was done, you came over with the check.

“Oh, that’s not gonna work for me,” he said, pushing the ticket back towards you.

“Excuse me?” you asked with a frown.

“I wanted broccoli and you gave me mixed vegetables. And there was a wait. So I’m not paying. I want it comp’d.”

You stared at him, then at the empty plate. “Sir, I was standing right here. You said the meatloaf special. You didn’t say anything about substituting the mixed veggies with broccoli. And you ate it all.”

He reclined back in the booth with a nasty smile. “The customer is always right. Let me speak to your manager. I don’t like the service I received.”

You fought the urge to ball your hands into fists. “Sure, I’ll go get her.”

His smirk widened. “Sir.”

You took a very deep breath. “Excuse me?”

“You’ll go get her, sir,” the guy said pointedly. “What’s the matter, sweetheart? They don’t teach you manners in this job? You’re supposed to address the customer as ‘sir.’”

By now, you definitely want to slam his head into the table. But this was your job. Pain in the asses like this guy were just part of the job. “I will go get her, sir.”

“There’s a good girl.” You turned to go…and the guy slapped your ass.

Bucky was out of his seat before you even had the time to react.

He grabbed the guy’s wrist with his metal arm and the guy’s shoulder with his other, slamming his head down flat into the table. It happened in under five seconds. You’d only seen a blur and then heard the guy’s face smack the tabletop.

“Touch her again,” Bucky said very quietly. “I dare you.”

“What the fuck?!” the jerk yelled, his eyes bulging in shock. “Get off me!”

He tried to wriggle free, but Bucky leaned even harder on his shoulder and the guy yelped. “Apologize to her or I’m gonna break it off like a chicken wing, asshole.”

“S-Sorry,” the jerk said to you frantically. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, really!”

“Good man,” Bucky said as sarcastically as possible. “Now you’re gonna pay for the meal and you’re gonna tip her twenty bucks and then get your sorry ass out of here. Don’t come back.”

The guy fumbled for his wallet one handed, took out a fifty, and put it on the table. Bucky let him go. He stumbled to his feet and ran for the door like he was being chased by a hellhound. Bucky glared as he watched the guy flee down the street and around the corner, then wordlessly picked up the fifty-dollar bill and handed it to you. You tucked it into your apron and called for the stunned bus boy to clear the table.

Naturally, your boss Mya tugged you aside once the restaurant closed.

“Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble,” she said right off the bat as she sat behind her desk. She was in her early fifties, heavyset, but with a kind face and strong arms. Her hair was back in a ponytail since she’d been in the back covering for the sick cook. “There is no tolerance for assholes like that guy. I’m glad Bucky stepped in when he did. I’d have broken the plate over his head, personally.”

She licked her lips. “It’s just…well, from what the others told me, I think he’s a little attached to you and I wanted to make sure everything was okay. I know he’s been through a lot.”

“He’s okay,” you said. “He just…doesn’t do friends very often and so I can tell sometimes he gets a little overprotective.”

Mya nodded. “Anything we need to talk about?”

“No. I’m sorry about the disturbance. Hopefully, we won’t have anything disruptive happen again. I’ll talk to him.”

“Your safety always comes first, it’s not an issue. Just make sure he’s stable.”

“I will. Thanks for understanding.”

“No problem. We’ve seen a lot of veterans come and go and I want them taken care of if we can manage it. I’d feel awful if something happened to Bucky. He’s a good guy, if a little rough around the edges.”

“Believe me, I know.” You waved to her and left, grabbing your coat and purse. Bucky was waiting for you by the door looking like a guilty puppy expecting to be kicked, bless his heart.

“I’m sorry,” he said immediately when you were within earshot. “If I need to talk to your boss or—”

“Relax,” you told him. “I didn’t get in trouble. The asshole was way out of line.”

“I know, I just…” He ran a hand through his hair. “I started seeing red when he did that to you. I didn’t mean to, I swear—”

“Bucky,” you said firmly, meeting his eyes. “It’s okay. I’m okay, you’re okay, my job’s okay, and the diner’s okay. Got it?”

He took a deep breath and visibly relaxed some. “Yeah, I got it.”

“Good.” You sighed and brushed your hair behind one ear. “But we do need to talk. Mind if I kidnap you back to my place for a bit?”

“No, that’s fine. Was planning on heading over anyway. Long day.”

“You said it.” The two of you headed to your car and you drove to your apartment. The silence during the ride was a little awkward, but not caustic or hostile. Bucky still had that kicked puppy look. You’d have to do something about it.

Once you were safely inside, you tried to put the right words together. “I know you don’t do this often. Friendship, I mean. At least lately. I’m not upset with you, so please don’t look at me like I’m about to yell at you or something. I’m not. I just want to know if you’re okay since that thing at the baseball stadium.”

Bucky frowned. “What’s that got to do with the jerk in the diner?”

“Well, I got hurt and you felt like it was your fault,” you continued, crossing your arms. “It wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean you’re not still on high alert for danger. You’ve seemed a little more tense when we’re out in public, that’s all. And you still haven’t been out on any dates since Josie.”

Bucky scratched the back of his neck. “I haven’t really been feeling all that social lately, no.”

“And that’s fine. You don’t have to be. But I don’t want you to be tense all the time, either, so talk to me. Are you worried about me in general or is something else bothering you?”

He frowned. “No, it was mostly that he put his fucking hands on you. Sorry, but that kinda stuff pisses me off like you would not believe.”

“I get that. But I promise you that had I told Mya what that guy did, she’d have thrown him out herself. You didn’t have to intervene.”

“So what are you saying?”

“I think you’re stressed out. I think something’s bothering you and you don’t want to talk about it. And I don’t mean the usual stuff about your past or the stuff about Thanos. I just…want you to know you don’t have to hold everything in all the time. I’m here if you want me to be.”

“If I want you to be,” he echoed. He shook his head, a dry chuckle in his throat. “You’re somethin’ else, you know that?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“You don’t get it. You just can’t see it. Which is crazy because you get everything else about me, but not this.”

“Not what, Bucky?” you asked, genuinely mystified.

He sighed, turning towards the door. “Forget it. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Bucky, what the shit?” You marched to the door before he could leave and stepped in front of him. “Look, just spit it out, okay? Whatever it is, we can work on it—”

He kissed you.

And he didn’t just kiss you—he gripped your face in his warm hand and tilted it up so he could reach, his metal arm winding around the small of your back, crushing you against his muscular upper body. The kiss was hot and slow and…frankly, fantastic. Though admittedly you were a little out of practice.

He let go when he ran out of air and not a moment before. His thumb stroked your cheekbone as he rested his forehead against yours. “You’re what’s wrong with me. I can’t stop thinking about you. All you want is for me to be okay and yet here I am wanting you instead. My life has been nothing but chaos for years and then I walked in that diner and saw you. You’re my safe place. And I’m wrecking your life just by being in it.”

You swallowed hard, trying to understand this revelation, still tasting him on your lips. “So you weren’t just mad about the harassment. You were…jealous.”

“Exactly. If there hadn’t been witnesses, I’d have broken his arm. Hell, maybe both of them just to teach him a lesson.”

You shuddered at that particular admission. This was scary and unexpected, but certainly not unwelcome. You hadn’t thought about Bucky this way only because you thought he didn’t think of you this way, except for the odd flirtatious comment here and there. After all, the guy was flatout gorgeous and you could hardly measure up to that. “What lesson?”

A dangerous smirk touched those full lips. “Don’t touch what’s mine.”

Your eyes almost rolled back in your head. Possessive Bucky Barnes. You never thought you’d see the day. Still, you couldn’t let that one slide. You had to say something else. It just wasn’t your style to let it go. “And who says I’m yours?”

Bucky chuckled as he pushed you up against the door. “Me. Looks like today’s finally the day I do something about that smart mouth of yours.”

He kissed you again, hard, his tongue seeking asylum in your mouth. Oh, good heavens. He could kiss. He could kiss like a fucking champion. Your brain practically imploded from the sheer pleasure of kissing him, of his hard body pinning you to the door, of his lips and tongue teasing you mercilessly. His metal arm slid down past your waist and then he hefted you up with it. Your legs twisted around him as he carried you away from the door to the opposite wall where there wasn’t anything hanging up in the way to be knocked down or kicked over. You wound your arms about his neck and ran your fingers through his thick hair, panting and moaning in between kisses, drunk and high all at the same time.

He pushed your skirt up to bunch around your hips, removing the extra cloth barrier as his hips landed between your thighs. He ground himself against you and you whimpered before you could help it. He held you up against the wall, kissing you mad the entire time, his hips rolling into yours again and again, sending waves of pleasure up through your body. You ached deep at your center, so hot and flustered that you couldn’t help ascending towards an orgasm from just the dry sex alone. You’d been so starved for sex lately, taking those soft, intimate touches from him where you could, trying not to be too greedy, and now he’d given you permission to be as selfish as you wanted to be.

“Mm, Bucky,” you mumbled in between kisses. “Please, I’m—ah—I’m sensitive.”

“Good,” he whispered back, shifting you in his grip until the tent in his jeans aligned with your clit. He ground into you harder, faster, not letting you draw breath in between, just kissing you until you were dizzy and dangling over the precipice of an orgasm.

“Bucky, please,” you begged breathlessly. Just to drive the point home, he slid his hand underneath the band of your panties and squeezed your ass hard, pulling you up against his pelvis at just the right point. You broke finally, moaning into his mouth as you climaxed. A rush of heat and wetness filled the space between your inner thighs and Bucky growled softly as if he’d felt it. He lowered you to the floor on your shaky legs and you realized why a moment later—he wasn’t done with you yet.

He kissed your throat, the dip in your collarbones, sinking down your body one hot kiss at a time until he was kneeling in front of you, roughly pulling your panties off your legs. He buried his face in your right inner thigh, nipping, kissing, licking his way under your black skirt. You shivered as he tossed your right leg over his broad shoulder and ran his fingers over your bare skin while he left little kiss marks behind.

“B-Bed,” you stammered as he climbed higher towards the promised land.

Bucky smirked up at you. “Don’t worry. We’ll get there soon enough.”

He aligned his mouth with your sex and went for the kill. He licked you slowly enough for it to be a crime and then wasted no time burying his tongue inside you as if it belonged there in the first place. Your spine arched and you grabbed at his biceps to steady yourself, crying out as the pleasure streaked through your veins in a scorching surge. Those soft lips parted to caress your slick walls, his tongue lapping up your essence, his tongue delving in and out over and over, then stopping long enough to tease your clit. He squeezed your hips in between thrusts of his tongue, massaging the soft flesh enough to drive you crazy in mere minutes, trembling like a leaf as you tried to hold it together. You could barely stay upright as he sucked the soul out of you through your cunt like it was his profession, relentlessly pursuing your orgasm like a man possessed.

“Bucky…please, God, oh fuck…James!” You came again, convulsing in place, burying one hand in his dark hair to hold him in the spot where you needed him. Bucky hummed in pleasure as he felt you come a second time, sliding up enough to kiss your clit lovingly as you floated through the tingling rush of your orgasm. He lowered your leg after pressing another kiss mark into your inner thigh and then stood up.

He hiked up the hem of your blouse and pulled it off inside out, using it to wipe his mouth clean and then tossing it aside. He kissed you as he undid his belt and pushed his jeans and boxers to mid-thigh, scooping you up in those powerful arms once again. His cock was silken and hot and long against your lower belly as he lined himself up with you again. By now, you hadn’t a thought left in the world that wasn’t him and what he was about to do to you. Friendship be damned. You both needed this.

The tip of his cock pressed in, then the shaft, sliding effortlessly from how wet you’d gotten from two orgasms in a row. He filled you tightly, snugly, forcing your slippery walls to take him in, but it felt so good that your toes curled and you bit his bottom lip, moaning uncontrollably. You looped your legs around him to hold on for dear life as he hefted you and started to fuck you senseless. You kissed him back just as frantically, moaning on every odd breath as his cock sent fiery whorls throughout your body, feeding the inferno at your center.

He slipped his fingers into your hair and drew your head back, licking, biting, sucking at your throat, the coolness of his metal hand palming your ass contrasting the unquenchable heat between your thighs. Your legs tightened around him unconsciously as you reached the point of no return, so close to another orgasm that you could almost taste it. The groans and grunts and curses that left him just made you hotter and wetter with every thrust, knowing you pleased him, knowing he couldn’t get enough of you.

He sped up, rocking you down onto his cock even harder, his voice rough in your ear. “Come on, sweetheart. I know you want it, just take it.”

He bit the spot where your neck met your shoulder, soothing it with his tongue. “Come for me, baby. I just want you to come.”

“Oh God, James!” You snapped at long last, coming hard on his cock, clutching him to you as the ecstasy burned through your veins. Bucky hissed in your hair and didn’t stop, grinding his pelvis against your clit as he felt your inner walls fluttering around his cock. He slowed one thrust at a time as you floated through your orgasm and finally stilled with a wistful sigh.

“Fuck,” Bucky whispered reverently, staring into your eyes in aroused wonderment. You knew what that meant without him even elaborating. That was so much better than either of you had ever thought it could be.

And you both wanted more.

In a flash, he’d carried you to your bedroom and tossed you down on the rumpled bedsheets. He pulled off his shirt and kicked off his jeans, grabbing you and flipping you over. He anchored his metal hand on one side of your hips and kicked your legs apart, sliding inside you again immediately. You buried your face in the comforter to muffle a scream as his cock pierced you deep, rubbing deliciously against your erogenous zone. He fucked you inside out, until you were sobbing his name, until you were crazed with your need for another orgasm. Then he molded his solid, hot chest to your spine and buried his other hand between your quaking thighs, stroking your clit as he finished you off again, lightly sucking at your ear lobe. Another orgasm thundered through you and left you a mess underneath him.

As soon as you recovered, you grabbed him and dragged him down to you, determined that this time you wouldn’t be alone in your ecstasy. You dug your heels into his taut ass as he pumped his cock inside you again and again, curling around his magnificent body as much as possible, swallowing his every groan of your name as he pummeled you into submission. You rolled your hips and circled them each time he thrust into you, elated when you felt his cock pulsing hard in warning.

“God, baby, I’m close,” Bucky groaned, sweat pouring off of him everywhere, his forehead pressed to your own, balanced on the metal arm, the other clutching your hip for dear life. “I need to—fuck—can’t last any longer.”

“Yes,” you moaned out, stroking down his back and over his shoulder blades. “Come, James, come inside me, please, now, please.”

“God, you feel so good to me, baby.” He kissed you, an utterly feral growl crawling out of his throat and vibrating down his upper body as he finally gave in. He squeezed your thigh, pulling you tight against his pelvis, grinding into your clit so you’d join him in the release, burying himself as deep as he could reach as his cock spilled into you. It felt better than anything on Earth. Nothing could touch this moment or even approach it. It was a pleasure so great it was nearly pain.

And you loved every single second of it.

Bucky flopped onto his side and dragged you up into his embrace, unwilling to separate yet. You threw one leg over his waist and relaxed in his arms, your face tucked under his chin. Slowly, you both cooled down. You drew light patterns over his pectorals and up to his shoulder, admiring the sculpted lines and tracing the scars you were seeing for the first time. You listened to the steady cadence of his heart as you lay there in comfortable silence, just enjoying each other’s presence.

“Ask you something?”

Bucky kissed the top of your head. “Always.”

“When did you know you liked me?”

He paused, seeming to think about it. “When you invited me to the baseball game.”

“Wow,” you whispered. “To think you could’ve cleared up all the mixed signals that much sooner.”

Bucky laughed, glancing down at you. “You mean you knew?”

“No, but I wondered. You’re kinda hard to read, old man.”

“Me? You spent the entire time you’ve known me trying to hook me up with other girls instead of admitting you’re into me.”

You pursed your lips. “Hey, you asked me to help you, remember?”

“Sure, but you should’ve noticed when I didn’t ask you about Tinder once over the last month,” he said, lifting an eyebrow.

You thought about that. “Point taken. In conclusion, we’re both stubborn idiots.”

“Definitely.” He kissed you slowly, sweetly. “I’m glad you stayed.”

You grinned. “How could I not? After all, I’m the Winter THOT.”

Bucky groaned and rolled onto his back, dragging your naked body on top of him. “Okay, I think it’s time I shut you up again.”

“Bring it on, Mr. Barnes.” You winked at him. “I can do this all day.”