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Heaven and That Other Thing

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In his free time, Steve had begun to develop a working theory of the Starbucks misnaming system. The hypothesis he was working on, as the dark-haired server handed him his order, was that there must be some underlying conspiracy behind the seemingly random misspellings. The evidence was right there on the cup, scrawled in green marker pen; there was no way anyone could genuinely have thought his name was “Stove”.

These days Steve had too much free time.

He checked his phone for texts as he settled in behind a corner table.

            Nat:                 Are you joining the mission today?

            Steve:              Might as well, got nothing better to do

            Nat:                 :)

            Nat:                 Do you want something better to do?

Steve rolled his eyes and took a gulp of too-hot coffee.

Pretend you’re not in pain don’t make a fool of yourself in a Starbucks you’re Captain America for god’s sake.

It was only after it had seared a path down his throat that he decided texting Nat might be a better alternative to drinking coffee.

            Nat:                 Or someone better to do?

            Steve:              I’M NOT A SPINSTER NAT

Maybe he shouldn’t have come out to her, but after a few months of her sporadic interest in setting him up with an exciting variety of women whose names Steve mostly knew, it had been satisfying to say he was bi and watch her backtrack over months of entrenched assumption. She was still the only one who knew.

Now he was starting to regret it.

            Nat:                 Okay but

            Nat:                 [picture downloaded]

Dammit. He knew the face, of course. Matthew or Johnathan or someone. From accounts. He was certainly cute – Steve privately thought that freckles on dark skin was cheating and unfair and possibly illegal – but he didn’t know anything about him, not even his name (which might have been Andrew, now he came to think of it). Same as all the rest.

            Steve:              No

            Nat:                 Why not? Connor’s a nice guy

Connor. Close enough.

            Steve:              I’ve said about two words to him

            Steve:              It’s different when I’m not asking them out, y’know?

            Steve:              I mean

The difference was that asking someone out was an opportunity to get to know them better; being set up was an obligation to.

            Steve:              nvm

Steve made to take another large gulp before remembering just in time. Instead he sipped gingerly at the coffee while waiting for the next text. It was good, and it always tasted better when he drank it in the store, with the warm, rich smell of coffee beans and sugary syrup hanging in this cookie cutter café.

            Nat:                 Well have you tried idk actually asking someone out?

            Nat:                 What about her?

            Steve:              Who?

‘Excuse me sir, is this yours?’

Steve started. The voice belonged to a green apron wearing a waitress in her late twenties. The first thing Steve noticed was the heavy black lines edging a pair of monolid eyes. The second was the set of elaborate twists and braids tugging the straight black hair from her face. One hand placed a tray of used mugs on the table while the other gestured with a battered black journal.

            Nat:                 Her

Her nametag said “Opal”.

‘Uh, no. It must have been here when I sat down.’

Opal smiled, and Steve’s internal monologue kicked in in earnest.

Ask her out. She’s pretty and Nat will be happy and she’s probably nice. She seems nice, and she works at Starbucks so she’ll be able to tell you the secret of the Starbucks misnaming conspiracy.

Opal had opened the inside cover and said ‘It’s got an address in it.’

But maybe she gets asked out a lot at work and is sick of it.

‘I can take it.’ Steve offered.

She was still smiling. She had a nice smile, ‘Oh, I can’t ask you to do that.’

And if she rejects me I can never come into this Starbucks again.

‘It’s fine,’ he assured her, trying for a charming smile but not quite feeling he achieved it, ‘I have a free afternoon before I have to go into work. I may as well.’

Am I talking about myself too much? Or am I being a coward by convincing myself not to ask her out?

‘Well, if you’re sure. It’s a Brooklyn address.’

Ask her out. You’ve fought Nazis you can ask a waitress out. It’s not that hard just do it.

‘It’ll be fine.’ he said instead, and she nodded slightly and got back to work.

Idiot.

His phone buzzed again, obnoxiously.

            Nat:                 Good job

            Steve:              Shut up

            Steve:              Just because I’m bi doesn’t mean I’m into everyone I meet

He’d nearly finished his drink before another thought occurred to him.

            Steve:              And stop spying on me

There was a name and address printed delicately on the inside cover, with the neat handwriting that Steve had learned to associate – after years of his own compulsive notebook collecting – with the care typical of the first marks of ink in a new book.

Bucky Barnes

Steve had always been jealous, in a detached sort of way, of people with nice handwriting. Mister Barnes wrote with graceful hooks on the Gs and Ys, and cursive Fs that made it seem as if he had learned to print from one of the nicer font families; no amount of artistic talent had ever made Steve’s own hand anything greater than a rushed sort of scribble.

And Steve definitely had too much free time if he was examining a stranger’s handwriting.

He turned his attention to the address. Brooklyn, not far from the streets he was most familiar with. It might even be a pleasant sort of distraction.

The coffee was now cold, so he discarded the last drops and headed into fresh air. New York was loud as ever; vibrant, the travel writers called it, though at his most romantic Steve never described it as anything more exciting than lively. Most of the sounds belonged to traffic, but nonetheless it gave the impression of perpetual, energetic life if you weren’t paying attention. It was a nice enough day, and Steve decided to walk.

Crossing the bridge didn’t come with that desperate sort of nostalgia anymore. These days, it came with a homecoming gaze over the familiar neighbourhoods and renewed thoughts of the apartment he’d have one day, soon, probably. But the address he had brought him to an unfamiliar building huddled in a street he barely recognised.

The ghost of a once-thriving ivy plant was still etched on the place’s three floors, but these days there was only the accumulated soot of the city over large, pale bricks. The iron railings all curved intricately like the hairstyle that Opal had worn, and the front door was jewelled in coloured glass. The style was distinctive, a remnant of art nouveau, with red brick buildings towering over it on all sides.

The cracks and the soot, and the cleaner square with the holes in the brick, just to the side of the door and implying some sign had been tugged unceremoniously from the wall, all suggested that the owner wasn’t as affluent as first glance might suggest. And yet, the whole front of the building glittered with flashes of sunlight against the many panes of old, wide windows, like some many-faceted jewel.

There was no doorbell, but the door was open and a notice hanging on it informed him in cheerful blue that, whatever this place was, it was open. The windows around the door chased the sunlight inside, and it fell across the carpet in a mismatched patchwork of colours. It was enough to dispel the gloom, and Steve could clearly make out the welcoming smile of the beautiful woman behind what appeared to be a makeshift counter.

Please don’t be a brothel. Please don’t be a brothel.

‘You’re Captain America.’ she said, with all the cheer of a greeting.

Steve considered denying it until he knew this place was savoury enough for Captain America to be in, but her certainty seemed to make that futile, so he merely shrugged and said, ‘I usually go by Steve.’

Please, please don’t be a brothel.

‘Nice to meet you, I’m Becca Barnes. How may I help?’

Steve drew the journal out of his jacket pocket, ‘I’m looking for a Bucky Barnes?’

‘That’s my brother, he’s upstairs.’

‘Right.’ Bucky and Becca Barnes, ‘Ah-’

‘We’re not twins.’ she added, pre-empting a question that she must have learned to expect, ‘It’s just a coincidence of nicknames. You can head right up if you like.’

The door she gestured to appeared to be solid wood that had almost, but not entirely, been stripped of white paint. To Steve’s surprise, the stairway behind it was lined with peeling retro wallpaper.

He didn’t particularly want to go upstairs.

Please don’t be a rent boy. Please don’t be a rent boy in some weird family brothel.

Sunlight was pouring through the single open door on the upstairs landing. A man’s voice was drifting out. Steve could catch the tone – stern, but kind – but not the words. He knocked on the wood of the door as he looked inside.

His artist’s eye couldn’t pick a detail to rest on. Behind the clear glass, the Brooklyn Street made up the background. The foreground was claimed by a brunet man who now turned towards him, haloed with bright sunshine and utterly surrounded by kittens.

What the hell sort of brothel is this?

‘Hi?’ the man said, as a small bundle of white fur began the trek up his left trouser leg and toward the food in his hand.

‘Hi, uh. I’m looking for Bucky Barnes?’

‘Well you’ve found him.’

Steve stepped into the room and raised the journal as an explanation, earning himself a delighted grin in response.

‘Thank god you’ve found it.’

‘It was in Starbucks.’ Steve said, as something began gently nudging his ankle.

Bucky collected it with another smile and several thank yous, while Steve glanced down at his ankle. He was looking at a bundle of multi-coloured streaks of fur; black and chocolate, chestnut, caramel and ginger, like broad strokes of barely-mixed paint. It paused the attention it was giving to his leg to blink at him with wide, blue eyes, before turning to the chew toy it apparently believed his shoelaces to be.

‘You interested in adopting a cat?’ Bucky asked, somewhat hopefully.

‘Adopting?’ Steve repeated, bending to scratch the kitten behind its ears. Now that Bucky had moved out of the sunlight, Steve could see him more clearly. There were scratches old and new marking his (strong, tan) arms, dark eyelashes framing his blue eyes, soft lips-

Steve’s internal monologue cleared its throat.

‘This is a cat shelter.’ Bucky was saying, and his Brooklyn accent was delightful, ‘I gotta try and get you to adopt one or I’m not doing my job, am I?’

Bucky shook some hair out of his eyes and Steve forced himself to drop his gaze to the now purring kitten.

Two crushes in one day, Rogers. Don’t let Natasha know.

‘This is a cat shelter?’ Steve asked, stupidly.

‘Yeah, ah…’ he frowned at the door, ‘did they take the sign again? They keep taking the sign.’

That would explain the empty square Steve remembered from the outside wall. He was all too aware that at every moment he was losing his justification for being there. But he wasn’t desperate enough to actually adopt a cat so it was about time he left.

‘Who does?’ he asked instead.

Ask him out ask him out ask him out.

‘It’s a long story.’ Bucky said, with what may have been a shrug. Steve got as far as thinking he’s probably straight before Bucky added, ‘But I could tell you some time, if you want?’

Wait…

‘Oh yeah?’

‘Over coffee, maybe?’

Oh my god. Okay, act cool.

Bucky was the one who looked nervous now, fixing a tentative grin as he finished, ‘I heard you like Starbucks…?’

‘What time do you get off?’ Steve asked. There was a fleeting pause as both men considered the possible innuendo in that question, and Steve cringed internally.

‘Well I own the place,’ Bucky answered, gesturing vaguely around him, ‘so whenever I like. Though you may have to stop FDR from chewing your shoelaces.’

Steve glanced down to where the kitten was indeed still attempting to eat through his laces. He bent down to scoop it up, pleasantly surprised when it reacted by immediately burrowing into his elbow and continuing to purr.

‘FDR?’

‘It stands for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.’

‘Yeah I- I remember.’

It wasn’t Roosevelt’s face that sprung to Steve mind, but the image of his ma buying their food without looking as though she was trying not to cry, for the first time since the markets crashed.

‘You remember…’ Bucky titled his head slightly and Steve felt his stomach drop. The look of recognition that followed was becoming all too familiar for him, ‘wait, aren’t you-’

‘Kinda.’

Bucky blinked, ‘Kinda? You’re “kinda” Captain America?’

‘Well. I mean. I’m not wearing a flag right now. So you could probably call me Steve.’

He shuffled his feet awkwardly, suddenly wishing he wasn’t holding a kitten at that moment, so he could leave and pretend he’d never stumbled into the building.

Bucky looked as awkward as Steve felt, ‘Okay so, when I asked you if you wanted coffee, although you’re probably used to the future right now and uh, but anyway, I kinda need to clarify.’ he bit his bottom lip and Steve could only hope that he wasn’t about to back out, ‘I mean as a date. But not, like, a serious date. Like a casual date. Over coffee.’

Bucky seemed to be holding his breath.

With an attempt at a reassuring smile, Steve said, ‘Are you always this nervous when you successfully ask someone out?’

There, you’re committed now. You have to have coffee with this guy. Try not to be too weird.

‘I swear I’m usually smoother than this.’ Bucky answered, smiling when Steve chuckled in response.

FDR meowed so tragically when he was put down that Steve momentarily considered just sneaking him into his pocket and shoplifting the thing. Instead he was left behind, watching with melancholic eyes, as the two humans headed downstairs. One of them was holding a heated debate inside his own head.

Bad move, Rogers, you know nothing about him.

I know he’s wearing skinny jeans.

That doesn’t make him trustworthy. Or even date-worthy. How do you know you’ll even get along? And aren’t you supposed to be pretending to be completely straight?

Some very good points, but consider: he looks great in skinny jeans.

One of the many wonderful things Steve had discovered about the future was that calf muscles were no longer considered exclusively feminine. Men and women alike wore clothes that weren’t designed to suggest that the lower leg was actually a column of empty space over which the human body mysteriously hovers.

Bucky wore skinny jeans like all iterations of the garment were designed with his calves (and thighs, and ass) specifically in mind. Or, maybe, Steve should stop checking out this guy he just met from behind.

‘Can you finish getting the cats upstairs?’ Bucky was saying, placing the cat food on his sister’s cluttered desk, ‘I’m going out. Most of them are fine but I’m pretty sure James K. Polk is looking to escape.’

This guy Steve just met apparently had a cat called James K. Polk.

Becca glanced from Bucky to Steve and back, replying, ‘Do you have a superpower I don’t know about?’

Pulling off skinny jeans, Steve’s internal monologue suggested, and Steve couldn’t help but approve of that superpower both figuratively and literally, in this case.

Bucky just winked and changed the subject, ‘Jimmy Carter’s missing too.’

Who is naming these cats?

Becca nodded to a telephone table near the door, and Steve followed her gaze. There, resting peacefully, was a kitten that Steve supposed must be Jimmy Carter. It was larger than FDR, with grey fur and a face so squished that it seemed to be perpetually pressing against an invisible glass door.

And then they were heading outside, Bucky scowling at the place where the sign used to be as they passed. The sun was plenty warm to walk through, so they cheerfully ignored each empty cab that passed down the busier streets and made their way to the closest Starbucks on foot.

Steve used to call this one Brooklyn Starbucks, as he explained to Bucky in the absence of any other topic of conversation materialising, but now he called it SteeBeecks. He elaborated in response to a quizzical glance; unlike the more creative misspellings of his name, this place always simply changed the numbers of Es.

Bucky laughed, ‘They never misspell my name.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

He laughed again and Steve felt a pleasant lightness in his chest. Maybe this would go well and he wouldn’t later want to surgically remove the memory of this afternoon from his brain.

He drew out his phone as they left the sunshine for the building. This store was up a wide set of titled stairs, and filled an open industrial-esque space that – like many places in New York – looked like it was a portion of a disused warehouse or factory, but probably wasn’t. The windows were big enough, and the brick red and exposed enough, that it could be the set of a NYC sitcom.

Every time he walked in there he couldn’t help but wonder how many Manhattan apartments could have fit inside this one coffee shop.

Steve drew his phone out while Bucky ordered and texted Natasha;

            Steve:              Change of plan. Is Sam available for the mission instead of me?

            Nat:                 You better have a good reason.

            Steve:              [image downloaded]

Steve managed to avoid Bucky noticing the photograph being taken by about two seconds, before it was his turn to order. He shoved his phone and hand into his pocket hurriedly and mumbled the first coffee that came to mind.

His phone buzzed in his pocket but he refused to pay it any mind, focussing instead on casting around for something to say while they waited for their order.

Bucky broke the silence instead, with, ‘Is your phone buzzing?’

‘Yeah.’ Steve said, apologetically, ‘Tony put the vibration on the highest setting as a joke about how I must be deaf because I’m ninety-seven.’

Maybe don’t remind the attractive stranger who asked you out that you are old enough to be his grandfather. Great grandfather, even. Look at him, he’s a twenty-first century guy. He wears a scarf when it’s warm out. Millennials do that.

‘So why don’t you turn it back down?’

‘Because I um…’ Steve waited for a lie to come to his rescue but his mind remained stubbornly blank, so he was forced to admit, ‘I never actually worked out how.’

Actually you know what? Maybe don’t talk.

Bucky began to laugh again, but stopped himself, biting at his lip instead and offering, ‘Don’t feel too bad. When my younger sister first broke a phone screen she thought she could fix it by filling the gaps with glue, so you could always be less tech savvy.’

‘That’s comforting.’

‘Well, hey, I can fix it for you after you check those texts. And then Tony won’t get the satisfaction and at least you haven’t accidentally glued your phone to the family dog when you came home for thanksgiving.’

Steve nodded and turned his attention to his phone, making sure to angle the screen away just enough to not make Bucky suspicious.

            Nat:                 :

            Nat:                 It’s :D without the D

            Nat:                 Because you’ll probably be getting the D later

            Nat:                 btw Sam says you owe him one

‘Anything important?’

‘Not remotely.’

The server called Bucky’s name and Steve took the opportunity to delete any incriminating texts, just in case. When Bucky returned Steve couldn’t help but notice the name on the side of the cup, spelt correctly, utterly bereft of any unnecessary vowels.

The paper cup Steve retrieved had “Steeve” scrawled across it, which earned him another short laugh when he showed Bucky. Bucky, Steve was learning, was apparently quick to laugh. And it was a nice laugh; the sort that would be described as “melodic” by people who probably didn’t fully understand what a melody was. Nor was it too loud, he could probably laugh relentlessly without it seeming obnoxious.

Steve hadn’t learned many things about this person yet, but he liked all the things he had learned so far. He wondered what the first flaw he’d find would be.

Maybe he’s a serial killer.

Steve resisted the urge to roll his eyes at himself as they headed for the table. It was thoughts like those – not the Starbucks Conspiracy or Natasha’s borderline nagging, or even Sam’s occasional hints that he should get a hobby – that really made him think that he had too much free time. It wasn’t that he was genuinely concerned that Bucky was a serial killer, it was just that he had idly been guessing at potential flaws and his mind decided that that would be interesting. Not in a pro-serial killer kind of way, more like an instinctive knowledge that there were more stories about serial killers than there were stories about people who eat with their mouth open.

God I hope he doesn’t eat with his mouth open.

They settled into the table in the far corner, a bit too large for the two of them. As rewards for this decision they earned sofas that were much more comfortable that the hard chairs towards the centre, a nice view of the afternoon-lit street below, and the unsubtle glare of an old lady a few tables over, who was either homophobic or very particular about how many people should sit at a table of that size.

The room was too tall and too spacious for the smell of coffee to drift through, but the muted buzz of conversation worked just as well to create the atmosphere of the place. The coffee was warm and so was Brooklyn, gleaming under the early summer. By any rational meter this was a far more pleasant endeavour than what he had had planned.

It was only now that Steve realised how awkward this could be. The whole point of the exercise was to hold a conversation, which could be torture if he couldn’t think of anything to say.

How do I convince him I’m not that weird? What do I tell him about myself that he doesn’t already know? What is he interested in? Music? Freedom? Trees? What? When’s a good time to mention Nat’s inevitable background check?

‘Uh. So. Nice to meet you.’

‘You too.’

‘Yeah.’

Bucky was nice to animals, Steve mused idly, so he probably wouldn’t be the type of serial killer from B grade horror films. Or maybe the cats were trophies from his victims. Maybe he fed the cats the bodies.

Steve drank some coffee as an excuse not to say anything else, and immediately regretted it.

‘Isn’t that still a bit hot?’ Bucky asked, with some concern, ‘Or does the serum thing sorta fix that stuff?’

‘Serum.’ Steve lied, trying to ignore his burning tongue.

‘Oh cool.’

Say something.

He couldn’t think of a response, so he faked another sip from the cup and cast around for a new topic. Something that would help him work out if he liked Bucky or not.

‘Nice scarf.’ God dammit. I can’t believe I just said that. Think of something more interesting to say, ‘It’s a nice colour.’

‘Thanks, I knitted it myself.’

Maybe he kills people who are cruel to animals. That’s probably it. With knives, and possibly some Satanic ritual.

‘You can knit?’

That’s adorable.

‘Uh. Well.’ he looked down at his scarf, ‘Yeah.’

Yes. Obviously. He knits. Ask less stupid questions.

‘I um. Well, I don’t knit. But I did once stab someone with a kitting needle if that counts-’ What? Shut up shut up shut up. ‘-they survived. And they got a free knitting needle. Which would be useful for-’ shut up ‘-gloves or. Jumpers. Winter can be cold in Europe.’

Great. Now who seems like a serial killer?

‘Yeah, I’ve heard that about Russia especially. Lots of. Snow. And Russians.’

Bucky started worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth again and Steve realised that he wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

‘I’ve never actually been to Russia. But you’re probably right about the snow. And the Russians.’

The windows were on the wrong side to capture the light, and Steve found himself trying to hold onto the image of Bucky the first instant he saw him, all lit up by the sun, just to keep his heartrate steady. He hadn’t thought of the risks then, but he saw them all too clearly now; the thought of a stranger knowing this much – too much – about him was starting to terrify him. It had seemed simple enough at the time, but now the threat of tabloid magazines and too many questions hovered at the edges of their little space and Steve just wasn’t ready.

So you better make him like you.

Bucky took a sip of coffee and Steve took that as a cue that his own was cool enough to drink.

He broke the silence with, ‘Why are your cats named after presidents?’

Another smile, Bucky seemed to be even quicker to smile than he was to laugh, ‘It’s a family tradition. It wasn’t really intended for cats but I’m probably not gonna have any kids, so whenever anyone brings in a litter of kittens that they haven’t named yet, they become presidents. Or first ladies, like my sisters are named after. When they get adopted I just reuse the old names.’

Steve’s first thought was that there was at least one cat somewhere in New York City called Richard Nixon. His second thought was ‘I did miss a chunk of the twentieth century, but I don’t recall there being a president named Bucky.’

To Steve’s complete surprise, Bucky dipped his head as blush began creeping into his face. He mumbled something to the table.

‘Sorry?’

‘It’s a secret.’ he mumbled, slightly louder.

‘Well I work in a place with lots of secrets,’ Steve pointed out, ‘and I’m pretty sure none of them involve some guy called Bucky secretly being president of the United States.’

Bucky shook his head, blushing ever harder, ‘Okay I’ll tell you if I can ask a question first. It’s not too personal or anything,’ he added quickly, ‘I hope. I’m just… kinda unsure… about something-’

‘Go ahead.’

‘Okay so I don’t want to pry.’ he began, ‘But I mean, well I’m not exactly up on celebrity news but I’m pretty sure you’re straight. Publicly at least. But ah…’

He gestured vaguely to the coffee cooling on the table between them and Steve nodded. He had enough experience trying to figure out where he stood in a social situation to empathise.

‘Well, I’m not out, and I didn’t think it through until after I agreed to coffee.’ he admitted, unable to keep his voice from dropping and feeling the adrenaline of trying to force the next words out even though there was no secret in them anymore, ‘But I’m bi, if that clears things up?’

Bucky nodded, returning to biting at his lip and with his complexion now turning a marvellous shade of red, ‘And to answer your question,’ he surveyed the room and leaned forward conspiratorially, ‘My name is James Buchanan Barnes.’

Steve wasn’t sure how to react to that.

‘Is that… bad?’

‘In my experience, when you let people know what your first name is, they find it funny to use it frequently for some reason. It’s fine when they’re using my full name, I just hate being called James.’

Steve placed a hand over his heart, ‘I swear, on my honour – and according to the history books Rhodey lent me, I’ve got lots of that – I will never call you James.’

He was starting to like the way the corners of Bucky’s eyes crinkled when he smiled. It was the sort of smile, and the sort of face, that Steve would have loved to draw if they’d met before the war.

‘I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine.’

‘Deal.’ Steve agreed, ‘So what’s so bad about being called James Buchanan?’

Bucky leaned back on his sofa with amusement in his eyes, his shoulders against the chestnut upholstery and a bit more confidence in his posture.

‘Fifteenth president of these United States, James Buchanan.’ Bucky began, with the air of someone who had long ago perfected the telling of this story, ‘Widely considered one of the worst presidents in US history.’

The tale continued, Steve listening to the facts and the jokes and privately thinking that if his teachers had explained things like Bucky did, he would have been much better at school. The conversation continued, through history jokes and conspiracy theories, and a lively debate about who ought to be president next out of anyone from history. By the time Steve was arguing a case for Aleister Crowley, the coffee had gone cold on the table between them, and the old lady was leaving, glaring as she went.

‘She probably thinks you’re a Satanist.’ Bucky suggested, in a stage whisper, ‘All your talk about Crowley.’

‘I can’t be a Satanist, I’m Irish.’

‘And the two are mutually exclusive, are they?’

‘They were in nineteen thirty-five, let me tell ya.’

Whatever Bucky’s response was going to be, it was cut off when his phone rang. He checked the name on the screen, and then glanced at his watch.

‘It’s Becca,’ he supplied, declining the call, ‘She’ll be wanting me to finish the work for the day, I didn’t realise how long I’ve been here.’

The fluttering of nerves returned, to a lesser extent, as they traded phone numbers and considered doing this again, with an excess of “maybe”s and “sometime”s and “or something”s.

When they finally parted, it took Steve’s mind a matter of seconds to begin the inevitable process of running through everything he’d said and done in his mind and singling out things to dwell on. By now the shadows were starting to lengthen, and he decided to take a cab back to the tower and talk with Nat about what to do next-

Damn. She wouldn’t be back from her mission yet.

He hadn’t eaten anything but coffee since breakfast, so he microwaved a dinner in his kitchen and headed to the communal area to eat.

‘You really gotta eat better, Steve.’

Steve started, looking around to find Sam somehow reclining comfortably over two thirds of a five person sofa. They both glanced to Steve’s plate, on which sat a packaged mass of tomato and cheese with the dubious claim of being lasagne.

‘Yeah yeah.’ Steve grumbled, scooping up a large mouthful on his fork, ‘I thought you were on a mission.’

‘I was,’ he confirmed, ‘turned out to be easier than we expected. Not that you would have known that.’

Sam raised his eyebrows as Steve shuffled guiltily, but there was nothing serious in the accusation in his tone.

‘I know, I owe you one. I’ll add it to the list.’

‘So what was so important that you had to pull out last minute?’

The question hung in the silent room. Steve took another bite of lasagne. The carpet he was standing on was suddenly fascinating, all soft and unworn. How long did it take to weave a carpet? Steve pictured a sole worker tending to a vast array of elaborate machines, cast in shining bronze, out of which sprung fourth mountains of multi-coloured carpets.

‘What are you thinking about this time?’

Sam said he needed to reign in his imagination sometimes, but Steve didn’t see the point of what would essentially mean being bored all the time.

‘Uh… so is Nat here?’

‘Yeah, she’s-’ but Steve was too distracted by his phone buzzing to catch the end of the sentence, almost smiling to himself when he saw Bucky’s name.

            Bucky:             What do I tell my sister about what we were doing today

            Bucky:             ?

He looked from the messages to Sam and swallowed. Sam must have seen something in his expression because his face turned to concern.

If you didn’t want to have to deal with this problem, Rogers, you shouldn’t go on a date with a guy while you’re still in the closet. You brought this on yourself.

Steve’s internal monologue could be an asshole sometimes, but he had to admit that it had a point. Sam was the closest thing he’d ever had to a best friend.

            Bucky:             nvm I’ll think of a lie

It was one hell of a leap to take; Steve had preferred waiting on the edge for some time now, and even the thought of taking that next step was raising his heartrate uncomfortably.

            Steve:              Its fine you can tell her the truth

            Steve:              If you want

            Steve:              Just ask her not to tell anyone else

Okay. This was okay. This was progress of some kind, probably. He didn’t have to tell the world all at once, he could just tell a few people.

            Bucky:             If you’re sure

            Bucky:             And dw about Becca she’s trustworthy

Sam’s not gonna judge. He’s gonna be fine. But if you’re gonna let two strangers know today you gotta tell him.

            Steve:              I’m sure

‘You alright?’

Sam was still watching him, and still looking concerned.

‘Yeah I- I’m fine. I just, can we talk?’

Great, now you’re scaring him.

Sam swung his legs off the sofa at sat up straight, ‘Of course, what is it?’

‘Nothing bad,’ Steve said quickly, then began searching for an introduction to this conversation, ‘I, ah, didn’t join the mission today because I… had… a date.’

Sam’s eyebrows raised so far that his forehead bunched up in creases above them. ‘Okay,’ he said slowly, ‘What’s her name?’

‘Well see the thing is. Um. The date wasn’t actually with a woman.’

The silence was only a fraction of a second, and Steve was amazed by just how much panic he could fit into such a small space of time.

‘Right. Okay. So-’

‘So I thought I should maybe come out. To you anyway. Nat knows. But only because I sorta let it slip.’

Sam nodded, ‘So you’re…?’

‘I’m bi. Probably should have started with that.’

‘Okay.’ Sam said again, ‘So what’s his name?’

Relieved, Steve relaxed somewhat and admitted, ‘I’m waiting for Natasha, she’ll want to know all about it.’

Sam pulled out his phone, ‘I’m texting her.’

‘Sam, c’mon. At least let me finish my lasagne first.’

‘Nuh uh. I want to hear all about your date. And that is not lasagne.’

‘It’s trying, and that’s what counts.’

The lift doors opened thirty seconds later, and Natasha strode in with an expectant ‘Spill.’

They both turned to Steve, who took a breath.

‘Well, his name’s Bucky. He’s from Brooklyn, which is nice. Smiles a lot.’

‘Is he cute?’ Nat interjected.

‘Yes. But that might have been the kittens.’

 ‘What?’ Sam asked.

‘He was surrounded by kittens.’

‘…What?’

‘Kittens. Small cats.’

What?

‘He was surrounded by them.’

‘What?’

‘He was surrounded by-’

‘So what you’re saying,’ Natasha mercifully interrupted, ‘is that there was a crowd of kittens and you were more interested in the person?’

‘He was wearing these skinny jeans-’

‘I don’t care how cute the guy is. Kittens are cuter. It’s science. Ask Jane.’

‘Science.’ Sam agreed, solemnly.

‘I dunno,’ Steve told him, ‘Jimmy Carter wasn’t that cute.’

‘What?’

‘Jimmy Carter.’

‘What?’

‘He wasn’t that- we are not doing this again, Sam.’

Sam still looked lost, ‘Are you telling me the thirty-ninth president of the United States was also there?’

‘Jimmy Carter is a cat. All his cats are named after presidents.’

Sam and Natasha glanced at each other, and Steve guessed that they were silently daring each other to be the one to ask. Predictably, Sam lost.

‘How… ah… how many cats does this guy have?’ he asked.

‘We’re only asking because we care,’ added Natasha, ‘and we don’t want you dating a crazy cat guy.’

Steve rolled his eyes, ‘He runs a shelter.’

‘Well that’s alright then.’ Natasha said, ‘Now tell us everything about- that hydra info you got.’ she invented, after the tiniest of pauses as Tony entered the room.

A heartbeat, then Steve felt himself switch back into One Hundred Percent Hetero Captain America mode as he picked up the lie with a simple, ‘It’s in the report.’

‘They’re probably planning something evil.’ Tony suggested, sagely.

They could always find somewhere new to talk, but suddenly Steve wasn’t in the mood to tell (two of) his friends the details of his afternoon. Instead, he finished the rest of the meal that wasn’t quite lasagne and headed for his floor.

This evening it wasn’t his imagination that kept him occupied, but his memories. Police raids and scandal, and the first time he’d kissed a boy, now long dead. And trying not to cry too loudly in his room the night they broke up, realising that there was no one in the world he could turn to for sympathy.

He still wasn’t ready, but he was starting to feel optimistic. He had a lot of secrets in his life that he couldn’t tell anyone, but this didn’t have to be one of them anymore.