Later, if you ask Nat about it, she’ll tell you it was all her doing, and Dad will roll his eyes, and Steve will sagely agree with her because he’s a good person, unlike certain others she could name.
But that’s later. In the beginning, there are the books. And not just any books, oh no. These books are the Amazing Adventures. Written and illustrated by Steven G. Rogers, suggested for children between the age of seven and twelve, these books are utterly brilliant and incredibly obscure. It is a point of pride for Natalia that she owns all of them.
They sit (to this day, in fact) on the bookshelf at the foot of her bed, lined up neatly by publication date, all in the original-print hardback. Now they are well-worn (well-loved, Dad would say) but back then they were fresh and bright and new, each one the story of superheroes and villains and saving the world; finely detailed, beautiful works of art.
Picture the books, covers like a rainbow, each lovingly illustrated by the author himself, sitting on the dark wooden bookshelf in Natalia’s small bedroom in the Brooklyn apartment she shares with her dad. At this moment, her dad sits at the foot of her bed, having just finished tucking her in for the night. Nat is eight and eleven-twelfths. It’s mid August. Outside the window with the sputtering A/C unit, the air is thick and hot and heavy. (Despite the heat, her dad is wearing a long sleeve shirt and a single glove. Natalia doesn’t mention it, because she never mentions it. He doesn’t mention it either. That’s how a lot of things are between her and her dad.)
Tonight, in the August heat, Nat is thinking about her birthday. It’s not quite a month away, and anyways it’s never too early to start thinking about.
Plus, she’s just decided what present she wants. It may be a little excessive, but Nat rarely asks for presents, much less big things like this, and she thinks that it will be okay for now.
“I’ve decided what I want for my ninth birthday.”
Bucky looks at his daughter. She is sitting up in bed in her pale nightgown that Jim’s wife hand-made for her last birthday with a determined pout. In moments like this she looks very much like her mother, with her bright fire hair and her green eyes and her unyielding stubbornness. Bucky adopts a serious expression to match her own.
“And what is that?”
“I’d like a signed copy of the next Amazing Adventures book.”
He is, unsurprisingly, unsurprised.
“We’ll see,” he says instead, and they leave it at that. Both of them know what we’ll see means.
we’ll see (wēll•sē) v. -- though potentially unattainable, I will do the best I can for you and then some, because you are the bright point in my world
Nat, who speaks Bucky’s language like no one else, except maybe her mom, says, “Goodnight, Dad.”
“Night, sunshine,” he says, and he turns out the lights on his way out.
Steven G. Rogers, it turns out, may well be a ghost, because he is nearly impossible to track down. His books are not on Goodreads, nor Amazon, nor the Barnes & Noble website, and Bucky is very close to accidentally-on-purpose breaking something with his helpfully-reinforced arm when, four pages into Google (four pages, he bemoans silently to himself as the clock hits zero hundred hours, who ever checks anything beyond the first page of results? masochists, that’s who), he finds a tiny, one-page, basic html website for SSR publishing, Steven G. Rogers’ publisher.
There is a one-paragraph blurb about the books and a single email address. Bucky thinks that he could probably put together a better website than this. Jesus.
He does not, however, mention this somewhat-infuriating lack of marketing in his email to one Margaret Carter, editor. Instead, in a few short and uncomfortably polite lines, he asks about the possibility of acquiring a signed copy of Steven G. Rogers’ next book (which, according to the single-paragraph blurb on the website, is to be called The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and is due out in about two weeks). He reads over the email four times before he decides it’s good enough, and signs his name (his legal name, because that’s polite too, right?) and hits send.
He worries about it for an hour afterwards, and then decides that it’s not worth worrying about an email to a publishing company with one editor and a single-page website, and goes to bed.
The next morning he wakes up to a new email in his inbox. It reads thus:
Dear Mr. Barnes,
Unfortunately, Steve is not currently available. I would suggest you write him at his current address and explain your situation. I’m sure he would be more than happy to sign a book for your daughter.
You can write him at:
43 Independence Blvd
Washington, DC 20001
Best of luck,
Bucky reads the email twice, closes the window, and goes to wake up Natalia for school. There is a routine to this, and there has been for the past almost-nine years, more or less. The Barnes household likes order.
Wake up. Requires at least five extra minutes for Nat to lie around in bed before actually getting up. If allowed extra time she will take it. Do not give her extra time. Everyone will be late.
Clothes. Bucky knows nothing about fashion. He should not try to dress Nat. Nat knows what Nat wants. This has been well established.
Food. Bucky’s inability to pick out an outfit is made up for by his incredible culinary abilities. Breakfast is whatever he feels like cooking. It will taste delicious. There will be no leftovers. Prime time to listen to the morning radio.
Homework check. Yes homework sucks. Yes you still have to do it. No I don’t know how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism. I’m a mechanic not a school teacher. Who even uses that word anyways.
Walk to school. If cold wear extra layers. Do not forget water bottle.
Goodbye hug in front of PS 29. Part ways. Natalia goes to Miss Foster’s third grade class. Bucky goes to work at the mechanic on the corner of Sackett and Hicks.
They will spend the day at their separate locations until 5pm, when Bucky will return to PS 29 to pick up Nat from her after school ballet program and they will walk home. During the walk Nat will tell him what she’s been up to. Bucky will nod along and comment at all the right points, and both of them will appreciate the routine.
routine (ro͞oˈ•tēn) n. -- a sequence of actions regularly followed, a fixed program; a method to ensure sanity, cognitive awareness and the smooth sailing of another day
Business is slow today, so slow that even Gabe has given up on trying to keep order and has kicked his feet up on the rickety desk in the office. Bucky pokes at the ‘08 Charger sitting in the garage, but that’s a lost cause until the parts come in, so instead he finds some paper and a pen and drafts a letter to the elusive Steven G. Rogers. He sits at the corner of the card table, half paying attention to the fierce game of poker that’s going on at his elbow. Falsworth is trouncing Dernier and Dum Dum. Jim’s holding his own, but just barely. There’s a lot of swearing. Bucky has no sympathy for any of them. He learned a long time ago not to bet against Falsworth. Instead he puts his pen to paper and writes his letter.
Dear Mr. Rogers,
Hello. My name is Bucky Barnes. My daughter Nat is a big fan of your books. I was wondering if there was any possible way I could get ahold of a signed copy of your next book.
Gabe looks at him balefully through the window between the office and the garage. “What do you want, Barnes?”
“We got any stamps in this dump?”
“Dunno, why don’t you check for yourself?”
“You’re the one sitting at the desk,” Bucky grumbles, but he’s also a self-sufficient adult, more or less, so he hauls himself up from the table in the garage and leaves the rest of their skeleton crew to their game. Dernier has shifted to French, which means shit just got real. Bucky’s happy to leave before it dissolves to bloodshed.
They do, as a matter of fact, have stamps in this dump, as well as envelopes, so Bucky folds the paper as neatly as he can and tries not to drop anything in the grime that coats everything in the shop. The stamp goes in the upper right corner, Steven G. Rogers’ address goes on the outside, and Bucky remembers to scrawl his return address before slipping it in their outgoing mail.
“Never seen you write a bona fide letter before, Barnes,” Gabe says with a cocked eyebrow. Bucky shrugs.
“Nat’s picked her birthday present. Wants something signed by this author she likes, but the guy’s impossible to track down.”
“Even for the great James Barnes, Super Secret Agent?”
Bucky crosses his arms. “I don’t do that anymore, Gabe. Kinda hard to do with a bum arm.”
“You manage around here well enough.”
“Yeah, well,” says Bucky, and leaves it at that.
yeah, well (yah•wel) int. -- I don't want to talk about it
Gabe, because he is a good person, lets it be. “Whatever you say, Barnes. How you feel about picking up lunch today?”
“Hell no,” Bucky laughs. “You suckers can get your own food. I’m no one’s butler except Nat’s.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Don’t you have work to do?”
“Don’t you have work to do?” Bucky shoots back. They both know the answer is no, and the rest of the afternoon is spent shooting the shit and laughing at the poor bastards dumb enough to go against Falsworth with a deck of cards. When the clock that sits askew on the garage wall above the office door hits five they all pack up, lock up and head their separate ways. Bucy walks the few blocks to Nat’s school on autopilot. She waits outside for him, as always.
“How was your day?” he asks as they walk home, just like he does every day.
“It was okay,” Nat shrugs. “We started learning about insects, which is just a fancy word for bugs.”
“Sound fascinating,” Bucky says. Nat makes a face.
“Did you know spiders aren’t really bugs? They’re arachnids. They have eight legs instead of six and they eat bugs and also make webs, which is super awesome. Clint doesn’t like bugs, so I told him he should like spiders instead but he just got all green and said anything with more than four legs was too many legs.”
Clinton Francis Barton is in fifth grade and a walking disaster, Nat tells him. Bucky thinks the kid sounds great.
“Clint’s got the right idea,” Bucky says, and Nat sticks her tongue out at him. He grins and pretends to grab it, and she dances a few steps ahead of him. The rest of the trip home is a race. Nat’s backpack flaps around on her back, and Bucky holds her dance bag tightly.
Nat beats him, of course, but when you’re a dad it’s your job to lose to your kid.
Upstairs at the apartment Bucky starts dinner (he thinks tonight is a stir fry night, with vegetables and rice and the chicken still in the fridge) and Nat pulls out her homework, spreading multiplication worksheets and neatly-stapled pages about insects and reading comprehension across their round wooden table. Bucky hums as he cooks. Nat’s toes tap along to the beat. The A/C rattles away in the window, fighting valiantly against the heat of late summer outside and the heat of home-cooked dinner within. It smells like spices and warm food, and sounds like Brooklyn during the summer, cars rushing by outside and music floating gently within.
happiness (hap'•ē•nəs) n. -- being home with Nat, secure in the knowledge that this little life they have carved out together is good enough for the both of them
Bucky sends off his letter to Steven G. Rogers of internet obscurity and more-or-less forgets about it. There is work, and school, and the quiet routine that he has grown used to. It’s not like his routine from what the boys like to call his secret agent days, but it’s close enough. Some things you just can’t shake.
This is why, a week later, he is surprised to find an email from Peggy Carter, editor. There is no subject line. Bucky reads it on his phone while Jim talks prices with a customer and Dum Dum dives head first under the hood of a ‘86 Datsun pickup and Gabe and Falsworth pretend to help. Dernier has disappeared out back somewhere.
Bucky taps the email open.
I’ve spoken with Steve and he tells me he will be in town next weekend. If you would like you may meet him at the Barnes & Noble at the corner of 7th Ave and 6th St. in the Brooklyn area on Saturday when the store opens at 9am. I’m certain he will be happy to meet you.
Bucky reads it twice, and shoots of a brief, polite email in return –– yes we would be more than happy to meet him; thank you so much for your time –– and then ducks into the garage, avoiding Jim’s request for someone to do their goddamn job and fill out the right paperwork, for God’s sake.
He bookmarks the email, just in case he forgets about it, and goes back to work. Saturday. Nine in the morning. 7th avenue and 6th street.
Nat will be over the moon.
Sometimes, Bucky is a fucking great father.
“I’ve got a present for you,” Bucky says Friday night over dinner. Nat perks up.
“An early birthday present?”
“What is it?” Her eyes narrow. “Is it a secret?”
“Well,” Bucky draws out, and she crosses her arms until he relents. “I talked to Mr. Rogers’ agent, and she told me that he’s going to be at Barnes & Noble tomorrow morning.”
Nat’s eyes go wide. “No way,” she says. “Here? In town?”
“Here in town,” Bucky confirms. Natalia’s eyes may actually be as round a saucers in this moment. Bucky feels happy both with himself and for her. It is a good, warm feeling.
“And we’re gonna go, right? We’re gonna go meet him?”
“That’s the plan,” Bucky says with a smile. She actually catapults herself across the table, which is impressive both because a) Bucky hadn’t realized that was possible and b) Nat is normally far more restrained about everything in general. He narrowly saves his pasta from the incoming almost-nine-year-old stretching across the table.
“Thank you!” she grins, wide as the ocean and bright as the sun. Bucky wraps his arms around her (even the bad one) and hugs back carefully.
“Happy Birthday, sunshine.”
Bucky jolts awake, hand automatically curling underneath his pillow to grab his gun, but his gun is missing even though his gun is never missing and for a second of complete disorientation he can’t remember where he is or when he is and his heartbeat is too loud in his ears and the feeling of total blankness engulfs him and he finds he can’t breathe or think or concentrate or remember––
His heartbeat slows. His breathing calms. He sits up slowly in bed, the sheets kicked down to his feet, air tinged with the hint of fall blowing through the open window. He’s at home, in Brooklyn. He’s not on duty any more. His daughter is standing in his doorway fully-dressed, looking cautious but not afraid. His gun isn’t under his pillow because he is a civilian, and because he’s a liability, and because his daughter is standing in his doorway looking cautious but not afraid. He breaths. In and out. In and out.
“Nat,” he says reproachfully when he has reminded himself of who he is, and where he is, and when he is. “What did I tell you about waking me up like that?”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “You were talking. I thought you were awake already.”
Bucky accepts the explanation and swings his legs over the side of the bed. The alarm clock says 7:48. It is too early on a Saturday to be awake. Saturday is the day for sleeping in. Bucky likes sleeping in. He never got to sleep in while he was on duty.
“Nat,” he says again in the same tone of voice. “Why did you wake me up at eight in the morning?”
“Because Mr. Rogers is going to be at Barnes & Noble at nine in the morning and we have to be there on time,” she answers with the air of a report. “You can sleep in tomorrow,” she adds with a shrug. Bucky sighs ruefully and scrubs his hand across his face, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“Fair enough,” he allows. “Let me get dressed.”
Nat dutifully disappears from the doorway, and Bucky drags himself over to the bathroom, where he spares a few minutes for a shower and brushes his teeth and finally feels awake. He roots around in the closet for clean clothes (he has been putting off a trip to the laundromat for two weeks now and at this point the only thing left in the closet is his suit and his old uniform, both neatly pressed and hanging at the back where he doesn’t have to pay attention to either) and finds a pair of only-slightly-worn jeans. Then he pulls on a shirt with sleeves that go down to his wrists. He pulls it on carefully, feeling the cool scrape of the cloth on one arm and not the other. These days it doesn’t bother him too much. Mostly.
He pulls the glove on too. He tries not to wander around in public without it.
Fifteen minutes later, feeling awake and alive, he steps into the kitchen. Natasha has her stack of Amazing Adventures books on the counter and is carefully arranging them in her backpack. Bucky makes himself a cup of coffee.
God bless coffee.
He also scrambles a pair of eggs. Coffee and eggs are a good breakfast.
Nat inhales her food, and encourages her dad to do the same. She doesn’t have to say anything; she stares at him as he picks at his food and wills him to move faster. He offers her a look of his own in return, but hurries up anyways. It’s good enough for Nat. She watches the seconds tick by on the clock above the stove.
At 8:23 and twelve seconds breakfast is done, and the plates go in the sink. Nat slides her shoes on. Bucky grabs his wallet and lets his daughter herd him out the door and down the stairs. According to Google it is a 1.7 mile, thirty-three minute walk to Barnes & Noble. They catch every light on the way there. It takes thirty-eight minutes and thirty-six seconds. Nat counts them all out on her watch.
They arrive at 9:01, just as the store is opening. A tired-looking twenty-something greets them with a smile as they walk in. Nat immediately scouts the store. Bucky follow at a more sedate pace, scanning the room. They make it from the café at the front of the store to the children’s section in the back without seeing another soul. This includes the elusive Steven G. Rogers. Bucky wonders if he got the date wrong, maybe, but he re-reads the email from Peggy Carter and no, it says Rogers should be here.
He tracks down the twenty-something that let them in, and the girl shrugs and suggests they talk to her manager.
“I’m sorry,” says the manager, a greying woman whose name tag reads MANAGER and sits askew at her neckline. “I don’t know a Steven Rogers, and I’m sure we don’t have any events scheduled for this morning. Is it possible you have your date wrong?”
“Yeah, probably,” Bucky says, even though he doesn’t have his dates wrong, and he offers the woman a smile before walking away.
“I don’t get it,” Nat says quietly next to him. When he glances down at her she looks deflated. “I though he was gonna be here.”
“So did I,” Bucky says, and he hides it well but inside he is nursing anger directed at this man who got his daughter’s hopes up and then crushed them. How dare he do that to anyone. Especially to Nat. “How about some hot chocolate or something, and we can look around a bit since we’re here anyways.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Nat shrugs, and the spark of anger in Bucky’s chest flares brighter. He offers his girl a smile.
“Whipped cream?” he cajoles, and she brightens just a little.
“Yeah,” she says, and then tacks on, “please.”
They sit at their table, Nat with her hot chocolate and whipped cream, Bucky with another coffee because coffee is one of the great joys in life. Nat’s backpack sits on the ground next to them, filled with books that the author will not see because the author is not here. She drinks her hot chocolate moodily.
Bucky, for his part, tries not to scowl into his coffee. Instead he stares around the store, which comes to life while they sit there. At 9:10, a handful of teenagers breeze through the door, laughing. They browse the business section, making rude comments that carry all the way across the store. Around 9:15, an older couple looks through the magazines. At 9:30, when the dregs of Bucky’s coffee have gone cold and Nat is chewing on the pumpkin bread he bought her in apology when she mentioned being hungry, a blond man with a ratty backpack over his shoulder goes looking for the manager. Bucky allows himself a moment to admire the specimen –– tall, broad-shouldered, golden hair, a real-life Adonis. At least, that’s how he looks from the back.
Then the manager gestures towards the café, and Bucky’s real-life Adonis turns around and starts walking towards them. Bucky finds himself staring.
“Hi,” says the man as he approaches the table. His grip on the backpack is nervous-tight, but he hovers in a steady, ready position, feet planted and shoulder-width. Bucky catalogues it all without thinking.
“Can I help you?” Bucky asks, mostly polite but a little sharp too. The man frowns and checks his phone briefly.
“You’re, uh, Bucky and Natalia?” the guy asks hesitantly, and Nat’s head snaps up at the mention of her own name.
“Who are you?” she demands in reply. He slips his phone away and offers her his hand.
“I’m Steve. Steve Rogers. I’m so sorry I’m late, my flight back from DC got delayed and Peggy didn’t have your number.”
Bucky watches Nat’s face light up like a Christmas tree and the growing irritation with Steven G. Rogers –– Steve –– wanes.
“We’re glad you could make it,” he says politely, and shifts his chair over slightly so Steve can join them at the table.
“I’m really sorry about everything,” he says again, heartfelt, and then he disappears into his backpack. Bucky and Nat share a look while he’s preoccupied with whatever he’s preoccupied with. Their look is also a conversation. It goes a little like this:
Nat: I can’t believe he showed up.
Bucky: I can’t believe he was late.
Nat: He seems really sorry.
Bucky: You still want to meet him?
Nat: What are you, stupid? Duh. Besides, it’s my birthday. I get to choose if we stay or go.
Bucky: Fair enough.
Steve resurfaces with a sketchbook and a book-book. The book-book he hands to Nat with a smile.
“I heard it was your birthday so I figured I’d bring a present. It’s not supposed to come out until Thursday but I thought you might appreciate it.”
It is The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Nat actually gasps.
Inside it says, To Natalia, and to the happiest of birthdays. It’s signed Steve Rogers. She takes it reverently, fingers feather-soft on the pages as she flips through them, oohing and ahhing at the art. Steve smiles.
“I’ll be right back,” he tells Bucky, and goes up to the counter to order coffee.
“It’s gorgeous,” Nat says.
“Happy Birthday,” says Bucky.
Steve comes back with his coffee, humming appreciatively as he drinks it. Bucky feels that on a personal level.
“So,” says Steve as he sits down, rearranging his sketchbook and his coffee in front of him. “You like my books, huh?”
“Yes,” Nat says immediately.
“Who’s your favorite?” Steve asks. Nat frowns, considering.
“That’s difficult, but I think it’s Captain Marvel.”
“Mmm, yeah,” Steve agrees with a solemn nod. “I like her a lot too.”
“Who’s your favorite?” Nat returns the question to him, and he thinks about it for a moment.
“Hulk,” he says finally. “Even though Bruce doesn’t want to fight, Hulk helps people and doesn’t let the mean things they say get him down. I’d like to be more like the Hulk.”
“If I were a superhero,” Nat tells him, “I’d be a super-spy.”
“Oh yeah?” Steve asks. “What would your codename be?”
Nat contemplates that for a long minute. Bucky finds himself sharing an amused glance with Steve.
an amused glance with Steve: ah, kids
“Black Widow,” she decides. Bucky smiles at that and recalls many spider-themed conversations of the past week. “We’re learning about spiders in school. Did you know black widows are the most poisonous kind of spider? They’re so small but they’re also really powerful. And they do good things like eat bugs and make beautiful webs. Spiders are awesome.”
“Yeah they are,” Steve agrees. “Did you know they spin their own silk? And when they’re finished with their webs they can eat it and re-use it. And black widow silk is the strongest kind of spider silk.”
“Really. I did a lot of research on spiders so I could write about Spider-Man.”
“That’s so cool. Did you know some spider can catch stuff like birds in their webs?”
“Did you know scientists can’t actually replicate spider silk?”
“Did you know––”
And they’re off, trading spider facts like there is no tomorrow, and Bucky finds himself a little in awe of how easily Steve falls into the rhythm of back-and-forth. From spiders they go to other animals and Steve tells stories about the one time his neighbor’s house cat went missing for two weeks only to turn up in Steve’s unused window box with a litter of kittens. He also doodles out a rough sketch of the Black Widow according to Nat’s specifications –– a black combat suit with gloves that shoot electricity and a really cool belt. He laughs at her jokes and doesn’t talk down to her like other adults do. Bucky finds himself unwinding almost against his will. This guy is just like sunshine and summer or something. You can’t dislike him.
When Nat runs off to find the bathroom almost forty-five minutes later, Steve turns to Bucky.
“I just wanted to say sorry again for being late.”
“It’s understandable,” Bucky says.
“Yeah maybe,” Steve offers doubtfully. “But I guess I just want you to know that I would never miss out on a chance to meet one of my readers. You may have noticed, but they’re not especially popular books. So thanks for contacting me. Your daughter is wonderful.”
“Yeah she is,” Bucky agrees with a laugh. Steve smiles, and Nat returns.
Bucky, for his part, just leans back in his chair and watches them interact, making small talk with this gorgeous, bright man who took the time to visit his daughter at nothing more than a polite request. Nat herself is over the moon at this opportunity to talk to her idol.
Bucky finds himself unexpectedly enjoying it.
joy (joi) n. -- the experience of seeing Nat happy
Two hours later it’s lunch time, and Steve has a meeting to get to so they part ways.
“Thanks for meeting us,” Bucky says with an easy smile. Steve smiles back.
“Believe me, the pleasure was all mine. Here, hang on––” he finds a clean page in his sketchbook and tears it out, scribbling a phone number on it. “Call me, we’ll hang out some time. And Nat, this is for you.” He leaves her the Black Widow sketch and her stack of signed books and leaves with a smile and a bounce in his step.
Bucky watches him go, fingers curled tight around the scrap of paper in his hand, and thinks: fuck.
“He was so cool,” Nat says once Steve has left the store. “Wasn’t he so cool? Do you think we can meet him again sometime?”
“I don’t know,” Bucky says. “He’s a pretty busy guy. We’ll see.”
we’ll see -- see previous entry
Afterwards life is normal again, except sometimes Bucky stares at the phone number tacked up above his desk at home and panics a little, because he doesn’t know if “call me, we’ll hang out some time” means “call me and we’ll go on something vaguely date-like” or “call me and I’ll come chat with your super-intelligent and very cute daughter.”
So he leaves the phone number up on his wall and pretends everything is exactly the same as it was before.
This lasts for a month. Nat’s actual birthday comes and goes in a slew of tissue paper and cakes and a party where Clinton Francis Barton manages to both climb onto the fridge and fall off of the fridge, and never has Bucky been gladder that Nat is a nine-year-old girl and not an eleven-year-old boy. There is a brief trip to the emergency room and Clint’s older brother tells him off and everything goes back to normal.
Then Nat comes home talking about personal heroes and important people and biographies and Bucky is nodding along and remembering a slew of frankly terrible papers in middle school about “people who are important to you” when Nat asks him a question that breaks through his mental fog.
“What?” he asks, to make sure he heard right.
“Do you think Mr. Steve could come talk to our class? I talked to Miss Foster and she said it would be really cool to have a real author come visit, and didn’t he give you his phone number?”
“I–– yeah, he did."
“So can we call him and ask? It would be super cool.”
That night he sits at his desk and stares at the phone number for a ridiculously long time before he punches the number into his cell and tells himself to calm the fuck down as the phone rings.
He picks up. “Hello?”
“Hi,” Bucky says. “It’s um, Bucky. You, uh, met me and my daughter at Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago?”
Bucky tells himself that Steve’s voice doesn’t actually perk up when he replies with a bright, “Oh, yeah! I was hoping you’d get in touch.”
Bucky’s stomach does unspeakable things (like flutters, and he does his best to digest his butterflies) as he forges on ahead. “I know it’s a kind of weird request but, uh, my daughter was wondering if you could maybe come speak to her class at some point? Her teacher was interested.”
“Oh, yeah, definitely! I’ll clear it with Peggy.” In the background something rustles and then there’s a loud thunk and a quiet “fuck” followed by a much louder “sorry.” Bucky grins. “Can you give me the teacher’s contact info?”
Bucky goes through the file on his desk marked “School Shit” and finds Miss Foster’s email, which he dutifully rattles off over the phone, along with the school name and address.
“Great, thanks,” Steve says when he’s done. “I should warn you it might be a bit –– I’m finishing up something for a Wakandan company right now.”
“Wakanda, wow. Beautiful country.”
“Once,” Bucky says ruefully. “And not for long, just a brief visit. It really sticks with you though.”
“I’d love to see it,” Steve admits wistfully. “They just want me for my blueprints.”
“It’s worth a trip if you ever get the chance. One of those bucket list things.”
“That’s what my contacts there say.” Steve sighs. “I’m sure the pictures don’t do it justice.”
“You have no idea,” Bucky grins.
“I’m sure,” laughs Steve. “Anyways. Thanks for the call. I’ll let you know when I’ll be in town.”
“Well, now you have my phone number,” Bucky jokes, and then regrets it immediately. He’s such a dork, Jesus, he used to be much better at this. What would they boys say if they saw him.
Steve, though, wonderful human being that he is, just laughs and says goodbye before hanging up. Bucky stares at the phone in his hand.
“God, Barnes,” he mutters to himself. “Get a grip."
It takes two weeks, but one morning Bucky wakes up to a text that says today's the day!
Nat will be over the moon, he returns when he wakes up, and the morning passes in a happy blur.
Of course, he does not actually tell Natalia about Steve's visit in advance, because that’s no fun. Nat, being the incredibly perceptive nine-year-old that she is, knows something up almost immediately from the way her dad keeps checking his phone and refusing to comment on the day ahead.
Thus, when Miss Foster announces that they have a guest, she has a good solid idea who it is, and can play it all off as if she knew it all along. Everyone else in the class thinks this is super cool. Nat shares a secret smile with Mr. Steve.
At this moment in time, Nat decides Mr. Steve is great and should come home with her if at all possible. Because her dad is about half as subtle as he likes to imagine, and because Mr. Steve is an open book who also keeps checking his phone, she thinks this may in fact be possible.
Over the remaining five hours in the school day she puts together a foolproof plan that involves coffee, a prolonged bathroom break, and maybe some strong words with both of them if the case warrants it.
Fortunately, Mr. Steve stays around for the remainder of the afternoon, tucking into other classrooms, so he’s still on campus when Dad shows up at five o’clock sharp to pick her up. Nat puts her plan into action with a broad, not-quite frightening grin.
“Mr. Steve came to class today,” she announces loudly enough for Mr. Steve to hear. Mr. Steve turns towards his name and sees Nat and her dad, and immediately bows out of the conversation with Miss Foster to talk to them instead.
“Thank you so much for the invitation,” he says politely.
“He was really cool. Everyone liked his books and stuff.”
“Or they pretended to,” he adds with a laugh.
“I’m glad it worked out,” Dad says. They are staring at each other. Nat looks between them, and catches Clint’s eye across the parking lot. Clint heard all about her current issue over lunch. They share an eye roll.
“Do you want to get coffee?” Mr. Steve asks, and Nat almost cheers. “I’ve actually got some stuff I wanted to show you. Both of you, I mean. Well, Nat especially.”
“Yeah, sure,” says her dad with exaggerated nonchalance. Nat subtly signs success at Clint, who replies with congrats. “I know a nice place a block or so that way.”
“Oh, Wilson’s place?”
“You know it?”
“I used to live around here, once upon a time,” Mr. Steve says. “Sam’s an old friend.”
“No way,” Dad laughs.
Nat is certain at this point that they could spend the entire afternoon awkwardly talking around everything important so she shifts a little in place and says, “I want coffee this time.”
“When I said ‘when you’re older’ I didn’t mean nine,” her dad says, just like she knows he would.
“Double digits,” Steve says conspiratorially.
“If I beat you there I can get whatever I want,” Nat tells them both primly, and then it’s a race to the cafe.
Mr. Steve wins. Barely. Nat likes him more and more every minute.
They order their coffee and settle down (and Steve laments his owner-friend’s absence) and Nat’s off like a bottle rocket, chattering almost as fast as Bucky can keep up with her, regaling them both with tales of the day and the week and catching Steve up on everything he’s missed.
And then Steve says, “I brought you something," and she skids to a stop.
“You did?” she asks, eyes wide, and Bucky knows Steve’s next book won’t come out until next year because Nat knows his next book won’t come out until next year and wastes no time in spreading that information around to the important people of her life.
Except the thing Steve is pulling out of his bag is clearly a book, paperback and fragile looking and Nat stares at it hungrily as Steve gently lays it out on the table.
“What is it?” she asks, fingers ghosting towards it and then away again, uncertain.
Steve smiles wide, and Bucky would definitely catalogue it as a shit-eating grin. “It’s the mockup for my next book: The Amazing Adventures of the Black Widow.”
Nat actually goes silent, totally silent, and Bucky thinks that maybe Steve has given his daughter a heart attack, which, whoa, not cool. But he can also count the number of times she has ever been shocked into absolute silence on his one good hand and yeah. This is impressive. Wow.
“Really?” she breaths, finally.
“Really,” Steve says. “It’s yours.”
Her eyes expand like balloons and she glances between Steve and the book once, twice, before spitting out an “oh my god thank you” so quickly the words trip over each other on the way off her tongue. Then she tugs the book towards her (carefully, so gently, treasured) and folds over the first page, eyes scanning everything.
This leaves Bucky and Steve more-or-less on their own in terms of conversation.
A list of things that run through Bucky’s head when faced with holding a conversation with Steve:
- Steve is a fucking saint come to life.
- Bucky has trouble talking with the guys at the garage sometimes and can in no way hold a conversation with this Grecian hero sitting across from him.
- Nat totally set him up, the brat.
- If he doesn't stop staring at Steve and say something his conversation partner may believe he too is having a heart attack and that would end poorly for everyone involved.
So Bucky improvises.
improvise (ˈim•prə•vīz) v. -- to make shit up off the top of one’s head and hope to God it will be enough for the moment
“So you used to live around here?”
“Ish. Originally from Bed-Stuy. Ma worked at the IMC on Atlantic. What about you?”
“Grew up in Jersey, mostly.” He sees Steve’s face and laughs. “Yeah, I know. It’s not too bad if you hold your nose and close your eyes and y’know, pretend you aren’t in Jersey.” Steve laughs at that in return. When Steve laughs his head tilts back and he smiles bright and open, and if Bucky were the romantic artistic type he’d want to draw it but he’s not so instead he just appreciates it while it lasts.
“Why Jersey?” Steve asks, and Bucky replies with a shrug.
“Dad was stationed there. My sister Becca and I, we were army brats. Guys on the base were like extended family. Didn’t move out here until Nat was born.”
“It’s a good city,” Steve says with the certainty of a native. “Lots of history. Fond memories, all that.”
“I bet, yeah. Seems like a pretty good place for a kid to grow up. Nat loves it. Though Bed-Stuy, I mean––”
“Yeah. Well, it’s all gentrified now.”
“You still have a place there?”
“No,” Steve laughs. “Not since Ma died. The uh, the company I work for has a place in Manhattan. I stay there when I’m in town.”
“Why Brooklyn?” Steve asks unexpectedly. Bucky considers it.
“I mean, Nat’s here,” he says, but that’s not quite all. There’s also–– “You know that song?” He hums a few bars, clear and on-pitch, and it sounds like a half-forgotten memory.
“Yeah, yeah,” Steve says, and his face is sort of happy and sort of sad at the same time.
“It’s like that. After I was discharged. City took me in.” He smiles wryly and flexes the fingers of his left hand.
“Yeah. I guess it does that, doesn’t it.”
The conversation putters out. Nat sits across from them, engrossed in her book. Bucky watches her with a pensiveness he tries not to feel most of the time. He can barely see Steve out of the corner of his eye, but he’s aware of how he shifts in his chair in the silence.
silence (ˈsī•ləns) n. -- one of the reasons Bucky lives in the city now, where the silence rarely finds him
“You’ve been to Prospect, right?” Steve asks unexpected, and the noise washes over Bucky like relief.
Bucky snorts. “I’ve got a nine year old kid. Of course we’ve been to the park.”
“Okay, cause I gotta ask –– there was this guy with a dog, he hung out at the zoo all the time––”
“With the little poodle or whatever?”
“Old Man Stan,” Bucky laughs. “Yeah, he’s still there.”
“Man,” Steve shakes his head. “He was old when I was a kid. He must be ancient now.”
“He really is.”
“Maybe I’ll visit before I goes back home.”
“You live in DC?”
“Yeah. Went there for school, stayed there for the job.”
“Must be a good job.”
“It has its perks.”
“Well traveling is nice,” Steve shrugs. “Getting to meet folk like you.”
And that’s. Well. Bucky personally finds it hilarious in a black way that he can’t describe to anyone without sounding mildly psychopathic, so he settles for a wry smile. “Anyone ever tell you you’re an optimist?”
“And one day it’ll get me into trouble, yeah. My boss tells me I'm crazy for seeing the best in everyone.” Steve’s face is solemn, and Bucky finds himself shifting without meaning to, focus narrowing to the man sitting next to him. “Way I see it, everyone deserves a chance. And if they muck it up, well there you go. But you gotta give them that chance first.” His lips twist in a mockery of a smile, and it’s a familiar mockery, one Bucky has seen on his own face, and he wonders why he didn’t recognize it before.
“Where’d you serve?” he asks quietly, so that even Nat sitting across from them can’t hear. Steve looks at him sharply, and Bucky really wonders how he didn’t see it earlier. He used to be better about paying attention. At Steve’s look he shrugs. “You learn to recognize the look.”
“Afghanistan,” he says, and in return Bucky offers, “Iraq.”
lie (lī) n. -- something required in the line of business when one is a spy
“It’s never quite the same afterwards, is it,” Bucky says.
“Eight years. Not quite four tours.”
Bucky rubs the phantom ache in his left shoulder, the one he’s spent nine years learning how to ignore. “Got injured.”
“I’m sorry,” says Steve.
“What can I say. I’ve got Nat now. That's much better."
“Yeah,” Steve says, following Bucky’s gaze to the girl. “Yeah, I can imagine.”
Something beeps then, and Steve checks his watch with a guilty wince. “I should go.”
“We should too,” Bucky says. Nat grumbles but obligingly packs up.
“This was lots of fun,” Steve says.
“Yeah,” Nat agrees. “Thanks for the book, Mr. Steve.”
“It was my pleasure.”
Bucky hovers next to the table as Nat carefully slides the proof into the bag. Steve shakes her hand and brushes a hand through her hair in goodbye, and she smiles up at him. He offers Bucky his hand too, so he takes it, but if feels uncomfortable, forced. Something has fallen out of place. Bucky forces a smile, though, and they walk to the door together.
Before they can part ways, though, Bucky reaches out and grabs Steve’s wrist.
“Um,” he says intelligently. Steve turns to look at him. Bucky catalogues the situation, intensely aware of every single thing around him.
A man loitering at the corner with a broken backpack
A pair of buskers across the street
Nat staring at him with an encouraging look she thinks he can’t see
Steve’s pulse underneath his flesh-and-blood fingers
The wind down the street blowing his jacket open
The four cars stopped at the light: a Prius, two Fords, a Chevvy
His own breathing, sniper-steady, even though his heartbeat is roaring in his ears.
“Bucky?” says Steve. Bucky drops his wrist.
“Sorry,” he says, left hand clenching and unclenching and the whir of the arm is soothing. “I was just wondering if you want to do this again. Uh, me and you.”
Steve looks uncertain for a minute, and Bucky thinks this is it he’s going to have to sink through the floor now; next time he should just remain a coward and be quiet. Then Steve’s face splits into a grin like the sun and he says, “Yeah, I’d love that.”
“Great,” says Bucky, fighting off a manic smile of his own. “Great, yeah. I’ll see you around, then.”
The whole walk home he feels like he’s floating on air. Natalia, the brat, is insufferable about it. Bucky can’t bring himself to care.
And secretly, when she thinks he isn’t paying attention, she smiles at him, fond and warm, and that’s probably the best part of it all.
The weekend finds Nat staying with her Aunt Becca because she doesn’t get along well with babysitters. This is fine, except that Aunt Becca lives in Hoboken.
Hoboken (hoe’•boe•ken) n. -- Jersey. Ugh.
“I just want you to know,” Nat says bluntly when he’s on his way out Becca’s door, hair trimmed and jeans clean, “that I would totally be against this if I didn’t approve of Mr. Steve.”
“Oh, good,” says Bucky. “I’d hate to think my dates weren’t living up to my daughter’s expectations.”
Nat gives him a look that says ‘yes you would’ and Bucky has to roll his eyes so she can’t see that he’s right.
(Sometimes Bucky is aware of how terrifying Natalia will be as a teenager, and then he looks at his life and his choices and knows he would make them all over again if it means he gets to raise his girl.)
“You’ll be safe, right?”
“Course I’ll be safe, Nat. We’re just getting dinner.”
Nat makes a face. “That’s disgustingly cute. Have fun.”
Having obtained his daughter’s Face Of Approval (her nose gets scrunchy and she shrugs, just like she has ever since she was a baby, and Bucky doesn’t think she realizes she does it, but it’s the cutest fucking thing) Bucky is free to proceed on his date.
Tonight’s date will include:
Steve looking absolutely stunning in a button down and a brown bomber jacket good lord
Bucky looking absolutely stunning in dark jeans and a v-neck (Steve is flustered and will not admit it)
- Some awkwardness
Shared life experience
Very spicy food
Bucky reaches the restaurant first, a Mexican place two metro stops away in downtown Brooklyn that comes highly recommended by Gabe. The weather outside is misty and cold, and he hangs around under the awning of the restaurant waiting for Steve, the artificial joint in his shoulder aching a little. He stretches it while he waits.
Steve pulls up five minutes later on a beauty of a motorcycle and if Bucky wasn’t already a little in love he would be now. Christ.
Christ (krīst) int. -- of fucking course he drives a bike
“Hey, Buck,” he says as he pulls his helmet off and idly rakes a hand through his hair.
Hey Steve, he means to say, but what comes out instead is, “Are you kidding me?” Whoops.
whoops (wo͝ops) int. -- Where’s Nat when you need her?
Steve looks confused, bless him. He’s still straddling the bike. “What?”
“You, with the bike and the jacket and the ‘hey Buck.’ I mean, seriously?”
“What’s–– oh.” He grins sheepishly. “Yeah, I guess I get that a lot.”
“No kidding,” Bucky mumbles under his breath as Steve slips off the bike. They hover like that for a moment, Bucky staring at Steve from against the wall, aware of what feels like every nook and cranny against his back. Then Steve says, “Shall we?”
The restaurant is low-ceilinged and dimly-lit, suggested for its intimate atmosphere and good tacos. When they step inside, a blonde Ukranian girl greets them and leads them to a table against the wall. Bucky automatically scans the room, and notices Steve doing the same.
“Old habits die hard,” the man shrugs when Bucky raises an eyebrow at him.
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. He’s not one to judge. “I suppose they do.”
Conversation fizzles, but their server comes back with water and recommends they try the salsa sampler so they agree. They order while they’re at it –– Gabe swears the chicken tacos are to die for, so they both go for it.
“How did you get into children’s books?” Bucky asks when she disappears.
“In college I would babysit for my advisor. The kids really liked my stories and my advisor suggested I should write them down. He even put me in touch with Peggy, which was nice of him cause he was a real sonofabitch most of the time. Didn’t like anyone. The books just sort of went from there. Though not far, obviously,” he laughs. “I mean, I'm an architect most of the time." He unrolls his napkin. "What about you? What do you do?”
“I’m a mechanic,” Bucky shrugs.
“What, just a mechanic?” asks Steve, a grin flitting across his face. His eyes are dancing.
“Yes, ‘just a mechanic,’” Bucky retorts. “Why are you smirking at me like that?”
“It’s nothing,” Steve says, though he still looks amused. “It’s just, I’ve got a friend who's fond of titles who calls himself a mechanic, but that’s more of a hobby for him.”
“What else does he do?” Bucky asks, curious. Steve ticks off his fingers as he goes.
“Engineer, designer, inventor, playboy, investor, owner of a Fortune 500 company, that sort of thing.”
Bucky snorts at the familiar list of accolades. “Sounds like you’re describing Stark.”
“You know him?” Steve asks. Bucky laughs aloud.
“Actually, yeah. He’s the guy who made my prosthetic.”
“Yeah. Didn’t you know?”
“That you have a prosthetic arm? No, I had no idea. Which one?” Steve snaps his mouth shut and blushes at his own forwardness. “Sorry, you don’t––”
“No, it’s fine,” Bucky replies, and he finds that it actually is. He doesn't actively try to hide the arm, he's just not always sure how he feels about it, and he doesn't like feeling like a circus freak. Steve understand though, so Bucky doesn't mind. He peels off his glove so the dull silver of the metal shines through. Steve reaches out to take it and then pulls back, hesitant. Bucky stretches the arm out towards him.
“Go ahead,” he invites, and he can feel the pressure where Steve trails his fingers over the palm. It tickles.
“You can feel that?”
“Tony made this?”
“How’d you get him to do that?”
“My old employers called in a favor.”
“Yeah, they–– hang on.”
Steve is smirking again as he laces his skin-and-bone fingers through Bucky’s metal ones. Bucky is not smirking. Bucky does not find this at all amusing.
He never said anything. He kept to the story, he didn’t mention anything, he followed all the protocols, how does Steve––
“Bucky?” Steve says. Bucky’s having trouble focusing on his face. “Bucky, hey, look at me.” Bucky is looking at him. His eyes are bright even in the dim light. “You’re safe. It’s okay. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you.” Bucky’s heart is racing and too-loud in his own ears; he’s faintly aware that he’s struggling to breathe. “Just breathe. You’re okay. Hey, you’re okay. Just breathe. You’re safe. I’m sorry.”
His breathing evens out slowly. When he can speak again he coughs out, “What the fuck, Steve.”
“Sorry,” says Steve, eyes wide and worried and very blue. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to––” He trails off.
“What didn’t you mean to do?” Bucky snaps back. “How the fuck do you know about SHIELD?”
“I work for them.”
“First time I met you, when I had to run off to that meeting, it was to talk to Tony about the helicarrier he wants to design.” Bucky is still staring so Steve casts around for something else. “You know the Triskelion that’s going up in lower Manhattan?” He smiles sheepishly. Bucky stares.
“Did you design the one in DC too?” he asks finally.
Steve still looks apologetic. Good, he should. “Surprise?” he tries. Bucky shakes his head in disbelief.
“Any field work?”
“Captain Steven G. Rogers, at your service.” He punctuates it with a squeeze to his hand. Bucky had forgotten he was holding it.
“Sergeant James Barnes,” Bucky returns. “Special Projects.”
“Your first name is James?” Steve asks. Bucky grimaces a little.
“James Buchanan. Everyone who knows me calls me Bucky, though.” Bucky shrugs with his free arm. “What division were you?”
“Strike One and Special Projects,” Steve grins.
“That’s just ridiculous,” Bucky mutters. "How long have we been missing each other?"
"You've never been to DC branch?"
"Actually, no. I was based overseas mostly."
Steve hums in acknowledgment. "Why'd you leave?" he asks.
That’s easy. “Nat.”
“Had a girl back home?”
“More like girl away from home,” Bucky sighs. “I met Nat’s mom undercover in Russia. They called her the Rose. She wanted out, though, so we got her out. Then Nat happened.”
“Where is she now?”
Bucky smiles without humor. “KGB doesn’t like defectors, it turns out.”
“Sorry.” Steve’s thumb is stroking the side of Bucky’s hand. It feels nice. It feels really nice.
“What about you?” Bucky asks. “Still active?”
“Oh, no, not for about five years. Architect full time now, unless Fury does something monumentally dumb.”
“Well, it’s Fury.” They drink to that.
Their server comes back with the salsas, ranging from mild-sweet to cut-your-tongue-out hot, and Bucky takes great pleasure in watching Steve cry after tasting the hottest mix. He finishes both their waters and a glass of the table wine and it’s still not enough. It’s hilarious.
Gabe was right. The tacos are incredible.
After dinner they see a late night showing of some movie that Bucky only half-watches because he’s warm and well-fed and at his side Steve is again holding his hand which shouldn’t turn him to emotional mush but, well, it does. He feels content in a way he hasn't for a long time.
It’s nearly three in the morning when they pull up to Bucky’s apartment. (In the light of the street lamps, Steve glows.)
“Thanks,” Bucky says, standing at the curb. Steve leans against the handlebars of his bike.
“Tonight? I dunno, it was nice.”
“Yeah,” Steve agrees. They hover there for a moment.
“Well,” says Bucky. “Guess I should go.”
“Yeah,” says Steve.
Neither of them move.
“Oh, fuck it,” Bucky mutters to himself, and he leans over to kiss Steve.
Kissing Steve is like this:
- he is warm from the tips of his fingers to the tips of his toes
- his heartbeat quickens but its not panic, not this time
- his eyes are closed but he can still see golden streetlight through the darkness
- Steve’s hand angles his jaw just right, warm and solid and he can feel his pulse under Steve’s thumb
- his lips are warm and a little chapped and they give as much as they take and if perfection exists this may well be it
When they pull apart they’re both breathing harder.
“Want to come up?” Bucky asks before he can reconsider.
“I’d love to,” Steve says. “I can’t. My flight leaves at six am. I should pack.”
“Can’t it wait?”
“Don’t think I’m not considering it.”
Bucky leans down to kiss him again because he’s here and he can.
“Let’s do this again,” he suggest.
“Soon as I’m back in town,” Steve promises.
“Night,” Bucky says.
There’s one last kiss then Steve pulls his helmet back on and revs his bike, peeling off into the New York night.
“Christ,” says Bucky to the freezing street.
Christ (krīst) int -- I think I love you.
This is what dating Steve Rogers is like:
“Steve!” shouts a man when they enter the café.
“Sam!” Steve calls back with an enormous grin.
“This must be Mr. Barnes,” Sam Wilson says, ducking out from behind the counter and wiping his hands on a dusty apron. He offers one to Bucky. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Bucky offers. The man’s handshake is firm, his smile is warm and his eyes are sharp. Bucky likes him.
“Coffee on the house today, fellas,” Sam says.
“What about hot chocolate?” asks Nat. Sam contemplates it for a moment.
“Well,” he says, “I guess I can make an exception this once.”
“Thank you,” says Nat in the same tone of voice. “That’s very kind of you.”
By the time they leave Sam and Nat have a secret handshake and refuse to let either Steve or Bucky in on it. Bucky promises to come by later. Nat makes sure he does.
Their first time together is a little clumsy and a little awkward and Bucky isn’t altogether sure what to do with his metal arm, even though Steve doesn’t treat it any differently than his flesh-and-blood one.
Luckily they both quick learners. The second time is much better.
Ice skating is hilarious. Steve, for all his grace and skill, cannot keep on his feet. Bucky drags him along while Nat spins circles around the both of them. Afterwards they get hot chocolate and pretzels.
He’s sitting shirtless in Stark’s lab for his yearly checkup while Natalia and Pepper hang out in the lobby when someone barges in shouting, “Stark you better be joking.”
“One,” Tony says, still poking at Bucky's grinding elbow joint, “I am never joking. Two, I’m kinda busy, can’t it wait Rogers?”
“I don’t care if you’re–– oh. Bucky.”
Stark looks up from Bucky’s arm to the delicate way the fully grown soldiers are blushing and raises an eyebrow.
“You guys know each other?”
“Yes,” says Steve, and Bucky mutters, “Biblically.”
“Really?” Stark marvels. “Single Dad and McSuperSoldier over there? That’s the best thing I’ve heard in weeks.
“I didn’t know you were in town,” Bucky says, ignoring Stark because Stark should often be ignored, Pepper tells him.
“Layover,” Steve says. “I’m on my way to London. Just needed to see Stark to see if he was really out of his mind.”
“I am perfectly sane––”
“These designs are the most ridiculous thing––”
“The technology is perfectly sound––”
“And where were you going to put the crew?”
“That’s–– okay, fine, good question, but I’m still a little busy, can’t you just leave your complaints with Pepper?”
He’s interrupted by something beeping. He sighs.
“I need to run. But we will be discussing this, Stark.”
“Sounds great, can’t wait, you know where the door is.”
Steve strides over and for a moment Stark looks wary but instead of enacting some terrible punishment on him Steve kisses Bucky, long and dirty.
“See you on the way home,” he promises quietly, and heads off.
“And no PDA in the lab!” Stark shouts after him, but the door’s already swinging shut. “No PDA in the lab,” he repeats for Bucky's benefit.
“Sure thing,” Bucky mumbles, still reeling, and Stark mutters about soldiers and labs and his-house-his-rules under his breath as he goes back to the arm.
At the park Old Man Stan and his dog are sitting where they always sit and Steve is taking Nat to see the snakes while Bucky buys hot dogs. It’s a particularly warm April afternoon.
“I have good news,” Steve says when they return. Nat digs in to her hotdog with great gusto. “I’m moving here.”
“I’m moving to New York to oversee the Triskelion and keep Tony from designing something that will kill everyone.”
“So we’ll be able to see you whenever?” asks Nat.
“I’ll still have to travel a lot. But now I’ll be here whenever I’m not traveling,” Steve explains.
Next to him Bucky smiles and smiles and smiles, and Steve smiles back just as bright.
It wasn’t supposed to be permanent but Steve moves in (just until he can find a place) and just never seems to leave. One day Bucky wakes up to find an easel by the living room window, and as soon as Steve’s art starts appearing on the walls he knows that their half hearted conversations about Steve finding his own place are pointless.
Besides, Nat likes him.
There is a note on the table that reads, problems in Madripoor, be back by Sunday, xo Steve. Bucky carries it in his wallet all week, watching the news as a coup goes down in the foreign nation and trying not to worry. He tells Nat that Steve’s safe and he’s working and he’ll be back soon.
The week drags on and on unlike any other, even when Steve was in DC and visits were few and far between. His patience is short and he worries constantly. Even Gabe comments on it as they take a break, their tiny A/C unit in the office doing nothing against the sweltering July humidity. Bucky waves it off and worries some more.
Sunday arrives without change. Bucky waits and waits all day, and once Nat is tucked in he paces. He takes out the note and rereads it. He folds it into a swan. He undoes it and smooths it out. Reads it again. The clock strikes ten, then half-past.
At six til eleven the door creaks open. Bucky stands up, then sits down again. Steve steps into the kitchen. There are bags under his eyes. Bucky doesn’t know if he wants to kiss him or hit him. He stands up again.
“Hey, Buck,” Steve says. “Miss me?”
Bucky hits him.
“Where the hell have you been?”
“I left you a note––” Steve protests, holding his nose.
“You mean this?” He slaps the paper down onto the table. “‘Problems in Madripoor, be back Sunday, xo Steve?’ That note?”
“The hell were you thinking?”
Steve frowns at him and snaps, “Sorry, Buck, just because you’ve got a nice homey life here doesn’t mean no ones else works.”
“It’s my job.”
“I fucking know it’s your job, Steve. It was my job too!”
“Then what’s your problem?”
“I’ve been worried sick!”
"You know what I do, why were you worried?"
"Steve, take a fucking look around. You're not just here cause it's convenient."
"Buck, if you've got a problem with me living here––"
"That's not what I'm saying."
"Well then what are you saying?"
"You can't just come here and worm your way into our lives and swan off without telling us! Fucking Christ, Rogers." Bucky grabs him by the wrist. His hand is shaking.
Steve looks a little like he's been hit with a truck. "I–– Buck–– I didn't realize––"
"What, that I'm in love with you?"
"I thought-- I thought it was just me."
Bucky snorts. "Yeah, well, maybe you should pay more attention, Rogers."
Steve is quiet for a moment. "I'm sorry, Buck."
“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” says Bucky, deflating. Steve looks torn.
“Bucky–– I can’t just stop working––”
“That’s not–– I’m not telling you to quit your job. Just, tell me before you leave, okay? I don’t want to wake up to a note.”
“I–– Yeah. Okay.”
“Good. I swear to God, Rogers.”
“I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I know. Sorry I hit you.”
“I guess I kind of deserved it.”
“Damn right you did.”
“I love you too.”
“Great. Can we go to bed now?”
“Don’t even think it. I’m still mad at you.”
They learn Steve can’t cook when he sets off the fire alarm for the entire building trying to make eggs for breakfast on Nat’s birthday. After that his Kitchen Rights are revoked.
“How’s your boy?” Dum Dum asks.
“He’s fine,” Bucky says. “Working on his next book.”
“What’s this one about?” asks Falsworth. “A nationality-themed superhero?” Falsworth thinks there should be an English one.
“No idea. He won’t tell me.”
“Aw, it’s a surprise,” Dum Dum laughs.
"That's what he says," Bucky smiles fondly. Dugan claps him on the back.
“You’ve got it bad, kid.”
“Don’t need you to tell me,” Bucky retorts.
“Besides, Dugan’s the last guy you should listen to about any of that stuff,” Gabe adds.
“Stuff it, Jones,” Dugan scowls.
“Sir yes sir,” grins Jones.
Bucky rolls his eyes at their antics and goes back to work.
“No,” Nat says with finality. “He’ll want gold.”
“Why? His hand––”
“Gold reminds him of you.”
“Oh,” Steve says, trying not to blush. “Okay then. Gold.”
Armed with Nat's expertise and Tony’s specs for the arm, Steve is ring shopping.
“You know, you could probably get him a bit of string and he’d still say yes.”
“That’s encouraging,” Steve mutters.
“How about that one?”
It’s a simple gold band, thick and solid, at the back of the display case.
“You think?” Steve asks, even though he can already imagine it on Bucky’s hand.
“Yes,” Nat says with certainty.
(Nat is right. He does say yes.)
The wedding is short and sweet. Bucky’s boys show up. Nat is ringbearer and Fury does them a favor and officiates which is both hilarious and terrifying. Tony suggests horrible, overpriced, lavish things and Steve takes great pleasure in telling him no. So does Pepper. Bucky meets Peggy Carter in person, finally, and thanks her. Peggy tells him to be good to Steve or she will put all of her MI6 skills to work and no one will ever see or hear from James Buchanan Barnes again. Bucky believes her.
Afterwards the reception is held at Stark’s New York mansion (“yeah, I have a tower and a mansion, sue me. Look, its’ a family place I couldn’t just get rid of it. Plus the yard is great, don’t tell me the yard isn’t great you’re the one having your wedding here”) and Steve, Bucky and Nat sneak out early to go home.
“I have a present for you too,” Steve says when the step through the front door.
“It’s a good present,” Nat assures her dad. Bucky raises and eyebrow and unties his bowtie.
“Close your eyes,” she orders, so Bucky does. A moment later he gets a light kiss brushed across his cheek and something in his hands.
“Open them,” Steve says just in front of him.
It’s a book, small and brightly colored. On the cover crouches a man with a black domino mask and a silver arm. It reads, The Amazing Adventures of the Winter Soldier by Steven G. Rogers.
“Open it,” Nat tells him, so he does.
To my soldier. I love you.
“Now Steve needs a book too. Then we’ll all have one,” Nat explains.
“I love you.”
The two laugh and kiss again and Nat runs off, squealing.
“You know, you have me to thank for all of this!” she calls over her shoulder as she disappears into her room.
“Thanks,” Bucky calls to her closing door.
“She’s right,” Steve shrugs.
“We’ll never hear the end of it.”
“You’re worth it,” Steve says.
“Yeah, I guess you are too.”
“I love you, Mr. Rogers.”
“That’s incredibly sappy. Plus, I’m keeping my name. It’s alliterative. I’d think you’d appreciate that, Mr. Author.”
“I appreciate you,” says Steve. “No matter the name.”
“You’re a punk,” Bucky says.
“I’m your punk.”
And I’m yours, he doesn’t say. They both know he means it anyways.
fin (fɛ̃) n -- French for and they all lived happily ever after