12

Seven days. Seven days of nothing. No HYDRA, no Steve, not even a serious traffic accident. By the third day Bucky was pacing. By the fifth he was twitching. By the seventh he was ready to punch the next person that so much as bumped into him. He had already worked out, taken a walk, and done laundry. His only excuse for getting out now was buying groceries, which, as it happened, was a necessary chore after the breakfast he'd had that morning.

Except he didn't go to the nearest store. He told himself that it was because he wanted to avoid going to the same place too many times on the same schedule. So he kept walking and ended up at a store in Brooklyn.

The man behind the counter watched Bucky for the first couple of minutes and then dismissed him, which was fine by Bucky. For his part, Bucky perused the shelves, for all appearances the concerned shopper. In reality, he was trying to figure out why the hell his feet had carried him all the way out here.

He was examining a lettuce leaf for the meaning of life when it finally hit him.

This was where he'd first met Steve. Well, not here, in this store, but in one of the alleys on this block. That had been…when, 1932? No, earlier than that. 1930. That made it roughly 85 years since he'd first met the punk.

Bucky rocked back on his heels, his eyes losing focus. Had it really been that long? They should've been old men by now. Either that or dead.

There were memories here. Bucky could feel them hovering just outside his awareness, but they didn't feel unpleasant. They went deeper than the torture and pain, all the way back to days working on the docks and coming home to find Steve either bruised, sketching, or asleep, depending on the hour. Bucky closed his eyes and saw the apartment they'd shared after Steve's mom had passed away in '36, sagging couch, rusted fire escape, and threadbare rug and all. If he focused on the image he could see Steve perched on a chair, using the last sunlight falling through the window to draw. The angle was strange—Bucky was on the couch, then, one hand draped over the side to rest on the rug, watching Steve's back.

Always watching.

Bucky opened his eyes and was almost surprised to find himself back in the grocery store. His right hand itched with the feeling of rough fabric beneath it.

Even more restless than before, Bucky bought his groceries and left. If he stayed in this place much longer, he was never going to be able to leave. Either that, or he'd end up doing something stupid.

He had his paper bag nestled in the crook of his left arm, not trusting the handles haphazardly attached to the top. With every step he could hear the food inside resettling and feeling the vibrations with the sensors in the metal arm. His mind drifted back to the first couple of months after Insight, when he had felt the need to eat but hadn't been able to keep anything down. Back then, this bag of groceries would've made him sick to his stomach, but now—now it was his, and he was going to eat all of it.

His mind focused on food, Bucky didn't react fast enough to avoid hitting someone when he turned the next corner. Reflexes taking over, Bucky was talking before he even saw who the asshole was.

"Hey, watch where you're go—"

Bucky's eyes finally found the stranger's face. He took in a tall, muscular body, blond hair tousled by the wind, and blue eyes going wide with shock even as the man fumbled out an apology, and felt the sidewalk slip out from underneath him—or maybe he was the one slipping.

He'd know that face anywhere.

Steve.

"—punk."


Somehow, they managed to avoid accidentally killing each other even after Bucky had insisted on putting his groceries back at the base—and Bucky let slide the fact that Steve had obviously been inside the base while Bucky was out. Once he was sure he was calm enough to think, Bucky guided Steve to a nearby café that he'd frequented for a while until the baristas had begun to know him by name. Part of his reasoning was that he was hoping the more public space would help them talk. The other part was that he really didn't like the way Steve had been looking around the base. It wasn't that Steve had been angry or condescending; he'd just looked…sad. No, that wasn't quite right.

Nothing was quite right.

Bucky ordered them both hot chocolate, because by now he'd figured out that no matter the situation, hot chocolate made things just a little bit better. He pointedly ignored Steve's raised eyebrow when the barista referred to Bucky as "William."

They sat at a table in a corner by the windows. Bucky took the seat with its back to the wall, and Steve sat opposite him. Steve was gripping his hot chocolate tightly enough that Bucky could see the paper cup beginning to fold, something that Steve only noticed when the hot liquid inside dribbled out of the top, down the side, and onto his hand. Bucky passed him a napkin.

"Thanks," Steve said automatically.

Bucky rested his hands around his hot chocolate, the sensors in his left hand picking up on the heat even through the glove. So far, Steve had kept his questions to himself, but it was plain to see that he was nervous. Bucky could understand; he was going through the same thing, and he hated it. This was Steve, and even though Bucky had all of these memories in his head and the concrete knowledge that he knew Steve, he couldn't bring himself to open his mouth and speak to the man currently dabbing hot chocolate off his hands.

It seemed that Steve was having the same issue, given that he had now spent thirty seconds doing something that should have taken fewer than ten. Bucky cleared his throat and Steve glanced up.

Now or never.

"I figure…my first greeting wasn't good." He looked Steve in the eye. "Can I do it over?"

Steve blinked for a few seconds, plainly shocked. Then he was nodding. "Yeah, of course. For sure. De—" He stopped babbling, looking embarrassed, and took a breath before saying, "Yes."

The simple fact that neither of them knew what the hell they were doing was oddly comforting.

Bucky took a second to steel himself. He looked down at his hands and the softly steaming cup between them. Inhale, pause, exhale. Then he glanced up and mustered a small smile, pulling it from the same place as the afternoons on the couch and the back-alley fights and the moving pictures and the feeling of home.

"Hello, Steve."

Steve looked as though he'd just been shot. For a split second, Bucky worried that he'd done something wrong, but then Steve's eyes were watering and he was smiling back and Bucky realized that he must have done something really, really right.

"Hi, Buck."


This story was a joy to write, and I am glad you were here to enjoy it with me.

Until next time,

-RoR

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