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and I know this seems strange (after all it's our first date)

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Ding ding. Ding ding.

Bucky forced himself not to look up at the door at the sound of the bell. The bell was there to alert the good staff here at the cafe that someone had arrived, not to feed his hyperawareness and paranoia. He squinted at his book, narrowing his field of vision so he wouldn't be tempted to look at the new arrival.


Bucky groaned softly, opened his eyes fully, and dropped the book in his hands. He hadn't completely cracked the spine with his grip, but he was definitely going to have to be careful about turning the pages. He should probably just buy the library a new copy.

Resigned, he glanced up at the counter, where the man who had entered the cafe a few moments ago was placing his order.

Height: 5’8”

Training or skills: Normal human who does not exercise.

Threat level: negligible

AKA not worth destroying another book over. Bucky sighed, resolved to ignore Hydra Bob, and took a sip from his mug, savoring the sweetness of his tea and tried to let it relax him a little. At least he'd finally learned his lesson about bringing a tablet into public spaces like this - that had gotten expensive after the first few attempts. Books were at least a little cheaper. Even if everything here in the future cost a goddamned fortune.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

Bucky ignored the bell again, as the excited shrieks of the teenagers who had just entered the cafe told him everything he needed to know. It wasn't that teenagers couldn't be dangerous - look at Natasha, back when, or Kate Bishop today. But no one worth noting as a threat would take up such a memorable cover.

He flipped the page, hoping to get drawn back into the story. He'd been doing pretty well today, until the afternoon rush started up.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

He closed his eyes to remove the temptation to look up. It hadn't been an entire hour yet, but he hadn't exactly agreed to sit and torture himself. A not insignificant part of his recovery had been learning to recognize his own limits - and he was rapidly reaching one now. The cafe was quickly filling with people, the space too loud and too crowded.

Five minutes. If he could sit and make it another five minutes, he could leave. Five minutes, just so that he knew he could.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

Or not. He snapped the book closed, drained the last of his tea, and bolted for the door.

A week later, Bucky was back in his usual seat at the cafe. The staff here knew him by now, by sight and by order, if not by name. Maybe they just remembered the obscenely large tips dropped into the jar. Either way, someone had quickly wiped down his customary table while he waited for his order - tea and a chocolate chip scone. He sat with his back to the wall and an unobstructed view of the entrance. The cafe was quiet this time of day, and Bucky hoped that the rush wouldn't come early again this week so he could enjoy the time in relative peace.

He opened this week's book and started to read. It was a recommendation from Natasha, a story about a man lost in infinite universes and his attempt to get back to his original one. It wasn't bad, so far, although the chapter about the universe that had frozen over would haunt him. Like so many things with Natasha, this book probably should have come with a warning label.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

Bucky groaned. Maybe he should ask the staff if their busy times changed seasonally or something. Had school let out for the year or something?

He glanced at the door and froze.

Height: 5'2"

Training or skills: An affinity for her taser and an itchy trigger finger.

Threat level: 5

Name: Darcy Lewis

He ducked his head a little, allowing his hair to fall into his eyes and hide his face. While he knew of Darcy Lewis, he'd never actually met her in person. He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to change that today. Even if he had - maybe - held a few imaginary conversations with her file photo.

"Hold that thought, I'm ordering." Darcy held the phone to her chest and smiled at the barista. Bucky mentally revised her threat level to 8, for reasons that had nothing to do with her taser. "Hey, how are you?"

"Great thanks! What can I get you?"

"Dirty chai with an extra shot of espresso, please. Can I get that with coconut milk? Oh and one of those chocolate chip scones, that looks delightful. Thanks."

The barista rang her up. Darcy continued to hold the phone to her chest, not returning to her conversation until her transaction was complete and she was on her way to the bar to wait for her drink.

Bucky quickly tapped "dirty chai" into the search on his phone and skimmed the description in the first few results.

Huh. He might need to try that next time.

"Okay, I'm back," Darcy said as she slid into a seat at the table next to Bucky.

He looked around. The cafe was empty, save the two of them. Why did she pick the table right - oh. It was the only other seat that had allowed her to have her back to the wall.

Interesting. He wouldn't have thought she was the paranoid type. He added a half point to his mental tally of her threat level.

"Yes, I did keep you waiting that long. What, are you someone more important than the person making my coffee?" Darcy pursed her lips at whatever she was hearing on the phone. "You might do the big science, but you live on coffee, dude. Be nice to your barista, you don't function without their cooperation."

Bucky took a sip of his tea, hiding his smile behind his mug, and attempting to focus on his book and tune out the half-conversation he could hear next to him. Eavesdropping was rude. Even if she was being a bit loud about it.

"Oh lord. You are not Tony Stark, I don't care how many journals you've been published in, Ian." Darcy sipped her drink, her eyes fluttering closed in satisfaction, a small smile on her face.

Bucky snapped his gaze away and returned to his book before she opened her eyes again. Staring was rude.

"Okay. One, I repeat - you are not Tony Stark, no matter how stupid you make your facial hair. Two, don't talk about DUM-E that way, I might like him more than you. And three,” Darcy smirked into the phone, “don’t forget who controls your funding. I know where all your bodies are buried, and someone sitting in on this phone call would know just what to do with that.”

Bucky snorted, half choking on his tea as Darcy raised an eyebrow at him. “Gotta go, Ian. I’ll talk to you when I get back to the lab.” She ended the call, ignoring the tinny-sounding protests as they were shouted over the line just before she pushed the button. “Hi there,” she said, turning towards Bucky.

Well. Shit.

He turned towards her warily. She grinned.

“How’s it goin’?” she asked.

Bucky opened his mouth to say something - anything - but the words just wouldn’t cooperate. He snapped his mouth shut and nodded tightly in her direction.

Then he closed his book with a snap and bolted for the door, leaving his half-finished tea and nearly untouched scone behind.

He slowed as he approached the cafe, glancing through the window to gauge the crowd inside. It was usually quiet at this time of day, but he preferred to be sure before committing to walking through the door.

Two employees, one cleaning the espresso machine, the other looking bored at the register.

Empty table, empty table, empty -

Darcy Lewis.

He hesitated, hand hovering over the door handle. In his moment of indecision, she glanced up.

And smiled at him.

And waved.

Panic surged through him and before he knew what he was doing, his feet had taken him away and put the cafe firmly behind him.

Maybe he’d have better luck tomorrow.

Bucky took a small sip of his dirty chai and paused, considering the taste. Not bad, really. Darcy was on to something here. He took another sip before settling back into his seat and cracking open this week’s book. Another recommendation from Natasha, this time about knights in 14th century England. Her recommendations were always good, even if her taste was all over the place. He had long since learned to just accept the recommendation with a smile and hunt down the title at the library as quickly as possible. Natasha was notorious for quizzing him on the books she recommended and her retribution could be swift and terrible if she discovered he hadn’t at least attempted to read her recommendation.

So he was reading about 14th century knights.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

Bucky tried to suppress the sigh as a small group entered the cafe. He glanced up long enough to make a quick assessment, then ducked his head back down, trying to ignore them and read his book.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

Nope. Not even going to look up this time.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

Why was he doing this again?

Ding ding. Ding ding.

Seriously, what was going on. The coffee here wasn’t even that good anyway.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

Ding ding. Ding ding.

“What do you call a group of unorganized cats?”

Bucky blinked, the voice ripping him out of his mental spiral and back into reality. He looked up and his eyes struggled to focus. He’d been clenching his eyes closed without realizing it. Darcy Lewis smiled down at him, patiently waiting for his answer.

“Wha - sorry. What did you say?” he asked.

“What do you call a group of unorganized cats?” she repeated, her smile warm and indulgent. If it were a blanket, he’d want to curl up in it and never leave. He mentally smacked himself for the image and added yet another half point to her threat level.

“I…” he shook his head. “I have no idea.”

“A cat-astrophe!” Darcy crowed, then cackled at her own bad joke. She motioned to the seat across from him. He nodded, too stunned at her sudden appearance to object, the increasingly crowded cafe forgotten for the moment. She slid into the seat just as the barista arrived with her order. “Why thank you, Bryan.”

Bryan the barista grinned at her and set two drinks and a plate of cookies down on the table.

“Uh,” Bucky said, ever eloquent.

“You usually get the unbirthday tea, right? I thought I saw the tag last time. Which, speaking of, what gives? I haven’t seen you in here in a while.”

Darcy took a sip of her drink, before smiling encouragingly at him and breaking off a bit of cookie. “Help yourself to the cookies, too. There’s more than enough.”

“You - I mean, uh…No, I…” Someone really needed to remind him how to make the words go because this was a complete and utter disaster.

“Take your time, bud,” Darcy said.

“You remembered my tea?” he blurted finally. “After seeing the tag, what, once?”

“You’re welcome,” Darcy replied, with a smug grin. "Excellent choice with the unbirthday tea, by the way. Delicious and hilarious for you. I approve."

“That’s -” he sighed and shook his head. He was hopeless. He gave up and took a sip of the tea. It was creamy and sweet, even without milk or sugar, and it helped to soothe his swirling thoughts into something a little more manageable.

Darcy was here. Darcy bought him tea. Darcy was sitting down and attempting to have a normal conversation with him.

Darcy clearly had no idea what she’d signed herself up for.

Darcy broke off another piece of cookie. “So. What gives? Where’ve you been?” she asked, popping the bite into her mouth.

He managed a shrug. “Around.”

“Around, he says. Meanwhile, I’ve been here every day, waiting for you.”

He stilled. That was never a thing an assassin - former assassin - wanted to hear. “Why?”

Darcy shrugged. “We’ve never really gotten to chat. We sort of spoke that one time, but you’re always in a hurry when I see you. I figured if I could catch you when you’re here, maybe infringe on a little of your downtime, maybe we’d get to say more than a passing hello.”

Bucky was pretty sure his brain flatlined at the thought of her going out of her way to talk to him. It wasn’t the sort of thing he’d imagined someone would do for him, not now. Not after...just. Not after.

“Besides,” Darcy continued, “how else am I going to get you to ask me on a date if we’ve never spoken?”

Bucky stared at her. “You - what?”

“You’re adorable when you’re flustered, you know that?”

Bucky rubbed his eyes, confused and tired, but mostly kinda giddy beyond belief. “Am I having a stroke?”

She quirked an eyebrow. “Are super soldier strokes different from not-super soldier strokes?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Then you’re good.” Darcy broke off another piece of cookie. “Seriously, you need to eat some of this. I am not kidding.”

Bucky took a piece of cookie to appease her, then washed it down with a long sip of his tea. He considered her, with her cozy sweaters and bubbly personality. What in the world was she doing wasting her time with him?

“Why?” he asked, finally breaking his silence.

“Why what?” she replied, with an expression that said she knew exactly what he was talking about but was going to make him say it anyway.

“Why do you want me to ask you on a date?”

She leaned into the table, resting her weight on her folded arms. “We could get to know each other. I’m enjoying our conversation right now. It’s fun, don’t you think?”

“I think this conversation is maddening,” he lied.

“Yeah well. Welcome to dating in the 21st century,” she laughed. “It’s not that complicated, Bucky. You’re my type, I think we’d have fun, I’d like to try it. But if you’re not into it, no harm done.”

She made it sound so simple, when the reality was anything but. “Semi-stable, hundred-year-old men are your type?” he bit out, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

“Sure. When they’re you.”

He blinked. She was serious.

Her smile dimmed a little in the face of his silence. “Okay,” she muttered. She drained the rest of her drink, then grabbed her bag from where it hung off the back of her chair. She looked back at him, her smile brightening, even if it was a little bit forced at the edges. “I’ll see you around.”

She stood and made to leave. It was now or never - if he wanted to take this chance, to see if any of those imagined conversations were anything close to the reality, he had to say something right now.

“Darcy,” he called after her before she could get more than a step away from the table.

She turned back. “Yeah?”

“Ca-” He paused and cleared his throat, desperately attempting to come up with something witty or charming or just plain not weird to say.

Instead, what he said was, “Can I tie your shoes?”

Darcy’s surprise quickly changed to bemusement. “Kinky,” she replied.

He rolled his eyes and smiled. “Play along please.”

She grinned. “What was the question again?”

He gathered his courage, reached back in time, and made his best effort to pull out his old charming grin. It felt rusty and thin, but it still fit.

“Can I tie your shoes?” he asked again.

“Why?” she shot back.

He took a deep breath. “Because I don’t want you falling for anyone else.”

Darcy’s grin grew into a beaming smile that could probably be seen from space. She had certainly lit up the entire cafe. “Saturday,” she said. “Pick me up at 8.” She turned to go.

“I don’t know where you live!” he called after her.

“You’re a smart one,” she threw over her shoulder. “You’ll figure it out.”

Bucky grinned as she swept out of the cafe, and gave himself a moment to relish the endorphin rush of flirting and those early butterflies that appeared at the start of something. Then he looked around, realizing the cafe was still full and bustling. His first instinct was to leave, get away from the crowd.

But he still had tea in his cup, and Darcy had left behind a cookie or two. It would be a shame to waste them.

Besides, he mused as he reopened his book, he was going to have to ace Natasha’s inevitable quiz if he wanted to get Darcy’s address from her.

He smiled a little to himself. And looked forward to it.