It’s dark outside. Bucky’s not surprised, 5 in the morning is always dark and he’s always here by 5 in the morning, a little tired and a lot happy, his little home away from home, his nook tucked into the corner of Brooklyn.
Bucky puts his coat on the hook in his office, a tiny little space that’s just big enough for a laptop, a leather chair, and a hook. Bucky smiles at the neat stack of papers, the receipts stuck together with an alligator clip, pens and pencils in a ceramic pencil holder that Becca had made for him when she had turned five years old. There’s a small, neat pile of Tootsie roll wrappers, a sure sign that Sam had made his way through most of the accounts before getting distracted by his usual black hole of Vine videos. Bucky takes one of Sam’s post-it notes and scribbles a note on it -- YOU’RE GONNA ROT YOUR TEETH, WILSON -- and sticks it on the computer monitor.
He smiles, humming to himself, and closes the office door behind him.
Bucky has a routine. He wakes up at 4:00 in the morning, on the dot, every day, even on weekends. He lets himself luxuriate under the warmth of his soft, thick blanket for exactly ten minutes, then goes to take a hot shower. He puts on clothes, laid out the night before, and goes to the kitchen, puts on the coffee, pours himself cereal, puts toast in the toaster, and sits down with whatever book he’s reading that week. Bucky’s a fast, voracious reader. He goes through books like people go through socks. He always lets himself rest then, just for a half an hour, drinking coffee, eating his cereal, and reading his book. He doesn’t look at his phone.
Eventually, he looks at the clock, sees that it’s 20 minutes to 5:00 am. He puts his book down, gets his coat, puts on his shoes, puts in his earbuds, and walks the 15 minutes to the coffee shop.
At 5:00 am, he slides in through the back entrance, turns on the light in the kitchen, and opens the door to the office. He hangs his coat, leaves Sam a note, and goes to start the bread.
This morning is no different, except Bucky smells it in the air, the cold, crisp scent of the dark around him, the clouds heavy and bright white in the sky, the way everything around him seems calm and still.
He opens the back door and looks out, feels that swirling stillness.
“It’s going to snow,” Bucky says, smiling to himself, talking out loud to nobody.
By the trash can, a beautiful cat with long, red fur stares at him in the dark. Its bright, green eyes seem to study him and before Bucky can say hi or offer her milk, she makes a little noise and swishes away.
“Well, better get to work,” Bucky says and closes the door.
Bucky plays a different Spotify list while he bakes every day. They’re picked according to his mood, to how he’s feeling, and, often, to what he feels like baking. There are a few things on the menu that are staples -- an olive and rosemary ciabatta, a brioche, a rosemary focaccia, his decadent double chocolate chip cookies, his very popular orange and cardamom shortbread cookie, and an old-fashioned sour cream donut, which is his personal favorite to nibble on throughout the day. Everything else Bucky plans out the weekend before, a rotating menu based on what his gut is telling him to make, what his customers say they haven’t seen in a while, and, occasionally, whatever pops into Sam’s head.
This morning, he finds a soothing coffee shop playlist to sway to as he mixes and kneads his breads. He has lemon tarts that he needs to make, some cranberry and orange scones, some hazelnut chocolate croissants, and, he’s thinking, maybe a chocolate and raspberry babka.
Bucky lets himself get lost in the music, the thoughts in his head, and the feel of soft dough in between his fingers.
He spends the morning in this way, until suddenly his phone alarm goes off and he realizes it’s a quarter to 7.
“Time to open the shop,” he says, again to no one.
He washes his hands, sets the tarts in the freezer, and goes to open the front door.
There are three kinds of customers, Bucky’s found. First, there are the ones who show up just as the doors open, who have the exact same order every day, who need to mainline coffee and maybe eat a butter croissant just to wake up enough to begrudgingly be alive for the morning. Bucky finds these customers to be stable and a little boring, but also kind of hilarious.
For example, James Rhodes always shows up at 6:47 am, gets an extra large coffee, black, a slice of the olive rosemary focaccia, with just a smear of butter, and sits down at his booth, reading the paper, and arguing with someone over the phone (the argument is the same, every day--“No, Tony, I’m not going to do that. Yes Tony, we talked about this last night. Tony, for the love of God, let me finish my goddamned coffee before you give me a migraine for the day.”). Rhodey always talks to Bucky when he’s ordering, but he’s a man of importance and once he gets his coffee, he doesn’t like to be disturbed except, Bucky guesses, by this mysterious Tony. He does however, always give Bucky a little nod as he deposits his coffee mug in the little tray for used mugs and plates and utensils, and is out the door by 7:10 am on the dot, every day.
The second type of customer is the one who comes in not at exactly the same time, but around the same time, within an hour window, hovers away from the counter and peruses the coffee menu and the pastry display leisurely before coming up to Bucky and trying whatever suits their fancy that day.
His favorite of these customers is a large blond by the name of Thor who always says he’s not going to reward his undeserving and irritating brother with a massive sweet tooth for whatever trouble he’s caused the night before, but who will end up getting at least one cloyingly sweet caffeinated drink and whatever pastry Bucky recommends for the day, in addition to his extra large Americano. Thor is basically a golden retriever and Bucky finds his grumbling to be absolutely delightful, mostly because he’s so good-natured about it.
The last type of customer is the wanderer. These are usually new customers, stumbling into the coffee shop out of necessity or because they were passing by and liked how cute it looks inside or are simply students or tourists looking to have some coffee and get out of the New York City wind while charging their phones.
Bucky doesn’t mind the latter--any customer is a good, paying customer--but he’s always a little sad when he doesn’t catch their names or, when he does catch their names and he never sees them again.
This morning, after Rhodey leaves, his usual conversation with Tony louder and more irate than usual, and Thor takes back a large gingerbread latte and hazelnut chocolate croissant for Loki, Bucky looks up to see someone who must be the latter.
He’s certainly never seen this person before.
He’s a young blond man, on the smaller side, dressed in black pants and black shoes and a red puffy coat. He has on a black scarf that’s two times too big for him and has one of those messenger bags slung across his small body. His blond hair is messed up from the wind and his cheeks are rosy. His eyes, bright blue, seem to gleam behind a pair of black-rimmed glasses.
Bucky takes in a small breath.
He’s cute, this guy.
Like, really cute.
Bucky swallows a sudden burst of nerves and puts on his usual smile.
“Hey,” he says. “How can I help you?”
The blond blinks, as though he wasn’t expecting Bucky to speak to him. He shuffles forward and looks through the coffee menu and the pastry display.
“Uh,” he says. “I need coffee and I want one of the um, fancy ones. But I have a...lactose thing?”
“I can make anything with soy milk, almond milk, or oat milk. You got a preference?”
The guy looks unsure.
“What...do you recommend?” he asks.
“Sweet or not sweet?”
The guy looks dubious for a moment and then shuffles forward some more.
“Okay, so I should say unsweetened, but I came in because I saw your sign outside and it said dark chocolate truffle...peppermint mocha? It sounds disgusting, but I’m intrigued.”
“Yeah, that’s one of our new ones,” he says. “Can confirm it’s disgusting. But like, in a life-changing way.”
The young man looks dubious again, but Bucky can see it--the little twinkle in his eyes.
Bucky leans forward.
“I won’t tell if you won’t tell,” he whispers.
The young man hesitates, but then he leans forward too.
“Okay,” he says. “Because there’s this strict policy about too much sugar during high magic months, it like, messes with your magic and if the Headmaster finds out--”
Bucky tries not to crack up. He laughs anyway.
“Yeah, sure, of course,” he says, playing along. “The magic-averting effects of sugar, I’ve heard that before.”
“Yeah,” the young man grins. “You get it.”
“Your secret’s safe with me--?” Bucky looks at him questioningly as he grabs a cup to write his name on.
“Steve,” the blond--Steve, says. “Steve Rogers.”
Bucky smiles and writes -- STEVE ROGERS, DRK CHOC TRFL PPRMNT MOCHA -- on the cup.
“You want whip cream with that, Steve Rogers?”
Steve purses his lips and hesitates again.
“How about,” Bucky says. “I don’t write it on the cup. But I give it to you anyway?”
“Oh!” Steve says and looks relieved. “Yes. I would like that very much.”
“You got it,” Bucky says with a smile. “Anything else?”
“Um,” Steve says and his eyes dart to the pastries. “How about the...hazelnut chocolate croissant?”
“Popular choice,” Bucky says. “I’ll write ham and cheese scone on the package. How’s that work for you?”
“Oh that works very very well,” Steve says. He looks taller suddenly and he’s smiling, clearly happy from ear to ear. Bucky feels those nerves again. He’s so cute.
“That’ll be $7.00,” Bucky says.
Steve gets out a wallet, looks at the contents of it dubiously, as though he’s struggling to understand how wallets work, and then he slowly takes out a ten dollar bill. He slides it across the counter.
“Keep the change,” Steve says. “For the secret and all.”
He turns to start on Steve’s order when the other man pops his head over the pastry display.
“Hey!” he says. “I didn’t catch your name!”
Bucky laughs as he turns on the espresso machine.
“James Barnes,” he says. “But you can call me Bucky.”
Steve takes his coffee and pastry with a happy smile.
“Do you mind if I sit and work a while? Classes start again soon, I was going to do some reading,” Steve says.
“Of course,” Bucky says. “The WiFi’s on your receipt.”
“Thanks!” Steve says brightly.
“What do you study?” Bucky asks before he turns, curious.
“Magic,” Steve says with a wink.
Bucky stares at him and then laughs.
Steve grins and turns with his treats and his messenger bag, surveying the empty tables and booths and selecting one that’s just by the window.
He puts his stuff down and slides into the booth and then more customers come in and Bucky gets busy for a few hours.
Steve stays in his booth for much of the morning. He doesn’t make much noise, although every once in a while when Bucky looks over, there’s paper rustling around or a book or three that shifts from left to right and back left again. Bucky never sees a laptop, but when he goes to give other customers their coffees and sandwiches, he sees Steve bending over a notebook, pen in between his teeth, squinting at something on his page and frowning.
He seems deep in concentration, which Bucky doesn’t want to interrupt, but sometime around noon, he figures Steve probably needs more sustenance than a chocolate pastry. He’s about the size of Bucky’s arm anyway.
“A ham sandwich,” Bucky says, putting the plate on Steve’s table, in a corner he finds free of papers and textbooks.
“Oh!” Steve says looking at the plate and then back at Bucky.
“No cheese,” Bucky says with a smile. “Because of the lactose thing.”
“Thanks, Bucky!” Steve says. He does that thing again, smiling widely, his whole face bright and warm in its aftermath. “Let me pay--”
“It’s fine,” Bucky says. “Save it for another day.”
What Bucky means is save it for yourself for another day, but what he unintentionally ends up sounding like is a bit of a presumptuous ass, telling Steve to come back another day. He opens his mouth to try to correct himself, when Steve nods.
“Okay,” he says. “Next time I want to try the hazelnut macchiato. Also the lemon tart. How chocolatey is your double chocolate cookie?”
Bucky closes his mouth and tries not to feel too pleased.
“Very,” he says. “Imagine death by chocolate. It’s like that, but with more chocolate.”
Steve’s face seems to tinge pink at that and he looks pleased.
“Bucky,” Steve says and he seems very serious this time. “I know it’s called Perkatory, but. I think this place might be heaven.”
Bucky stares at him and then--well, he laughs again.
“For that, you get a drink on the house,” he says. “What do you want?”
“How about just a plain coffee this time?” Steve says with a coy look. “We want to respect the high magic and all of that.”
“Right,” Bucky says. “The high magic. One coffee, black, coming right up.”
“You’re an angel,” Steve says with a flash of a smile and then returns to his books.
Bucky shakes his head, walking back toward the counter with a little bit of a smile on his face.
Sam, who’s ringing up a customer behind the counter, because sometimes he gets bored of balancing accounts and Bucky makes him earn his coffee and morning muffin through hard work, gives him a look.
“What?” Bucky asks.
“Stop giving customers free shit, Barnes,” he says. “We’re running a business, not a soup kitchen.”
“Whatever,” Bucky mutters. “You’re not the boss of me.”
He fills a new mug of coffee.
“No!” Sam says over his shoulder. “I’m just the guy keeping your business afloat!”
Bucky grumbles at Sam and moves past him and the line of customers back to Steve’s booth.
Steve’s squinting at his notebook terribly hard again. He has a smudge of ink on his chin and there’s a post-it-note stuck to his hair.
“Study up, Steve Rogers,” Bucky says, putting the mug down on the table.
“Aye, aye, Captain!” Steve says and gives Bucky a thumbs up.
Bucky chuckles and leaves Steve to his work.
They have another rush of customers and then Sam takes over at the front so that Bucky can take an hour break to go restock a few items that they’ve run out of, clean the kitchen, and set another batch of cookies baking. He changes out the coffee, cleans the bathroom, and takes a call from his mother, who likes to call him three times a week to make sure he still doesn’t regret his decision to open a bakery and coffee shop instead of using his engineering degree.
When he comes back out, Sam’s cleaning the booth that Steve was sitting in. The blond’s left and Bucky can’t help but feel a little tug of disappointment that he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
“Hey,” Sam says after he’s cleaned the booth and coming back with the washcloth. “Look at this.”
Bucky feels his eyebrows raise as Sam passes a post-it note to him.
On it, in hasty, spiky writing is written:
-Eye of newt (probably can be substituted)
-Hair of the enemy (WHO)
-Sprig of baby’s breath
-Water from stream clearest (WHERE)
-A gift truly given (???)
“What the hell is this?” Sam asks, raising an eyebrow.
“A list?” Bucky offers.
“A list!” Sam huffs out. He moves behind Bucky, goes to wring out the dirty washcloth. “A list, he says! A list my ass. A list of enemy hairs and batwings, the hell.”
Bucky shakes his head as he looks at the post-it note.
“Weird,” he mutters to himself.
Then he sighs and returns to work.
He keeps the post-it note.
The rest of January is a cold, snowy mess and February dawns barely any brighter. The sky is a desperate, gloomy, relentless gray. People are back in school. Bucky tests a recipe for a lavender orange cinnamon roll that he immediately dumps in the trash.
“Orange and lavender are not to be mixed,” he says, licking his fingers and writing in his recipe book with distaste. He underlines the word NOT three times. “Under any circumstances.”
It’s 6:12 am on February 11th.
58 minutes later, James Rhodes has left with his extra large cup of coffee and his ongoing battle with Tony. (“What did I tell you about stalking her, Tony! Yeah it’s called stalking when you wait outside her office window, damn.”)
Bucky wipes down the counter, rewrites their coffee special menu on the chalkboard, and turns when the door opens and a draft of cold wind blows in.
“Hey,” he greets, looking up and blinks.
“Bucky!” a familiar looking blond greets from behind a different overly large scarf. He’s barely visible behind it, but Bucky sees the top rim of his black, wiry glasses and a blue beanie with a puff of white on the top of his head.
“Steve!” Bucky says with a broad smile. It’s been nearly a month since the blond had come in the first time and Bucky had given up any hope of seeing him again. His mind itches, thinking to the post-it note he has taped to wall next to his calendar. “You came back.”
“Sorry I was gone for so long,” Steve says. “I had school! Do you still make the umm--”
“Hazelnut macchiato,” Bucky remembers, somehow. “Yeah. Do you still want one?”
Steve comes in closer to the counter and Bucky sees more of his face emerge, pink from the cold.
“Yes please,” he says with a bright smile. “The high magic month is over, so I can have as much sugar as I want.”
“I don’t suggest that,” Bucky says. “But I can offer a hazelnut macchiato. I’ll put in some Nutella.”
“No,” Steve breathes, eyes wide. “You can do that?”
Bucky’s mouth twitches.
“I can do whatever I want,” he says. “I’m the owner.”
“My hero,” Steve smiles. “Can I look at your pastries?”
Bucky gestures toward the pastry case and goes behind the espresso machine to start on Steve’s absurdly sugary concoction. He presses some levers, scoops espresso into the portafilter, releases steam with another valve.
“Bucky,” Steve asks after a minute. “Why is everything heart-shaped?”
“It’s Valentine’s Day soon,” Bucky replies, sticking a mug under the spout for the espresso to spit out into.
“Are you excited about Valentine’s Day?” Steve asks.
Bucky looks up in time to see him push his glasses up his nose and stick his face so close to the display case that it nearly gets smashed against it. It makes Bucky smile.
“Not really,” Bucky says. “But people like to eat more chocolate than usual and I like making chocolate pastries.”
“What’s your favorite?” Steve asks, unsmashing his face.
“Pastry?” Bucky raises an eyebrow. He starts frothing the hot milk.
“Chocolate pastry,” Steve says. “For Valentine’s Day.”
Bucky thinks about it as he layers vanilla syrup with the espresso and the hot milk.
“I’m simple,” Bucky says. “I really like shortbread cookies.”
Steve sticks his face back in the case and then steps back.
“You mean the one shaped like a heart with the red frosting?”
“That’s the one,” Bucky says. He adds in a secretly unreasonable amount of Nutella into the mug and makes a design with the foam on top. “Between you and me, I ate the entire first batch. Then I said Bucky, get a hold of yourself, there’s four batches to go.”
Steve laughs at that, seemingly delighted.
“One heart shaped shortbread cookie please,” Steve says. “With my hazelnut Nutella macchiato. For Valentine’s Day.”
“My teeth hurt just listening to that order,” Bucky complains. He places the mug with the saucer plate on the counter next to Steve and goes to retrieve a cookie.
“Thanks, Buck!” Steve says brightly. “Do you mind if I sit and study for a little while?”
Bucky blinks at the nickname, but isn’t displeased by it. It makes him smile a little.
He puts the cookie on the plate and pushes it toward Steve. Steve, in return, takes out another $10 bill and pushes it across the counter toward Bucky.
“Go right ahead,” Bucky says. “The WiFi password is on your receipt.”
“Sure,” Steve says. “I definitely know what that is.”
Bucky looks at him, amused, and Steve retreats to the same booth that he had taken over last time.
What a weird guy, Bucky thinks.
But he’s still smiling as more customers file in and ask him about the day’s coffee specials.
Two hours later, Sam’s back behind the counter and Bucky’s moving through the coffee shop, picking up used mugs and plates and bringing them back to the kitchen. He’s passing by Steve’s booth when Steve lets out a kind of desperate groan.
Bucky pauses, a plate of crumbs in his hand.
“Are you dying?” he asks cautiously. “Because I warned you about the sugar.”
“Yes,” Steve says dramatically. Then he lifts his face from amid all of his papers. He blinks. “What? No, not from that!”
“Why are you dying, then?” Bucky asks, despite himself. His eye twitches as he notices a piece of tape stuck to Steve’s hair. He wonders, briefly, how many things get stuck there and if Steve has ever noticed.
“I think my heart’s dying,” Steve complains.
“Should I call an ambulance…?” Bucky asks.
“No,” Steve sighs. He gestures toward his textbooks as though Bucky should gather the answer to his woes from that. “Troubles of the heart.”
“Maybe try different words,” Bucky suggest.
Steve groans again and buries his face in papers.
“All of the books say that love is the biggest source of magic,” he complains. “But that seems...restrictive. What do you do if you can’t find love? Or if love doesn’t love you back? Are you just out of luck? Sorry buddy, no magic for you!”
“Is this about a girl?” Bucky asks. He looks over at Sam, who raises an eyebrow at him. Bucky shrugs and turns back to Steve. “Or a guy?”
“No!” Steve exclaims. “Well, I mean yes that too. I mean I think I really like this person, but what if they don’t like me back? What if they never like me back? Am I destined to never fulfill my destiny?”
“I don’t know about destiny,” Bucky says, a little confused. “But I guess if someone doesn’t like you back, then you have to decide if they ever could. And if they can, find out what they like and what they want from you. Do that if it feels right? And if they don’t, then, maybe your destiny’s uh, someone else?”
Bucky has no idea what he’s talking about, in all honesty. He hasn’t been in a relationship since he opened his coffee shop. Baking is his relationship now.
“They’ll never like me back,” Steve huffs out. His blond bangs flop into his eyes and he just sighs, looking defeated. “I’ll never be able to harness the power I need for this.”
“Valentine’s Day sucks,” Bucky agrees and Steve just rests his chin in his hand and looks out the window, forlornly.
Steve looks so depressed that Bucky disappears with the dirty plate and then reappears with a new one, this time with a small raspberry chocolate tart in the shape of a heart.
“I don’t know anything about relationships,” Bucky says. “But I know about baked goods. This is the closest thing you’ll get to love this Hallmark Holiday season.”
“I only know what some of those words mean,” Steve says. But his face lights up and he reaches eagerly for the tart. “But I know what I like and I like chocolate.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Bucky snorts.
“You think this will help me figure out love?” Steve asks, looking at Bucky.
“I doubt that,” Bucky says. “But love’s out. Chocolate tarts are in.”
Steve nods at that, like Bucky’s made a whole lot of sense, digs around for a pen under his stack of papers, then scribbles something on the one on top.
“I’ve written it down to make sure I remember,” Steve says.
Bucky looks at the chicken scratch Steve calls “writing” with amusement.
“Eat your tart,” Bucky says. “And then maybe eat a vegetable.”
Steve makes a face.
“I don’t know a whole lot about love,” Steve says. “But I know you can’t find it in a bowl of brussel sprouts.”
“Why,” Bucky says dryly. “Have you tried?”
Steve makes another face. He wrinkles his nose, which makes his whole face scrunch with it. His glasses come a little askew and Bucky thinks again, wow , he’s so cute .
“I will ponder your advice,” Steve says. “But I will most likely ignore it and eat the tart instead.”
“Can’t blame you for that,” Bucky says, nodding at Steve. “Good luck with your love life.”
“Thanks,” Steve says with a sigh and a mouthful of chocolate raspberry tart. “Valentine’s Day is awful, I hope you have a better one than I do.”
Bucky thinks about the strawberry chocolate pie he’s going to make. He plans to curl up with a warm blanket, a slice of pie, a glass of wine, his cat, and You’ve Got Mail.
He smiles slightly.
“It won’t be a bad one, at least,” he says.
He returns to the counter and Steve continues studying, or whatever it is he’s doing. Bucky hears some grumbling and sighing from the booth every once in a while.
When Steve leaves, Bucky’s able to catch him this time. He waves with a smile and Steve does the same.
When Bucky returns to the booth to clean up after Steve, the tart plate is absolutely clean and there’s a post-it note left behind with an anatomically correct heart drawn on it and the word MAGIC written underneath, underlined three times.
Bucky keeps this one too.
In March, Bucky’s in the middle of rolling out a series of different bundt cakes. They’re not sexy, bundt cakes, but Bucky spends the last two weeks of February obsessively watching every episode of the Barefoot Contessa he can find on a streaming service and one episode she makes a sour cream coffee bundt cake that he then can’t stop thinking about.
Two weeks later, he tells Sam he has a plan.
“Four different bundt cakes a week,” Bucky tells him.
Sam, with a stack of receipts and invoices behind him in his tiny office, raises an unmistakably skeptical eyebrow.
“Then what? A fight to the bundt cake death?” he asks.
“Sure,” Bucky says. “We put out those little tip jars. They vote for which one they like best and then the winners go up against each other. It’ll be a competition.”
“Are you creating March Madness with bundt cakes, Barnes?” Sam squints at him.
Bucky blinks at his best friend and accountant and shrugs.
“Guess I am.”
“You’re so weird,” Sam says. “But you bundt as many cakes as you want.”
So that’s what Bucky does. He literally makes a March Madness bracket out of bundt cakes.
The second week of March, Bucky is up to his eyeballs in bundt cake batter. He has recipes taped to the walls of his apartments. He has 20 different bundt cake idea tabs open on his phone. He goes to Target and buys five extra bundt cake pans.
Sam asks him what he’s doing for his birthday and Bucky tells him he’s going to celebrate the day of his birth working on a project that will make him a better person in his upcoming, 26th year of life. Sam doesn’t believe him, so he makes him grab happy hour drinks with him after work and then Bucky goes back to his apartment, alone, to his cat, his precarious tape-and-paper situation, and his bundt mania.
He makes his own birthday cake that night and both he and cat drink red wine, while rewatching episodes of the Great British Bake Off. Red wine, it turns out, goes really great with funfetti birthday bundt cake. He adds it to the competition menu.
It’s the third week of March Bundtness and Bucky’s set out last week’s winner (lavender lemon bundt cake with lemon glaze) against its new contender (brown sugar chocolate chip bundt cake with a maple-espresso glaze) and is in the middle of slicing into both of them when the door flings open and a familiar blond head with a slouchy blue beanie comes in all aflurry.
“Bucky!” Steve says, flapping his hands.
“Steve!” Bucky says, waving around his knife. He blinks at it. “Oh, sorry. That wasn’t a threat.”
“I have spring break!” Steve says. He closes the door and shuffles forward. “But!”
“Great!” Bucky says. “But?”
“But,” Steve sighs. “I have so much work. Like. A mountain of work. Like. If I don’t spend every minute of my spring break doing all of this work I might actually, really, literally die.”
“Sure, that tracks,” Bucky says. He finishes slicing the bundt cakes and puts the knife on a separate plate. Then he moves toward the two tip jars and turns them around so he can change the signs.
March Bundtness has been a resounding success, if he does say so for himself. He’s had new customers ask about the bundt obsession and some old customers who come in each day specifically to try whatever the new bundt of the day is. The second week of March, Bucky had made a triple chocolate bundt that Thor had taken a slice of for his brother and which, apparently, his brother had then demanded he return to buy the entire cake of.
“So um,” Steve says and he looks nervous.
Bucky looks up mid-changing sign and raises an eyebrow. “What’s up?”
“Do you mind if I………….make-this-my-official-location-of-study?” he asks all in one breath.
Bucky blinks at him and laughs.
“You want to camp out here for a week to study your uh….magic?” Bucky still has no idea what Steve studies.
“Yeah!” Steve says brightly. “I promise I’ll buy--everything.”
“Is this an excuse to send yourself into a sugar shock?” Bucky squints at him.
“No…” Steve says slowly and then grins and gives Bucky two thumbs up.
That makes Bucky laugh and shake his head ruefully.
“I’m going to make everything spinach-themed starting tomorrow,” he says and Steve makes a blegh face and also says blegh! “But sure. You wanna be my taste tester?”
“For what?” Steve asks curiously and shuffles closer to the display case. His eyes go all round and disc-like at the chocolate espresso bundt.
“March Bundtness,” Bucky says. He waves at the tip jars and at the two display cases of bundt cakes.
“This is my favorite place in the whole world,” Steve says and goes a little cross-eyed from it.
“I’ll get you a slice of both,” he says. “If you eat a salad for lunch.”
“Gross,” Steve says, wrinkling his nose. “But deal.”
They exchange money and thumbs ups and handshakes and then Steve goes to his usual booth and Bucky goes to plate some slices of cake for him. He pours him a cup of coffee, black, on purpose.
Halfway through the day, Steve drags himself out of his booth. He uses the bathroom and goes outside to stretch his legs. It coincides with Bucky’s break, so when Bucky leaves the Bundtporium, he notices Steve, pacing the length of the block, waving his hands about so, and muttering to himself. He squints at something in the sky and then pinches his nose.
When he turns around, Bucky’s staring at him, hands in his big coat, a weird, amused look on his face.
“Do you have a cat?” Steve asks apropos nothing.
That makes Bucky blink.
“Yeah, actually,” he says. “Why?”
“And does she listen to you?” Steve asks. He still has his nose pinched. He lets go but his face still looks like his nose is still pinched.
“He listens to me,” Bucky says, thinking about Scrooge McCat, actual name. “Sometimes. I guess. When he wants something from me. And I tell him he can’t have it until he’s nice to me.”
“My cat doesn’t listen to me,” Steve says. He gestures Bucky closer and Bucky, intrigued, leans in. “Between you and me I think she’s mad at me.”
“Why?” Bucky asks, mouth quirking up at the corner. “What’d you do?”
“Who says I did anything?” Steve asks with a frown. A section of blond hair flops into his eyes and he tries to blow it out of his face.
“Well,” Bucky says slowly, watching him. “Did you?”
“Only technically,” Steve says. “In a manner of speaking. In the...vaguest of ways.”
“That sounds like a yes,” Bucky says. Now he’s grinning. “What’d you do, Rogers?
“Oh this and that,” Steve says dismissively. “Mistakes were made, something went awry, it was all very unintentional. Or, rather, I had the best of intentions.”
“You know what they say about good intentions,” Bucky says. “The road to hell is paved with them.”
“Oh no, that’s very inaccurate,” Steve says absentmindedly. He scratches his nose and then stretches his arms above his head. “The road to hell requires a very specific incantation and it’s paved with sacrifices. Of the magical variety, of course.”
“Uh huh,” Bucky says, raising an eyebrow. “Of course.”
“Anyway,” Steve presses on. “She’s mad at me and I’ve tried to apologize and I’ve been trying to fix--the thing that happened.”
“That went awry?” Bucky asks and Steve nods his head vigorously.
“Exactly!” he says, looking relieved. “You understand.”
“Not really,” Bucky snorts. “What do you need her to do? That she isn’t listening to?”
“It’s for my...homework,” Steve says dubiously. He gestures to Bucky to follow him. Bucky, who has ten minutes left on his break to kill and nothing to do with them, does as bid.
“You need your cat for your homework?” Bucky blinks.
“It’s a very specific assignment,” Steve agrees. “Anyway, I need her to stand still long enough for me to...complete my assignment. Also I need her hair. But every time I try to take it from her or talk to her, she hisses at me and runs away! Also, she tried to bite my nose--”
“Is that why you’ve been scratching it?” Bucky asks, looking at Steve closer, with concern.
“--no less than four times,” Steve pronounces. “In one day.”
Bucky feels a stab of worry because although Bucky has known Steve for only a short period of time, he thinks he already has a good handle on how good Steve is at taking care of himself, or, bad, as it were.
“Bring her here,” Bucky says.
Steve, who’s been swinging his arms in large circles, stops and turns to look at Bucky.
“I love cats,” Bucky says. “Maybe she needs someone else to ask her instead.”
Steve seems like he’s considering this.
“Sometimes spells work better when you leave the place of failure and try them somewhere fresh,” he says. “And your coffee shop has a lot of potent magic. Was it built on a burial ground?”
“Uh,” Bucky looks confused. “No?”
“Old churchyard? Cemetery? Cobbler shop?” Steve asks rapidly.
“N--cobbler shop?” Bucky frowns. “Like, the shoes?”
“Yeah,” Steve nods. “Magic goes crazy for a good shoe.”
As usual, Bucky has no earthly idea what Steve is talking about, but finds that he strangely doesn’t mind.
“Not to my knowledge,” Bucky says. “Maybe a cobbler’s shop, during colonial times.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” Steve says. Then he claps his hands together and turns, looking brighter and slightly less frazzled. “Okay! I accept your offer! It’s going to take some time though.”
“To coax your cat to come to a coffee shop in the middle of Brooklyn?” Bucky asks.
“Well, I have to get her to listen to me first,” Steve says. “Is the first problem. And then, if she’s feeling generous, I can get her into her carrier and--it’s a whole thing. Can I take a picture of you?”
Bucky blinks at Steve.
“It helps when she can put a face to a name,” Steve says and pats down all over himself, searching for his phone. Finally, with an aha!, he produces it. “Okay, say ghosts are people too! ”
“Wha--” Bucky manages and Steve snaps the picture.
“Great!” Steve says happily. “I should be able to introduce you two in the next three to six months.”
Bucky honestly doesn’t know what to say to that and Steve is so happy about his new plan to trick his cat into obedience or whatever that he doesn’t even notice that Bucky’s mouth is hanging open.
Then, thirty seconds later, Bucky’s watch starts beeping.
“Break’s over,” Bucky says. “How about a salad?”
“How about another slice of that chocolate espresso bundt?” Steve says with a wink and Bucky guesses that he’s not worried about his uh high magic tolerance or whatever anymore.
Steve returns every day for the rest of the week, every time with new scratches, new papers, new books, something that Bucky is certain is a handful of quills, and a small black circular pot that looks just like--
“It’s a cauldron, Barnes,” Sam says, staring at Bucky. “It’s a goddamned cauldron and you should say it.”
Bucky does not.
When the week ends, Steve makes Bucky promise to tell him which bundt reigns supreme in the battle of the bundts. Bucky suggests, maybe a little shyly, that he could text Steve the results, but Steve shakes his head instead.
“Magic interferes with cell phone frequency,” he says, wrinkling his nose. “Just write it on a post-it note and I’ll see it when I come back!”
It’s a weird request, but Bucky guesses that some people are just old school. Anyway, he has a growing collection of post-it notes now and he would be lying if he wasn’t pleased that Steve had another excuse to come back to visit.
The last week of March is a little gloomier without Steve making noises and arguing with himself in his booth, but Bucky has new recipes to try.
March Bundntess ends and it’s only then that Sam looks at Bucky, looks at the receipts, scratches his neck, and says, “We should have named it Bundt Madness, huh?”
Anyway, the Hummingbird Bundt Cake ties with the Funfetti Bundt Cake at final tally because this is still Brooklyn, but also adults are basically just large children.
“My brother’s birthday is next month,” Thor tells Bucky, one day early in April. He’s already ordered a caramel macchiato for Loki and an extra large coffee, black, for himself. He’s eyeing the display case for his daily selection. Today’s special is a linzer tart, an apple caramel turnover, an orange and ginger shortbread cookie, and a chocolate toffee coffee crunch muffin, which Bucky is entirely sure that Thor is going to pick.
“Yeah?” Bucky says, steaming the milk for the macchiato. “How old is he turning?”
“Too old to continue rotting his insides as he is,” Thor says cheerfully. Thor is all cheer and all muscles and sometimes he pretends to be stern about his brother, who Bucky has never met, but Bucky has never met someone spoil a sibling more.
“Uh huh,” Bucky says. He drizzles caramel syrup into the to go cup.
“The only thing he has requested is a cake,” Thor says. He stops and scratches his nose. “Well that is not true, actually he has requested quite a few things, but the only thing on his wish list that is achievable and legal is a cake.”
“A cake,” Bucky says. “Nothing unusual about that.”
“No,” Thor agrees. “I was hoping you might do the honors. Your birthday was last month--yes? I assume a fine baker such as yourself makes his own birthday cakes, but perhaps I am assuming too much and you bought it from elsewhere?”
Bucky smiles and pours the frothed milk onto the espresso and syrup.
“I made my own,” Bucky says. “It was a simple birthday bundt. The one that won last month’s March Bundtness, actually.”
“Oh, that was a fine bundt!” Thor beams. Then he leans closer to Bucky, voice hushed. “Will you do this? Will you bake my terrible brother a monstrously chocolate cake of some kind? He is addicted to your baked goods, although he will never admit it.”
“I--” Bucky says and tilts his head. He’s never really taken catering orders or baking requests before, at least, not since college, which was when the seedling for his bakery had come into existence. “--you know what? Sure. I’ll do it.”
Thor looks so relieved he nearly takes someone’s eye out with his enthusiasm.
“You are the greatest baker in all of the land!” he says, which Bucky finds to be a bit much, but it’s Thor so it’s not as though it bothers him that much.
“Thanks,” Bucky says with a grin. “So what does he like? Don’t say chocolate cake.”
“Chocolate cake!” Thor says.
“Okay,” he says. “Try to ask your brother what other flavors he likes so I can incorporate it in. Bring it back to me on a slip of paper tomorrow.”
“I would not give Loki that much power…” Thor trails off, looking dubious.
Bucky rolls his eyes and passes the finished caramel macchiato and the hot coffee across the counter to Thor.
“I mean I don’t have to follow the list perfectly,” he says. “But I need one. Otherwise he’s getting whatever I feel like making and I can’t promise that it won’t be something weird like chocolate cake with salmon skin crackling.”
Thor looks like he’s going to be nauseous and Bucky laughs.
“Like I said,” he says. “Is that all?”
Thor looks at the display case, thoughtfully.
“One butter croissant for myself,” he says. “And...a chocolate toffee coffee crunch muffin for my brother.”
Bucky feels unreasonably smug about that.
“Got it,” he says. He starts packaging the baked goods for Thor. “And don’t forget about my list tomorrow.”
Thor beams at him and takes the baked goods and the drinks, swiping his credit card for Bucky, and leaves the coffee shop with a little bit of a bounce to his steps.
It’s only when he leaves that Bucky notices the small person who had been waiting behind him the entire time.
“Steve!” Bucky grins.
“Bucky Barnes,” Steve says and his face is a little red, his breathing uneven.
“Steve?” Bucky blinks, coming down a little from him previous excitement.
“It was your birthday last month and you didn’t tell me? ” Steve asks, outraged.
“Oh,” Bucky blinks. He shrugs. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
“It wasn’t a big deal?” Steve glowers. “Birthdays are always a big deal! A person’s magical saturation point is the highest on their birthday, which is why birthday miracles occur!”
“I thought those were Christmas miracles,” Bucky says, considering.
“Well yes, that’s a whole different saturation point and also very good,” Steve agrees. “It has to do with the high spiritual density of the holiday season.”
“Uh huh, sure,” Bucky says, as usual. “So what’s a magical saturation point?”
Steve makes a face. Since it’s no longer the dead of winter, he’s shed all of his large coats. He’s in a light blue spring jacket that goes down to his knees. It makes him look a little bit like a springtime private detective.
“It’s like--you know the boiling point? For water? And other liquids?” Steve asks.
“Uh huh,” Bucky says.
“Exactly!” Steve exclaims, looking relieved. “Exactly like that. Except instead of that point differing from person to person, the saturation point increases or decreases depending on a variety of factors. That’s why high magic season is so important! Birthdays work like that too, the saturation point increases on the day of your birth, allowing for more magic to flood the systems around you and grant you your heart’s desire!”
“Okay,” Bucky says. He opens the display case and takes out a sourdough donut. “You can’t watch Harry Potter anymore.”
“Harry Potter,” Steve mutters darkly. “Of all of the appropriating, misrepresentative, fictional--”
“What was that?” Bucky looks at Steve over his donut.
“Nothing!” Steve says brightly. “So, pretend, for example, your magical saturation point was still as high today as it was on your birthday. What miracle would you ask for?”
“Other than like, end climate change, feed the hungry, provide shelter for every person, fix our government, and ban anti-vaxxers out of human existence?” Bucky asks. He swallows donut.
“Yes, Bucky,” Steve says. “Other than that.”
“Okay, uh,” Bucky says, thinking. “I don’t know. There’s this song that’s been stuck in my head for a week, that’s annoying. My cat is dumb and keeps eating dough that makes him sick. My hands ache sometimes when it rains--an old sports injury. It kinda sucks for baking when it does. And I don’t know, I guess my garden could grow in faster this year.”
“That’s it?” Steve asks. “Those are your grand miracles?”
“I have what I want around here,” Bucky says, with a shrug. “I’m lucky. I’m 26 and I have only a small pile of debilitating student debt and loans against this place, I own my own coffee shop, I get to bake every day, for a living, and my favorite customer keeps showing back up.”
Steve grins a little at that and then points at himself questioningly.
“No,” Bucky says innocently. “Thor.”
“Hey!” Steve squeaks and Bucky laughs hard.
“I don’t know,” he says with a shrug and a smile. He starts a dark chocolate mocha that Steve didn’t ask for, but that Bucky feels like making for him. “I guess…”
“What?” Steve asks eagerly. He moves down the counter toward the display case so he can see Bucky better. “You thought of something?”
“There’s this recipe, a perfect apple crumble pie my grandma used to make,” Bucky says. “It was her secret recipe, she said. She wouldn’t write it down for any of us, no matter how many times we asked. But we--she and I had a special connection. I’d always help her in the kitchen with the baking, you know? So one day she told me, the secret to that pie. I swear I memorized it, but I was a kid. I can only remember a few steps. I can’t remember the secret itself, whatever it was that made it so good . So I don’t know. Maybe I’d like to remember that.”
Bucky smiles and puts whipped cream on top of Steve’s mocha.
“But maybe the secret was something silly like a grandmother’s love and there’s nothing to remember,” he says. He hands Steve his drink. “Just in case, though. I guess I’d want that miracle. To remember that.”
Steve swallows, hands wrapped around the warm mug. He looks a little taken aback, maybe even slightly melancholy.
“Okay,” Steve says quietly. “Maybe you’ll get your miracle.”
“I doubt it,” Bucky says with a laugh. “But thanks.”
Steve puts his usual $10 bill on the counter and Bucky gives him one of the orange ginger shortbread cookies on a teal plate. Steve then retreats to his usual booth and Bucky gets too busy and they don’t see each other the rest of his stay.
One day, two weeks later, Steve comes barging back into the shop, cheeks flushed, eyes bright.
“Bucky,” Steve says and shoves two customers out of the way.
“Steve, you can’t do that,” Bucky says with a frown. He gives the two customers an apologetic look, even though he warms at seeing Steve again--twice in one month.
“Sorry, this was important,” Steve says. He pushes a mason jar full of a silvery liquid across the counter at Bucky.
“What is this?” Bucky asks.
“It’s a--home remedy,” Steve says hastily.
“For what?” Bucky blinks.
“Your...aching hands,” Steve says. “For when it rains. Can you do me a favor and try it? It’s a family recipe.”
“I--” Bucky looks suspiciously at the mason jar, but Steve looks so excited and earnest that he just sighs and takes it. “Okay, sure. Thanks.”
“Drink two mouthfuls before bed,” Steve instructs. “And one mouthful in the morning. And when you drink it in the morning, make sure you’re eating an apple.”
“An apple?” Bucky raises an eyebrow.
“It just works better with an apple!” Steve huffs. “It’s science, don’t question it.”
Bucky, an engineer by education, does not think it is science.
“And then, after you drink it, both times, please say to mother earth I thank for my blessings and past.”
“Excuse me?” Bucky says.
“Buck,” Steve complains and Bucky is so caught off guard by the nickname and how much he likes it that he doesn’t even say anything. “Just trust me. Okay?”
“Okay, Steve,” Bucky says, his hands around the mason jar. “Okay, I’ll trust you.”
Steve looks so pleased, so relieved , that he even apologizes to the customers as he backs out of the coffee shop again.
Bucky stares after him and then looks down at his mason jar.
“To Mother Earth I thank for my blessings and past,” he says haltingly, in confusion, out loud.
He looks up at the next customer--it’s one of his usuals, America Chavez.
“Don’t look at me,” she says. “He’s your little weirdo friend.”
Bucky frowns and tucks the mason jar away in the office for safekeeping.
He does what Steve asks, though. He takes two mouthfuls at night and one mouthful in the morning, both times with bites of apple or apple-themed baked good. Each time he says to mother earth, I thank for my blessings and past.
Maybe it’s psychosomatic, but every time he does so, he feels a little bit warmer, a little bit more wholesome.
He dreams about his grandmother more than usual, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
It’s the last day of April, the weather turning from the cool warmth of late winter and early spring to the genuine, warm warmth of true spring.
Bucky is on his way to work, in the dead of the morning, when the sky is lightening, in a Great British Bake Off t-shirt and a soft grey cardigan.
He unlocks the coffee shop, steps inside, and picks up an apple he had left on the counter the day before.
It hits him with the force of someone, well, throwing an apple at his head.
Oh, Bucky thinks, the full force of his memory flooding back to him. He remembers standing in the kitchen that day with his grandma, her in her favorite red apron and Bucky in his matching dark blue apron. He had needed a stool to be able to match her height at the counter.
She had gotten all of the ingredients out and he was eyeing them all, one by one.
Today, my sweet bean, Bucky grandma had said. I teach you my apple pie.
Bucky remembers everything--the memory, the recipe, each painstakingly careful step she had taken, kneading her time and her love into that dough, slicing pieces of green, tart apples, cutting up pieces of butter to put into the crumble.
It lives in his chest, like a living, breathing thing.
For the first time since Bucky had started his coffee shop, he’s ten minutes late in opening it. By the time he meets Rhodey at the front door, his face is no longer wet from tears, but his eyes are still pink from them.
Bucky smiles, broadly.
“Hi James,” he says. “I’m making apple crumble pie today.”
In May, Bucky waits the whole month to tell Steve about the apple crumble pie. He makes it once a week, not just to honor his grandmother or this miracle, but also just in case Steve comes in that day and he can show him what he had been talking about, why he had wanted this miracle instead of any other.
But the first week of May goes by and Steve doesn’t come.
The second week comes and goes, Bucky makes the pie, it even gets eaten--to rave reviews--but not by Steve.
By the third week, Bucky’s getting a little impatient and a lot depressed.
“What’s wrong with you?” Sam asks after the third batch of snickerdoodle cookies that Bucky declares a waste and tries to throw out. “Give me those.”
Sam takes each of the trays and puts them in containers to replenish the display case.
“We paid good money for those ingredients for these perfectly fine cookies, Barnes, what gives?” Sam asks.
“Nothing,” Bucky grumbles. “They just weren’t right.”
“They were goddamned good cookies, Barnes,” Sam says. He takes one into his mouth as if to prove his point. “Is this maybe about a certain weird blond who has yet to show up this month?”
“What?” Bucky jerks. “No.”
“Come on,” Sam says and that annoying Sam Wilson smile creeps across his face. “I got eyes.”
“I like all my customers the same,” Bucky says, eye twitching.
“Bullshit,” Sam says, his smile broadening. “You have the customers you like and the customers you really like, but you only have one customer who you give TLC to.”
Bucky grumbles and moves to wash the baking bowls he had wasted on his terrible snickerdoodles.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bucky mutters.
“Wow,” Sam says, leaning against the counter and chewing on a cookie. “You like him.”
“No!” Bucky protests.
“You really like him,” Sam says. “I haven’t seen you like this since college and--”
“Don’t say it--” Bucky groans, but Sam says it.
“Ugh,” Bucky says. “That. Was a mistake.”
“He was hot, don’t get me wrong,” Sam says. “But he was also very very straight.”
Bucky sighs. He turns the water on full blast.
“I haven’t seen you get heart eyes since,” Sam says.
“I don’t have heart eyes, okay?” Bucky says. “I just--he’s weird and nice. He makes me laugh. He’s--”
“Cute?" Sam offers.
Bucky sighs, loudly.
“Cute,” Bucky says. “He’s really, really cute.”
Sam looks like he’s won the lottery.
“I knew it!” he grins. “You’re always so extra when he comes in. And--depressed when he doesn’t.”
“I’m not depressed,” Bucky insists. “I just, haven’t seen him in a while. I like seeing my regulars.”
“Yeah, okay,” Sam says. He finishes his snickerdoodle and swipes another one. “I like it. You’re smilier when he comes in. It’s weird, since you’re basically the human manifestation of grumpy cat, but I like it.”
Bucky grumbles more at that, and loudly. Sam just smirks, pats Bucky on the shoulder, and slides back out to the front of the shop.
“I’m not the human manifestation of grumpy cat,” Bucky says, very grumpily.
He washes the bowls and sets about mixing a new batter for a new batch of cookies.
He’s definitely not depressed and he’s definitely not grumpy, but he hates this new batch of cookies too. The only reason he doesn’t throw them away is because Sam gets to the tray before he can, muttering about dumbasses and raging crushes the entire time.
Steve doesn’t come in the last week of May either, and Bucky decides, completely unrelatedly, that May’s not that good of a month anyway.
He draws a frowny face on a post-it note and sticks it on the office wall nexts to all of his other definitely not-Steve-themed post-it notes.
June finally brings sunshine and warm weather enough to make Bucky lazy. He loves baking and he loves his shop, but when the sun’s out like this, when the weather’s starting to get hot, but still not as hot as it’s going to get in another month, he walks around Brooklyn with his hair tied up, in a tank top, usually one with a graphic design or text on it, board shorts, and sandals.
He goes on a handful of dates, just because Sam yells at him to go on a handful of dates, and they’re all perfectly fine, he supposes, but there’s nothing there that excites him. No one has the right sense of humor or says things that are weird enough to catch his attention. He’s not saying that everyone he goes out on a date with isn’t blond enough or have eyes that are blue enough, but he does sigh when the last person he gives a chance to is a cute blonde girl with hazel eyes, who still just isn’t right.
Anyway, he gave it a shot, which is all Sam had really asked of him, so he retreats back to his recipes, his cat, and his kitchen.
At the coffee shop, he wears a new apron every day--every one a different color of pastel with a different floral design on it. Bucky’s somewhat of an apron enthusiast, but he only really likes wearing them when he’s feeling sufficiently sunny or when it’s the holiday season.
He throws open the doors and the windows, both in the front and in the back rooms of the coffee shop, and sighs happily as the sun and warm air buffet in.
He goes to the kitchen and is up to his elbows in cream puff filling when he hears a voice shout from the front.
Bucky’s heart tumbles in his chest and he nearly forgets to wipe his hands off on the towel before he’s opening the door and rushing into the front room.
“Oh!” he says and he can feel the grin spread widely across his face. Bucky doesn’t know if it’s appropriate to hug one of his customers, but it turns out there’s no need to worry.
Steve has his arms around Bucky’s waist and he’s giving him a quick, warm hug before Bucky knows it.
Bucky--well, he feels that hug everywhere, from his chest to his toes. It takes everything in him not to sigh. He rests his hand on Steve’s head.
“Welcome back,” he says.
“Sorry!” Steve says and steps back. He’s a little pink. “Sorry, that must have been weird. I guess you’re not used to hugging your customers--”
“Steve, it’s okay,” Bucky tries, but Steve talks over him.
“It’s just! I had end of the year exams and they were very difficult and no one seemed to agree with any of the conclusions that I had so then I had to rewrite all of these papers and then this potion just would not work and you know when you’re trying the same incantation over and over again, but your pronunciation is just wrong?” Steve rambles. “Like, you’re trying but you just can’t make the right sound. Anyway, it was like that--it was a whole mess and I basically didn’t sleep for a month, but I missed this place and I missed you and what have you made today, I’d like one of everything please!”
“Cream puffs,” Bucky says, blinking at Steve’s paragraph of information. “Different flavored compotes and fillings.”
“Oh, do you have raspberry? I love raspberry,” Steve says happily.
“I have raspberry,” Bucky replies.
Steve beams at him.
“I love this place,” he says. “I would like twelve raspberry cream puffs, please.”
“I’ll give you two,” Bucky counteroffers. “And a black coffee.”
“Deal!” Steve grins. “To start. We’ll work our way up to the twelve.”
Bucky shakes his head ruefully, but can’t quite keep the smile off his face.
Steve nearly hops to his booth and Bucky slinks back to the kitchen, feeling lighter and happier than he can remember feeling in weeks.
In the kitchen, he starts working on raspberry compote. He hadn’t been planning on making raspberry cream puffs before, but well--he’s suddenly feeling inspired.
Unfortunately, by the time he sets the cream puffs in the oven and comes back out, the worst thing imaginable has happened.
He looks toward Steve’s booth and sees Sam standing there.
Panicking immediately, Bucky essentially materializes behind his best friend and business partner.
“Sam,” he says.
Sam turns around with a half-grin, half-smirk on his face.
“Hey Barnes,” he says. “Steve comes here so often I thought I’d finally meet him.”
Bucky silently glares at Sam while Sam’s half-smirk broadens into a full one. He has that look on his face; the same one he wears when he’s about to make Bucky’s life a living hell in the near future.
Bucky and Sam are in the middle of a silent conversation when Steve pokes his head around behind Sam.
“Buck!” he says. “Sam made a white chocolate raspberry mocha! He said I earned it on the house because of a loyalty rewards program, even though I don’t think I signed up for one of those?”
“Must be your lucky day,” Bucky says, raising an eyebrow. “I thought we agreed on coffee, Rogers.”
Sam just smiles. Steve has the wherewithal to look somewhat guilty.
“The man wanted a white chocolate raspberry mocha,” Sam says. “What kind of a monster denies a man his white chocolate raspberry mocha?”
“First of all,” Bucky says, glaring at both of them now. “That’s not a drink, that’s just sugar. Second of all, you don’t know what you’re in the middle of, Wilson.”
“Bucky’s trying to make me eat green things,” Steve whispers from behind Sam. He grabs the bottom of Sam’s shirt. “Help me, Sam!”
Bucky definitely does Not Feel a stab of jealousy at that.
“I’ve never seen you eat a green item,” Bucky gripes. “You’re going to turn into a sugar cube.”
“Oh that wouldn’t be so bad,” Steve says innocently and it’s then and only then that Bucky realizes that Steve Rogers is a Little Shit.
A cute Little Shit, but a Little Shit, nonetheless.
“I’m revoking your right to cream puffs,” Bucky says and turns on his heels.
“No!” Steve panics. “I take it back! I take it all back! I’ll eat your greens, don’t take away my raspberry cream puffs!”
“Eat your goddamn greens, Rogers, and I will consider reinstating your raspberry cream puffs,” Bucky says, casting a glare over his shoulder.
That seems to chasten Steve, although Sam looks between the two of them in some kind of bemusement.
“This is all very weird,” he says. “And kinda popcorn dot gif.”
Steve leans his head past Sam again, resting his chin against Sam’s elbow, and giving Bucky a look of wide-eyed devastation. Bucky again Does Not feel a stab of Jealousy.
“You’re both on the thinnest of ice,” Bucky grumbles and makes his way back to the counter.
The cream puffs have at least another five minutes in the oven. In the meantime, he has customers to ring up and drinks to make that include espresso and not twelve different kinds of syrup.
He’s in the middle of calculating a customer’s order--one hibiscus donut with a medium Americano--when Sam comes back around the counter. He leans in and there’s that smirk again.
“Funny thing,” Sam says. “When you made the baking schedule on Sunday, there were no raspberry cream puffs on the menu.”
Bucky steadfastly ignores him, swipes the customer’s card, and turns to the espresso machine.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say someone has a crush,” Sam grins.
“Good thing you know better,” Bucky says and turns one of the valves. “There’s a first time for everything.”
“Uh huh,” Sam snorts and Bucky’s mid-glare when Steve pops his head back up from his booth again.
“Raspberry cream puffs?” he asks eagerly and makes his eyes so comically large that Bucky can’t help the treacherous tug in his chest.
“You got something on your face there, Barnes,” Sam says, clapping Bucky on the shoulder and giving him a shit-eating grin.
Bucky can’t even glare at him this time, because he can feel it too, the way his mouth is curved up into a smile.
The raspberry cream puffs turn out delicious, of course.
Steve doesn’t get twelve of them, but he does get more than two. He settles on an even five and Bucky threatens him within an inch of his life until he assents to a quinoa and arugula salad to accompany the twelve pounds of sugar.
Eventually Steve does have to leave.
“You gonna abandon me again next month?” Bucky asks, despite himself, as Steve foists his backpack onto his back. He thinks he manages to keep any trace of disappointment out of his voice, maybe.
“No,” Steve promises. “Never again.”
Bucky’s glad Sam’s working in the office on the accounts, because there it is again, that stubborn smile.
It’s a hot first day of July, even as far as July in New York City goes. Bucky closes the doors and windows and turns the air conditioning on inside the bakery. He piles his hair up in a bun on top of his head and wears a tank that says KISS MY BUNS on it, which is dumb and cheesy, but it’s his softest shirt and Becca had gotten it for him as a present shortly after he had opened the coffee shop.
He had gotten a shipment of a variety of berries and fruits the night before from a farm on Long Island that he has a working relationship with. He had gone to sleep imagining the pies and tarts he could make from the blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, although what he really wants is to make some kind of strawberry shortcake, top it with freshly made whipping cream, and stand against the counter, licking the bowl.
What he ends up doing instead is making four dozen shells of varying sizes and making fruit tarts to welcome in the middle of summer.
Sam comes in shortly after the morning rush, stretches his arms, and smells the air.
“Okay, whatever you’re making, I want like, thirty of them,” he says.
“Fruit tarts,” Bucky says with a smile. “You can have, like, one.”
“Ugh,” Sam says. “A man can’t get no respect around here.”
He does, Bucky notes, steal his one fruit tart though, and disappears into his office to shift through the weekend’s paperwork and receipts.
Bucky checks on the tarts resting on the counter and moves back to the front of the coffee shop, only to find angry muttering and a slight flailing of limbs coming from the corner booth.
He shakes his head in amusement and takes the order of a tourist who’s just wandered in off the street. She wants an iced coffee with raspberry syrup and a cranberry chocolate chip cookie, which Bucky’s able to help her with. He can see her eye the outlines of his muscles through the thin material of his tank top and it amuses him enough that he gives her a knowing smile.
She flushes and takes her drink and cookie with a flustered kind of grimace.
Another frustrated growl goes up from the booth and Bucky thinks he sees some kind of flash and then suddenly there’s papers flurrying everywhere. Bucky blinks, puts up a finger to motion one minute to his next customer, and goes around the counter.
“Rogers!” he barks and slams a hand down on the booth.
A piece of paper flutters down on his hand and Steve looks up at him, guiltily.
“Hi Buck,” he says.
His bangs are plastered to his forehead, his blue eyes large and round, post-it notes stuck to his arms and head, little scorch marks around the collar of his soft, grey t-shirt.
Bucky opens his mouth and then closes it.
“What happened? ” he blinks rapidly.
“Oh you know,” Steve says and offers a small grin. It’s tighter at the corners than usual, like he’s still actually thinking about whatever it was that just happened.
“I saw a flash,” Bucky says.
“Did you?” Steve says.
“Papers went everywhere,” Bucky says.
“Did they?” Steve asks, just as a final piece of paper comes and lands on his head.
“Your collar is smoking,” Bucky says, his expression and voice flat.
“Wow,” Steve says and pulls a little at his scorched neckline. “So weird.”
“Are you setting things on fire, Rogers?” Bucky squints at him. “Because the insurance on this place isn’t that good.”
“No, no,” Steve reassures, although the slightly acrid smell of smoke comes off of him, so it doesn’t exactly fill Bucky with ease. “I’m just--you know. Trying to work something out.”
“Work what out?” Bucky grumbles. “The rules of arson?”
“I totally promise that I very likely won’t set your coffee shop on fire, Bucky,” Steve says. He sighs and removes some of the post-it notes from his person.
“How does one person have this many post-it notes anyway?” Bucky mumbles and reaches forward to help Steve.
His fingers brush against Steve’s hair as he removes a piece stuck to the top of his head and his heart beats a little faster in his chest once he realizes how soft it is. He goes back for another post-it note, careful to touch the hair again.
So soft, he marvels, while simultaneously glaring at Steve.
“I’m trying something,” Steve says. “It’s not going well.”
Steve puts his elbows up on the counter and rests his face on his palms. He looks so despondent and it’s so unreasonably cute that Bucky has to refrain from smiling.
“Can I help?” Bucky asks, although he has no idea what Steve is struggling with. He eyes the stack of old textbooks against the side of the table. They have weird titles like Spells and Incantations, Volume 4, and Theories of Transfiguration, 1987, and Reversing Spells Gone Wrong For Dummies.
Bucky thinks maybe he’s hallucinating, but the next moment Steve is tugging on the ends of his hair and Bucky’s attention is diverted back to the small blond.
“I don’t think you can,” Steve says morosely. “I messed something up and I can’t fix it and my cat still won’t talk to me.”
“Talk to you?” Bucky asks carefully.
“She hates me,” Steve says, sadly. “I thought maybe I could have her back for my birthday, but--”
“When’s your birthday?” Bucky interrupts.
“Oh, on Thursday,” Steve says, glum.
Bucky does the math in his head.
“The...fourth of July,” Bucky says.
Steve blinks up at him.
“Your birthday is on the Fourth of July?” Bucky asks.
“Yeah,” Steve says. “It’s an especially high day of magic, so maybe I can fix it, but I don’t know Buck, I’ve tried everything and--”
“Come back,” Bucky says immediately.
Steve blinks at him some more.
“What?” he asks.
“Come back on Thursday,” Bucky says.
“Aren’t you closed for the holiday?” Steve asks.
“Yeah,” Bucky says. “I don’t care. Come back on your birthday.”
Steve chews on his lower lip, looks at his hands, which, incidentally, have a lot of ink drying on them, and at the papers in front of him, which have all manners of incidentally very good sketches scrawled across them, and finally slumps in his seat.
“Okay,” he says, sounding defeated. “Not like I’m going to get any work done and everyone’s away on vacation.”
Bucky, whose mind is already on all the different kinds of baked goods that he needs to be experimenting with in order to treat Steve, barely notices.
“What’s your favorite baked treat?” Bucky asks.
“Oh,” Steve says. “Um, I like apples a lot. Apple pie, I guess.”
“Okay,” Bucky says, nodding, and then almost turns away without another word, he’s already planned two kinds of apple pies, an apple crumble, his grandma’s apple crumble pie, an apple cinnamon honey cake, apple turnovers, apple fritters, spiced apple donuts, and caramel apple cheesecake napoleons, if he has time.
Then he stops and turns back.
Steve is sighing and gathering all of his papers together.
“Steve,” Bucky says.
Steve looks up at him.
“Bring your cat,” Bucky says.
Steve looks almost confused as first, but then a smile spreads across his face, slow and warm as molasses.
“Okay,” he says and this time his smile reaches his eyes. “I look forward to it.”
On Thursday, the Fourth of July, the coffee shop is closed. Not even Sam’s come in to work, but Bucky certainly has. He’s been in the kitchen all morning and the entire coffee shop smells exactly like an apple orchard. Maybe he’s gone overboard, but he’s been so single-minded about the entire thing that he doesn’t really think about it.
From the depths of his baking ovens come exactly everything he had thought of, along with a few additions that are as sweet and flaky as they are apple-flavored.
It’s September at the beginning of July and Bucky’s heart is only hammering a little in his chest when he sets all of the baked goods in the display case and hears a knock on the front door.
Steve stands with a little cat carrier, wearing jeans, and a white tank top that’s cut low on the sides and that hangs a little loose on his thin frame. It’s tucked in the front and loose around the back and the sight of him there makes something warm bubble up in Bucky’s stomach.
He opens the door and looks down at Steve, grinning a little goofily, and Steve looks up at him, also grinning a little goofily, and for one absolutely maddening moment Bucky thinks it wouldn’t be too difficult to just scoop him up in his arms and--
“Happy Birthday, Stevie,” Bucky says and--oh, he doesn’t know where that nickname comes from, but it settles right, on his tongue and in his chest.
“I like that,” Steve says quietly, his cheeks turning just a little pink. “Thanks. I brought Nat.”
“Nat?” Bucky asks, looking at him closely.
It’s only then that Steve lifts up his cat carrier.
“My cat,” Steve says. “Her name is Natasha, she loves classical music and sugar cubes, tries to drink vodka out of my glass if I leave it out, and hates me. On the bright side, she also likes to try to bite my nose.”
Bucky laughs, a little too warmly.
“It’s nice to meet you, Natasha,” Bucky says, staring into the little opening in the cat carrier.
The cat, who’s lounging in the middle of the carrier, almost luxuriously, opens a single eye and gives Bucky quite the withering and discerning look.
“Yeah,” Steve says as Bucky steps back, a little mystified. “She’s like that.”
“Cats love me,” Bucky assures Steve; the basis for which is Scrooge McCat and only Scrooge McCat.
Steve comes inside and Bucky closes the door behind him.
“Oh!” he hears Steve exclaim happily and he barely has time to turn around before Steve is already at the display case. “It smells amazing in here, Buck. Are all of these apple-flavored? Can I have one?”
Bucky laughs, feeling more charmed than the moment really warrants.
“They’re all yours, Steve,” he says and he nearly gets whiplash from how fast Steve turns around.
“What?” he almost squeaks and when Bucky just grins, his face lights up, like it’s Christmas come early or something. “Oh, my god. This is it. This is my miracle.”
“What?” Bucky laughs and Steve puts the cat carrier down on one of the tabletops.
“Hold on, Nat, excuse me,” he says to the cat and then turns back to the case, nearly plasters his face against it. “You know! I told you--about the high magic and your birthday and the miracle and all of that.”
Bucky has a memory of it now, of Steve rambling about high magic and birthday miracles and Bucky’s disbelieving smile, but then, after, the memory of his grandmother and the recipe.
“I think you deserve more miracle than some apple tarts, Steve,” Bucky says, coming up closer behind Steve.
The shop smells mostly overwhelmingly of apples, but this close to Steve, he can smell his scent too--something a little like pine needles, sugar, and something else Bucky can’t really place, but that settles something in him, comfortable and warm, like the smell of home after years away.
Steve turns and puts a hand on Bucky’s arm.
Bucky looks down at him. He resists the urge to reach forward, run his fingers through Steve’s hair, now that he knows how soft it is.
“If I had to ask for a miracle, birthday treats from you wouldn’t be too far from the top of the list,” Steve says with a smile.
“What would be at the top?” Bucky can’t help but ask.
That makes Steve’s smile flicker, just a very little bit. Then it’s back again and he turns.
“Come on,” he says. “Come meet Natasha.”
Steve opens the door to the cat carrier and sticks his fingers in, trying to coax his cat out. Immediately, something tries to bite him inside and he hisses, pulling his hand back.
He sighs and turns to Bucky with a pained expression on his face.
“Let me try,” Bucky says. Steve tries to protest, but Bucky just moves in front of the carrier. “Wait.”
He moves away, leaving Steve mystified, goes into the kitchen, and then re-emerges a few minutes later. He steps back in front of the carrier, where Steve is muttering something at Natasha and glaring at her.
Bucky snorts and hip checks Steve out of the way. Then he offers his hand to the cat, keeping it a few inches away from the inside of the carrier. In the middle of his palm is a cube of sugar.
“Hey!” Steve protests. “That’s cheating!”
Bucky grins at him and waits.
It actually doesn’t take long.
Within a few moments, a little wet nose emerges from inside the carrier, followed shortly by a beautiful, red-haired cat with green eyes. She’s mesmerizing, regal even. Bucky holds his breath as Natasha comes to his hand, sniffs it, and then, after a tense few seconds, starts licking at the sugar cube.
Bucky lets out a breath and laughs.
Natasha continues licking at the sugar cube, but her eyes flicker up at Bucky a few times. Again, he gets the disorienting feeling that she’s studying him, as though this cat knows more than a cat should know, or as though they’ve met before.
She finishes the sugar cube, sniffs at Bucky’s hand again, and then lets out a soft purr of contentment.
“Ugh!” Steve exclaims. “You’re such a brat!”
“Wow,” Bucky says with a grin. “Sounds like someone else I know.”
Steve grumbles and Bucky laughs and Natasha stretches on the table.
It’s peaceful and charming and Bucky can’t stop his smiles from reaching his eyes, crinkling them at the corners.
“Come on,” Bucky says. “Let’s get you some pie.”
They end up with an assortment of apple-themed desserts, a bowl of ice cream, and two strong cups of coffee between them at Steve’s usual booth. Bucky’s sitting across from Steve, Natasha’s curled contentedly in his nap, and the sky is slowly, very slowly, darkening outside as they eat sugar, tease each other, talk, and laugh.
Bucky thinks he hasn’t laughed this much in a very long time.
He thinks he hasn’t not thought about other things--his parents and their expectations, the shop, the expenses for the shop, his student loans, his other responsibilities--in a very long time.
But now, as he sits across from Steve and Steve’s face glows in the setting colors of the sky outside, as Steve starts giggling more and more, nearly vibrating from each additional bite of baked good that he takes, well, Bucky can’t think of much more than this--this moment, and the person sitting across from him.
Natasha purrs in his lap and eventually falls asleep.
The baked goods dwindle, slowly, but the conversation doesn’t.
Steve tells Bucky about his family--he just has the one, his mother, who he adores--and his friends--some characters back at school called the Howlies, including some arch-rival named Tony Stark--and how much he misses his best friend--who had something happen to her, something he’s trying to fix--and his dreams for the future and how hard he tries, even though things don’t always end up the way he wants them to.
And Bucky, in turn, tells Steve about this--his shop, his dream, how calm he feels every time he’s kneading dough or measuring sugar into the metal mixing bowl or turns on the Kitchenaid when it’s 6 am and the world is asleep and his kitchen smells like cookies. Steve listens to everything Bucky has to say and asks him questions at the right places and laughs at the right places and it feels just as peaceful as those mornings, as sweet as the smell of cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven.
“This is the best birthday I’ve ever had,” Steve says, his eyes bright, his cheeks flushed from pleasure and apple pie, and it’s as he says that, just as he says that, that fireworks start going off outside.
“Come on,” Bucky says with a broad smile. He sets Natasha down on the seat and gets up from the booth.
Steve follows suit and Bucky offers his hand.
Steve takes it and Bucky guides him out through the kitchen, to the back of the building. There’s a little black fire escape that he reaches up and pulls down.
Steve goes up first and then Bucky climbs after, following.
They get to the top of the fire escape and sit in the warm July air, side-by-side, Steve tucked against Bucky’s side, their thighs and arms touching. Bucky feels warm all over and it’s not because of the summer weather.
The fireworks go off, one after the other after the other and Steve rests his head against Bucky’s shoulder.
“This is my favorite kind of magic,” Steve says quietly and Bucky feels a spark, not metaphorical, but a physical one, like little shocks in between them, where Steve’s cheek is resting against his bicep.
“Mine too,” Bucky says warmly.
They sit on the fire escape and watch the fireworks dwindle and continue to stay there, long after they’re done.
It’s the best birthday Bucky’s ever celebrated, including all of his own.
It’s not strictly allowed, pets in food establishments, but Bucky figures that if the health inspector happens to come in, they can tell him that Natasha is Steve’s emotional therapy cat. There is no doubt in Bucky’s mind that if anyone spent more than two minutes with Natasha, they would realize she is not a cat suited for emotional therapy, but Steve likes to bring her in when he drops by now and Bucky’s never going to give Steve a reason to not drop by.
Anyway, he’s worked out a kind of friendship with Natasha. He offers her a sugar cube every time Steve carries her in and in return, she purrs at Bucky and cuddles with him for approximately two minutes and forty five seconds. After she has no more use for him, she walks around Steve’s booth and curls up in the corner, watching the street, almost forlornly, but for that two minutes and forty five seconds, Bucky really feels some kind of connection to her.
Point being that Steve is in his booth, hissing at Natasha and there’s a faint odor emanating from the corner--something that spells a little bit like juniper needles mixed with the scent of burnt out candles, which is inexplicable, strange, and not a little concerning--when Bucky sees a familiar face at the window.
He barely suppresses the sigh before the man is through the door, all dark jeans and leather in goddamn 105 degree August weather, hair brushed over at the top, a smirk on his face.
“Hey Barnes,” he says and nods at the menu. “Still serving coffee?”
“Hey Rumlow,” Bucky says, a little tired. “I own the coffee shop, so yeah. Part of the job, as it turns out. It was a surprise to me too.”
Brock Rumlow had taken most of the same classes as Bucky, had been in his graduating class, and taken some six figure job at an engineering firm straight out of college. Bucky had gotten so tired of hearing about it that he had conveniently forgotten to tell his former classmate that he hadn’t taken the lucrative six figure job at a prestigious engineering firm he had been offered because he had, much to his mother’s eternal chagrin, decided to open a coffee shop instead.
That hadn’t stopped Rumlow from eventually finding the coffee shop though.
Brooklyn was big, but never as big as Bucky wanted it to be. And Perkatory was making a name for itself. Time Out Magazine and Yelp are huge fans of Bucky’s triple chocolate cookie.
He hasn’t seen Rumlow since the beginning of the year, which has been his own personal blessing, but he supposes blessings have to run out at some point.
“How can I help you?” Bucky asks. He wipes down the counter as Rumlow watches him, traces his movements with his eyes, not in a creepy, lecherous way, but in the way someone does when he’s thinking of all the way he’s grateful his life is better than yours.
Joke’s on him though, because Bucky loves what he does.
“Could get me some coffee,” Rumlow snickers, as though he’s said something particularly funny.
Again, Bucky resists the urge to stifle a sigh.
“Sure,” he says. “Black?”
“You know me better than that, Barnes,” Rumlow says. He leans against the counter and takes out his wallet--Gucci, of course. “Give me something strong. I got long hours to work at the firm. You know, where we do engineering?”
“I had almost forgotten,” Bucky says dryly. “Americano? Triple shot.”
“Now we’re talking,” Rumlow grins.
Bucky starts the espresso machine as Rumlow sticks his face into the the display case.
“So, you’re baking now too?” he asks.
“Baking was always a part of the shop, Brock,” Bucky says. “You’ve been here before. You’ve seen the pastries.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Rumlow sniggers a little. “Just thought you’d be doing something better with your time by now. Instead of putting on your little apron and baking. You have an engineering degree, for God’s sake.”
“I know,” Bucky says, clearly annoyed now. “I did pay for it.”
He turns a valve and some steam hisses as espresso begins to drip into a cup.
“I guess it must be nice,” Rumlow says, conversationally. He jabs a thumb at the window. “To spend all day relaxing, instead of doing any real work.”
Bucky’s so irritated that his hand shakes a little as he releases the valve and moves the cup toward the hot water.
“Yeah, never do any work,” Bucky says. “I just sit on my ass all day and let my big old brain rot.”
“I didn’t mean it like that!” Rumlow says, face comically wide and innocent, like he doesn’t know exactly what he said and how he meant it. Ass.
“Just pick a pastry,” Bucky says. He’s been through this song-and-dance with him before. He taunts Bucky, riles him up, insults his livelihood, then leaves with an Americano and a pastry that he pretends is “just fine” but that he greedily eats while walking out the door with an inflated and totally undeserved sense of self.
“Aw don’t be like that, Barnes,” Rumlow says. “You’re so sensitive, no wonder you dropped out of engineering and came to--”
“I didn’t drop out of engineering,” Bucky says, voice raised, nearly crushing the cup of hot espresso.
“Excuse me,” a voice suddenly interrupts.
Bucky, so irritated and angry that he almost snaps again, feels immediately guilty when he sees Steve with Natasha in his arms.
“What?” Rumlow asks, eyes flickering to Steve, expression a bit curdled in disdain.
“Bucky, do you have any more peach basil hand pies? I need one,” Steve says.
Bucky blinks at him, confused and torn between his residual annoyance at Rumlow and his persistent affection for Steve.
“You...need one?” Bucky asks.
“Yeah,” Steve says. “Desperately. Right now. It’s really important.”
“Since when has a hand pie been important?” Rumlow glowers. “Who are you? You’re interrupting.”
Bucky’s irritation flares once more.
“Don’t talk to him like that,” he snaps.
“What’s with you?” Rumlow frowns, turning toward Bucky.
“He’s my customer and you’re going to treat him with respect or I’m going to kick you out,” Bucky almost barks. He glares at Rumlow, who has the audacity to looks perplexed rather than chastened, and then turns back to Steve, trains a smile onto his face. “One minute, Steve, let me go get you that hand pie.”
Bucky almost flicks Rumlow off before he disappears into the kitchen, but he doesn’t and that should be considered a remarkable act of restraint.
He seethes as he takes a new batch of basil peach hand pies out of the oven and sets them on the counter. They’re a beautiful brown across the top, the criss-cross lattices he’s cut into the the crust perfectly shaped and emitting a gorgeous, peach smell.
He leans against the counter, gripping the edge of the metal table, and takes in deep breaths.
Rumlow has been an ass the entire time that Bucky’s known him, but he’s never been an ass to the person Bucky lo--likes. As a friend. And customer.
He comes in here every so often and looks at Bucky and his shop and finds him absolutely wanting, walks around a little in his own privilege and inflated sense of self, and Bucky hates it, but Rumlow’s a paying customer and Bucky has a rule to not be rude to any of them, even the ones he hates.
Bucky deals with it because he has to and then Rumlow leaves and he locks himself in his office and punches the wall a little bit and then goes out to drinks with Sam later and rants for a good thirty minutes.
But now, with Steve--
Bucky inhales and then exhales, feeling a little bit like a dragon breathing fire.
It’s only by thinking about Steve and looking at his carefully taped pile of Steve-related post-it-notes against the wall that he manages to calm down enough to slide two fresh hand pies onto a plate.
By the time he gets back to the front, he’s feeling slightly less murderous, although absolutely ready to throw Rumlow out on his ass if he continues harassing Steve.
The only problem, Bucky finds, is that Rumlow isn’t there.
Steve’s leaning against the counter, looking a little guilty and a little happy, murmuring to Natasha, but the other man is gone.
“What the hell,” Bucky says, griping a little as he gives Steve his hand pies. “Where’d that ass go?”
“Oh, he had to leave,” Steve says.
“He didn’t even pay for his coffee,” Bucky grumbles. It’s fine, but it’s the principle of the matter.
“Oh no! He gave it to me, here,” Steve says and puts a five dollar bill on the counter.
Bucky squints at it and then squints at Steve.
Natasha purrs and then he squints at her too.
“Did you make that up--” Bucky starts to ask, except he’s interrupted by something caught under Natasha’s paw. “Steve.”
“Yeah, Buck?” Steve asks brightly, mouth already full of pie crust.
“What does Natasha have there?” he asks.
“Where, Buck?” Steve asks, too innocently. He swallows his bite and there’s pie crust flake all over his mouth.
It’s infuriatingly adorable and Bucky absolutely has the urge to run his thumb across Steve’s mouth to clean it up, which he refuses to acknowledge. Anyway, he’s still staring at the green, wriggling thing under Natasha’s paw.
“Right there,” Bucky says, pointing.
“Oh, that,” Steve says.
“Yes, that,” Bucky nods.
“Well, Buck,” Steve says.
“Yes, Steve?” Bucky asks.
“It seems,” Steve says.
“What is that?” Bucky asks.
“That Nat here,” Steve says and gestures at Natasha. “You’ve met Nat.”
“Yeah, I’ve met your cat, Steve,” Bucky says, looking at him, deadpan.
“Well it seems Nat here has found herself a frog,” Steve finishes. He smiles, as though that explains everything and goes back to his hand pie.
“Okay, but Steve,” Bucky says.
“What is it, Buck?” Steve asks.
“Where did Natasha get a frog in my coffee shop?” Bucky asks. He looks at Natasha and she stares back at him. Under her paw, the frog ribbits.
“Huh,” Steve says. “What a good question.”
Steve scratches his nose and then scratches his neck and then takes another bite of basil and peach.
“Is there a good answer?” Bucky asks, suspiciously.
“Well, she’s a cat,” Steve says, gesturing at her again. “So that might be as good an answer as either of us are going to get.”
It’s...suspicious. All of it is suspicious, to say the least. First Steve shows up and then Rumlow disappears and now, suddenly, there’s a frog caught under the paw of Steve’s very discerning and extremely judgmental cat.
If Bucky didn’t know better, he’d say…
“Take the frog outside, Steve,” Bucky says with a sigh and turns back to cleaning his counter. “This is a food establishment. Only emotional support animals allowed.”
“You got it, Buck,” he says. He gives Bucky yet another bright, innocent, and completely unconvincing smile. Then he picks up Natasha and the frog, which is quickly and furiously trying to escape its unfortunate situation. “Come on, Nat. Let’s go take the frog back outside.”
Bucky watches them go, a slight frown on his face. The thought tugs at his mind again--a silly, passing, growing thought.
Batwings, eye of newt, and hair of enemy, he thinks, remembering a post-it note.
And then, just as quickly, shakes his head and abandons his thought.
Don’t be ridiculous, Bucky, he thinks to himself. There’s no such thing as magic.
School starts again in September because Steve isn’t at the coffee shop every other day, which Bucky can’t help but notice in a hyperaware kind of way. He does his usual morning routine, puts out fresh batches of cookies and scones and pastries and tries not to base the menu off of what he thinks Steve might like to eat. He’s aware that he misses Steve sharply and, surprisingly, his cat too.
Sam tells him to get his head out of his ass, which is a little rude, but more or less effective. School starts in the city too, which means the Perkatory fills up throughout the day with college and graduate students who are in varying degrees of stressed.
“Shouldn’t you not be stressed at the beginning of the semester?” Bucky asks a kid who goes to NYU and lives in Queens named Peter Parker. Bucky doesn’t really understand logistically why Parker is coming to a coffee shop in Brooklyn when he lives in another borough and goes to school in yet another, but he’s also not in the business of questioning why a customer chooses to come to the coffee shop and give him their hard earned, or loaned, money.
“You would think!” Peter says, greedily reaching for his large mocha. Peter Parker is so optimistic and stressed and just a little silly that he reminds Bucky of Steve.
Bucky looks toward the door and grows sad again at the lack of blond hair and weird robe.
He sighs, gives Peter his change, and then goes back to the kitchen to finish another batch of apple cider donuts and put his upside down blood orange olive oil cake into the oven. He’s taking out one batch of donuts and setting them on the strainer to drain the oil when he feels something weird.
It’s not really clear what’s weird, except that it is . The air feels a little thicker, maybe, not like humidity, but kind of like an electric spark that prickles along the top of his arms.
Bucky frowns and looks at the fryer. He had turned it off, but now it seems to be on again, the oil bubbling faster than it was before. He reaches forward to turn the knob off again, but realizes he can’t. It’s already off. The fryer is off, but the oil is still bubbling.
And that’s not the strangest part.
The little sparks pop along his skin as he turns and looks around at his kitchen.
All of the appliances seem to be turning on and off, the lights flickering, little flashes of light filling the air all around him.
“What…” he says slowly and he sees--he swears he sees a plate of cinnamon pear galettes floating above the metal counter.
Bucky thinks he might be going crazy.
He hurries out of the kitchen to find Sam and ask him if he’s seeing weird things too or if Bucky’s like, sleep-deprived and hallucinating or something.
He doesn’t really get a chance to ask Sam anything, because everything is topsy turvy in the front of the store too.
The baked goods are all levitating--there’s no other word for it--a few inches off their plates, the espresso machine is hissing for no reason, and the iPad at the counter attached to the cash register seems to be short-circuiting.
All around the coffee shop, customers are perplexed, grumbling in confusion. Someone at the counter is staring at her hair, as though she can’t figure out why it’s green and sparkling. Another two customers, who are having a date at a small table nestled in the corner, are kissing, but they’re also flailing a little, as though they’re stuck together and can’t seem to figure out how to un-stick themselves.
“What?” Bucky says again, louder this time, and looks around at the slight chaos. “The hell?”
“Excuse me?” a voice comes and Bucky looks around wildly, searching for Peter, but can’t find him. “Mr. Bucky, sir? Um, up here.
Bucky stops and his eyes fly to the ceiling and--yep, there’s the kid, stuck to the ceiling of his coffee shop.
Bucky’s about to seriously lose it when he hears a scrambled, rushed, kind of panicked cursing.
There’s only one person who could cause that amount of chaos by doing absolutely nothing at all.
“ Steve ?” Bucky says loudly.
“Bucky!” Steve squeaks and emerges from his booth.
He’s a little flushed, a little sweaty, a little--
“Are you glowing?” Bucky stares at him.
Steve opens his mouth and shuts it. Then he sticks his arms out in front of him and looks at them closely.
“Huh,” he says.
“Around the edges,” Bucky finishes. “You’re glowing around the edges.”
“That’s just a--” Steve begins and then closes his mouth. “I don’t know what to say, actually. This has never happened before.”
“You’ve never glowed around the edges before?” Bucky asks, unimpressed.
“Not as such no,” Steve says. “What did you do?” Bucky asks.
For once, Steve doesn’t look guilty. For once, he actually looks perplexed; confused; a little worried, even.
Actually, Steve looks as overwhelmed as Bucky feels.
He’s a little glowy, sure, and his eyes are bright, but not in a good way. He looks as though his heart as racing, as though he might be having a panic attack.
Steve takes in a breath and Bucky can hear the nerves in them. Almost as though it’s responding to him, everything goes a little crazier--a little more haywire, like someone turned the dial up on the entire store.
“What is it!” Bucky says and ducks as a donut tries to bean him in the face.
“I don’t know!” Steve says, miserably. Behind him, Bucky sees a stack of books slowly rise from the table.
“Steve!” he says. “Behind you!”
“Ack!” Steve manages and then ducks just as the books go flying across the air. Buck ducks too and they slam against the door to the kitchen, just hit it hard and fall to the ground, paper flying everywhere.
“Make it stop!” Bucky says and then he’s on the ground, trying to crawl to Steve.
“I don’t know how ,” Steve says and he sounds miserable again.
“Mr. Bucky?” Peter says, again from the ceiling. “I’m getting a little worried up here, I’m going to be honest.”
“Give me a minute, Parker,” Bucky says to him.
Bucky crawls across the floor to Steve, avoiding falling paper and pastries that have suddenly grown a mind of their own and are now following Bucky around in a line, like they’re little ducklings and he’s their mother.
“Steve!” Bucky gasps out when he finally reaches him.
Steve’s on the floor by now too, ducking from everything, looking bright-eyed and panicked and a little like he wants to crumble into himself.
“I don’t know what to do,” Steve moans a little. “I’m sorry! I was just--I was stressed and overwhelmed and I missed you so I came in here to do some work but then you weren’t here and I felt a little sad and so I came to the booth and started working and then everything went crazy and I don’t know how to turn it off, Buck, I’m sorry--”
Steve looks like he’s going to start crying and that’s about the last thing that Bucky wants, so he wraps his arms around him instead.
At first, Bucky thinks that Steve’s going to end up actually crying in his arms, he’s trembling so much, but then he takes a shuddering breath, leans his head against Bucky’s shoulder, and wraps his slight arms around Bucky’s broad back.
Steve pushes himself closer into Bucky and Bucky holds him tighter and runs a hand through Steve’s hair and kisses the top of his head.
Maybe it’s too intimate a relationship between a coffee shop owner and his favorite customer, but it doesn’t really feel that way.
Bucky feels those same pops of sparks, but this time it’s somewhere deep inside his chest. He warms from it and acts on it, meaning he pulls Steve closer and holds him even tighter. He holds him so tightly that Steve squeaks and then Bucky panics and lets him go.
“Sorry!” he says.
“No!” Steve says and his eyes seem a little less crazed. He takes a breath and then another and then slowly, very slowly, he seems to calm down.
As he does, so does everything else.
The papers and books slowly slide to the ground, the pastries stop floating, the couple in the corner are able to unstick themselves with a little, relieved shriek. Everything clatters to a halt around them.
“Thanks,” Steve whispers. He looks around at the wreckage. “I’m so sorry--”
“Are you okay?” Bucky asks. He cups Steve’s cheek with a hand, looks at him with concern, coffee shop be damned.
“Yeah,” he says. “Now I am. Thanks.”
Bucky lets his hand linger for a moment and then pulls it back.
“What happened?” Bucky asks and looks around at everything.
“I don’t know,” Steve says with a frown. “That’s--never happened before.”
“What was it?” Bucky says. “An earthquake?”
He knows somewhere, deep in his brain, that an earthquake makes no sense, not for everything that he had seen, but also he doesn’t really have much of an explanation otherwise.
(Batwings, his mind helpfully supplies. Eye of newt. Hair of enemy.)
“Yeah,” Steve says slowly. “Earthquake. That must be it.”
Bucky feels a little disoriented, but he finally gets to his feet. He offers a hand down to Steve, who takes it.
Bucky warms at the touch, almost wanting to smile despite everything around him.
“Let me--” Steve says, turning a little pink. “Get my books. They’re--over there.”
Bucky nods, turns and watches him go toward the counter. He’s considering this, all of it; Steve’s face, the electricity under his skin and crawling along his skin, the way he had held Steve in his arms and how Steve had fit right in there.
He’s considering it for so long he doesn’t really hear the little shriek and squeak, until he hears the shout.
“Mr. Bucky!” Peter shouts. “I’m falling!”
And then Peter Parker falls right off the ceiling, and onto Bucky himself.
October comes in warm on the heels of an unseasonably warm September, but Bucky starts wearing cardigans over his tank tops anyway. He has enough muscle to run warm to begin with, but it’s October and the trees are green and all he wants is to catch a cool breeze during his morning walk to the coffee shop. Short of that, he just really likes the way his slouchy grey cardigan looks over the soft, white tank.
Anyway, it couldn’t possibly be October without pumpkin baked fifteen ways to Sunday, so Bucky starts the month with classics--pumpkin spiced donuts, pumpkin swirl cheesecake bars, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies--and, of course, pumpkin spiced latte, which he runs a special on during the first week of October and which he’s sick of by that Tuesday afternoon.
He’s busy designing some kind of a pumpkin baking challenge with himself, arranged as a kind of pyramid on paper, with each day and each week out-pumpkining the previous, which distracts him from some of the other things on his mind. It does not, however, distract Sam, who finishes the inventory for the week and stands in the doorway to the kitchen while Bucky adds “pumpkin cinnamon monkey bread loafs” to a chamber of the pyramid.
“Hey, remember when everything went crazy last month?” Sam asks, scratching his chin. “That was weird, right?”
“It was an earthquake,” Bucky says, crossing out spiced pumpkin cupcakes and adding mini pumpkin cakes with nutella filling.
“You know what an earthquake is, right?” Sam says, raising an eyebrow. “Things shake and move, people don’t usually get stuck on the ceiling.”
“Maybe it was a--uh, magnetic thing,” Bucky says with a shrug, frowning at the pyramid. “Polarities or whatever.”
“I think you’re making up science words,” Sam says.
“Now why would I do that?” Bucky asks. He sighs and crosses out pumpkin macaroon because, in retrospect, that just sounds disgusting.
“To avoid the topic,” Sam says.
Bucky can feel Sam staring at him, so he looks up, squinting.
“What topic, Wilson?”
“The topic of why weird shit keeps happening whenever Steve’s around,” Sam says.
Bucky isn’t so much avoiding the topic as not acknowledging it exists. He sighs and adds pumpkin spiced latte cupcakes back into the pyramid.
“The facts are facts,” Sam says. “That post-it-note--”
“It’s just a post-it-note, Sam,” Bucky says.
“Your grandma’s recipe thing just after you told him you couldn’t remember,” Sam goes on.
Bucky shrugs. “Memories come and go. Something must have triggered it.”
“The weird, beady-eyed cat,” Sam says.
“Aw, I like Natasha,” Bucky says. He looks at his pyramid proudly and goes to hang it up next to his wall of Steve-related post-it-notes.
“Parker…” Sam says and quickly looks up at the ceiling, as though the kid might still be stuck there.
He isn’t, of course. Actually, most of the weird things that had happened that day had disappeared shortly after Peter had fallen down from the ceiling. Everything had sort of just...stopped. Stopped levitating, stopped following him, stopped sticking together. The air had returned to an easy kind of normal and the shop had been a mess of confused humans and sticky, crumbly pastries everywhere, but it was as though they had simply had a moment of disarray in an endless timeline of normalcy.
Bucky’s still not sure what to make of it, but it isn’t--well, whatever Sam thinks it is.
“Like I said,” Bucky says with another shrug. “Earthquake. Polarities.”
It was the easiest answer and, frankly, it was probably the only answer Bucky could handle.
Sam looks unconvinced and disgruntled as Bucky opens a container of flour, muttering to himself about weird customers and college kids stuck to store ceilings as he leads himself back to the front register.
Maybe it’s a little weird, the stuff that happens when Steve is here, Bucky admits to himself, and only himself, in the safety of his own thoughts as he cuts up butter to put into the batter. But Steve isn’t weird, so anything else is inconsequential.
He wonders when Steve will come in this month.
He hopes it’s soon, because there are a lot of pumpkin-flavored baked goods to make and only one person he wants to taste them all.
Actually, the entire month goes by without hide nor blond hair of Steve Rogers and Bucky doesn’t grow mopier, but he does channel his excess energy energy into decorating the coffee shop accordingly. Bucky isn’t an ostentatious person, not by a long shot, but if he loves one thing, it’s Halloween.
Bucky loves candy and candy-themed baked goods, bad, spooky puns, and ridiculous yard decorations. He loves cheesy, campy horror movies and the ones that make him afraid to go into any room that Scrooge McCat isn’t in. Much to Sam’s chagrin, Bucky hasn’t really assented to attending more than one real party a year since college, but he makes an exception every year for Scott Lang’s Outrageous Halloween Horror Fest, for which he starts planning his costume a full two months in advance. He’s won the costume contest three years running.
This year he’s been busier than most, but he still has most of his Optimus Prime costume done, equipped with flashing lights, sounds, and joints that move even when he doesn’t. When he’s finished, he’ll look like a Transformer come to life, which is a fine use of his engineering degree, even if Winifred Barnes probably wouldn’t agree.
“You gonna close up and come over?” Sam asks sometime during the afternoon rush. He’s helping bag some bat-themed cookies and a Jack-o-Lantern cupcake for a customer while Bucky works overtime to prepare a line of espresso drinks.
“Yeah, if I can ever get out of here,” Bucky says feverishly, pouring hot milk on top of espresso. Every time he finishes an order, another three appear. There’s no end to his nightmare in sight. He’s starting to sweat in espresso.
“Just tell everyone to leave their money and go,” Sam says.
Bucky’s in the middle of carefully latticing caramel on top of foam and doesn’t even have time to roll his eyes.
By the time he finishes the six cups in front of him and gets a second to breathe, Sam’s off for the night and the sky has moved past peaches and gone straight into the inky navy of the deep sea. He sighs and grabs his bottle of water and chugs it, wondering briefly if he’s forgotten what fresh air feels like across his skin.
He’s mid-gulp when someone approaches the counter.
He’s honestly the palest person Bucky has ever seen. There are dark circles under his eyes, his skin is alabaster if it’s a color at all, and his slightly greasy dark hair hangs limp across his shoulders. When he looks up at Bucky, he looks—well, hungry.
“What can I get you?” Bucky asks, uneasily.
The man moves slowly, like movement hurts him, and as his eyes rove across the display case Bucky realizes with a start that they’re—well, red.
“We’re out of a lot, but the pumpkin pasties are pretty good,” Bucky offers.
The man looks up at him and is so silent Bucky can feel the awkward tension break against the back of his neck.
“I uh, always wanted to try them,” he says. “You know? Harry Potter? We uh, have cauldron cakes too.”
“What do you have,” the man rasps in some kind of a thick accent. “That is like blood?”
Bucky knows the man doesn’t mean it literally, but it makes him recoil a little anyway. He shakes his head. A customer is a customer.
“We have a raspberry Italian soda that we’re calling Bloodthirst,” Bucky says. “It’s pretty sweet, but good. Uh. Oh! We have a red velvet cheesecake that we’re calling a bloody good cheesecake, ha ha.”
The man stares at him.
“Okay, not a fan of puns,” Bucky says. “We have some cookies, bloody witches fingers. And—oh, there’s a cake pop we’re calling Vampire’s Kryptonite. It’s red velvet and looks like a garland of garlic.”
The man—does he hiss?
Bucky blinks at him in bewilderment.
“Bloodthirst,” he rasps out.
“Sure,” Bucky says and gives the man a weird look.
Sometimes he gets customers in like this—they’re socially awkward or aggressive or just plain weird. They’re rarely unnerving. Bucky has like fifty pounds of muscle on him, but he can admit he’s unnerved. He’s not too much of a man to not admit he’s unnerved.
He takes a glass out and turns his back to the man to pour out the raspberry Italian soda concoction he has left in the mini fridge under the counter.
He doesn’t even bend down before his hairs all stand on end. Bucky doesn’t know why his heart rate picks up or why his spider senses start tingling or whatever, but he feels it, something weird and off-putting, like someone’s leaning over him and breathing.
Bucky whips around and for a second he thinks he sees the man standing over him, red eyes glinting hungrily, but then he blinks and he’s not there. He’s nowhere to be found.
Instead, there’s a familiar, blue-eyed blond with a witch’s hat on his head, his eyes a little panicked, his breathing rapid. Steve’s holding a cross in his hand and there’s dust everywhere .
“What the—” Bucky blinks in confusion.
“Bucky,” Steve says, voice strained. “Don’t uh, move.”
“What?” Bucky asks dumbly. And of course, like any normal person who’s been told not to do something, he goddamn goes and does it.
Bucky jerks, turns around and then he sees a spectral, decayed face that leers over him and it goes right through him and it’s like he’s been doused in fiery cold water and Bucky gasps for air and then he shrieks a little, all 200 lbs of him, and then the spectral thing shrieks at him and Steve shouts something and flails his arms and then the ghost comes for Bucky and Bucky stumbles back and slips on flour and falls straight on his back like a goddamned banana peel comic and blacks out.
Every time he comes to he’s woozy and there’s something new and inexplicable happening.
Once he wakes up and Steve is muttering something? At the ghost specter. He waves his hand and the ghost wails and explodes into wisps of smoke.
Bucky blacks out again.
The next time he wakes up, Steve has climbed on the counter and there’s some thing dark and flowy shrieking at him and he swears, he goddamn swears Steve shouts BEGONE BANSHEE but that can’t be right because what and Bucky’s vision goes dark.
Then there’s the time he opens his eyes and Steve legitimately has his hand on the forehead of something with green, decaying skin and what looks like brains leaking out the back of its head. Bucky doesn’t have the capacity to deal with that one. This time he willingly goes to sleep.
When he wakes up finally, he’s at Steve’s booth and Steve has a Rice Krispy Mummy Treat in front of him. It’s on a plate and he’s happily eating it while humming bars to what Bucky recognizes as Thriller.
“You like Michael Jackson?” is the only thing Bucky’s brain manages to manifest into a sentence.
“Hi Buck!” Steve says cheerfully.
“Steve,” Bucky groans and rubs his head. He has a killer headache and the weirdest flashes of the most bizarre dream he’s ever had. “What...happened?”
“You fell,” Steve says through a mouthful of Rice Krispy. He says whoops and then swallows. Then he takes his time taking a gulp of water. “It actually looked bad. Are you okay? There was flour on the floor.”
“Uhhh,” Bucky says.
“I closed up the shop for you. Sorry about the mess. I couldn’t find the mop,” Steve says.
Bucky looks around and—it sure is a mess. There’s dust everywhere and something that looks a little purple and gloopy, and the air is strangely smoky?
“Do you have plans, Buck?” Steve asks.
He has the vague memory of a Transformer, but honestly he’s too out of it to really remember.
“No,” he says, leaning against Steve.
Wait, when did Steve sit next to him? He thought he was sitting across from him. He’s so confused.
Steve runs a hand through Bucky’s hair and Bucky lets out a sigh and leans more into the touch.
“Halloween’s my favorite holiday,” Steve says brightly. “But it’s a little crazy. The doorways are all open and all sorts of weird things happen. Want to go to a graveyard and watch movies?”
“A graveyard?” Bucky asks, trying to process full sentences.
“Yeah. It’s the most sacred place during the dark high magic night,” Steve says and munches on more Rice Krispy. “Everyone’s safest there which I know you wouldn’t expect, but I guess magic has a sense of irony or something.”
Bucky can’t hear this anymore.
He shakes his head.
And then he nods.
“Let’s go watch movies,” he says.
Steve happily finishes his treat and then takes the dish carefully to the sink. Bucky manages to get up in the meantime and survey the destruction around him.
When Steve comes back to him, with his jacket, his wallet, his keys, and a small tote bag full of what he suspects are pastries, Bucky turns to him.
“Steve,” he says.
“Yeah, Buck?” Steve asks. He has his witch hat on again. He’s not wearing a coat, but he’s wearing a long, black robe. His tote bag says MAGIC HAPPENS.
“Out of curiosity, was there a vampire, a ghost, a banshee, and a zombie in my coffee shop this evening?” he asks. He touches the back of his head and feels a knot there.
“What a weird question, Buck,” Steve says. Then he offers Bucky his hand. “Come on. There’ll be a lot of candy.”
“I like candy,” Bucky says and takes Steve’s hand.
Bucky follows Steve out of the coffee shop, into the cool, October night sky. If there are more bats out than usual or little orbs of light following them around or if strange people keep saying hello to the two of them or if Bucky walks a little closer to Steve than is strictly necessary, well, strange and spooky things are always happening on Halloween, after all.
They sit on a blanket in the graveyard to watch Young Frankenstein with a crowd of other people. There’s all of Bucky’s baked goods and a grocery bag of candy in front of them.
In the background, a werewo--a wolf howls. Bucky shivers a little and leans closer to Steve. Steve smiles at him and offers him a cauldron cake.
It gets colder outside as October turns into November and for once, New York City isn’t unseasonably warm. If anything, autumn turns into winter overnight and Bucky has to dig through his closet to take out the container of sweaters he’s been amassing for the past four years, which he’s unreasonably proud of and that Sam has threatened to donate to a shelter multiple times. He digs through the container and finds the chunkiest, most comfortable white sweater that he can manage. He leaves for the coffee shop at his usual time in the darkest hour of the morning in only his sweater, because it’s November and the wind is cold, but he runs hot anyway.
He opens the shop, turns on the lights, sets the coffee maker on, and finishes each and every part of his morning routine. This morning, he finds a late autumn, early winter playlist on Spotify and turns it on in the background as he starts measuring out ingredients for cheddar and sage scones. He measures in the flour, the baking soda, the sugar, and the salt. He cuts up cold butter and works it in with his pastry cutter, humming and swaying with the music. He stirs in the sage, measures in the cheddar, adds in cream cheese. He puts it all in the enormous KitchenAid and looks at his wall of post-it notes.
He finds the one that says MAGIC with three underlines. He finds even looking at it makes him smile. He traces the curves of Steve’s impatient, spiky writing and then moves his gaze over to the one next to it--this time, a little drawing. It’s of a stick figure with an apron and a little cat next to him. The stick figure is childish and, frankly, hilarious, but the cat is drawn carefully. He can almost see her green eyes looking back at him.
Bucky feels eyes at the back of his neck and turns around, looks to the alleyway behind the kitchen, but there’s nothing out there. Some cans clatter together and Bucky almost goes to investigate, but the scone dough is done and he wants to start on the pecan shortbread cookies next. It’s probably cats anyway. Or a raccoon.
Bucky finishes the scones and puts them in the oven. Then he puts all of his savory ingredients away and takes out more for his cookies.
Halfway through the morning, he realizes the problem.
“Are. You. Kidding. Me!” Bucky growls out loud, slamming his large fist against the metal kitchen table, biceps bulging, vein ticking in his forehead.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, there’s a scurrying, slipping, yelping sound.
The door to the kitchen crashes open and Steve is there, looking concerned, cat in his arms.
“Steve!” Bucky barks.
“Bucky!” Steve replies, as usual. “What happened! What’s going on! I heard growling!”
“Get that cat out of my kitchen!” Bucky growls some more and Steve yelps and scurries away.
Bucky stomps out of the kitchen with an empty bag, his KISS THE BAKER apron still pulled tightly across his large chest.
“I’m sorry, Bucky!” Steve says immediately when he sees Bucky. He’s sitting at a table, not even at his booth, with Natasha, looking properly chastised. “I just heard the yelling and you hadn’t come out yet and I thought maybe you were in trouble and I was already holding Natasha and--”
“No time,” Bucky says, shortly.
For a moment, he’s so frustrated, he can’t breathe. He seems to grow taller, larger, filling the space between them and Steve looks up at him, a little less concerned, and a little more uh, fearful.
“Bucky,” Steve says slowly. “What...is it?”
Bucky doesn’t say anything for a moment, turning red as he processes the thing he just realized, while he was in the kitchen, mid-bake.
“We’re out! Of! Brown! Sugar!” Bucky growls loudly and then, grabbing his keys, stalks out the door of the coffee shop.
“It’s very serious,” Bucky says later, after Steve’s put Natasha in her cage, has washed his own hands, and has assented to wearing one of Bucky’s aprons--FLOUR POWER--which looks ridiculous on him and goes past his knees, in order to be allowed back in the kitchen.
Bucky now has three enormous bags of brown sugar on the counter and he’s calmly mixing the ingredients for the pecan shortbread cookies.
“I really thought something terrible had happened,” Steve says. “Can I mix this?”
“No,” Bucky says. He looks up in time to see Steve pick up his entire block of butter. “Put that down. I don’t come into your booth and mess with your books.”
“Wouldn’t mind if you did,” Steve mutters and puts the butter down with a sigh. “Maybe you’d be able to figure out my problem.”
“Oh yeah,” Bucky says. “The thing you were working on. You still haven’t figured it out yet?”
Steve looks through the door into the coffee shop for some reason with a distant and worried look on his face.
“Not yet,” he says. “I’m afraid I’m running out of time.”
“Here,” Bucky says and hands Steve a spoon of cookie dough. Steve blinks at it and Bucky offers it to him again. “It’ll make you feel better.”
Steve smiles slyly at that and takes the spoon.
“See? Without brown sugar, that’d be disgusting,” Bucky says. “Never make fun of my creative process again.”
“Noted,” Steve says and licks his lips after the spoon is out. Bucky definitely Does Not Look At Steve’s Lips. “No more jokes and always bring brown sugar to the party.”
“Speaking of party,” Bucky says. “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”
“Oh,” Steve says, wrinkling his nose. “Nothing.”
“What about your family?” Bucky asks.
“Ma’s working. So I guess, Natasha’s my only family,” he says.
Steve shrugs, a little sadly. Bucky’s immediate reaction shouldn’t be so viscerally protective, but he feels it stab his chest, the instantaneous need to say something to make Steve feel better.
“Me,” Bucky blurts out.
“What?” Steve blinks at him.
“Thanksgiving with me,” Bucky says. “Spend it with me.”
Steve looks at Bucky dubiously.
“What about your family?” Steve asks.
“They’re in Indiana,” Bucky says with a shrug. He spreads pecans onto a baking sheet and sprinkles them with sugar. “Usually I go back, but can’t afford to this year. So it’s just me and Scrooge.”
“Scrooge?” Steve asks, cocking his head slightly in a way that’s unbelievably cute. Ugh.
“McCat,” Bucky says, by way of explanation.
“Oh, a friend for Natasha!” Steve says brightly and Bucky grins.
“So, what do you say, Rogers?” Bucky asks. “Thanksgiving with me and a grumpy cat?”
“Me and my grumpy cat would be delighted,” Steve says with a bright, utterly charming smile right before the little weasel swipes a handful of pecans and Bucky has to chase him out of the kitchen.
The coffee shop is open almost every day the entire year, except for the few major holidays, any polar vortexes that make it impossible for Bucky to walk to the shop, and that one time Bucky had gotten a surprise case of appendicitis and Sam had forced him to go to the emergency room when he had just kind of doubled over and fallen onto his side from stomach pain.
Thanksgiving, however, is one of those major holidays, so even though Bucky doesn’t particularly love celebrating the genocide of an entire people, he closes the shop and spends all day cooking everything he knows he and Steve will need—turkey, of course, and rolls and cranberry sauce and vegan macaroni and cheese and green bean casserole and cornbread and corn muffins and mushroom bread pudding and asparagus and stuffing and three whole, different kinds of pie (pecan, pumpkin, and cranberry key lime).
He realizes maybe too late that he had never given Steve his address and he still doesn’t have Steve’s number or know if he uses his phone, so he packs everything in foil and makes multiple trips back and forth between the apartment and the Perkatory.
By the time he gets the turkey in, he’s huffing and puffing, like he’s blown down a house of bricks or something. He rests a hand against the counter and wheezes a little just before a knock comes at the door. Bucky looks up and sees Steve in a puffy coat and a cat carrier in arm.
Bucky waves him in.
“I bought wine!” Steve says, holding two bottles up and jostling Natasha enough that the cat yowls in disapproval. “Whoops, sorry, Nat.”
“Great, thanks,” Bucky wheezes.
“Are you dying?” Steve asks with little concern.
Then he puts everything down, strips out of his coat and scarf, and wraps his arms around Bucky’s middle.
Bucky stops mid-wheeze and warms all over, immediately.
“Thanks for having me,” Steve says. “Everything smells delicious.
Bucky puts a tentative hand on Steve’s back and when Steve doesn’t move, he wraps him up in his own larger arms.
Steve sighs and stayed nestled there, oddly comfortable. He’s about half of Bucky’s size but there’s something about him that makes Bucky’s heart sigh that line from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And this one was just right.
“Come on,” Bucky says, a little reluctantly breaking the hug. “We have an entire turkey to eat. If we’re not dead from tryptophan by the end of the night I haven’t done my job right.”
Steve lets Natasha out of her carrier and she gives him a loud rebuke before finally walking around the shop at ease, all of the property hers, a queen in her queendom. She disappears almost instantly and Bucky frowns.
“Should we keep an eye on her?” he asks.
“Oh she’ll be fine,” Steve waves a hand. “She’s very self sufficient.”
Bucky has his doubts, but then Steve starts moving dishes and he forgets about Steve’s weird cat.
Bucky and Steve push together three of the coffee tables and retrieve everything from the kitchen, placing the platters and plates and trays of food around the tables in a slightly aesthetic and mostly Tetris manner.
Bucky goes to the kitchen to get utensils and plates to eat on and when he returns, the lights in the coffee shop are dim and there are long wicker candles placed around the room. The light of the flames are little pinpricks in the dark and cast the entire shop in a glow.
Bucky’s heart flutters as he watches Steve, his blond hair long and messy in his eyes, his eyes a clear, bright blue in the light, all of him illuminated by candles that weren’t there before.
“Did you bring those?” Bucky asks softly.
“Oh,” Steve startles. He pushes his fringe out of his eyes and looks worried. “Is that okay?”
Bucky looks down at his hands, feels his heart thumping at all of his pulse points.
“It’s beautiful,” he says looking up at Steve again and Steve softens, smiles. “Thanks.”
Steve tilts his head just so and the light makes his hair glow golden and Bucky thinks, Sam’s right. I’m in over my head here. I’m fucked.
Steve smiles again.
Bucky’s Thanksgivings are usually noisy. His mother is loud and his father is loud and Becca and her husband and their three children are loud. Hell, even Bucky’s loud when he’s with them. Bucky and his mom watch the Macy’s Day Parade and his dad and Becca watch football and the kids help him bake four whole pies and the air is always warm and happy and smells delicious. Bucky and his dad always get into some loud argument about the state of the world and they try to pull Joe, Becca’s husband, in and he always punts until he capitulates and then they all argue loudly until Winifred calls them into dinner and then the eating begins and it’s the only time of silence until the kids finishing eating and the adults start drinking.
Not once has Bucky ever left Thanksgiving dinner not feeling like he needs to be rolled up the stairs to his childhood room.
This year, though, Becca and Joe and the kids are spending Thanksgiving with Joe’s family and money’s a little tight for Bucky besides, so he stays here, in Brooklyn.
He had been depressed by the thought, Thanksgiving alone.
But then Steve Rogers had appeared.
Steve Rogers had appeared and everything had changed.
It’s not the loudest Thanksgiving Bucky has ever had, but it’s warm and it’s delicious and it’s sweet. He and Steve pile food onto their plates and sit in Steve’s booth and eat and talk and laugh, teasing each other, kicking each other under the table, and trying to steal food from each other’s plates. They look out the window sometimes and try to find Natasha sometimes and every time Bucky’s glass is low, Steve fills it back up with wine.
They lean in close and pull away, grow sleepy, and wake up animated again. Bucky has to unbutton his jeans and Steve laughs and Steve nearly tips forward into his vegan mac and cheese and Bucky takes a picture of him.
They eat and they eat and when they’re done eating, they sit on the same side of the booth, tucked against each other, and lazily start in on the pie.
At the end of the night, they don’t die from tryptophan, but they do fall asleep against each other, Bucky’s back to the window, his legs stretched out across the booth seats, and Steve nestled against his chest, Bucky’s arm loosely around him, holding him close.
Natasha comes in from the kitchen and watches them with bright green, beady eyes.
She mewls, jumps up on the table and starts eating the turkey.
Bucky isn’t rigid about a lot of things, but he is rigid about Christmas music. Christmas music, according to Bucky Barnes, must start December 1st and not one day sooner. So when November finally melts into December and the sky is heavy with white clouds, the taste of snow in the air, Bucky opens the shop at 5 am, his heavy coat and thick scarf wound around his neck, and immediately opens his phone and scrolls to the first Christmas playlist that he can find on Spotify.
He unwinds his scarf, hangs up his coat, turns the volume up, and starts swaying happily as he takes out a carton of eggs, his tub of sugar, and his container of flour, Jingle Bell Rock playing all the while in the background.
December 1st is a day for raspberry Linzer cookies, so he takes the raspberries out of the fridge, washes them, and adds them to a large pot. He pours in a whole cup of sugar, turns the stove on, and whistles as he works.
Halloween might be Bucky’s favorite holiday, but December is his favorite time of the year. He loves all of it—the snow, the chocolate, the red and green, the decorations, the poinsettias and wreaths and carols and polar bears, the penguins in Santa hats and elves and Santas and reindeers. He loves Hanukkah menorahs and dreidels and the Kwanzaa candles and all manners of holiday paraphernalia in between.
He stays late on December 1st and Sam stays behind with him and they put on Christmas music and break out bottles of wine and do all of it—get a tree and set it up in the corner, hang tinsel and garlands, put up a giant wreath at the door, draw snowmen and elves and hot chocolate on the large glass windows and door, set a large potted poinsettia on the sill above the milk and sugar counter, and decorate, put little bells everywhere, and even mistletoe that Bucky hangs in the middle of the room, above the largest table.
They sway and drink wine and laugh and Bucky bakes a batch of red velvet gooey butter cookies that they demolish.
“‘m drunk,” Sam says later, leaning heavily against Bucky.
They both look up and see the mistletoe.
They look at each other and burst out laughing.
“Nah,” Sam says.
“More wine?” Bucky offers.
“Yup,” Sam nods.
It’s the best time of the year.
Steve comes in on December 5th, to Bucky’s winter wonderland bursting in color around him, Silver Bells playing over the speakers, and his eyes are wide and his cheeks flushed and when he reaches the counter, Bucky smiles and hands him a cup of hot chocolate.
“Happy Holidays, Steve,” Bucky says, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
Steve wraps his hands around the hot mug and takes a sip and when he resurfaces, there’s whipped cream on his nose.
Bucky laughs and Steve laughs and there’s something so comfortable about it, Bucky doesn’t even bother to hide it, the warm fondness that creeps across his face.
Steve stays in his booth that day, with his textbooks and his papers and his muttering, but he can’t seem to concentrate for very long.
He finds his way to the register more than once, looking at the display case, poking at all of the decorations, leaning against counter, looking up at the mistletoe and smiling. He steals so many cookies that Bucky eventually shoos him away. But he returns, emerges from his booth, at least once an hour, and Bucky, well, he lets him.
Steve comes back the next day.
And the next day.
And the day after that.
Steve comes back every single day and Bucky is deliriously pleased about it. He’s so happy, he, well, doesn’t really think about it, he doesn’t even notice when he starts baking.
Steve walks in with his oversized coat and his cold, shaking hands and it’s like Bucky can’t control himself. He makes him peppermint mochas and salted caramel lattes and eggnog chais and creme brulee lattes and a hazelnut praline thing that Steve asks for three of. Steve asks him for gingerbread cookies and he makes them. Steve says he saw a cranberry white chocolate bar at Starbucks and it magically appears in the display case the next day. Bucky makes gingerbread loaves and sugar cookie truffles, chocolate peppermint brownies and yule logs. He makes fifteen different kinds of Christmas cookies and frozen hot chocolate and peppermint bark and candy cane cupcakes and fig cookies and orange shortbread cookies and reindeer rice krispy treats. He makes so many different kinds of holiday-themed baked goods that he starts attracting new customers, everyday a new group of tourists and Brooklynites just waiting to see what Bucky Barnes has baked today.
He knows, logically, that he should stop, that he shouldn’t cater his entire menu to one person, but he can’t help the way his entire chest glows warm every time Steve finishes his plate or the smile that spreads across his face every time Steve licks his fingers. Steve just has to look at him with those clear blue eyes and Bucky would bend over backward baking him anything, making him any drink, temporarily forgetting that Steve hasn’t eaten a green thing in a week at least.
Sam gives him too many knowing looks, but they both know it’s a lost cause and anyway Steve’s worn Sam down too.
One day, Bucky comes in late because he’s come down with a rough cold and he finds Steve behind the counter, helping Sam ring up customers.
When Bucky gives Sam a Look, Sam just shrugs with a grin.
“I needed help and he offered.”
Like Sam can fool him. Bucky can tell when Sam’s been laughing, he sounds like a hyena trying to catch his breath.
He’s not sure how and Sam’s not sure how, but Steve works himself into the seam of their lives, day by day, until, one day, it’s almost Christmas and Bucky looks over at Steve and sees Steve writing something on his arm, petting Natasha absentmindedly, and thinks, wow, this is someone I don’t think I can live without.
They pass the days like that, weeks even, in a deliriously happy, incandescently warm, sugar coma of holiday music, unreasonable cheer, and a veritable mountain of baked goods. Steve does his work and Bucky bakes and Sam does some paperwork sometimes and makes fun of them the rest of the time. They dance around the coffee shop. Customers come and customers go, but they remain, together, serving coffee and drinking coffee, like some kinda winter magic.
It’s two days before Christmas and Sam convinces Bucky to close the coffee shop early. They’re closed Christmas Eve and they’re closed Christmas Day, but today they’re not, just one last hurrah before the holiday.
It’s no different today than other days, except everyone--well, everyone seems happier .
James Rhodes comes in with his phone calls and Thor comes in looking for pastries and even Peter comes in, looks dubiously at the ceiling, and then sits at a booth and waits for a group of his friends to show up. The Christmas music is loud and cheerful and lazy too, like something winding in the background in anticipation. The shop reverberates with unspent energy, his customers on sugar highs.
Thor brings in a man with dark black hair who peers eagerly into the glass case, who Bucky realizes is his brother, and Peter jostles with his friends in the booth, and James Rhodes, well, even he tells Bucky to call him Rhodey and gives Bucky a warm smile and asks for sugar to add to his coffee. He turns away and his smile is still there, even as he returns to his phone call. (“Tony, I’m not fighting with you today. It’s the day before Christmas Eve. Listen, just meet me at Carol’s. Bring Pepper. We like her more than you.”)
Everything is soft and warm and happy, just genuinely, truly happy. It’s difficult to capture in a way that Bucky can define.
Steve comes in after lunch today, Natasha’s cat carrier under one arm, a black trunk being pulled behind him.
“Hi,” Steve says matter-of-factly. “Can I use your kitchen?”
“Uh,” Bucky says. There are no new batches of anything in the ovens yet and he doesn’t have to start anything for another hour at least. “Sure?”
“Thanks,” Steve breathes out. “Don’t come in.”
Which bewilders Bucky, but he trusts Steve not to blow up his kitchen. Mostly.
It’s a premise Bucky has to question when, an hour later, he starts smelling something smoky and acrid coming from the kitchen.
He bangs on the dividing door.
“Rogers!” he bellows. “What is going on in there! If you burn down my KitchenAid, I swear—”
The door opens just a crack and Steve’s face peeks out, flushed pink, his eyes a little crazy, his hair plastered to his forehead.
“Hi Bucky, it’s fine, everything is fine,” Steve says. “Hey, question.”
“What,” Bucky squints.
“Do you have any extra batwings?” Steve asks innocently.
“No,” Bucky says deadpan. “Fresh out.”
“Darn,” Steve says and sweats. “Okay, bye.”
“Rogers!” Bucky tries again, but when he tries to open the door, he finds it’s stuck. Or locked. “I’m gonna kill him.”
He gives up rattling the door eventually and then marches back to the counter, a little cross, taking orders, making coffee, and, in the back of his mind, a little worried that his favorite customer is going to accidentally kill himself and break Bucky’s KitchenAid in the process.
A half an hour later, when Bucky’s about to yell at Steve because he needs to start the batter for the lemon loaves, the door opens and Steve comes out, looking dejected, Natasha nestled into his arms.
“What the hell—hey, what’s wrong?” Bucky’s feelings rapidly shift from irritation to concern.
Steve looks like he’s going to cry, which is not a sight that Bucky has ever thought about and never wants to think about again.
“I can’t do it,” Steve says miserably. “I failed. I can’t—fix this.”
“Steve, what?” Bucky asks and Steve shakes his head, swallowing thickly.
“She’s gonna—I messed up and I thought I could fix it but I can’t,” Steve manages.
“What did you do, Steve?” Bucky asks. “What can’t you fix?”
Steve shakes his head again and maybe he can’t say and maybe he won’t, but he’s starting to sway on his feet, so before he can fall, Bucky wraps his arms around him and catches him.
Natasha slips out of Steve’s arm, mewls at them, and disappears.
Steve sniffles at his booth, looks miserably at his hands while Bucky melts chocolate into a small mug and tops it with a copious amount of whipped cream.
“Drink,” Bucky says. “Tell me how I can help.”
Steve looks at the drinking chocolate dejectedly, elbow on the table, face in his palm.
“I can’t figure it out,” he says. “There’s something missing. I did all of my research, I gathered all of my ingredients, but something’s wrong. And if I don’t--if I can’t fix it--”
Bucky sits down across from Steve, nudges the mug toward him.
“Drink,” he says.
Steve looks at the whipped cream and leans forward to take a sip.
“You know what I like to do when I can’t solve a problem?” Bucky asks.
Steve looks up and there’s a little whipped cream on his nose.
Bucky’s chest flutters. He smiles.
“I bake,” he says. Then, nudging Steve’s foot under the table, he says, “Come on.”
The kitchen isn’t smoldering or even on fire, so that’s a good thing. It smells a little weird and burnt around the edges, but as far as arson goes, Bucky thinks the coffee shop will live to see another day.
Steve stops at Bucky’s wall of post-it-notes and looks at one of them with dismay.
“Stop,” Bucky says and hands him an apron. This one says I LOVE MY JEWISH BAKER.
Steve raises an eyebrow.
“Becca,” Bucky says with a shrug. “I think she thought it would be funny? But then I made her like three batches of rugelach and she didn’t think it was so funny anymore.”
Steve looks a little lost, but he smiles anyway. It’s a sad smile and Bucky, well, he can’t stand it anymore. That just won’t do.
“Put it on,” Bucky says. “Let’s make something.”
Steve puts the apron on and, again, it’s hilariously long on him. The edge of the apron goes down somewhere between his knees and his ankles and Bucky has to help him tie the ends around his waist two whole times. Then he makes Steve wash his hands and Bucky gets out the cream cheese and butter and flour and sugar--both white and brown, of which he has plenty--and kosher salt.
“What are we making?” Steve asks.
“Rugelach,” Bucky says with a grin. “Hazards of the profession. Once you say the name of a baked good you immediately crave it.”
That makes Steve laugh a little.
“What do you want to put inside?” Bucky asks.
Steve only has to think about it for a second.
“Chocolate,” he says. “Oh, and raspberries. Oh! Walnuts.”
Bucky smiles and gets out the chocolate, raspberries, and walnuts.
“Good choice,” he says. “Okay. First things first. Come over here. This is my KitchenAid. Her name is Martha and I would die for her.”
Bucky patiently teaches Steve how to use the KitchenAid, how to properly crack eggs, how long to mix things and what to look for to make sure the dough is done. He flours the counter and dumps all of the dough on top and then he teaches Steve how to knead the dough too.
They work quietly together, Bucky encouraging Steve and Steve sinking his frustrations into his kneading, the dough squeezing through his fingers until he presses back down again.
Every time Steve kneads, his arms seem to lock up, his shoulders high and tight with tension. Then he presses back down and everything in him seems to loosen as well. He takes a breath and then another and Bucky sees it when the tension starts to slowly sleep from his narrow shoulders.
By the time the dough is done, Steve looks two sizes smaller than he did before. He looks up at Bucky and Bucky’s worried for a moment that he’s not going to like what he sees there, but it’s nothing like that at all. Steve smiles at him and Bucky smiles back.
Holiday music winds its way sweetly through the background.
Steve insists that he wants to cut and wrap the dough to put into the refrigerator and Bucky isn’t convinced, but every time he leans over Steve to try and help him, Steve elbows him in the side and Bucky lets out a huff of laughter. He tries to reach over Steve and Steve shoves back into him. He tries to reach around Steve and Steve slaps his hand away. He tries to trick Steve into looking in another direction and Steve wags a finger in his face.
“Bucky Barnes, I’m going to turn you into a frog,” he threatens and Bucky puffs out more laughter.
“That doesn’t seem to be in the holiday spirit,” Bucky says.
“Fine,” Steve makes another face. “I’ll turn you into a Christmas wreath.”
“Oh, how festive!” Bucky beams. “Thanks, Steve.”
It takes Steve like three times longer than it would have taken Bucky and there’s sticky dough everywhere and at least two feet of wasted cling wrap and the dough is probably over-kneaded by now and there’s flour everywhere--like, everywhere, and it’s as messy as Bucky’s kitchen has ever been.
“C’mere,” Bucky says and Steve makes a face.
“What?” he grumbles.
Bucky smiles and beckons him closer again.
Steve looks suspicious, but he shuffles forward anyway, his face tilted up, toward the light, toward Bucky.
Bucky smiles, his mouth stretching widely, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
Steve’s eyelashes catch the light and for a moment Bucky’s distracted by it, the golden fringe dusting the top of his cheeks.
Then he leans forward and swipes his thumb across Steve’s nose, running the pad of his finger across the sharp, delicate jut of Steve’s cheekbone. Steve’s skin warms up under his touch and Bucky feels himself warm too. His thumb lingers at Steve’s jaw, the pad of his finger rough against Steve’s soft skin, the rest of his hand curled underneath.
Steve seems to sway, just a little bit, his breath soft and shallow.
Bucky almost catches him then, his other hand almost to Steve’s shoulder before he notices how large they are in comparison. Just as quickly, reluctantly, he pulls them away.
“Buck?” Steve asks quietly.
“Flour,” Bucky manages. “Everywhere.”
“Everywhere?” Steve looks up at him.
There’s flour on his mouth too, just there, across his bottom lip.
For a moment, Bucky almost finds a way to help there.
“Got it,” he says instead, his voice quiet. He steps back.
Bucky thinks Steve looks a little disappointed.
“Hey,” Sam finds them in the kitchen, spooning chocolate and raspberries and walnuts onto squares of dough. “It’s snowing.”
Steve and Bucky look at one another. They abandon the rugelach.
It’s December 23rd and the sky is dark outside, a deep, inky black that Bucky can feel resonate under his skin. There are clouds in the sky, white and grey and heavy with snow. Bucky looks up and the flakes fall onto him, into his hair, onto his eyelashes. He closes his eyes and smiles, opening his mouth to catch the flakes on his tongue.
“I love snow,” Steve says with a happy sigh next to him.
“Steve,” Bucky says, opening his eyes.
Steve looks over at him. His cheeks are glowing pink, his hands shaking a little as he shivers. The wind runs through his hair and Bucky can see the light dusting of snow sparkling in his hair. It sparkles on his eyelashes and on his cheeks. Everywhere the snow touches, Steve sparkles.
Bucky sighs, swallowing longing he’s only just realized is there.
“You look cold,” Bucky says, and then, taking a chance, “C’mere.”
Steve turns in the snow, once, just spreads his arms out and spins and Bucky watches, entranced.
Then, with a smile and a laugh, Steve shuffles closer.
“You should have put your coat on, idiot,” Bucky says and Steve nestles into his side. Bucky puts his arm around Steve’s shoulder, holds him close.
“You’re not wearing a coat,” Steve sniffles.
“I run hot,” Bucky says and then, taking another chance, drops a kiss on the crown of Steve’s head.
Steve sighs, maybe a little happily, and the two of them watch the snow fall, all around them.
“Hey, Buck,” Steve says quietly, after a while, leaning into him.
“Steve?” Bucky closes his eyes again, feels little prickles of wet crystals across his face.
“What do you think it means?” Steve asks softly. “A gift truly given?”
Bucky thinks about the post-it note, hastily written, in spiky handwriting.
“I guess,” Bucky says. “It’s something you don’t ask for or expect. You get it because the person wants to give it to you, just because you’re you and they’re them.”
“What kind of thing do you think that would be?” Steve asks. He sounds sad again and Bucky wraps his other arm around him too. Steve tilts his head back onto Bucky’s chest, looks at him upside down.
“I don’t know,” Bucky says, looking down at him. But, he thinks, if he knew, he would give it to Steve, just to see him smile again.
They go back inside, wet and cold and laughing into one another. Inside the coffee shop, the lights have been dimmed. It smells like sugar and home, the air warm, the music leaving notes of holiday cheer lingering in the air. Peter and his friends are packing up to leave. Bucky and Steve find Sam at the counter, Natasha curled around his shoulders.
“Natasha,” Steve chides and the cat purrs at him and settles more comfortably around Sam.
“We have an understanding,” Sam grins and strokes her little ginger forehead.
“Happy Holidays, Mr. Bucky,” Peter says and his friends do too, grin at Bucky and Steve, and thank and hug them. One of them--a Kate Bishop, gives Bucky a kiss on his cheek.
Bucky catches Steve looking at him with a grin and he wrinkles his nose.
Peter and Kate and their other friends leave and then there’s no one but the three of them and the cat.
“I’m gonna go clean up,” Sam says. “I’m taking Nat with me.”
Bucky and Steve watch Sam go and then--well, Bucky has nothing left to lose, he supposes.
“Want to dance?” he asks as Ella Fitzgerald plays in the background.
“Why, Bucky Barnes,” Steve says softly. “I thought you would never ask.”
Ella sings low and lovely in the background, the light tones of saxophone and piano winding in between them and around them, bringing them close and keeping them there.
One of Bucky’s hands is at Steve’s lower back, the other holding Steve’s hand. Steve leans in, close and warm, one hand at Bucky’s shoulder, the other intertwined through Bucky’s own. They sway together to Ella, one step forward, one step backward, a twirl here and a dip there as her voice blankets them, smiling and laughing, hearts beating slow and steady and then faster and faster, both gentle and excited.
Bucky looks down at Steve and Steve looks up at him and the air feels gauzy, somehow, both ephemeral and something more. Bucky thinks he feels it again, those sparks, going up and down his spine and then across his skin, up his neck and across his shoulders.
Steve’s eyes glitter in the candlelight and--where did candles come from?
Bucky looks over Steve’s shoulder to find a floating candle and then he gasps a little, looks everywhere around them.
“Bucky,” Steve says quietly and Bucky doesn’t trust himself to speak.
There are little floating candles everywhere, soft lighting in a rapidly darkening coffee shop. Bucky looks above him and the lights blink at him, welcoming and beautiful. He reaches out to touch one and it passes through his hand.
When he looks back at Steve, he notices he’s sparkling again.
“Steve,” Bucky says softly. “It’s snow.”
Steve smiles shyly.
Bucky reaches forward and brushes his thumb against Steve’s nose again, rubs away the ice crystals.
Everywhere Bucky looks inside it’s--well, it’s snowing.
“How is this possible?” Bucky asks. Something in his chest is swelling, something gentle and lovely and sweeping, like the slowest and sweetest realization, something he has been just missing for the longest of times.
“Do you like it?” Steve asks and Bucky has to close his eyes as he sways. Snow falls lightly on his eyes, on his nose, and his mouth. It’s just the slightest pinprick of cool, not even cold, barely even wet. It’s more like he’s being snowed on by something lighter than air, a gentle, cool breeze, a touch so soft it feels like--
“Magic,” Bucky says and opens his eyes.
Steve, well, he seems to glow at that.
Bucky sees it all now, almost too clearly.
It’s been written all over Steve for so long--for this entire time.
“Steve, you--” Bucky says and Steve looks nervous and happy, all at the same time.
Bucky blinks and it all melts away, suddenly he’s looking at Steve, in his jeans and his sweater that goes just past his wrist and then it’s gone and it’s still Steve, but he’s different. He’s wearing dark robes and has on a witch’s hat and still, after all of this, his blond bangs flop into his face.
“I tried to tell you,” Steve says, with a smile.
Bucky tilts his head back and laughs.
“Dance with me,” Steve says and Bucky sweeps him up, hand at his back and shoulder and Steve grins, glows, literally glows as they move together, up and around, snow and lights cascading all around them.
Eventually, Bucky puts him down and Steve breathes him in deeply and Bucky laughs and they press their foreheads together.
“You’re a witch,” Bucky says.
“I’m a witch,” Steve beams.
Steve opens his eyes and Bucky opens his and they look at one another. Bucky thinks he could fall into them, the bright blue of clear water, and he thinks this is the most magic of it all.
“Steve, I have something to tell you,” Bucky says.
“Bucky, I have something to tell you,” Steve says too.
But before he can, before Bucky can, there’s a crash from the side door and Natasha comes out of the kitchen, mewling. She jumps up on the counter and settles down.
“Bucky,” Steve tries again. He looks at Natasha and then at Bucky and then his face changes into something sad. He tries to pull away. “I’m sorry, I have to--”
But Bucky catches him, doesn’t let him go this time.
“A gift truly given,” Bucky says quietly.
“What?” Steve asks.
“Look up,” Bucky says.
“What?” Steve asks again with a blink.
Bucky shakes his head a little and puts his finger under Steve’s chin and tilts his face up.
Steve has no choice but to look at the ceiling above them, and so does Bucky.
“Oh,” Steve says. His cheeks grow warm and he looks back at Bucky and Bucky, well, he takes his shots.
“Happy Holidays, Steve,” Bucky says and presses his palms against Steve’s cheeks, frames his face in between his hands, and, well, Bucky, he kisses him.
The thing about magic is, Bucky learns--it’s that, well, it’s magic.
Bucky kisses Steve and Steve leans up into him and kisses Bucky back, softly, oh so gently, and they laugh into each other’s mouths and Bucky thinks Steve, well, Steve tastes sweeter than anything he’s ever baked.
Steve’s arms go around Bucky’s shoulders and Bucky lifts him up and they twirl again in the dark, to Ella, snow inside, snow outside, candlelight floating all around them.
Bucky can feel his heart beat fast and he can feel Steve’s heart beat fast and he can feel it between them, all of the magic they can make together. He tilts Steve’s face up, holds his face in his large hand, and kisses him again.
And it’s then--and only then that they both hear a little pop and a gasp. When Bucky and Steve turn to look, there’s no longer a cat on the counter.
It’s a beautiful woman with red hair and green eyes and she stretches like a cat, her face both terribly unimpressed and equally pleased.
“Finally,” she says. “I thought you two idiots were never going to figure it out.”
And then Steve starts crying and Sam comes back out from the kitchen.
“What the--” Sam Wilson says, looking around at the mess. “Who the hell is this? And why is it snowing in here?”
“Witches, Wilson,” the woman says, turning to Sam.
Sam raises an eyebrow and Steve is still crying and Bucky thinks he knows what’s going on, but like, who is he to explain this to his best friend in the world?
“Witches? What the hell?” Sam says out loud. Then he squints at the woman. “Hey. Weren’t you just a cat?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Bucky says out loud and the three of them turn to look at them. “It’s like none of you have ever seen a magic spell around here.”
Sam looks confused and Natasha looks amused and Steve, well he looks cute, like he always does, and Bucky, he’s not finished.
He gathers Steve in his arms again, one hand on his face and one hand on his neck, draws him close, and kisses him again. And again. And again after that.
There are different kinds of magic, it turns out. Some there are spells for and some have incantations and others require potions.
Well, Bucky doesn’t know about all of that.
The only kind of magic Bucky Barnes knows is the gentle rise of bread, and the sweet taste of chocolate melting on a person’s tongue, the look of delight as someone bites into a cookie, and the relief as someone else takes a sip of their first coffee of the day.
And perhaps the sweetest magic of them all—the look of delight and happiness and pure, genuine warmth as he kisses the person he loves, on the day before the day before Christmas, under a mistletoe, in a warm little coffee shop in the middle of Brooklyn.
Epilogue: the New Year.
It’s dark outside. Bucky’s not surprised. 5 in the morning is always dark and he’s always here by 5 in the morning, a little tired and a lot happy, his little home away from home, his nook tucked into the corner of Brooklyn.
Bucky puts his coat on the hook in his office and takes one of Sam’s post-it notes and scribbles a note on it -- SERIOUSLY, YOUR TEETH ARE CRYING OUT FOR HELP, WILSON -- and sticks it on the computer monitor.
He smiles, humming to himself, and closes the office door behind him.
Bucky has a routine. He wakes up at 4:00 in the morning, on the dot, every day, even on weekends. He lets himself luxuriate under the warmth of his soft, thick blanket for exactly ten minutes, then goes to take a hot shower. He puts on clothes, laid out the night before, and goes to the kitchen, puts on the coffee, pours himself cereal, puts toast in the toaster, and sits down with whatever book he’s reading that week. He lets himself rest, just for a half an hour, drinks coffee, eats his cereal, and reads his book. He doesn’t look at his phone.
Eventually, he looks at the clock, sees that it’s 20 minutes to 5:00 am. He puts his book down, gets his coat, puts on his shoes, puts in his earbuds, and walks the 15 minutes to the coffee shop.
At 5:00 am, he slides in through the back entrance, turns on the light in the kitchen, and opens the door to the office. He hangs his coat, leaves Sam a note, and goes to start the bread.
This morning, well--actually, it is a little different.
Bucky takes his apron off, hangs it on a hook in the kitchen, and walks out past the counter.
A college student with long, dark hair, and two arms full of bangles gives him a little salute.
“Take care of the morning rush for me, Wanda?” he asks.
“Of course, Bucky,” Wanda says and looks expectantly at the customers in front of her.
“No, Loki, you cannot have everything,” Thor chides his brother as they both look into the display case of baked goods.
It’s well past 7:10 am, but Rhodey sits at a table near the window. Across from him is a loud man with salt-and-pepper hair.
“No, you cannot just buy this coffee shop because I like it, damnit, Tony!” Rhodey says and the salt-and-pepper man, Tony, starts arguing back at him.
Bucky nods at Rhodey and Tony and touches the back of Thor’s shoulder to give him a smile.
Then, taking a coffee and a slice of raspberry streusel coffee cake from the counter, Bucky slides into a booth nestled against the large glass pane at the front of the shop.
“Hi, stranger,” Bucky says with a smile.
“Who you calling strange?” Steve says, with an even wider smile.
Bucky heart spills all over itself, just to see that smile on his person’s face.
“The way I see it, there’s only one of us who goes to magic school,” Bucky grins. “And it ain’t me.”
“Just because you have a more conventional, socially accepted career,” Steve says, wrinkling his whole face, which Bucky finds to be disproportionately cute.
“Yeah, tell that to my Ma,” Bucky grins and Steve laughs.
“Hey,” Bucky says. Then he taps his mouth. “C’mere.”
Steve colors a little, but he obliges. He leans forward and kisses Bucky, over coffee and coffee cake, the kiss every bit as sweet as the treats under it.
“My witch boyfriend,” Bucky says happily as he pulls back.
“My baker boyfriend,” Steve grins back.
“Ugh, enough,” Natasha says and slides into the booth next to Steve. “I’m glad your love or whatever broke the spell, but I can’t stand this.”
“How’d you get turned into a cat anyway?” Sam asks and slides into the booth next to Bucky.
“Sigh,” Bucky says out loud.
“Sigh is right,” Steve agrees.
“Don’t ask questions above your pay grade, Wilson,” Natasha says. “Hey, is this mine?”
“No,” Steve says and tries to take his coffee back, but she elbows him out of the way.
“Hey, remember when you turned me into a cat for a year? It is now,” she starts sipping the coffee and Steve sighs very loudly.
“Yeah, let’s go back to that,” Sam says. He picks at the coffee cake.
“Hey!” Steve says. But then his face changes into something wicked. “Well, Sam. You know how Bucky kissing me completed the spell?”
“Uh huh,” Sam says and continues eating Steve’s coffee cake.
“Rogers,” Natasha says lowly and tries to jab Steve, but Steve just grins and moves toward the window.
“Anyway, so Nat spurned the wrong witch,” Steve grins. “His name is Clint and it was a whole, accidental mess--”
“Ooh, intrigue,” Sam says and leans forward.
Steve starts explaining and then Natasha starts talking over him and then Sam starts interjecting with questions and it’s a loud, ridiculous, dumb, happy mess of people Bucky couldn’t imagine his life without.
His hand finds its way under the table and Steve’s hand finds its way into his and they exchange a look and Bucky brightens, warms, just feels his entire chest expand with happiness, as it always does whenever he looks at Steve, and he thinks--
Well, this is corny as fuck, but this was all the magic he really needed after all.
A dash of corny, a whole lotta happiness, and a little bit of real magic, just to make sure his KitchenAid survives his very cute, extremely lovable, unreasonably chaotic, absolute disaster of a witch boyfriend.
picture: bucky serving coffee and steve at his booth with natasha the cat at the coffee shop; fanart by odetteandodile