Steve Rogers was actually having a good day, all things considered.
It hadn’t started out all that great, it was true. The Interview had finally been published and Steve -- who’d spent the past several weeks reassuring himself that it wasn't as bad as he remembered -- made the mistake of watching it when he woke up.
Natasha found him with his head in his hands, resolutely trying not to die from the sheer embarrassment of it all. He was never doing another interview again.
“First rule of showbiz, Rogers,” she said, pulling him to his feet. “Never watch your own interviews; it’s always worse than you remember. Shouldn’t you know this?”
“I never had time to watch my own stuff during the war,” Steve told her truthfully as he was tugged out of his apartment and into the elevator. “I was busy fighting it. Where are we going?”
“To get Clint,” she replied and then JARVIS obliged by taking them up to Clint’s floor. “And then out for a walk.”
Sometimes, when Steve felt particularly sorry for himself, he thought that he was an amusement for them. That hapless national icon, their exotic little pet that had to be taken for walks periodically. Something to show off and occasionally laugh at when he proved himself to be ignorant of the modern age and its customs.
He didn’t particularly enjoy those moments. The idea of somehow being so embittered by his circumstances that he began taking it out on his teammates -- even in the relative safety of his own mind -- well. It left him ashamed and with the distinct impression that he was an ungrateful bastard.
When it came down to it, he was lucky. It was hard to remember sometimes, but Steve tried his damnedest to never forget it completely.
So, he let them take him around the city and in the end, Natasha’s plan had worked -- though probably not in the way she’d intended. When they came back to the Tower, coffees still in hand, the interview was the farthest thing from Steve’s mind. Instead, his head was filled with gray-blue eyes and a stubbled chin, a roguish smile shaped by pouting lips.
Natasha and Clint went to spar and Steve went in search of anything he could use as a sketchpad. It’d been so long since he’d had the urge to do anything more than doodle in the corner of his mission debriefs or on a napkin at a restaurant. His fingers twitched now, though, eager for a pencil that he could shape a proper picture with. Eager like they hadn’t been since he’d gone into the ice.
He found a few loose papers at the same time that his phone trilled with a message. As he picked it up, it trilled again. It was from an unfamiliar number but the message told him everything he needed to know.
Nice little slight of hand there. Didn’t even notice you writing on it.
Name’s Bucky, by the way. Don’t think I said.
He sent back, Nice to meet you, Bucky. I’m Steve, and then instantly regretted this.
It was too formal, too cordial, too -- something. Something that Steve didn’t want to be. Old-fashioned, maybe. Or silly. Of course Bucky already knew his name. He’d proven that when they met, swaying close and purring Captain Rogers in a voice that even now -- even just the memory of it -- made Steve’s belly clench.
Steve had no idea how to flirt, how to show his interest or hope to garner someone else’s, but Bucky surely did. He’d proven that, too.
Before Steve had time to panic too much over his response, his phone sounded again.
Nice to meet you, Steve. ;)
Something loosened inside him even though his chest felt tight, even though the sight of that smiley face made it hard to breathe. Exhilaration and uncertainty coursed through him, making his hands shake, and it was only when his cheeks began to hurt that he realized that he was smiling widely. He felt --
Somewhere between euphoric and scared out of his mind.
He’d shown his interest to someone. To a man. He’d shown interest in a man and that man was responding.
As this realization sunk in, his smile faded. The euphoria disappeared and now he was left with nothing but the fear, the panic.
What had he been thinking?
He couldn’t do this. He didn’t know how to do this. He’d never even been with a woman and growing up, it’d been okay to consider those options. Peggy, the closest he’d ever gotten, had only given him a single kiss right before he went into the ice. They’d never had time for anything else before that and they’d never gotten the chance for anything more afterward. She’d lived an entire lifetime while he slept.
This couldn’t happen. He couldn’t be Captain America and be with a man. It would be hard to be with anyone as the Captain, but especially a civilian. Especially something that was still controversial enough to make headlines across the world.
He had to --
But he couldn’t even let himself think this next part. The had to warred with want to and it seemed that the latter was winning.
Because, when it came down to it, Steve had liked Bucky. Bucky made him smile, made him feel warm, when so many things about the future left him cold and empty.
He was out of his depth. He needed Sam, or possibly Natasha.
As soon as the thought had formed, though, he was instantly glad that he was alone in this. If they were, they’d see his blushes and his stupid smiles and the excited fear he didn’t know how to hide. He’d ask them questions -- embarrassing questions that he would immediately regret -- and make himself out to be an infatuated idiot in the process. Or worse, those questions would make them look at him in pity; their exotic little pet, unknowing of how mistreated he’d been before.
He hated that expression.
“Steve,” said a voice, in the worried tones of someone who’d been calling his name for a while without answer. A beer waved in front of his face. “Steve.”
Steve blinked and it was -- nightfall.
The skyline view of his apartment in Stark Tower was nothing but dark skies and the twinkling lights of the city. His phone was on the glass coffee table in front of him -- when had he put it down? -- and the loose papers he’d gathered were in his lap, filled with idle sketches of body parts.
Currently, he seemed to be working on the lower half of someone’s face. There was a stubbled jaw and a pair of full lips that Steve recognized all too easily.
Sam stood just beside him, two beers in hand, and his gaze flickered between Steve and the sketches.
“Man,” he said, flopping down beside him on the couch. “I knew you doodled. I didn’t know you could draw, though. Not like that. Who’s the subject?”
He leaned over to take a closer look. Hastily, Steve shuffled the papers until a blank one was on top and then threw the stack onto the coffee table beside his phone.
“No one,” he said with a blush. Sam gave him an unimpressed look.
“Uh-huh,” he replied, knowing. “And was this no one the reason why you were zoning out? Anything you wanna talk about?”
Steve frowned, because this line of questioning seemed less casual and more deliberate than it ought to be.
“Did Natasha send you?”
“Actually,” said Sam, finally offering the second beer he held. “It was Barton. But I’m pretty sure he sent me on both his and Natasha’s behalf, so I think it counts.”
Accepting the proffered beer, Steve pressed it to his lips and treated himself to a long sip. He looked away from Sam, instead focusing his gaze on the skyline again. Several long seconds passed between them.
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Sam told him finally and his voice was quieter than before. Earnest. “We can just drink our beers and watch a movie with outdated CGI so that you can cross something else off your list. But you know I’m here if you do want to talk.”
Steve gave this consideration. He wasn’t exactly sure if he did want to talk about it but he also had no idea if that reluctance was genuine or if it was borne out of the knowledge that he didn’t know how to talk about it. It wasn’t like he’d ever opened up about this before. It would’ve stupid to do so when he was growing up and it’d hardly seemed to matter since he woke up from the ice.
Now, though. Now it seemed like the kind of thing that needed to be spoken out loud, even if just the thought of saying the words made fear seize his chest. Maybe he could ask for Sam’s advice without having to be specific.
“I,” he started out but his voice was strangled. He swallowed thickly. “I think I...met someone today.”
“Would this someone be the no one you were drawing?” Sam asked, because they were friends for a reason and that reason was that the both of them knew how to be assholes when they wanted.
“Maybe,” Steve admitted. He glanced over and then away again just as quickly. He couldn’t have this conversation, not any part of it, and still look Sam in the eye. “But I don’t think it’ll work out.”
“Too many reasons why I shouldn’t,” Steve said. “Or why I...I don’t know if I can.”
Sam’s voice was gentle, beseeching. It was the kind of voice that made it impossible to avoid his gaze and so Steve had no choice but to look at him again. His expression was kind but thankfully, there was none of the pity that Steve had feared.
“Captain America can’t be your entire life,” Sam told him. “Eventually, you gotta get back out into the world, man. Eventually, you have to be in the world. It’s scary, I know. Trust me, I know. But you can’t let that fear hold you back from a good thing when it comes along. And who knows? This could be a good thing.”
“I’ve never been with anyone,” Steve confessed, cheeks flushing with embarrassment. Just one doubt in a sea of them, but the one that he minded voicing the least.
Sam didn’t even hesitate.
“So take it slow,” he said. “Whoever it is, if they’re any sort of decent human being, they’ll be fine with that.”
How can you be so sure? Steve wanted to ask, but he’d only gotten out the first word when his phone started to ring. He leaned forward to grab it. Bucky’s name flashed on the display and Steve’s stomach swooped when he saw it.
Sam tilted his head knowingly but all he asked was, “who is it?”
“A good thing,” Steve said. “Maybe.”
Grinning, Sam stood up, taking his beer with him. “I’ll just leave you to it, then,” he said. “Good luck.”
The phone rang twice more in the time it took for Sam to vacate Steve’s apartment and during those long seconds, Steve’s anxiety took the opportunity to ramp up tenfold.
By the time he swiped across the screen to accept the call, his hands shook and his mind emptied itself of every ounce of composure he’d possessed.
Left on autopilot, there was nothing he could do but blurt out, “Captain Rogers speaking,” in a voice that was far too rigid and formal.
On the other end of the line, there was a pause. And then:
Bucky’s voice was just as warm as Steve remembered, but it was much more casual and friendly now than it had been when they’d met.
When they’d met, he’d sounded -- intimate. This was nothing like that.
“Just the man I needed to talk to.”
It was Steve’s turn to pause.
He wasn’t sure he liked being called Captain by Bucky. It was too often that people mistook Captain America and Steve Rogers for the same person and he had hoped -- desperately, he’d hoped -- that Bucky was not one of those people.
He didn’t know what to make of Bucky’s easy, casual tone, either. It left the impression that he spoke to an old friend rather than a man he'd only just met.
“Oh?” Steve asked finally. He heard the waver in his own voice and winced.
“Yep,” Bucky said, seemingly oblivious, but his voice had lost some of its geniality and so Steve thought he wasn’t quite so oblivious as he made out. “I’m in a bit of a bind, Cap, I was hoping you could give me some advice.”
Steve had no idea what to say to that. It wasn’t as if he had any specific expectations about this conversation -- he hadn’t even thought this conversation would happen so soon -- but the current mood was nothing that he’d prepared himself for. He didn’t know where this was going or if it was something he would like.
“I can try my best,” he said slowly, after several more seconds of confused silence.
“Mighty kind of you,” Bucky replied and there was a definite smile in his voice now. “Y’see, Cap, I met this guy. Smart, funny, got a smile that makes a man weak in the knees. You know the feelin’, right? And gorgeous. Can’t even tell you how gorgeous he is.”
Steve blinked and blushed. A smile tugged at his lips before he could even fully register the words.
“God’s honest truth,” Bucky said solemnly. “Don’t know how I got so damn lucky, Cap, but he left me his number. Too shy to give it to me outright, I think, not that I mind. But all I’ve been able to think about since I saw it is callin’ and askin’ him out. A proper date.”
Steve sucked in a harsh breath. He could imagine it very clearly, going on a date with Bucky, and that imagery left him with the same giddy-scared feeling that Bucky’s text had given him earlier.
“Seems like the two of you are on the same page, then,” he said, but he knew Bucky’s game now and in his attempt to play along, he ended up sounding like every terrible movie of himself that he’d ever made the mistake of watching. His voice had become deep and overly confident. “Have you called him yet?”
Bucky’s sigh was positively theatrical. “Not yet,” he said gravely.
“What’s the problem?”
This question was asked with less bravado than Steve had intended. His voice had quieted with the sincerity of his query. He hated how transparent he was in that moment; hated how much of himself he’d already laid bare for a man he barely knew in hopes that it could become something more.
“It isn’t really a problem,” Bucky said and he, too, became more serious. “But he’s got a pretty unique background. I don’t wanna push him or come on too strong and make him uncomfortable. And I’m gonna be honest, Cap. He’s a bit of a public figure. Can’t imagine the kind of whacky shit he has to put up with, y’know? This is where you come in. You’re a bit of a public figure yourself, aren’t you? Any advice you’d give to whatever poor sap tried to win you over?”
“You called Captain America to ask for dating advice?” He asked disbelievingly.
“You’re supposed to be a friend to all,” Bucky complained. “This is what I need in a friend. Just help a guy out, won’t ya?”
Steve allowed himself another moment of laughter. It was only when he heard an impatient huff over the phone that he tried to pull himself together.
“Okay, okay,” he said, clearing his throat. More earnestly than he would’ve liked, he said, “My advice would be...start small. He’s probably thinking about the same things that you are and it’s probably -- it’s probably making him panic a little. But he also might, um. He might really want to try.”
“You think so?”
“I think so.”
Steve heard him take in a long, slow breath. His palms sweated and his heart pounded against his ribcage hard enough that it was difficult to take in a deep breath.
“Steve,” Bucky said finally.
Steve asked hoarsely, “Yeah?”
“How do you feel about coffee?”
A breathless laugh bubbled up from his chest. His answer was quiet but honest:
“Coffee sounds great.”