Steve accepted the job offer at Oakdale Prep Institute mainly because Sam and Peggy wouldn’t stop giving him those eyes.
You know those ones; the ones that say: ‘I know you’re healing and you need time but how long is enough time?’
And Steve’s all-time favourite: ‘I know you haven’t been sleeping but I’m going to pretend I didn’t notice and keep ignoring those bags until you wanna say something about it.’
Steve hates that one. Because they’re right.
And coming back after two tours in Afghanistan to an old apartment with memories of his life before war: innocent and wide eyed with the foolish hopes of becoming an artist in his own right, was too much to look at and pretend it was all going to be okay. Like it was still a dream that could be made reality if he just stopped hiding out in his apartment or running the race track down Avenue Road until his heart was in his throat and muscles screamed like the voices in his head.
So he took it. Took a teaching position as an Art History teacher because he’s qualified for it and it was already what he went to college for anyway. He likes history and he loves art. He wants to inspire others. It makes sense. On paper.
The pay is pretty impressive. It’s enough to rent his apartment that has the most room on the third floor of a decent building and the military compensation proved itself a considerate help to upgrade his motorbike. Steve doesn’t have much to complain about.
He’s alive. He’s got a job and he’s alive. He’s surviving and that, that matters, he tells himself again, as he slips under and out of the arm of his girlfriend Carol and sneaks into the living room to sleep on the floor.
(43 days until)
“How long has this mac and cheese been in here?” Steve asks and pops the lid to sniff. The once orange cheese looks pale and anemic.
“Steve, did you hear me?”
“Hm?” Steve doesn’t turn around but opens the drawer under the sink and dumps the contents. That was supposed to be his lunch, goddammit.
“I said… I think we should see other people.” Carol says.
“I’m sorry, what?” Sam says at lunch time.
They’re sitting in the teacher’s lounge because Sam had put his foot down a week after the semester started and declared that their habit of going out to fast food chains next to the school was way too frequent that they either a) ran into students or b) ran into students and ended up getting sick of pizza and no one should ever get sick of pizza if they can help it.
So here they are, sitting in the nearly abandoned teacher’s lounge and Sam has his fork halfway to his mouth, meat ravioli hanging onto dear life before plopping messily into his Tupperware.
“You heard me,” Steve mumbles and cracks open his root beer that fizzles so quickly he has to latch onto it with his mouth.
“Yeah I heard you, but you proceeded it with ‘I’ll trade you a bite of ravioli for my Cuban,’ oh and by the way,” Sam points at him with his tomatoey fork, “Carol broke up with me before breakfast.”
Steve grumbles. “Well, that’s what happened.”
“And you seem so beat up about it.”
And that’s sort of the thing Steve is most uncomfortably guilty about. He had expected to feel something about it. But mostly, he just feels confused and a little clumsy. Like he forgot there was an extra step on the staircase and felt his foot drop too many inches, too fast.
“I’m not happy about it,” Steve clarifies and picks at his sandwich, tearing off a piece of ham instead of taking a bite at all. “I’m also just not that upset. Things had been fizzling for a while.” Which is true. Carol had been sending Steve non-cohesive signals in their last two weeks of being together and Steve could feel the shift in their relationship, like something was coming around the corner and she was secretly helping him prepare for it.
But the three months prior to that were fine. Great, even, Steve can admit to himself. He had fallen in love with her when he first saw her fly a fighter jet back in the army. The best pilot in the air force and when they went for coffee, the way she talked about flying, like it was the be all and end of all of everything she could ever achieve, Steve fell even deeper for the passion that burned in her blue eyes. She was strong, resilient and wickedly clever. He loved her. She threw a wicked curve ball whenever they’d play baseball with her work colleagues and never said a word when he woke up from a night terror, sheened in sweat and paranoia. Steve wonders belatedly, if maybe there is someone else.
He wonders if there is, they’d be a hell of a lot better for her than him. He still gets anxiety attacks and goes to bed scared of what his mind might concoct. If she’s happy, well, that’s all he ever wanted. That, he can guarantee.
Sam studies him in the way that makes Steve feel like he’s getting x-rayed, and worse, that he can hear all of his thoughts loud and clear. Steve barely bites down a ‘quit it Sam, I mean it’ but goes for another sip of his soft drink.
“Do you wanna come over for some beers after? I TVO’d Meet the Parents last night. Don’t ask why, but dude-senses must have been tingling.” Sam says and salvages his ravioli before dumping some on Steve’s plate.
Steve blinks. “Marry me.”
Sam sighs forlornly. “You couldn’t afford me Rogers.”
By the time the movie is done, Steve has had ten beers and can’t figure out if his stomach hurts because of how much fluid he has digested or from how much he had been laughing. He’s definitely the drunker of the two since Sam isn’t much of a beer-lover and opted for a bottle of red wine he refused to share.
“Oh come on Sam,” Steve whines even though he’s smiling and reclined on his own chair.
“Hell no, we are not ordering pizza. I have a well-stocked fridge no more than five steps away man.” Sam says and finally answers his phone. “Hey Peggs,” he’s still laughing and waves Steve towards the kitchen. “Nah I’m at home. Steve’s over.”
Steve feels the world tilt a little to the side and he has to blink a little bit before his surroundings adjust and walks on floating feet towards the fridge. It is stacked. But mostly of things that have been pre-made and would need to be microwaved. He goes for the freezer instead and wins with the chocolate caramel ice cream and digs for a cup in the cupboard even though, with all his heart, he wants to eat it from the tub.
Steve turns, spoon still in his mouth and is met with Sam holding out his cellphone for Steve to take but his face looks nervous and maybe even a little panicked. He shakes his phone again and mouths “take it.”
“Peggy?” Steve says, a little worried and takes it. Sam takes the tub for himself, and searches for his own spoon.
“Steve! Have you just been ignoring my texts?” She says, and Steve hasn’t checked his phone since he went home to drop off his bag and school notes before making his way to Sam’s. It’s probably stuffed between the sofa sheets.
“Uh – no? Why?”
“Oh my god – Steve. My wedding is in a month and twelve days and you still haven’t gotten back to me about Carol’s dinner request. Do you have any idea fucked up my seating plan is right now?” She breaks off with an aggravated sound and Steve looks at Sam, who is mirroring his ‘oh shit’ face perfectly. “Never mind that. Just, does she want halibut, beef or chicken? And did she cancel that trainee program she was going to conduct? Because, honestly Steve, if she didn’t I will murder her myself. The security clearance on this freak-show alone --”
“Halibut.” Steve blurts out, and he immediately wishes he can take it back but he can’t, because Peggy makes a satisfied sound on the other end and steamrolls onward.
“And it only took him an arm and a leg. I’ve just gotten your table sorted, with Sam and his sister, so make sure she shows up,” and just as Steve winces he hears Howard’s voice shouting something and what sounds like an explosion.
Peggy sighs. “I’ll see you a week before the wedding for our lunch. I miss you. Don’t be late.”
Steve lets his hand fall after she hangs up, slack and wonders where in his life he went wrong.
“I am so screwed.”
“No, no, not necessarily,” Sam says, setting the carton aside and Steve levels him with a disbelieving look.
“Look. Seating is a serious thing man. And that’s not an exaggeration. My little sister almost lost her mind sorting that shit out. You gotta deal with family, friends, people who get along, people who don’t, but then you have to make sure you don’t isolate any one and then there’s the band to consider, age groups –“
“Is there a point to this Sam,” Steve starts ‘cause he’s feeling his heart rate climb.
“Sorry,” Sam says and leans against the counter, eyes a little bleary and motions languid as he picks up the ice cream carton again. “Just find another date.”
“Sure, let me just spew fire out of mouth while I’m at it,” Steve says flatly.
“No, hear me out dude, seriously. You can explain it to her at the reception so you don’t stress her out more than she already is. It is just about filling a seat right? So you grab a plus one, boom: Peggy’s seating isn’t fucked up, you might even get laid and meet someone new and I won’t have to deal with the fatal loss of my best friend.”
Steve opens his mouth to retort a logical reason against this but closes it, eye brows furrowing. Maybe he’s drunker than he thought. Maybe they both are.
But all he’s got is. “How in the hell, am I going to find a date who would want to come to a wedding with me?”
Sam rolls his eyes and digs a huge spoonful of ice cream. “Oh please.”
Steve takes a cab home because that last shot of whiskey was a mistake.
He’s making his way up the stairs and sagging on the railing until he reaches the third floor and fumbles for his keys when he hears the familiar creaking of a door opening behind him. He drops his keys and sighs as he picks it up and hears an appreciative whistle.
“Hey there 3A,” comes a voice from across the hall and Steve turns, blinking a bit. It’s his neighbour -- Bucky -- who still thinks that’s funny. He moved across the hall two months ago, newest to the building. When they met then, Steve had brought over the batch of carrot muffins Mrs. Rush annually gives him on his birthday even though he has a severe peanut allergy but can’t find it in his heart to tell her because she always looks so damn happy when she delivers them.
(“Hi, uh,” Steve’s eyes flicked to the fixture on the door, “3C.”
Dressed in a black baseball hoodie and worn jeans, 3C’s dubious face cracked, his lips twisting like he was holding back the urge to burst into laughter. Steve wished he planned this further.
The man looked down at it and smiled. “Welcome basket?”
“Of sorts,” Steve said then. “Mrs. Rush downstairs just gave this to me and I can’t just throw it away – “
“And so you give them to me? That gross?” He peeked under the damp towel.
“I’m sure they’re perfectly delicious,” Steve frowned. “I’m allergic.”
3C’s eyebrows shot up at that and took the basket. “Oh. Well then.” And after, “Thanks 3A.” His smile was nothing short of cheeky and he winked before taking a generous bite and his blue eyes widened. “Is this carrot? Jesus. Can you put in a good word for me?”
“You don’t have to rub it in.”
“S’rry.” He said messily and swallowed, dusting off a hand to extend before realizing and waving dorkily instead. “And call me Bucky.”)
He supposes they’re friends. But that’s based on the fact that Steve doesn’t talk to anyone much in the building and he’s right there. Always making sure to un-mix their mail and there was that one time they bumped into each other at Starbucks and walked back home together. Steve’s never been that great at small talk but Bucky always made up for it whenever they crossed paths.
Now though, Bucky’s dressed well in a black leather jacket with a hoodie under. He’s smirking and Steve squints, there’s a cigarette tucked behind his tied hair.
Bucky just smiles wider, finding some kind of amusement in Steve and quirks an eyebrow when awkward silence falls between them. “Well,” he says, rocking a little and starts for the staircase, his lips curling and he does an invisible hat nod before trudging down the steps. His footfalls are heavy, leaving Steve feeling like he just got exceptionally and skillfully fondled just through his stare. This happens a lot when they share a space.
The more troubling thing is that he hasn’t ever had enough neurons within himself to figure out how he should feel about that.
(36 days until)
Steve wakes up with his mouth dry and tasting of stale alcohol. It’s almost enough to make him throw up. He’s never been so grateful for it to be a Saturday.
Instead he rolls over onto his side and looks at the time – 10:30am, and covers his face with his hands.
It takes an embarrassingly long time for him to get out of bed and pull up his tossed sleeping pants on and drag himself into the kitchen for a pot of coffee. He’s out of the good coffee beans and has to settle for instant coffee, and sets the kettle on with a click.
Steve doesn’t realize he let his eyes close to nod off standing up, leaning against the counter when he’s jolted into attention by the sound of his phone chirping back to back. It’s sitting on top of the fridge – what the – and he checks it to find two messages and one email. The email is from a student, asking for questions on a midterm paper that he leaves as unread as a reminder to get back to when he feels a bit more human and comprehensible.
The other two messages are from Sam. Each more puzzling than the next:
Sam the Man 10:37am: Just so you know, last night was not a dream. How’s that hangover?
Sam the Man: Also, rise and shine princess! Time to get a hot date for the wedding of the year! ARE YOU READY?
It’s followed by a link to YouTube which blares a track from Space Jam that makes Steve want to die and he exits out of it before it actually happens. And then –
The events of yesterday unravel dizzyingly fast: Carol, the wedding, Peggy, Carol. Peggy.
Steve curses and slides to his contacts and has his thumb over Peggy’s number but his finger hovers.
He could just confess to Peggy. Say he was drunk and an idiot and apologize and prepare to get chewed out. Promise her he’ll try his best to find someone to take her seat.
But then, he knows that won’t exactly work.
Because although Peggy has her hands full and has to deal with Howard’s side of the family too (which, honestly, is a case all on its own level) she’s still Peggy. Kind, thoughtful and understanding Peggy, who would just tell Steve to not trouble himself with it even though she would be freaking out internally on the inside. And Steve knows how much this all means to her. How desperately she wants it to be perfect. Knows it better than most. She’d tell him she would deal with it on her own.
Hell, it’s even more possible she’d refuse to see Steve alone without a date or partner at the rehearsal dinner because it would just shine a light on something Steve knows everyone else sees but he tries to hardest to pretend doesn’t exist.
The coffee pot starts to whistle and Steve makes for it just as there’s a strong knock on his door. When he pulls it open, safety lock still on, he blinks because he’s still not sure if he’s still drunk. Floored to see Bucky standing there, in a long sleeved shirt and grey jeans and smiling. Steve blinks owlishly.
“Uh, hey?” Steve says and clears his throat. He straightens and unlocks the safety.
“Hey, sorry to ask but I got locked out of my apartment? And I gotta wait for a bit until they can copy my key,” he drums his fingers against the side of the open door. “So could I crash here for a sec?” He says, and scans the inside of Steve’s apartment. His eyes are large, startlingly blue, and beyond distracting. Dark hair long and in a loose bun but his bangs frame his face and his lips are red against his pale skin that hints at a stubble. He is, for lack of a better word, really unfairly attractive.
“Uh, yeah sure Bucky,” Steve says and Bucky is walking in tentatively, getting a good look around, hands in his pockets casual as you like. He’s never been in Steve’s apartment before and he nods, appreciative. “Thanks man. I’ll get outta your hair soon. Wow, this place is huge. Mine cuts off right about here,” Bucky says and waves a hand in the general direction of where the hall turns to Steve’s bedroom. He’s still smiling as Steve closes the door behind him and heads for the coffee. He takes out two cups. “Do you take anything in your coffee?”
“Oh, black is fine. Thanks.”
Steve’s toast shoots out and he burns his fingers getting it out onto a small plate. Bucky wanders into the kitchen as he spreads hazelnut chocolate on one side of his toast. He clears his throat, finding it dry. “Do you want anything?”
Bucky waves a hand. “Nah, it’s okay. Don’t bother yourself.”
“Sorry for the coffee,” Steve says, “I had to use instant.”
Bucky makes an “it’s not a big deal” kind of expression and goes on, “been there man. We all can’t have grade ‘a’ coffee. Hell, I haven’t had a decent cup since back home,” and Steve watches as he takes a heavy sip and closes his eyes.
“And where’s that?” Steve asks, taking a bite. He holds back a sigh when the toast crunches, not knowing how hungry he was until the first bite. Jesus.
“Oh, Brooklyn. I know. Long way from home but,” Bucky raises his mug, “shit happens.”
There’s a heaviness to the way Bucky says that, dark, and he wonders if he should ask, but pushes it out of his mind, knowing and respecting those boundaries because he knows. God, does he know how badly privacy needs to be protected sometimes. Instead, he swallows and rests his plate down to reach for his own mug, standing across from each other. “Well, small world. Grew up there..”
“No shit,” Bucky’s eyebrows shoot up, that curling smirk finding itself a home on his face again. “Aren’t you just full of surprises.”
This guy, Steve thinks, half in awe and half in something else. Every modicum and nerve of him leaking and oozing with confidence and flirtation. Steve wouldn’t be surprised if he could flirt in his sleep.
Steve’s phone chooses that moment to blare his ringtone and he only needs to flick a look to the microwave time to know that it’s Sam, calling to drive him to Peggy’s cake testing. Bucky doesn’t seem to notice Steve’s sudden wave of panic because he’s torn; guilty on having to kick Bucky out and not entirely comfortable with leaving him alone in his apartment for the obvious list of reasons. Steve’s not sure how to translate this to Bucky, who is already wandering out of the kitchen and Steve leaves his half eaten breakfast on the counter, trailing after him.
“Hey, so – “ Steve says as soon as his phone goes to voice-mail. He knows he’s got about four minutes before Sam starts banging on his door. For a teacher, he sure has next to zero patience in the morning.
“Don’t sweat it, I think I’m gonna go for a day trip. Thanks for the coffee,” Bucky says, smiling and walks to the dishwasher, ignoring Steve’s insistence that he doesn’t have to clean up. “Any places you wanna recommend? I can eat two stacks of pancakes.”
“Well,” Steve starts, walking into his room and raising his voice so Bucky can hear, and throws his clothes every which way for an easy outfit. He settles on khakis and a white shirt, hopping on one foot to slide on his socks next to his bed. “Have you been to Maple up on 19th?”
Bucky’s laugh booms loudly from the other room, it rings almost joyously. “I’m not a masochist! I mean, you’d have to be if you haven’t! Their crepes alone.” Bucky calls from somewhere in the door walkway, politely waiting for Steve and Steve laughs, surprising himself, and comes out of his room, picking out some shoes.
“Then I think that’s settled,” Steve says and Bucky takes a step back, letting Steve go first to open the door. And when he does, the door of Bucky’s apartment opens slowly.
A guy walks out, looking around curiously and frowning slightly. Steve hears Bucky hiss out a curse and Steve stops in his tracks as the guy coming out of Bucky’s apartment studies Steve funnily, and then smiles politely before closing the door and heading down the steps out of the apartment.
It takes a moment for the cogs to finish completing the translation and huh. Well.
Steve turns around and there’s Bucky, peeking out from behind a pillar in the middle of the room and he at least has the gall to look guilty.
“Bucky, are you hiding from a guy you hooked up with by hiding in my apartment?” Steve says, jabbing a thumb behind his shoulder.
“Okay, don’t get mad,” Bucky says, coming out completely from behind the pillar. “But I had a little situation I needed to get out of and I didn’t want to offend you. Or give you the wrong impression.” He ducks his head, and Steve wants to kick himself for still finding it a little cute. “Sorry.”
“Are you – I’m not mad – “
Bucky raises an eyebrow and Steve opens his mouth but nothing wants to come out. “It’s just you could have just said. You didn’t have to lie to me.”
Bucky steps forward. “So, you’re not mad?”
“No, but I think that guy probably is,” Steve says and wow, he doesn’t know why his tone sounds like that. Bucky must have heard it because he’s straightening up a little and smiling again and his eyes gloss over just a little, but it’s enough.
Whatever he’s about to say is lost by the thundering of steps up the stairs behind them and there’s Sam, spluttering for breath as he reaches the third floor. “Jesus,” he pants and keels over, hands on his knees right when Steve wakes up from the fog that began to settle the closer Bucky came up to him and spins around a little frantically.
“Steve, we’re… gonna be…late,” he ends lamely, and looks between them and pauses. “Uh. Hi?”
Steve wills his face to stop blushing. “Sam, hey,” and Sam’s eyes flick to Bucky and then back to Steve and oh no. Oh no. No. No.
“Well, thanks for the help 3A,” Bucky chimes in and pats a hand on Steve’s shoulder as he exits through the door and Steve rolls his eyes. Bucky raises his eye brows in greeting to Sam who watches him go across the hall and into his apartment.
The moment the door closes behind him, Steve has all of about two seconds before Sam turns on him, giddy with a mischievous glint in his eye.
“Sam, don’t,” Steve hisses and closes the door, locking it quickly and then dragging Sam by his sleeve down the stairs.
“He can hear you, please, for the love of god shut up,” Steve pleads and hopes the thundering of their steps can block out Sam’s burst of laughter. Which, you know, slim fucking chance because Sam’s laugh can be heard from a two block radius as far as Steve’s concerned.
“Why don’t you ask Mr. Sexy Neighbour?”
“What?” Steve says, mouth full of cake and crumbs falling and catching on his chin. He looks at Sam dubiously. Sam rolls his eyes and picks at the pink cake with his fork. Vanilla strawberry marmalade cake. It’s a little sour for Steve’s liking.
“Ask your hot neighbour,” Sam clarifies and takes a bite. At this point, they’re just eating cake. Already settled on the lilac chocolate lavender. “He looked interested. And when I say interested I mean wants to climb you like a tree.”
Steve chokes and forces down the cake. “I don’t think that’s an option.”
“Why not? You have like a little over a month until the wedding,” Sam says. “Trust me, he’ll say yes.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know most people think you’re all innocent and shy and like, blushing virgin and everything. Which we both know you’re not. Remember that time in freshman year of college when I walked in on –“
“You promised you’d never bring that up,” Steve cuts in perfectly, just when the baker comes over to refill their tea cups.
“Anyway, my point is, I ain’t fooled. And it was obvious how badly you wanted to be all over that as much as he does. Don’t even try.” Sam switches their plates, which rude, because Steve called dibs on the caramel mocha when they first walked in. “So, bada-bing, bada-boom.”
Steve closes his mouth and leans back in his chair. “I still don’t know if this idea is brilliant or just really stupid.”
“Why can’t it be both?”
(33 days until)
The sun is only a few minutes behind rising, which also so happens to be the time Steve likes to hit the gym that's a part of the apartment. Normally, he'd be on one of the nearby tracks for his daily run, but it's raining and Steve has too many vivid memories of getting deathly sick in the rain and from its cold to even try. Some memories stick.
He shoulders open the door with the help of his gym bag and one of the treadmills is already in use. He doesn't need the guy to turn to recognize that it's Bucky. Running at a sprint and back of his thin hoodie collecting new patches of sweat. His shoulder blades and muscles are visible even from where Steve stands, totally not staring.
It's a tight space, the gym, and the sound of the door barging open makes Bucky turn his head, which is such a hazard, but his footing never falters and he smiles a tight smile in greeting and then gets back to it.
Steve shifts awkwardly on his feet and seriously considers just high tailing it out of there but also doesn't want to come off as rude. Or that he's running away. Cause that's not what this is. This is entirely strategic. But they are alone and it's kind of perfect timing to just go right ahead and ask.
Steve drops his bag and settles for the weights that are placed next to the row of treadmills and picks one up, Bucky lowers the pace on his treadmill.
"I didn't know you came here," Steve starts, he goes for the 30 pound weight as a start and Bucky's eyes flicker to his biceps before shrugging a shoulder.
"I don't. But," he shrugs again, a little out of breath.
"But?" Steve assists through his reps, counting to fifteen in his head.
"Uh, Melanie -- no, Margot, is still asleep and I told her I had an early shift. Just waiting it out." Bucky says like he's reporting the weather and not hiding out in the gym, running on a treadmill to kill time because there's a girl in his apartment.
Steve doesn't wanna say he's surprised but --
"Another one?" It comes out weird. And he desperately wishes to take it back, especially judging by the way Bucky looks at him.
"You going prude on me?" Which doesn't even make sense cause they barely have had enough time to know each other for Steve to turn anything on him. But it still stings. "Didn't figure you for the type."
"No it's not that," Steve says and switches arms, frustrated. He doesn't pry. He doesn't ask the question that's been bugging him, why Bucky just doesn't stay at their places if he's just gonna bail anyway.
So instead he lowers the weight. "I actually, have something to ask you,” oh god, he feels sick. Steve swallows down the lump in his throat, but far be it has ever been one to back down. Bucky’s eyes are still on him and he’s still running at a regular paced jog, waiting. “And it's gonna sound totally weird," Steve continues. His left bicep is starting to ache.
Bucky pushes his wet bangs off his glistening forehead. “Pal, we passed weird months ago –“
"Do you think you can be my plus one for my friends’ wedding?" Steve blurts and immediately wants to take the words back and run out of the gym and delete Sam’s name from his life forever.
To his credit, Bucky doesn't look at Steve like he's a creep and he doesn’t laugh him off. But he punches the emergency stop -- another hazard, Steve notes, and can't help but tag the term "reckless" at the end of everything that he's learning about Bucky.
"What? No dinner first?" Bucky teases and leans against the hand supports and he’s looming over Steve now from the height of the treadmill, forcing Steve to look up a little into his blue eyes. He refuses to look ashamed or god forbid, hopeful and drops the weight on the rack.
"Well there would be dinner there so," Steve counters and Bucky's smile only grows, finding further amusement in Steve’s dry humor. But he’s still damp and sweaty and Steve needs air more than he needs an answer.
Steve flattens his hair. "Look, I know we barely know each other – “
“Well I wouldn’t go that far – “
“And I know how it sounds,” Steve presses. “But I'd owe you big time. My other date sort of --" don't say dumped, don't say dumped, "had to back out and seating is a big deal-- or at least, that's what I keep hearing from Peggy, the bride." Steve breaks off and really wishes he practiced this. "Like I said, I’d owe you. And all you'd have to do is just show up and --"
"Be your date? Steve if you wanted a date all you had to do was ask." Bucky says and Steve doesn't know if he's joking or not and barely bites back a scowl.
"It's not that -- this isn't -- I'm not trying -- " and Bucky just laughs and it's so not unkind that Steve feels his aggravation fizzle.
"I'm sorry I'm not laughing at you," Bucky says and lifts his damp shirt to wipe at his forehead and his abs have a trail of dark hair. "It’s just," he shrugs again, easy and calm, "you're cute when you blush."
Steve clears his throat.
"So when you say you'd owe me--"
Steve pins him with a look. Bucky raises his hands, "woah wouldn't even think of it pal.”
Steve considers him and thinks it over. He's doing a huge favour for someone he barely knows. Neighbour privilege or not. And before he knows it, he’s saying it.
“You could use my apartment, if you ever need to,” Steve makes a complicated hand gesture which he hopes conveys ‘hide from your string of one night stands’, “again.”
Bucky's eyebrows furrow like he’s trying to decipher what the fuck is wrong with Steve until after a few beats, they release and shoot up. “That, my friend, is a deal.” And takes out his hand to shake. It’s warm and sweaty and Steve finds that he doesn’t find it gross at all.
Bucky lets Steve steal the treadmill after he finishes his reps and moves onto the mat for some intense push-ups. Their conversations dull into nothingness and there's only the sound of their panting breaths and the blur of the news screen coming in muffled murmurs until after twenty minutes, blindly sprinting, Steve has to stop.
Not because he's tired--which he is, god, he is, but he can never manage anything past 20 minutes before feeling the cool rush of the desert wind and the whistle of bullets.
It's an improvement. He used to only go five.
Steve isn't sure if Bucky stuck around until he was done or if they just have the same work out schedule because he starts to pack up the moment Steve does and before he zips up his bag, he takes out a small towel and wipes his head. His hair is sweaty and some strands cling to the side of his face when he unties his hair from the pony tail it was in.
"So how's this going down?"
Steve shoulders his bag and tries not to find the way his hair is sleek sexy in any way. "I already told you."
Bucky rolls his eyes and manages to make it look happy and humorous. "I mean you can't just want me to show up. Won't your friends ask questions about the random dude at your best friends’ wedding?"
Steve sidesteps that comment but still thinks, yes, Lots of questions. Because as much as Steve has dated in the past, his friends know he has a sort of type. And Bucky is not it. Not by a mile. "Uh, well --"
Bucky quirks his right eyebrow.
"You really haven't thought this one through huh."
"Okay, how about this O King of Plans," and he squats down to where his bag is still on the floor. His thighs are tanned and really well toned. Steve makes sure to look strictly at his hands that are digging round and really, that's not even marginally better.
"Here," he throws up a phone. It's an older version of a blackberry and Steve catches it easily enough.
Bucky gets to his feet and shoulders his bag. "Put your number in it and we'll work something out." And as an afterthought. "What are you doing later today?"
Steve finishes entering his number and hands it back to him. "I have papers to grade but that's about it."
"Cool." Bucky looks at the number and then smirks. "And to think it took only a wedding for me to finally get your number."
"Ugh." Steve says and heads for the door, Bucky's laugh following him out and Steve bites his mouth to stop his own. Thankful to all gods Bucky can’t see it.
By the time it's a quarter past noon, Steve is ordering Chinese take-out. Too lazy to make anything quick from whatever is in his fridge and his left bicep still hurts. He thinks he overworked it early in the morning like an idiot trying to muster up the courage to ask Bucky out.
He winces and makes a face at that mid leafing through the flyer. It's not a date. It is not a date.
He orders himself the beef chow fun special and two extra cartons of chicken fried rice and pork mooshu because in all likelihood he's gonna feel the same way about dinner and Sam has like, a homing beacon for Chinese food and he won’t be the least bit surprised if he comes knocking.
Steve grades papers in a particular way.
He starts off with an "A" at the top of every assignment and exam and then hopes the student doesn't have to prove him wrong. Sadly, that rarely happens. He frowns down at the essay that is clinging at the cliff of a C and guesses maybe his teaching style isn't up to par as he thought it was.
The door knocks and Steve jumps out of his seat littered with papers and markers and his laptop because he is a starved man and hopes they added the extra soy sauce he asked for --
It's not Tim, the college kid who dropped out to start a band. It's Bucky.
He's leaning with one arm on the door frame and a blue and white stripped sweater and dark jeans. His hair isn’t tied up today, but messily parted to the side. "Hey."
"Hey?" Steve says and his throat shrivels dry.
"Thought we could hang out," he lets himself into the apartment. He's not wearing shoes, easy and comfortable in plain socks
"Bucky, I'm a little busy." Steve starts, following him in a little haphazardly to where Bucky is standing at his table and staring down at the array of contents.
"Grading papers? How exciting." And he has a point. But still --
"I'm not asking for marriage pal,” Bucky continues, “I figured I should at least get to know my neighbour better. Especially if he's taking me out on a date." He adds teasingly.
"It's not a -- " and Steve stops and blinks at the spark that shines in Bucky's blue eyes.
"Are you --"
"Just rufflin’ your feathers pal." Bucky says and plops down on one of the chairs just as the door knocks again.
"You're really making me second guess this whole thing." Steve mutters more to himself as he opens the door and Tim nods a hello, hands full with steaming brown bags almost the size of him. "Thanks Tim," and he exchanges the bags for cash. "Keep it."
"Thanks dude!" Tim chirps and pockets the cash before skipping off. Literally. Steve chuckles softly and turns, arms full and kicks the door shut behind him. Bucky leans back in his chair so far it looks like he's about to teeter off. His face perks.
"If you're gonna be a pain in my neck you might as well help get some plates. Here--"
Bucky is all loose limbs and an even looser mouth with how much he can jump from topic to topic with barely a bump in transition. He decimates the chicken fried rice and murders almost all of the hot sauce in such a way it’s impressive, and makes fun of Steve when he says he doesn't like mustard on his spring rolls. (“You should be court-martialed.” He had said, and spooned more on his own even though it had started to ooze down the sides. Steve made a face.)
"So what do you teach exactly?" Bucky asks eventually, plate finished minutes ago with only peas left. Bucky doesn't like peas.
"Art history," Steve says and finally gets to actual grading. His hands were way too greasy to actual put pen to paper before and he comes back to the table after washing his hands. "At a prep school down on Harbord."
"Shit. Kids give you trouble?"
Steve tilts his head, considering briefly. They're all smart kids. Gifted. But that comes as a given. The GPA average to even attend at the minimum of 3.7. But Steve knows maybe most of all that grades count for so little.
"They're okay. I mean, not everyone finds Podkowiński particularly fascinating,” Steve reasons and Bucky blows a whistle, leaning on his elbows and resting his cheek on his palm. Steve thinks it’s the angle of his head and the sharp line of his cheekbones that make him look euphoric. Something otherworldly that demands to be traced onto endless sheets of paper. Moulded into granite.
“Frenzy of Exultions? That’s one of my favourite pieces. What losers,” Bucky says and Steve can’t help how his eyebrows shoot up in surprise.
“You’ve heard of him?”
Bucky shrugs and blows up a sigh that makes his bangs puff. “It’s his most popular piece, isn’t it? Grew up in Eastern Europe as a kid. Saw a lot of art and oil paintings are kind of my favourite.”
Suddenly intrigued, Steve leans forward and there’s another tug there that pulls him into Bucky’s orbit. “What else have you seen?”
“Lots of stuff. Judith Beheading Holofernes, Raphael’s St. Michael painting where he’s kicking Satan’s ass or whatever,” Bucky ticks off his fingers. “Oh, and Munch’s Madonna is pretty cool up close. It’s safe to say that Leo’s John the Baptist painting is my favourite. Gives me the fucking creeps. But it’s something else.”
“Wow, I have to say Bucky, I’m impressed.”
Bucky pulls one of the essays towards himself. “Impressed that I’m not just a pretty face?”
Steve frowns a little, eyeing the paper he was in the middle of grading. “Uh, I don’t think you should be reading that.”
“Why not? Four eyes are better than one. Unless, you were in middle school in the 90’s – “
“It’s kinda confidential.” Steve says and makes to pull it back but Bucky holds it to his chest. Steve lets his hand drop on the table and looks at him flatly.
“Are we really doing this?”
Bucky blinks at him faux-innocently but his eyes glint mischief. “I’m not doing anything.”
“Bucky. Give me that paper back.”
He gets a petulant cheeky grin instead.
“Bucky, oh my god –“
Steve makes to swipe it but Bucky gets up from his seat, grinning wide now and Steve lunges for it.
“You’re gonna have to take it Michaelangelo – woah – hey, shit, you’re fast – “ Bucky ducks though and moves the paper out of reach and makes to use the couch as an obstacle. Steve is on the other side and they both feign sides at each other like two kids on a school yard. Bucky’s giggling is stupidly infectious and Steve fights the curl of his mouth.
“I’m serious Bucky!”
“But you see, ya don’t sound serious, let’s see what this is about. Oh, you’re studying Russian Expressionism? Too blocky for my tastes – fuck!” Bucky runs around the couch, but Steve is faster and lunges at him and he has Bucky in a make-shift hold. Bucky holding the paper stretched out ahead of him while Steve has him a little doubled over, but his grip not letting him reach it without having to shift and risk letting him escape.
Laughing it out probably doesn’t present any level of seriousness. But Bucky is laughing harder, and says through giggles. “Maybe that’s why they’re sucking so hard. You chose the most boring – “
The door clicks open and they both look up to Sam in the doorway, keys in one hand and a bag in the other. He looks between them and their gasping, interlocked bodies and --
Steve and Bucky jolt a part and Steve’s face flushes and burns. Sam’s shock and confusion turns quickly into a look Steve really wishes he would stop.
“Sam, uh, hey, this isn’t – this is Bucky.” Steve says and points to him as if he even needs to and Sam drops his spare key on the counter and nods.
“I think we’ve met before. Briefly. But.” Sam says and walks up to them and they clasp hands in a firm shake. Bucky’s hair is beyond mussed and Steve sees his chance and takes it, swipes the paper and tries to smooth out the little dimples Bucky’s fingers indented.
“Yeah, sorry I had to bail last time.” Bucky says and tries to flatten his hair. Steve wishes he wouldn’t. There’s still an awkward and deliberate negative space between them that is buzzing. Like they’re two of the same ends of a magnetic pole wishing hard to be close again. Sam totally notices it.
“Well you got any place to be now?” Sam asks, and drops his plastic bag on the counter with office supplies.
“Not for,” Bucky checks his watch. “Another two hours, exactly.”
“Sweet. Cause I just had to pretend I was full just so Peggy would stop feeding me some of her gluten-free quinoa sliders that she’s thinking as an actual hordeuve option. Seriously dude,” he turns to Steve and pops open the now lukewarm carton of spring rolls and dunks it generously in mustard. “We gotta talk her outta that insanity. She doesn’t listen to me.”
Steve barely bites back a, she doesn’t really listen to me either. “Shit. She’s only doing that ‘cause Sharon’s on a new health regime.” Steve says, and tries not to be too obvious as he slides his papers and binders off the desk in hopes to dodge the fall of crumbs from Sam’s bite.
“Yeah, which Carol put her on in the first place.” Sam chews and says to Bucky. “I thank God every day that Steve doesn’t like mustard. But like, who doesn’t like mustard?”
Bucky laughs lightly. “That’s what I said.” Totally oblivious to how Steve’s breathing hitches at the reminder of Carol and not telling Peggy. She’s going through all this just to make him and his imaginary-not-anymore girlfriend happy.
“Speaking of Carol,” Sam starts and Steve eyes him dangerously. “Got any plans on who you’re gonna take now?” Steve mentally notes to kill Sam. Immediately.
Bucky turns to Steve, eyes doing that crinkly thing at the sides. “Actually, I think we’ve just got that covered. Steve asked me to go with him and I sort of owe him a favour,” he shrugs like it’s nothing and that’s when he negates their space and moves in close to snake an arm around Steve’s waist and rubs his sides nicely. It could pass off as friendly, except it totally is not and Steve bites down a shudder but his obliques say otherwise and quiver. Bucky has to know. Has to have felt it.
“Oh really?” Sam says, mid bite of his second one and his brown eyes dart between them. It’s only because Steve knows Sam like the back of his hand that he can detect the smugness behind his smile. And even so, Steve’s brain is fogged and hazy over Bucky being so close and intimate.
“Uh,” Steve starts and what the hell, is he sweating? “Yeah, it’s – “ and Bucky squeezes his hipbone, hard. Get it together.
“It’s no big deal,” Bucky cuts in, smoothly.
“Oh thank god, I was worried we were going to have to face the righteous fury that is Mrs. Carter.” Sam says dramatically and thankfully dragging Steve out of the dangerous and blurry spiral that is everything Bucky. “So, Bucky, please tell me you don’t want to suffer through fake-meat sliders. Otherwise I’ll have some bad news for you buddy.”
“Even I have boundaries Sam. What’s the menu like?”
Bucky easily falls into Steve’s small little world without any rupture or displacement. Bucky leans on him from time to time, banter quick and natural as breathing but always makes sure to not invade his space or lean too much and keeps his hands to himself more often than not. It’s like he’s purposefully reigning it in to not come off possessive or inherently creepy for Steve’s benefit. As if to make sure Steve doesn’t think he’s taking this all for granted and twisting their deal into something pervasive.
So he does it sparingly and buddies around with Sam. Sam, who is all too eager to quip back in and crack jokes. Steve sits back in his seat, watching Sam tell Bucky the time where Steve got food poisoning from the school cafeteria because even though there was only half a burrito left, Steve has a thing about throwing away food and thought eating around the funny coloured spot would make a difference. (“The dumbass,” Sam laughed and Bucky smiled, although it looked forced and a little pained.)
Bucky actually does have to go two hours later and offers to pack what little is left into the fridge. Sam winks at Steve as Bucky carries the boxes into the kitchen and gives him the ‘a-ok’ sign. Steve rolls his eyes and gets to his feet to walk Bucky to the door.
“You got class tomorrow right?” Bucky says, digging his hands into his jean pockets.
“It is a Monday,” Steve says sarcastically and Bucky quirks his head, smiling almost fondly. Steve fidgets.
“Okay smartass, I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Later Sam,” he calls over Steve’s shoulder, even though he can’t see him from where he’s sitting around the corner anyway. Sam shouts back a distracted goodbye and Bucky smiles a little wistfully before turning back to Steve.
“Catch you soon 3A,” Bucky says cheekily and Steve huffs, his bangs fluttering.
“That will never get old for you will it?”
“Nope.” He pops the ‘p’.
Steve grins and something in Bucky’s eyes change and his expressions slips. He lets out a rush of breath, it’s a little choked, and before Steve can wrap his head around it he’s already heading for the door on a spin of his heel.
He almost ran out, in Steve’s opinion.
“Dude, for real?” Sam asks, coming up from behind Steve when he realized he wasn’t moving from the door way.
“Hm?” Steve turns to Sam who has his arms crossed, muscles bulging from beneath his cardigan and he’s giving Steve that enduring smile. That smile that says –
“You know, I expected you to ask him but I didn’t expect you to actually like him,” Sam says proudly.
Steve tries for the blasé and shrugs. “He’s a little unorthodox but I guess I have you to thank for breaking me into that.”
“You just want some recognition that this was all your bright idea,” Steve says and moves past him to the living room table to sort out this books. Sam follows him.
“No, I don’t need you to tell me how much of a fucking genius I am. But you do like him.”
“I just said that.” Steve says and feels the pressure on his chest, the prickle up his spine and he really doesn’t want Sam to say what he knows he wants to say. This whole conversation tip-toeing too close to the issue at hand that Steve desperately, wants to avoid. He knows what they think. But this? This doesn’t change --
“I meant like him like him.” And of course, Sam has to go ahead and take that step. Steve sighs and presses his eyes shut.
“I’m sorry if I’m making things uncomfortable for you Steve, but from what I just saw, I haven’t seen you so relaxed. Like, even before before, you know?” And Steve nods, eyes still shut because he knows it’s true. He’s not oblivious nor stupid. It’s just, thinking about it and about Bucky -- this free, wild, spontaneous, out of control whirlwind is too reckless to seriously consider. There’s a difference between what he might want and what he needs. And what Steve needs is stability. Not this.
“Could be something good,” Sam suggests, and when Steve opens his eyes, Sam is smiling softly.
“Yeah,” Steve lies. “Could be.” And doesn’t think about his agreement with Bucky and how most likely somewhere out there right now, Bucky is with someone else and will be falling into bed with them. Only to be here again and Steve can do nothing about it.
(30 days until)
“Remind me to give you a key.” Steve says three days later, hazy with sleep and dressed in a well-worn and a little threadbare Alice in Chains shirt. Bucky knocks at ten to eight in the morning, leaning on the door frame with a row of red marks along the line of his stubble and downward. Bucky grunts and lets himself in as Steve retreads to the bathroom for a shower
When he gets back, Bucky’s laying on the couch and holding a pillow to his chest. His eyes are still open but every muscle in his body looks bent out of shape. Comfortable in jogging pants and a hoodie zipped half way down his chest showing a trail of hair in the centre,
“Rough night?” Steve opens the fridge for a bottle of water.
Bucky shrugs lazily. “I mean, not any different than the rest. This one’s an early riser. A,” he breaks off on a yawn. “A pediatrician.”
Steve ignores the way his stomach does a hollow twist and takes a gracious gulp of water, walking to Bucky and tossing him the rest. “Are you?”
“A pediatrician?” Bucky says, eyebrows climbing and looking appalled. “Fuck no. I had enough misery raising my little sister alone.” He takes several long pulls of water and Steve knows that tactic. Does it all the time when faced with something he’d rather dodge in conversation. “I’m not working right now. On leave.” Bucky’s face twists a little and then he finally, looks at Steve, blue eyes misty. “But I was an engineering consultant once upon a time.”
Steve knows when to drop something, even with the barest of hints and drops it. “Funny. Didn’t take you for something brainy at all.”
Thankfully, that does the trick and Bucky’s face softens, lips curling. “You’re such a punk.”
Steve smiles back. “Do you want cereal with your coffee or is the brainiac going to take a nap?”
Steve doesn’t even try to dodge the pillow he knows was coming. He laughs anyway.
(27 days until)
Steve makes a note on his planner to get a copy of his keys for Bucky. He hesitates before finally locking it in and saving it. Sam’s comment rings like a soothing wave of reassurance: could be something good.
All evidence to the contrary, Steve finds little to think it can be. But—
(25 days until)
“If you’d like extra office hours with me to help prepare for your next essay, I’ll be more than happy to give you a hand Monroe. But for now, I’m sorry but that’s the grade I stand by.” Steve hates this part of the day after handing back papers.
It’s why he always takes extra time to mark assignments, to the ire of his students, but he wants to be fair as thorough as possible. So when it comes to this, he can feel confident in his choices. He was a captain once before. He knows the responsibility.
Monroe nods and gathers his exam and meets his friends who wait for him outside the classroom door, the last of the small group of complaints. Steve sighs and gets up, gathering his things in order and begins to close down the room.
He’s just getting into his brown leather jacket when his phone starts to ring. The screen reads Bucky B.
Grinning already, and it’s getting harder to pull on some restraint with his smiles when it comes to this man, Steve slides open the phone and answers, heading for the door and digging for the classroom keys to lock up. “Hello?”
“Hey,” comes Bucky through the line. There’s a thudding purr of an engine in the background and some music that, as soon as Steve heads down the corner after locking the door, matches the sound he’s approaching while making for the exit doors to the left.
“Oh god, don’t tell me – “
“Yep. I’m right outside. Thought I could pick my new friend up for some grub. You down?”
Steve pushes open the doors and there’s a black convertible Camaro parked just outside the tall black gates and gaining more attention by the second. Steve halts and looks at the students, dressed in the boring and drab grey and green uniform and making a spectacle of the car.
Bucky is in the drivers’ seat, sunglasses on and hair in that loose bun again, dressed in a black leather jacket with a hood and he might as well be a rock star to his students. A regular new-age James Dean.
He waves with both arms obnoxiously and Steve feels the familiar creep of embarrassment as all eyes turn to him. He knows what they say about him. That’s he’s smart, super-hot (he shudders every time), thoughtful, kind and considerate. But also kind of ‘boring’ and ‘serious’ and won’t take your shit the minute he thinks you take his kindness for any sort of weakness.
The last one, he respects. The rest though –
Bucky honks his horn and Steve strides to the car, gets in because, really, what choice does he have?
Maybe this will give a new perspective to the kids. Or at least, that’s what he tells himself when Bucky beams all excited at him and nudges a knee into his like they’re teenagers who just snuck out of their parents’ house for an illicit night out. Some sort of reenactment where they are old friends who’ve spent a whole childhood together.
“Damn Rogers! Get it!” Some kid shouts with a lightning blue mohawk and Bucky laughs so hard his nose scrunches up. Steve buckles himself in and squeezes his bag between his knees and watches as Bucky turns the volume up before heading down the road.
Bucky takes them to a local Jewish deli that Steve hasn’t been to but has heard a lot from Sharon, which he mentions and Bucky gives him a funny look, judging him with his entire face. “You’ve lived here how long and you haven’t heard of Thalia’s?”
“I try to cook more than go out.” Steve counters distantly, looking around at the interior décor as they enter, Bucky holding the door open for him.
It’s nice and simple, small and bustling with a crowd of people. The paint job is red and white with an open kitchen in back where there are briskets and other pieces of meat being freshly sawed into slices for sandwiches and a dessert bar shining under bright white lights. Bucky picks a booth at the back where the exit is close and there’s the entire view of the diner. It’s what Steve would have picked.
Still, one of them has to have their back to the entrance and Steve tenses a bit when Bucky takes the seat that has the best vantage point of all exits and large windows.
Bucky passes the small menu over to him and says, “I’m lame. I get the same thing every time.”
He scans the list of sandwiches. “Oh? And what’s that?”
“Pulled lamb with pickle chips and fries.”
“You have no idea pal.”
“So… if I want to get the brisket sandwich combo?” Steve says, already made up his mind but asking, teasing. Just to see Bucky rest a stubbled chin on his palm and smile indulgently.
“I’d say you’re beauty and brains.”
“Oh shut up.”
“But you gotta try the knish!” He says for the third time forty five minutes later.
Bucky’s full on pleading now, but he’s laughing hard, nose scrunched up and Steve thinks he gets a real kick out of pushing Steve’s buttons and getting him to expand out of his comfort zone.
He’s reaching over the table and grabbing for Steve’s wrists as if shaking him a little will break him. But Steve is beyond full and feeling a little betrayed because of how Bucky ‘forgot’ to tell him the sizes of the sandwiches here.
(“It’s a Jewish Deli you meatball, what did you expect?”
“Oh I don’t know. Human sized portions?”
“This is family owned –“)
“Okay, okay, fine, if it’ll make you shut the hell up.” Steve says grinning back as Bucky’s face splits into a dopey grin, large hands still holding Steve’s wrist and he twists in his seat to the waitress – Tatiana. “Hey Ana darling, we’ll take it! Oh, and the bill please. On me.”
“Bucky!” Steve admonishes, but doesn’t dare move lest Bucky’s warm hands move from his. But the short girl winks and walks to the kitchen and obviously would listen to Bucky, an old regular, over him and Steve frowns.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“And they say chivalry is dead.” Bucky drums his fingers atop Steve’s skin. He’s tanner. Or maybe it’s just his nationality coming through. Steve’s Irish skin has always been paler compared to others.
“You? Chivalrous. Don’t make me laugh.” Steve snorts. Bucky steps on his foot under the table and Steve isn’t even surprised that he did it.
“See, that kind of behaviour is why I’m a dying breed.”
They both turn in sync to Sharon Carter, dressed in tight jeans and a plaid shirt tucked in. Her blonde hair is tied up and she’s carrying a stack of binders. Her smile dwindles just a little when she catches them basically holding hands and Steve hates himself for how quick he takes his hands back and presses them into his lap.
“Sharon! It’s been a while.” He says, trying his best to smile and not panic over what he knows must be going through her head.
“You’re telling me. I haven’t seen your big dumb face in weeks.” She gestures to the binders in her grip. “Maid of honour bullshit.”
“I bet. Uh, sorry, this is my neighbour Bucky. Bucky, this is Sharon. Peggy’s cousin.” He looks at Bucky who takes a beat to clue in. He waves from his seat and gives her one of those charming smiles Steve is now familiar with.
“Ah, cousin of the bride. Nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Sharon says and then she eyes Steve, a little dangerously. “Actually now that you’re here I have some things to sort out about the wedding plans. Steve, can we talk for a quick second?”
And if that isn’t the biggest warning sign ever, Steve doesn’t know what is. Bucky must hear the undertones too because he flicks a look at Steve and then nods assuredly. “I’ll make sure to save you some. But hurry back, no promises.”
Steve gets up and follows Sharon towards one of the few empty seats near the entrance door.
“Steve. Who is he?”
“Bucky?” He knows what she’s asking, but stalling has never been below him. “He’s my neigh—“
“Don’t play dumb Rogers. Are you seeing him?” She hisses under her breath. “Does Carol know?”
“Carol and I broke up.” He says to a fixed point above her shoulder. The words coming out easier than he expected.
Sharon blinks a few times, clearly surprised. “What? When?”
He scratches a pretend itch at his nape. “Uh, three weeks? Give or take?”
Sharon punches his arm and he winces. “Ow.”
“Are you kidding? Your arm is as big as my head, don’t be a baby. Why didn’t you tell us? Peggy’s been planning this whole thing thinking you’re bringing her. What the fuck are you trying to – “
“It’s okay Sharon. Honestly, I got it all figured out!” He rubs at his right arm. She always did have a mean left hook.
“Pray tell, please, enlighten me.”
Steve opens his mouth but the words shrivel and die. It’s really convoluted, now that he thinks about it and he isn’t sure where to start. So he clears his throat and tries to very, discreetly, jerk his head to where Bucky is still sitting, flipping through his phone and looking a little bored. The way the sun filters through the clear windows hit his dark hair and make it appear almost honey coloured, his bangs tied back to show off his forehead, but some strands still sneak out. He looks, not for the last time, Steve knows, heartbreakingly and effortlessly, beautiful.
Sharon on the other hand, must see something entirely different.
“Him? You’re bringing your dangerously sexy neighbour who I’ve never heard about until just now to Peggy and Howard’s wedding?” She says flatly.
“It could be worse.”
Sharon looks him up and down and then squints her eyes, like she’s getting to the end of a very complicated equation. “Oh. You like him.”
Steve rubs a hand down his face and groans behind his palm. It’s muffled. Sharon snorts and turns to look at Bucky again who is now being served.
“Stop looking at him. You’re making it obvious.” Steve says, sliding his hand away.
“That you like him or that we’re talking about him?” Steve just glares at her and she laughs.
“Well, he is hot.”
You have no fucking idea. Steve shrugs uncomfortably. “He’s alright.”
The way Sharon shakes her head at him, almost maternally is enough to dispel the tension. “Alright. As long as he’s coming for sure, I guess I won’t have to kill you. That seating chart was a nightmare. And, Steve? Tell Peggy. Like, immediately. Or I will.”
“I’ll give her a call. I promise.” Steve assures her and is already backtracking towards Bucky, desperate to drop this conversation.
“Good. Now come here,” she pulls him by his sleeve and into a crushing one-armed hug and Steve holds her back tight.
“The colour scheme is silver and blue,” she says and leaves, heading over to the dessert display.
“So how much of a disaster are we talkin’?” Bucky says as a manner of greeting when Steve drops into his seat. The knish is only half eaten and there’s a side of grainy mustard dipping sauce on the side Steve thinks Bucky ordered just to be a dick.
Steve cuts a small piece on the side, making sure to get some crust. “It wasn’t so bad. But now you’re in it for real. Otherwise I’m a dead man.” He takes a bite of mashed potatoes and meat and sauerkraut and it’s good. It’s really good.
Bucky flits his eyes up at Steve and his eyes look different, maybe it’s just the light, but Steve could swear they look softer. No hint or blemish of cocky and shallow flirtation in sight so when he speaks, there is a whole new layer to their shared space. “Oh Stevie, I wouldn’t abandon you for the world.”
“Stop calling me that,” Steve grumbles and pretends he didn’t hear that. That it didn’t make his heart soar in reckless, stupid hope.
Steve does tell Peggy eventually, and she doesn’t take it as badly as he constructed the scenario going in his head.
She huffs at him and seems like she’s in the middle of getting into a car but tells him that all dinner requests are final and this Bucky character will just have to deal. And really, that’s more than enough of a clean slate for Steve, thinking he just dodged a huge bullet.
“Does he have any allergies?” She asks, there’s a threatening tone to it.
A part from being allergic to common decency? “I don’t think so. No.”
“Good. And, Steve?”
“I love you.”
Steve sags, closes the refrigerator door from where he was restocking it after a grocery run and rests his forehead on it, eyes sliding shut with how much he misses her. He could almost ache with it.
“I love you too. And I miss you.” He misses her so much and hasn’t seen her for nearly a month now and finds he needs her wisdom now more than ever.
“Me too,” she answers warmly. “See you soon. October 13th. Don’t forget.” And she’s gone with a firm click.
(20 days until)
One of the upsides in working as a school teacher is that although Steve has to get up at ungodly hours in the morning five days a week, he also is granted with having to get to bed at a reasonable hour to not be overly exhausted the next. And he gets paid holidays and gets weekends off to sleep in whenever Sam’s nagging breaks his resolve and they end up somewhere down town, far from any place that they might run into students.
It happened once. Steve is never showing his face at the Brunswick ever again.
He didn’t really find a downside in his schedules until just recently. With his arrangement with Bucky, Steve finds himself never knowing for sure when he’ll come down for breakfast, yawning and half dressed, scratching his bare stomach to see Bucky lying in an awkward angle on his couch, lazily flicking through early morning television or reading one of Steve’s books, cups of coffee for the both of them already waiting.
They’ll talk and joke around, Steve never asking too many questions about the night before because the more he finds Bucky sprawled in his home, the more he finds that it’s beginning to hurt more than it’s becoming helpful.
Bucky never stays for more than two hours until he’s sure the coast is clear and he’ll head back to his own place. Nudging Steve as he heads out the door or poking at his side because now he knows Steve’s ticklish there. Sometimes even borrowing one of the books he finds on Steve’s shelf with a promise to bring it back the next time.
(He always does, and there was that one morning where Steve had to cover his face to hide a dumb grin over how excited Bucky got when re-telling the entire premise of The Left-hand of Darkness, even though Steve has read it over six times. But lets him do it anyway, just to see the spark in his eyes and ridiculous arm gestures.)
There always will be a next time.
And that’s just what Steve has to deal with because this is the bed he’s made and he’s going to have to suck it up and sleep in it until the wedding is over and he can stop having Bucky flaunted in his face. Splayed across his couch and leaving imprints and the sweet mirage that this is real. Or at least could be real – Bucky in his home, living with him. Being with him.
Steve has already resigned to his fate that soon after the wedding, Bucky will have no need to be around so often, if at all. So he tries to be honest with himself. That Bucky’s stray touches mean nothing.
That the way he smiles lopsidedly whenever Steve goes on rants about the Headmaster at the Institute, is indulgent and not fond.
That how his fingers always touch Steve’s and linger there when he hands over a glass of wine or anything else is accidental.
Because the more time they spend time together, which is almost every other day now, the more it’s hard to believe that he hasn’t known Bucky for his entire life.
He shoves it all down and locks it away along with the ‘what ifs?’ because the truth is right in front of face. It’s there whenever he comes to the kitchen to see a paper bag of breakfast from down the road and Bucky trying to figure out how to use the coffee machine. Fresh from escaping another one-night stand and that’s all the evidence Steve needs.
There will always be a beautiful guy or girl revolving in and out of Bucky’s life and apartment and Steve could never judge him or resent him for something he has no right to. Bucky’s not interested. Steve can live with that.
Really, he can.
And honestly, after the first four times of almost jumping out of his bones at Bucky’s unannounced presence in his apartment, he’s not even shocked to see him lounging in his apartment like he belongs there in the same way Steve’s oldest painting – the Silent Planet – hangs next to the window. Casual and soft and waving an enthusiastic hello like he was just waiting for Steve to wake up.
Steve never sees him actually sleeping.
(15 days until)
“I didn’t know you liked Captain Crunch,” Bucky says one morning, sitting on the kitchen counter instead of on a chair, as Steve put his messenger bag in order.
Steve’s fingers slip but Bucky doesn’t notice, already pouring himself a small bowl and making a smartass comment on Steve only having almond milk instead of regular milk. Steve doesn’t tell him the truth; that he doesn’t like Captain Crunch. Not really. But Bucky does. Steve remembers Bucky lamenting one evening, walking back from wine tasting. Steve was bullied into going because Howard had booked a reservation for two and Sam had caught a nasty cold from a student who sneezed on him, so he asked Bucky instead. They were both a little tipsy after taking full advantage of Howard’s credit card and after deciding on a few good brands, stayed to kill off the rest. Bucky had pouted ridiculously that he was almost out.
“Thought of a change.” Steve says instead and zips the bag.
“From your usual oatmeal and raisins?” Bucky crunches out and snorts, eyes crinkling fondly. “I swear you’re such a fucking grandpa sometimes.”
(12 days until)
“Bucky, you look like shit.” Steve says Saturday morning. It’s almost noon, and Steve figures whoever is sleeping in his apartment is a late sleeper.
“Gee, thanks Romeo,” Bucky flatly responds, head tossed back on a weird angle on the armchair. It’s the truth though. His thin red sweater is crumped and wrinkled looking, like he had thrown it on after tossing it aside hazardously and Steve’s heart does a sudden lurch in his chest. A hard pang at the image of Bucky tugging off his shirt in a rush of burning desire with a faceless figure. The deep purple bags Steve can see under his skin breaks his heart. Bucky looks pale. He’s never pale.
“What,” he swallows and tries not to fidget or god forbid, blush. “Did something happen when – “ oh god, the idea of you with someone else is literally too much to fucking say --
Steve just makes an awkward hand gesture and when Bucky slides his gaze to Steve, a strange expression crosses his face. An unsolidified mix of mild dubiousness, exhaustion and now, blooming affection that evens out the tired lines that have begun to grow, to Steve’s dislike. “You really want details on my sex life Steve?”
God no. ”You should get some sleep. I just have to run to grab some eggs. I won’t take long,” Steve suggests but Bucky is firm. His head shake even more so.
“Nah, I’m good,” and turns a forced smile at him and then, “I fucking hate morning television.”
Steve chooses to let it slide, and turns to the screen – an entertainment update program. “Huh. Well, if you have time, you wanna play Jenga when I get back?”
Bucky grins. “If you want to lose an embarrassing defeat.”
“If I find popcorn in those cushions so help me – “
“Relax Steve, I’ll be outta your way in a minute. I told him I had an early dentist appointment.”
“How come you don’t stay over at their places?” Steve says, a little petulantly. “Wouldn’t that make things easier?” For me, so I don’t have to hear this anymore –
“But then you’d never have gotten to know me, and that’s just sad Steve. I basically saved you from a further lifetime of boredom.”
Steve rolls his eyes and sits on the same couch as Bucky, who is taking up most of the space so they’re cramped. Bucky’s socked feet pressing into his thigh.
“So, should I have bought my suit by this point?”
Steve turns to him in slack jawed horror. “Are you nuts? It’s in two weeks!” And because he can, picks up a pillow and swats his leg with it. Bucky shields his face as Steve keeps on hitting him and shouts through bouts of unadulterated laughter. “I was joking! It was a joke! Not the nose – “
(10 days until)
Sam snaps his fingers in front of Steve’s face and he blinks, jumping a little at the abrasive way it brings him out of his thoughts.
“Sorry I zoned out.” Steve mumbles and pinches the bridge of his nose. They’re at the park with their mountain bikes, taking an afternoon ride and stopped only to decide where they wanted to head for lunch. Sam said Mexican but Steve really doesn’t want to deal with Sam’s gas for the rest of the day and suggested Sushi. That’s when Steve’s phone bleeped a text in response to the one he sent out about a half an hour ago.
“No kidding,” Sam says dryly. “What’s on your mind?”
Steve doesn’t look down to the phone in his grip:
Bucky Barnes 3:46pm: Sorry, can’t tonight. Made plans with Clint to go bar hopping later. Next time?
And at this juncture, Steve knows that “made plans” and “bar hopping” only means one thing. Whoever this Clint is, Bucky and he are going to –
“Oh my god.” Steve doesn’t even realize Sam stole his phone until he looks up and sees him holding it and looking at Steve with wide eyes.
“You’re falling for him.”
And because he’s a fucking child. “Am not.”
“Oh hell, you are. Steve.” And Steve’s not sure what his face looks like but he doesn’t like how Sam’s own reacts to it.
“I’m so screwed.” Steve says and drops onto the vacated bench, his bike leaning on the arm rest.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re really damn dramatic?” Sam says, sitting next to him.
“You do, Peggy does.” Steve lists. “A lot. You know that,” Steve puts his head in his hands and slumps.
“I’m assuming the reason behind your funk is cause’ you think he doesn’t feel the same way?”
Steve levels Sam with a blunt look. “He’s fucking half of DC. I think his interest is pretty clear.”
Sam nudges their knees together. “You know that means like, nothing right? Like zero. Nada.”
“It means he’s not sleeping with me.”
Sam makes a face. “Do you hear yourself right now? If you want him, tell him how you feel. Dude, this ain’t a rom-com. Use your words.” Sam presses Steve’s phone into his lap. “What’s the worst that can happen?”e
I can have my heart freakin’ broken? “He’s not – I’m not –“ Steve takes a breath. “He doesn’t see me like that.”
“Bzz. Wrong answer.”
“Oh, and you’d be the expert in this situation?” Steve snaps and totally deserves the way Sam headlocks him.
At nine thirty, Steve runs into Bucky when he gets home, taking his keys out of his pockets to open his door. Bucky notices him over his shoulder at the sound of his steps up the stairs and softens, whatever previous tension that was spread over his shoulders melting. “Hey,” he smiles.
“Hi,” Steve smiles back. “Thought you had plans tonight?”
“Oh,” Bucky licks his lips. “Yeah, we met up earlier on and just decided to call it a day. Guess I’m just tired.”
Steve tries not to show the absolute relief he feels. “So I guess you won’t have to uh, crash here again?”
Bucky side eyes him, genuinely confused and says slowly, “I don’t…think so?”
Bucky tilts his head, eyebrows furrowed just a little.
“I mean,” he rushes to say. “it’s good. That you’re getting rest and not – I mean -- I’ve been saying you need it. That’s all.” Steve hands gesture wildly and Bucky’s mouth does that thing again. He’s still smiling oddly. Steve’s been trying to figure out what it means.
“Thanks for the concern mom.”
“Someone’s gotta look out for you.”
Steve’s expecting a rejoinder. Something quick and witty that’ll be inappropriate and make him blush or roll his eyes but instead, Bucky just smiles wider, teeth white and straight. “Alright,” Bucky says, “I’m seeing you tomorrow for that florist appointment right? Which by the way, I don’t know why you need me to go.” Bucky opens his door.
“I told you,” Steve has run this by him about six times. “Sharon has to finalize the dress with Peggy and Sam has a baby shower to go to.”
“Right. You just don’t wanna go alone.”
“4pm.” Steve says over him.
Bucky smiles that strange smile again that Steve’s been having a hard time recently to pinpoint and shakes his head softly, turns to head inside. “Goodnight Steve.”
“Goodnight Buck,” and Bucky freezes inside the doorway before looking back at Steve as he closes the door.
(9 days until)
Going to the florist to take photos of different genus’ of flowers for Peggy is as interesting and exciting as Steve thought it would be.
Meaning it’s not.
Steve has never been more grateful to have Bucky with him because at least he has someone to laugh with when the florist describes the mythological symbolism behind each and every flower on the list. Not to their face of course, because that would be rude, but Bucky sure makes it hard to reel it in with the way his eyes sparkle and his smile spreads across his face, looking at Steve with that gleaming look that makes it so easy to know exactly what he’s thinking.
The lady offers small cake samples while they take photos in every angle possible and begin to narrow down the list once Peggy responds back on what she likes and doesn’t like.
In the end Peggy is down to choosing between red tulips or the bouquet of pink roses.
“Okay, we need to congratulate ourselves over that fiasco,” Bucky declares once they leave a joint they just ate burgers at and stayed for far too long. The sun is on the brink of setting in mid-twilight.
Steve chuckles, stuffing his hands into his leather jacket pockets. “Still not over it?”
“Pal, I am forever haunted. I’ll never look at flowers the same way again.”
Steve shoulders into Bucky who huffs out a laugh, falling a little to the wayside. It’s getting a little dark out, but somehow Bucky manages to glow in the lackluster help of the streetlights and hinting moon. In the full on month that Steve has gotten to know him up close, he doesn’t look at all like how he first saw him. Which he knows doesn’t make sense, but Steve supposes he was blinded by the bravado and confidence to not see the man beneath. Bucky’s still shameless and kind of outlandish, but he’s so many more important things: he’s a dork, outrageous, just as he is outrageously funny and smart. Always surprising Steve with the knowledge he randomly spouts but never flaunts.
On the worst days, when Steve watches him go, Steve wishes he never knew those sides of Bucky. At least then, he wouldn’t be so desirable and three-dimensional. At least in that fabricated side of his imagination, Steve wouldn’t want him as much as he does in reality and be doomed to let this all go in under two weeks’ time.
“Here?” Bucky says, pointing to the nearest bar that has a fold out sign on the curb that announces ten dollar pitchers in chalk.
“Sold.” Steve agrees and tries not to let himself love the way Bucky’s face scrunches happily too much.
“So, Steven Rogers,” Bucky says grandiosely and Steve snorts into his pint. “Did you always want to be an art history teacher at a stuck up high school?”
The bar is dark and only lit by candles on every assorted table but it’s low-key and the music isn’t loud by any means. Steve takes a fizzy sip. “Yeah, I mean, I used to draw. A lot as a kid back in Brooklyn. Still try to but,” he shrugs, “it’s not the worst place I could be.”
Bucky considers him, face silhouetted in the flickering flames in between them. His hair is cut a little shorter, not quite managing a bun anymore. Steve wonders if he did it for the wedding. “You gonna elaborate or should I – “
“No, no, it’s fine,” Steve waves him down. He finds he wants to share with Bucky. Which is so unlike how he feels with anyone else in his life who knows his story. He tries to hold back a bitter laugh. If only his therapist could see him now. “I used to serve. In the army.”
Bucky just stares, face not changing one bit.
“I was a captain,” Steve continues, not looking at Bucky anymore but at the condensation of his glass that he strokes with a lone finger, because he already got this conversation started. He’d be damned if he doesn’t finish it. “Two tours in Afghanistan. I’ve been back for two years but it’s kind of hard to get into the way things were before." Steve huffs out a laugh and tries at a smile and looks at Bucky whose expression is complicated to unlock. “I’m still figuring it out.”
Bucky breaks his gaze and clears his throat, setting his own beer back on the table and looking at a fixed point beyond Steve’s left elbow that’s resting on the wooden table. “Damn, Steve. I didn’t know. That’s,” he tilts his head consideringly at Steve. Blue on blue. “That’s really brave.”
Steve flushes and nudges his foot under the table with Bucky’s own and finds a kind of relief when Bucky plays back, a game of adolescent footsie.
By their third pint, Steve’s phone lights up a text from Sam that apologetically asks for the photos of the flowers he took earlier on because his newly married sister wants to gush over them. Steve sends them and then eyes the time. Half past eleven at night.
He and Bucky had spent the majority of the day together and it’s a Friday night. He looks at Bucky, dressed in the same leather jacket and red shirt and knows what he should expect any moment. He takes a breath and tries not to let it show when he says, “I think I’m gonna go to bed.”
Bucky looks up mildly confused, his eyebrows forming a triangle. “You tired?”
Steve shakes his head and starts to pat down his jeans for his wallet. “A little but I don’t want to be in the way.”
“Of?” Bucky continues to look more perplexed.
Please, don’t make me say it. “You know,” and Steve makes that gesture they both have come to know as ‘you having hot steamy sex with someone’ and then adds, “so, uh,” Steve slaps down twenty dollars on his side of the table. “Go get ‘em?” And forces out a laugh as he gets up, the chair screeches against the sticky floor.
Bucky’s face doesn’t change for a while until it does. And when it does, Steve wonders where he fucked up because he swears Bucky’s face falls for half a second before it’s gone. Bucky blinks several times and leans back in his seat. “Yeah. Yeah, okay, cool. I’ll catch ya later?” He digs out his phone from his jacket. “Rehearsal dinner is tomorrow at six right?”
“Yeah. Howard’s sending a driver. Show off,” and tries again at a laugh and Bucky humors him, echoing back one that is so hollow something inside Steve might as well have died.
(8 days until)
Steve finds it a personal validation when he wakes up the next morning, groggy and in need of coffee and sees Bucky in his apartment already awake and sitting on the kitchen ledge, eating Captain Crunch and a fresh pot of coffee already rolling close to a finish.
He looks tired, eyes half lidded and a little swollen and dressed in his checkered red sleep pants and a thick grey hoodie, feet dangling just a little. Steve can’t tell if there are hickeys up his neck by the way his hood is rooked up. He counts that as a blessing.
“Morning Buck,” Steve says, rubbing at his eye and unravels the bread bag to make himself some toast. The space between them is buzzing. “Sleep well?”
Bucky doesn’t say anything and when Steve turns after pushing the lever down on the toaster, concerned, Bucky is studying him coolly.
Steve runs a hand through his combed hair for what seems to be the hundredth time in his bathroom mirror. He thinks he looks okay, dressed in a black suit with a navy button up underneath and dark silver tie. He checks his watch – 4:40pm and figures it’s about time to get Bucky. His shoes are shined and he slips them on easily and pats down his pants: wallet, keys…
He curses under his breath and dashes back into his bedroom where Peggy’s gift sits on his shelf. It’s wrapped in red wrapping paper. He knows he doesn’t have to provide one for tonight and again for her and Howard on the actual wedding day but he’s nothing but sentimental.
There’s a knock on his door and Steve’s breath catches and hates himself a little for instinctively trying to flatted his hair back down as he puts the gift under his left shoulder and opens the door and gets the air knocked out of himself.
Bucky is stunning. He’s dressed in a silver suit that gleams even in the shitty hallway light. His hair is cut and short, although his bangs would be in his eyes if he didn’t comb it to the side. It’s a completely different look than his usual. Steve doesn’t think he would have recognized him in passing but it’s … it’s good. Makes him look younger. His hands are in his matching silver pant pockets and his button up shirt is a crisp white with a thin navy tie so dark it could pass as black. His eyebrows shot up when Steve opened the door and he stares at Steve appreciatively.
Apparently, Bucky gets a handle of himself before Steve does and he smirks when Steve still stands frozen. “You okay there 3A?” And he snorts when Steve snaps out of it and punches his arm lightly before locking up.
“Hey, hey,” Bucky says softly and grins again, slinging an arm over his shoulder and leads them towards the staircase. “You excited? Cause I am. I mean, open bar?”
“Nice to know where your priorities lie Buck.”
“Just being honest. But okay fine, you’re not too bad I guess.”
“I swear to god Buck…”
Steve has to double check the address on his invite card when the driver pulls up at the building where several other cars are already parked or rolling in.
The rehearsal reception is placed at the Metropolitan Club.
Count on Howard to pull out all the stops for the venue and decoration.
“Damn,” Bucky whistles, stepping into the foyer with Steve at his side and straightening his lapels. “Friends in high places huh?”
“It’s only really Howard and his family,” Steve scans the crowd for a familiar face but all he sees are waiters and waitresses and droves of people he doesn’t recognize – high dignitaries and probably sets of royal families if he knows Howard, “and some of Peggy’s. Maybe.”
“Kind of wish I shined my shoes,” Bucky says from somewhere off to his left and Steve turns to see him peel off the paper wrapping around a fruit tart carefully.
“Your shoes are fine,” Steve sighs through a smile as Bucky chews and then offers the other half to Steve. On instinct, Steve politely shakes his head.
“Steven, I can’t believe you think I’d allow anything nut related anywhere near my wedding.”
Bucky’s eyebrows climb to the tip of his hairline and his gaze is set over Steve’s shoulder but Steve’s already turning around and Peggy’s smiling at him, warm and teasingly, dressed in a deep red dress that’s off one shoulder with her hair tied in a sleek pony-tail.
Steve has her in his arms before he can think, even though the angle is awkward because of the gift he’s still holding. She laughs in his ear and rubs at his back and it’s all Steve can take to not lift her up and spin her around like when they were in their early twenties. Young, drunk and excited exploring Europe.
They break away and her eyes are a little watery and she punches his arm (a little roughly) and laughs, “if you ruin my make-up Steve I’ll have you castrated. This whole month has been a goddamned circus.”
“Well, that’s what you get for agreeing to marry a Stark.”
“Wait, wait, hang on, Howard Stark?”
Steve can’t believe he forgot about Bucky for even two minutes and he’s stepping up close to his side and looking between Peggy and Steve. “I’m sorry, Stark as in Stark Industries?”
“That’s the one,” Steve says and thinks, “didn’t I mention that?”
“No. No you didn’t,” Bucky says, with a strange and pinched look on his face that immediately shifts into a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes the same. Peggy doesn’t seem to notice it as she takes his extended hand with a firm handshake.
“James Barnes, nice to finally meet you Ms. Carter,” he says, all cordial as you like, “Steve has told me a lot about you.”
“Good things I hope.”
“I’m sure that’s all there is.”
Peggy smirks. “Well now I know he hasn’t told you everything.”
Bucky’s eyes seem to sparkle at the assumption and he preens. “Oh, do tell.”
“Where’s Sam?” Steve interjects a tad too pointedly.
“He’s on his way from picking up Tanya. Or at least he should be, the reception starts in about fifteen minutes,” Peggy adds with a threatening note that Steve knows like the back of his hand. “But while I have a few moments to spare before being paraded around,” she jokes, “how did you two meet?”
Steve knows she knows this story already. Sam or Sharon had to have told her at some point. So why –
“Neighbours,” Bucky explains, saving Steve’s ass yet again, “helping Steve get out of a sticky situation. He asked nicely, which is rare let me tell you –“
“We’re friends,” Steve says, rolling his eyes as Bucky snickers and lets Steve elbow him to the side. “He’s doing me a solid. Although I’ve been regretting it ever since.”
“That is getting so old pal, you should write a thank you letter to our landlord for subletting me the apartment. Where would you be now if it weren’t for me?”
“Modesty, your prevailing trait Bucky.”
Bucky perks, smiling brightly just to be an asshole and Steve laughs softly as he turns his attention back to Peggy who has a smug look on her face that only Steve has been trained to detect and yeah, he’s been duked.
“Well, I’ve got to thank you Mr. Barnes for not only saving Steve but whatever is left of my sanity. I hope you enjoy the services,” her eyes dart over their heads and she waves. Smile tight and forced.
“Shit, it’s Mrs. Argueta,” Peggy whispers, lips barely moving.
Steve squints. “Isn’t that the name of your C.I.A inspector?”
“And you invited her?” Steve says just as Bucky spits out, “C.I.A?”
“Sort of had to. Turns out being a special agent for two and a half years still means you need to be audited. That’s my cue. I’ll see you both in a bit,” Peggy begins to side-step them and towards the thick of the crowd, “although, maybe not,” and she’s gone, heading towards a severe looking woman surrounded in men in black suits.
“Shit,” Bucky says, staring after her.
“You didn’t tell me she was C.I.A and you didn’t mention this was a Stark wedding. Anything else you wanna dump on me last minute?” Bucky asks sarcastically and waves down one of the waiters carrying a platter of champagne. He steals two flutes and hands one to Steve who readjusts his gift under his left arm and looks for the designated table where he can leave it with the rest.
“Sure. I’m carrying Peggy’s baby.” He spots it and Bucky follows him, politely maneuvering through the buzzing crowd and clinks of glass and conversation.
Steve drops his wrapped box on the table that he’s thankful to find any space for. “What’s the big deal with Stark anyway? Sure, he’s a little unconventional but – “
“It’s not that,” Bucky interrupts and studies his glass like it’s worthy of in depth attention. “Not a big deal or anything, it’s just,” his eyes dart to the side and Steve knows stalling when he can see it. He wants to reach out. Touch the back of Bucky’s nape, where now there aren’t long locks that block his way and tell him it’s okay and he can forget he ever mentioned it if it’s going to make him this uncomfortable.
“He’s sort of my boss.”
That, Steve was not expecting.
Bucky takes a gulp and nearly drains the glass. “Engineering consultant, remember? I work – worked for Stark.”
“You know Howard?” Steve asks, thrown for a loop with the reality of how close Bucky has been for longer than he has ever known.
The look Bucky sends him is flat, “he’s pretty high on the food chain so not personally, no. But sure. I’ve helped him with some of his more…lucrative blueprints. But that’s classified,” and with a wink, the tension is dispelled and Bucky reaches for Steve’s wrist and tugs him to where the doors are being pushed open towards the large hall.
“C’mon, we have some people to impress.”
Sam makes it five minutes to the beginning of the mock-reception and he’s a little out of breath as he takes his seat at Steve’s table with little sister Tanya at his side.
“Traffic,” he whispers, forehead a little sweat sheened and tucks himself in while buttoning up his suit blazer. “Tanya, this is Bucky. Bucky, Tanya, my little sister,” Sam adds quickly. Bucky waves from across the white clothed table and Tanya nods in greeting, dark hair in a tight bun and dressed in a simple coral dress that makes her dark skin gleam.
The look in her eyes is mischievous, “how much did you have to pay GQ to let them give you their model?”
Bucky’s snort grabs the affronted looks of the closest two tables and he hides the end of it with a cough behind a fist as Steve looks at her in horror. Sam shrugs like it can’t be helped and Tanya grins. “Hi Steve.”
Sometimes, Steve thinks the world is playing a cosmic joke for giving him two Sam’s to deal with.
Peggy and Howard make a beautiful pair, standing at the head of the table holding hands and whatever Peggy said to him before they entered the great hall together must have stuck because his opening speech has no outlandish pitch to it. And Peggy is anything but arm candy at his side and laughs affectionately when of course, by the end Howard makes a comment on requesting everyone pitch in fifty dollars to help him pay for the charges on his credit card for the wedding.
(“What? Did no one tell – oh, well if you could direct your attention to the fine print under – I’m just kidding,” Howard waved down the crowd and picked up a glass of wine, “I’d like to pass the toast to the bride to be. Who I am so proud of for getting to where she is now. I’m a fu—very lucky man and --”
“What Howard here is trying to articulate,” Peggy kindly interjected as the families, colleagues and friends in attendance laughed, “is that we’re grateful for you all to be here. And we’re both looking forward to see your company in a few days’ time. For now, please enjoy the rest of the evening. Thank you, and cheers.”)
It’s the waiters’ fourth time around their table, now with the addition of Sharon, refilling their glasses with red wine that Steve recognizes as the one he and Bucky picked out before. Sharon has her heels kicked off under the table and doesn’t seem to care. The crowd thinning each group at a time.
“This is torture,” Sam says, eyeing Tanya who smiles a thank you to the waiter for departs after topping off her glass. “I hate being designated driver.”
“You can’t just call a cab?” Bucky says, quirking an eyebrow. His hair is escaping from its meticulous combed style and it’s messy. Steve’s been trying his best not to stare at the way it curls above his eyebrows. He wants to push it back and bury his face in it. The smell of his cologne getting more and more intoxicating the more he drinks.
Sam looks at Bucky funnily. “I ain’t made outta money dude. And I can’t exactly just dump my drunk ass sister into a cab.”
Tanya scoffs. “I’m not drunk.”
“Really?” Bucky says and laughs airly. “I think I’ve been on the end of that more than a few times with Becca.”
“Finally,” says Peggy, dropping heavily into the only vacant chair beside Sharon and Bucky and swipes one of the full glasses Sharon had been saving for her. “That was the last of the senior agents. I swear, I wouldn’t be shocked if they bugged my home with how many questions they ask me.” She finishes her glass with one long gulp that earns an impressive eyebrow quirk from Bucky.
“Careful, they might be some on your dress,” Sharon says dryly and gets a distracted swat from Peggy who is looking around the large room and waves enthusiastically to the waiter who is mid-conversation with the bartender. He smiles and brings over a new bottle that had been chilling in a bucket of ice.
“Oh hell no, okay Tanya, time to go,” Sam says and pushes out of his seat, grabbing her up by her elbow. She groans, “you’re such a baby Sam.”
“Happy hangover! Night y’all!” He calls over his shoulder and they pass through the still open doors.
Peggy shakes her head in bewilderment and unscrews the lid. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand that man.”
“Not sure we’re supposed to,” Steve says and although he knows he shouldn’t, the haziness behind his eyelids telling him he’s on the brink of having too much, he feels so good. Bucky warm and loose at his side and he’s already accepting his own as Peggy pours glasses out for the remaining four of them and it’s only polite…
“Ow, ow,” Bucky laughs, tripping sideways into Steve’s side as he opens the door to their building. His wrist still hurts from when he tried to show Steve how to do the lindy hop and fell on the pavement, catching himself badly on his hand. It wasn’t exactly funny at the time, but the way he tried to punch Steve for laughing anyway definitely was.
“I told you it was a dumb idea,” Steve says, and punches the elevator button but Bucky drags him to the staircase.
“You are so fuckin’ lazy, it’s only three floors.”
“Ya sure you’re not gonna trip again?”
They’re buddying up close, shoulders bumping and Steve can see the faint redness in Bucky’s eyes and if he thought his hair was messy before, it’s nothing to how it is now. It’s obscene and he hasn’t stopped biting and licking his lips ever since they waited for a cab outside the Metropolitan Club, sitting on the pavement curb and playing red hands. Bucky’s laugh turning into giggles as Steve tried to slap his upturned hands with so much enthusiasm that when he missed, he fell forward and nearly face-planted.
“You’re such a fuckin’,” Bucky snorts and just knocks their shoulders again as to finish that sentence for him and then ruffles Steve’s hair as they reach their floor. Steve pats down his jacket for his keys and almost fumbles for them. The dim lights in the hallway doesn’t help his impaired vision and Bucky’s still laughing at his side.
“Hopeless. Here,” and he turns on his phone, the light pointed at Steve’s doorknob and Steve whispers a thanks. It is a quarter to two in the morning and despite the fact that there’s only one other tenant in 3B, and Steve doesn’t want Mr. Perri to shoot him for waking up his four year old daughter.
The door opens softly enough and Steve turns to Bucky who is pocketing his phone and swaying a little, the look on his face no longer the easy sight of drunken euphoria but the one Steve has been struggling to decipher. It’s not as intense as it usually is. The haze settled by the mixture of wine, champagne and brandy diffusing it but it’s there.
“Buck?” Steve swallows, but finds that he can’t. His breath hitches in his throat when Bucky licks his lips. Eyes quickly darting to Steve’s mouth and then back to his eyes before he takes a step back, scratching the side of his head.
“S’rry. Night,” he says and would turn tail to his door if Steve didn’t reach out and catch him by the cuff of his coat sleeve and tug slightly.
And it’s all too late for Steve to take back the softness behind his tone and Bucky twists around, eyes bleary but searching and he’s in Steve’s space despite the warning signs blaring in Steve’s ears and behind his eyelids and it’s too fucking late.
Bucky lips are hot and wet against Steve’s and he angles his head to get in deeper, breathing in with a rush through his nose. It’s enough to make Steve’s knees wobble and he gives in, gasping a little and it only encourages Bucky more who moans into his open mouth. The warning bells in his head aren't quieting at all but Steve ignores them anyway because even if this is a black out, alcohol induced dream, he’ll be damned if he doesn't run with it because Bucky is kissing him and Steve lets him push him through the threshold of his door, fingers digging into Bucky’s sides.
(7 days until)
Consciousness slowly starts prickling Steve awake, but his body is stubborn and unresponsive, curling himself deeper into his bed to avoid waking up. He winces a little at the pull of his hamstring and his eyebrows furrow. What –
(“Steve, ease up a little,” Bucky broke away from his mouth, red lips impossibly redder and hissed at Steve who wasn’t listening and kept rubbing their erections together from beneath him. Bucky’s own hard and damp through his pants and belt loose. He dropped his forehead on Steve’s collarbone and let out a low groan. “Steve, fuck, I’m serious.”
“But ya see Buck,” Steve accentuated with raking his nails under Bucky’s unbuttoned shirt and down his burning back to tug at his pants. “You don’t sound serious.” And laughed when Bucky huffed one of his own and pushed off, kneeling up and throwing his shirt behind him to where the rest of their clothes were. Steve’s dampened down and muddled brain zeroed in briefly on the intricate tattoo on his left arm that started from the top of his shoulder all the way to just above his wrist.
“I’ll show you serious,” Bucky said and Steve’s laughter died then when Bucky pushed his trousers and underwear down and out of the way and he was there, proud and bold and right at Steve’s fingertips and –
“You’re not gonna break me, c’mon, I want –“ Steve said later, insistent through breathless pants as Bucky raised his bent leg up and close to his chest and looked him straight in the eye – gaze no longer hazed and glossy from the alcohol but of something otherworldly -- before easing in. Slick, hot and so good --)
Steve’s eyes open, heart trying to escape from his ribcage and he knows it before he gets up to his elbows in his own bed and turns around to confirm.
Bucky’s clothes are gone. And so is he.
“So what’re you going to do?” Sam pours a steaming cup of dark roast into the cup next to Steve’s head which is resting down on his folded arms.
“What is there to do?” Steve says, his voice quiet and echoing and he lifts his head. Sam’s putting the coffee pot back in its place in his kitchen and comes back with a bottle of cognac.
“You want?” He offers, making himself a glass but Steve shakes his head.
“I can’t believe I fucked this up. I shouldn’t have – I knew this would happen if anything --” Sam nudges him softly with his foot under the table.
“Steve. Breathe.” And Steve does. Lets out a calm rush of breath and then pulls his mug closer to himself.
“I thought I would be different.” Steve says and doesn’t meet Sam’s gaze even though he can feel it. “But I guess I never was,” he shrugs and refuses to remember the taste of his lips and scrape of his stubble.
“I wanted him,” and finally saying it out loud doesn’t feel as good as he pictured it would feel. “But I never wanted this.”
Sam says nothing and after a moment, Steve considers the bottle and says, “actually, on second thought,” and pours a generous amount into his coffee and takes a gulp. It burns and spreads like live-wire in his stomach.
“You wanna stay here until the wedding? I can pull out that air mattress you used to use whenever you were too cheap to call a cab and too wasted to take the metro.”
Steve snorts and it surprises himself and the sight of Sam smiling is always enough to get Steve to. Or at least on the road to something like it. “Yeah. Sure.”
Steve parks his motorbike outside next to the meter instead of in the downstairs parking lot because if he sees the black convertible there, he might change his mind and hightail it back to Sam’s without any of his things. He’s not prepared yet and doesn’t quite know how he’d react if he bumped into Bucky. Still trapped in the limbo of heartbroken and angry.
He peers up the winding staircase and it’s oddly silent for a quarter past two in the afternoon but he doesn’t want to waste time or press his luck and jogs up the stairs to his door and shuts the door behind him. Instinctively, he expects to see him somewhere in his apartment and there are already ghosts lingering in the spots he would be if he was. Languid on his couch or flipping through one of his books lazily but he’s not. And Steve is grateful.
It’s worse though to enter his bedroom, and he pointedly ignores the mess of sheets he made no time in fixing and packs a gym bag of bathroom supplies, random mixes of clothing and his suit and shoes that are still scattered around the room. The bedroom still smells of stale sex and Bucky’s cologne, only it’s stronger than it was when he woke up.
Steve’s already locking up before he hears the heavy footsteps up the staircase behind him and he doesn’t have to turn to know who it belongs to.
Straightening his back, he turns to Bucky who just reaches their floor, holding a dry cleaners bag over his shoulder. His steps slow down when he meets Steve’s eyes and then he comes to a halt.
“Hey,” Bucky says, almost shyly. He’s looking at Steve like he’s expecting something and Steve wants nothing more than to disappear. He takes tentative steps to the stairs.
Bucky blinks, eyes widening a little before they narrow on a scoff. “Really? That’s it. You’ve got nothing else to say?”
“Nothing really to say Bucky. You said enough this morning,” Steve says, the tightness in his chest growing and makes his way downstairs but doesn’t miss the way Bucky’s cold face contorts into one of puzzlement. Steve thinks he says something but his footfalls drown them out.
(4 days until)
La Lune is one of the jewels of Washington.
Aside from the amazing assortment of coffees and teas from around the world, it’s the atmosphere that always seems to ease the tension out of Steve’s spine whenever he enters. Maybe it’s because it reminds him of where he first met Peggy nearly ten years ago, taking a year off in England after graduating university. She was a waitress then. Working paycheque to paycheque just to prove to her family that she didn’t need their trust fund to depend on and when an over-zealous man touched her on the hip as she poured him a cup of coffee, Steve was already on his feet to knock some serious sense into him.
Until Peggy did it first. And really, her right hook was better than anything he could have thrown anyway.
It’s their spot. And they only go here together whenever they have the time and order the same thing. Peggy’s chocolate chip flapjacks with camomile tea and Steve’s lumberjack special, as she likes to call it.
Steve’s nearly done his petite scone waiting when the door chimes and the click of heels sound. A warm hand slides down his right shoulder, engagement ring still blinding like the first time he saw it on polished red nails. He grins and twists up in his seat.
“You’re early.” Peggy says, red lips twitching.
Peggy’s still as radiant as he remembered her, even casually dressed as she is now in a pink sweater and black dress pants. She beams, long hair nearly hitting her elbows.
“Ah,” Peggy sighs, inhaling the waft rising from her tea with a calm smile. “you’ve no idea how badly I’ve missed this.”
“You want me to give you some privacy?” Steve jokes, opening up his fried chicken sandwich and scrapping off the avocado that’s smeared on the top bun. He doesn’t have to look up to know Peggy rolls her eyes.
“I don’t think this tea has changed ever since we found this place,” she says instead, and Steve looks up to see her stirring the cup gently with a spoon.
“It can’t have been that long since you’ve stopped by here. Don’t you bring Howard?”
Peggy flicks a look at him. “Why would I bring Howard to our spot?” And winks when Steve snorts fondly, smiling a little and picks up his lunch to take a bite right when Peggy says, nonchalantly getting back to stirring her tea.
“So you going to tell me what’s wrong or do I have to beat it out of you?”
Steve’s lucky he didn’t actually eat anything because his heart lodges itself into his throat, blocking his passageway and he freezes, sandwich frozen in his grip. He knows from experience it’s not worth it to try and lie with her.
“How’d you know?”
She nods to his food and sets down her cup. “Of all the times we’ve spent at La Lune, you’ve never ordered anything but the lumberjack special. I know I haven’t seen you as much as I normally would but I still know you. So.” She waits and folds her hands on the counter and stares at him patiently and maybe it’s something about her eyes. How free of judgement and familiar they are that Steve breaks.
“I’m sorry,” Steve says afterwards, running a hand through his blonde bangs. “This was supposed to be all about you and catching up,” he shakes his head. “You’re getting married in four days and I shouldn’t be dumping my crap on –“
“Steve,” Peggy interrupts, “I think I’ve had enough of talking about myself for a whole other lifetime,” she plucks a fry from Steve’s plate, “did you consider talking to him?”
“And say what exactly?” He stares at the remaining half of his sandwich that’s getting cold. “I’ve already made enough of a fool of myself. I just want this to go away.”
“Maybe it will,” she offers and nudges his ankle under the table to get his attention and he glances at her. Her chin is rested on her palm, “but you’ve got to take some steps first. You can’t escape him.”
“I can find another apartment.”
“You are so dramatic it makes my head spin.”
Steve laughs and Peggy grins. It’s enough to make him forget about the ache in his chest, even if it’s for a minute.
“Closure, Steve,” she says, “it’s good for the soul. Or so I’ve heard.”
“You’ve been talking too much to Sam.”
He knows a warning tone when he hears it and raises his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I’ll think about it. Really.” He adds when Peggy gives him a serious look.
“Good. And now if you’re done moping,” she chirps as she pulls Steve’s plate to her side.
“What?” Peggy says at Steve’s face of betrayal. “It’s not like you were planning on finishing it.”
And well, she’s got a point.
Steve means to talk to Bucky. He does.
He hovers a bit at the ground floor where the elevators are and does his laundry at the time he usually encounters Bucky. But he’s nowhere in sight.
He doesn’t knock on his door. The silence on the other side deafening and enough of an explanation that he’s not home.
If this is a sign, he knows when to take a hint.
0 days left.
Despite being half an hour early, Steve considers himself lucky for finding a parking spot once he gets to the Metropolitan Club. The forecast said the morning would be sunshine and light breeze but it’s one thing to hear and another to step into. Steve sort of wishes he brought his motorbike in hindsight.
His phone buzzes in his pocket and he slides it open to see a message from Sam as he walks blindly to the entrance, only a few bunches of people around him to not have to worry about crashing into someone.
Sam the Man: Hey man, where you at? Better head in fast before someone finishes off these mini crab cakes!!!
Steve snorts and sends back a quick reply: and by someone you really mean you
He gets a near instant reply: I plead the fifth.
Steve’s laughing before he knows it and pockets his phone, finally giving due attention to where the hell he’s going and –
There’s Bucky’s car. He’d know it anywhere. The black Camaro has a bump on its right rear that Bucky had said “gave it character” after he may or may not have rear-ended Becca’s ex-boyfriends’ mailbox back in Brooklyn. He doesn’t even realize that he’s not moving anymore. Frozen and staring at the convertible. Or maybe it’s a distraction so he doesn’t have to drag his eyes to Bucky, leaning on the side of the car in the same sleek silver suit with his hands shoved in his front pockets and sunglasses on.
Steve blinks and Bucky pushes his sunglasses to the top of his head and even through their distance, he’s still as breathtaking as he’s always been. The sun making his dark brown hair look lighter and makes his suit glisten. He waves a hand. “Hi.”
Before Steve knows it, he’s walking up to him despite the chanting in his brain to ignore him. Brush past him and enter the Club and forget his name.
“Bucky,” he starts, taking a moment to spare himself some gratitude for the strength behind his voice. “What’re you doing here?”
Bucky’s eyes dart to the side before staring into Steve’s. He looks nervous. But he licks his lip, fists balling in his pockets. “I need to talk to you.” His voice isn’t timid or desperate, but serious. “I just need to understand before I can – “ he takes a breath and lets it out in one rush. “so I can get some answer or closure or whatever, so I don’t care if you have to be brutally honest here. I can take it. Okay? Just – was any of it real to you? At all?”
Steve’s brain is tumbling out of control, grasping and failing to make any sense of the words coming out of Bucky’s mouth.
Bucky just keeps staring at him with wide blue eyes. “Why did you leave?”
That’s enough to screech Steve’s brain to a halt and he feels his eyebrows knit together in disbelief. “Me? Why did I leave?”
“Yes, Steve. Why?” He sounds torn. Somewhere between hurt and exasperated. Like Steve’s being cold and difficult on purpose.
“You’re the one who was gone when I woke up!” Steve snaps and can’t find a part of him to feel bad for raising his voice and the attention they’re getting with each sparing look in their direction.
Bucky’s contorted face changes then, slack. He looks at Steve for longer than is appropriate, the silence thickening between them but Steve can see the cogs working behind his eyes. Like he’s trying to figure out if Steve’s fucking with him. But then something in his shoulders sag. Not in defeat, but in numb shock.
Steve shakes his head, weak and can’t find enough strength to keep looking him in the eye anymore and focusses on the ground. “Bucky, I gotta go,” he says but his feet are rooted to the pavement. Disobedient and disloyal to the fracturing of his heart that’s happening all over again.
“No, no wait,” Bucky says and makes a motion as if to reach for Steve but then thinks better of it. Steve’s still not looking at him.
“Is that what this – you thought I left you?”
Steve scowls at his shoes. “You did.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees and Steve wants nothing more than to curl up on the floor and disappear –
Steve blinks, letting the words sink in and process and looks back up at Bucky who’s looking at him with a strange expression. Caught between the crossroads of relief, frustration and mirth. “I went across the street to the Dunkin Donuts for like, five minutes.”
Bucky’s eyes are shining. “For fucks sake Steve! You were dead to the world. I didn’t think you’d wake up for another hour and I didn’t wanna wake you up by bangin’ around in your kitchen.”
The sound of his blood rushing is pounding in his ears and Steve can’t find the right words to string together from the jumble of them tangling in his head.
“I thought you,” Steve gets out, voice light, “I thought you didn’t – “ and he can’t finish that sentence. I thought you didn’t want me. Bucky’s face breaks open, hearing it anyway and he takes a step even though there’s only maybe four between them.
“Steve, no,” he says and rests a hand on Steve’s elbow and takes the bottom out of Steve’s stomach away entirely as he whispers, “I’d never. It’s only ever been you.”
It doesn’t make sense and Steve shrugs his arm out of Bucky’s touch. “We both know that’s not true.”
Bucky considers him, eyes still blown with awe. “I haven’t been with anyone.”
“You don’t gotta lie to me Buck.”
“No, I’m serious,” Bucky says and runs a hand through his combed hair, messing it up and his brown bangs fall into his eyes little. It’s a nervous, embarrassed quirk Steve knows like he knows everything else about Bucky. Like how he’s not lying. He’s a terrible liar. “I haven’t for,” he clears his throat, “for a while.”
Steve bites back the ‘what’ that wants to come out and feels dizzy. “A while?”
Bucky’s making a point to talk to Steve’s left shoulder. “Remember when I borrowed Left Hand of Darkness?” Steve’s head rears back, looking at Bucky disbelievingly because that was weeks ago. Nearly a month ago.
“I didn’t know if you felt the same way,” Bucky explains and makes a scrunched up face, like he can’t believe he’s going to talk about it, “but I knew how I – I didn’t know how to keep seeing you without flat out asking you. Every time I tried I just,” he’s blushing now. The pink flush starting at his neck and Steve can’t quit looking at the rise of it.
“I’m not seeing anybody and I never was. And unless I’m getting the signals crossed here, and I really fucking hope I’m not –“
“You’re not,” Steve blurts, because he needs to get a word in before anything happens and he loses this. “You’re not,” he says again, voice steady and touches Bucky’s hand to get him to look him in the eye.
“You could’ve just asked me out, you idiot,” Steve says, the edges of his mouth want to split into the widest grin. Bucky huffs out a laugh, still shy, which is so unlike him.
“I wasn’t sure if you were interested.”
“That,” Steve takes another step and tugs him close, “is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”
Bucky’s smiling when he kisses him and he presses Steve closer by holding him by the back of his nape, his left arm coming around his waist to hold him in place like he’s making sure Steve stays like this and won’t fade away or disappear.
When he breaks away, it’s because he’s laughing a little maniacally. “I can’t believe us,” he says, nose doing that crinkling thing that Steve didn’t know how much he missed until seeing it up close now. “Fuckin’ Dunkin Donuts – “
Despite Tanya telling him to grow up, Sam laughs for a minute straight when Steve tells him when he takes his seat next to him at the wedding aisle, Bucky in the bathroom trying to fix his hair.
“Your life man. I swear to god.” He says, wiping a stray tear and patting Steve on the thigh afterwards.
As much as Peggy complained about it throughout the entire process, it comes out looking like something out of a fairy tale and right now, standing up and clapping, Steve knows her front over the extravagance meant nothing because she shines.
Peggy Carter marries Howard Stark to the rapturous roar of the crowd as he kisses her and only sheds a tear when she notices Sharon trying to hide her own behind her bouquet.
The yawn that comes out of Steve makes his bones ache as he pulls his sleep shirt down over his head while Bucky shuts his bedroom door behind him. “You sleepy?” He asks, shrugging out of his coat.
“You aren’t?” Steve flops on his back in his bed. He could fall asleep if he shuts his eyes right now. But he doesn’t, and keeps his eyes fixed on his ceiling, stupidly happy. Bucky drops his jacket on the top of Steve’s dresser and comes to sit on the side of Steve’s bed right beside him.
“Well I wasn’t the one who got into a dance off with Sam so no, not really,” Bucky jokes and pokes at Steve’s abs just to see him jolt. It’s surreal. And Steve gets a vague feeling of déjà vu when looking at him. Dressed the same the last time he was in his apartment and in this room. Only this time, things are drastically different and there’s no more room for doubt or questions between them. Only the truth, and that the way Bucky’s smiling down at him now isn’t for show or a trick of the light or Steve’s infatuated brain trying to make him believe. And just because he knows he can now, Steve pulls Bucky down to his level by his loosened tie and kisses him deep, without any intentions for more.
Bucky sighs against his mouth and rests one hand flat on the side of Steve’s head to support himself and the other on Steve’s chest until he tilts his head away and presses a chaste kiss to the angle of Steve’s jaw. “We don’t have to do anything Steve.”
“I know,” he says, and runs his hands up and down Bucky’s arm, remembering the tattoo that’s there but it’s fuzzy in recollection. “I know. But I don’t want you to go.” When Bucky smiles, it’s fond and he hasn’t stopped staring at Steve like he can’t believe his luck.
“You’re such a sap.” Bucky grins at him and stands, rummaging through Steve’s closet for something to sleep in and comes away with a pair of dark blue sleep pants and a white shirt.
When he unbuttons his dress shirt and pulls it down his arms, Steve’s eyes snap to his left arm. He definitely didn’t get a good look at it when he saw it last. It’s done in thick dark webs that look like scales down his entire arm and filled in with a deep red in some of the spaces. Bucky catches him staring and pulls on Steve’s shirt fast. He looks angry at himself.
“I need to get used to the way I forget shit around you,” he mutters and scratches at the back of his head. It makes the hairs there stick up.
It’s amazing how after nearly a month and a half of knowing him, Steve can call out his tells like they’re his own. “Bucky,” Steve calls, sitting up and hates the way he won’t look at him, fidgeting with the strings of the pants. His forearm and wrist is still exposed.
Steve waits and lets Bucky finish mulling over whatever is going around in his head until Bucky makes a decision and lets out a breath through his nose. “There’s a reason why I don’t stay over other people’s homes when, you know,” he starts and Steve has to think back to what he’s talking about and then remembers.
(“How come you don’t stay over at their places…wouldn’t that make things easier?”)
“Remember when I told you I was on paid leave from work?” Bucky says and pads over to Steve, sitting down on the bed. He sits to Steve’s right, like he wants Steve to look at it.
Bucky bites his lip. “It was because I needed some time off after coming home from overseas. I was a sergeant. In the uh,” he picks at a nail, “navy.”
Steve stares, words unable to come together and the silence is the last thing Steve wants Bucky to hear. “Buc-“
“I get nightmares. Bad ones," he makes a face, like there's a particular story behind that, "and I can’t sleep much if I’m not in my own bed. So I just end up laying there, pretending to sleep until they leave the next morning. I don't wanna risk anything and that’s how it’s always been since I got back,” he pauses and says so quietly Steve can barely hear it, “until you. Honestly pal, that was the first good nights sleep I’ve had in god knows how long.” He smiles, somewhere lost amidst grateful and sad.
“And this?” He gestures to his left arm like it’s an appendage. “Long story short, we got hit, got my arm trapped under an engine. Next thing I know, I’m waking up and listening to the paramedics talk about how my whole unit is gone and removing my arm,” Bucky recites and stares bitterly down at it. He makes a fist with the left one. “But I got 'lucky'. Honourable discharge.” He laughs in a way that’s not really a laugh and glances at Steve, waves his hand. “But the thing is, I can’t find anything damn honourable about it.”
“That’s not true.” Steve says, and takes his hand, ignoring the way Bucky flinches at the touch and he’s beginning to understand why Bucky had kept his arm hidden ever since he met him. He’s ashamed, Steve thinks, it’s a reminder; that he survived when all his friends didn't and he's still so angry about it. His heart twists inside his ribcage. He thinks he doesn’t deserve it.
Steve makes sure Bucky has his eyes locked on him and raises his left hand to his lips and presses a warm kiss the skin there. To his open palm to his wrist. Bucky sucks in a breath, watching Steve with pupils blown wide as he moves his way up his arm.
There’s nothing sexual about it and that’s probably why Bucky stills, frozen at the affection because it’s exactly that. It’s intimate. It’s possessively comforting and says everything Steve can’t put to words.
He stops when he reaches the crook of his elbow and looks up. In the dim of the light, Bucky could be crying. He doesn’t know for sure. But he kisses his cheek anyway and Bucky melts into it, tilting his head and rests the bridge of his nose to the side of Steve’s jaw and lets him hold him there.
1 day after.
Steve wakes to Bucky’s snoring face.
It’s smashed into the side of his pillow and can’t find any reason to regret the smile that spreads across his face. Bucky's cheeks are flushed and his hair is wild. His arms are underneath the pillow, black and red printed arm illuminated by the sunbeams coming through the thin curtains. Steve briefly considers grabbing his sketchbook to commit the slant of his jaw, stubbled and sharp to paper when Bucky begins to shift, but doesn’t wake up. All Bucky does is curl in closer to the curve Steve’s body makes for him and lazily throws an arm over Steve’s middle in his sleep.
After the third knock, Steve breaks away from Bucky's mouth and does his best to not let his pout make him go back into his arms. Whoever it is on the other side of the door is persistent.
When Steve opens it, he blinks down in confusion at the small red-headed woman standing there in a brown leather jacket and tight jeans, fiery hair hitting her collar bone. She sizes Steve up and whistles. “Huh.”
“You Steve?” Her voice is raspy and for all five foot three of her, Steve feels suddenly very small. Like he’s put under the microscope. “No need to be nervous. I’m a friend of Bucky’s, is he here? He didn’t answer his door and this was the only other place he could be if you two – oh, hey,” she says, looking over Steve’s shoulder to where Bucky stands. Steve turns around and Bucky’s looking at the woman with wide, horrified eyes. His neck is turning a pale red.
“Natasha. What are you doing here.” He says, panic in his voice.
“I came to make sure you weren’t dead. Or shoving your face with Haagen Daz like the last time I saw you.”
Steve tilts his head. “Haagen Daz?”
Bucky looks like he wants to crawl under a rock and disappear forever. His blush reaching his face now. Natasha doesn’t seem to care, or have any mercy for it though. “But I guess I can tell Clint to stop worrying,” she says, smug smile on her face as her green eyes go between Steve and Bucky.
The name Clint bounces around in Steve’s head before settling into place to where he heard that name before and suddenly desperately wishes he could go back in time and shake his past, jealous self by the shoulders.
“Clint can go fuck himself,” Bucky says, stomping over to the door, “and so can you. I’m alive. Hey, hi, okay bye now,” and tries to slam the door in her face but Steve catches it. The look Bucky gives him is like Steve just personally stabbed him in the back.
“It’s okay, I’m used to his temper tantrums,” Natasha says, un-bothered and winks up at Steve. “Nice to finally meet you though,” and she turns on her heel towards the stairs just as Bucky finally shuts the door sharply behind her.
He takes a while to face Steve and when he does, Steve’s grinning.
“Haagen Daz. Really?”
“Please. Just shut up.”
Steve shakes his head, still smiling and makes his way over to Bucky who still has his back pressed to the door. “Nope. Don’t think I will.”
“Steve, I mean it – “