are you busy tomorrow?
Steve stares down at the text. He's so consumed by it that he barely even registers when someone sits down next to him on the subway, only moving his leg aside out of habit. It's early in the morning and maybe his inability to process the words on the screen in his hand can be blamed on the lack of caffeine in him.
His alarm hadn't gone off this morning and his internal clock hadn't woken him up on time either, so he and Lily had to rush out of the apartment in ten minutes. Lily was the only one who got breakfast before they ran to the subway and Steve had pulled his phone out to text Natasha and ask her to walk and feed Cooper.
The message from Bucky had stumped him.
It's not a complicated text. are you busy tomorrow? is a yes or no question and one he knows the answer to. Tomorrow is today and today is Thursday which means he has to pick up Lily from her dance class after his shift at the hospital, go grocery shopping to figure out what they can make for dinner and then go home.
Yes, he's busy. But he could make time, if he wants to.
If he wants to.
Does he want to?
Steve locks his phone when the crackly voice overhead announces his stop. He stuffs his phone back into his pocket and gets up from his seat, heading out the doors when the train comes to a stop and they open. He rushes to work and does his usual routine when he gets there, saying sleep well to Claire and changing into his work shoes.
He doesn't think about the text. Or he tries not to.
But it must wear on his face because when he rounds the corner to the break room for a cup of coffee, Emily doesn't wish him a good morning like she usually does when they see each other but instead she frowns and asks, “Are you okay, Steve?”
“I'm fine,” he tells her with a sigh. “I'm just... tired.”
It's not technically a lie.
“Good thing I just brewed a new pot then,” Emily says with a smile.
“You're a godsend, Em,” he tells her and squeezes her shoulder.
Emily chuckles and pats his shoulder back before she heads out of the break room.
Steve pours himself a cup of still lukewarm coffee, then he leans against the counter and pulls his phone back out. He shoots off a text to Natasha and gets a thumbs up in reply immediately before he opens Bucky's text up and reads it again.
are you busy tomorrow?
He could make time.
He hesitates for a long moment, then he types and hits send before he can change his mind.
Unfortunately. Why do you ask?
He's a coward and he knows it. He has never been one to run from something that scares him. When Peggy told him she was pregnant with Lily, it scared him as much as it scared her but he dealt with it by reading everything baby and child related after Peggy decided she wanted to keep it. He dealt with it head on, always has when something scares him because that's his rule.
But rules don't apply when it comes to Bucky. Everything is different with Bucky.
Rules get bend and broken and ignored.
And Steve runs with his tail between his legs.
The reply comes when Steve has settled himself in front of the computer with half his cup gone and a patient report pulled up on the screen before him. His phone buzzes in his pocket and he doesn't even think before he pulls it out and opens the text.
too busy for lunch with your old pal?
Damn Bucky and his fucking charms.
Steve has always been a weak fool for him, even when he wasn't aware of his feelings for him. And eighteen years apart hasn't changed that because all he wants to do is scream sweep me away, woo me, kiss me, love me back.
But he knows better than that.
I'm a nurse. We don't get lunch breaks so yes.
Bucky doesn't answer that and leaves him on read.
Steve doesn't blame him. He gives him a couple minutes but when no bubbles pop up, he shoves his phone back into his pocket and goes back to work. He has a couple new patients on top of his four from yesterday who stayed overnight and while that's a lot, none of them are highly demanding and he doesn't have to run from one room to another.
He's busy because he is on most days but it's not overwhelming which is a rarity he welcomes with open arms. It's a nice distraction and keeps him from thinking about Bucky. That, too, is nice since he hasn't been able to get him off his mind in what feels like forever. And he wants to not feel overwhelmed, just for a little bit.
But the universe doesn't let his mind rest for long because right as his stomach starts to growl with hunger around noon, he steps out of a patient's room, looks up, and is met with the sight of Bucky coming toward him from the elevators down the hall, Titan trotting alongside him.
“Bucky,” Steve says, surprised and frozen to the spot.
“I know,” Bucky says. “I know you said you don't get a lunch break but...”
He trails off and lifts his right hand and a brown bag along with it. The logo printed onto the front in black ink is of a single and simple cartoon wing. Steve hasn't seen it in years but he recognizes it instantly anyway.
“Is that from Howlie's?” he asks, stomach rumbling quietly.
Howlie's was Steve's favorite place to eat as a teenager. He used to go there too many times a week with Bucky and get their vegetarian wrap for lunch. It was cheap, the owners were rowdy but nice, and it wasn't far from where he used to live.
He hasn't gone there in years. He didn't even know they were still open.
“It is,” Bucky says with a smile. “I figured, ya know. I could bring lunch to you.”
Steve looks from the bag to him.
“You don't gotta eat with me,” Bucky says, cheeks a little flushed. “I just... wanted to drop it off.”
“I'm gonna punch you,” Steve says, then he turns and hurries down the hall. “Don't go anywhere!”
He finds Emily in the medicine closet. She lifts her gaze and looks at him when he pokes his head inside, a smile already growing on her face but when she takes a closer look at him, the smile turns a little thin-lipped and her eyes narrow ever so slightly.
“What's with the face?” she asks him.
“I need you to do me a favor,” he says.
Emily turns bodily to him, hand on her hip as she asks, “What's the favor?”
“Watch my patients. Just for... ten minutes, tops.”
Emily stares at him, studies him for a minute. “And is there a reason?”
Steve feels his cheeks heat up. He mutters incoherently and shrugs.
“Oh, now you have to tell me,” Emily says.
Steve scratches his cheek and says, “A... friend showed up with lunch.”
“A friend?” Emily asks, prompting and with interest.
“A friend,” Steve repeats. “Please? I'll owe you.”
“Okay,” Emily says after a beat. “Go have lunch with your friend. But ten minutes, tops. I got my own patients to deal with.”
“You're a godsend,” Steve tells her, then he rushes back out.
Bucky is where he left him, standing in the hall. He has moved to the side though, out of the way with Titan laying by his feet. Bucky is looking at the wall, undoubtedly reading the poster hanging on there. Steve knows the poster and knows it's nothing interesting so it doesn't come as a surprise when Bucky's attention cuts to him immediately.
“I hope you can eat fast,” Steve says as he walks over, “'cause I only have ten minutes.”
“I can do ten minutes,” Bucky says and follows him when Steve keeps walking.
There's a bench in the courtyard. It's next to the shrubbery in the corner underneath a couple windows on the main floor and it's in the shade at this time a day. Steve used to sit here when he was still a student to get some fresh air after a rough day and he leads Bucky there now. They sit down; Bucky on Steve's left and Titan curling up by Bucky's feet on the ground.
Bucky reaches into the bag after setting it on his lap and pulls out a wrap. He hands it to Steve with a smile and asks, “Veggie wrap still your favorite?”
Steve's heart does a funny thing in his chest. “You remembered,” he says quietly as he takes the wrap.
“'Course I did,” Bucky says and pulls out another one. “You ate one four times a week. Makes it kinda hard to forget.”
Steve scoffs halfheartedly and says, “Shut up, it was cheap.”
“You'll be happy to know it's still cheap then. Well. Cheaper than other places.”
Bucky gives him a look and says, “Cheap.”
“You're not gonna tell me,” Steve says. It comes out as a statement, not a question.
“Nope,” Bucky says. He smiles and unwraps his own wrap.
“Buck,” Steve starts to protest but Bucky doesn't let him finish.
“Steve,” he says, firmly. “Let me treat you to lunch. For old times' sake.”
“You never once bought me lunch back in the day.”
“Because you didn't let me. Let me now. You can get the next one.”
Steve blinks at him. “Next one,” he repeats, keeping his voice neutral.
“Yeah.” Bucky smiles at him and says, “This ain't a one time deal, pal.”
Slowly, a smile spreads across Steve's lips. It scares him, knowing Bucky plans on this being maybe not a frequent but regular thing, and a part of him wants to tell him no or that he can't do lunch that often. Even after so many years, he still wants to run from this feeling, this attraction.
But then Bucky looks at him with that smile and all Steve can do is say, “Okay. I'll get the next one.”
They unwrap and eat in silence for a little while. Bucky has gotten himself the whole-wheat wrap filled with mushrooms, onions, spinach, and cheese, the one he used to get when he occasionally ate with Steve at Howlie's, and suddenly Steve flashes back to his high school time.
A lot has changed in the eighteen years since that time but a lot is the same too.
The way Bucky eats is the same, for example. He takes a decent bite and leans back against the wall as he chews slowly, enjoying the flavor like he has all the time in the world and savoring it. Steve still eats like he doesn't know when his next meal is gonna be; with an urgency and big bites.
He usually doesn't anymore because his financial situation is much more stable now than when he was a teen. But he promised Emily it would only be ten minutes and he doesn't want to keep her waiting. And, he hasn't had Howlie's in years and he can't not inhale it because it's just as good as he remembers.
“Tell me about your kid,” Bucky says after a while.
“What do you wanna know?” Steve asks.
Steve hums and nods as he takes another bite, this one smaller.
Bucky echoes the hum and says, “That's kinda young to have a kid.”
“She was unplanned,” Steve says around his bite. “Never unwanted but unplanned.”
“What does she like?”
“Dogs. Animals in general. Video games.” Steve pauses, smiles a little. “Dancing.”
Bucky looks at him, a smile growing on his lips and humor in his eyes. “Dancing?”
“She didn't get it from me,” Steve says. “I still don't have a rhythmic bone in my body.”
“Ah, I'm sure you could bust a move.”
Steve gives him a flat look and says, “I've got two left feet and you know it, Buck.”
Bucky shrugs and takes a bite instead of saying anything.
“People have tried to teach me,” Steve says, “and none have succeeded.”
Bucky chuckles quietly. “What kinda dancing does she do?”
“Ballet. She has classes on Thursdays.”
“It's Thursday today.”
“I'm picking her up after work,” Steve says and takes a bite.
Bucky smiles, soft and fond. “I bet she's such a cute ballet dancer.”
“She is,” Steve says, a fond smile of his own. “She's adorable in her little tutu.”
Bucky groans and says, “Stop, that's too cute.”
“Do you wanna see?”
Steve doesn't wait for an answer. He shifts his wrap into his other hand and fishes his phone out of his pocket. Bucky doesn't give him an answer either, he just leans a little closer while Steve thumbs through his phone to his gallery. It doesn't take much scrolling before he finds a picture from Lily's last dance recital. He taps it, then turns his phone to Bucky with a smile.
Bucky looks down at it and Steve looks at him.
Steve hasn't been this close to him in eighteen years. The first thing he notices is that Bucky smells good. He smells like flowers and summer and Steve catches himself before he can lean closer and bury his nose in the scent. The second thing he notices is the smile because his eyes drift down to his lips before he can stop himself.
Bucky's smile is small but soft and reaches his eyes. The smile softens his whole face and makes Steve's heart beat faster and faster. Those lips, pink and plush, still look as kissable as they did when they were teens and Steve wants to do nothing more than let his self control snap.
But he doesn't.
“She looks like your mom.”
Steve blinks, snapping out of it.
Bucky looks up from the phone and meets his eye, his smile no less soft.
Steve stares at him for a moment, then he sits back and clears his throat. “Yeah,” he says and puts his phone back in his pocket. “Yeah, she does.”
“I wanted to reach out,” Bucky says. “When I heard about... about your mom passing. But, uh. I couldn't.”
“It's okay,” Steve says because it is. “You didn't have to reach out.”
“Maybe not but I should've.”
“Why? We hadn't talked in a couple years by then. You had no reason to.”
Bucky is quiet for a beat. “You lost your mom, Steve,” he says quietly. “We were best friends once, the least I could do was give my condolences. And I wanted to but, uh. I kinda couldn't.”
Steve looks at him and waits for him to elaborate.
Bucky doesn't, instead takes a bite of his wrap.
“You don't have to apologize,” Steve says. “It was rough and I miss her every day but I got through it.”
Bucky smiles at him, small and one that doesn't quite reach his eyes.
Steve returns it and doesn't question it.
“Can I ask about Lily's mom?” Bucky asks, a minute later.
“Sure, go ahead.”
“What's her name again?”
“Peggy.” Steve says, “Well, Margaret but she hates being called that.”
Bucky hums quietly. “Sounds familiar,” he muses with a smile on his lips.
Steve smiles and looks at him. “You'd like her,” he says.
Bucky meets his gaze. “Yeah?”
Peggy would like him too, Steve thinks. She would like his wit and be fondly annoyed by his charms and she'd like his intelligence. Steve used to imagine what Bucky would think of Peggy, back when he first met her almost a year after losing contact with him, and he'd always liked to think Bucky would like her and Peggy would like him too.
Steve likes to think they would've gotten along from the start, if things had gone differently.
“I'd love to meet her,” Bucky tells him with a smile. “Some day.”
“That can be arranged,” Steve says, smile resting on his lips.
“How long until she comes home?”
Bucky blows out a breath and says, “That's rough.”
“Yeah,” Steve says and shrugs a shoulder. “But we make it work.”
“So you're raising Lily on your own while she's overseas?”
“Nah, I've got my family. Chosen one, at least. You've met them all, actually. Except one.”
Bucky pauses for a moment, thinking. “The people at the diner,” he says then.
“That's most of them,” Steve says with a nod. “You've met Daniel too, Peggy's boyfriend. And hopefully Lily's stepdad in the near future.”
Bucky smiles and says, “That sounds nice.”
“Yeah, it's pretty nice.”
“How'd you and Peggy meet?”
Steve shoots him a look, a small smile on his lips. “I thought this was supposed to be about us catching up, not me yapping about myself.”
“I like hearing about you,” Bucky says. “We can talk about me next time but I'm not interesting.”
“Bucky Barnes isn't interesting?” Steve scoffs and says, “The world must truly be ending, then.”
Bucky huffs out a little chuckle and nudges his elbow into his side.
Steve smiles at him, chuckling quietly.
“I met Peggy in my second year of college,” he says then. “I'd just finished a class, can't remember which one. She was out in the parking lot, standing between Sharon and this guy. And she punched the guy square in the nose.”
Bucky grins and asks, “And then you fell in love?”
“It wasn't love at first sight,” Steve says with a shake of his head. “But I definitely knew I'd like her at that moment. We had different majors and never crossed paths but one day when I was in the library, studying away, she came up to my table and asked if she could sit. I said yes, she sat down, and we became friends.”
“Only friends?” Bucky asks, a brow quirked.
“For the first while,” Steve says. “I had a huge crush on her but I was too scared to ask her out, so she made the first move. Kissed me before summer break and the rest is history.”
“How long were you together for?”
“Years. I think Lily was... three when I started noticing how our relationship had developed. We were more friends than anything. We didn't kiss, we barely slept in the same bed.” Steve pauses, pushes the last bit of his wrap up, and then he says, “We had a talk when Lily was five and decided to break up.”
“And how did Lily take it?”
“She took it fine. She was sad at first but when she realized nothing changed and we were happier like this, she moved on quick. Started begging both me and Peggy for a dog.”
Bucky smiles, wide and toothy. “Looks like she won,” he says.
“Well,” Steve says, a small smile on his lips. “Didn't take much convincing on my part.”
“Peggy doesn't approve of your dog?”
“She does but Lily wasn't able to convince her and Daniel to get a dog too.”
“Might convince them to get a cat though,” Steve muses quietly as he takes the last bite.
Bucky chuckles. After a long silence, he says, “So, Peggy's with Daniel now. You been dating anyone since the break up?”
“Nope,” Steve says around his mouthful.
“No?” Bucky raises his brows. “No one?”
“There hasn't been anyone I've been interested in,” Steve says with a shrug, cheeks flushed. “And I don't really date. It's just not my thing, I guess. And I'm too busy anyway.”
None of it is a lie. But sitting next to Bucky, it sits wrongly on his tongue.
Bucky hums. “Shame,” he mutters quietly, a beat later.
Steve sits up a little and curls the paper into a ball in his hand. He turns his wrist over and checks his watch, then he turns to Bucky and says, “Okay, I've got another minute left so tell me something about you from the last eighteen years.”
“Okay,” Bucky says with a light chuckle. “What do you wanna know?”
As he says it, he reaches around with his prosthetic hand and tugs a lock of hair behind his ear. It's directly in Steve's line of sight and the almost pointed look Bucky gives him afterward is nowhere near subtle.
Steve looks at him for a second. Then he turns and looks ahead instead.
“I'm not gonna ask about your arm,” he says after a beat.
“Why not?” Bucky asks. “I know you're wondering.”
“Are you in pain?”
“Not... all the time.”
“Okay,” Steve says and looks at him. “Then that's all I gotta know about it.”
Bucky blinks owlishly at him. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. Unless you want to tell me more, I don't have to know.”
Bucky stares at him for a long moment. “You're too good,” he says then.
Steve lets out an amused huff, cheeks a little warm. “I'm really not.”
“You are,” Bucky says. “Twenty years ago, you would've bugged me about it until I told you what happened in as many details as possible. You learned restraint over the years. That's amazing, for you.”
Steve gives him a sideways glance, eyes narrowed. “Backhanded compliment, Buck,” he says.
“I'm aware,” Bucky says and smiles. “I knew you during your worst years, I get to do that.”
Steve scoffs and shoves at him halfheartedly.
Bucky laughs and shoves back.
For a second, Steve almost forgets where he is but then his gaze drops down to his watch. He sighs, shoulders falling as he slumps against the wall. When he looks back up, Bucky's smile has dimmed too.
“My time's up,” Steve tells him with an apologetic smile. “Two minutes ago, actually.”
Bucky sighs and says, “That was a fast ten minutes.”
“Too fast, either way.”
“You're not wrong.”
Steve stands and Bucky follows, getting Titan to his feet too. Together they walk to the front of the hospital in silence, dumping their trash in a trashcan on the way. The front isn't as vacant as Steve would've liked for parting ways but they step over to the side and out of the way and that's good enough.
“Thanks again,” Steve says as he stops, standing in front of Bucky. “For lunch.”
“Sure thing, pal,” Bucky says, a smile on his lips. “Next one's on you.”
Steve gives him a sloppy salute and says, “Yes, sir.”
Bucky chuckles quietly as he shakes his head. He stands there for a moment, looking almost hesitant, before he takes in a breath and steps forward and closer to Steve. Out of pure instinct, Steve wants to step back or lean away but he ends up doing neither and stands frozen to the spot as Bucky steps into his space.
Bucky's lips touch his cheek and Steve's brain shuts down.
The kiss is light, Bucky's lips soft against the rough hairs on his cheek. It's brief but his lips linger there for a second too long before Bucky leans back and steps back out of Steve's space. Steve stares at him, cheeks burning hot and eyes wide with surprise.
Bucky smiles at him, small and almost shy, his cheeks a flushed and pretty pink.
“See you 'round, Stevie,” he says in a low voice, then he turns and walks away.
Steve stares after him, heart hammering in his chest. He stands there, stunned while Bucky and Titan walk further and further away until they finally disappear out of sight around the corner of the building.
By then, Steve has managed to close his mouth and let out a shaky breath.
“Bye,” he whispers, belated and to no one but the air around him.
Steve's cheek tingles for the rest of the day.
He doesn't stop thinking about it.
When he goes to pick up Lily from her dance class, his mind is still reeling. He makes it right at the end of today's class and moves over to the side where a couple other parents are waiting to pick up their kid as well as quietly as he can, tiptoeing and putting himself in the corner to be out of the way.
Lily sees him arriving and waves at him excitedly, bouncing where she stands on the floor.
Steve chuckles and waves back.
They're just about finishing off, the teacher talking about something that Steve doesn't pay attention to. He stares at his daughter for a long minute as she rocks on her heels and listens intently, laughing when the other kids do and sitting down when the others do, her knees pulled up to her chest.
He watches her for a couple minutes. Then he pulls his phone out and snaps a picture.
It captures her with a smile on her lips and her eyes bright as she looks at the teacher. Her tutu lays around her but flips up by her knees, showing off the new dance shoes that Sharon got her and the white leggings she wears underneath her black leotard. Her blonde hair is put up into a bun that was a lot less messy this morning when he'd rushed to do it for her.
It's a nice picture and Steve sends it to Bucky.
He pockets his phone after because then the kids get back on their feet and Lily comes running over to him, her smile wide and toothy. He bends down in his knees and catches her under the arms, lifting her and pulling her into his arms for a hug as she wraps herself around him.
“Hey, sweetheart,” he says as he holds her close. “Have a good day?”
Lily hums her answer into his neck, then she leans back and says, “We watched a movie in mr. Alleyne's class.”
“You did? Tell me about that.”
She does and while she does, Steve heads over to pick up her backpack and gets her out of her tutu and into her jacket. When they start to head for the subway to get back home, he puts her down and takes her hand instead but he still carries her backpack. She keeps talking the whole way home and Steve listens to every word, a smile on his lips and mind finally quiet.
Until they get home.
Cooper greets them with happy barks and a wagging tail. Steve takes him out for a pee after getting Lily situated with a pre-dinner snack and as he stands there while Cooper sniffs around for a good place to relieve himself, he pulls his phone out and sees the text that Bucky has send him.
Bucky, 6:01PM :
Steve's heart does that funny thing in his chest again and his cheek starts tingling where Bucky kissed him earlier. He smiles, small and private, and puts his phone away to instead pick up after Cooper.
He thinks about that kiss long into the night, heart racing and cheeks flaming.
He's sure that in the morning, things will be overwhelming again but right now, in this moment, he feels like a teenager in love and he lets himself embrace it.