They’d told him Steve was pretty good at tactical planning, but Bucky hadn’t realized that also applied to social situations. He’s so quiet and unassuming most times, endearingly awkward, that Bucky didn’t recognize what was happening until he was well into the interrogation. He starts to understand that the ‘aw shucks’ persona is— at least in part— a cover. Bucky wonders if it was a conscious effort on Steve’s part, or if someone just assumed he’d be an innocent choir boy and Steve ran with it.
Steve asks innocuous questions that lead naturally to more questions. They somehow get talking about Bucky’s mom, which paves the way for the question that makes Bucky stop and think back on their conversation.
“So you won’t be bringing a girl home for Christmas?” Steve had joked.
Bucky blows out a breath. “Or a guy, either. She’s like a wolverine. You know, that cartoon one from Looney Tunes. Put that on your list.”
Steve is looking at him, considering. “You’re…” he looks to the side, searching for the right word.
“Bi,” Bucky supplies. “Is that a problem?” he asks, because there’s something sharp in Steve’s expression, but it flickers out quickly. He’d sure hate to be the one to find out Captain America is a bigot.
But no, of course not. Steve looks a little offended by the question and Bucky doesn't bother trying to smother his grin.
Bucky’s seen Steve’s sketches from the ‘40s. There were several in his file; a monkey on a unicycle, the city skyline, an old woman’s face. He’s seen the leather bound sketchbook on his coffee table, and the charcoal pencils littered around it. So he buys a Wacom tablet with his S.H.I.E.L.D. issued credit card and is nearly skipping through the lobby to go give it to Steve when he's waylaid by Darcy, strolling past with a Starbucks cup.
"You're looking chipper."
"Ugh," he says, and makes an effort to look less excited.
"Whatcha got there?"
"Tech for Captain Rogers."
She scoffs. "What tech did you get at Best Buy that you couldn't get here?" She makes grabby hands at the bag, so he fishes out the tablet and holds it up for her to see.
"Ooooh, I love these! Does he need a tutorial? I can come give him a tutorial. Come on, I'll come with you."
He’s sure Steve will have it figured out in five minutes, but she's so enthusiastic he doesn't know how to say no without sounding like a dick.
Steve calls out to 'come in' when Bucky knocks. He's got his back to the door, one arm braced on the kitchen table as he leans over his phone, swiping and tapping before music starts to play. His T-shirt stretches across his back and he must plan on going to the gym later, because he's wearing grey sweatpants. Bucky glances over at Darcy and her slack-jawed expression. Yeah, honey, I know, he thinks. He elbows her in the arm and her mouth snaps shut with a clack.
"Brought you something," Bucky says, forcibly pushing Darcy out of the way so he can close the door behind her. Steve turns and sees Bucky's not alone.
"Oh, hello," he says, smiling.
"Steve, this is Darcy Lewis, she works downstairs doing...something, I don't actually know. Darcy, this is Captain Rogers."
They shake hands and Bucky hands Steve the plastic shopping bag.
"Darcy volunteered to show you how to use this."
Steve’s eyes are bright with surprise when he pulls the tablet out of the bag. It’s the first thing Bucky’s given him that isn’t for a purpose on missions; something just for him, because Bucky thinks he’ll like it.
“It’s for drawing. I know you like pencil and charcoal, but this is,” Bucky shrugs at the thing instead of finishing his sentence.
Darcy pulls it out of the box and turns it on, but after two minutes it’s clear she knows even less about it than Bucky does.
“What?” she says to his admonishing look, completely unrepentant. “Come on, can you blame me?”
He can’t really. When he sends her away, Steve is blushing at the tablet, a pretty pink that goes all the way up to the tips of his ears.
Bucky has thrown away the prospectus. Steve is demonstrating understanding of all required tech, and is getting used to S.H.I.E.L.D. procedures. They start ballistics tomorrow. But right now they’re sitting at a café near the S.H.I.E.L.D. building, because Fury has finally given up trying to keep them locked down.
Bucky’s drowning in paperwork. Fury didn’t lighten his load much, so he’s basically working two jobs, still trying to file reports and reports on the reports. But Steve is messing around on his laptop anyway.
“Do you mind if I catch up on this?” Bucky asks, gesturing at the stack of papers.
Steve shrugs, “Go ahead. I’m going to look up what unf means.”
Bucky laughs. “Who said unf to you?”
“Darcy,” Steve confesses. Of course she did. “What does it mean?” Steve asks.
“Nah, I'll let you figure that out on your own.”
Bucky’s finished half a report when Steve chokes. He’s looking affronted at his laptop screen and glares when Bucky laughs again.
An hour later, Bucky rolls his shoulders when he emerges from the paperwork and finds Steve looking at him. No, not just looking, staring with his brows pulled together, his lips slightly parted. Bucky startles. Steve startles at being caught, and blushes Bucky’s favorite shade of pink.
“Hey,” Bucky says.
“Hey.” Steve clears his throat. “Sorry, I was just, um, sketching.”
“You were drawing me?” A happy feeling washes through Bucky and he glances down at the notebook and pencil in Steve’s hands. He has it angled against the edge of the table so Bucky can’t see it.
Steve looks down, an anxious pull between his brows.
“Don’t show it to me,” Bucky warns, “It’s bad luck to see a drawing before it’s finished.” Which he totally just made up, but Steve doesn’t call him out on it.
“I like the tablet,” Steve says. “I can do color like I never would otherwise, but pencil just feels more…familiar, I guess. But look at this,” Steve pulls the tablet out of his messenger bag and taps it a few times before turning it around and handing it across the table to Bucky. A gorgeous color drawing of Darcy looks out from the screen at him. The likeness is astonishing. Bucky can practically hear her dry sarcasm.
“Wow, that’s…absolutely stunning.”
“Think she’d like a copy?”
Bucky scoffs. “God yes. Just, gird your loins.” Steve makes a face at him.
The waitress brings their check and lingers. When she leaves, Steve says, “Don’t let an old fogey cramp your style. You should talk to her.”
“Huh?” Bucky says, scrawling his signature on the slip.
“She keeps looking at you.” Steve glances up over Bucky’s shoulder, then back at him. Bucky shakes his head.
“Nah, she was looking at the arm.”
Steve cants his head. “You think?”
“Yeah, come on. I’m a quarter robot over here," he says, waving his hand at his arm, under his short sleeved T-shirt.
“Eh,” Steve says, eyes raking over Bucky’s chest and arms. “More like 1/8.”
Bucky guffaws and Steve’s eyes do that sparkling thing again. For one insane moment, Bucky entertains the absurd notion that it has something to do with him.
Steve is grateful for Bucky. Really, he is. He’s patient when Steve’s slow on the uptake, unflaggingly kind and never judgmental.
But he’s also ridiculously handsome.
It helped for about the first two minutes; made Steve actually want to listen to him instead of tune him out like all the agents and therapists they’d shoved at him for two months. Now it’s just distracting.
The moment Bucky started talking it was clear he didn’t even need to be unfairly attractive for Steve to take to him. He’s insightful, funny, charming and completely humble about all of it.
Falling for the first person to show him any true warmth in this century is so cliché and pathetic he almost resists on principle alone. He has to remind himself Bucky’s literally being paid to interact with him.
He’s not Bucky’s friend, he’s his assignment.