It’s cold in Brooklyn, but that doesn’t stop Steve Rogers from going for a run every single day.
He’s one of the few people out on an early December morning, only the most devoted dog walkers keeping him company.
He nods to most of the people he sees, recognizing them from when he’s run this route before.
But for the most part, it’s quiet save for the crunch of snow under his feet and he’s alone. He’s not sure if he likes it, being alone, but not even Sam would join him in this weather.
His breath fogs the air in front of him, and he picks up his pace. The serum usually keeps him pretty warm, but even he has a jacket on today.
Steve focuses on his footsteps, on not accidentally slipping on any of the ice he knows is hiding under the fresh snow.
Then he hears it and stops in his tracks, almost stumbling.
He strains his ears, listening intently, trying to pinpoint the source of the noise. Turning his head, he looks up into the trees on the side of the trail.
Most of them are barren, leaves long since lost, but there are a couple evergreens, branches heavy with needles and snow. In the green and white, the red stands out.
“Mrow!” comes the noise again, and Steve realizes — there’s a cat in that tree.
No, it isn’t just in the tree — it’s stuck.
He can hear Natasha laughing at him already, rescuing cats Rogers? What’s next, do you help every little old lady you see cross the street?, as if, well yeah he did help that woman with the cane yesterday, she had a lot of bags and the road was slick with dirty slush.
Of course he’s going to help, whoever whenever however he can. It’s who he is, and he doesn’t care if people make fun of him for it — despite what Natasha says, he knows she would do the same. And kill any witnesses, but still.
Even as he’s rolling his eyes at the thought of his friend’s commentary, he’s walking over to stand under the tree, looking up at the cat.
“Mrow!” it says again, louder this time, staring down at him.
Steve considers — it’s about five feet above his head in the branches, and he could easily jump that high but just jumping won’t help.
Bucky was always better at climbing trees, he thinks then winces and shakes his head.
Bucky’s not here, Steve is.
He takes a deep breath, then reaches up for a branch to the left of the cat, and starts scrambling up.
The snow is cold and wet on his hands, the needles rough and scratching, getting in his face. But he climbs quickly, drawing even with the cat, and braces himself with his legs, praying the branches will hold his weight as he reaches out.
This isn’t the first cat he’s rescued, and the last one spit and hissed and clawed at him, so he’s careful.
But this cat inches forward on its branch, straining its neck to bump its head against Steve’s hand.
It’s docile, letting him reach around and pick it up by its scruff, pull it toward him, and cradle it against his chest with no complaints.
He unzips his jacket halfway, tucking the poor thing in, and it starts purring immediately.
Steve smiles to himself, keeping one hand curled protectively around it to keep it steady, as he clambers back down.
“Hey buddy,” he says to it when he’s back on the trail. “What were you doin’ up there, huh?”
It just keeps purring, and pushing its weight into him. Its fur is soaking from the snow, getting his t-shirt wet under his jacket.
Steve is barely halfway done with his usual route, but he decides to cut his run short, just for today.
“Let’s get you somewhere warm, yeah?” he says to the cat, zipping his jacket up a couple more inches over it, and starting back the way he came.
Back in his apartment, the cat lets him rub her down with a soft, fluffy towel for a few minutes before eeling out of his hands and proceeding to explore.
Steve straightens, grinning and watching her. She’s really a gorgeous cat, he thinks to himself, sleek and regal with fur that’s more red than any other color. He doesn’t think he’s seen a cat quite like her before, and can’t help being hopelessly charmed.
There’s no collar, and he knows about microchips, that he’ll have to have her checked for one, but he doesn’t think she has an owner. Or maybe he just hopes she doesn’t. (He’s not really lonely, per se, but having an animal around, another living being would be… Nice, he thinks.)
He changes quickly out of his own damp clothes, and calls Sam, turning on speaker and setting his phone on the kitchen counter as he fills a bowl with water.
“Steve! What’s up, my man?” Sam answers.
“What do cats eat?” Steve asks immediately.
“Uh,” Sam says, “cat food?”
“Besides that,” Steve says, setting the water bowl on the floor. The cat enters the kitchen, weaving between his legs and rubbing herself against him, before taking a drink.
“I dunno, fish?”
Steve nods to himself, and goes to his pantry.
“Is canned tuna safe, do you think?”
“No idea, probably a little is fine? Why, did you get a cat?”
“Uh,” Steve says, and looks over to the cat, now sitting and watching him with her intelligent, bright green eyes. “Maybe?”
“What, did you find a cat in a tree and take it home?” Sam asks teasingly.
“Uhhhh,” Steve says again and Sam’s laugh echoes through the phone.
“Oh my god, you totally did didn’t you? I thought it was a little early for you to be back from your daily 30 miles, but you rescued a cat!”
“She was stuck!” Steve protests, trying to defend himself. “And cold and wet, it’s freezing here Sam, literally the temperature is below freezing! She was shivering, I couldn’t just leave her outside!”
Sam, still chuckling, interrupts Steve before he can really get going.
“Nah man, I don’t mean it like that, it’s just so you y’know?” and before Steve can protest that, he continues, “so d’you think you’re gonna keep her?”
“I mean, I dunno Sam,” Steve says, as if his heart isn’t already a little bit set on doing just that. He puts a couple spoonfuls of canned tuna on a plate and sets that next to her water.
“What do I know about cats?”
“Well, they need real cat food for one thing, and water, and you’d need to get a litter box and toys — hey! Can that be your Christmas present from me?” Sam asks.
“If I’m gonna keep her, I probably can’t wait til Christmas for a litter box,” Steve says, leaning against his counter and smiling as he watches the cat eat. “But what if I get called out on a mission?”
“Honestly? Cats are better than dogs at being left alone, and you could always get another cat to keep her company if you really need to. Plus, I’m sure there’s some kid out there who would literally die to catsit for Captain America,” Sam tells Steve seriously. “If you’re gonna get a pet, I would recommend a cat. And a pet would probably do you a world of good.”
Steve nods at that, and feels a rush of gratitude toward Sam for not saying more. He knows Sam thinks he’s lonely, that living alone in Brooklyn isn’t good for him, and he’s dropped hints about Steve at least getting a pet to keep him company once or twice before.
Steve always shrugged him off, but as he watches the cat jump up on his sofa and start cleaning her paws, he thinks the idea might have more merit than he’d previously given it credit for.
“Yeah,” he says a little belatedly. “I think you might be right.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I usually am,” Sam tells him. “But seriously, I have no idea what to get you for Christmas.”
“I don’t want anything,” Steve says automatically, and the cat looks up at him from the couch.
“Not that you can get,” Steve interrupts.
There’s a sigh over the phone before Sam says, “cat toys, then?”
Steve chuckles a little, and the cat narrows her eyes. “That’d be great Sam, really.”
“Good to know,” Sam says.
There’s not much more to say, and they hang up pretty quick after that. Steve is quick to google the nearest pet store, and cat supplies.
“Mrow!” the cat says, purring and nudging up against his legs after he’s spent almost half an hour scrolling results on his phone.
“Right,” he says, turning off the screen and tucking the phone into his pocket. “You need a litter box, huh? And a name…”
“Mrrrow!” the cat says, jumping up on the counter.
“Hey, no!” Steve says, but doesn’t move to push her off. Instead, he lets her sniff his hand and shove her head against his knuckles.
She meows again, loudly, and jumps down.
“Litter box first,” he agrees, and goes to get his jacket.
When Steve gets home, only an hour later, arms full of cat supplies, the cat isn’t there. The door to his balcony, and subsequently the fire escape, is open.
Maybe he can check out the local shelter after Christmas, when people are returning pets they didn’t want after all.
He tells himself that’s what he’ll do, that she was clearly an outdoor cat anyway, and healthy despite ending up in a tree. She probably already has a home to get back to.
He puts the cat stuff in the spare bedroom, with the empty closet and dresser and new bed and clean sheets. He shuts the door behind him, like usual, and tries to get back to his day.
It’s cold in Brooklyn tonight, even for a soldier who was unmade and remade for low temperatures.
He shivers, hunching in on himself tighter. He should try to find better shelter than this dirty, dingy alley but he doesn’t have the energy for it, or maybe he’s just lacking the motivation.
A loud mrow! breaks the silence, and thankfully there’s no one around to see him flinch.
He looks up, tracing the sound, and his eyes land on the dumpster ten feet away. Underneath it, he can see two bright green eyes peering out at him.
“Mrow!” the cat says again, and crawls out from her hiding spot. She approaches the soldier warily, and he makes himself hold very still. She sniffs at his boots, and he slowly reaches out a hand for her.
He remember this, vaguely, how to act around a cat without spooking it. He thinks he maybe did this a lot, once, a very long time ago.
She sniffs, huffs, and butts at his outstretched palm.
“Mrow!” she says again, and turns away from him. He watches her walk to the alley entrance and pause, looking back at him. Almost as if she’s asking him to follow.
The soldier shivers again. Movement might help him warm up a little, so he stands.
The cat purrs as he does, and when he takes a few steps toward her she exits the alley, tail twitching. She only goes about five feet down the sidewalk before stopping again, and turning back to him.
Definitely wants him to follow, then.
With nothing better to do, the soldier does.
She leads him a few blocks over, into an even less friendly part of Brooklyn.
There’s an abandoned warehouse, all ground level and second story windows and doors boarded up and bolted shut.
She leaps nimbly, using the ledges, to a third floor window he can see is completely open. She looks down at him expectantly.
No normal human could make the jump, but the soldier hasn’t been a “normal human” for a very long time. It’s easy for him to scale the wall after her and enter the building.
The floor feels steady under his feet, and he follows the cat further in with his enhanced eyesight.
They go down to the second floor, through an old, open stairwell, and down a dusty hallway to a room near the center of the building.
The door is open, no barricade, and the room itself has one window solidly shut.
It’s warm here, the soldier realizes, or at least a fair bit warmer than outside in the snow. And no one else has found their way in, nor is anyone likely to find their way in. Whoever owns it probably won’t touch it until after the holiday season at the very earliest, if not spring.
He can be safe here, for a while.
He curls up in a corner, where he can see the door and the window easily but can’t be seen from them.
The cat joins him, pushing into his arms, against his chest.
She must be cold too, he thinks. Sharing body heat — something else he remembers doing at some point in his long distant past. More than once even, in multiple places — on multiple continents—
He shakes the memories off, checks his weapons, and falls asleep to the lullaby of the cat’s rhythmic purr.
The soldier wakes six hours later to the cat kneading at his belly. It’s still early, the room dark — though with the window boarded up, he doubts it ever gets truly light in here.
But the sun should be rising about now. He needs to find food, for himself and maybe even—
“Mrow!!” the cat says directly into his ear.
“Fine,” he grumbles, swatting half-heartedly at her, “m’up, m’up!”
He gets to his feet, and follows the cat back to the open third floor window and out, onto the empty street.
It’s stopped snowing finally, and the sun is starting to peek over the horizon. Hopefully today will be a little warmer than yesterday, the soldier thinks to himself.
The cat is meowing again, loudly, pacing in a tight circle, tail twitching as she stares intently at him.
“Yeah yeah, can’t let a guy wake up first, gotta get right to it huh?” he says. He’s not sure where the words come from, but they feel… familiar somehow. Like he’s maybe said them before.
The cat is clearly running out of patience, so he refocuses on the present and starts after her.
He’s not entirely sure where they’re going, but again, he doesn’t have anything better to do.
She leads him back to the nicer part of Brooklyn, where there are more people.
The streets slowly grow crowded, everyone rushing about their business, but the soldier notices everyone seems friendlier than usual today.
More people are laughing with each other, greeting each other with smiles as they pass by.
The cat weaves deftly between the other pedestrians with the soldier marching after her, keeping his head down.
Finally, she stops, bumping against a little chalkboard sign on the sidewalk. He frowns at her, glancing at the cafe they’re outside from the corner of his eye.
It’s crowded, though not as much as it could be. He can see there are still seats available, and the line at the counter is only three people deep.
The cat purrs, and he looks back at her, then reads the sign.
FREE COFFEE AND PASTRY!!!
ONE DAY ONLY!!!
The soldier narrows his eyes at the cat, as she sits out of the way and starts cleaning her paws. She seems smug to him.
But. Free food. Free coffee. A hot drink on a cold day, and he wouldn’t even have to pay for it.
He enters the cafe and gets in line.
The soldier ends up staying in the cafe longer than he meant to, reveling in being warm even as he stays tense and alert, sitting at a corner table with his back to the wall and watching the front and back doors.
The server ends up refilling his coffee, no charge, three times and even brings him a second free pastry.
He knows he can’t loiter all day, however, and after over an hour he makes himself stand and leave.
The cat isn’t out front. He tells himself he’s not disappointed, that he hadn’t hoped the cat waited for him. That’d be ridiculous, anyway, and the cat clearly had things to do.
He spends the rest of his day wandering Brooklyn. A few people make eye contact and say things like “merry Christmas!” and “happy holidays!” and he always makes himself give a smile and nod back.
He even manages a rough “you too” when a little girl says it, waving at him from her mother’s side. He watches them as they continue on their way for a couple minutes, the mother trying to hide a smile as her daughter yells “merry Christmas!” at everyone they pass.
The soldier thinks he remembers another little girl doing something similar. Once. Maybe.
As the sun begins to set a small handful of hours later, he makes his way back to the abandoned warehouse and scales the wall again.
He almost expects the cat to be there, waiting for him in the second floor room, but it’s empty.
He sighs to himself, and tries to get comfortable for another long night.
It’s still warmer in here than outside, but despite the sunny day snow clouds were rolling in, and the wind was picking up. He shivers, thinking of the voice he heard on someone’s car radio, warning of a blizzard blowing in.
He hopes the cat has somewhere else to go tonight.
Steve is pretending to himself he’s not ready for bed at 8pm, like the old man Natasha says he is.
He’s just flipping through channels on his TV, trying to settle on a Christmas special to watch. There are just so many of them, an abundance he never could’ve imagined, like everything else about the future.
A loud, familiar “mrow!!” interrupts him.
He shoots to his feet, turning toward his balcony, and sure enough, just outside—
“Hey!” Steve says as he opens the door. He gets a blast of freezing wind as he does so, and sees only white outside. “There you are! Are you okay?”
The cat pushes past him and goes straight for the front door of his apartment, where she starts scratching immediately.
“Hey!” Steve says again, “what’s that for, huh?”
“Mrow!!” she says, and twists away from him as he tries to grab her.
“Stop that,” he says, meaning the scratching, but she’s already moved on, sniffing instead at his heavy boots by the door, pawing at them and knocking them over.
“What’re you doin’?” Steve asks, confused, but she just goes back to the door, still meowing frantically.
“What, you want me to follow you or something?” he says, and immediately she switches to purring.
Steve frowns. “Is that… a yes?”
She rubs against his calf, then goes back to his boots, then the door.
“I guess so,” Steve says, mostly to himself. He grabs his heaviest coat, shoves his feet into his boots, and takes his phone off the charger, sticking it deep into one of his pockets.
“Okay cat,” he says, “I hope you know what you’re doin’. You know it’s almost a blizzard out there, right?”
She meows at him again, like of course she knows, does he think she’s stupid?
“Better hurry this up then,” he says, opening the door, and she purrs at him for a couple seconds before sprinting down the hallway to the stairs.
He follows her, down and out of his building, onto the freezing streets of Brooklyn.
Of all the many, many crazy things Steve’s done in his life, he thinks following a cat into a snowstorm might be one of the craziest. But, well, she seemed to know what she was doing?
He huffs a laugh under his breath, and picks up the pace in time with the cat. The snow and wind are almost blinding, but her red fur is a beacon in the night.
They’re walking quickly, but twenty minutes later and even Steve is starting to feel the chill.
“You know where you’re going?” he asks her, as they cross another street into a somewhat seedier area of town. She looks over her shoulder at him, and he could swear she was glaring.
“Sorry, of course you do!” he says, and the tip of her tail twitches.
It’s another five minutes, and Steve starting to seriously doubt his decision making skills, when she reaches an old, boarded up warehouse, and jumps up to a third floor window.
It’s clearly open, as she disappears inside, and Steve stares up. Her head peeks back out when he doesn’t immediately follow, and she meows down at him.
“Really?” he asks.
“Fine, stand back,” he tells her, and her head disappears. He looks around, sees no one, and jumps. The ledge is cold and slick under his hands, but he pulls himself up and in quick anyway.
“Now what?” he asks, when he sees her sitting, waiting for him. She purrs, then starts off down the hallway.
Steve sighs, pulls out his phone, turns on the flashlight function, and follows after her.
The mrrrow!! is what initially wakes the soldier, but he only has a few seconds to be relieved the cat made her way back before he hears a loud thump.
Someone else is in the building.
“Now what?” a voice asks distantly and the soldier… knows… that voice? Maybe?
He scrambles to his feet, gun in hand.
He can see light moving in the hallway, toward the door. He moves slowly, silently, positioning himself in the shadows so he won’t be seen immediately.
The door is pushed open a few inches, and the cat enters the room, purring loudly.
The light is right outside, then inside as the door opens more and someone—
The man from the bridge—
Target, Captain America, no—
“You’re my friend.”
“Steve?” the soldier says, and the light swings over to him, almost blinding him, gun still in his hand, steady and aimed, but his finger isn’t even on the trigger—
It’s easier than Steve could’ve hoped to convince Bucky to come back to his apartment with him. And he knows the weather is a huge part of that, but he can’t help thinking maybe Bucky agreed so quickly because Bucky finally wants to come home with Steve.
Steve manages to find the one cab still on the streets, and hails it so they don’t have to walk — the blizzard is really picking up now.
He tips the driver way too much, says “happy holidays”, and leads Bucky into his building and up the stairs.
“Do you want food? A shower? I have clothes you can wear,” Steve says rapidly once they’re inside.
“Um,” Bucky says, voice rough from disuse.
“Anything you need,” Steve says, “it’s yours.”
Bucky bites his lip uncertainly.
“Are you sure?” he asks after a tense minute of silence where they just stare at each other.
“Buck— yeah I’m sure, of course I’m sure, and you can stay here as long as you want, you can—” Steve cuts himself off, sucking in a harsh breath.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Bucky says slowly, and Steve’s heart breaks.
“Oh, um, I mean if you don’t want to that’s fine, you don’t have to, just, let me help—”
“No,” Bucky interrupts, “it’s not that…” he trails off.
“It’s not what, Buck?”
“I want to, not that I don’t want to I mean,” Bucky says, “but are you sure you want me to?”
“Bucky,” Steve says, trying not to choke on the sudden burning in his throat. “Of course I want you to stay, I— if you want to, please, please stay, I—”
“Steve,” Bucky says softly, “I’m not, I shouldn’t—”
“No!” Steve cuts him off, “whatever you are Buck, whoever you are now, if you want to stay here, with me, please, I want you here, I’ll always want—” and Steve can’t hold back a sob. He wraps his arms around himself, trying not to grab Bucky, to hold onto him, keep him from leaving.
“Steve,” Bucky says again, reaching out a hand slowly, like Steve’s a stray cat he doesn’t want to scare off.
“Bucky,” Steve whines, still holding himself back. He tries not to say it, he doesn’t want to pressure Bucky, but—
”I need you.”
“Stevie,” Bucky says, voice cracking, and holds out his arms.
Steve gasps, the nickname hitting him like a punch from the metal arm, and collapses into Bucky.
“Stevie,” Bucky mumbles into his hair, as Steve tries not to cry all over him. “I—” he starts, then stops.
“What, Buck?” Steve asks, voice muffled where he’s buried his face in Bucky’s chest.
“I’ll stay,” Bucky says, and Steve does start crying then.
They stand in the front room of Steve’s apartment for a long time, clinging to each other, unable and unwilling to let go.
“Hey, wait a second,” Bucky says, and Steve backs up.
“Yeah?” he asks, sniffling.
“What about the cat?”
Steve stares at him for a second before it hits him.
“Oh my god, we left her at the warehouse!” he says. “We have to go back for her! Or do you think she can find her way here again? She’s been here twice!”
Steve rushes over to his balcony door, opening it and looking out into the cold, snowy night.
“She’s been here?” Bucky asks, following him.
“Twice,” Steve confirms. “I found her stuck in a tree yesterday, got her down, took her here to warm up. Then she showed up again tonight.”
“What, you kicked her out after she warmed up?” Bucky asks.
“Huh?” Steve says, then, “no! Of course not! I uh… She got out, somehow, when I went… out…”
“I, um, maybe went to a pet store?”
“You were all ready to keep her, weren’t you?” Bucky asks, smiling.
Steve gives him a look. “Weren’t you?” And Bucky has to concede the point.
“There she is!” Bucky points, and they pile out onto the balcony, looking down into the street.
Sure enough, red fur standing out against the fresh snow, the cat is there. She’s sitting in the middle of the empty street, cleaning her paws, tail twitching.
When they’re both outside, leaning over the balcony, she looks up at them, green eyes glowing.
She moves her paw in what looks almost like a salute, before standing and starting to walk down the street, away from the apartment and into the snow.
“We have to get her!” Steve says, but Bucky puts a hand on his arm.
“No,” Bucky says softly, “I think she’ll be just fine. She has things to do, that cat.”
They watch, and in the space of one breath to the next it seems like she just disappears into the night.
“Busy cat,” Bucky says.
“Weird cat,” Steve corrects, and turns to Bucky. “It’s almost like she knew.”
“That, ha, all I wanted for Christmas this year was you,” Steve says, blushing and looking down, away from Bucky’s gaze.
Bucky watches him for a minute.
“Steve,” he says, and Steve looks up.
“Yeah?” he asks, and Bucky leans over and kisses him.
Steve freezes for a split second, then positively melts into Bucky, kissing him back.
“Merry Christmas, punk,” Bucky says against his lips.
“Merry Christmas jerk,” Steve replies. “Let’s go inside?”
They do, and Steve shows Bucky around, gets him some new clothes, lets him take a nice hot shower while Steve fixes something to eat.
“So,” Bucky says when he enters the kitchen, hair wet, looking cozy in Steve’s ugly Christmas sweater (courtesy of Natasha the year before) and sweatpants. “What’re you planning to do with all the cat stuff?”
Steve stares at him, grinning wider than he has all year.
“No idea,” he says happily, and they both laugh.
The next morning, Christmas morning, they wake up simultaneously at the sound of soft, high pitched mews coming from outside Steve’s front door.
They look at each other, confused because that definitely doesn’t sound like The Cat, but it’s definitely a cat, before running to open the door.
Outside, there’s a wicker basket packed with a blanket.
And two kittens, a boy with red fur and green eyes like a smaller version of their magic cat, and a girl with fur that’s so gray it’s almost blue and eyes to match.
Steve and Bucky stare down at them as they keep mewing loudly. The boy almost tips the basket over trying to climb out before Steve squats down and picks him up.
“Guess this is what we’re doing with the cat stuff,” Bucky says, crouching next to him and picking up the girl.
Steve hides his face in the boy’s fur, but Bucky knows he’s smiling.
Bucky is too.