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Sam’s never gonna date using a dumb app ever again. His sisters are wrong, it is not the best way to meet someone nowadays, it’s the worst, the literal actual worst, and Sam’s current “date” is a prime example. 

Not only is it almost always inconvenient as hell to even set up any of these dates, including this particular dumb late afternoon coffeeshop date that had involved three days of back and forth messages about logistics and timing, but now Sam’s pretty sure he’s being catfished. Because the guy sitting across from him looks nothing like the profile of the guy he thought he was meeting. And like, Sam gets it, okay? Everyone includes some little white lies in their profiles, some flatteringly touched up photos or a generous estimate of their height. Whatever, that’s just internet dating life. But this isn’t “I neglected to mention I’ve gained thirty pounds since I took my profile photo” or “I’m not, in fact, six foot four.” 

No, the only thing this guy has in common with his supposed profile is his gender and hair color. Because Mike N. is emphatically not a 6’1” slim Latino guy with brown hair and green eyes and a great dimpled smile. No, Mike N. in person is a stout and muscled 5’9” white dude with brown hair and bloodshot brown eyes, and patchy facial hair that looks like it can’t decide if it’s a mustache, goatee, or beard.

Sam should’ve left, he really should have. But he’d been the one to sit down first to wait for Mike to show, and while Sam would have been totally willing to bail if he’d had even a minute of advance warning of this whole shitshow when he’d first walked into the coffeeshop, tenacious courtesy and terrible curiosity are keeping him from bailing now. Plus, like an idiot, he hadn’t ordered his coffee in a to-go cup, and it’s really good coffee. He’s already paid for it and he’s not gonna waste it. So he white knuckles his way through ten minutes of bland and awkward small talk before he just can’t take it anymore.

“So, can’t help but notice, Mike, that you don’t look much like your profile. What’s up with that?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m real private about online shit, is all. Gotta be.” Mike leans in towards Sam and lowers his voice. “I’m in hiding, you know,” he says in a stage whisper the barista can probably hear from all the way behind the counter.

“Uh, in hiding from what?” asks Sam warily.

Mike leans back and grins. “Nah, nothing, I’m just joking.”

Yeah, okay, Sam’s gonna bail before he gets murdered. “Ha, yeah, okay, so I’m gonna—”

“Actually, it’s not a joke. I really am in hiding.”


“I never joke.”

“Uh...huh.” Sam squints at Mike’s now straight face and tries to figure out if this is just a case of a really weird sense of humor or some kind of mental problem. “So, I legit can’t tell, are you joking right now or not?”

He guesses the whole recursive joking about how you don’t joke thing could be considered funny. Maybe. In a tired, who’s-on-first kind of way.

“It’s not a joke,” says Mike with intensity. “I told you, I never joke.”

Mike stares at him. Sam stares back. Mike fails to elaborate on any of his bullshit.

Sam is abruptly very over this whole thing. Even if it is a dumb attempt at a joke, it’s rapidly become both frustrating and unfunny, and that’s on top of the catfishing. He drains the last of his coffee, and pushes his chair away from the table.

“Okay, got it. Well, a sense of humor is real imp—”

Sam,” hisses Mike, making frankly uncomfortable eye contact. “Seriously, it’s not a joke. I’m in hiding from my twin, Tony Stark.”

“Fraternal twin, I’m guessing,” says Sam with a pointed look at Mike’s everything, because whatever, this might as well happen. Mike nods, apparently blithely unaware that Sam’s comment wasn’t a compliment.

“Yeah. You’ve heard of him?”

At that moment, Sam reaches a horrible, belated realization. Mike here is actively attempting to copy Tony Stark’s look. That’s what the deal is with the unfortunate facial hair. Oh god. And Mike had seemed so damn normal in his messages. This, this right here is why dating via a godforsaken app is the worst idea.

“Yes. Yes, I have heard of noted billionaire philanthropist and tech mogul Tony Stark. Who is your...twin brother.”

“Yeah! My real name is Tommy. Tommy Stark.”

At this point, Sam’s scanning the coffeeshop for an exit strategy from this terrible date; maybe he can trip a customer into spilling coffee on one of them, or pretend like he’s seen a friend, something, anything. His eye lands on the white guy sitting at the table behind Mike, directly in Sam’s line of sight, but not visible to Mike himself. And okay, hello, stranger. He’s gorgeous, and he’s looking up from the stack of papers on his table, right at Sam. Hot Stranger’s thick-lashed blue eyes are wide, and a pen is dangling from his fingers as if the nonsense happening at Sam’s table has shocked him into interrupting his work. 

What the fuck, mouths Hot Stranger. Between the crazy situation and the validation from Hot Stranger, Sam struggles to suppress a hysterical laugh. When the date formerly known as Mike ducks his head to sip at his latte, Sam mouths back no idea, and Hot Stranger shakes his head in awed horror. 

Mike or maybe-Tommy-but-probably-not stops slurping at his latte and launches into the sordid tale of him and his “twin” “brother” Tony Stark. It’s got more twists and turns than a telenovela, and involves being on the run from evil suits of Iron Man armor. Sam nods every so often as if he’s listening, and then he aims his gaze towards what he hopes will pass for the general region of Mike’s left ear. 

In fact, he’s actually getting a closer look at Hot Stranger, who is, god, really handsome. He’s turned his attention back to whatever he’s working on, or at least he’s pretending he has, so Sam can stare at him with impunity, dreaming of a better date than the one he’s currently on. 

Hot Stranger wouldn’t have lied on his Tinder profile, thinks Sam wistfully. He wouldn’t have needed to. After all, Hot Stranger looks like the kinda guy Sam wouldn’t be surprised to see on a full-page underwear ad, all chiseled cheekbones and clean-cut jaw and pouty mouth, if only the modeling industry was cool with amputees. Because Hot Stranger is missing an arm, the left sleeve of his pale blue Oxford shirt pinned up neatly to his left shoulder. His right sleeve is rolled up to the elbow to reveal a lean and tanned forearm though, and it’s…very distracting. As if that weren’t enough, Hot Stranger also has really excellent hair, brown and thick and wavy, a little long on the top. Sam wants to touch it, or maybe pull it, just a little.

“Sorry, am I boring you?” asks Mike/Tommy, and Sam startles.


“My life story, is it boring you?”

“Literally the opposite,” says Sam, because he’s an asshole with a tragic lack of self-preservation instincts.

“Yeah, you like it? It’s a great hook, right?”

Oh great. Sam’s sensing yet another twist to this already twisted first date. A hook, what the fuck. If only Hot Stranger had matched with him on Tinder. Sam doesn’t care what kinda freaky shit Hot Stranger could possibly be into, it has to be better than this.

“A hook? What are you talking about?” demands Sam.

Mike just grins, manic and awkward. In self defense, Sam’s eyes return to Hot Stranger, who’s now, oh god, looking at Sam’s table again, wide-eyed in horrified disbelief and biting at his lower lip. It’s a real good look on him. The lip-biting, not the wide eyes of horror. Bless Hot Stranger, he’s the only reason Sam’s getting through this without screaming.

“So, I went to this seminar, right? For dating? And it wasn’t run by some pick up artist guy, I don’t think, but he said us average looking guys should have a real interesting ice-breaker story for first dates, so I figured—”

“Oh hell n—” starts Sam, finally getting up like he should have half an hour ago, but then seriously, god bless Hot Stranger, because he gets up from his table and comes over to Sam.

“Sam? Oh my god, Sam, I’m so glad I found you! Your ex came by the apartment and he said his syphilis test came back positive, so you probably have it too, I’m so sorry—”

Sam almost gives the game away right then and there, because holy shit, could Hot Stranger not have gone with literally any other cover story? He’s sure selling the hell out of it though. He looks the perfect mix of wide-eyed and frantic and sympathetic, and god, he is really, really pretty.

“Oh no, not the—not the clap!” tries Sam in his best effort at a distraught voice. “I don’t want my dick to fall off!”

Hot Stranger’s face kind of spasms at that, and okay, yeah, fair, Sam’s going kind of overboard. Whatever, Mike had gone with I’m Tony Stark’s on-the-run twin so clearly, the standards here aren’t that high.

“It’ll be okay, man,” soothes Hot Stranger, and pulls him into a loose hug. Sam startles at the touch, stumbling against him a little in surprise, but okay, wow, Hot Stranger’s got some muscles on him judging by the hard planes of his torso. If Sam weren’t such a good person, he’d cop a feel. As it is, he drapes his arms loosely around Hot Stranger’s broad shoulders. 

“You couldn’t have gone with literally any other cover story?” whispers Sam. 

Hot Stranger shifts like he’s going to let Sam go, and hell no, terrible cover story or not, Sam’s running with this. Sam pulls Hot Stranger closer, putting his head on his shoulder as if he’s just that distraught.

“Hey, I didn’t exactly have a lot of notice, okay! Is he leaving yet?” murmurs Hot Stranger into Sam’s ear. Fuck, even his voice is sexy. Sam maybe shivers a little, and leans into Hot Stranger’s warmth. A nice hug from a hot guy is a pretty good consolation prize for this awful date, if Sam’s being honest.

“Sure hope so,” Sam mutters.

Sam risks a glance then, and yes, finally, Mike is scrambling to stand. “Uh, wow, okay, sorry, man. That sounds rough, some serious shit. You gotta get that, like, treated. I, uh, gotta go—”

The moment Mike’s out the door, Hot Stranger lets him go and Sam flops against the table and groans with relief. “Holy shit, thank you. Thank you so much.”

Hot Stranger laughs, sweet and a little goofy, as he runs a hand through his hair. “No problem, sorry if I, uh, went a little too far with the hug there.”

Sam grins at him, charmed despite himself that Hot Stranger is apologizing for the hug rather than the syphilis lie.

“Oh, it’s the hug you’re gonna apologize for, instead of apologizing for implying that I have syphilis?”

“Yeah, no apologies for that, I think that’s a great cover story for getting that weirdo to leave you alone,” says Hot Stranger, before his expression falters into uncertainty. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable though, I just thought, your date—”

“It’s fine, seriously, thank you. I owe you, like, the most expensive pastry this place makes for that save, even if it did involve lying about my dick falling off.” He holds out his hand for a handshake. “I’m Sam Wilson.”

Hot Stranger gives him a pleasantly firm handshake. If his little act of heroism had made him at all nervous, it doesn’t show now in his cool, dry grip. 

“Bucky Barnes. I can promise you I’m neither on the run, nor Tony Stark’s evil twin.”

They both pretty much roll their eyes in unison, and Sam shakes his head. 

“I cannot believe anyone would—whatever. Hey, let me get you something, a coffee or cupcake, anything, I really am grateful for the bad date save.”

Bucky—it’s a ridiculous name, but Sam kind of likes it anyway—flushes pink along his high cheekbones. “Aww, you don’t have to, really—”

“Please, it’s the least I can do. I’m gonna get myself something anyway, I need to celebrate that escape from first date hell.”

“Yeah, okay, fine. A small mocha?”

“Got it, small mocha coming right up.”

When Sam returns from the coffeeshop counter, Bucky’s back at his own table, tidying his stack of papers.

“Alright if I join you?” asks Sam. 

Much as he wants to get to know Hot Stranger—Bucky—and maybe stare at his handsome face some more, he doesn’t want to intrude or overstay his welcome with the guy. Sam owes him; if he just wants to be left alone with his thank-you mocha and papers, Sam’s okay with leaving him to it and eating his own bad-date-condolences cupcake at home.

But Bucky, apparently, doesn’t want Sam to fuck off. He looks up at Sam with a quick and dazzling grin, and says, “Yeah, sure, of course.” 

Bucky shifts his stack of papers onto his side of the small coffee table, and Sam sneaks a look as he sets Bucky’s mocha down beside the papers. They look like math worksheets of some kind, marked up with a red pen.

“You a tutor or a teacher or something?” asks Sam, with a nod towards the papers.

“I’m a teacher, yeah. High school math,” says Bucky, and without Sam’s input, his treacherous brain starts playing that terrible Hot for Teacher song on a loop. Which is unhelpful. “Gotta admit, usually the people-watching while I do my grading here isn’t nearly so interesting.”

Sam rolls his eyes good-naturedly. “Well, my terrible date was worth something if I entertained you, I guess.”

“Very considerate of you, yeah. I don’t usually get free entertainment with my grading. Sorry it was less fun on your end,” says Bucky, and the condolences are actually sincere judging by his wry smile.

Fuck online dating, is all I have to say. My sisters told me to try it, get myself out there, and nah. If this kinda shit is what happens, I’m not doing it.”

Bucky sits back in his chair and groans. “Right? That’s exactly what I said to my sisters. Fuck this dating via app shit, it’s a horror show.”

“Make me feel better, man, tell me you’ve had a first date worse than Tony Stark’s fake evil twin.”

“I dunno if it’s worse,” says Bucky with a grimace, before he takes a sip of his mocha. “But, uh, I had a couple dates where people got real weird about my arm. My lack of one, I mean,” he says with a shrug of his left shoulder. “Like, I expected the gross and invasive messages, kinda, and I just blocked those assholes, but in, uh, really freaked me out. How they were, like, into it. So that’s kinda why I helped you out, earlier. I know what it’s like to be praying for a bad date rescue, you know?”

Bucky’s fiddling with his pen, twirling it nervously between his nimble fingers. Sam straightens up, serious now, because hell yeah, that was worse.

“Shit, I’m sorry that happened to you. Those people were assholes, to spring that on you,” he tells Bucky. Bucky stops twirling the pen and gives him a small, grateful smile. “You win the bad dates contest, by the way, that’s way worse than Mr. Pathological Lying Is a Great Icebreaker,” Sam adds, and Bucky huffs out a laugh.

“Learning how to open jars one-handed, I was ready for. Weird amputee fetishists, not so much. But I wasn’t about to hide it in my profile, then I’d have gotten people who were weird about it in the, you know, other way.”

Sam gets it. He works with veterans, he sees the awkward glances civilians give to guys who come back missing limbs, the mixture of pity and uncertainty and condescension. And he hears about how angry and uncomfortable those looks make his vets feel too.

“Yeah, I hear you. You’re kinda missing out on some great joke opportunities though. Forget about being Tony Stark’s evil twin, now there’s an icebreaker. Your date’s like, what happened to your arm? And you go, aww damn, I just had it, wanna help me go look for it?”

Bucky throws his head back and laughs, and his smile takes up his whole face until even his nose is scrunching up a little. It’s like his happiness is bigger and brighter than he is, beaming out to warm any bystander lucky enough to be caught in range. Sam is filled, suddenly, with the same calm certainty and giddy thrill as he is before an aerial dive in his Falcon EXO jetpack, and he just knows: he really wants to see that smile every single damn day for the foreseeable future. 

Bucky’s eyes sparkle at him, seemingly unaware of Sam’s epiphany. “I’m gonna use that one. Usually I just stick to increasingly ridiculous explanations for how I lost my arm.”

“Yeah? Like what? They cannot be crazier than Mr. Tommy Stark, secret Stark twin.”

“Probably not. I go with the usual, you know, eaten by a shark, tragic garbage disposal repair accident, got in a plane crash and had my arm eaten by a starving fellow survivor—” Sam barks out a horrified laugh at that one, which makes Bucky grin as he continues, “—fell into lava, unfortunate encounter with a sharp sword in one of those historical reenactment fights…”

“You did not stand clear of the train doors, and learned why they’re so insistent about that warning…” suggests Sam.

“Ha! That’s a good one. Educational too, I’ll have to use it. God knows the real answer’s just not that interesting.” Bucky looks down at his mocha for a couple seconds, then looks back up to meet Sam’s eyes, his gaze gone flinty now. “IED, in Iraq.”

Sam takes that in with a nod. “I was pararescue, in Afghanistan. Came back missing my wingman, not an arm, but…you know,” he says with a shrug. They all lost something, and the wound or absence was only sometimes visible. Bucky nods, and he knocks his long legs up against Sam’s under the table, a comforting kind of nudge. “I work with vets now, actually. I’m a counselor down at the VA.”

They just keep talking after that, long after the dregs of Bucky’s mocha have gone cold and Sam’s cupcake has been reduced down to a wrapper and crumbs. Bucky’s funny and warm, and smart too, so conversation’s easy with him, both of them sliding into well-worn rhythms like they’ve known each other for a long time. Sam’s delighted to find that Bucky’s a bit of an asshole, in the cheerful kind of way that means he can take what Sam dishes out and serve it right back. If Mike aka Tommy had been this damned sweet and fun and charming, Sam would have spent that date already looking forward to the second, and the third, right on down to the fiftieth. 

It’s only when it starts getting dark that Sam realizes he and Bucky have been here for hours.

“Shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you here for so long,” he says, then looks down at Bucky’s half-finished pile of grading in dismay. “And you didn’t even finish your grading…”

Bucky smiles, sweet and wide enough to make his eyes crinkle up. God, he really has a great smile. Sam pushes down the urge to sigh like a lovesick teenager.

“I don’t mind,” says Bucky, then looks regretful. “I do have to get going though,” he adds, and starts gathering up his papers.

Sam pulls out his phone, mostly as an excuse for something to do with his hands. Was this a date? It kind of feels like it was. He definitely wants to see Bucky again. But maybe Bucky is just a friendly guy on top of being a date-rescuing, low-key hero. When Bucky finishes putting his stuff away into his bag, he stands from the table and slings his bag over his shoulder, and Sam stands too.

He’s about to ask for Bucky’s number when Bucky steps close. “So hey,” says Bucky, voice gone low and soft. “You the kinda guy who kisses on the first date?”

Sam does not have the willpower to keep his eyes off Bucky’s lips after that. “If it goes well, yeah.”

“And? Has this date gone well?”

“Oh, this is a date now? I’m gonna remind you this ‘date’ started with you telling me I probably have syphilis.”

Bucky is really very close now, so Sam gets a close-up view of the mischievous glint in his winter river colored eyes. 

“That was for our cover, Wilson. The date started when you bought me coffee.”

“Then okay, yeah. It’s gone well.”

“Good,” murmurs Bucky, then he brings his hand up to rest lightly on Sam’s cheek, and kisses him.

Bucky’s a gentle, dreamy kind of kisser, soft and slow. It maybe makes Sam kind of melt a little, and it definitely makes the coffeeshop surrounding them disappear as far as he’s concerned. He’s somewhere else now, high up and falling fast enough to feel weightless, suspended in warmth. Bucky’s lips are soft and warm, and his thumb is stroking gently along Sam’s cheekbone. He makes a pleased, barely audible little sound against Sam’s mouth that makes Sam pull him closer with a gentle tug on his shoulders. They exchange a few more light kisses, more like hellos than goodbyes, or maybe like sweet promises. Then Bucky pulls away with one last soft nip at Sam’s lower lip, and Sam floats back down to Earth.

“I’m deleting Tinder,” Sam tells Bucky once he’s sure his voice won’t come out all breathy. “Wanna give me your number instead?”

“I’m kinda reconsidering my stance on dating apps now, actually,” says Bucky with a smirk and a tilt of his head. He’s flushed and bright-eyed, and god, that’s just—a really pretty sight. “Who knew the way to really use them was to rescue people from their bad dates?”

“You want a second date or not, Barnes?”

Bucky leans in for another kiss, harder and bolder now, a promise of things to come. Sam’s starting to hope Bucky’s the kind of guy who’ll put out on the second date.

“Yeah, I do,” he says, and Sam hands his phone to him.

“Then gimme your number, come on.”

Bucky takes the phone and nimbly types in his number. When Sam looks down to see what name Bucky entered his number under, he rolls his eyes: YOUR HERO. 

“There’s just one thing I have to tell you,” says Bucky, his crooked grin shifting rapidly to an expression of overly earnest solemnity, all big eyes and furrowed eyebrows. “So, I have this evil twin, and he’s on the run—”

Sam laughs, and reels Bucky in for one last kiss. Yeah, he thinks he’s gonna want to keep this asshole. He wants to see what’s gonna happen on that fiftieth date, and maybe even beyond it.