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oh meet me, my darling, where the sun sets over the barley

Chapter Text

Weeks pass and Steve starts texting with Bucky more.

It starts out with them trying to coordinate another lunch get-together which, as it turns out, isn't as easy as it sounds. Steve works most days, as does Bucky, and between Steve having Lily and Bucky going to therapy and preparing for his next class, finding time to hang out proves to be a challenge.

But they don't stop talking. They stay in contact and text throughout the day and a little too far into the night some days, which usually means Steve has to down a little more coffee in the morning to get through the day but it's worth it.

It doesn't make Steve less scared. In fact, he's more scared than ever. It's one thing that these old and unexplored feelings have risen to the surface again after all these years but it's another that he isn't out to Bucky. Yet, that is.

He has never been with a man or explored that attraction more than accepting his bisexuality. So of course it terrifies him to have the opportunity present itself in the form of the man who left and disappeared from his life after... that happened. Who wouldn't be scared?

But when they finally do find a day to make lunch work and Bucky shows up with a bag from Howlie's that Steve sends him money for and Steve doesn't do anything stupid and his heart doesn't immediately burst out of his chest, he forgets to be scared and lets himself be in the moment, wrapped up in the warm feeling that Bucky always gives him.

After a while, Steve gets used to having his phone nearby even when he's home. He used to keep his phone put to charge in his room unless Lily was at Daniel's or out with Sharon but he's kept it glued to him these past few weeks just in case Bucky texts him.

And he does and does a lot.

Often it's to send him pictures of Titan to which Steve always replies with a picture of Cooper, sometimes one of Lily too. Once, Bucky sends him a picture in the middle of a work day and Steve only sees it when he takes a breather and inhales his packed lunch from home.

Bucky, 11:09AM:
ruff day at the office [img]

The picture is of Titan, because of course it is. He's laying with his head in Bucky's lap and the rest of him spread out on a couch that Steve knows belongs to the teacher's lounge at Xavier's. Titan is rolled onto his back with his front paws folded up to his chest and his back legs spread wide. The folds around his muzzle have flopped down, baring his teeth.

If pictures could talk, this one would snore.

Steve smiles and forgets his lunch for a second to reply.

Steve, 12:03AM:
Do you have a kid you didn't tell me about?

Bucky, 12:03AM:
no?

Steve, 12:04AM:
Interesting. I'm pretty sure that qualifies as a dad joke.

Bucky's response isn't immediate but it is quick.

Bucky, 12:06AM:
i'm in the teacher lounge, you dick. don't make me laugh in front of my colleges

Steve, 12:06AM:
;)

Bucky starts typing a response but Steve has to put his phone down and abandon his lunch because right that moment, one of his patients ring for him and he has to get back to work.

It's hard, finding time to hang out and have lunch together. After more than two weeks pass without luck, Steve starts to doubt that they ever will find time. But when he walks up to the nurse's station after helping a patient in the bathroom on a Tuesday, he discovers that just because they have a hard time finding time to see each other, it doesn't mean they can't still give each other lunch.

Claire is working the day shift for once and she's standing there with a smile on her lips and an almost teasing glint in her eye. She lifts her hand when he comes closer, a questioning furrow in his brow, and brings up a bag from Howlie's with it.

Steve frowns at her, eyeing her suspiciously.

“What is this?” he asks slowly.

“This,” Claire says and holds the bag out, “is your lunch.”

Steve looks at the bag, then he looks at her, no less confused.

“Your friend stopped by,” Claire says. “Looked like he was in a rush but he asked me to make sure you got this.”

Steve stares at her. Then, with his cheeks burning, he reaches out and grabs the bag from her. Claire gives him a pointed look but she doesn't ask any questions or make any comments. She just pats his shoulder and walks away, thankfully.

When she rounds the corner, Steve doesn't waste any time and peers into the bag. There's a wrap labeled veggie laying at the bottom as well as an oatmeal cookie that he knows Howlie's don't sell. It isn't wrapped in anything and, shit. It looks homemade.

His heart does something funny in his chest. He ignores it and digs his phone out.

Steve, 12:03PM:
Leaving lunch with my hungry coworker? Dangerous.

Steve is munching on the cookie—delicious, baked to perfection—on his way to the staff room when the reply comes.

Bucky, 12:14PM:
she promised me she wouldn't eat it if i got her lunch next time too

Steve snorts, smiling as he types with his thumb.

Steve, 12:15PM:
Getting another lunch partner so soon? Damn, Barnes.

Bucky, 12:16PM:
aw don't be jealous, stevie. you know you're the only one for me

His smile stiffens on his lips and his feet stop moving in the doorway.

Bucky didn't mean it like that, Steve knows he didn't. But his stupid, pining heart still warms and beats faster like he's back to being a teenager and the simple mention of Bucky's name could make his knees weak. This really isn't helping.

Steve swallows thickly, smile now gone.

Steve, 12:19PM:
You sure know how to make a guy feel special.

He doesn't wait for Bucky's reply. Instead he stuffs his phone into his pocket and goes to put the lunch in the fridge before he rushes back out with the last of the cookie in his mouth. He pointedly doesn't think about it for the rest of the day but when he sits on the subway on his way to pick up Lily from Sharon's place, of course his mind goes right back there.

 


 

you know you're the only one for me

It plays on repeat in his mind, over and over. He thinks about it and nothing else as he makes dinner though thankfully Lily distracts him with retelling her day while they eat. But as soon as the food is gone and Lily has put herself on the couch with Cooper, watching a movie to wind down for the evening, that sentence comes right back and replays in his head.

the only one for me

It's annoying, is what it is. He's not supposed to feel this way, not at thirty-five. He's not supposed to get so... mushy and weak kneed by someone telling him something like that. But Bucky makes him feel things no one else has and he never really did move on despite his attempt with Peggy, so of course Bucky still makes him feel this type of way.

Peggy wasn't a replacement for Bucky. She wasn't a distraction or a way to fill the hole that Bucky left behind. He really was in love with her and that romantic love burned hot for years and then it died out, little by little. He still loves her and she loves him. But it hasn't been romantic in years and it never will be.

She's not his person and he's not hers.

She has Daniel and Daniel is her person.

Steve doesn't think he has to look far for his. And that's terrifying, all things considered.

“Dad?”

Steve blinks and snaps out of his thoughts, refocusing on the dishes in the sink he hasn't been cleaning for the past... however long. He takes his eyes off them and turns to look at Lily instead. She is standing in the doorway, leaning against the wall with her eyes big and pleading and head tilted.

She's being cute on purpose and Steve knows what's coming.

But he still asks, “What's up?”

“Can I have an ice cream?” Lily asks and smiles sweetly.

“When's your bedtime?” he asks her instead of an answer.

The pleading look turns into a pout. She slumps against the wall and mutters, “In five minutes.”

“Then why would you have ice cream?”

“I don't know. Because I want one.”

“Too bad,” Steve says and walks over to her.

He bends down and picks her up under the arms, shifting her when she goes rag-doll with a loud and drawn out groan. She ends up across his arms, head thrown back and arms dangling. She doesn't stop groaning.

“Aren't you tired?” he asks as he carries her toward her room.

“No-ooooo,” she groans.

“Okay. We'll see about that when you're in bed.”

“I don't wanna sleep, da-aaad.”

“And tomorrow morning, you're not gonna wanna get up.”

“I'll be up all night.”

“That's gonna be rough in the morning, pal.”

Lily groans again, loud in protest.

Steve rolls his eyes and continues walking. For no more than a second.

“Wait!”

Lily grabs onto the door frame by her room and Steve stops walking.

“I forgot to change the day,” Lily says, pointing toward the kitchen.

“Do you promise to go to bed after?”

“Yeah. Cross my heart.”

“Alright, then.”

Steve turns and walks them into the kitchen. There, he adjusts Lily in his arms so she can erase and rewrite the day on the fridge calendar. She takes her time doing it but she always does because she wants it to look good even though it'll be changed again tomorrow.

It's important to her and Steve knows this so he says nothing and lets her.

“Done!” Lily says after a minute and then she flops back in his arms, smiling this time.

Steve smiles down at her and carries her to bed.

On the fridge, it says ten days.

 


 

“It's incredible how annoying everything over here is now.”

Steve smiles down at his hands as he folds another shirt and adds it to the pile. He has his phone lodged between his ear and shoulder which isn't particularly comfortable but he doesn't hear the other person quite as well on speaker and Peggy is on the other end so he can't afford not to.

“More than usual?” he asks her.

“No, I don't think so,” Peggy says. “I think I'm just noticing it now rather than turning a blind eye to it.”

Steve hums and says, “Maybe 'cause you've quit a shitty job.”

“It's not so much quitting as it is not coming back. My enlistment contract is up. I'm simply not renewing it. That doesn't mean quitting.”

“I know you have a hard time with quitting—”

“It's not quitting.”

“Okay. It's not quitting.”

“Thank you.” Peggy pauses, then she asks, “It will be good though, won't it?”

“Of course. It'll be good to have you home and not miles away.”

Peggy hums quietly. “I hate being away from home,” she says. “And away from Lily. It's awful.”

“She misses you,” Steve tells her as he folds a pair of Lily's pants. “Every single day, Peg. She's gonna lose her shit when you tell her the news.”

Peggy laughs in his ear, then she lets out a breath and says, “I can't wait to see her. Does she still have that fridge counter I gave her years ago?”

“She changes the day every day before bed and gets upset if she misses a day. Sometimes she wants to count down an extra day. I don't know if she thinks that'll make you come home sooner but...” Steve trails off with a one-shouldered shrug.

“I wish it did,” Peggy muses quietly, then she takes in a breath. “Alright. How should we split her time this time?”

“What we did last time worked pretty well, I think.”

“Fifty-fifty, even split?”

“Or whatever Lily wants.”

“Whatever Lily wants,” Peggy agrees easily.

“I think it'd be good for her to stay with you and Daniel the first week though,” Steve says. “And good for you too.”

He can't see her but Peggy's smile is in her voice when she says, “I'd like that.”

“Okay,” Steve says, smiling too. “That's settled then.”

“And you'll be okay without her for a week?”

Steve gives the socks in his hands a flat look and says, “You make it sound like I don't have a life outside our daughter.”

“Well...”

“Peggy!”

Peggy chuckles in his ear and he scoffs.

“I'll have you know,” he says, “I do have a life outside her.”

Not much of one, if he's honest, but she doesn't need to know that.

“Oh, I'm sure,” Peggy says and her flat tone makes him roll his eyes.

Steve hesitates for a moment, then he clears his throat. “There's, uh. There's something you should know, actually.”

“Oh?” Peggy says with interest.

“I ran into Bucky. About a month back.”

Peggy falls quiet on the other end. “You haven't mentioned him in years,” she says.

“There was no reason to,” Steve says. “But... he showed up again.”

“And?” she prompts.

“And it's been going surprising well. We text. Had lunch with him once, still trying to find the time to have lunch together again. But yeah, it's been good.”

“You know that's not all I'm asking.”

Steve lets out a sigh. “I'm scared out of my fucking mind, Peg,” he admits quietly after a beat.

“And you're not talking to anyone about it.”

Steve chuckles humorlessly. “Stop being a mind reader.”

“It's called knowing you too well, darling,” Peggy says. “Not mind reading.”

Steve stops folding the laundry and lifts his head off his shoulder, holding his phone with his hand instead. He's silent for a long moment, then he says, “I've been thinking about telling Sam.”

“Good,” Peggy says. “You should. And we will talk more about it too but I'm running out of time, unfortunately.”

“Right.” Steve sighs, scratches his cheek, and says, “Well, enjoy the rest of your deployment time.”

“Oh, I can promise you I won't.”

Steve laughs and Peggy laughs with him.

 


 

“I've been talking with Bucky lately.”

There's a sudden silence coming from the kitchen where Sam had been rummaging around but Steve doesn't look up from his lap. He keeps his eyes down at the kitten laying on her back there, paws slapping at his fingers as he wiggles them wildly above her.

Riley is sitting next to him, leaning against the couch with his good leg bend and his bad leg stretched out. In his hands and held against his chest is a much smaller kitten. He has his pointy finger in her mouth and she's nursing on it even though no milk comes out. Sam is getting the formula ready.

Or he was until he stopped.

On the floor in front of them, another two kittens are playing with each other. Jasper is laying lazily by Riley's side and Fiona is sitting on the couch behind him, watching over them as if they're handling her kittens and not ones Riley (and Sam, as much as he doesn't want to admit it) is merely fostering.

When the silence stretches out for too long, Steve lifts his gaze and looks toward the kitchen. Sam is looking back at him, hands stilled halfway through screwing the lid on a bottle. Their eyes lock and Sam dips his chin, raises his brows, and gives him a prompting look.

“And?” he asks after a beat.

“And,” Steve echoes, “Peggy thinks I should talk to you about it.”

Sam stands still for a second. Then he finishes screwing the lid on and comes walking over. He crouches down as he hands the bottle to Riley but he doesn't look away from Steve. Instead he makes himself comfortable there on the floor, Jasper climbing into his lap once he sits down all the way.

“Okay,” he says. “I'm listening.”

Steve takes in a breath and says, “I didn't tell you the whole story. About... that kiss.”

“You gonna tell me now?”

“That was the plan.”

“But?”

“But that's not what I wanna talk about.”

Sam nods in understanding and doesn't say anything.

“I loved him,” Steve says in a breath. “I never told you about him because I wasn't out to myself yet and it made me panic anytime I even thought about him. And I thought I'd moved on, after all these years and Peggy, but... I don't think I ever did or ever will and it scares the shit out of me.”

“But you're out now, to yourself and us.”

“But not to him. And I don't know how to... handle this.”

“Because he's a man?”

“Yeah. Because he's a man.”

Sam hums. “Have you thought about telling him how you feel?”

Steve huffs and says, “Sam, he disappeared from my life after I kissed him.”

“You're both adults now,” Sam says. “If you tell him how you feel and he leaves, that's on him.”

“I don't want him to leave. I want to have him in my life but... not as a friend.”

“And you think he doesn't feel the same way about you.”

“He didn't back then.”

Sam looks at him. He doesn't say whether he agrees or not but the way his lips tighten says it all.

“He didn't,” Steve says again. He blinks, then he frowns. “Right?”

“I don't know, man,” Sam says. “I don't know him. You gotta ask him that yourself.”

Steve exhales and deflates against the couch. He looks down at his lap where the kitten has latched onto his hand and is currently gnawing at his finger. He lets her, wiggles them a little.

“Okay, you've got two options.”

Steve looks back at Sam who is holding up two fingers now.

“You either tell him how you feel,” Sam says, “or you don't and work on moving on.”

“I don't want to move on,” Steve says because he doesn't.

As terrifying as it is, he doesn't.

Sam looks surprised. “No?”

“No,” Steve says. “I want to know what it's like to get to love him.”

“So he's an experiment.”

“No, he's... he's my person, I think. Or he could be.”

“Your person?”

Steve hums. He says, “Like Daniel is Peggy's and Natasha is Sharon's and Riley is yours.”

Next to him, Riley shifts. When Steve briefly glances his way, he sees him smiling down at the kitten that's happily eating from the bottle, held to his chest and ears wiggling as she suckles.

“I'm surrounded by people who have found that person,” Steve says to Sam. “I want to know what that's like too.”

“And you think Bucky could be that for you,” Sam says.

“I have a pretty good feeling, yeah.”

“Then your only option seems to be to talk to him.”

Steve swallows thickly. “And that scares me,” he admits quietly. “Even after years of being out.”

“Yeah, that shit ain't easy.”

Steve hums quietly. “And I'm scared he'll leave again too.”

“Well, there's been a lot of growing and maturing since last time. Give him a chance to prove that.”

Steve takes in a breath and nods.

“And if he leaves again, we know people who can make him disappear for good.”

Steve gives him a flat look. “You're not gonna get Natasha to kill him,” he says.

“Of course not,” Sam says, then he winks.

Steve huffs out a laugh. “Glad to know we've turned to murder after a talk about maturity.”

“He hurt my best friend, 'course we turn to murder.”

Steve smiles at him and says, “Don't go to jail for me.”

“You'd do the same for me.”

“That doesn't make it better.”

“No but don't tell me what to do.”

“Don't go to jail for him,” Riley says without looking up.

“Yes, dear,” Sam says without hesitation.

Steve scoffs but then he laughs.

 


 

Lily decides to spend the night at Daniel's which gives Steve a rare night alone.

He settles for something quick and easy for dinner and decides to eat on the couch. Cooper curls up by his side the second he sits down and doesn't even beg for a taste of his food, he just sleeps while Steve works his way through the plateful and watches some crappy television. After, when his stomach is full and the plate is empty, he lays down with Cooper and watches a movie that he drifts off to after ten minutes.

He doesn't stay asleep though. When the credits play, he makes himself get up and takes Cooper out for a long walk in the cool evening air. There's no rush so when Cooper stops every two feet to sniff at some new smell that catches his attention, Steve just lets him do his thing and doesn't stress.

The walk ends up being well over an hour long. By the time they make it back to the apartment, Cooper has been worn out and he heads straight for his bed in the dining/living room after stopping by his bowl in the kitchen for some water. He's fast asleep within minutes, his soft snoring filling the otherwise quiet apartment.

Steve can't deny that he's tired too so he decides to have an early night. He dresses down to only his underwear and a short sleeved shirt that sits loosely on him and then makes himself comfortable under the sheets, on his back and eyes locked to the ceiling above him. And of course, that's when his mind starts to wander.

It comes as no surprise that his mind heads right for Bucky. That seems to be the common theme, these days.

He lays there for a long couple minutes before he rolls over and grabs his phone from the bedside table, yanking it out of the charger. He lays back down as he starts typing up a message and hits send before he can think about it too long.

Steve, 09:10PM:
Hypothetically speaking, what would you say your favorite takeout place is?

Bucky doesn't respond immediately, not that he expects him to either. He waits for the bubbles to pop up for a few minutes anyway but when nothing happens, he locks his phone and puts it back on the bedside table. He rolls over onto his side with a sigh and closes his eyes, head on the pillow.

He doesn't even manage to make himself comfortable again before his phone buzzes and he doesn't so much as think before he rolls back over and grabs his phone. The smile on his lips in involuntary but not unwelcome.

Bucky, 09:16PM:
probably sarge's. their sandwiches are chef's kiss.

The smile stays on his lips even as his brows furrow in confusion.

Steve, 09:16PM:
What does that mean?

Bucky, 09:17PM:
that it's perfection

Steve, 09:17PM:
Ah. So it's an internet thing.

Bucky, 09:18PM:
you are such a dad

Steve, 09:18PM:
Lily would call you lame for using internet slang at your age.

Bucky, 09:18PM:
hey now i'm pretty young

Steve, 09:19PM:
Not to her.

Bucky takes a while to respond again, so Steve puts his phone down but doesn't let go of it. He lays it on his chest and drums his fingers along it quietly as he waits for the response, staring up at the dark ceiling above him.

He waits for a while but when his phone buzzes, he's quick to pick it up.

Bucky, 09:25PM:
see? i'm hip with the youngings [img]

The picture is of Bucky, taken by someone else. He's crouched by the side of a cliff with his prosthetic arm rested on his bend knee while his right is lifted and bend, hand held over his eyes even though he's wearing a baseball cap. It's turned backward though and giving no shade. His hair is put into a messy bun that pokes out from underneath the brim of the cap and his face is clean shaven.

He's wearing shorts that have ridden up his thighs in his crouched position, as well as a tank top with a low cut under his pits. It shows off a lot of his torso, tan and soft looking skin, and it shows where his prosthetic ends in the middle of his bicep. Titan is standing in front of him, panting happily, but Steve only has eyes for Bucky.

Bucky has filled out over the years. A lot. As a teenager, he was on the skinny side. Not as skinny as Steve used to be before he was put on the right medications but skinny nonetheless. He's gotten... thick in his adult years. Broad shoulders, thick thighs, strong arms. Not to mention how much hairier he is, even without the scruff he has now.

Steve takes in a breath, then he reaches down and squeezes himself through his boxer briefs.

“Shit,” he curses quietly.

He doesn't have the most active libido, never really has, and there's nothing erotic about the picture, aside from the sweat on all that visible skin. But something about that picture still hits all his buttons and he has to take in a deep breath and put his phone away for a couple minutes to collect himself.

When he picks his phone back up, it's only after getting out of bed and walking into the kitchen to down a glass of water. He's back in bed, sitting against the headboard with a pillow in his lap, when he types out a response.

Steve, 09:30PM:
That sentence alone proves you're old.

Steve, 09:30PM:
Also hiking doesn't make you less old.

Bucky responds immediately.

Bucky, 09:30PM:
i'm younger than you

Steve, 09:31PM:
Ten months younger than me isn't enough to make you young.

Bucky, 09:31PM:
shut up

Bucky, 09:31PM:
why do you ask what my favorite takeout place is btw?

Steve, 09:32PM:
No reason. Just curious.

Bucky, 09:32PM:
hmm

Steve, 09:33PM:
:)

With a smile, Steve puts his phone to charge and settles into bed.

 


 

If he takes a shower fives minutes later and comes with Bucky's name whispered on his lips because he can't stop thinking about him, then that's his business.

 


 

In the end, he doesn't get to even look up Sarge's before Bucky shows up with lunch.

Steve is mid-stretch when he spots Bucky coming walking down the hall with a bag from Howlie's in his hand and Titan by his side. He drops his arms and readjusts his scrubs—they're light blue today—while a smile grows on his lips, bit by bit the closer Bucky comes.

They talk a lot but it's been a while since he's seen Bucky in person. Three weeks, to be exact. He looks about the same except he's shaved the scruff that was on his face the last time Steve saw him, his face now smooth and that familiar cleft chin visible again. There's a smile on his lips as he approaches Steve and it only grows wider when he lifts up the bag and raises his brows.

“You got time?” he asks, coming to a stop a few steps from him.

Steve smiles, then he gives him a look and says, “I thought I was supposed to get the next one.”

“Yeah, well.” Bucky shrugs and says, “I had time and was missing my friend, so.”

Steve ignores the flip his heart does and instead pulls his phone out of his pocket. “How much was it?” he asks as he thumbs through his phone.

“A total sum of zero dollars.”

Steve shoots him a look, brows low and eyes narrowed.

“I'm not gonna let you pay,” Bucky tells him.

Steve harrumphs and stuffs his phone back in his pocket. “I hate you,” he says.

Bucky smiles at him and says, “Sure you do, pal.”

 


 

They sit down on the same bench in the courtyard again. Bucky opens the bag between them and hands Steve his wrap while he lays his own in his lap. When the bag is empty, he curls it up into a ball and tosses it into the trashcan on his end of the bench, then he scoots a little closer to Steve and leans back against the wall with a smile on his lips.

They eat in silence for a few minutes. Steve hasn't eaten since breakfast with Lily that morning and he's been walking up and down the halls on his floor of the hospital for hours, too busy to even think about food, so when he takes that first bite and his stomach makes an appreciative rumble, he lets out a sated sigh as he slumps back against the wall too.

It happens a lot that he forgets to eat or chooses to skip lunch because he doesn't have the time to sit down and eat anything. Sometimes he manages to grab something quick like yogurt or an apple or a banana but most days he doesn't. So a lunch like this is a treat and he turns to Bucky with a smile.

Bucky smiles back, mouth full too.

They sit there for a while. Then Steve swallows his bite and says, “Peggy comes home on Sunday.”

“Already?” Bucky lets out a whistle and says, “Time flies, huh?”

“Yeah. Feels both really fast and extremely slow.”

Bucky hums. “Lily must be excited,” he says after a beat.

“She is,” Steve says and smiles. “She started making a welcome home sign a couple days ago.”

“That's cute,” Bucky says, his smile softening.

“She does it every single time. She's getting real good at it too.”

“Must be from her dad.”

Steve huffs and says, “Yeah, she must've taken all my artistic abilities.”

Bucky's smile is gone in the blink of an eye. He frowns and asks, “You don't draw anymore?”

“Nah, haven't in years.”

“Why not?”

Steve shrugs. “Don't have time for it.”

Bucky is quiet for a moment. He says, “You should join me in therapy sometime.”

Steve turns to him. “You do art there?”

“Sometimes. My therapist likes to push me to go to these group sessions once a month and sometimes we paint. They played with clay once but...” Bucky lifts his prosthetic hand and says, “Clay ain't exactly easy with one hand.”

“No,” Steve says with a small smile. “I can't imagine it is.”

“It's fun though,” Bucky says. “I've gotten some ideas for a more creative approach to history for the kids at Xavier's. They seemed to enjoy it too, so. Think about it.”

“Sure, Buck,” Steve says. “I'll think about it.”

A silence falls over them, after.

Steve finishes his wrap with only a couple more bites. While he chews the last bit, he curls the paper up into a ball and throws it into the trashcan, then he leans back against the wall and lays his hands on the bench, fingers curled around the edges.

The bench is facing out to a big open and grassy area in front of the doors leading back inside. The doors are glass and wide and you can see people walking by inside the hospital. Steve watches them for a couple moments. But when he feels his hand being touched, he looks away and down.

Bucky has laid his hand on top of his. The touch is light, almost hesitant.

Steve stares at their hands, then he lifts his gaze and looks at Bucky.

“What is this?” he asks.

“What?” Bucky shrugs and says, “Friends can hold hands.”

“Sure.” Steve pauses, staring at him. “I don't hold hands with my friends though.”

Bucky is quiet for a long moment. Then, he slowly starts to pull his hand away again.

Steve grabs it and curls his fingers around it before he can get too far away.

Bucky looks at him, Steve knows he is. He can feel his eyes boring into the side of his skull but Steve doesn't look back. He stares ahead of them pointedly, pretending to people watch while Bucky's hand slowly curls back around his. Steve thinks his heart might explode.

They sit in silence like that for a while.

“You should know,” Bucky says then. “I'm gay.”

Steve turns and looks at him. He doesn't say anything, doesn't tell him he knows or had a feeling or anything like that because he knows better. Instead he sits there and waits for Bucky to continue.

Bucky takes in a deep breath and says, “And if you're uncomfortable holding my hand knowing that, then—”

“Why would that make me uncomfortable?” Steve interrupts him to ask.

“Well.” Bucky lifts his shoulder in a shrug. He says, “Straight guys don't usually like holding a gay man's hand.”

“I'm not straight,” Steve says.

Bucky looks at him, a curious glint in his eye.

“I'm bi,” Steve says. He's been out for years but saying it out loud still makes his heart race.

Bucky smiles at him. The relief that washes over his face is so naked and raw that Steve's heart nearly trips over itself. He doesn't want to make assumptions, doesn't want to assume that the relief is anything but relief that neither of them are straight. But by god, he wants to hope.

“So,” Bucky says. “Yes to the hand holding?”

Steve smiles, his cheeks a little warm. “Hand holding's fine,” he says.

Bucky's smile widens on his lips.

Steve tries just to breathe.

There are a million thoughts racing around his head and none of them are cohesive. The second Bucky brushes his thumb against the back of his hand though, every single thought becomes quiet. Steve looks down at their joint hands and watches Bucky's thumb caress him so softly, almost shyly.

Then he looks up and asks, “When did you know?”

“When I was a kid, probably,” Bucky says. “But I didn't come out to anyone until after my first year of college. My parents took it well. It took a while for my dad to come around but he's a proud ally now.”

Steve smiles a little. “That's great, Buck,” he says.

“When did you?” Bucky asks and meets his eye.

“When I was twenty-eight.”

Bucky is quiet for a beat. “Is that why you and—”

“No,” Steve says. “That wasn't a problem for Peggy. Actually, she helped me accept it.”

Bucky frowns and asks, “You weren't okay with it?”

“Far from it,” Steve says with a shake of his head. “I denied it for a very long time and then... well, I couldn't hide it anymore so... had to come out.”

“It's not a fun thing to keep secret.”

“No. No, it isn't.”

“But I'm glad you're out now.”

Steve smiles at him. “Me too.”

Bucky smiles back and squeezes his hand again.

Steve hesitates, then he takes in a breath and shifts his hand to interlace their fingers.

Neither of them let go until Steve has to get back to work.

 


 

It would've been a perfect time to tell Bucky how he feels.

But Steve doesn't. One thing at a time is all he can handle.

 


 

Sarge's is a nice, little spot in mid-town. There's an arrangement of tables on the left when you step in through the door. Most are filled with chatty costumers eating food when Steve steps in through the door on a rare Friday off just before noon, though it isn't quite as noisy in here as it is out on the streets despite the small space and the amount of people crammed in here.

To his right is a counter. It's tall and the guy standing behind it, wearing a hair wrap and disposable gloves on his hands, has his arms raised to rest on the top. Steve meets his eye and the guy tips his chin at him.

“You Rogers?” he asks, his accent heavy.

Steve nods and steps toward him. “I am,” he says.

On the way over, Steve placed an order for pick up because it seemed easier and quicker. He did some research on the place last night and people kept mentioning that it got busy around lunch so he decided to be smart about it. He can smell why it gets so busy though; it smells amazing in here and his stomach grumbles hungrily.

Behind the counter, the guy turns and grabs a bag from the table behind him. With it in hand, he steps back over to the counter and holds it out for him. Steve steps forward and takes it with a smile. He paid for it when he placed the order and left a tip as well but he still stuffs a bill into the tip jar by the counter.

“Thank you,” he says to the guy, smiling as he takes a step back.

“Good day!” the guy calls after him.

Steve nods and steps outside.

He makes it less than two feet down the street before his phone buzzes in his pocket. He continues walking as he digs into his pocket and pulls his ringing phone out. However, when he sees the number calling, he frowns and steps to the side and out of the way. He doesn't have the number saved but he knows the number to Lily's school by heart.

With a frown, he presses accept call and puts his phone to his ear.

“Steve Rogers,” he answers with.

“Mr. Rogers,” a female voice says on the other end. It's ms. Foster, Lily's science teacher. “Hi. I'm calling about Lily.”

“Is she okay?” is his first question, cutting her off.

“She's not hurt,” ms. Foster says, “but she says she's not feeling well and she'd like to go home.”

Steve looks down at the takeout bag in his hand. There's no hesitation or question when he says, “Okay. Tell her I'm on my way.”

He hangs up and starts walking the other way down the sidewalk. He doesn't put his phone away. Instead he scrolls through his contacts until he finds Natasha. He presses call and puts his phone back to his ear, walking a little faster toward the subway.

Natasha picks up on the third ring.

“Nat,” he says before she can say hello. “I need you to do me a favor.”

 


 

Lily's school isn't far away. He takes a couple stops on the train and speeds down the street for a good ten minutes before he makes it there. When he does, he rushes inside and toward the principle's office. The kids are in class so the halls are empty, quiet aside from his rushing footsteps.

Lily is slumped down in a chair outside the office, hands folded in her lap, chin dipped, her lips turned downward into a pout, and her feet tugged under the chair. Ms. Foster is sitting next to her though she stands the moment Steve comes rushing over to them.

Steve drops to a couch in front of his daughter and reaches a hand out to touch her cheek. He smiles at her when she lifts her gaze from the floor. She responds by deepening her pout, pushing her bottom lip further out and tugging the corners of her lips further down.

“Hey, sweetheart,” Steve says quietly as he caresses her cheek. “You okay?”

Lily shrugs and says, “I wanna go home.”

“Okay,” Steve says. He leans forward to press a kiss to her forehead before he stands and turns to ms. Foster. He holds his hand out with a smile and when she takes it in her own in a shake, he says, “Thanks for calling and keeping an eye on her.”

“Of course, mr. Rogers,” ms. Foster says. “That's my job.”

Steve smiles at her, then he takes Lily's hand when she stands and they walk out of the building. On the way home, Lily keeps her shoulders slumped and her face turned downward. She kicks her legs during the subway ride to their end of the city, almost impatiently, and she hurries to get to her feet when their stop is announced.

She seems to be in a rush to get home. If it wasn't because she holds her head a little higher the closer to home they get, Steve would think she had to throw up. She's not pale and she doesn't look particularly under the weather at all.

Steve narrows his eyes at her but he says nothing.

When they reach home, Lily says a quick hello to Cooper before she drops her bag and her shoes by the front door and rushes into her room. She doesn't close her door but she doesn't keep it open either. She just pushes it behind her, probably with the intention to close it but it stays ajar.

Steve is slower at getting out of his outerwear. He toes out of his shoes and puts them aside, grabbing Lily's to put them in their place as well, then he hangs up his jacket and takes Lily's bag to the kitchen where it's supposed to be. He puts her lunch and water bottle in the fridge before making his way to her room.

Once there, he pushes the door open and peers inside. Lily is sitting by her desk, shoulders bunched up to her ears and right hand working frantically with a pencil. Steve watches her for a moment, then he walks further inside and takes a seat on the chair next to her. He looks over her shoulder and resists the urge to sigh.

She's coloring the letters on her welcome home, mom! sign.

“Did you wanna go home because you're not done with it?” he asks after a moment.

Lily stops coloring. She puts the pencil down, leans back in her chair, and looks down in her lap.

“She comes home in two days,” she says in a small voice. “It has to be perfect.”

“Okay,” Steve says and brushes her hair out of her face. “But you understand that this wasn't an okay thing to do, right? You can't skip school like that.”

“I know,” Lily says and sighs. “I'm just excited.”

“I know, sweetheart.” Steve kisses her head and says, “You get one pass only, got it?”

Lily nods. “Got it,” she says.

“If it happens again, you and I are gonna have to have a conversation about trust.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Good.” Steve stands. “I'll leave you to it then.”

He walks out but leaves the door all the way open this time. She doesn't ask him to close it, not even a little bit, and when he looks over his shoulder, he finds her already consumed by coloring again. He smiles at her, then he heads into the living room where he makes himself comfortable on the couch. Cooper joins him, though he stays curled up on the other end.

He sits there for a while before he pulls his phone out and finds a text waiting for him.

Bucky, 12:08PM:
thanks for lunch [img]

It's a selfie, this time. Bucky has the sandwich that he bought for him held up to his face, a happy and satisfied smile on his lips and his cheek bulging out with a bite. His eyes are squinting behind his glasses and his hair is pulled out of his face, probably in a bun though it's not visible in the picture.

Steve smiles and saves it, wishes he could have been there to see it in person.

This is fine too though. Lily always comes first after all.

 


 

Lily comes out of her room a couple hours later.

By then, Steve has worn Cooper out with a game of tug-and-war and has moved into the kitchen to make some belated lunch for the two of them. He pauses when he sees Lily come shuffling into the kitchen with the sign held out in front of her, a small and almost sheepish smile on her lips.

Steve turns to her and looks at the sign. It has WELCOME HOME, MOM! written in bold and colored letters in the center of the paper and around it are drawings; some of hearts and balloons and what Steve assumes is confetti though they're just colored lines, and at the bottom is a drawing of her and Peggy.

Steve smiles, then he lifts his gaze to meet Lily's.

Lily meets his eyes, blinking at him.

“Mom's gonna love it,” he tells her.

Lily smiles at him, wider and toothy this time.

 


 

At the end of the following day, Lily changes the day on the fridge.

One day, it says.