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call me old-fashioned

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There’s not usually anyone else at the stop. Steve jolts as echoed footsteps draw him from his reverie. They’re approaching from the left, the side his hearing isn’t too great on. When he looks over, there’s a man further down the platform; they briefly lock eyes. Steve offers him a polite smile and receives the same in return. The man doesn’t look at him again.

It’s earlier than most can tolerate. The sun has only just begun to tickle the sky and consider gracing the lands with its rays. Dawn lingers lightly, the air crisp and fresh. Steve always takes the early shift, much to the appreciation of his colleagues. He enjoys the world when its inhabitants lie sleeping. There’s something peaceful, almost innocent, about the city before the bright lights kick in and the hustle and bustle really start. He wonders momentarily what the other man is doing awake, but the train doors open for passengers before he can give it much thought.

He’s used to the gentle jostling of the subway, well-practiced in carrying out any chosen task without too much hinderance. Today, he’s brought his sketchbook with him—a battered, old thing he’d found in his closet only the week before. Its first drawings are dated before he enlisted, before he’d been discharged. There are cartoons and rough portraits and detailed landscapes decorating the paper and Steve smiles to himself at each memory. There are still a few blank pages left. There’s little inspiration around him; his carriage is empty, save for himself and a lonely newspaper. He thinks back to the man at the end of the platform, almost silhouetted against the harsh subway lights, and begins to sketch the scene from memory. He lifts his pencil from the page each time the train pulls to stop and resumes his strokes when they’ve set off smoothly again. A few more people join him as the train carries him away from Brooklyn and edges ever closer to Manhattan. He packs up his supplies as they near his stop. He pretends not to notice the curious gaze of the woman who’d been watching him draw.

Work is slow to start with, as it usually is. The building requires round-the-clock security and Steve heads the team between dawn and early afternoon. Only desperate interns and janitorial staff grace the halls at these hours, making Steve’s first set of rounds blissfully easy. His companions on his shift need a couple more cups of coffee before they can hold much of a conversation. He’s learnt to keep his mouth closed until there’s some more life in their eyes; he’s had one too many people snap at him for being a morning person.

Stark drops by his office during his break and Steve’s justifiably wary of the charismatic grin Tony greets him with. He has a tablet in his hand and swipes through image after image of his current robotic research. He wants to trial one of the prototypes with the security team, preferably the morning squad. He says something about fewer casualties and damages if they run the trial when fewer people are around but he might have let something slip about trusting Steve more than the others.

Steve stops by a hole-in-the-wall bakery on his way home and picks up a fresh cup of coffee and a sandwich. Gracie behind the counter greets him with a smile and a kiss to the cheek. She’s grown softer in her old age and always makes sure Steve gets the sandwich with the most filling.

The subway is busier now and he makes sure to finish the coffee before he joins the crowds and has it knocked from his hands. He makes his way to the end of the platform, where the crowd thins and he might have a chance of getting a seat. The train pulls in and he dutifully follows the flow of people. He spots a spare seat and hesitates for a moment, allowing anyone else who would like it to claim it. It remains vacant, so he sits. It’s a long way back to Brooklyn. He considers drawing again but the train is much more crammed than the morning commute. Instead, he looks around, observes workers and tourists and students alike. He’s always enjoyed people watching, a residual habit from being small enough to fade into the background. A certain face catches his eye—strong jaw, dark hair pulled back into a bun. Steve struggles to place the man for a minute until the stranger catches him staring. Steve looks away hastily but when he glances back, the stranger is still looking his way. He gives Steve an amicable nod and Steve connects the dots. The man from this morning turns away from and resumes tapping at his phone.

The train trades commuters and drops off tourists. Soon the numbers dwindle until there’s hardly a dozen of them still in the carriage. Steve’s taken a worn book from his bag and has made his way through a few chapters. It’s nothing special, just some fantasy novel he picked up at a charity store, but it passes the time. He notices movement in his peripheral and lowers the book as he watches the man from this morning sit opposite him.

“Marines?” the man says, voice deep, almost smooth if there wasn’t a hint of gruffness to it.

Steve frowns for a moment before the man taps his chest. Steve glances down to the same spot on himself and sees the top of his dog tags showing from where he’s removed his tie and undone a couple of buttons. “Yeah. You?”

The man nods curtly. “Army. Sergeant.”

A hint of a smirk curves Steve’s lips. “Captain.”

The man’s brows raise for a moment, and then he smiles a small, quiet sort of smile. He says nothing more and Steve returns to his book. They both wait until the end of the line and leave at the final stop.

Sam texts him a few hours later when he’s finished work, inviting him out for a drink with a couple of friends. Steve thanks him but says he’s busy. Besides, he wouldn’t be able to stay for too long; he wakes up at four every morning and goes to bed far earlier than his peers. Sam doesn’t call him out on the tired excuse, nor how pitiful Steve’s social life has become. Steve gives it maybe a week before Sam breaks in and forcibly drags him out to socialise.

It’s not that Steve doesn’t want to go—Sam’s other friends seemed lovely the few times he met them—but his days can be tiring and he’s never been much of an extrovert. He can put on a uniform and rally the troops and give a speech at the drop of a hat, but bars and parties aren’t his scene, never have been.

He makes a mental reminder to message Sam to ask if he wants to go running in the park this Saturday. They should start that up again.

The next day follows the same routine. He rises before the sun, runs through various exercises until his muscles burn and sweat gathers on his brow. He showers and dresses and eats, and then heads out the door with dampness still clinging to his hair. His path doesn’t cross with anyone else’s until he reaches the local subway station. He jogs down the stairs to the platform and sees the man waiting there once again, the sergeant.

“Mornin’,” Steve greets, voice carrying across the empty space.

The man doesn’t startle. He must have known he was there. He nods to Steve with a mirrored, “Mornin’.”

They sit in the same carriage this morning.

The sergeant takes the seat opposite him again and simply leans back until his head rests against the window behind him. His eyes fall shut as the train pulls away. Steve can’t blame him; it’s early.

He tries not to stare but the man really is quite striking. He’s all sharp, cut edges, dark clothes contrasted against pale skin. Shadows beneath his eyes tell of his weariness and there’s a certain tenseness to his resting expression. Unlike Steve’s creaseless security uniform, the sergeant wears only dark jeans and a black shirt, a leather jacket thrown on over top but not quite covering a metallic, prosthetic arm. Nothing about him betrays who he is or where he works. Steve’s piqued curiosity and teasing questions remain dissatisfied and unanswered.

He draws again today. He’d fallen out of the habit in recent weeks but the burst of nostalgia his own sketchbooks provided was enough to get him going again. He’d never been good at much when he was younger and had taken to art like a duck to water. He could never afford the fancy supplies he so often ogled in stores; instead he’d had to make do with thin pages and broken pencils. When the recruiters came around and laughed in his face when he expressed interest in signing up, he’d set his pencils aside and committed himself to proving them wrong, proving himself worthy. He’d taken up art again a few times during his military career. His seniors praised him for his bravery and determination, his selflessness and quick-thinking. They swept him through the ranks at a dizzying rate. Where once he’d been a skinny, spotted teen barely able to hold his own weight, he became a leader, someone to trust. He never cared for glory or recognition. When his fellow officers went drinking and celebrating, Steve only longed for the gentle glide of his pencil over paper. His drawings from the time are long gone, having perished in a fire following the explosion at the base.

The man rouses from his gentle rest around twenty minutes later. Steve isn’t sure which stop the other needs but he’d figured he didn’t need waking up for a while yet. The sergeant stretches and sighs, bleary eyes focusing on his surroundings. Steve can tell the moment his eyes fall on the sketchbook. He has it angled up, tilted so the man can’t see his own slumbering image reflected on the page.

“You drawing me?” He doesn’t sound angry, only intrigued. Steve gives a short nod. “Can I see?”

There’s a moment of hesitation—he’s always been protective of his artwork—but nods again. He turns the book around, facing it so the man can see. He’d sketched the scene in front of him but traded the dark, dull view from the windows for a sweeping woodland landscape. The man smiles and reaches forwards to pluck the book from Steve’s hand.

“This is real’ good. You draw a lot?”

Steve gives a shrug he hopes comes off as nonchalant. “When I have time.”

The man returns the book and then extends a hand to Steve. “James. Most people call me Bucky.”

Steve shakes the hand in a graphite-smudged grip. “Steve. Most people call me Steve.”

Bucky gives a sudden, loud laugh at the joke. Steve grins.

Bucky leaves before they reach Steve’s stop and Steve finds himself wishing they had spoken more. Bucky gives him a lazy salute as he steps off the train. Steve twists in his seat so he can watch him until the doors slide closed.

He has a message waiting for him on his desk. The handwritten note says it’s from Tony but Steve recognises Pepper’s script. He delegates the morning’s tasks and runs through the team briefing. He doubts anyone is listening; it’s too early in the morning for thought. He sends his team off to their various posts and makes his way to the top floor so he can pry Tony from his workbench and have him run through the robotics trial with him.

He has almost the most clearance in the company, save for Tony and Pepper. Whenever he finds a door he can’t open, Tony usually taps a few keys and has him added to the access list. He has no issue entering Tony’s personal laboratory, even though Tony’s locked it from the inside. Coffee mugs litter the counters, all varying stages of empty. Steve doesn’t pretend to be adept at engineering or computing or robotics or whatever it is Tony has decided to be a genius in this week. The plans scattered about the room mean nothing to him, nor does Tony’s babbling. Steve thinks he’s talking to himself; he doubts Tony has noticed his presence yet.

“Stark, it’s six in the morning,” he says, joining Tony at the main bench.

“Time’s an illusion, Cap,” Tony replies. His nicknames are incessant and no amount of complaining will cease them. Steve’s been called everything from Cap’n Crunch to Goldilocks. At least Tony’s still lucid enough to be annoying, he supposes.

“You’ve been up all night. Pepper said I’m to get you to tell me about this robot security doohickey and then send you her way.”

Tony only pauses long enough to poke him with a screwdriver. “Don’t call my work of art a ‘doohickey’. It’s a fully automated, self-learning automaton that will be able to detect almost unperceivable threats.”

Steve frowns and leans forward to look at the diagrams and models Tony shows him. “Don’t we have people and JARVIS for that?”

He doesn’t need to look to know Tony rolls his eyes. “People are imperfect, and not everyone has a JARVIS. This is for consumer market, not private use. I need to test it before I present it to the board and they give me a gold star and sign me off to let the robo-department take over.”

“Ah.” Steve takes a step back and allows Tony to whizz him through the robot’s interface and how the programme should appear on his desktop at dizzying speeds. Tony’s already put it through a few test runs to ensure it can spot obvious security flaws and threats; they just need to put it in a real setting and see if anything catches on fire. Steve has a feeling he’s about to have an interesting few days.

He leaves work and stops by the bakery, then makes his way over to the metro station. He’s a man of order and discipline; he’s comfortable falling into routine.

Bucky is there again, entering a few stops along from the station he’d left this morning. He joins the travellers in the last carriage of the train and smiles as he spots Steve. There are no free seats near him so Bucky comes to hold onto the handrail nearby. He looks so perilously attractive draped against the pole that Steve almost forgets to be surprised that they’ve run into each other again.

“Done with work?” Bucky asks, sounding much more awake than he had hours ago.

Steve nods in affirmation. “You?”

Bucky shrugs. “Never really done.”

Bucky’s not there the following day, then only on the morning commute the day after that. Steve tries to quell a rising sense of disappointment within him. He’s only seen Bucky in the same place and time on a couple of occasions; he can’t attest to his routine or hold him to it.

The next time Steve sees him, Bucky sits beside him on the train. Despite the empty carriage, he leaves no space between them. He watches Steve sketch with observant eyes. Steve’s hunger for art has grown since his first taste, his urge to draw and capture memories mounting by the day. He purchased a new sketchbook to accommodate this; the first couple of pages are studies of Bucky’s face. He lets Bucky flip through them. He makes himself look away.

“You’re really talented, y’know?” Bucky says as he hands the book back.

Steve takes the compliment with a smile and resists the urge to shy away. “I’m alright.”

Bucky huffs a silent laugh. “If you say so.”

Despite to long commute, Bucky has no source of entertainment to pass the time. He checks his phone a few times and replies to the messages that pop up, but in general he keeps to watching Steve draw. Steve draws the main character from his book, a little goblin girl with a penchant for mischief; he draws the construction work who traipses onto the train and looks ready to fall asleep; he draws Gracie behind her counter with her wide, toothless smile. He’s working on adding her ancient cash register to the scene when Bucky sighs at something on his phone. Steve can’t see what the source of distress is and isn’t open to prying.

Bucky plucks the pencil from Steve’s hand when they’re one stop away from his destination. He draws a crude figure with a smiling face and waving hand. Underneath it, he scrawls a number and leaves him with a wink. Steve stares at the string of numbers for a while before he puts the book away.

Between his daily duties and Tony’s new experiment, he doesn’t have time to contemplate the number. He reads on the journey back and doesn’t see Bucky for the rest of the day. The number stays hidden within the book in his bag.

He has a blissful two days off over the weekend and finally goes for that run with Sam. Steve likes challenges, sprinting up hills and pushing himself to his limits, while Sam leans more towards long distance jogs. They meet in the middle, alternating between friendly chatter at a leisurely but not too shabby pace, and then racing each other to the nearest landmark. Sam wins the sprint to the lamppost and won’t admit to cheating.

They walk a lap of the park to cool down and pause to stretch at the end.

“So, any new guys or ladies?” Sam asks.

Steve only laughs. He’s amazed Sam waited this long to bring it up; usually he can hardly wait two minutes before prying into Steve’s love life, or lack thereof. “No, not this time.”

Sam sighs. “Steve, you gotta get out there some more. I’ve got some friends who are absolutely your type.” Steve knows he’s only looking out for him. He’d recovered from his time at war admirably and makes it his mission to help his brothers and sisters in arms do the same. Steve wishes that help would come with a little less matchmaking. “If you just take a step outside your li’l bubble you’d have all sorts of people throwing their numbers at you.”

Something in the statement flips a switch in Steve’s mind. “Ah, shit.”

“What’re you cussing for? You don’t cuss. Don’t tell me the idea of people approaching you is that taxing.”

“No, no. A guy gave me his number the other day and I forgot.”

Sam gives a bark of surprised laughter. “You forgot?”

Steve shrugs, skin darkening as a blush creeps up his neck. “We ride to work together sometimes. He’s nice. I meant to text him but…”

“A guy gives you his number and you forget about it and just call him ‘nice’? Eesh, let him down gently, Steve,” Sam says, amusement dancing in his voice.

“You know I’m no good at this stuff,” Steve replies. “He’s, uh, real’ attractive. Motorbike-riding, movie-bad-boy attractive.”

“’Movie bad boy attractive’?”

Steve only shoves him.

“You gonna text him?” Sam asks as they start walking to the park’s exit.

Steve nods. “Probably.”

And he does.

He spends an hour showering and cooking up something for lunch. Bucky’s number plays in the back of his mind and he spends a fair amount of his brain power trying to think of something to say. He’s never been one for flirting or hooking up with people. No one showed much interest when he was younger and he’d hardly had time to think during his enlistment. Now, it feels as if everyone is dancing to a beat he can’t hear, swaying in time to a rhythm he can’t feel. He can handle small talk and usual conversation just fine, but never is his life has he been accused of being flirty.

In the end, he opts for ‘This is Steve’.

Bucky
          I was starting to think you’d lost my number.

Steve visibly winces at the reply. He supposes it’s only fair; he’d left Bucky hanging for days.

Steve
          Sorry about that, I meant to text a couple of days ago but I put the book away and things at work got busy.

Bucky
          It’s fine if I overstepped something or misread some signals. You can tell me to back off and we can pretend it didn’t happen.

Steve
          No, really, I meant to text. Things have been a little hectic and it slipped my mind
          I was really glad when you gave me the number 😊

There’s an excruciating wait before the following reply. Steve busies himself with doing dishes and tries to stop himself obsessively checking his messages.

Bucky
          You at work now? Didn’t see you this morning

Steve
          No, day off today

Bucky
          Ohhh okay, having fun? 😊

The change in tone calms his nerves somewhat. Perhaps he hasn’t managed to ruin this tentative bond before it’s managed to fully form.

Steve
         It’s a nice change of pace not having to get up at 4 😉

Bucky
          Some of us heathens still had to get the 5am train today 🤢

Steve chuckles at the disgusted, digital face. He’s gathered from their quiet morning conversations that Bucky isn’t a fan of being such an early riser. He often spends the first half of his commute sleeping and the other half watching Steve draw with only the occasional comment thrown in.

Steve
          What is it you do?

Bucky
          Custom bike building and repairs

Steve
         Motorbikes?

Bucky
         IMG_20180932.jpg

Attached is an imaged of a sleek, gleaming motorcycle. Steve doesn’t know all too much about cars and vehicles, but even he can tell it’s a beauty.

Bucky
          Working on this bad girl for a client right now. Have to be in the shop by 7 to set up.
          I miss sleep
          What does it feel like to get up after sunrise

Steve
         Not to make you jealous, but I was well acquainted with sleep this morning
         ALL morning

Bucky
          My, my, captain Steve, is that an inuendo? You’re making me jealous.

Steve chokes on his drink. Innuendo hadn’t been his intention but reading it back, he sees how it can be read.

He chats to Bucky on and off throughout the day. Bucky stays at work until well into the evening while Steve cleans his apartment top to bottom. He thinks he’s probably texted Bucky more today than anyone else in his contacts. When they chat about their plans for the following day, Bucky announces that he intends to sleep for an incredulous amount of time and Steve decides he might head to a museum to go drawing. He promises to show Bucky the fruits of his labour on Monday morning.

When the work week rolls around, Steve runs through his workout, gets ready, and leaves. On a whim, he texts Bucky to ask what coffee he likes. He’s not really expecting a reply but his phone buzzes not a minute later with Bucky’s preference. Steve stops by the only café open at this hour and grabs them both a drink.

Bucky smiles at him like he hung the stars when he hands him the coffee. They board the train together and sit in amicable silence. Bucky doesn’t try to nap. His face looks weary and the bags beneath his eyes more pronounced. Steve knows the look in his eyes well; he’s seen it many nights staring back at him from the mirror.

“Rough night?” he asks softly. Bucky only grunts in reply but it’s all Steve needs. He bumps his shoulder gently against Bucky’s. He won’t push, but he’s here if he needs him.

As they finish their coffees and crawl closer to the city, Steve pulls his sketchbook from his bag and flips to the latest work. He hands it to Bucky so he can look through it himself.

He realises, as Bucky admires a detailed work depicting a Greek statue, that he hasn’t let anyone else see his art in years. He’s not sure why he showed Bucky that first day, or why he continues to do so now.

“This is crazy, Steve. You should do commissions or something.”

The compliment is touching, and he’s learning to take them more easily. “Thanks, but it’s just a hobby. Wouldn’t want to ruin it by making it a job.”

“You don’t have to ruin passions just because you do it daily.”

He seems to be speaking from experience, and Steve finds himself asking, “Is that you and the bike shop?”

Bucky gives him his trademark, crooked grin. “Sure is. Me and a buddy opened it when I—when I got back. Used to break into cars and shit when I was a kid, see what I could find. Figured it was time to put the mechanical knowhow to use.”

Steve’s brows arch at the confession. “You broke into cars?”

“Oh, sorry. Forgot I was with goody two shoes over here.”

His jibes come easily and effortlessly, and the haunted look in his eyes fade. Steve only smiles and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah.”

“Actually, I bet you were a real punk as a kid. Getting into fights, beating up nerds for their allowance.” It’s obvious he’s joking and Steve has to laugh at how close he is to the truth.

“Something like that but imagine me as the nerd. I was a scrawny little thing.”

“Adorable,” is all Bucky says. A minute or so passes before Steve can tell Bucky is mulling something over in his mind. “Do you like your job?”

Steve shrugs. “It’s alright.”

“Why’d you do it?”

The follow up gives Steve reason to pause. “I… I like protecting people.”

When he looks at Bucky, he’s giving him the softest smile he’s ever seen. The train slows as it reaches Bucky’s stop and as he stands to leave, he says, “You’re a good guy, Steve.”

 


 

Steve has a strict ‘no phones on the job’ rule within his team, something he’s never been tempted to break until now. Bucky has morphed from this dark, suave figure to a man who laughs at his awful jokes and holds enough history behind his eyes to put museums to shame. He plagues Steve’s mind, playing on his every thought. He itches to share anecdotes with him and complain about his colleagues, to just talk to him. It’s almost scary how quickly his thoughts turn to a man he’s only known for about a week.

When he checks his phone at the end of his shift, there are a string of messages from Bucky waiting for him. After hours of no reply, Bucky seems to have gathered that Steve doesn’t text at work. The final message sent is:

Bucky
          Coffee after your shift?

Steve
         Yes 😊

 


 

 

When he next meets Sam for a morning run, Sam has a skip in step and a gleam in his eye. He refuses to answer any of Steve’s questions directly. Steve assumes he got laid.

Steve falls into a new routine. He wakes up at four, works out, showers, dresses, and eats. He leaves for work just after five so he can stop by the café. He orders one two filter coffees, one with creamer, one with sugar, and drinks it with Bucky on the ride to work. Sometimes he reads, sometimes he sketches. Most often he sits and chats with a sleep-riddled Bucky and smiles at how endearing he can be.

It’s easy to be with Bucky. Everything between them is still new and exciting, but neither pretend to be perfect. Bucky has a temper that can switch at the drop of a hat and Steve will hold the world on his shoulders before he lets anyone share the burden. They’re bruised and broken, but they work. Bucky likes classic Hollywood movies, Steve likes animation. Bucky laughs at his cheesy jokes and Steve blushes at his ridiculous pickup lines. They’re boys who’ve become soldiers learning to be boys again.

When Tony asks what’s different about him, Steve only shrugs. Tony decides he got a haircut. Steve doesn’t correct him.

After work, he meets Bucky again. Bucky apparently sets his own hours and is happy to take breaks to grab a drink with Steve. He’s not entirely sure what they’re doing—it’s been a while since he last dated—and if he were more old-fashioned he might call it courting. He’d taken Bucky to be the type to sweep people off their feet and deflower them after the third date. Instead, they’ve taken it surprisingly slowly. After a week of morning coffees and post-work meetups, they’ve yet to call anything a date. Steve can’t imagine they’re anything but; Bucky makes him feel like a stammering teenager all over again at times.

By Friday, Steve’s questions are answered.

“Do you want to go to the movies this weekend? We could grab dinner and make a date of it.”

Steve smiles. “That sounds great, Buck.”

They watch some thriller with attractive actors and gloomy backdrops. Steve doesn’t remember the second half of the plot. Bucky had taken his hand and started playing with his fingers and everything after that was lost.

Bucky kisses him over desert. Steve had been in the middle of explaining a new exhibition coming to the Met, only to be interrupted by a sweet chocolatey peck that he knows they’ll follow up on after they’ve left.

Bucky walks him home all the way to his door and ends up pinned against it minutes later, panting into Steve’s mouth. It’s hard to pull away.

He runs with Sam the following day. Sam, once again, is at the perpetual edge of laughter.

“How’s the commuter guy?”

Steve looks up at him from the ground, where he’s knelt to retie his laces. “Good. Been seeing him for a couple of weeks now.”

“Nice, nice.”

Steve beats him in the sprint to the fountain.

Tony invites him out for celebration drinks the following week, on a Thursday of all days. Steve doesn’t recall doing all too much with his new security robot—he’d pressed some buttons on a screen to turn it on and checked it hadn’t attacked anyone every now and then—but Tony insists he come all the same. He doesn’t listen to any of Steve’s excuses and drags him along anyway.

Tony hosts the gathering in his own apartment, a penthouse that stretches an area five times the size of Steve’s own place. He has a fully stocked bar and knows how to make a dozen cocktails. Steve jokes that he’s surprised he doesn’t have a robotic bartender.

“That’s a genius idea,” Tony says as he pours a margherita. “Pepper, honey, can you jot that down for me.”

Pepper nods but does nothing of the kind.

Tony is a surprisingly gracious host and saves Steve from becoming part of the wallpaper. He refills his drink and takes him by the arm, circling about the room as he introduces his head of security to everyone.

“Used to be in the army, y’know. Real wholesome, apple pie kinda guy, this,” Tony says.

“Marine corps,” Steve corrects. Tony catches his uncomfortable gaze and swiftly changes the subject away from Steve’s military career. He’s done being the poster boy, all smiles and charm. There are other things he’d rather talk about.

An hour later he finds himself in deep conversation with a husband of one the company investors about art nouveau. When he next glances around, the sky is dark and the party is waning. He sets his empty glass down and excuses himself with a promise to check out the books he’d been recommended.

“Stark,” he says, catching Tony by the elbow. The man in question is several drinks deep and smiles at Steve brightly.

“Cap. You having fun? Don’t think I didn’t see you being a social butterfly over there. Watch it, though, McConnell’s married.”

“Flattering but I’m taken,” Steve says.

Tony’s eyes alight. “Are you? You simply must tell me everything. Who is she? They? I don’t know which team you bat for.”

“He’s great, but I was just gonna tell you I’m leaving.”

Tony claps him on the shoulder. “Shame. I’ll pay for your taxi, my treat.”

“You don’t need—”

“I insist.” Tony walks him to the elevator, tapping at his phone. “It’s already paid for. Anyway, thanks for coming, honestly didn’t think you would.”

The elevator arrives with a ding. Steve steps inside. He wants to question that last comment but lets it slide. He wouldn’t have expected himself to come either. “I’ll see you tomorrow if you’re not too hungover.”

Tony scoffs. “You know me, tough as nails. See you tomorrow, Rogers.”

In the taxi, Steve scrolls through his phone. The last few messages from Bucky bring a smile to his lips.

Bucky
          Stay safe, have fun
          Or get bored and come keep me company 😉

Steve
         Heading home now

Bucky
          Have a good time?

Steve
         Surprisingly, yes

 


 

“One day I’ll get you to just hang out with drinks and video games,” Sam says, or rather, pants. He’s bent at the waist, hands resting on his knees. His chest heaves with each breath and he glares at Steve as he jogs on the spot. “You’re some kind of sadistic machine.”

Steve grins. “Yep, engineered by the government just to make you look bad.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Sam pushes himself upright. “Speaking of drinks and video games, we’re having a gathering at my place this weekend. Just me and a few friends—you already met some of them.”

Steve considers it for a moment. “When is it?”

Sam grins. “Saturday evening. You can bring a plus one.”

 


 

 

It’s as if he blinks and the week blurs by. He’s only seen Bucky once by Thursday. Bucky bats away his worries by saying he’s just taking a couple of days off work.

Tony lumps him with another robot guard and a new programme interface to figure out. Steve’s been dubbed temporary Head of Physical Automated Security without really realising it. Tony assures him that he doesn’t need to do much, just make sure the ‘bots are on when he starts shift and haven’t broken anything by the end. Steve doesn’t believe him; Tony has a habit of making life difficult.

The third Thursday of every month is dedicated to meeting after meeting. Steve’s always been best in action and on his feet; he can’t stand listening to every single department’s monthly review. If he were a weaker man, he’d join the Head of Entertainment Technology in texting under the table. He waits until the meeting’s wrapped up.

Steve
         I was going to ask you in person but I didn’t want to leave it too last minute
         Are you free Sat evening?

Bucky
          Ah, sorry. Got a thing with a friend

Steve
         No worries
         Brunch on Sunday?

Bucky
          It’s a date ❤️

 


 

 

He wakes drenched in sweat, his ears ringing. He sits bolt upright. The world is off-balance. He clicks his trembling fingers by his ear. Nothing. Muffled. He can’t hear—why can’t he hear?

He heaves a great breath and clutches his hair in his hands. The door should be locked. He should be safe. His squadron should be safe. Everyone should be safe—

A bird outside caws.

It’s three in the morning.

He’s in Brooklyn.

Slowly, he releases his vice-like grip on his hair. His hands have started to cramp.

He comes to his senses and realises his face with damp with tears and sweat. His sheets cling to him uncomfortably.

The shower is mercifully cold against his feverish skin. By the time he’s dressed and come back to himself, it’s nearly four.

Steve
Are you awake?

Bucky
Am now
You ok?

Steve presses ‘call’.

“What’s wrong?” Bucky asks, voice rough with sleep but alert all the same.

“Bad night,” Steve replies.

 “You safe?”

Steve nods, then remembers Bucky can’t see and says, “Yes. Can you… Can you just stay on the line for a while?”

“Of course.”

They don’t mention it when Steve sees him at the station. He sits beside Bucky and Bucky twines their fingers together.

 


 

“Mr Rogers, I have a favour to ask of you,” Tony says, swanning into Steve’s office as if he owns the place.

Which he does, Steve realises in retrospect.

He bites back a witty retort he doesn’t really have the energy for, and instead says, “What’d you need?”

Steve finds himself in another meeting, doodling in the margin of the agenda. He’s only really here to look intimidating and authoritative. Tony wants to pitch his AI guards to the board, which means facing Pepper head on. She can pick apart a plan flaw by flaw until nothing is left but rubble. Steve is supposed to represent the success of the blooming project, living proof that someone else has seen it in action. He doesn’t listen to a word that’s said and goes to nap in his office afterwards.

His team head out for drinks after work and Steve politely turns down their invitation. He’d planned on going—and perhaps shoving it in Sam’s face; he does socialise—but the morning’s night terror has drained him.

He wants to rest and recover before Sam’s gathering.

He doesn’t see Bucky on the way home. When he shoots off a text, Bucky says he left work early.

“Surprise?” he says, when Steve sees him standing outside his door nearly an hour later.

Bucky has a bouquet of flowers in his hand and a bag from an independent art store in Manhattan hanging at the crook of his elbow. Steve pockets his keys and takes the flowers so he can bring Bucky into a tight embrace.

Bucky cooks them a hearty meal of pasta and meatballs—“Grandma Barnes’s recipe,” he says. Neither mind the garlicky aftertaste when they’re tangled up on the couch later, clinging to each other desperately like teens. Bucky has a hand up his shirt and his lips to his neck, working at a damning mark against pale skin. He grinds down against Steve beneath him and Steve can feel him smile at the soft noise he can’t contain. Steve suggests they move to the bedroom. Bucky grins at him wickedly.

 


 

Bucky wakes him early the next day, much earlier than Steve would like. Complaints flee his mind as lips trail down his stomach and dip beneath the waistband of his pyjama pants, and soon he’s sighing blissfully into his pillow.

He stays in bed as Bucky showers and gets dressed. He steals a change of clothes from Steve and Steve watches him hungrily as he parades about the room in his old shirt.

“I’ll talk to you later,” Bucky murmurs, leaning over the bed to kiss him. Steve’s arms wind about his neck and threaten to pull him down to the mattress. Bucky curses him. Steve laughs.

He lazes in bed until his hunger gets the better of him, then changes to go to the gym. He’s sore already but works through the burn. By the time he’s home and freshly showered, he has a message from Sam asking if he can come by early to help fix the place up.

“Anything that looks like it can be broken, move it.”

Steve’s brought over a pizza for them to share and they stick the game on the television as they get to work. They set out an array of drinks and mixers and put snacks into large bowls. Fragile objects are hidden and locked in the bedroom. Steve adds to the playlist for the evening and Sam promptly removes all of his song choices.

“Who’s coming, by the way?” Steve asks as they take a pizza break. He’d strong-armed Sam into reheating it in the oven rather than the microwave. The wait had definitely been worth it.

“Nat, Wanda, Clint, couple of other friends from work, James, the neighbour from downstairs.”

“James?” Steve repeats. He doesn’t recall meeting a James at the last one of these things.

“Oh, he just moved in about a month ago. Another Vet, actually. Cool guy, absolutely your type. What was it? ‘Movie bad boy attractive’?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Funny.”

“I know, I’m hilarious,” Sam says, through another bite of pizza. “I’m kidding, anyway. He’s hung up on this random dude he’s been seeing. Totally head over heels, won’t shut up about the damn guy. Maybe I’ll direct him towards you and you can gush about your boyfriends together.”

Steve laughs at the other’s grumbling. “I haven’t been gushing. I hardly talk about him.”

“That’s because you need to learn to share,” Sam replies in his therapist voice. (He insists he doesn’t have a therapist voice; everyone disagrees.)

“Yeah, well. It’s good. We’re good. I saw him earlier today but he was busy tonight so can’t make it.”

Sam shrugs. “Shame. I’m starting to think he’s not real.”

Steve shoves his shoulder. Sam shoves back. The pizza grows cold as they roughhouse and Sam reheats it in the microwave.

Guests start to arrive a couple of hours later. It is, true to Sam’s word, just a moderate gathering. There’s no overwhelming music or crowded spaces, which would be in poor taste considering the multitude of issues many of the guests face. Clint told Steve once that Natasha used to be a Russian spy and defected to America. Steve isn’t brave enough to ask the her himself.

He’s chatting to Sam in the kitchen when the buzzer sounds. Sam checks his phone and asks if Steve can get the door. Steve, thinking nothing of the smile playing at the corners of Sam’s mouth, sets his beer down and makes his way to the hallway. The buzzer sounds again in two short bursts.

“Yeah, I’m coming!” Steve calls.

He unlocks the door and turns the handle, then opens it to face—

“Buck?”

Bucky stands on the other side of the doorway, clad in leather and tight denim. “Steve?”

“What are you…?”

“Barnes, how come you live closest and you’re still late?” Sam calls from behind Steve. He turns to look at him, eyes wide and confused. “Don’t do the puppy look, Steve.”

“You little shit,” Bucky grumbles, strolling in and shoving his jacket at Sam. Sam snickers as he hangs it up. “You knew?”

“Wait, what?” Steve says, but no one seems to listen.

Sam’s still laughing at Bucky’s thunderous expression as he says, “I had to deal with you whining every day for a month. You gotta let me have my fun where I can.”

Steve, wheels turning in his head, finally catches on. His lips crack into a wide grin and he laughs when he catches Sam’s eye.

“You knew it was Bucky I forgot to text? We’ve been dating for a month and you never said anything!”

Sam shrugs. “Neither of you ever actually told me who you’re dating. Barnes says he met Adonis on the subway, you say you got hit on by a bad boy. Not hard to work out.”

“Adonis?” Steve repeats, smirking at Bucky.

“Bad boy?” Bucky counters.

“You guys figure this out yourselves, I gotta go tell Nat.” Sam excuses himself and darts back into the main area. Steve waits to see if Bucky follows, but he reaches out to take Steve’s hand instead.

“Was this what you were going to invite me to?”

“Yeah. Sam gets at me for not getting out enough. I thought it’d be nice to have you with me.”

Bucky smiles and steals a quick kiss. “Funny how things work out.”

Steve pulls him closer until they’re almost flush together. “Did you really gush about me?”

The sudden glare Bucky gives him draws a fit of chuckles from Steve, something Bucky hastily quietens as he pulls him in for another kiss. Steve smiles into the kiss and returns it gladly, nipping at Bucky’s lower lip.

“New rule, no macking in my apartment,” Sam calls, sticking his head into the hallway. “I mean it.”

Bucky huffs a laugh and takes a step back. He squeezes Steve’s hand as he pulls him along into the throng of the party.

 


 

 

Steve wakes up at four in the morning, silences his alarm, and kisses Bucky when he groans about how early it is. He runs through his workout until he’s sweating and panting. He showers and smiles when a familiar body slips in behind him. He dresses between kisses and eats the breakfast Bucky makes him. They leave and pick up coffee on the way to the station, and wait hand in hand until the train doors open to let them on.