It's a cold morning and Bucky's breath makes lazy plumes in the air with each exhale as he walks. Usually, he hates the cold, even when he's bundled up like he is now in a long-sleeved tee, plaid shirt, hoodie and his heavy pea-coat. The cold makes his stump ache. But this morning it's fresh and crisp and it's looking to be a gorgeous clear day. He could do with seeing some blue in the sky.
He turns the corner and Steve is already outside of the coffee shop, waiting for Nat to arrive and open up. Bucky smiles and holds up a hand as he approaches. Steve smiles back and waves. Bucky has all of his shifts with Steve this week and he's glad; he likes everyone who works at the coffee shop - Pete is funny and slightly manic, Maria is dry and clever - but Steve is patient and pleasant and they work well as a team. Steve lets Bucky get on with things and doesn't offer help every two seconds like Pete does or scrutinizes his every move like Maria; he knows they mean well but it makes him nervous sometimes to know they watch him like that and he ends up making more mistakes. Steve doesn't act that way and Bucky works best when he's with him.
Bucky also has a huge crush on Steve.
Steve is gorgeous - tall with blue eyes that Bucky knows will match the sky later on today and he has a smile that gets more customers coming in when he's working a shift. Bucky thinks his butt also brings a few more regulars to the shop and he can't blame them really. But Steve is also kind and confident (except when someone flirts with him and then he turns into a stuttering red-faced mess) and he's quick to laugh. If he's in a particularly good mood, he sings softly to himself and his voice makes Bucky feel warm and safe.
"Good morning," Steve says, rubbing his gloved hands together. "Jeez, it's cold today." He's wearing a trapper hat and it makes him look kind of dorky, but Bucky doesn't mind dorky.
"It's nice though. I'd rather sunny and freezing than rainy and freezing." Bucky stands with him and shoves his one hand into his coat pocket.
Steve laughs. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Isn't your head cold? Don't you have a hat?"
Bucky shakes his head. "The hair keeps my ears warm." He tucks it behind his ear. "See? Just the right length."
Steve smiles, his nose and cheeks pink from the cold. "I think you need a hat."
"Hope I haven't kept you boys waiting long." Nat walks up to them, the shop keys jingling in her hand.
"Nope, just got here," Steve says.
Nat unlocks the shop and turns the lights on. She switches on the coffee machine while Steve and Bucky put their coats and bags out back. Bucky wants to ask Steve about his weekend but chickens out at the last minute and heads into the shop to take the chairs off of the tables and make sure the napkin dispensers are full.
Bucky has been working at the coffee shop for three months; when he finally felt like he was able to get a job again after the accident, he had applied wherever he could - stores, fast food restaurants, offices. He got a few interviews and was even offered a couple of jobs but none of them felt right. He came away feeling a sense of pity for his situation and if there is one thing that Bucky hates, it's pity. He had pitied himself for long enough and had got over it and it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth when he catches glimpses of it from people on the subway or when he's grocery shopping. From potential employers, it feels even worse.
The day he had his interview with Nat at her coffee shop - a small independent café tucked away in Brooklyn - he hadn't felt an ounce of pity from her. She had looked at his empty sleeve, pinned at the shoulder, with curiosity but nothing close to pity. She offered him the job after they had spent an hour talking about books and relatives in Russia and nothing even related to his resumé or the actual job.
"It's hard work but you look like a hard worker," she had said with a grin. "And I like you. I make it a point to not hire people I don't like."
"I've never worked in a coffee shop before," Bucky had replied.
Nat had shrugged. "We offer full training and to be honest, it's a cake walk once you get the hang of it. The job's yours if you want it."
Bucky had thought about the constant glances to his arm that wasn't there anymore from the last job he was offered and made up his mind. "I'll take it."
He's happy here; the regulars are nice, the part-time hours are great for him and the smell of coffee, which at first had been a little cloying, is now a source of comfort. He looks up when there's a knock at the front door - it's Sharon with the delivery. Bucky unlocks the front door and lets her in just as Steve comes out from the back. He hurries over and takes the four large covered trays from her before they slide to the floor.
"Thanks," Sharon says and blows her bangs out of her eyes with a huff of air. "I should have made two trips."
Sharon owns her own bakery a block away and makes cakes and other baked goods for the shop. She and Nat have been friends for years and have supported each other's businesses in any way that they can.
She smiles when Bucky and Steve look with interest at the day's offerings. "Cherry muffins, blueberry muffins and pumpkin bread. Two trays this time seeing as how it was so popular last time." She holds a muffin out to each of them - cherry for Bucky, blueberry for Steve. "Have you been good boys?" She looks over to Nat. "Do they deserve free muffins?"
"I only broke one mug last week," Bucky says.
"I'm always a good boy," Steve says and swipes the muffins from Sharon's hands with a smirk, handing the cherry one to Bucky.
Nat rolls her eyes. "Don't give them free food. They'll expect it every time. They're like dogs with tidbits."
"Woof," says Steve and he goes behind the counter, muffin jammed into his mouth and makes Sharon a latte to take away.
Bucky smiles around his own mouthful. "Thanks Sharon."
Sharon giggles and leans on the counter. "You guys are too cute. Think it's going to be busy today; as soon as the sun comes out, everyone wants coffee or cakes."
Steve draws a bunny on the side of Sharon's latte with a Sharpie. "There you go. I put a shot of caramel in it."
"You're a prince, Steve," she says as she takes the cup.
"What about me?" Bucky asks with a pout.
Sharon considers. "Hmm. A page boy?"
Bucky makes an indignant huff and Steve laughs. "It's okay, Bucky - you can be my page boy. All you have to do is shine my shoes maybe..."
"Take out the trash..." Sharon continues.
Steve nods. "Make me dinner, press my clothes..."
Bucky wads a napkin up and throws it at Steve. "With all due respect, your highness, you can fuck off."
Nat, Sharon and Steve all break into laughter and Sharon heads to the door. "On that note, have a great day." She waves and leaves. Nat swings the door sign to open after her.
"You boys okay if I go and do some paperwork?" she asks.
Steve nods and he and Bucky step behind the counter as one of their regulars comes in, greeting them all. Nat smiles and heads out the back.
"Ready?" Steve asks Bucky as he measures out some coffee grounds.
"Whenever you are, your highness."
It's busy; the Monday morning rush always keeps Bucky on his toes and today is no exception. Sharon was right - the sun makes everyone want coffee and cakes; several regulars react with excitement when they see the pumpkin bread. The flow of customers through the front door is steady and Bucky calls out orders to Steve and works the cash register. He knows most of the regulars by name by now. There's Bobbi who is a little scary but a sweetheart once you get past the brash exterior; Kamala and Kate are med students who like double shots after long nights of interning. Bucky was a little worried by Bruce the first time he came in, his anxious and twitchy manner hard to read but he's nice and just a little shy.
Working in the shop has put a lot of things in perspective for Bucky. Even though he generally doesn't feel sorry for himself, some days it's hard not to and the best will in the world can't stop him from wallowing. But then he sees Matt, the law student who is blind and likes to sit and read his journals with a large mocha, his fingers running over the brail in front of him and how he walks with confidence when he leaves the shop. There's Clint, who is deaf and has a huge crush on Nat. He lip reads and sometimes leaves them jokes written on napkins which they save behind the counter. Bucky can see the way that Nat perks up whenever Clint is in the shop and wants to ask her if she likes him too but he hasn't quite reached that level of familiarity with her yet.
Bucky watches Matt and Clint and he doesn't feel sorry for them because they don't feel sorry for themselves. They have no reason to and Bucky often reminds himself that he doesn't either.
Things finally slow down after 10:30am and Bucky wipes down the counter and refills the coffee stirrers and tops up the sugar containers. Steve cleans the steam wand on the machine and starts to sing softly. Bucky smiles - he likes it when Steve sings. Steve hasn't been working in the shop that much longer than Bucky and even though they get on and chat easily, Bucky doesn't know him all that well. He does know that Steve likes his coffee with lots of cream and he eats pastrami sandwiches for lunch. He often brings a sketchbook to work with him and draws quietly in the corner on his breaks. He knows that Steve is polite to everyone and is painfully modest.
Bucky suddenly has a moment of courage and starts to sing along with Steve - Don't Let It Bring You Down by Neil Young.
Steve turns around and smiles, delighted. "You know that song?"
Bucky grins. "Yeah. Well, the Annie Lennox version from American Beauty. I'm not cool enough to know that it was originally by Neil Young."
Steve laughs. "It's a great cover. My friend Sam complains when I sing it - he thinks it's depressing."
"Depends on what you find depressing, I guess."
Nat comes out from the office with some letters and paperwork and leans against the counter, surveying the empty shop. "Are you good for change?"
Bucky pops open the cash register. "Could do with some more ones."
"Cool. I'll swing by the bank on my way back from the post office."
"Hey Nat, what do you think about Neil Young?" Steve asks as he wipes his hands on a towel.
Nat screws up her face. "Too depressing."
She looks confused when Steve and Bucky start to laugh together.
The afternoon is slow, as it always is before 4pm when everyone finishes work and comes in for a coffee before making their way home. The shop closes at 5:30pm so the last hour or so is usually hectic so Bucky enjoys the mid-afternoon lull. Steve has his sketchbook with him today and Bucky watches him draw from his table in the far corner when he breaks for a late lunch. He always looks peaceful and faraway when he draws. It must be nice, Bucky thinks, to have something like that to escape to. He's never seen what Steve sketches - he's too shy to ask. It's not like he'd be asking to see Steve's diary or anything but sketchbooks must be kind of personal and Bucky feels like it would be too rude to look.
But he's very curious and today he thinks he might ask. He turns to Nat who is wiping glasses. "I'm just going to clear some tables."
"Go for it," Nat answers.
Bucky picks up the bussing tray, clearing mugs, wiping crumbs, all the while keeping one eye on Steve and slowly makes his way over to his table. As he nears, ready to casually ask Steve what he's drawing and if he can look, Steve stretches and yawns, closes his sketchbook and gathers his lunch trash. He smiles when he sees Bucky with the bussing tray under his arm.
Bucky is simultaneously relieved and disappointed and indicates to Steve's empty coffee mug. "All done?"
Steve stands up and puts his sketchbook under his arm. "It's okay, I got it."
Bucky heads back behind the counter and loads up the dishwasher. Steve rinses his mug out in the small sink.
"Think you'll ever want to move to a bigger place with an actual kitchen out back?" Bucky asks Nat.
Nat scrunches up her face. "Nah. This works fine. Besides, if we had a real kitchen we'd have to think about making real food and I can't be bothered with all that."
"Are you sure?" Steve says. "I can make a mean batch of macaroni cheese."
Bucky closes the dishwasher. "My tuna casserole is pretty good. I put potato chips on top of it and everything."
Nat barks out a laugh. "Oh my god, you two are the epitome of bachelor cuisine. I think we'd lose business if we put any of that on the menu."
"I'm insulted," Bucky jokes. "Do you know how hard it is to make Tuna Casserole with just one arm?"
"One arm or not, bad food is bad food. Do yourself a favor and never make it ever again."
It had taken Bucky a while before he could joke about his arm; he figured if people were uncomfortable with it he could at least try and lighten the mood a little and it usually worked. Nat and Steve didn't seem to mind when he did it but he'd tried to make a quip about one-handed juggling to Maria once and it had fallen totally flat. His mom had been upset when he'd made light of losing his arm not long after the accident, walking briskly out of his apartment "for some air" and staying outside for thirty minutes at least before she came back in and tried to act like nothing was wrong. Bucky hated people pretending there wasn't a problem as much as the pity.
"I like tuna casserole," Steve says to Bucky with a grin. "Have you ever had tater-tot casserole? Oh my god, it's amazing."
"Now you're talking." Bucky laughs as Nat grimaces.
"Ugh, can you make sure not to invite me to whatever weird little bad food dinner party you guys end up having?"
Steve shrugs. "You don't know what you're missing. But I guess that just means there'll be more for me and Bucky." He flashes Bucky a smile that makes him wish they were having a dinner party, just the two of them.
The rest of the afternoon passes quickly and before Bucky knows it, they're closed up and tidying for tomorrow. Steve is sweeping the floor while Nat cashes up and Bucky refills whatever needs refilling and stacks mugs neatly besides the coffee machine. Steve finishes with the floor and Nat stretches.
"You two can go if you want; I've still got a few things to do so I can close up."
Bucky neatly folds the cloth he was using to wipe the counter. "Are you sure?"
"Get the hell out of here," Nat says.
Bucky follows Steve into the back room and they put their coats on. There always seems to be a stilted silence between them when they're alone like this. He knows it's because he wants to get to know Steve better and ask him about himself but he doesn't. He wonders if Steve wants to ask about him.
"Are you in tomorrow?" Steve asks.
Bucky nods. "Tomorrow, Thursday and Saturday."
Steve smiles, genuine and pleased. "Me too."
Bucky just nods. He doesn't tell Steve that he eagerly looks at each week's rota and hopes that the majority of his shifts will be with him. He buttons up his coat and holds back a smile as Steve puts on his trapper hat. It looks so dorky. Bucky quickly looks away when Steve turns around.
"Ready?" he says and Bucky nods again.
They both walk back through into the shop and Nat comes around the counter to unlock the door for them. She hands them both a small paper package. "Leftover pumpkin bread. No need to waste it."
"Thanks Nat," Bucky says with a tired but grateful smile. Steve follows him out onto the street. The evening is cold and the sky is a deep blue, just about to get dark.
"See you tomorrow, boys." She locks the door behind them and they stand awkwardly for a moment.
"Guess I'll see you tomorrow," Bucky finally says. "Have a nice evening."
Steve holds up a hand. "Yeah, you too. See you tomorrow."
They walk away in opposite directions.
Tuesday is even busier than Monday and with Nat out of the shop on a stock run, Steve is just about keeping up with the orders as Bucky calls them out. He knows that the people who come into the shop don't mind waiting a little for their coffee (it's great coffee) but he likes to be as efficient as he can and Steve does too. There's a small lull in the flow of people and Bucky woofs out a small breath before leaning on the counter. He flexes his right hand a few times; since losing his left arm he finds the strain on his right more noticeable. If Maria or Pete were working right now they'd be asking him if he was okay and if he wanted to sit down and all kinds of other things that are considerate but annoying. Steve doesn't. He just pours two mugs of black filter coffee and hands one to Bucky.
"Think we've earned this."
Bucky takes the mug appreciatively. "You're telling me. Thanks." He takes a sip, his body already grateful for the caffeine and watches as Steve pours cream into his mug and then leans on the counter next to him. He looks like he's trying to work out what he wants to say and Bucky's stomach flips.
"So, I was wondering - " Steve begins but is interrupted by a group of girls coming into the shop, all talking animatedly.
Bucky hears Steve wince slightly under his breath and smiles. The five girls are all regulars and go to NYU. They all have crushes on Steve and as soon as they see him working they all start to whisper and nudge each other. Steve greets them politely but Bucky can see the back of his neck turn red, the way it does when he's embarrassed. Steve gets hit on a lot in the shop but he never flirts back. Since losing his arm, Bucky has lost some of the confidence he'd had, especially in the dating department; he used to be cocky and forthright but he finds himself hiding behind his long hair most of the time now and wonders if he'll ever get his self-assurance back. The college girls are polite and friendly to him but they don't look at him the way they look at Steve.
He calls out orders and the girls chatter amongst themselves, all very obviously watching Steve's butt as he works. Bucky kind of feels sorry for him but then he spends a lot of time looking at Steve's butt too.
Steve quickly scribbles out names on the takeaway cups and brings them over to the counter with a smile. "Enjoy," he says to the girls.
They all giggle and start to leave the shop. One of them comes back and places a slip of paper on the counter.
"My friend Lorna really likes you," she says to Steve while she points to one of the other girls, a punkish blond with green streaks in her hair who proceeds to leave the shop as quickly as she can. Steve flushes a soft shade of pink and the other girls laugh and all follow the blond, waving to Steve and Bucky.
Bucky picks up the scrap of paper and looks at the number. "Another one to add to the collection," he says with a smirk and hands the paper to Steve.
Steve grunts with embarrassment and screws up the scrap immediately. "What collection?"
"You think I don't notice how many numbers you get? I was going to try and convince Nat to change the name of this place to The Steve Rogers Fan Club."
Steve barks out a laugh. "I don't get that many numbers," he says. "Besides, I'm sure you must get a fair few."
Bucky smiles softly and shakes his head. "Ah, no. No numbers for me."
Steve frowns and stops halfway through changing the regular coffee filter. "You're kidding, right?"
"People aren't exactly lining up to ask out a guy with one arm."
Steve looks bewildered and a little sad. "Why would that make a difference?"
Bucky shrugs. "It can weird people out. It doesn't really bother me. I mean, it's not like I've been...putting myself out there since my accident." He's never told anyone in the coffee shop what happened to him and no-one has ever asked.
Steve glances to the space where Bucky's left arm should be and there's a crease between his eyes. "It shouldn't make a difference," he says quietly.
Bucky swallows. It really shouldn't, but it does. Even his family treat him differently now; there's an air of deliberate cautiousness about what they say to him, as if anything might upset or offend him. But he never wants to cause trouble by telling them to cut it out so he just bites back what he really wants to say. It gets tiring.
"I'm sure to the right person it won't," he says lightly and the frown on Steve's face eases. "Um, you were going to ask me something before your admirers came barging in?"
Steve blinks and Bucky could swear that he looks nervous for a split second. But then he gives a little shrug. "I forget. I'm sure it'll come back to me."
Things start to pick up again before lunch and they run out of Sharon's salted-caramel cookies (Bucky writes Nat a note to get two trays from her next time). A regular comes in that Bucky has seen a few times before; a young dark-haired woman who he thinks works in a nearby bookstore. She smiles brightly when she sees him.
"How's it going?" Bucky asks pleasantly.
The woman nods. "Good, thanks. How about you?"
"Yeah, not bad. What can I get you?"
She scans the board for a moment. "I have no idea what I want. Can you recommend me something?" She studies him with large brown eyes.
"My personal favorite? Chai latte. It's like cinnamon heaven. If you like cinnamon, that is."
"Hmm. Okay you've convinced me. I have to get back to work so I'll take it to go. Thank you."
"My pleasure," Bucky says and Steve starts on her order.
"I'm Daisy, by the way." She offers her hand.
Bucky holds out his own and shakes. "Bucky. This is Steve." He cocks his thumb behind him.
Daisy smiles. "Nice to put names to the faces."
Steve puts her cup on the counter. He's drawn a little flower on the side. "Here you go. Enjoy."
"Thanks." Daisy turns back to Bucky with a little smile. "I'll let you know what I think."
Bucky holds up his hand. "Just don't hate me if you don't like it."
Daisy laughs. "Something tells me you'd be a hard person to hate. Bye, Bucky." She waves at Steve and leaves the shop, smiling at Bucky through the window before she's out of sight.
Steve comes over and stands by Bucky with his arms folded, looking smug. "Well, now who's got the fan club?"
"What do you mean?"
"She was flirting with you," Steve says with a little grin.
Bucky scowls. "No she wasn't. You're just trying to make me feel better about earlier."
"Hey now, no I'm not. Bucky, believe me. That was flirting."
Bucky busies himself with some sweetener sachets. He huffs out an embarrassed laugh. "Yeah, I'm not...um..." He stumbles for the right word.
"Not interested?" Steve offers.
"Not straight," Bucky says.
"Ah," Steve replies and his face doesn't give away what he thinks.
Bucky chews the inside of his cheek. "It's nice though, I guess. I haven't been flirted at for a long time."
Steve smiles softly. "Maybe you have and you just didn't notice."
Bucky snorts. "I can tell. Believe it or not, I used to be pretty good at flirting. Now though, I wonder how much of any way people react to me is because of the part that's missing."
Steve's smiles slips a little. "I think you should give yourself a little more credit than that."
Bucky isn't quite sure how to respond but thankfully Nat bustles in through the door carrying several bags worth of god-knows-what which she dumps next to the counter.
"Ugh, what a morning. I am wiped already." She groans and rubs her hands. "It's getting colder too. Steve, I'll love you forever if you make me a - "
"Raspberry mint tea?" Steve says with a quirked eyebrow pointing to the drink he's already making.
Nat whispers loudly to Bucky. "Shit, he's good," and they all laugh.
Bucky likes these little moments when it's just the three of them. He wishes they could spend more time together outside of the shop; he thinks his life could use friends like Nat and Steve. Well, with Steve he always wishes for a little more.
"What have you been buying?" Bucky asks, pointing to the bags.
"Plants," Nat says and hoists herself up onto the counter. "I think it'll brighten up the place a little."
"Good idea," Steve says.
Nat swings her legs and sips her tea. "I was thinking maybe we could change the layout of the tables a little. Mix things up a bit."
Bucky hums. "Maybe. It might take Matt a while to get used to something new though. I mean, not like he can't handle it or anything but I wouldn't want him to have to - " he stops when he sees Nat and Steve watching him. "Sorry, it's your shop. You can do what you like."
Nat shakes her head with a strange little grin. "No, you're right. I didn't think of that." She jumps off the counter and gathers up her bags. "I'm going to get this stuff sorted and then I'll help out for the rest of the afternoon. I feel bad leaving you boys to fend for yourselves." She heads out the back.
Bucky sighs and steps around the counter to straighten the chairs and tidy the tables a little.
"That was really nice of you. To consider Matt like that," Steve says. He's smiling in a way that makes Bucky's heart beat a little quicker.
"It's not...I mean...I feel bad telling Nat how to run her own place..."
Steve just shakes his head. "I don't think she minded." He turns back to the coffee machine and starts to wipe it down, leaving Bucky to think about that smile and how good it makes him feel.
Steve draws in his sketchbook at lunch and Bucky thinks about asking to look again but it gets busy and he and Nat are rushed off their feet with coffee orders. At one point Steve comes over and offers to help but Nat shoos him away. Then Bucky is on his own lunch break and slumps exhausted in the corner. He hadn't realised just how busy today has been. He picks at his chicken salad and glances up.
Nat is talking to another regular while Steve makes the drinks. Bucky likes the way he concentrates over everything, his jaw set and determined. He brushes a hand through his short blond hair and a tuft sticks up, making him look soft and awkward. Bucky can't help but smile. Steve is stupidly handsome but often acts like he doesn't know what to do with it which Bucky finds very attractive. Yeah, he definitely has a thing for dorky.
Steve places the drinks he's been making on the counter and turns to do something else when his eyes meet Bucky's. Bucky has a stupid lovesick grin on his face and he immediately feels his face heat up and looks down quickly at his salad and tries to skewer a cherry tomato with his fork. All he succeeds in doing however is launching it from his Tupperware bowl and watches helplessly as it hits the floor and rolls away. He risks another glance over to Steve who is laughing softly. He gives Bucky a sarcastic thumbs-up. Bucky can't help but smile through his red face and gives Steve the finger in return. Steve gasps and clutches at his chest as though he's been shot and starts to slump over the counter and slide to the floor. Bucky covers his mouth with his hand and starts to laugh quietly as Steve disappears out of sight. Nat looks down at Steve with a frown and says something that Bucky can't hear but Steve immediately jumps back up into view, his own face red, apologizing to Nat. He turns back to the coffee machine and misses the amused smirk Nat gives him behind his back. She turns to Bucky and casually raises one eyebrow.
He makes a point of concentrating intently on his salad for the rest of his lunch break.
Closing time finally rolls around and Bucky couldn't be happier. He's so fucking tired. They all start on the end-of-the-day routine, eager to leave. Nat takes the cash drawer out of the register and heads out the back. Bucky is sweeping the floor as Steve stacks the clean mugs on the counter, both of them quiet and focused as they tidy.
"I'm not either," Steve says out of the blue.
Bucky stops sweeping, glad for the distraction. He insists on using the broom but it's a strain on his arm. "Not what?" he asks.
Steve continues to stack. "Not straight."
Bucky is surprised by the statement but something in his chest flutters. "Oh."
Steve swallows and his hands seem to be grasping for anything to do. "Um, I'm not sure why I...had to tell you that."
Bucky starts sweeping again. "I'm glad you did. It's good to know." He stares down at the broom.
"Okay," Steve says and Bucky can hear the relief in his voice. "Just wanted to put that out there."
Bucky looks up and Steve is smiling. Bucky smiles back. He wonders if this is flirting.
Bucky sleeps in later than he means to on Wednesday morning. He's got a ton of chores and other boring stuff to do but he hits snooze on his alarm so many times, he may as well not have set it at all. It chimes again around 10:45am and he groans and rolls over, turning it off, resigned to getting up. It's going to be one of those days, he knows it; he's already starting to feel sorry for himself. He shoves it away, visualising the ball of pity in his chest and pushing it down into his feet. He gets out of bed and stamps on the floor a couple of times, as if this will crush the negative emotions. He tries not to think about it as he steps into the shower. He thinks about Steve instead. He feels good when he thinks about Steve. Bucky sighs under the hot spray and pours shampoo onto the top of his head; even hair washing is a lot more hassle than it used to be, especially when he's let it grow as he has. He rakes his hand through it several times and then starts to rinse.
He should just ask Steve out. He used to be good at asking people out. He wasn't a player by any means but he was never hard-pressed for a date. Then everything changed and he's not the same person he was before. Bucky had to re-evaluate everything about himself and that was terrifying. It still is.
He steps out of the shower and dries off, trying not to get too lost in his own maudlin thoughts. The last couple of days at work have been good; he finally feels like he belongs and there's a little ember of hope with Steve. It must mean something that Steve told Bucky about his sexuality?
One step at a time, Barnes, he thinks to himself.
Thursday is grey and wet and cold. Bucky already feels grumpy as hell; the wind is brisk and biting on his face and his hair is a mess by the time he gets to the shop, the first one to arrive. He tries without success to rake his fingers through the tangles and get it in some kind of order but the wind is being an asshole and seems dead set on working against him.
"I told you a hat would be a good idea," Steve is walking towards him, his own shoulders hunched against the wind and drizzle.
Bucky grunts. "Yeah, rub it in."
Steve chuckles and pulls off his trapper hat. Before Bucky can protest, Steve plops it on top of Bucky's head and pulls it down by the flaps. It's warm and soft and smells like Steve; a woodsy comforting scent. "There we go," he says and grins at Bucky.
"Do I look like a dork? I feel like a dork," Bucky says but he makes no move to take it off. He likes the way that Steve is looking at him.
Steve raises an eyebrow. "Are you saying that I look like a dork when I wear it?"
"What other look could you possibly be hoping to achieve with a hat like this?"
"I don't know, Lumberjack Chic?"
Bucky bursts out laughing, his earlier grouchiness fading slightly. "Please tell me that's not an actual thing."
Steve grins. "I have no idea. I just liked it so I bought it. Although now I'm having second thoughts about wearing it again."
"It suits you," Bucky says. "Don't listen to me."
"But I like listening to you," Steve says and smiles again but it's shy and a little nervous. "And you look pretty good in this hat." He tweaks the front of it and Bucky's having a hard time not wanting to just grab him and kiss him.
"It is cold as goddamn balls out here. Hello and hello," Nat appears and hastily unlocks the shop door. Steve and Bucky mumble back greetings, the moment broken. (Had it been a moment? Bucky isn't sure).
Nat turns on the lights and the heat once they're all inside. "I propose we huddle like penguins behind the counter all day." Nat starts up the coffee machine.
Steve laughs. "I'm sure the customers would find that hilarious."
"I'm making us all a hot chocolate," Nat says, jamming her hands under her armpits. "I hate New York in the winter."
Bucky and Steve go out back to hang up their damp coats, back to their usual slightly awkward silence. Bucky takes off Steve's hat and hands it back to him.
"Anytime," Steve says and shoves his hat into his messenger bag. He plops it down gracelessly on one of the few chairs next to Nat's desk. She had bought a few cheap folding seats to put out here for the employees to have their lunch in peace but everyone seems to like having their breaks out in the actual café. There's a thick text book on the other chair.
Steve picks it up and flips through it. "Must be Pete's. Unless you like to read books about molecular biology on the side?"
Bucky chuckles. "It does sound interesting but I think I'll give it a miss for now. Actually, does it have any instructions on how to successfully splice a man and a spider together? That might be pretty sweet."
Steve throws back his head and laughs. "Didn't you ever see The Fly? That kind of thing never ends well."
When they go back out front, Sharon is already there with the bakery order, chatting low and amusedly to Nat, both of them leaning close. They look up and smile when Steve and Bucky approach the counter.
"Good morning, Sharon," Steve says. "What have you made for us today?"
Sharon holds out a chunk of something dark and rich-looking to both of them. "Chocolate wasabi fudge cake."
Bucky makes a face. "That Japanese horseradish stuff?"
"Trust me," Sharon says with a smirk.
Bucky pops the cake sample into his mouth and chews cautiously. The cake is awesome - Sharon's cakes always are - and he's pleasantly surprised by the hit of heat the more he chews. "Oh wow. Yeah, that is really good."
"Can I have another piece?" Steve asks and he's somehow managed to get a smudge of chocolate on his chin. "I didn't think wasabi and chocolate would work so well."
Sharon hands Steve another chunk and then starts to button up her coat. "Well, I thought things could do with spicing up around here." She throws Nat an amused smile. "Have a good day, everyone."
"What did that mean?" Steve asks when she's gone.
Nat just turns back to the hot chocolates she was making. "I have no idea. Who wants little marshmallows?"
Steve and Bucky both answer in the affirmative and Bucky hands Steve a napkin.
"Clean yourself up, Rogers." He points at Steve's chin and tries not to laugh.
Steve immediately winces and wipes the chocolate from his face. "Thanks."
Bucky joins Nat behind the counter and fills up one of the milk jugs at the sink to water the new plants. He thinks it's going to be a good day today.
The shop is quiet after a brief morning rush (the wasabi fudge cake sells like a hot cake) and Bucky is kind of glad; the last two days have been tiring and it's nice to be able to take a breather. The three of them spend a lot of time behind the counter seeing who can catch the most little marshmallows in their mouths from the furthest away. Bucky likes that Nat takes her business seriously but can still have fun with everyone like this. Especially when it makes Steve laugh the way he's laughing now.
The shop door opens and Clint comes in, smiling wide at their game and he catches a marshmallow as it sails over Bucky's head. Clint holds up the marshmallow in greeting.
"Hi Clint," Steve says, making sure not to look away so Clint can read his lips. "What can I get you?"
Clint throws the marshmallow high in the air and catches it in his mouth with ease. "Um, a mocha please. To go." He's very soft-spoken when he speaks and he glances over at Nat who smiles and gives him a small wave. He smiles back and nods then quickly looks up at the drinks board, fiddling absently with one of his hearing aids.
Bucky steps closer to catch his attention. "Hey, I've got a good joke for you."
Clint grins expectantly. "Hit me."
"Why did the scarecrow win a Nobel Prize?"
Clint shakes his head, waiting for the punch line.
"Because he was out standing in his field."
Clint starts to laugh and Nat and Steve both groan.
"Come on, that's an amazing joke," Bucky says.
"I like that one," Clint says and Steve brings over his drink. He picks it up and waves goodbye to everyone before leaving, glancing back at Nat one last time.
Nat starts to check on the stock they have behind the counter. Steve catches Bucky's eye and mouths "she likes Clint" to him. Bucky smirks and starts to take mugs out of the dishwasher.
"So, Clint's really cool," Bucky says.
Nat doesn't look up. "Uh huh. Could someone go and get me some more stirrers from the back room please?"
Bucky steps out from behind the counter. "I'll get them. Yeah, I like Clint a lot."
"Uh huh," Nat says again and Bucky can hear the warning tone of "you can shut up now" in her voice. Steve's eyes widen and he holds back a grin as Nat starts to check the coffee grounds.
Bucky shrugs and walks through to the back room to grab the stock for Nat. The stirrers are piled in boxes behind Nat's desk and as Bucky pulls out several bundles his eyes fall on Steve's messenger bag; it must have tipped over after Steve dumped it there this morning because his trapper hat is on the floor and his sketchbook is poking most of the way out of it. Bucky hesitates. He could take a quick peek right now and no-one would know - it's technically not in Steve's bag anymore. He immediately scolds himself for thinking of even considering that; he may as well just go through Steve's wallet too while he's at it. He quickly steps away and goes back to join the others.
Just before lunch, Pete comes bustling in through the door, damp and still managing to look lanky and awkward in his heavy ski jacket.
Nat and Steve are both trying to change a light bulb in the one of the high lighting fixtures near the back of the shop. This consists mainly of Steve swaying at the top of the stepladder and telling Nat to please be quiet as she tries to throw helpful suggestions at him from below. A couple of customers move to another table with worried looks on their faces. Steve and Nat both wave at Pete before turning their attentions back to the task at hand.
"Hey Buck. How's it going?" Pete wipes his nose on his jacket sleeve.
"Hi Pete. I'm good, thanks. What brings you in here? Don't you have college today?"
"I think I left my text book here and Dr Connors will kill me if I don't have it again. I need to be in class - " He looks at his watch. " - fifteen minutes ago. Shit."
Bucky laughs. "It's out back on one of the chairs."
Pete sighs with relief. "Oh thank fuck. I was worried I'd left it on the train again." He heads towards the back room. "Nat, can I have a black coffee to take to class with me?"
"Knock yourself out. Steve, what the hell are you doing? It's one light bulb. It shouldn't be taking you this long to change."
Steve grumbles from the top of the stepladder.
Bucky chuckles to himself and pours Pete a regular filter coffee. When Pete comes out of the back room a few minutes later he has a huge shit-eating grin on his face. Bucky hands him his coffee.
"I didn't know you liked life drawing. Well, life modelling." He waggles his eyebrows suggestively.
Bucky is baffled by Pete at the best of times and this is no different. "What are you talking about?"
Pete's eyes narrow and then he laughs. "Oh, nothing. Forget I said anything. Just...wipe all that from your memory." He giggles to himself. "Okay, I have to book. Probably see you next week. Take it easy." He calls out goodbye to Steve and Nat and is out of the door before Bucky can say anything back.
He turns to Nat and Steve. "You guys better hurry that up; the lunch rush is going to hit us in like 5 minutes."
The afternoon slows to a trickle of people and Bucky can understand why; each time the shop door opens a cold blast of air follows and the street outside is damp and grey. Nat had mentioned before how weirdly the weather could effect business and Bucky hadn't really believed it until a month ago. He's bussing tables and Steve is wiping down the coffee machine at 3:20pm when Nat comes out of the back room and leans over the counter.
"I think it's going to be pretty dead until closing; are you guys okay if I head off early? I've got a chance to squeeze in an appointment for something and I'm not sure when I can get another one."
"Of course, Nat. You work six days a week. I don't think we could begrudge you a couple of hours. I can cash up fine," Steve says and turns to Bucky. "Okay by you?"
"Of course. Not a problem." Bucky tries not to sound too excited at the prospect of spending a couple of hours alone with Steve.
Sunday is the only day the coffee shop closes, Nat staunchly proclaiming, "Sundays are not for working on. People can figure out how to get their own damn coffee for one day."
Nat smiles gratefully. "Thanks boys." She goes to get her coat and bag.
Steve grins at Bucky. "Just us guys."
"Let's hope we don't burn the place down," Bucky says and laughs but it sounds too high. He squeezes his eyes shut and groans under his breath when he turns back to the bussing tray.
Nat tosses Steve the spare set of shop keys and holds up her phone as she passes the counter. "Any problems, just give me a call and I'll come right back."
Steve walks out onto the shop floor and starts to push her towards the front door. "Nat, we'll be fine. Go go go go go."
Nat giggles. "Okay, okay. Steve, I'll see you tomorrow. Bucky, see you Saturday."
Bucky waves sadly. "Farewell."
Nat shakes her head and rolls her eyes and then leaves.
Steve balls up the napkin he's holding and starts to kick it around like a Hacky Sack.
Bucky sniggers and puts down the bussing tray. "Oh, I see how it is. As soon as the boss leaves we start slacking off?"
Steve smiles and throws Bucky a mischievous look, his blue eyes sparkling. "When the cat's away..."
"...the mice accidentally set something on fire," Bucky finishes.
Steve kicks the napkin over to Bucky and he catches it on his knee and manages to keep it up for a minute, pleased that he seems to be impressing Steve.
Steve hums and folds his arms. "That's pretty good."
Bucky catches the napkin/Hacky Sack in his hand. "Tell you what, let me finish bussing and get this stuff in the dishwasher and then we'll play. Deal?"
Steve grins. "Deal." He walks by Bucky and starts to clear one of the other tables. "Many hands..." he begins.
"...set things on fire?" Bucky finishes.
Steve laughs his deep uninhibited laugh, the one that makes Bucky feel like he's achieved something amazing just by having made it happen. "Are you like a closet arsonist? Should I be worried?"
Bucky is feeling adventurous and flashes him the smile he doesn't use much any more. "Why, am I getting you hot?"
Steve blinks in surprise and then bursts out laughing again. "Oh my god, that was terrible. I walked right into that one."
Things are going really well until it all goes wrong; they finish tidying and play napkin Hacky Sack, talking as they do and Nat was right - the shop is dead, the street outside eerily quiet against the cold grey day. They talk about small things - food they enjoy, movies they like, favorite places. Bucky feels like he's finally getting to know Steve and he likes him even more. He's genuine and has an honest innocence that Bucky hasn't really seen in a lot of people. He feels like he's finally starting to open up about himself too and it's good. Really good.
Steve finally calls it quits after Bucky beats him again. "I forgot to water the plants," he says. "I wouldn't want Nat to think that we're neglecting her babies."
Bucky snorts and Steve fills one of the empty jugs behind the counter.
"Want a drink?" Bucky asks.
"Please," Steve says and starts on the tables closest to the door.
Bucky doesn't even know how it happens; one minute he's reaching for the filter coffee pot and the next, it's tipping over and scalding liquid douses his arm. He screams out in pain and panic, the hot liquid soaking quickly through his shirt. Steve is by him in a second trying to pull him over to the small sink and roll his sleeve up at the same time.
"It's okay, Bucky," he says as Bucky thrashes. "Come on, we have to run this under cold water."
But Bucky has lost all control and starts to babble, the terror in him sharp and alarming. He says the thing he's been fearing the most since his accident. "I can't lose this arm too, I can't, I can't..." He gulps in a wet breath. "I can't lose both of my arms..." His heart is beating too fast as he feels the pain in his right arm and his breaths are loud and uneven. "It'll get infected...I can't lose it..."
Steve manages to get Bucky's arm, already red from the boiling water, under the tap. His face crumples slightly when he sees how scared Bucky is. "Bucky, it's alright. It's a burn - you won't lose your arm." He holds Bucky's right arm firmly under the water with his left and rubs Bucky's back with his right. "Take a deep breath. Feel the cold water? See how the skin isn't broken?"
Bucky breathes in through his mouth and out through his nose over and over for ten minutes, the panic eventually subsiding. Steve just stays with him, making contact with him the whole time to let him know that he's not going anywhere. Bucky didn't mean to say what he said - he works so hard on not upsetting people and holding everything in, it just came out. He can feel the humiliation of over-reacting start to set in. And in front of Steve too. He's grimly grateful that no customers were in the shop to see him like this.
Steve holds Bucky's arm as he runs it under the cold tap. "There we go," he says when Bucky has calmed some. "Just keep your arm under the water for a while. You're alright." His other hand is warm and firm on Bucky's back.
"I don't need you to pity me, Steve. I get enough of that from everyone else." Bucky snaps, regretting the words as soon as they leave his mouth. Steve is just trying to help him.
But Steve just continues to hold his arm under the running water. "I don't pity you," he says, his voice neutral. If he's hurt by Bucky's outburst he doesn't show it. "I admire you but I would never pity you."
Bucky swallows. "I'm...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that. I'm so used to people...looking at me in a certain way that I just get defensive. You've never looked at me like that. I'm sorry. I...got scared for a minute and my brain just...I panicked."
"You don't have to apologize. And you don't have to explain yourself." Steve stares down at Bucky's arm, smoothing the water over the reddening skin. His touch is gentle and it throws Bucky slightly.
Bucky sags a little. "It's just...I'm so scared that something will happen and somehow this arm will..." he swallows thickly.
"Can I ask how it happened? How you lost your arm?" Steve asks softly. He looks at Bucky and there's nothing but concern in his eyes. No pity.
No-one in the coffee shop has asked him yet. No-one ever asks him and he knows it's because they don't want to be rude but it puts a certain amount of pressure on him to feel like he has to tell people, explain to them why he only has one arm and why he doesn't wear a prosthetic. Having Steve ask him releases some of that pressure and he's almost relieved to be able to talk about it.
Bucky forces himself not to look away from Steve. "Car crash. I was with some friends and some asshole ran a red light and smashed into us. I was sat in the back behind the driver, got the worst of it. They...they managed to save my arm...at first... but then it got infected and it was really bad and...and it was all they could do. I would have died otherwise."
Steve lets out a shuddery breath as he takes it in. "I can see why this happening would freak you out." His hand, still on Bucky's back, slides up to his shoulder and he squeezes, firm and grounding and Bucky is glad that he told him. They stand in silence for a moment, the water running in a constant stream from the tap the only sound.
Steve's touch is still light on Bucky's arm, tender even. "Here, keep this under the water for a little longer. I'm going to lock up."
Bucky glances worriedly at the clock over the counter. "But it's only - "
"Nat won't mind." Steve locks the shop door and flips the sign to closed. He turns off the first couple of banks of lights and returns to the sink. He stops the running water and looks at Bucky's arm. "How does it feel?"
"Numb. I don't know." Bucky can feel tears welling in his eyes.
"I actually don't think it was a bad burn after all. See this red patch? That's the worst of it. I think once we get some ointment on it and - oh hey, it's okay. Bucky, it's okay."
The tears have already started though and Bucky tries to push Steve away. He doesn't want him to see him like this; he tries so hard every day not to let the loss of his arm bring him down. He got through it and it was a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things but he can only hold back so much. He feels Steve's arms around him and he wants to stop trying to handle everything on his own and just be comforted. He doesn't touch people very often now and Steve is warm and gentle and he stops struggling.
Bucky doesn't hold back anymore and lets himself cry.
He watches as Steve spreads ointment from Nat's scarily extensive first aid kit on his arm. Steve was right - the burn wasn't that bad after all. His shirt and long-sleeved tee took most of the brunt. He's sat on one of the folding chairs out back while Steve kneels in front of him. He finishes with the cream and then finds some gauze.
"How are you feeling?" he asks as he wraps Bucky's arm.
They had stood in the shop holding each other for a few minutes before Bucky had finally pulled away, worried that he would hug Steve for longer than was appropriate.
"Like an idiot."
"Well, you shouldn't."
"Please don't tell the others," Bucky says.
Steve finishes wrapping the gauze. "Of course I won't." He meets Bucky's eyes and gives him a soft smile. "I don't know about you, but I could use a drink. One with alcohol in it. Not caffeine."
Bucky frowns. "But what about the cleaning and the other..."
"I'll take care of it. I can come in early tomorrow." He shushes Bucky when he starts to protest. "It's no big deal. I'll grab the cash drawer and put it in the safe and do it all first thing. Now, will you come and get a drink with me?"
Bucky nods wearily, too emotionally spent to argue. "Won't Nat be mad that we didn't write this in the accident book?"
Steve stands up and takes both of their coats from the hook over by the window. "If anyone asks, I'll say I forgot."
They make their way out front and Bucky waits by the door while Steve takes the cash drawer from the register and goes to put it in the safe. He wonders what would have happened had Pete or Maria been here instead of Steve. Not that they couldn't handle a burn but he's glad they weren't working today. He thinks that out of all of the people who work here, he'd rather it had been Steve to see him like that. He had been so calm and together about it all which just makes Bucky feel even more like an idiot.
Steve closes the back door and slings his messenger bag over his shoulder. "Let's get out of here."
Bucky grabs Steve by his arm before he unlocks the door. "Steve, I...thank you. I'm sorry I acted the way I did - "
Steve stops him. "No apologies. There's nothing to be sorry for. Okay?" His eyes are sincere and kind.
Bucky finally nods. "Okay."
"Thank you for telling me about your arm. I can imagine how hard it must be for you and I appreciate that you trusted me enough to talk to me."
"I'm glad I could tell you." Bucky wants to say something more; he wants to tell Steve how he feels about him but given today's circumstances, it wouldn't be right. He sighs. "I could really use that drink right about now."
"Can I ask you something about your arm? You can tell me to fuck off if it's too personal," Steve says.
They're in a bar not far from the coffee shop, both drinking double Jim Beams (Steve likes his on the rocks, Bucky goes for neat), sat at the counter in the corner. It's still early enough to be pretty quiet which Bucky is thankful for.
"Ask away." Bucky takes a sip of his drink. He's not a big fan of whiskey but he'd just ordered the same as Steve and he's glad for the way it warms him.
"Didn't you ever want a prosthetic?"
Bucky brushes his hair away from his face. "I do have one, I just never got used to it. Just found it clunky and weird. By the time I got it fitted I'd pretty much learned to do everything again minus a limb anyway; one day everything was a frustrating struggle and then the next, I was doing what I'd always done, just a little slower. Have you ever tried to tie your shoelaces one-handed? It's a skill, I can tell you that. Felt like a shame to waste all that hard work."
Steve smiles. "Maybe I'll try it." He swills his drink, making the ice cubes clink quietly in his glass. "I wasn't just saying it when I said I admired you."
"I don't do all that much."
"You're a good person." Steve stares down at his drink as he speaks.
Bucky wants to tell Steve that he's a good person too, an amazing person. "Can I ask you something?" he says instead. "And you can tell me to fuck off if it's too personal."
Steve chuckles. "Okay."
"Can I look at your sketchbook?"
Steve blinks and looks back down at his drink. "Oh. I..."
"Hey, it's okay if it's too private. I just...see you drawing all the time and I was curious is all."
"No, no it's not that." Steve seems to think for a moment and then makes up his mind about something. "I'll show you. Just...not right now. If that's okay."
"You don't have to show me at all," Bucky says. "I won't be offended if you don't want to."
Steve smiles at him and it's humble and nervous. "I'll show you."
Bucky smiles back and downs the rest of his drink in one gulp, coughing as it burns. "I hate whiskey."
Steve chuffs out a soft laugh. "It's an acquired taste." He taps his fingers on the bar. "Are you going to be alright?"
Bucky lets out a long sigh as he considers. "Yeah, I think so. I think I just...I don't talk all that much about my arm unless people ask and they never do and I don't blame them. It's not the first thing you want to come out and ask someone. It'd be like me just walking up to Matt and blurting out "Hey, so how come you can't see anything?" I know I should've said something to all of you in the shop but I didn't want it to be a thing because it's already enough of a thing in other parts of my life."
Steve watches him intently as he speaks. "I think I understand. You don't want to be defined by it."
Bucky nods. "Pete and Maria - don't get me wrong, I know they mean well and I like them both a lot - but they can sometimes be a little overbearing in trying to help all the time. You and Nat aren't like that."
"I never got the impression that you needed help."
Bucky snorts. "Yeah, then I spilt coffee all over myself and had a complete meltdown."
Steve rests a hand on Bucky's shoulder. "Hey, don't beat yourself up over it. We got through it."
Bucky notices that Steve says we and not you and he's so unbelievably grateful that he met this man. If only he had the courage right now to say something more.
"Thanks Steve. I think I'm going to head off. I'm beat."
Steve smiles tiredly. "It's been a day, that's for sure." He finishes his own drink and gets up. "I guess I'll see you Saturday?" he says as they walk to the door.
Bucky manages a small smile back. He knows he'll be thinking about Steve all day tomorrow. "Yeah, see you Saturday."
Bucky intends to stay in bed for as long as he can on Friday, exhausted from the day before but feeling better than he has done for a while. Talking to Steve made him realize how easy it had been to shut certain parts of himself down when he'd lost his arm and how that's never good. Things can fester and start to rot that way.
He's dozing lightly when his phone rings at 9:45am. He scrabbles to answer it, not completely awake.
"Bucky? It's Natasha. I'm so sorry to call you on your day off."
Bucky sits bolt upright and immediately panics. Nat knows about his outburst and the mess he'd made of everything yesterday and now she'll want to have a "talk" and he'll have to go through a million job interviews and people looking at him like -
"Bucky? Are you there?"
"Sorry Nat, I'm here," he stammers.
"I hate to ask you this but is there any chance you could come in today? Maria called in sick and Pete is away on some field trip. I wouldn't have called but it's really busy and me and Steve are struggling."
Bucky gives an inward sigh of relief and wants to slap himself; of course she doesn't know and even if she did, she wouldn't fire him. He knows she'd just be concerned. He also feels like a dick that he even considered for one second that Steve would say anything about what happened when Bucky asked him not to.
"Sure, I can come in."
"Look, if you don't want to I'll understand - "
Bucky laughs softly. "Nat, it's fine. I had nothing planned for today and I'd feel guilty if I knew that you and Steve were running around like headless chickens."
Nat giggles. "I knew you loved us."
"Look, give me 30 minutes and I'll be right there."
"Thanks Bucky," Nat says. "Maria said that if she was feeling better later, she would work your Saturday shift for you if you could cover for her today. See you soon?"
They say goodbye and Bucky gets up and heads to the bathroom. He's glad he had a shower before he got into bed last night. He grimaces at his reflection; he should have washed his hair. It's looking a little limp and greasy but the best he can do now is just put it up in a ponytail and hope that no-one notices. He feels a little self-conscious as he ties it back - he's so used to using his hair as a shield to hide behind, it's weird to be exposed like this. He never wears his hair up. Well, it's either this or go into work looking like a hobo, he thinks to himself. His arm is still a little sore but he takes a couple of painkillers after he re-dresses it.
Bucky quickly throws on some clean clothes, makes himself a quick piece of toast and heads out of the door.
He's surprised at how busy it is for a Friday when he arrives at the shop; it's almost like everyone who didn't come in yesterday has decided to come in today. Nat is at the counter and Steve is doing his best to keep up with the orders. Bucky's hearts skips a little seeing him again.
Nat glances up and sees him and the look of relief on her face is so comical Bucky almost laughs. "Bucky, thank f - thank goodness you're here."
Steve turns when he hears Bucky's name and for a split second stops what he's doing, mild surprise on his face. Then he just smiles and holds up a hand in greeting before turning back to the orders. Bucky can't help but notice that the back of his neck turns red.
"Let me just put my stuff out back and I'll be right with you," Bucky says and hurries to the back to get rid of his coat and backpack. When he goes back out front, the glut of people around the counter has thinned but the shop is bustling, almost every table full.
"Where do you want me?" he asks Nat.
"Well, we're almost out of change so I need to do a bank run. I'll be as fast as I can but if you could just do what you usually do then that's cool." Nat sweeps her red hair out of her face. "It has been insane this morning. What is wrong with everyone? Is this the last shipment of coffee ever to hit New York or something?"
When Nat has left, Steve turns to Bucky, wiping his hands on a towel. "How are you today? Is your arm alright?"
"I'm good. Tired but...yeah, pretty good. Arm's fine. You were right; it wasn't too bad a burn in the end." Bucky tucks a few stray strands of hair that have fallen from his ponytail behind his ear.
"I'm glad." Steve chews the inside of his cheek and then points vaguely to Bucky's head. "Your hair looks really good like that. I mean, it looks nice. It suits you. I like it down but it's...uh...you look different but not bad different. It looks really good..." If he had the chance to run and hide somewhere right now Bucky thinks he would. His face has run through the entire gamut of pink in the last five seconds.
Bucky can't help but smile and some of his old self, the self that used to be confident comes back a little. "Thank you."
Steve makes some kind of noise that sounds like a "you're welcome" and turns back to the coffee machine.
The morning continues to be busy and Bucky and Steve barely have time to talk beyond calling out orders. Nat comes back from the bank and helps Steve while Bucky works the cash register and it feels good to be part of something; the three of them are a great team and Bucky grabs that sense of belonging and holds onto it for as long as he can. He hopes he can get a couple of minutes to be able to talk to Steve about yesterday, even just to say thank you again.
The lunch rush ebbs a little just after 1pm and Nat sends Steve to have his lunch. He sketches again and each time Bucky looks over, Steve's face is absorbed in whatever he's drawing, his brow knitted in concentration. Bucky is aware of an ache in his chest that seems to be a side-effect of being around or looking at Steve for too long.
He eats a quick sandwich, not too bothered about a lunch break and gets back to work. Nat busses tables and Steve loads the dishwasher. Bucky is crouched down behind the counter looking for more packets of sweetener when an annoyed voice huffs from the counter.
"Jeez, what does a guy have to do to get some decent service in here? Where's the manager?"
Bucky immediately leaps up ready to apologize to the customer but the guy in front of him is grinning.
Bucky feels Steve's hand on his shoulder. "Don't listen to this asshole, Bucky. He doesn't deserve decent service."
The guy laughs and holds his hands up, his brown eyes apologetic. "Sorry, dude. I didn't mean to scare you," he says to Bucky.
Steve shakes his head. "Bucky, this is my friend Sam. Sam, this is Bucky."
Relieved, Bucky takes Sam's hand when he offers it. "Nice to meet you."
"It's cool to meet you. You'd be surprised at how much Steve talks about y - "
"So Sam, what can I get you?" Steve interjects through gritted teeth.
Sam makes a show of studying the board. "Oh, I don't know, this shit's all too fancy for me. Surprise me."
"Coming right up," Steve says. "I'll try not to sneeze in your drink."
Bucky laughs when Sam rolls his eyes and makes a face at Steve's back. "You two have been friends long?" he asks.
Sam nods. "Three years? I forget. We had the same jogging route and blondie over there thought he'd turn it into some kind of competition and try to outrun me every day."
"I did outrun you. There was no trying." Bucky can hear the smile in Steve's voice as he makes Sam's drink.
"He likes to think he's all that. I managed to catch up with him every time."
Steve turns from the mocha he's making and pretends to think. "How many times did you throw-up against a tree after you attempted to catch up with me? Three? Four?"
"It was twice and you know it!"
Bucky can't help but laugh. "Nothing says "I want to be your friend" quite like vomit."
Sam blows out a big theatrical sigh. "I was pretty bad after the second throw-up so Steve took me back to my place. I felt so sorry for my boyfriend, Riley - I don't know what worried him more when we walked in through my front door: that I was green and could barely stand up or that I'd brought some huge ripped dude home with me."
Steve fixes a lid on Sam's drink and scrawls the word "dick" on the side with his Sharpie. "And we've been friends ever since, throw-up and all."
Bucky likes the easy banter between them; he's never seen Steve with any of his friends and he seems at ease and playful. It makes Bucky wish he had more close friends of his own.
"Anyway, enough about us and our adorable meet-cute. I just wanted to swing by to see if you'd done that thing we talked about but I'm guessing you haven't." He gives Steve a pointed look that Bucky can't decipher.
Steve in turn looks like he wants to punch Sam in the face. "No, the opportunity hasn't presented itself yet."
"Well, do you think you might make the opportunity present itself?"
"I'm working on it," Steve says and narrows his eyes.
Sam takes a sip of his mocha. "Mmm, this is good. It was really great to meet you, Bucky. Can you remind Steve to do the thing that he needs to do later? He'll totally not do it otherwise."
"Sure," Bucky says and laughs again as Sam leaves, blowing kisses to Steve.
Steve mutters something to himself and turns to take a few mugs out of the dishwasher.
"So what's this thing I have to remind you to do?" Bucky asks.
"Nothing," Steve answers, a little too quickly. "Sam's been helping me figure out something for the last few weeks and...and it shouldn't be a big deal but it is. To me." He stacks the mugs on the counter.
Bucky is about to ask why this thing Steve has to do is so steeped in secrecy when a group of college kids come in through the door.
Nat dumps the bussing tray down noisily on the counter and moans low in her throat. "Would you guys be okay to carry on out here if I just curl up into a ball behind the counter and sleep?"
She fires Steve a dirty look when he throws a balled-up napkin in her face.
Things finally calm down late afternoon. The three of them are exhausted. Steve slumps near the coffee machine and mechanically eats one of Sharon's peanut butter cookies, deep in thought while Bucky tries not to make it too obvious that he's staring. He jumps when Nat grabs him from behind in a bear-hug.
"Thank you so much for coming in and saving us, Bucky. You're my favorite employee."
"I thought I was your favorite," Steve says.
Nat chuffs against Bucky's back. "Nope. Bucky's my favorite."
Bucky offers Steve an apologetic shrug, or as best he can manage in Nat's vice-like grip. "Sorry."
They all make no hurry to move for a little while, lounging around the counter and chatting, enjoying the quiet. They all stiffen slightly when the door opens, ready for another barrage of customers but it's just Clint.
"Hey Clint," Bucky says. "Mocha?"
Clint nods. "Thank you."
Bucky is ringing up Clint's order when Nat steps forward into Clint's eye-line and signs to him. Clint seems just as surprised as Bucky when she does it; he had no idea that Nat knows sign language. Clint finally signs back, a delighted smile on his face. Steve throws Bucky a look, his eyes wide and excited. Bucky bites back an elated smirk.
Nat nods and signs again but then hesitates. "I'm sorry; how do you say seven o'clock?" she asks, ignoring the way that Bucky and Steve are both watching and grinning like morons.
Clint signs slowly and clearly and Nat copies him. She smiles and Clint fumbles slightly for his wallet. He pays for his drink and then signs again.
Nat smiles and responds. "Cool. See you later."
When Clint leaves and is out of sight of the door Steve and Bucky both pounce, impressed and excited.
"What the hell?! How long have you know sign language?" Steve asks with a huge smile on his face.
Nat folds her arms. "My friend Maya has been teaching me the basics for a week or so. I'm still getting the hang of it but...I've been wanting to ask Clint out for a while now and I wanted to be able to sign to him."
"So when are you seeing him?" Steve asks.
"Tonight at seven."
"That's awesome, Nat," Bucky says. "You two are very cute together."
Nat glares and manages to look about as embarrassed as she can. "I don't do cute. Shut up. I have paperwork to do." She marches off to the backroom.
Bucky turns to Steve with a grin but Steve is looking at his hands, his face unreadable.
"Everything okay?" Bucky asks.
Steve looks up and smiles but it's a little forced. "Yeah, I was just thinking. Hey, good for Nat and Clint, huh?"
Bucky smiles softly, envious of Nat's courage. "Yeah, good for them."
Fifteen minutes before closing, Bucky is stacking the chairs on top of the tables, ready to sweep the floor. Steve has just finished cleaning down the coffee machine and Nat is staring daggers at the door.
"You know what, screw it," she says, striding over to the front door to lock up. "It's been the day from hell. I'm closing now. I don't care anymore; if anyone wants coffee they can suck it out of the dishtowel."
Steve starts to laugh and Bucky smiles, glad that the day is finally over.
"Nat, why don't you head off now and get ready for your date? Me and Bucky can close up." Steve wipes down the counter.
"No, it's been a shitty day and we'll all be out of here quicker if - "
"Nat," Bucky interrupts. "Go. We've got this."
Nat beckons them both to her and pulls them in to a hug. "Terrible day is making me sappy. Don't ever leave me, boys." Bucky's arm brushes Steve's as Nat squeezes the life out of them both and he wishes that he could just hold Steve again.
When Nat is ready to leave she pulls out her phone. "Bucky, do you want me to see if Maria can cover you tomorrow?"
Bucky shakes his head. "Nah, tell her not to worry. She can owe me one."
Steve opens the door for Nat when she leaves. "Have a great time tonight." He locks up behind her and turns to Bucky. "I'm sorry I volunteered you to stay. You must be tired...I didn't really think." He seems a little nervous and subdued.
Bucky shakes his head. "No, it's fine. It was a nice thing to offer; Nat works so hard in this place. She deserves it."
Steve nods and picks up a couple of napkins from the floor under one of the tables by the door.
Bucky starts on the sweeping. "Oh, don't forget to do the thing you had to do." He grins at Steve. "Whatever it is."
Steve swallows and frowns a little. "Oh yeah. I...really should do it. Before...before I forget." He runs his hand through his hair and then heads off towards the back room.
Bucky watches him go, slightly worried. Steve has been a little quiet this afternoon and he hopes it isn't because of his outburst yesterday. The last thing he wants to do is make things weird between the two of them, especially when they seem to have finally connected. He pushes the thought away and concentrates on getting the sweeping done. Steve must just be as tired as he is. It's been a long day. He hears the back door swing open again.
He turns and Steve is stood with his sketchbook clasped in his hands. Bucky stops sweeping and leans on the broom, waiting expectantly.
"I...wanted to show you my sketchbook." Steve hesitates and then hands it to Bucky. He looks terrified.
"Steve, if you don't want me to see this then you really don't have to show me." He rests the broom against the nearest table and puts his hand on his hip.
"No, it's just...I don't want you to get freaked out." He talks quickly and worries his bottom lip.
Bucky glances down at the sketchbook. He had been about to take it but pulls his hand back. "Why, are the pages made of human skin or something? Are you really giving me the Necronomicon?"
"No...no, it's just...look at it."
Bucky takes the sketchbook and rests it on the table next to him. Steve folds his arms and waits, shifting nervously from foot to foot as Bucky flips to the first page. He smiles when he see several small but lovingly detailed drawings of dogs.
"Oh wow," Bucky beams.
He turns the pages slowly and there are sketches of people; on the subway, in the park - all drawn from life. There's a style to them, something that is very much Steve in each drawing. Bucky doesn't know much about art, very little in fact, but he knows enough to see that Steve is very talented. On the next page, there's a sketch of Nat stood at the counter talking to Maria and one of Pete reading a textbook. He recognizes several of the shop regulars and he's blown away. He never knew that Steve was this good.
"Steve, you're...these are amazing." He looks up and Steve is watching him. His blue eyes are anxious.
"Keep going," Steve says softly.
Bucky frowns in concern. "What's wrong?"
"Just...keep going," Steve says again, his voice dropping to a whisper.
Bucky reluctantly looks back at the sketchbook and turns the page and there's his own face. He blinks and a small breath escapes him. It's incredible. He's at the counter lost in thought, his hair tucked behind one ear. He turns the page and there are more sketches of him; there are some of Nat and a few more of their regular customers but he seems to take up the majority of each page. Drawings of him looking pensive or smiling or annoyed - he'd love to know when that one was drawn and what had made him look like that. There's one of him wearing Steve's trapper hat which must have been drawn from memory because he only ever wore that stupid thing the one time. He turns another page and there's a sketch of him with his hair tied back. He knows that one must have been what Steve was drawing earlier today. There's a level of care in the sketches of him that aren't there with the others.
Bucky finally looks up.
"I didn't want to show you this when you asked because I was worried that...it would be obvious..." Steve's eyes don't leave his.
"What would be obvious?" Bucky asks but he already knows the answer to his question and his heart begins to thump madly in his chest.
Steve takes a deep breath. "How I feel about you." He kneads his hands together.
Bucky stares back down at the sketchbook. "And you thought I would be mad or freaked out about that?"
"I...maybe. I don't know." Steve's voice is barely audible. "I'm not sure if I should be telling you this right now."
Bucky closes the sketchbook. Steve's eyes are fixed on his hands. "Why not?"
"Because of what happened yesterday." Steve quickly steps forward when he sees the stricken look on Bucky's face. "No, no. I meant I didn't want you to think that I was...was taking advantage of you and your situation..."
"Steve, you could never make me think that," Bucky says and he just wants those arms around him again. "You have to know that I like you too, right?"
Steve smiles in relief but he still looks nervous. "I was kind of hoping." He hesitates and then steps closer to Bucky and carefully tucks some loose strands of hair behind Bucky's ear. "Can I kiss you?"
Bucky finally smiles. This guy is too much. He puts his hand on Steve's shoulder and leans in, kissing him softly. Then Steve's arms are around him, gentle and warm and Bucky feels like he could be himself again, in time. He takes in how delicately Steve kisses him and how good he smells and how he makes Bucky feel like he matters.
When they manage to finally part, Steve is smiling dreamily and he makes no move to let Bucky go. "I'm completely smitten by you, Bucky Barnes."
Bucky laughs quietly and tries to smooth down the part of Steve's hair that is sticking up in that adorable awkward tuft. "Very much likewise, Steve Rogers."
Steve smiles that dazzling smile again, the one that gets more people into the shop when he's working a shift. "I kind of wish we'd done this after we'd tidied up." He glances ruefully around at the empty shop.
Bucky kisses him again, liking the way Steve smiles into it and how he tightens his arms around Bucky's waist. "Well, let's get it over with and then we can get some dinner and talk and maybe play footsy under the table a little."
Steve laughs and kisses Bucky on the cheek and goes to move away. Bucky pulls him back quickly.
Steve tilts his head, those blue eyes sincere and the same color as the sky on a clear day. "For what?"
Bucky shrugs and fiddles with Steve's shirt collar. "For making me feel good about myself again? For being the best person I've ever met? I don't know. Just...thank you."
Steve brings a hand to Bucky's face and gently strokes his thumb across his cheek. "Very much likewise."
Being with Steve is like something Bucky didn't know he could do without until he has it. He feels like a whole person again. He told Steve that when they were lying in the dark one night, curled up against each other and Steve had kissed him and cried a little, wrapping his arms around Bucky and nuzzling into his left shoulder.
Apparently, the two of them liking each other wasn't lost on everyone else in the coffee shop, even before they admitted it to each other.
"I totally called it," Pete had said, not long after Bucky and Steve became a couple.
Nat had scowled at him from the other side of the counter where she was looking at color swatches, finally resigning herself to giving the place a make-over. "No you didn't. You only knew when you saw Steve's sketchbook. Me and Sharon figured it out long before you ever did. They were throwing each other puppy-dog eyes when they thought no-one was looking the first week Bucky started here."
"Pffftt, whatever. So you and Sharon just decided to keep your oh-so-astute observations a secret?"
"Pete, you would have started making innuendos and quips and they wouldn't have done anything about it. You're the most book-smart person I've ever met but subtle you ain't. It's a good thing you were as oblivious to the whole thing as they were."
"Oh my god, please stop talking about me like I'm not stood right here," Bucky had finally interjected.
Pete had bumped his hip into Bucky as he made a latte. "Has Steve sketched you in the buff yet?"
"We've been together for less than a month!"
"Your point being...?"
Bucky had picked up the bussing tray and stalked off. "I am not talking to you guys about anything anymore ever."
Nat had stared back down at the color swatches. "I bet he's sketched him shirtless at least..." she had muttered with a smirk and Pete had wolf-whistled.
Bucky finishes stacking some mugs and is about to make a start on the slice of chocolate wasabi fudge cake he'd saved for himself when Steve walks into the shop. He's wearing what Bucky calls his "Hot DIY Duds" - a pair of faded paint-splattered jeans and a red-checked shirt that had seen better days under his duffel coat. He still wears that stupid trapper hat when it's particularly cold out like today. He smiles when he sees Bucky and leans over the counter for a kiss.
"Hey Buck," he grins. He waves at Maria who is sat at the back of the shop having her lunch.
Bucky smiles back and offers Steve a piece of his cake. "Hey Stevie."
Steve makes a noise of approval as he chews and swallows his mouthful of cake and then stands back up and folds his arms. "So, James Buchanan Barnes - you are officially moved into my apartment."
Bucky's smile grows wider. "You and Sam are done already?"
Steve nods. "Yep. It actually went a lot smoother than we thought. Sam's putting your bookcase together in the bedroom now and all you have to do is decide where you want all of your clothes and stuff to go; I thought I'd just drop in and let you know how it went." He leans on the counter again and gazes at Bucky. "We're now living together."
Bucky leans over the counter too and kisses Steve, tasting chocolate and the heat from the wasabi on his lips. "So we get to fall asleep together every night."
Steve smiles. "Yep."
"And wake up to each other every morning."
"That's the plan."
Bucky kisses Steve again. " Happy One Year Anniversary."
Steve cups Bucky's jaw and rubs his thumb softly over Bucky's cheek, the way he knows Bucky likes. "Happy Anniversary."
Nat comes out of the back room and sees them both draped over the counter, kissing. "Guys, get a room. We don't need to see you both all over each other every time you're together in this place."
Bucky straightens up and puts his hand on his hip. " How about we talk about you and Clint and how you both sign things to each other that is quite obviously sex-talk and think we don't all know about it."
Nat immediately turns around and retreats to the back room. Maria barks out a laugh from her table.
Steve laughs and kisses Bucky quickly on the cheek. "Okay, I'd better head back. I told Sam I'd pay him in meatball subs."
" See you later." Just before Steve leaves, Bucky calls out, "Love you, punk."
Steve turns and smiles, his cheeks flushing a little pink. "Love you, jerk."
Bucky watches him go and then sighs happily as he starts to wipe down the counter.