The distinctive ambulance wail increases gradually, then comes to a stop outside Bucky’s apartment building. He pads over to the window with his bowl of cereal and peeks out the curtains to see a dark haired woman and man unload a stretcher from the back of the ambulance and haul it up the steps with some haste.
He pads over to the peephole, in case they’re headed for his floor. Sure enough, a minute later, they rush down the hall and around the corner. He finishes his cereal by the door and is debating whether or not he should take it to the sink and risk missing them coming back down the hall when they do just that.
He pushes his eyeball as close to the door as he can without actually blinding himself. This is the most excitement he’s had since the guy with the dogs said hello when Bucky was picking up a package from the front desk last week.
At first Bucky thinks the paramedics are rolling a kid down the hall, but it might just be a short man; blonde. He has an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth and he nods when they tell him they’re taking him to Metro General.
Bucky goes to the window to watch them load him in the back of the ambulance. The flashing lights have drawn a few gawkers on the front lawn and Bucky scowls at them, for all the good it does, four stories up.
The next morning when he hears voices in the hall, Bucky splashes coffee all over his hand setting his mug down in haste to sprint over to the peephole. It’s a blonde man, the blonde man from yesterday, he’s sure of it, even though he hadn’t gotten a good look at his face before. He’s trudging down the hall, looking sallow and ashen, followed by a tall black man who’s hovering uncertainly, clearly wanting to help but for some reason keeping his hands to himself.
“I’ll be fine,” the blonde man says crossly over his shoulder. Oh, that’s why.
His voice is deep, reverberating down the hall. He’s short and thin, large hands with slender fingers. The angle of his jaw is fascinating; he's beautiful. Even his scowl is beautiful. But his shoulders sag under the stress of just walking down the hall.
“I know you will. I’m coming in anyway,” the other man says genially.
Bucky hasn’t seen either of them before. Creeping through the peephole is a relatively new thing for him—the longer he stays inside the more desperate he is for entertainment—and he’s still casing his neighbors.
He keeps the T.V. volume low all day and hovers near the front of the apartment in case there’s any activity, but all he sees is Dog Guy bounding past with two golden retrievers.
Bucky watches his neighbors go to and fro on their errands. There are six apartments on this floor: Cute Blonde Guy, Dog Guy, Terrifying Redhead, Adorable Young Family, Blind Guy and Gorgeous Blonde Lawyer (it appears that only one of them lives here but he can’t figure out which because they’re always together), and Bucky. They all pass at relatively predictable times, except Terrifying Redhead, who comes and goes at all hours.
Bucky himself goes out twice a week; once for groceries and once for therapy. Anything he can’t get at the grocery store he orders online. He buys a white-noise machine at the suggestion of his therapist, who thinks it might help him sleep. But not being able to track movements in the hall makes him nervous, so he leaves it outside Adorable Young Family’s door with a note.
Cute Blonde Guy goes out two or three times a week with a messenger bag, and usually comes back with a cardboard cup of something. He’s on his phone more often than not. Sometimes with a bank, sometimes he’s negotiating prices for projects. His deep voice carries a confidence Bucky doesn’t see in the dip of his shoulders. He seems to be ill quite often, but is polite and kind to a fault. Bucky's seen him a few times in the foyer, when he's getting his mail or a package from Maria, and the man will nod and smile and say hello to others who pass, or hold the door open for people, even on the day he was coughing raggedly into his elbow.
Bucky wants to do something for him. Help him, maybe? A not-so-random act of kindness. That’s not weird, right? He made some good investments before shipping out, has his Army pension, plus Stark Technologies paid him his retirement number to let them test the metal arm on him. So he has more than enough money and nothing else to spend it on. He could…leave an envelope of money in his mailbox. If he could get into his mailbox, which he can’t, and if that wasn’t creepy, which it is. And stupid; he can barely take care of himself and now he wants to take care of a stranger, too?
Bucky can’t think of a not-weird way to go about it, but on his way back from the therapist one Thursday afternoon, he figures it out. Cute Blonde is getting mail from his box in the foyer, phone pinched between his shoulder and his ear. Bucky hangs back; he needs to get his mail too but doesn’t want to encroach.
“Hey, this is Steve, I’m calling about the couch? Would you take $20? Alright man, thanks anyway.” Steve finishes his call with a heavy sigh, then the door behind Bucky opens and a golden retriever bounds ahead of Dog Guy, and makes a beeline for Bucky. Bucky bends down to pet him, and by the time he lifts his head, Steve is already heading away.
“He likes you,” Dog Guy says. Bucky panics for a moment, before he realizes he means the dog and not Steve. Bucky smiles, but after therapy, he can’t manage to force out any pleasantries, so he just grabs his mail and heads for his apartment.
And that’s how Bucky winds up pushing the couch from his living room out into the hallway and lurking by the peephole for the next three hours.
Dog Guy knocks on his door, instead.
“Hey man, how much for the couch?”
Bucky’s already looking over Dog Guy’s shoulder at the corner, in case his blonde comes around it.
“Sorry, it’s not for sale.”
Dog Guy blinks at him, then points down at the For Sale sign Bucky’d scrawled on an old takeout menu and placed on the cushions.
“Move along, buddy,” Bucky says amiably.
The guy just tips his head and smiles, “Alrighty. Hey I’m Clint, by the way.”
Bucky is forced to focus on him. “Bucky.”
“I train service dogs, y’know. If you’re ever interested in getting one, just let me know.”
“Uh, thanks,” Bucky says, a little taken aback at the friendliness and generosity of this stranger he’d just tried to rudely ignore.
Clint goes back down around the corner with a wave.
The next time there’s a knock, it’s four o’clock and Bucky had just decided it’s late enough to change into lounge clothes. He’s so excited that he opens the door while he’s still sort of putting his thermal shirt on. It’s Cute Blonde!—err, Steve.
“Hey,” Steve says, “How much for the couch?”
“Uh,” Bucky clears his throat, “Ten?”
“Ten dollars?” Steve repeats sarcastically, glancing between the couch and Bucky. He’s had the thing for five years, but it’s still in good condition. He’s had no animals, the leather isn’t scuffed or dirty.
Steve snorts, “No, no, ten is fine. I’ll take it.” He fishes some cash out of his wallet and hands it over. Bucky’s not sure what he’s going to sit on now, but that’s a problem for another day.
“Do you want a hand moving it?” Bucky asks.
“Yeah, if you’re offering. Thanks. I’m just around the corner, actually. Oh, I’m Steve,” he says, jutting his hand out. Bucky shakes it.
As Steve hoists the other end of the couch up, he says, with some amount of effort, “What kind of a name is Bucky?”
Bucky smiles, “It’s James, actually. James Buchanan Barnes. It just stuck when I was a kid.”
As they pass by the second doorway down the hall, it opens and Clint pops his head out.
“Want a hand, fellas?” He toes a dog’s nose back inside the apartment as he closes the door, then shoots a knowing smirk at Bucky. Bucky sniffs and ignores him, but blushes anyway.
“Nah, I got it,” Steve says, but Clint grabs the middle of the couch anyway, and Steve stands visibly taller.
Steve lets go to open his apartment door, the last one on the right, and Bucky and Clint deposit it in the middle of the empty open living room.
“Thanks, Clint,” Steve says, a little begrudgingly.
“No worries, man. See you. Bucky,” he says in parting. Bucky waves.
“Want me to move it anywhere?” Bucky asks, when they’re alone.
“No, I can do that,” Steve says, already eyeing the arrangement of the living room. There’s not much furniture already here, just an old kitchen chair that’s stacked with folders and papers. There’s an alcove to the left with a ratty recliner and a floor lamp, and the kitchen looks the most lived-in area of the place; with pots, pans and towels neatly arranged.
“Yes,” Steve says shortly, then takes a breath as he walks with Bucky to the door. “Thanks. And hey, if you know anybody who needs a roommate, let me know.”
The idea forms instantly and gains traction so quickly, like a snowball rolling down a hill and causing an avalanche, that Bucky doesn’t have time to fully think through the ramifications before he says, “Funny you should mention that. I’m actually looking for a roommate.”
He feels a bit creepy for sort of lying, but the prospect of living with Steve makes him feel warm, and he’s had enough cold for a lifetime.
And he knows himself; he doesn’t want anything from Steve. Sure, something would be nice, but he won’t push it. He’d be a good roommate. He’s mostly quiet, unless he has a nightmare, and he’s abnormally tidy these days. He can spare Steve the stress of having to pick out a roommate, and the risk of getting a bad one.
Steve looks him over. “Why? You don’t need the money.”
Bucky’s eyes widen. He barely got the lie out of his mouth before Steve caught him out. Not a great start to a potential relationship. “What makes you say that?”
“You just sold me an expensive couch for next to nothing. And,” he waves his hand over Bucky’s person to finish. Bucky looks down at himself. His clothes aren’t new by any means, but he’s in Seven jeans and a thermal top, and they’re well-fitted and high-quality.
“No,” Bucky admits. “I just want…” how does he explain this without sounding like a fucked-up Vet? “Sometimes I…” want the vague connection of simply hearing another person in the other room without needing to interact. Which isn’t a lie. He just didn’t realize until five seconds ago that a roommate was the possible answer to his seclusion.
“Ok,” Steve says.
Bucky squints. “Ok?”
“You can move in whenever.”
Bucky smiles in a little bit of disbelief. “You’re not gonna ask me any questions?”
Steve smiles back. “I’m a pretty good judge of character, but if it makes you feel better, what do you do?”
“Um, nothing right now. I was discharged two months ago. But they paid me for this, so.” Bucky takes the thin black leather glove off his left hand. Might as well get it over with now. Steve just nods.
“Ok. As long as you can pay half; whatever is fine. Do you have any questions for me?”
Bucky shakes his head as he puts his glove back on.
And that’s how he winds up moving in with Steve.