"I'll pay you a thousand dollars to pretend to be my boyfriend for the next hour."
His what? Steve blinks up from his book, more than a little confused. "Sorry, what was that?" he asks —
— and promptly gets the breath knocked right out of him. A man — no, not a man, an angel or some form of celestial being — is standing over him. His russet hair is wind-blown, curling wildly around his ears and forehead, framing a flat-out ridiculously pretty face, with a jawline that looks sculpted from actual marble, and the most soulful big grey eyes Steve has ever seen. He's bundled up in deference to the New York cold in a black pea coat, a hand-knit scarf sporting every color of the rainbow, blue jeans, and work boots; somehow, he manages to make the outfit look like something off a Paris runway.
There's no way this is a mere mortal, Steve thinks, and then realizes that he's missed the rest of whatever it is Celestial Being/Angel has just said.
"...so, what do you say?" Celestial Being/Angel finishes, gazing down at Steve with a shy, hopeful expression.
"I'm...I'm sorry, what?" Steve asks again, stupidly. His tongue feels thick and clumsy as he struggles to form words. "I wasn't..."
"Yeah, I know how it sounds, it's a totally weird thing to ask, I get it," Celestial Being/Angel says, and flashes a sheepish smile. "And I'm not crazy, I promise," he continues, oh-so-earnestly, in a low, smooth tenor that sounds like the aural embodiment of cozy, rainy, fall days. "I mean, not more than anyone else, I just really...wait, sorry, where are my manners, jeez. My name is Bucky. Bucky Barnes."
Bucky? Weird name for a god or an angel, but Steve's heard weirder, so what the hell. "Okay."
Bucky chuckles under his breath, looking down at Steve like Steve's done something amusing. "This is supposed to be the part where you tell me your name."
"Oh, right, uh...Steve Rogers?" Steve ventures, hoping he hasn't said the wrong thing, because, honestly, he'll be whoever this Bucky Barnes is needs him to be.
Bucky lets out another one of those throaty chuckles, which brings out these gorgeous laugh lines around a truly beautiful mouth. He unwinds his bright-patterned scarf from around his neck as he drops into the seat next to Steve. "Is there a reason you phrased it like a question?"
"No?" Steve guesses, once again hoping he hasn't answered wrong.
"You really are adorable," Bucky states, still smiling. "Must be my lucky day."
"Your lucky day? Have you looked at you in a mirror?" Steve mumbles, not quite under his breath. He's asleep, has to be, dreaming or hallucinating or having an out of body experience. It's been a really long week, so maybe he's finally snapped. Too many long hours at the office, not enough downtime. This is probably his brain's way of telling him he needs a vacation.
Bucky clears his throat, and even his blush is ridiculously attractive. "I'm a hundred percent serious, by the way."
"Serious about...?" Steve asks, wondering if it's physically possible to drown in another person's eyes. The color reminds Steve of the skies right before a storm hits, when the air is electric with barely restrained energy. The hairs on his arms stand up, in spite of the fact that there's no hint of clouds from what he can see through the windows.
"Paying you," Bucky is saying, apparently oblivious to the surge of lightning crackling around them. "To be my boyfriend for an hour."
Huh, Steve thinks. Maybe he's not imagining things. Which is good, right, that he hasn't finally snapped. Steve glances around the brightly lit interior of Joe's Coffee, with its usual Sunday late morning crowd of studying college students and frantic, over-caffeinated writers crowding the long picnic tables. He's not remotely close to being the only person riding solo, although he is the only person not wearing headphones or earbuds.
Everything looks mundane and normal, nothing remotely dream-like. Steve isn't spouting dragon wings or dressed in battle armor or anything fantastical. So, maybe this is really happening, although Steve, for the life of him, can't figure out why Bucky has singled him out. Sure, he knows what he looks like — knows he's got the whole tall, blond, and built thing working for him — but he also knows he's about as helpless as a newborn kitten around super-hot people.
And Bucky is the living embodiment of Super Hot. Like, a modern day Adonis or a male Helen of Troy. Which means Steve is the poor sap stuck in the Paris role, which...honestly, he's actually pretty okay with that. He's willing to accept his fate if it means that Bucky's smile is the last thing he sees before he goes. He's sure his mom and his friends will understand.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather ask someone else?" he offers, gently, just in case there's been a mistake.
"Um...do you want me to?" The blush is back – it's just as attractive the second time around.
"No, I just...why me?" Steve asks, glancing down at himself. He's still wearing his coziest sweater, the black one with the fraying cuffs, his most worn pair of jeans, and boots — nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to warrant attention.
"You just...seemed nice, is all," Bucky says, with another one of those hopeful looks. "And I...well, I may have promised my friends they could finally meet my new boyfriend and they'll be here in, like, ten minutes and, well —"
"— let me guess, you don't actually have a boyfriend," Steve finishes, although he can't believe how anyone as gorgeous as Bucky Barnes could possibly be single, unless it's by choice.
"Nope, not since Sam and I called it quits six months ago," Bucky confirms, with a small, unconcerned shrug. "Look, I'll Paypal or Venmo you the money right now, up front, no questions. And I promise, it's only for coffee, you can go back to your life right after or your...oh God, you don't already have a partner or " — he stops, and gestures at the pride flag patch stitched to the front of Steve's backpack. "Wait, are you even actually — please tell me you're not just an ally, because that would be super embarrassing."
"No, I'm bi," Steve says, and then, because it's just rote for him by now, "yes, bisexuality is real, yes, bisexual people do in fact exist, and no, there's no one else...I mean, I'm not seeing anyone."
"Whew, that's a relief." Bucky mimes wiping sweat off his forehead. "And me too, by the way, I mean, also bi. I've had to give that same speech way too many times myself over the years."
Steve snorts, wry and amused, and some of the tension in his shoulders loosens. "Make up your mind, pick a side, just admit you're gay already, stop straight-washing yourself...it's ridiculous," he says. "Like I don't know my own mind."
"Ugh, I know, right, I don't get why it's such a hard concept," Bucky commiserates, groaning in sympathy. "Girls are awesome, boys are awesome, why should I have to limit myself?"
Steve puts a hand up over his heart. "Preaching to the choir."
"I knew I was gonna like you." Bucky's smile softens into something sweet and intimate, the edges of it wrapping around Steve like a warm, thick comforter. " I, uh..." Bucky drops his gaze to the table, then peers at Steve through lowered lashes. "I hope it's not too creepy of me to tell you that you've got a really nice smile," he says, and...wait, what?
Steve sways forward, helplessly. "I was just thinking the same thing. About the smile...I mean your smile, not mine, that would be weird." Is it hot in here or is Steve just burning up? Maybe the sweater had been a bad idea?
"Yeah? Really?" Bucky asks, charmingly abashed, like he has no idea he's easily the most beautiful person to ever walk the earth.
Steve wants to trace Bucky's eye-crinkles with his lips. Instead, he just nods and clears his throat. "So...what did you tell your friends about your, uh, boyfriend that I need to know?"
"Wait, you're doing it?" Bucky squeaks, jack-knifing straight up in his chair.
"Yeah, I mean, it's not like I had any plans for the day other than this," Steve replies, holding up his book and praying he comes across as nonchalant, and not pathetically grateful to have an excuse to spend a little more time in Bucky's presence. "But I don't need the money, so just...besides, that's way too much to offer someone just for coffee. Give it to charity or something."
"Okay, well, then, thank you." Bucky's ridiculously pretty face is practically luminous with gratitude. Steve's fingers itch for a pencil or some chalk, even though he hasn't drawn anything other than quick sketches in years. "I just told them — my friends — that I met you — I mean, my new boyfriend, ugh, you know what I mean — about a month ago at the Met —"
"You're an art fan? That's awesome," Steve interrupts, with a pleased laugh of his own. Bucky just keeps being more perfect, which, maybe that's what's really happening. He's just conjured Bucky up out of his own fevered imaginings of what The Ideal Man would be like. In which case, his imagination is killing it; way to go, brain.
"Well, yeah, who doesn't like art? I mean, I'm more likely to geek out over, like, NASA-type stuff, but I love the Egyptian wing at the Met, if that helps. They were way ahead of the curve in terms of scientific and architectural breakthroughs."
"NASA, huh?" Steve cups his chin in his hand and tries not to be super obvious that he's totally smitten with how enthusiastic Bucky sounds.
Bucky nods. "I'm in computer engineering — I help refine and develop new systems, which is great and all, but, man, if I got a chance to work on a space station, that...that would be goals."
Seriously, could Bucky be any more amazing? "Sounds like a pretty cool career."
"It can be," Bucky says, then takes off his coat, revealing a thick cable-knit sweater the exact same shade of grey as his eyes. "What about you?" he asks. "What do you do when you're not hanging in cafes and helping out total strangers?"
"Oh, I just herd cats all day," Steve says, then, "I mean, not actual cats, although that would be cool, I love cats" — just in case Bucky's a cat person — "and dogs too" — just to cover his bases — "I just...I'm a project manager at a think tank. It's like herding cats," he finishes, lamely. Would it be weird if he punched himself in the mouth?
"That's awesome," Bucky says, with another warm smile that makes Steve feel marginally better about all of the word vomiting. "What do you guys do at your think tank?"
"I warn you now, it's gonna sound super boring..."
"Okay, I've been warned," Bucky replies, with a wink.
Steve flushes at the gentle teasing. "Well, we study the history of foreign policy and extrapolate what's worked and didn't to make recommendations to the UN on what strategies they should implement in international areas."
"That's incredible." Bucky gives him an impressed look. "You must be really smart."
"Says the literal computer engineer." Steve's proud of himself for replying with a little banter of his own —
— and is shocked into utter stillness when Bucky suddenly leans in and presses his beautifully full lips to Steve's own. The kiss lingers, chaste and sweet, as soft as eiderdown and as light as spun sugar. Steve's entire brain goes offline, and he's sure his eyes are as wide as proverbial saucers when Bucky pulls back slightly.
"Sorry," he murmurs, so quiet Steve has to strain to hear him, even though their lips are still touching. "Please trust me."
"Okay," Steve says, on autopilot. Can the entire cafe hear how loud his heart is thumping in his chest?
Just then, a gorgeous redhead and a rugged–looking blond drop into the two free seats at the table. Bucky settles back in his seat, taking his warmth with him. The redhead gives Bucky an amused look.
"You didn't mention your new boyfriend was so All-American beefcake-y," she says, in a whisky-smooth voice.
"Nat," Bucky warns, with a resigned sigh, then bumps Steve's shoulder companionably. "Sorry about her, now you know why I haven't introduced you yet."
"It's fine." Steve tries his best to act like he has any idea what's going on and who these people are. Presumably, they're the friends Bucky had mentioned earlier, but his brain and his lips are still buzzing from the kiss, so maybe he's missed something.
"Hi, I'm Clint," the blond says, sticking out his hand, "and that's Nat. I'd apologize for her, but she'd kick my ass if I tried."
"Steve," he replies, shaking the offered hand, then giving a small smile to Nat. Who is smiling back at him like he imagines sharks would if they were in human form — predatory, and with way more teeth than normal. "Uh, hi?"
"And he blushes adorably, too," Nat says, curls bouncing as she shakes her head. "I'm sure Bucky's told you all sorts of horror stories about me already —"
"Not really, sorry?" Steve says, looking helplessly at Bucky. Not even five minutes into this whole charade, and he's screwing the whole thing up.
But Bucky just grins at him, indulgent and almost conspiratorial. "Contrary to your ego, Nat, you don't actually come up in conversation that much," he says, as he slides his arm around the back of Steve's chair and lightly rests his fingers on Steve's bicep. Steve tries very hard to pretend like this is a normal thing and not like his skin is burning where the rough pads of Bucky's fingers are brushing over the fabric of his sweater.
"Ouch," Nat replies, with a hand over her heart. "I'm wounded."
"So, tell us a little more about you, Steve," Clint says, with a fond, exasperated look Nat's way. Steve's not sure if they're a couple, and can't figure out a way to ask that won't give away his utter ignorance about Bucky's friends, which would defeat the purpose of what Steve is ostensibly here for. "Bucky hasn't told us a lot — and by that, I mean he hasn't told us anything at all. Other than you're quote awesome and a totally great guy and he's lucky to have met you."
Steve blushes, even though he knows Bucky hadn't actually been talking about him. "Well...uh, I'm 28, only child, born and raised in New York, graduated from NYU, then went off to work for a non-profit in DC, and moved back here two years ago to work for the Council of Foreign Relations —"
"He heads up a think tank that advises the UN," Bucky interrupts, and squeezes Steve's bicep.
"Impressive," Nat says.
"That he is." Bucky gives him what can only be described as a besotted look. He's a very good actor, apparently. "Don't let the whole modest thing fool you, Stevie over here is as smart as hell."
"Thanks, Buck," Steve mumbles, certain his face has to be neon by this point. At this rate, the blush is going to be a permanent fixture, and the worst thing is, he knows Bucky doesn't even mean it. It's all just for show.
"Awww, you have pet names for each other already, that's adorable," Clint says, then stands. "I'm gonna grab a latte — anyone want anything?"
"I'm good," Steve says, pointing at his mug of lukewarm coffee. Sure, he could use a refill, but too much coffee makes him jittery and that's the last thing he needs right now. He's already edgy enough.
"Large black for me, thanks," Bucky says, and that's good to know, right, how he likes his coffee? Seems like the sort of thing a boyfriend would have memorized by this point.
"I'll come with, I wanna have a peek at their pastry case," Nat says, and stands as well. She points a warning finger Bucky's way. "Try to behave while we're gone."
"No promises," Bucky tells her, amiably, but the second they're both out of earshot, he twists to Steve, his expression contrite. "I am so sorry, this was a terrible idea, I don't know what I was thinking, I'll tell them —"
"What, no, it's fine. You're doing great, really," Steve assures him, risking a quick pat to Bucky's leg. His thigh feels like granite, even under the denim of his jeans, which makes Steve wonder about what the rest of Bucky would feel like, if he's as solid all over...and yep, time to think about something less dangerous for his peace of mind. "Your friends seem nice."
"They're assholes," Bucky argues, but it's obvious from his tone that he's crazy about both of them.
"Yeah, but they're assholes who clearly seem to care about you, and that's a good thing." Steve leans in slightly, and drops his voice. "My friends and I troll each other all the time, so I promise, when you meet them, they'll grill you just as hard. Especially Tony. Well, Maria might beat him to it, but at least she'll be polite about it. Tony, not so much."
Then he rewinds on what he's just said and what the actual fuck, Rogers, Bucky's not going to meet your friends, you're not actually dating, and seriously, could he be more pathetic. "Sorry, that was...I mean, theoretically. If we were actually a couple. I mean, for real, not just for show" —shut up shut up — "Sorry, that...came out all —"
"It's fine," Bucky says, with a small, shy smile and slightly pink cheeks. "I get what you mean."
Steve's glad one of them does, because he's so lost he may as well be in a different state. "So, anything else I should know before they get back?"
"No, you're doing great. I'm so in your debt, it's not even funny," Bucky says, all heartfelt sincerity and way too much adorableness for one person. "Like, seriously, you have no idea how grateful I am."
"It's fine," Steve replies, all but melting under the force of Bucky's summer-warm gaze. "Although, if you don't mind me asking, how're you gonna— I mean, aren't they going to want to see us more? I mean, obviously, they see you, of course, you're friends with them, just, well —"
God, could he sound more like a raging dork. How is it that he can give speeches to heads of state and five-star generals, but ask him to make actual conversation with anyone at all he's attracted to, and poof, he forgets how to speak in every language he knows.
Bucky wrinkles his nose — and he even does that attractively, too. "Yeah, I haven't exactly thought that far ahead yet. I've just been focused on getting them off my back on the whole you should start dating again, let me introduce you to someone — because, I mean, I love them, don't get me wrong, but they have such awful taste when it comes to trying to set me up."
"I feel you," Steve replies, nodding in solidarity. "My friends've been trying to hook me up with every eligible person they've met for the last year, from Staten to Jersey City."
"Jersey?" Bucky grimaces, looking properly horrified. "Jeez, you need better friends."
"Don't I know it." Sure, Steve knows they mean well, but fending them off has been exhausting. He can find his own dates, thank you very much.
"Well, if you need me to return the favor and play your BF for a day, I owe you," Bucky says, and squeezes his arm, sitting so close they're practically in each other's laps. "This is...you're okay with this? The touching?"
Steve nods quickly, his skin on fire once again from Bucky's touch and proximity and the woodsy smell of his cologne and...well, his everything else. "Yeah, you're" — his voice cracks slightly — "you're good. Fine. It's...fine."
Nat and Clint thankfully come back a minute later, with a few coffee mugs and a plate bearing an assortment of pastries. Clint hands Bucky his coffee as he sits back down. "Still in the honeymoon phase, I see," he says, gesturing at the way Bucky's curled close to Steve.
"Don't be jealous," Bucky replies, dropping an affectionate kiss to Steve's shoulder and ruining what little is left of Steve's sanity. "Just because Nat's like a prickly cat when it comes to PDA —"
"How dare you," Nat replies, but she's laughing, so Steve thinks it's probably an in-joke or something.
"So, tell me more about you guys," Steve says, trying to relax against Bucky like this is routine, sure, he cuddles with a perfect Celestial Being/Angel all the time, no biggie. "Buck still hasn't told me how you guys all met."
"Probably because he doesn't want to scare you off," Nat replies, with another one of her shark grins.
Bucky just rolls his eyes. "It hasn't come up yet is all," he says, shaking his head. Then he makes a cute face, and half-shrugs. "It's not a thing, I promise, but, uh, I used to date them."
Date them...oh, okay, that's...woah. "At the same time?" Steve asks, in a very small voice. There's no way he could compete with that, even in a fictional setting.
Clint chokes on his coffee. "Okay wow..."
"I knew I liked him for a reason," Nat states, clearly amused.
"God no — not even..." Bucky's cheeks resemble sun-ripe tomatoes. "I mean, I'm flattered you'd think so highly of me, that's, um...not even close."
"Are you kidding? Seriously, Buck, have you looked at you?" Steve gestures at Bucky, all model good looks and languid grace and chiseled gorgeousness, every inch of him beautiful and elegant in a way Steve knows he could never be, not if he lived to be a hundred. "If anything, I'm a little disappointed now that you weren't in some hot poly-relationship."
"Is that an invite for a foursome or — ow," Clint huffs, when Nat elbows his stomach. "I'm kidding, I kid."
"Ignore Clint, he has no brain-to-mouth filter," Bucky says, fondly. "But, to answer your question, Nat and I dated in high school, and then Clint and I dated in college. And then I made the mistake of introducing them to each other two years ago, and they've been ganging up on me ever since — but not like that. Just so we're clear."
Steve smiles, charmed by how flustered Bucky is, how human it makes him look. "Well, again, not that I'd blame you, but it's good to know that I don't have to compete with that."
"Trust me, there is no competition," Bucky tells him, sounding for all the world like he's totally sincere. Steve wonders if Bucky's actually taken acting classes, because, seriously, he belongs up on stage somewhere.
"What about you two?" Clint picks his mug back up. "Bucky mentioned you met at the Met, which just sounds weird saying it out loud."
"And that you bonded over mummies, which sounds a little creepy, but clearly, it worked out," Nat adds, before biting into a chocolate croissant.
Bucky and Steve look at each other. Steve's not sure what to say. He doesn't want to mess this up for Bucky — especially since things seem to be going so well. "Bonded over mummies?" he finally says, hoping Bucky takes the hint.
"Yeah, okay, maybe I left out a few details," Bucky laughs, and brushes a kiss to Steve's jawline, his lips rasping slightly — and deliciously — over Steve's stubble. "Maybe I didn't want my friends to know what a nerd I was when we first met."
"I like that you're a nerd," Steve protests, much too seriously, and has to physically restrain himself from cupping Bucky’s face like a lovestruck guy in a Hallmark movie.
"He really does make it work for him, doesn't he," Nat says, gazing between the two of them, clearly delighted.
"He really does," Steve confirms, certain he's not supposed to sound this infatuated, but hey, he'll never see these people after today, and — just for a little bit — it's nice to pretend that a regular guy like him could ever be worthy of someone as amazing as Bucky Barnes. "I thought he was perfect from the first moment we met. Like a Greek god or an angel come to life."
"You did?" Bucky asks, puzzled.
"Yeah, I really did," Steve replies, seriously. "Like, a male Helen of Troy or a dark-haired Adonis."
"Me?" Bucky points to himself, disbelieving. "Adonis?"
"Yes, you." Steve decides a little more flattery couldn't hurt — and it's the total truth, after all. "Thought I'd conjured you up out of thin air — the perfect man."
"You better keep this one, Barnes," Clint says, after another noisy sip of his coffee. "Put a ring on it before he figures out that you worship Neil Armstrong a little too much for comfort and know way too many Broadway musicals by heart."
"I love Broadway musicals," Steve answers, promptly, and falls just that much harder for Bucky, as a result.
"Of course you do," Nat murmurs.
"Dear Evan Hansen should be required teaching in high school."
"I completely agree, but let's... can we get back to the, uh..." Bucky turns those beautifully expressive eyes on Steve. "You really thought I was, this...that I was perfect? For real?"
Steve's breath catches at the hopeful note in Bucky's voice. No way anyone's that good of an actor, and, well, what the hell, he thinks. May as well go for broke and actually put his cards on the table. "Yeah, I did," he replies, with a sharp nod, hoping he's not getting ready to make a huge mistake. "I still do. For real."
"Wow." Bucky lets out a low, disbelieving chuckle. "That's, um...me too, by the way."
"You...wait, what?" Bucky's totally not saying what Steve thinks he is — is he?
"Second I laid eyes on you, I knew you were someone I wanted to know a lot better. I think you're pretty terrific, Steve Rogers," Bucky continues, and it's clear as day that he means every word. That this isn't just for show.
This is officially the best day of Steve's entire life.
"Me too — I mean, I think you're terrific too," Steve says, heartfelt, and he's the one to lean in this time. The kiss is just as honey-sweet and perfect as the earlier one, maybe even more so, now that Steve knows Bucky actually means it.
"They're so adorable, it's sickening," he hears Nat complain. "Clint, do something."
"Shut up, you love it," Clint replies, but it all sounds very far away.
"You, um...you maybe want to do this?" Bucky murmurs softly, their lips brushing oh-so-sweet with every word. "I mean, officially?"
In answer, Steve just kisses him again, lingering and sure, sparks dancing along his spine, the energy now pulsing between them. Forget Helen of Troy and Paris, he feels like Odysseus reuniting with Penelope, home after so many years apart.
Eventually, Steve and Bucky pull away from each other — but not too far, both of them reluctant to even allow more than an inch of space between them. They smile at each other, all goofy wide and ridiculous, like the enamored losers they are, Steve thinks, and he wouldn't change a thing about this moment for all the world. How could he, with Bucky cozied against him like he can't get close enough.
"Welcome back to Planet Earth," Clint chuckles, saluting them with his mug.
"Uh, sorry," Bucky mumbles, even as he grabs Steve's free hand to lace their fingers together. They slot together perfectly.
"No, you're not," Nat says, with another fond smile Bucky's way.
"No," Bucky agrees, "I'm really not." Steve knows exactly how he feels.
"This one's definitely a keeper," Clint says. "Seriously, man, don't let him get away."
"I won't," Bucky says, glancing at Steve and squeezing his fingers, a shimmering promise of things to come. "Stevie's stuck with me now."
Steve is one thousand percent on board with that plan. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he says, and kisses Bucky again.