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Fan the Flame

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Bucky sits in his local Starbucks, sipping on his latte and flipping through his phone. He's got time to kill until his students get out of school and meet him at the park for what will prove to be a rousing game of baseball.

 

With the advent of the warmer weather, he can move the activities of the children that attend his youth outreach program out of the local school gym and into the sunshine. He always sees a marked change in attitude and behaviour in the outdoors, which is nice.

 

But that's not for an hour, and Bucky is early. He needs something to occupy his time.

 

Tinder generally turns out to be either hilarious or horrifying, and in some very special cases, both at the same time.

 

Bucky swipes through quite a few profiles, discarding many on the first image alone. Of those he looks into, there are some baseline standard things he wants and doesn't want.

 

If the photos are unclear or pixelated and he can't make out a general face, swipe left.

 

If there is more than one shirtless mirror, gratuitous cleavage, upside-down bed or gym selfie, swipe left.

 

Due to Bucky's dad's tenuous relationship with alcohol leaving him with distinct feelings about excessive drinking, if most photos include alcohol of some kind, swipe left.

 

If the profile is left blank, swipe left.

 

If the profile is extremely short, or is just an attempt at a comedic routine without giving any information about the subject, swipe left.

 

If there's an excess of tattoos, especially on the neck or face, swipe left.

 

If they're flipping off the camera, swipe left.

 

Photos of cars, swipe left.

 

Allowing for a random typo, if the spelling and grammar are too bad, swipe left.

 

If there's enough fake tan to turn hands visibly orange, for the love of all that is holy, swipe fucking left.

 

He's looking to find at the best, a boyfriend or girlfriend, at the worst, someone new to maybe hang out with. This leaves him weeding out a lot of people most of the time. He's learnt to pick out the purely hook up profiles pretty quickly and tends to tap out if people get overly familiar too quickly after they've matched. It's quite an arduous process, but he expected as much, and is content to just keep plugging away.

 

Bucky opened his Tinder account as a bit of a lark. He'd like to meet someone, but feels too old for the club scene. Bars tend to be a bit of a waste of time when you don't drink all that much. His workplace is small, and he's a big believer in not shitting where you eat, which is also one of the reasons he never got together with any of his fellow soldiers during his time in the army.

 

He thinks he's put together a pretty decent profile:

 

James, 31

 

5'11". Born and bred in Brooklyn, now back after a stint in the Army. I work with disadvantaged kids now, which is less hard and more rewarding than you might think.

 

Mornings don't start until after the sun comes up. Animals are usually more compassionate than people. Cat and dog lover, but I only own the former. Bilingual. (Conversational Russian. Also curse words)

 

Things that mean the world to me: Coffee, Baseball, family and friends. (Not in that order. Probably)

 

I'm athletic but don't live at the gym. I like a good party but I don't really drink. I love food but I don't like making it.

 

Would like to find someone who compliments me at best, friends as a middle point, or at the very least, some horror stories to share with friends.

 

He doesn't have a gym selfie on there, but there is a photo of him playing Ultimate Disc in the park with some friends in a tank top. It's a pretty good photo and -- without being overly shallow -- shows him to be pretty fit.

 

There's an older photo of him in uniform from his deployment, feeding one of the stray dogs he found in Kabul. There's a snap of him with his calico kitten Babushka, who is one year old going on ninety-nine, and one from two winters ago in a knitted hat, cradling a cup of coffee. That was when he'd grown his hair out a little after the Army and it nearly touched his shoulders. Now it just grazes his jawline.

 

Tinder has proven very hit and miss for him. He's ended up on a few dates. Only a couple of people warranted more than one, but it just ended up either fizzling out, or established them more as friends. There's been a spectacular amount of one date wonders, each as either painfully awkward or lacking in chemistry as the last.

 

But, it's something. It's getting him out and meeting people when he probably wouldn't be, and that's better than nothing, he supposes.

 

He feels like he's going to get RSI in his fingers from the constant swiping left, though.

 

Bucky puts his phone flat on the table and sips his coffee, continuing to swipe, consoling himself that he's not that picky.

 

Okay, he is, but there are things that'll get him through.

 

He's looking for someone he finds attractive. A great smile will get him to swipe right, as will a really gorgeous set of eyes.

 

He likes a variety of different body shapes in men and women, but does have a particular lean towards the more athletic, like him.

 

He's not ashamed to admit that a cute pet photo will automatically glean more consideration, too.

 

He goes for the profiles that range from open-hearted honesty, to cheeky but still giving out at least some information on their subject.

 

Bucky's a fan of people with artistic hobbies, because he doesn't lean that way at all and has always been fascinated by them. So anyone who writes, or makes art, or plays a musical instrument piques his interest automatically.

 

All in all, he doesn't think he's asking for the world. And with the amount of people registered on the site in Brooklyn alone, he doesn't necessarily have to feel too bad about his tough screening process.

 

A little alert pops up then, with the familiar flame logo.

 

You have been Super Liked!, it proclaims. Keep swiping to find out who.

 

So someone has really liked his profile, then. If Bucky keeps swiping through, odds are he'll hit a thumbnail surrounded by blue, and he'll know who it is. It's the only time he finds out if someone's wanted to match with him ahead of time.

 

Bucky keeps flicking through images, discarding after only a few moments, until he sees the telltale edge of a blue profile making its way to the top of the pile.

 

It pops up and Bucky studies the photo of Steve, 30 critically. There's a silhouette of a guy, completely backlit by an orange, setting sun. It's a lovely photo, but he can see zero firm details about the person in it. If Bucky were looking at it without the Super Like, he might've swiped past purely on the principle that he can't see the person's face.

 

He always makes it a point to at least get past the first image and to the profile for a Super Like, though. It's only polite.

 

Clicking on the photo, Bucky is relieved to find there's at least some text.

 

6'2". Back in Brooklyn after many years, and looking to make a connection. My job keeps me busy so I find it hard to get time to meet new people.

 

Non-smoker, rare drinker (except for coffee), I stay fit where I can, but would rather spend time drawing than going to the gym. Sorry for the gym selfie though :-)

 

If you'd like to know more, please just ask!

 

Bucky makes a non-committal sound. Not too much information in the profile, but it's passable.

 

He begins flicking through the photos, and oh my. There's the gym selfie. Bucky's not sure about what Steve says about rather doing other things than going to the gym, because the dude is ripped. And not in the scary steroid-bulging-veins way, more in the sculpted-like-a-classical-statue way. Steve's not shirtless, he's wearing a tight, sweat-soaked shirt and a pair of pretty tiny workout shorts. The image is cut from the chin down, so Bucky can't see a face, but he can see the clean lines of his arms as he holds the phone up, how the fabric molds to Steve's pectorals, the breadth of his shoulders tapering into a ridiculously narrow waist. It's enough to make Bucky's mouth a little dry.

 

The next image is of the man sitting astride a motorcycle. His long legs are encased in jeans, brown leather jacket over his shoulders, a helmet with a funky stylised wing painted on the side of it on his head. Bucky thinks he recognises the wing from an advertisement or something, but can't quite place it. That's not as important as how effortlessly cool the photo looks, however.

 

The fourth photo looks like it has been taken candidly. Steve is stretched out on a sofa, one arm dangling down as though he's asleep. Bucky takes a moment to admire Steve's body in jeans and a t shirt that rides up just slightly to show a pale strip of skin right across his lower stomach. What makes the photo amusing -- and frustrating, again -- is that a book is lying open over his face. The book is War and Peace. Bucky grunts. Is he really reading it, or is it just a fun photo where someone decided to stick a heavy book on his face while he slept? If Steve were actually reading Tolstoy, that would make him marginally more interesting.

 

The fifth photo gives Bucky pause, as it's Steve with a golden retriever mushed to his face, smiling. It's a bit blurry, obviously taken on the fly, but very cute. Due to the positioning of both the dog and Steve's hands holding said dog, however, he barely gets a look at the man's profile.

 

The final photo is of a pair of well-shaped hands on a sketchbook. It seems to be a crop of a larger photo, and the drawing itself seems to be of the Brooklyn Bridge, looking into the Financial District of Manhattan. It's an extremely good likeness, and Bucky is impressed.

 

It takes Bucky another good flip through the photos to fully comprehend the fact that he can't get a decent look at Steve's face in any photo. He frowns and sits back.

 

What's the deal with this dude not showing his face? Is he shy? Ugly? Famous? Under witness protection? Unfortunate adult acne?

 

Bucky's not sure. While the profile isn't the worst he's ever seen, it does leave a lot to the imagination. He's clearly built well, but without seeing a face, Bucky's a bit nonplussed. There are a few other nibbles there, but by and large, he doesn't think he's missing out on a whole lot if he swipes past Steve.

 

Bucky goes to take a sip of his drink, at the same time as making contact with the surface of his phone. A lone drip of coffee runs down his cup and splashes on the screen. Automatically, Bucky goes to wipe it off quickly and --

 

Shit.

 

He accidentally swiped right and matched with Steve.

 

Bucky wipes the liquid his screen off quickly and puts his coffee down. No matter, he can quickly unmatch himself before Steve even realises and--

 

Steve has sent you a new message

 

Well, fuck. Steve must be on Tinder right now.

 

Bucky sighs and glares at the alert, and grudgingly flicks to the message screen. Whatever he is, he's not a total asshole. If the guy has already messaged him, he can at least engage. Preferably briefly. And then unmatch later.

 

Clicking on the link, Bucky opens his message.

 

Steve: Hi, James! I was really hoping you would match with me!

 

Bucky mulls over his prospects and decides on a response.

 

James: Thanks for the super like, it's very flattering :-)

 

His reply is immediate.

 

Steve: No problems. I liked what you had to say, and you look great.

 

Steve: Look like someone I would like to know better.

 

Steve: It's not all about looks, but you do look really nice.

 

Steve: I'm trying to get out of this hole, it's not working.

 

Bucky lets out a surprised chuckle. Well, it was a bit dorky, and kind of cute. Maybe Steve isn't a meat head gymbro after all.

 

James: No, it's okay. Dig up, stupid!

 

Steve: Wow, you're kind of a jerk :p

 

James: It's a Simpsons reference. Don't tell me you haven't seen it.

 

Steve: Was it on recently?

 

James: Dude, the Simpsons has been on for 20 yrs. This was one of the earlier seasons.

 

Steve: Oh. I'll have to try and see it.

 

James: Didn't you watch it on tv when you were a kid?

 

Steve: My family didn't have a tv when I was growing up.

 

Bucky snorts derisively and continues typing unthinkingly.

 

James: Did you live in the dark ages? What, were you poor or something?

 

Steve: Yes.

 

Bucky stops. Well, fuck, that kind of went somewhere bad super quick, and it's his fault. He tries to soften his words.

 

James: I'm sorry, that was pretty rude of me. I didn't mean to insult.

 

James: Do you have a tv now? I figure if you have a smartphone it's a good bet.

 

Steve: I do.

 

James: You don't have that much to catch up on. Focus on seasons 7-11. Nothing is as good as those.

 

Steve: I'll be sure to write that down.

 

Steve: on my papyrus.

 

Steve: with my quill

 

Steve: by candlelight.

 

Bucky barks out a laugh. Clearly the muscles are hiding a mind that is deeply sarcastic, and that's something Bucky can relate to. Steve seems comfortable sassing Bucky already, Bucky automatically gives it straight back to him, safe polite responses be damned.

 

James: Who's the jerk now, you punk??

 

Steve: haha, now we're even.

 

Bucky finds himself unwittingly smiling. He takes another swig of coffee, while Steve sends another message.

 

Steve: So you have a kitten?

 

James: Yeah, a little calico. She's too sassy for her own good.

 

James: That lab yours? Looks cute.

 

Steve: I wish! Lucky belongs to a friend. I'm away for work a bit, and my schedule can be pretty sporadic... I wouldn't want to be an irresponsible pet owner. But I love animals.

 

James: That's a shame. Pets are awesome. Sure, it's annoying when I wake up and Babushka's asleep on my face and I'm nearly suffocating... but she's good company otherwise.

 

Steve: That sounds nice.

 

Steve: The company part, not the suffocating part.

 

Bucky wonders what kind of job Steve has that is so erratic he can't keep a pet. Babushka drives him crazy some days, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

 

James: So what did you say you did again?

 

There's a pause before the answer comes through.

 

Steve: I didn't. I work for the government? It can be pretty hectic.

 

Bucky chews on his bottom lip a little, intrigued.

 

James: I'm guessing you're not a pencil pusher? Don't think desk jockeys have to be that buff :p

 

He stops for a moment. Bucky meant to unmatch from Steve, not keep the conversation going, and getting borderline flirty. But he's starting to find him stimulating, not in the least because it seems the guy has a little more to him than being a slab of unthinking muscle. Bucky's done hot-but-dumb before; it gets tiresome.

 

Steve: Sometimes I think a desk job would be a nice break, but I like what I do.

 

Steve: You know about active, right? How long did you serve?

 

James: '08 to '14. Iraq and Afghanistan mostly, but also trained on bases in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Spent a lot of time around sand. Not a fan.

 

Steve: I know the feeling. Was in the Army before my current job.

 

Bucky's eyebrows go up, but he can't say he's fully surprised. The information is kind of welcome. As trite as it sounds, there's some things he's been through in his life that only other soldiers can even begin to comprehend.

 

James: What regiment? Maybe we've actually met before :)

 

There's a little pause before Steve answers.

 

Steve: I don't think so, I feel like I definitely would've remembered you!

 

Steve: As to my record, I was in a Special Ops team? There's still a lot of information that is classified, and it does relate a little to my current job.

 

Classified Army and now government work? It's possible he works for an internal agency like the FBI or CIA. Maybe even an undercover field operative. It would explain an erratic work schedule and quite potentially why none of his photos show his face.

 

James: Ahh, it's an 'If I told you, I'd have to kill you' scenario, right?

 

Steve: I'm sorry.

 

James: if it makes you feel any better, I was with the 75th, so most of my record is sealed, so we're even.

 

There's a bit of a pause in the communication, and Bucky takes another sip of his coffee. With all the typing he's doing it's getting cold.

 

When he does get a reply, he's glad he's swallowed the coffee, otherwise he might've accidentally spat some out.

 

Steve: ... You mean you got to wear those little Ranger panties? I've heard of these.

 

James: First of all, they're SHORTS.

 

James: Secondly, they're comfortable. I mean, seriously super fucking comfortable.

 

James: Thirdly

 

There is a long pause in which Bucky doesn't type anything. It is enough to prompt a response from Steve.

 

Steve: Thirdly?

 

James: I don't have a thirdly, I just thought it'd sound better if I had three points instead of two.

 

Steve: Haha

 

Steve: it feels like I won that one.

 

James: Anyone ever told you you're a competitive son of a bitch?

 

Steve: It's been mentioned in passing, yes.

 

So help him, Bucky is starting to like him.

 

Casually looking at the time, Bucky sits up straight in his chair. It's nearly time to meet the kids. With mild surprise he realises he's been trading messages with Steve for half the time he's been waiting.

 

James: Sorry to do this, but I've got to run to work. Playing baseball with kids is serious business.

 

Steve: That actually sounds like great fun.

 

James: Equal parts fun and hard work, actually :)

 

Steve: I've really enjoyed talking to you, James. Can I write you later?

 

Bucky chuckles at the slightly endearing antiquated turn of phrase. He gives it a quick think, but the answer has been obvious for at least the last fifteen minutes.

 

James: Yeah, sure. I'll let you know who wins.

 

Steve: Yankees or bust! Dodgers are filthy traitors.

 

Bucky smiles as he closes the app, only to be distracted by a few familiar faces squished against the window of the coffee shop. Apparently his group has decided to meet him along the way instead of waiting at the school.

 

He gets up and pockets his phone, before throwing his empty coffee cup in the trash on the way out.

 

"All right, all right, no faces on the glass or you're cleaning it up," he grumbles. The kids just laugh at him, Felicia throwing a catcher's mitt at his face, which he grabs deftly. "Funny. Okay, march!" Bucky herds the kids forward on the sidewalk and promptly forgets about his messages with Steve.

 

***

Steve doesn't forget about him, though. Later on in the evening, after Bucky's made some dinner and is kicking back watching tv, his phone chimes.

 

Steve: So I found that episode of the Simpsons you were talking about? It was in season 5.

 

Steve: It was pretty funny.

 

Bucky grins and puts down his plate on the couch next to him.

 

James: The cat burglar one, right? I haven't seen it in years. But it's a good one.

 

Steve: Do you have any other recommendations? Simpsons or otherwise?

 

James: TV? Movies? Gimme a frame of reference.

 

Steve: All of the above. Sometimes I have heaps of free time, sometimes I have none at all. I tend to miss out on a lot of things due to that... I'd happily take suggestions on board.

 

Steve: To narrow parameters slightly, I like drama, comedy, action -- but not necessarily war -- movies. With TV I generally stay away from reality shows, as they make me want to punch people. Other than that, the field is pretty open.

 

Bucky understands the subtle distinction between action and war movies. He loves Die Hard but he couldn't sit through the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan even if you paid him. And you can forget about American Sniper.

 

Some things just ping him in a bad way, even though he'd like to think, as far as circumstances allow, he's a moderately well-adjusted individual.

 

James: Settle in, Steve. Got your quill and papyrus ready, or do you need to go find a candlestick first?

 

James: That is, if you've got time this evening? Work, etc?

 

Steve: I've got time.

 

Steve: To sit in the dark with no electricity and, I don't know, ponder the Great Depression.

 

Bucky, who has taken another mouthful of his pasta in the meantime, nearly accidentally spits his mouthful out.

 

James: Gotta say, Steve, when I was looking at your gym selfie, I didn't realise the muscles hid such an unrepentant smartass.

 

Steve: How hard did you look, James?

 

Pretty damned hard, Bucky thinks to himself, but holds back from typing that in response.

 

James: Also, if you're going to sass me this righteously, you should probably start calling me Bucky.

 

Steve: Okay, but why Bucky?

 

James: Nickname I prefer to my given one.

 

Steve: I feel like there's a story behind this, Bucky :)

 

James: For another time, maybe :)

 

James: Quill at the ready?

 

Steve: I'll try not to drip from my inkwell :p

They exchange messages most of the evening. Bucky's pasta goes cold and he scolds Babushka for sticking her nose in it, but she ignores him. Steve seemed to miss out on some of the best and most fundamental cartoon shows of the 80s and 90s, and Bucky tells him so. He tentatively asks that if maybe he didn't have a tv, perhaps a friend from school had one and he could've watched there?

 

Steve explains -- not unkindly, but matter-of-factly -- that when he was little he was sick a lot. Consequently he missed out on a lot of school and didn't really have too many friends. He goes on to explain he's physically a lot better now.

 

Steve: I don't want to make excuses, but sometimes if I come across a bit awkward, please remember my lack of social interaction with peers as a child and take pity on me.

 

James: Oh, like your very first messages to me?

 

Steve: Shut up :p

 

Some hours later, Steve mentions he has to get some sleep, and makes an offer.

 

Steve: I'd like to give you my phone number. You're completely not obligated to use it at all if you don't wish, but if you ever wanted to text me, or even have a phone conversation, I'd like that a lot.

 

Steve gives him his number, and Bucky doesn't even hesitate in programming it into his phone.

 

He waits for a moment, before scooping up Babushka and taking a quick selfie of her pushing her tiny paws belligerently against his face. Bucky sends it, along with the text:

 

Just because I can't see your face, doesn't mean you get to escape from mine :P Goodnight, Steve.

 

Steve replies back immediately.

 

Haha, I really wish I didn't have to go. Don't upset your cat just to send me great selfies. Have a lovely evening. Goodnight, Bucky.

 

Immediately followed by:

 

Can I write you tomorrow?

 

Bucky shakes his head almost fondly.

 

Sure you can.

 

Excellent, Steve replies, I'll speak to you tomorrow. P.S. You look very handsome in your picture.

 

Bucky doesn't know what to reply to that, so he just lets it go. He spends the rest of the night toying with his phone, and accidentally allows Babushka to eat the rest of his penne.

 

***

Over the next few weeks, contact with Steve is almost a daily occurrence. Sometimes, depending on either of their schedules, it's only a handful of texts, other times, there's a chain of them going from early morning until late at night.

 

Two things stay consistent, though. Steve always texts a 'Good morning, Bucky' first thing, and his last text of the evening is, without fail, is 'Goodnight, Bucky. Can I write you tomorrow?'

 

Steve starts posting pictures to him. As expected, they never contain anything that will identify him, but that's not to say he's not in them at all; they just never include his face.

 

Sometimes they're photos from his travels around New York, pictures of sketches he's currently working on, his coffee pot as he impatiently waits for it to brew. Steve's obsession with coffee is close to Bucky's heart. There have been a few from a high rise building looking down on Midtown, leading Bucky to believe that Steve might be based somewhere in Manhattan for work, even if he lives in Brooklyn.

 

If Bucky really wanted to he could start researching and trying to figure out what Steve does, and where he's based, but he doesn't want to do that. He's enjoying Steve letting him in with baby steps. It's like being given a little piece of a puzzle each day, that Bucky studies and figures out where it fits in the overall scheme of things. He's always been fond of a good brain-teaser.

 

Their texts sometimes take on a flirty tone, and Bucky's finding it harder and harder to resist flirting back. In actual fact, he's wondering why he's resisting at all, but it comes down to that initial (misplaced) reticence about matching with Steve's profile in the first place. He is starting to become more interested in Steve, maybe it's time he began showing it more obviously.

 

One morning Steve sends a picture message from his run of the pre-dawn light in Prospect Park.

 

Good morning, Bucky, rise and shine! He says, knowing very well that Bucky despises getting up before the sun.

 

Bucky has forgotten to mute his message tone and it wakes him up. He scrubs a hand across his face tiredly. Now he's up, he won't be able to go back to sleep. The words are so bright and chipper Bucky just knows they're drenched in sarcasm.

 

God-fucking-damnit Steve why are you so cheerful, he texts back. With a yawn, he flicks on the tv straight away, happy that cartoons are on. The quiet can be oppressive sometimes.

 

It's the start of a beautiful day, comes the reply, and another photo of the park, presumably from a bench because there are a pair of long legs encased in pretty tight sweats at the bottom of the frame. Steve's ankles are crossed casually, but Bucky spends longer than he should following the line of muscle under the fabric.

 

Parts of him, early-morning-still-half-asleep parts, twitch with interest.

 

Looking down, Bucky's lips curve in a bit of a grin at a remembered conversation between him and Steve. After a moment's hesitation, Bucky engages the camera on his phone, holds it up and takes a photo. After inspecting it, he attaches it with the message: Can't be as good as still being in bed watching Spongebob. You are doing life wrong.

 

Ostensibly it's a photo of what he's watching on tv, but two-thirds of the bottom of the frame are taken up by Bucky's body. He sleeps shirtless in summer, and the only thing he's wearing is...

 

Are they the Ranger panties? Comes Steve's immediate response.

 

Ranger SHORTS, Bucky corrects. And yes. I sleep in them sometimes. Like I said; comfortable.

 

There's a bit of a pause, wherein Bucky second-guesses what he's done. The flirting has been kind of gentle and up to this point hasn't included any even slightly risqué photos. Steve comes across as a little old-fashioned, which is really endearing. Maybe he's overstepped.

 

Wow. Absolutely amazing.

 

There's a pause before a second message comes through: Your sheets are incredible.

 

Bucky grins. He hasn't overstepped.

 

May I point out that you have woken me up -- on a Saturday, no less -- purely to be an asshole to me? I'm not sure why I'm still talking to you right now.

 

Babushka jumps up on Bucky's bed and he runs his fingers repeatedly over the soft fur from her nose to her forehead. She curls up next to him and starts purring.

 

He takes another photo of her curled in the crook of his arm.

 

At least someone respects me and my philosophy that mornings are for sleep.

 

And if there happens to be a good deal of bare skin in that photo as well, well that's just coincidence.

 

That's gorgeous, comes the reply. Also Babushka is pretty cute, too.

 

Bucky gives a shit-eating grin that no one else can see. Not even Babushka, she's sound asleep already.

 

***

It doesn't happen really often, but Bucky will have a bad night from time to time. They're not a daily or even a weekly occurrence, but he's never gone more than a month without having at least one.

 

When he does, if it's after 2am and before 7am -- despite what his VA counsellor says about no time being a bad time -- he'll sit at the bottom of his shower and decompress for a while before calling. If it's past 7am, he'll call Benjamin straight away and they'll have a talk. That's usually enough to calm him down, but if it's not, they'll get together and have a very strong coffee and a chat.

 

It's 5.23am, and Bucky is lying in sweat-soaked sheets. It's too early to call Benjamin and he just doesn't want to have a shower right now. He doesn't want to leave the relative comfort and safety of his bed.

 

Bucky reaches out blindly for his phone. The message alert is blinking in the corner. The time stamp is from 5.12am.

 

Good morning, Bucky! Steve's text proclaims cheerfully. A bird nearly shat on me when I stopped for a water break on my run this morning. I'm wondering if that means something about the day ahead.

 

Bucky lets out a little laugh that comes out bearing more of a resemblance to a choked off sob.

 

His fingers start typing automatically. You busy? Can I call?

 

The reply is fairly quick. Of course.

 

Bucky sags in relief. He doesn't know why he wants to talk to Steve, when he's not calling Benjamin, or even any of his other friends. But it's five in the morning and he needs some human contact.

 

He sits and swings his legs off the mattress, feet hovering over the floor anxiously. Even the sensation of putting his toes on the carpet is setting Bucky's teeth on edge, so he pulls his legs back up, tucking them into his chest to lean back against the headboard.

 

Bucky hits the green phone icon and puts the device up to his ear. It rings approximately twice before the call is connected.

 

"Hey, Bucky. Is everything okay?"

 

The unfamiliar voice in his ear is somewhat deep, and it's soothing, full to the brim with what sounds like genuine concern. And bless him for realising this isn't a regular request straight away. Bucky's shoulders drop almost immediately, some of the tension seeping out. Why, when he's never heard Steve before, he doesn't know. But there it is.

 

"What makes you say that?" Bucky croaks out, voice embarrassingly rusty from disuse.

 

"Well, I know how you hate mornings," Steve says conversationally, and that pulls a small laugh from Bucky's chest.

 

"One of many things I don't miss about the Army is getting up at the ass-crack of dawn," Bucky says.

 

"I'm surprised you could train yourself out of the habit. I haven't been able to do it yet."

 

"Takes dedication and a willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. Feel like I should get decorated for that shit. Might be nice to have a spangly accolade to my name."

 

"You'd think the big medals look really nice... and they do, from a distance. But up close they're really not all that good. Plus all you do when you get it is put them in a drawer, you know?"

 

"So you don't wear your Medal of Honor out clubbing on the weekend?" Bucky asks facetiously.

 

"Like I said; in a drawer," Steve responds, and while Bucky knows he was joking, it feels as though Steve is not.

 

He pauses, fingers rubbing over his mouth. "Uh..."

 

"Bucky?" Steve asks tentatively.

 

"You really have a Medal of Honor?" Bucky asks, his voice going slightly higher pitched than he would like.

 

"Uh, yes?" Steve answers. He sounds embarrassed now.

 

Well, shit. The Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor. The highest military award (non-posthumous) for bravery. That Medal of Honor.

 

Fuck his life. He's not just calling a fellow soldier or a friend with his head-noise, he's calling a Medal of fucking Honor recipient. For fuck's sake, these things are presented by Presidents for the most courageous acts, and here Bucky is whining about having shitty night terrors. Suddenly the desire to talk about his problems to Steve fades.

 

"What'd you get it for? Or is it classified, too?" It seems to be a good deflection at the time.

 

There's a longer pause on the end of the line. "It's not classified, but I don't really feel like talking about it now, if it's all the same to you." Steve's voice is quiet, a little pained.

 

And the deflection crashes and burns. Bucky feels like a fucking heel.

 

"Sorry. I'm sorry. Look, it's early, I'll ah.. yeah. I'll get my foot out of my mouth and I'm gonna--"

 

"Did you have a bad night?" Steve asks gently. They've touched a little on PTSD in their texts, but nothing major. They've used the terms 'bad night' or 'bad day' as polite code for anything ranging from anxiety and panic attacks, to nightmares. Bucky is completely unsurprised that Steve cuts to the heart of the matter immediately.

 

"Yeah," Bucky says with a sigh. Suddenly, he can't sit still anymore. Sliding off the bed, he begins an aimless pacing in his bedroom.

 

"Anything specific? Anything you want to talk about?" Steve prods gently.

 

Bucky cards the fingers of one hand repeatedly through his hair, ending each stroke with a little tug on the end of the strands. The pull at his scalp keeps bringing him back into the room. "Nothing specific. I can't even remember what the dream was about, or who was in it... I just woke up feeling sick, and scared."

 

"I'm sorry, Bucky," Steve says. If anyone else told him they were sorry for how he's feeling, he'd probably tell them to cram it. But Steve knows, as much as any other human can know, and that's okay, he supposes.

 

"I'm sorry for calling, Steve, I'm not thinking straight. And Numero Uno on the 'Not Thinking Straight' list is phone the guy I've been texting to speak for the first time when I'm feeling my absolute shittiest."

 

"I don't know," Steve says, "It's actually a little flattering."

 

His tone is really kind, but there's also a low burr in that voice that's on the edge of sexy, which also sounds completely unintentional on his part.

 

Which only makes it sexier to Bucky.

 

"Only you would think that, Steve," Bucky says, stopping his pacing for a moment to scrub a hand across his face. "You sound all smooth and entirely too awake for this time of morning, and I sound like I've been gargling sand."

 

"You don't sound bad, don't be so hard on yourself."

 

Bucky sighs and they lapse into silence. He's not sure what to say, but Steve does it for him.

 

"I've been wondering for a little while what your voice sound like."

 

"Oh?" Bucky queries, taking a shuffling step forward. "Have I lived up to your lofty expectations?"

 

"Met and exceeded them all," Steve answers with confidence, and Bucky shakes his head. This guy might actually be too good to be true, and that makes him inherently suspicious.

 

Steve gives a warm chuckle. "Do I sound like you thought I would? I'm curious."

 

"Your voice is--" Better "--deeper than I thought it'd be. I didn't think you'd speak like David Beckham, but still. Deeper." Bucky clears his throat.

 

"You sound a little better, your breathing's evened out," Steve comments, and Bucky starts. Without really noticing, the tension in his muscles has been easing over the last minute or two, the ants running under his skin slowing their ceaseless march.

 

He's almost forgotten why he called Steve in the first place.

 

"And please don't mistake this for complaining, but why did you call me and not your counsellor? Benjamin, right?"

 

"Too early. I didn't want to be a bother."

 

"But you called me?" Steve doesn't sound annoyed. If anything, he sounds like a cross between amused and pleased.

 

"Yeah well... You were already up, weren't you? Ass crack of dawn, and all that," Bucky mumbles.

 

"I'm glad you did," he says, before there's a pause. "Okay, so I'm going to ask something, and I hope you don't think it's too much. If you do, that's fine, you're under no obligation to do anything, really, I just thought, well. I just thought..." he trails off for a moment.

 

"Getting awkward there, Steve," Bucky teases gently, and for some reason, knowing that a recipient of the Medal of Goddamn Honor can be so fucking awkward makes his chest feel lighter.

 

"Shut up," Steve says slightly breathlessly. "I was wondering if you wanted to meet up and get a coffee today?"

 

Bucky freezes for a moment, and everything in the room is vaguely charged with static electricity. He's been thinking about this for a while, and he knows more than anything what the answer should be today.

 

"No," he replies.

 

"No?" Steve says, and while he tries to hide it, the disappointment is a palpable entity.

 

"Not never, Steve. Just... not today. It's not a good day."

 

"Oh."

 

"You wouldn't be meeting the real me if we caught up today. And... I like you enough that I'd rather you meet Bucky Barnes, well-rested and deeply sarcastic, not the exhausted, bitter human functioning on two hours of truly crappy sleep."

 

There's a pause at the end, and when Steve answers, some of that disappointment is gone from his tone. "I understand. I really do want to meet Deeply Sarcastic Bucky."

 

"Pal, at this stage it's a bit of a foregone conclusion."

 

Steve chuckles, and there's a pause that's not awkward, just calm.

 

"Thanks for letting me call you," Bucky says quietly.

 

"Anytime. You doing any better?"

 

Bucky takes stock of his hands that aren't trembling, his steadier heart rate -- now only slightly elevated. "I am," he replies. "I don't work until later this afternoon, so I've got time to... level off."

 

"Do me a favour?" Steve asks, then continues before Bucky can answer. "Call Benjamin? Be a stubborn ass and wait until after seven if you have to, but call him?"

 

Bucky had planned to do that anyway, but doesn't get argumentative at the suggestion. "I will," he says.

 

"Well, I'll let you rest, and give you a bit of space for the rest of the day, if you like," Steve says.

 

While Bucky wouldn't be averse to hearing from Steve more today, he also knows he needs to work on calming and focusing techniques with Benjamin, catching up on sleep, and being prepared for his job later in the day. A day to himself won't kill him.

 

"That would be much appreciated, thank you."

 

"Two quick things, though. One, now that we've spoken on the phone, do you think maybe we could do it again at some stage? If you wanted to."

 

"I am definitely okay with that."

 

"Great," Steve says, and Bucky can practically feel the relieved grin in his voice. "Secondly... can I write you tomorrow?"

 

Bucky really can't help the helpless smile that graces his exhausted features. He suspects that Steve does know the answer is 'yes' every day, but it's still nice to be asked. Bucky likes it. "Of course."

 

True to his word, Bucky has radio silence from Steve for the rest of the day, save for one message in the early evening after he's finished with his kids, wishing him goodnight.

 

***

The first phone call seems to open up even more avenues of communication for Bucky and Steve. They still text most days, and they talk on the phone several times a week. The phone calls get longer.

 

Steve is pleasant to talk to. He's got a world view unique and quite unlike anyone else Bucky has ever met. He has old-fashioned values, but he's not close-minded. He's the sort of guy that would hold a door open for a woman, not because he thinks she's incapable or shouldn't do it herself, but because it's the polite thing to do.

 

The coffee date is an ever-present subject, and a definite date is made. Unfortunately, the night before their proposed meet, Steve calls apologetically and says he's getting sent out of state for a week for work.

 

"Should I be reading into this at all, Steve?" Bucky jokes. "We make a time to meet up and you suddenly have to go away for work?"

 

"Well, you are a terrible conversationalist. I mean, really. No redeeming qualities whatsoever," Steve says dryly, though he can't hide the tease in his voice. "To tell you the truth, I was in it purely for the coffee."

 

"Your priorities are spot on," Bucky notes.

 

"But I am sorry," Steve says, and the genuine apology is back in his voice. "I'll likely be gone for a week, if it's longer, I'll find a way to get a message to you. Hopefully it won't be."

 

"It's okay, if you go full comm blackout, I understand," Bucky says. "Go off and save the world, or whatever it is you do."

 

There's a slight pause on the end of the line before Steve speaks again. "Can I write you when I get back?"

 

Bucky knows he should probably be getting tired of the question, but he's not. He's really not.

 

"I'll allow it," Bucky answers, as though he's doing Steve a favour.

 

"Great," Steve answers, and Bucky's fairly sure he can hear the smile on the other end of the line. He's not seen Steve's face, but he sounds like the kind of guy that would smile a lot. "Goodnight, Bucky."

 

"Goodnight, Steve. Stay safe."

 

***

Bucky doesn't realise how much he just foregoes general interaction outside of work until Steve's gone, because he realises quite quickly that in the last six weeks, communicating with Steve has filled in those gaps.

 

He still gets the odd notification from Tinder where there's been a match, and some of the connections he's made still talk to him, but Bucky has found the desire to continue swiping through -- and the subsequent follow-through conversations -- has dwindled somewhat.

 

Someone he'd matched with before talking to Steve starts chatting to him, and given he's not doing anything else, Bucky returns conversation. It's not the same, though. The guy is a bit of a dick; too full of himself to do much more than talk about himself all the time, never asking anything about Bucky save for wanting to know when they can meet. As if, Bucky thinks, and unmatches them after declining.

'

Without Steve to talk to, it turns out to be a pretty boring-ass week. Bucky's not moping, he's not, but he can't even be bothered to do much more of an evening than park himself on the couch, watch tv and stroke Babushka.

 

He doesn't even get much solace there, when the movie he's watching (along with a lot of other channels) crosses over to a live feed of some of the Avengers clearing out some terrorist base in Mexico, or Brazil or something. He falls asleep on the sofa waiting for his movie to come back on.

 

***

Eight days later -- not that Bucky's really been counting -- Bucky wakes mid-morning to find his phone flashing a message. He yawns and scratches his stubble; maybe it's work calling him in earlier than his 12pm session with the group of kids from the local high school. He's organised with the science teacher to take a small group of troubled kids in their afternoon period to the New York Aquarium. They have specialised projects to work on, and the setting gives them a chance to digress from school work and talk about issues they might be having, without it feeling like they're in trouble or in some kind of counsellor's meeting.

 

Plus, the sea lion show is awesome.

 

Bucky blinks at the screen blearily, to find a message most certainly not from work. He swipes it open quickly and wills his eyes to focus on the text:

 

Good morning, Bucky! I hope you're keeping well. Back home and stuck in wall-to-wall briefings all day, but I could definitely use a coffee tomorrow morning. Maybe you'd like to join me?

 

Bucky swiftly texts a reply in the affirmative, and he definitely gains a spring in his step as they hash out the details of where and when over the course of the day; presumably in between Steve's briefings.

 

The thought that Bucky is finally going to meet Steve after about six weeks of talking back and forth has him equal parts excited and nervous. He knows he likes the guy, but he's liked people he's met before sight-unseen, only to meet them and really have no spark of attraction.

 

Maybe if all else fails and there's no romantic chemistry between them, Steve will end up turning into a friend he can catch up with. They've definitely gotten on well enough for that to be a possibility.

 

Bucky can't help hoping that there's some little spark there, though.

 

His afternoon with the kids goes well; Jonathan, a kid whose teachers say is nothing but disruptive and trouble in class, opens up to Bucky about his challenging home life while they're studying starfish at the touch pool. He also seems to do brilliantly in his set project when lots of visual aids are involved. Bucky suspects home problems coupled with a potential learning difficulty might be contributing to his behaviour. He makes some notes for the school and his own personal files.

 

He gets a few texts from Steve during the afternoon, which makes him smile. Bucky responds with photos of the sea creatures he encounters, and also a quick selfie of him in front of the groper tank when the kids aren't looking.

 

Is that meant to be suggestive? Steve jokes, and Bucky sends him another photo flipping the bird.

 

***

On Saturday morning, Bucky wakes up earlier than usual. He has a shower and shaves off three day's worth of growth around his jaw, and makes sure is hair is neat. The wardrobe situation is interesting; he wants to look nice, but not like he's trying too hard. Even though it's still a little warm, he goes for a burgundy and light grey striped sweater, which he can push the sleeves up on, and a pair of black boot-cut jeans. Sure, there are tighter jeans in his wardrobe, but he wants to be comfortable. Casual attractiveness is what he's after.

 

Bucky has the option to walk or catch the subway a couple of stops to the coffee shop they've decided upon. He ends up taking the subway and getting there early to eliminate the risk of getting sweaty on the journey. Bucky arrives about twenty minutes before ten o'clock. He stalks the outside nervously for a while before deciding to get into the air conditioning and order something to eat, having been a little too preoccupied to do so before he left home.

 

He orders an Americano and a ham and cheese croissant, and finds a booth along the back wall. Sitting so he has a clear view of the door and front windows of the coffee shop, Bucky needs something to do with his hands while he waits for his coffee and food; the anticipation is a killer. With a flick he unlocks his phone and types out a message to Steve:

 

At the coffee shop, booth in the back. Look kinda like Waldo without the beanie...

 

Bucky's a bit nervous, but he always is on first dates. And let's not kid around, this is a first date. Whether it's a good or bad or mediocre one remains to be seen.

 

His phone chimes with Steve's message: ETA 5 mins. I'll find you, Waldo :)

 

The tiny part of him that was wondering if Steve might cancel again is silenced. Steve's really on his way, and Bucky can't decide whether he's excited or terrified. A waitress arrives with his coffee in a large cup and saucer, his croissant on a matching plate.

 

Bucky absently bites a corner off the croissant and goes into the folder of photos Steve's sent him, created shortly after they traded numbers. It includes the pictures from his Tinder profile, but also all the pics that Steve has sent through since they've been in contact. There's photos of his travels, art work in progress shots -- there's a beautiful study of the face of the angel statue in Central Park -- and one time, a selfie in a suit asking for advice on its cut. Bucky pores over the photos, trying to divine any extra information from them that he might've missed.

 

He's trying not to expect too much, even though said expectations have been built up pretty high based on their interactions. There's always the possibility that Steve isn't as great as he seems; God knows that's happened before and Bucky's been disappointed.

 

If nothing else, he's enjoyed talking to Steve over the past six weeks, and the man has been a breath of fresh air. Their contact has convinced him he needs to make a little more of an effort to reach out to people; he does it to the kids in his program all the time, but he could do so much more in his personal life.

 

The bell on the door chimes and Bucky looks up absently. A large man nearly fills the doorframe. Broad shoulders wear a plain white shirt, with a black lightweight jacket thrown over them. Semi-fitted boot-cut jeans encase long legs that end in fancy running sneakers.

 

Bucky's mouth goes a little dry. He's certainly the right shape, but as usual, Bucky can't see his face; he's wearing a peaked cap pulled down low, with large aviator sunglasses peeking out from underneath the brim's shadow.

 

Any question of it being the right person is summarily banished when the man in question quickly scans the interior of the coffee shop. He stops when facing in Bucky's direction. The lower part of his face gives a little grin, and he walks directly over to the booth.

 

Bucky slides out of the booth to greet him standing, but he's waved back down. "Bucky?" the query comes out in a voice that Bucky is eminently familiar with now, although hearing its timbre in person is a whole new ballgame. Bucky nods and the lower half of Steve's face opens up into a wider grin.

 

Steve holds out his hand and Bucky takes it. The skin is warm and calloused. "It's so nice to finally meet you," he says.

 

Steve sits opposite Bucky, sliding into the booth. He takes his glasses off and hangs them on the yoke of his t shirt and the cap comes off to perch on the table next to him. Steve runs a hand through his hair, trying to smooth it a little from where the hat has messed up the style.

 

Bucky looks.

 

And looks.

 

And looks.

 

"Steve," he says dumbly.

 

"Yeah?" Steve asks, a little grin creasing the corner of his lips.

 

"Steve," Bucky repeats, stupidly.

 

The grin begins to fade. "Bucky? Are you all right?" he asks with concern.

 

"Steve," Bucky repeats a third time. "Steve Rogers?"

 

The penny drops for Steve, and he looks a little embarrassed. "That's me?"

 

Bucky places both hands flat on the table in front of him to steady himself.

 

Because sitting across from him is Captain fucking America.

 

There's the strong jaw, pink lips, slightly crooked nose, crystal blue eyes and long dark eyelashes, dark golden hair he's seen on tv from time to time, or an occasional newspaper photo.

 

"So... just to clarify... Steve Rogers from Brooklyn who fought in World War II. You're that Steve?"

 

"When I said I was poor and sitting in the dark contemplating the Great Depression, I wasn't actually lying," Steve says in that ridiculously familiar deadpan, and Bucky lets out a slightly hysterical peal of laughter.

 

Oh yeah, it's the Steve he's been talking to this whole time. Nobody else is that goddamn snarky. Except maybe him.

 

Everything makes sense. His manners, the gaps in his pop culture knowledge, the nature of his job and Army service and--

 

"You just came back from Mexico. You were hunting terrorists."

 

"Venezuela, actually," he corrects. "Did you see it on the news?"

 

"A little, but I don't like to watch the news. Too depressing."

 

Bucky shakes his head and gives another laugh that is just a shade too close to manic for comfort. His eyes search Steve's face, before noticing a laceration on his left cheekbone, the centre is red and purple but the edges are turning that sickly shade of healing yellow.

 

"You're hurt," Bucky reaches out automatically, going to cup the side of Steve's face. The edges of his fingers brush the bruise and Steve's eye twitches. "I'm sorry," Bucky says, drawing back, but Steve reaches up to catch his hand and keep it there.

 

"It's okay. Yesterday it was a fractured cheekbone. Today it's just a tender bruise."

 

"Wow," Bucky breathes out, only half in fascination at the story. The other half is probably definitely because Steve is still holding Bucky's hand to his face.

 

After a few moments, Steve lets his hand go and Bucky drops it clasp his fingers together in front of him.

 

Bucky needs to take a moment. So far, nothing has happened that he has anticipated for. At all. He needs to regroup.

 

Taking up his coffee in both hands, and proud there's no tremor, Bucky sips all the while watching Steve carefully over the rim of his cup.

 

With great effort, he puts it down and laces his fingers in front of him calmly.

 

"I know you might not get this, but Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do," Bucky says.

 

Steve gives a little smile. "I understood that reference," he tells Bucky. "But before I go into any explanations, do you mind if I order a coffee? That's really what I'm here for, after all," he says.

 

Bucky waves him off with a dismissive hand gesture. "Go. Take your sassy ways to the counter, and let me think for a minute."

 

Steve nods and walks to the counter to order. If Bucky's being honest he spends less time thinking about what's actually happening and more time staring at Steve's behind as he's buying coffee.

 

But he does spend a little time thinking about his situation. Most of it being combinations of Steve fucking Rogers and Captain fucking America, swirling around in his head.

 

Steve returns and slides back into the booth gracefully. Bucky returns to sipping his coffee as a coping mechanism and trying not to stare, but it really is quite difficult.

 

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier," Steve says immediately. "It's not really something I find easy to just come out with. Plus there's a chance you'dve thought I was crazy and stopped talking to me."

 

"Well, you could've always sent me a photo of you in uniform," Bucky blurts out without thinking, and Steve laughs.

 

"There's that," he said, "but then I would've missed your face in person."

 

"Oh it wasn't that bad," Bucky scoffs.

 

"You went a little white. I thought you were going to pass out," Steve says.

 

"In that case, you might've needed to give me mouth-to-mouth." The flirt just pours out of his mouth automatically, but he doesn't wish to call it back when he sees Steve's grave nod.

 

"It would've been un-American not to."

 

Bucky laughs again, and Steve grins as well. He reaches over to pick up Bucky's croissant, tears it in half, drops some back onto the plate and starts chewing on the half he stole.

 

"Hey! Speaking of un-American," Bucky says with a wounded expression. "What kind of hero does that?"

 

"The kind that has already ordered a replacement?" Steve suggests. The waitress chooses that moment to bring over Steve's cup of coffee, as well as a replacement ham and cheese croissant, a blueberry muffin already cut in half, and a little container of fruit salad.

 

Steve thanks the waitress until she blushes, and gestures to the wares in front of him. "Help yourself," he says.

 

Bucky looks at the nice spread before them, and takes a strawberry from the fruit salad.

 

"So, I gotta ask the most obvious question," he says around chewing on the fruit, "how does Captain America find himself on Tinder? What's more, why the hell did Captain America contact me?"

 

"Well, like I said in my profile, my job is hectic and I do have difficulty meeting new people. Whilst the dating pool at work is pretty diverse, I really want something separate from that part of my life, something I can just call my own. But... maybe, someone who can at least understand what I have to do."

 

"And that's me because...?"

 

"Well, you've served in the military, which goes a long way to understanding what I do and why I do it. You work with under-privileged kids in the neighbourhood, which is important work that I respect." Steve gives him a little grin. "You're kind of sarcastic without being obnoxious, you're active, and a bit of a looker, to boot."

 

Bucky's sure his cheeks are going a little hot. He is not flushing in front of Captain America, damnit.

 

Bucky's hands curl around his coffee cup, just for something to do. "And you couldn't show your face on there because of--" He drops his voice to a whisper, "of SHIELD?"

 

"You can say their name at a regular volume," Steve grins before nodding a little. "There's the security aspect, yes. But there was also an element of wanting to meet someone without them knowing what they think they know about Captain America. I tried to include as much about me as I possibly could, just without mentioning that."

 

"You didn't want anyone to treat you differently because of who you are," Bucky finishes the thought. It makes perfect sense. Someone like Steve must find it hard to get treated just like a regular person. Hell, Bucky probably would've acted differently without meaning to, had he known he was talking to the Steve Rogers. He's suddenly very glad he didn't know.

 

"I didn't want to lie, but there were certain things I couldn't say. Do you know how annoying it was to have to put my birth year as 1987 so the profile showed my correct chronological age?"

 

Bucky hides a smirk behind his coffee cup. "I never thought of that," he admits. "It must've been terrible for you, you Boy Scout."

 

"Exactly." Steve cocks his head to the side. "What did you think when you saw me on there?"

 

"I thought..." Bucky considers. Does he tell the truth or make up some bullshit story?

 

That's not even a question.

 

He puts his cup down on the saucer. "I thought you were a bit of a meat-head gym bro who wouldn't be able to string two words together even if they were your own name," Bucky answers.

 

Steve freezes for a moment, and Bucky thinks he's definitely fucked up by telling the truth.

 

Then Steve tilts his head back and laughs. And it's possibly the best sound that Bucky's ever had the privilege of hearing.

 

***

 

And so, the best first date of Bucky's life continues. Steve is just as charming and cheeky in person as he has been on the phone or through texts, except now Bucky gets to note the hand gestures and the micro expressions and sees how his words affect Steve's behaviour.

 

Any doubts he'd previously entertained about perhaps not having any chemistry with Steve in person are summarily dashed. Steve leans forward when they speak, eyes glittering. His knees brush against Bucky's from time to time, until somehow they find their feet touching under the table. Bucky lays his left hand on the surface of their table, and as Steve's making a point about something, he lays his right hand over the top of it. And never quite takes it away.

 

They talk enough that their waitress comes over and asks if they want to order anything else. Bucky orders a regular coffee with milk this time, Steve gets a pot of tea.

 

"Traitor," Bucky says without too much heat, and Steve's fingers squeeze his briefly.

 

Bucky feels like they could continue forever until Steve's phone makes an insistent buzzing sound. He looks as though he wants to ignore it, but grabs it reluctantly anyway.

 

It's a call, not a text message. "I'm sorry, this will just take a second," he apologises before answering the phone. "Rogers, go," he says in a clipped tone.

 

The one-sided conversation is fairly short, but obviously doesn't have any news that Steve likes in it.

 

"Yes... all day yesterday... they want what? But I'm just repeating myself and-- No, no. I understand... okay. I'll be there in thirty minutes-- you don’t have to do that. Look, you don't even know where I am and-- Well yes, but... please don't tell me you bugged my clothes again--"

 

The door to the coffee shop opens and a deadly-looking black-clad figure with blood-red hair enters. She has a phone up to her ear. "Come on, Rogers, let's go," she orders. Steve looks over his shoulder and sighs.

 

Bucky's breath catches. The Black fucking Widow just walked in and is ordering Steve around. Steve heaves himself reluctantly out of the booth, and Bucky stands as well.

 

"I apparently have to do a thing. They're not quite finished with me from yesterday," Steve says with obvious chagrin.

 

"That's okay," Bucky says, scratching the back of his neck. "Duty calls, right?"

 

"Sometimes I wish Duty lost my number," Steve jokes and Bucky laughs. There's a loud clearing of a throat, and the distinct sound of a heel tapping impatiently against the floor, which Steve summarily ignores.

 

"I have to go," he says sadly.

 

Bucky nods. "I had a really good time," he says, and he means it sincerely. It's not every day you get to go on a date with one of the best soldiers in American war history and all-round living legend. "I think we should do this again. You know, if you wanted to."

 

"Me, too," Steve says with a beaming smile. They stare at each other for a moment, only to have it broken again by the Widow's impatience.

 

"If I have to get over there and drag you away..." she lets the threat dangle.

 

"You'd better go," Bucky says, giving Steve a little push in the bicep.

 

"Yeah. This could take a while." Steve says, reluctantly retrieving his cap from the table.

 

Bucky bites his bottom lip a little. "Well, bye, I guess."

 

Steve starts to back away before suddenly changing his mind. Instead of moving away, he leans in close, a hand resting lightly on Bucky's hip. Steve's hair brushes Bucky's cheek, and lips ghost over the skin there before pressing down, lighting up Bucky's nerve endings like fireworks.

 

"Can I write you later?" he pulls back to ask, but still close enough that Bucky can smell his cologne mixing with the scent of coffee on his breath.

 

Bucky grins. "Of course. Now will you leave before she kills you?"

 

Steve smiles brightly once again, skating a thumb gently over Bucky's cheek. "Bye!" he says before turning towards the door.

 

When he gets there, the Widow is watching him. Her expression isn't as severe as her words, however. In fact, the corner of her mouth twitches decidedly with amusement. "Come on, Romeo," she says, pushing Steve out the door.

 

Bucky watches them both move past the large open windows of the of the coffee shop, and sees the redhead flick him a quick, speculative glance just before she leaves his sightline.

 

When they're gone, Bucky falls back down into the booth like a marionette with its strings cut. He sits, staring at the remnants of their brunch. It's been about ninety minutes since he walked into the coffee shop, and a little over sixty-five since his world definitely became a helluva lot more interesting.

 

Bucky's picking at the leftover crumbs of the muffin he and Steve shared when their waitress comes back over.

 

"I don't mean to be rude, but... were you just having a brunch date with Captain America?" She asks with wonder.

 

Bucky huffs out a laugh. "I... I guess I was." He looks up at her with a questioning glance. "Say... you wouldn't know how to uninstall Tinder, would you?"