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oh meet me, my darling, where the sun sets over the barley

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On Saturday, Steve wakes up without an alarm blaring in his ear. It's early, the rising sun peeking into the little crevice between his shut curtains, casting an orange light in the room, because his internal clock refuses to let him sleep in. He rolls over onto his back and inhales deeply, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and yawning.

There's no dog there to wake him up by impatiently nudging him either. When he lifts his head and looks, Cooper isn't in his usual spot at the foot of the bed, snoring softly. He's not asleep in his own bed on the floor either or anywhere else in the room and Steve can't hear him trotting around in the quiet apartment.

Steve lays back for a minute, then he pulls himself up and out of bed with a groan. He throws on a pair of sweats and a loose shirt before he steps out of his room and quietly walks over to Lily's. The door is standing ajar but he pushes it open a little more and pokes his head inside.

Cooper lifts his head when he does. He's laying on Lily's bed, curled up by her feet, and when he sees it's just Steve looking in, he lays his head back down with a soft harrumph and closes his eyes. Lily is still sound asleep, rolled onto her side with her back to the door and breathing deeply.

Steve smiles at them and steps back out, quietly closing the door after him.

It's the weekend. They can sleep in if they want, there's no need to wake them.

He heads into the bathroom to empty his bladder and take a shower. He decides to let himself have a nice, long shower under the warm water since he doesn't have a shift at the hospital this weekend and cleans himself thoroughly, then he steps out and gives his beard a quick trim before he cleans his skin and dries himself off. He gets dressed in his room and then heads for the kitchen.

There, he starts brewing some coffee and pulls what he needs out of the fridge to make breakfast. He likes quiet mornings like this. It's not often he gets to have them, not after having Lily and especially not after getting Cooper too, but every once in a while he does. Not that he would trade his daughter or dog for more mornings like this, no. He wouldn't trade it for the world.

He eats his breakfast at the table in the dining/living room while he scans over the paper, scrolls through his twitter feed, and drinks his coffee. He's about halfway through his cup, plate empty with only crumbs left, when there's the sound of keys in the door's lock.

There's no wall between the foyer and the dining/living room so when the door opens, Steve locks eyes with Sharon right away. He smiles at her and sets his cup of coffee down as he swallows his mouthful.

“Morning,” he says. “There's coffee in the kitchen, if you want a cup.”

“That's just what I need, thank you,” Sharon says and heads for the kitchen after closing the door.

She comes back out a couple minutes later with a cup of steaming coffee in her hand and sits down on one of the chairs around the table. She takes a careful sip and then leans back with a satisfied sigh, stretching her legs out under the table.

She's in sweats and not her usual work clothes today which means she must have the day off like Steve. She comes here a lot, mostly to hang out with Lily but occasionally to hang out with Steve too. Steve met her through Peggy, the two of them more sisters than cousins since they grew up together after Peggy moved to America, and they grew close fast.

And not just because she's Peggy cousin/sister.

After a long silence, Steve puts his phone down and asks, “How's the wrist doing?”

Sharon lifts her right arm and looks down at the brace wrapped around the wrist. She sprained it on her latest assignment. Occupational hazard, she always says when she gets hurt. She's an agent with Shield like Natasha—they don't work in the same department and are rarely on assignments together but they make it work—and Steve knows their assignments usually involve danger.

Steve has long since stopped keeping track on both Sharon and Natasha's “occupational hazard” injuries. The number is too high, anyway.

“Better,” Sharon says. “I think. Haven't moved it much.”

“I would've liked that answer better if you'd said you haven't moved it at all.”

“It's not my first sprained wrist, Steve. I know how to deal with it.”

“I know. But it's also been a day—”

“It's been two days. Roughly.”

“Fine, two days and you should keep it still for the first forty-eight hours.”

Sharon sighs and lifts her cup. “You're annoying,” she says into the brim.

“Yeah, god forbid I care about my friends and how their injuries heal.”

Sharon chuckles but says nothing, busy taking a sip of her coffee.

“You seen your doctor yet?”

Sharon lowers the cup and gives him a flat look.

Steve stares back and raises his brows pointedly.

“I'm seeing him right now,” she says.

Steve returns the flat look. “I'm not a doctor.”

“You're a medical professional. Close enough.”

Steve stares at her, look still flat.

Sharon smiles back sweetly and holds her wrist out to him.

Steve stares for a while before he sighs dejectedly and pushes his own cup out of the way. He scoots his chair a little closer to her and takes her arm in hand, unwrapping the brace around her wrist as gently and as carefully as he can.

“This is my day off,” he reminds her as he does.

“Aren't you the one who said you care about your friends and how their injuries heal?”

Steve shoots her a look and she smiles back.

He looks her wrist over, gently pressing down and carefully stretching her fingers, doing as thorough an exam as he can in his own dining/living room. After, he takes the brace and wraps it back around her wrist though not as tightly as she had it before.

“Do some stretches,” he says, “and see your doctor on Monday. You should be fine.”

“Thank you, nurse Rogers,” Sharon says and takes her arm back once he's done.

Steve rolls his eyes at her but there's a smile on his lips that he can't force away.

They drink their coffee in silence. The building starts to wake up after a while, people buzzing around above them and in the hall outside, quiet footsteps and distant voices both from the building and out on the street. The windows are closed but New York tends to be loud.

When their cups are empty, Steve gets up to get them away. He comes back with a glass of water for them both as well as a plate with a bun and scrambled eggs for Sharon who takes both with a mouthed thank you.

Steve makes it halfway through a trending hashtag on twitter before Sharon speaks again.

“What's Lily up to today?” she asks.

“Practicing her dance moves,” Steve says without looking up. “Homework. The usual. Why?”

“I was thinking I might take her into town. Have a bit of a Girls' Day.”

Steve looks up with a smile and says, “You haven't had one of those in a while.”

“And that's a problem,” Sharon says. “It's... a good tradition.”

Steve wasn't there when it happened but when Sharon came out, Peggy made Saturdays their Girls' Day™. It started out with rebuilding Sharon's whole closet, replacing her boy clothes with clothes that fit Sharon and not who she was before. The cheap solution would've been Peggy giving her the clothes she didn't want or didn't fit her anymore but Peggy refused that.

“A girl's gotta figure out her own style,” Peggy'd said.

Steve knows because Sharon has told him the stories multiple times now. She's told him about how Girls' Day went from being about clothes to being about her hair and everything else exterior to just the two of them hanging out. And when their friend group grew bigger, it was about doing whatever the hell they wanted. Just the girls.

And when Lily was born, she was invited to those days. Sharon kept up with it after Peggy deployed too but life gets busy and things get in the way and it's been a few months since they last had a Girls' Day. And, as Sharon said, that's a problem.

Steve smiles at her, soft and small. “I think that'd be a good idea,” he says.

“Good,” Sharon says and smiles back. “I'm gonna kidnap your daughter for the day, then.”

Steve laughs. “Have fun. I'm gonna take a fat nap.”

Sharon laughs too, chuckling as she takes a bite of the bun.

Lily gets up not long after. Cooper comes trotting out to them and makes a beeline for Sharon, wagging his tail and leaning his muzzle into her thigh until she scratches him behind the ear. Lily isn't far behind though she doesn't look like she's completely awake yet.

She drags her feet across the floor and heads over to Steve. Steve shifts and opens himself up, helping her get comfortable when she climbs into his lap and curls up with her knees tugged up to her chest and her head pillowed against his chest. Her eyes are closed and she sighs as she settles.

“Morning,” Steve says and kisses the top of her head.

Lily grunts in reply but manages a muttered, “Morning.”

“Sleep okay?”

“Yeah.” Lily yawns and rubs at her eye. “Can I have Lucky Charms for breakfast?”

“Sure,” Steve says and brushes the hair out of her face. “But only 'cause it's Saturday. And only if you get it yourself.”

Lily makes a noise in complaint but she doesn't argue and slides back out of his lap after a minute. She rounds the table and throws her arms around Sharon in a quick hug before she disappears into the kitchen. Cooper trots after her with his tail standing tall.

When they come back, Lily looks a little more awake and she's already got a mouthful of Lucky Charms in her mouth, a droplet of milk on her lip. She sits down on the chair across the table from Sharon and swallows her mouthful right before scooping in another.

Steve leans back in his seat and reaches a hand out to pet Cooper when he comes over and rests his head on his knee, sitting down by his feet with his tail dragging across the floor. He probably wants to go out, Steve knows, but he can wait a little bit.

When Lily is halfway through her bowl, Sharon asks, “What are your plans for today, Lily?”

“Homework,” Lily says around her mouthful. “And dance practice.”

“Clean your room,” Steve says quietly, teasingly.

“Nope,” Lily says and shakes her head. “That's not on my schedule.”

Steve smiles, amused.

“Good plans,” Sharon says. “But do you think you could make some room for a Girls' Day?”

Lily stops eating and looks up, her eyes wide with excitement. “Girls' Day?” she asks around her mouthful, voice raised but words muffled.

“Don't talk with your mouth full,” Steve says.

“Girls' Day,” Sharon confirms with a chuckle and a nod.

Lily wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and asks, “Can we go look at new dance shoes?”

“You just got some a month ago,” Steve says but he's ignored.

“Of course we can,” Sharon says. “We can do whatever we want.”

Lily smiles at her, wide and toothy.



After Lily finishes her breakfast and gets dressed, she leaves with Sharon.

The apartment is so quiet without them. Cooper is still here but he doesn't make much noise when he's just laying by Steve's feet, half asleep and being the embodiment of patience. However, the second Steve moves to get up from his seat, Cooper shoots up like lighting and looks at him pleadingly.

Steve takes him out to the yard. Cooper shits and pees and gets fed breakfast when they come back inside the apartment. On a day off like this where Lily is out with someone else, Steve would usually go for a run and take Cooper with him but all it takes is one look around the apartment and he knows it's not gonna happen.

The place is starting to look like a mess and he may as well utilize this alone time.

He cleans the whole place thoroughly. Lily's room is surprisingly clean for an eleven year old who hates cleaning as much as she does. There's some clothes thrown carelessly onto the unmade bed and an old towel on her chair and the floor is a little dirty too but otherwise, it's not bad at all.

Steve's own room is much worse. He has always been a bit of a messy person. Bucky used to tease him about it well into their teens and Peggy did the same when they lived together, though more sternly and withholding kisses until he put the dishes in the dishwasher rather than the sink.

In college, Sam made a divider along the floor of their shared dorm room with duct tape and told him that if he got his mess over on his side of the room, Steve would be buying him dinner of his choosing. And Steve knew that Sam wouldn't pick anything cheap so he made an effort.

Steve has gotten a little better over the years. Living with Peggy helped a lot because she forced him to be better about it for the time they lived together but having Lily did the job. Becoming a dad forced him to be better about keeping the place clean, especially when she was a baby and even more so when she learned how to walk and grew tall enough to reach counters.

Steve has gotten better but it's still a constant struggle and challenge.

He's juggling being a dad and having a demanding job.

If he had the extra money for a cleaning service, he'd happily pay it. But he doesn't.

He likes days like this though; to send Lily off with her aunt or uncle or Daniel to do something fun while he does the boring job of cleaning and taking care of their living arrangement, making her home here a little nicer to be at. Don't get him wrong, he loves spending time with his daughter. But even he needs a break every once in a while.

Steve cleans for a few hours. By the time the apartment has been vacuumed thoroughly and looks as good as new (roughly), noon is nearing and his stomach rumbles loudly, breakfast long since digested. He puts the vacuum away and gets into some more appropriate clothes, then he puts a leash on Cooper and leaves the apartment.

There's a cafe about half an hour on foot from his building. It's a nice little corner cafe, the owner knows all the regulars by name and greets them with a smile and a free cup of something warm on the cold days and something cold on the warm days, Steve included. Everyone is welcome there, regardless of how many legs the guest has.

(Thor—the owner, a big Norwegian man with hair always put in gorgeous braids and an impressive beard—loves Cooper and Cooper loves him back. There have been times where Thor will even make something special for Cooper, that's how much they love each other.

Steve doesn't mind it. Cooper is a lovable guy who deserves to be treated that way.)

When Steve gets there, Daniel is already sitting at a table outside the cafe with a glass of something cold in front of him and his cane leaning against the chair's armrest. He's in what Steve knows is his work clothes; a light colored suit though he's taken off the blazer and rolled up his sleeves so he's clearly in no hurry to get back to the office.

Steve approaches with Cooper by his side. It doesn't take long for Daniel to notice them.

“Steve,” he says and turns to him with a smile. He moves to stand but Steve stops him.

“Don't even think about it,” Steve says. “We'll come to you.”

Daniel doesn't protest and sits back down. He does scoot to the edge of his seat though and holds his hands out to pet Cooper when he comes up to him, tail wagging and rough tongue licking at his palms the moment they're in reach. Daniel smiles down at him and pets his head, then he lifts his gaze and looks at Steve.

“Hi,” he says. “You wanna grab something to drink, eat?”

“Yeah, I'm starving.” Steve holds the leash out and asks, “Look after him for a second, will you?”

Daniel nods and wordlessly takes the leash.

Steve heads into the cafe to get himself something cold to drink and a sandwich to eat. Thor isn't there to greet him like he is more often than not but he's stood by a table at the other end of the place, talking to an elderly man whom Steve knows comes here every day, and sees Steve when he walks back out.

Thor raises his hand in greeting, smile big on his face, and Steve nods in return with a smile before he heads out to join Daniel again. He sits down on the chair across the table from Daniel and puts his things down, then he takes Cooper's leash back and makes him lay down by their feet, mindful of Daniel's bad leg.

Cooper is careful and ends up making himself comfortable halfway under the table.

“So,” Steve says after getting himself situated. “How 're things?”

“They're alright,” Daniel says. “I got a new addition to the garden this weekend.”

Steve smiles. “Yeah? What's this one?”

“Basil. I planted them next to the thyme.”

“Ah. Starting a little area for your cooking herbs?”

“Maybe. I think I might get some parsley too, some rosemary.”

Steve hums and takes a bite of his sandwich. “What are you gonna make with the basil?” he asks around it.

“I'll probably just add it to things I already make,” Daniel says. “Like the goat cheese salad. I heard basil is good in cocktails too. Might try that.”

“You gonna make some mocktails too?”

“Of course. You know I always make an alternative for you and Riley.”

“You're too good for us, Sousa.”

Daniel chuckles and waves his hand at him dismissively.

Steve smiles and takes another bite. As he does, he watches Daniel. There's a look in his averting gaze, one that Steve has become very familiar with since Daniel started showing an interest in gardening a few years ago and one that makes his next question mute to ask but he does anyway.

“Did you buy another succulent too?”

Daniel smiles, a little sheepishly. “I might have,” he says.

Steve swallows his bite, then he leans forward and says, “Alright, go ahead. Show it to me.”

Daniel smiles a little wider and grabs his phone from the table. He thumbs around on it for a couple seconds before he turns it over and shows the screen to Steve. There's a picture of Daniel's indoor succulent shelf. The new addition to the collecting is front and center; planted in a pot and looking like a bunch of rabbit ears, fuzzy with dark spots along the edges.

“It's called a panda plant,” Daniel tells him.

Steve shoots him a glance. “Panda plant?”

“Kalanchoe tomentosa, actually, but that's a mouthful.”

“It doesn't look like a panda though.”

“No, it looks more like rabbits.”

“I was thinking the exact same thing,” Steve says and leans back in his chair.

Daniel does the same, putting his phone back down.

“You got a name for it yet?” Steve asks after a beat.

“I don't know,” Daniel muses. “I was thinking Aphrodite.”

“Not Thumper?”

“I'm not gonna break the mythology theme to name it after a Disney character.”

“Aw, come on. Just one?”

Daniel pauses, then he shrugs and says, “Maybe the next plants.”

“I'll take it,” Steve says with a smile.

He doesn't know what makes him look away. There's nothing catching his attention from the corner of his eye but right as he lift his glass to take a sip of his drink, his eyes leave Daniel and he glances down the sidewalk and stops when he spots his brain's favorite thing to bring up; Bucky.

Bucky is crouched down with a black plastic bag in his right hand, picking something up from the ground. Titan is standing obediently at his side, the leash attached to his collar loose but he's staying close. Unlike the last time Steve saw him, Titan is wearing his vest. It's bright red and with the words SERVICE DOG printed in white along the side. Underneath, it says Do Not Pet.

Bucky isn't wearing as many layers today either. He's just in a simple black button up with a print of blue flowers at the bottom that fades away into the black color of the shirt and disappears around the chest as well as a pair of jeans that cling to his legs. When he stands, Steve spots the walking belt wrapped around his waist, Titan's leash attached to his left side and a pouch similar to Steve's own to his right.

Steve lets himself just stare for a while, watching as Bucky steps over to a nearby trashcan and dumps the bag there. But when Cooper lifts his head and makes a noise of interest, clearly having spotted a dog he knows, Steve snaps out of it and quickly reaches out to grab Cooper's leash in a short and tight hold.

Daniel notices when he does. He leans into his view a little which makes Steve glance his way instead of staring at Bucky. Daniel raises his brows in question and when Steve only answers with tight lips and flushed cheeks, Daniel turns and looks over his shoulder.

It doesn't take more than a couple seconds before Daniel spots Bucky. Steve knows because when he does, Daniel turns back to him with a smile on his lips. It's not teasing, it's curious, but Steve still blushes in embarrassment.

“Friend of yours?” Daniel asks him.

Steve shrugs a shoulder and quietly says, “You could say that.”

Daniel looks at him for a calculating moment, then he turns back around and looks toward Bucky. Steve does the same only to find Bucky already looking back at him, obviously taken by surprise judging by the slack look on his face.

Bucky stares at him and Steve stares back. But it's not long before Steve smiles and lifts a hand in a slightly awkward hello. It takes a moment before Bucky smiles back and when he does, it appears on his lips almost shyly. Shy or not, he doesn't hesitate to come over toward their table, Titan following by his side.

Cooper is immediately interested but Steve is quick to tell him, “Stay,” so he doesn't move.

“Three times in one week,” Bucky says and comes to a stop by their table, though a couple steps away so Cooper doesn't distract Titan. “Either this is fate or you're stalking me.”

Steve huffs out a laugh and says, “I'm gonna stick with coincidence.”

Bucky sighs, dejected. “Why'd you have to grow up to be so boring?”

“Life beat me down,” Steve says with fake wistfulness.

“Who knew the thing that would beat Steve Rogers and keep him down would be life?” Bucky clicks his tongue and says, “Such a shame.”

“Well. Life's a bitch.”

Bucky chuckles quietly, shaking his head a little. He stands there in silence for a moment but then his attention shifts to Daniel who is looking between the two of them with a curious and interested gaze.

Steve flushes and clears his throat.

Daniel smiles at him, then he turns to Bucky, holds out his hand, and says, “Daniel Sousa.”

“Bucky Barnes,” Bucky says and shakes his hand. “Sorry to interrupt your, uh. Meeting?”

“You're not interrupting,” Steve tells him.

Bucky looks at him, then he looks back at Daniel.

“You're not,” Daniel confirms.

Steve scoffs and asks, “What, you don't believe me?”

“I like to have multiple sources,” Bucky says with a shrug. “Teacher habit, I suppose.”

“Sure.” Steve shifts in his seat, then he says, “Well, uh. It's good to see you again.”

“You too,” Bucky says and smiles. “I was actually hoping I'd run into you again soon.”

Steve quirks a brow. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. I was gonna ask for your number last week but. Didn't wanna keep you too long.”

Keep me forever, Steve almost says but doesn't and instead says, “Give me your phone.”

Bucky digs his phone out of the pouch on his belt and hands it over after unlocking it. It looks either new or just well taken care of which, knowing how Bucky used to be with every piece of technology back in the day, could very well be both.

The background is a picture of Titan laying on his back with all his face folds flopped upward and his white teeth showing. He's on a couch somewhere, his hind legs spread wide with one paw on a decorative pillow and the other hanging in the air. If pictures had sound, this one would be snoring and Steve can't help but smile at it.

Steve lets himself look at it for a couple seconds before he puts his number into Bucky's contacts. He saves himself under the name Steve Rogers , as if Bucky wouldn't know who he is if he'd just put in Steve. After, he looks back up at Bucky and holds the phone out to him.

“There you go,” he says with a smile.

Bucky takes the phone back and returns the smile but he keeps his eyes on the phone. He thumbs through it with his right hand, moving surprisingly quick for someone only using one hand and one thumb, a lot faster than Steve does with two hands and two thumbs. But then again, he supposes, Bucky is used to it.

“And,” Bucky says just as Steve feels his pocket vibrate, “now you got mine too.”

Steve pulls his phone out and opens the message.

Unknown, 12:32PM :

Steve lifts his gaze and gives Bucky a look. Bucky smiles in return, so Steve rolls his eyes but he doesn't fight the smile that pulls at his lips and merely lets it grow wide.

“I'm gonna save you under Shithead,” he says but doesn't.

“That's fine,” Bucky says, putting his phone back into the pouch. “I'll give you a better name too.”

“Like what?”

“It's a secret.”

Steve huffs at him but doesn't press.

“Anyway,” Bucky says then. “I should get going. Got a pile of work that needs to be dealt with.”

“Right, of course. Are you coming to the park tomorrow?”

“Maybe.” Bucky shrugs. “I'm hanging out with Clint tonight, so. Depends on how that goes.”

Steve's smile freezes on his lips. He ignores the pang of jealousy in his chest and says, “Ah.”

He has no right to be jealous. What he was to Bucky was a friend and nothing more. The fact that Steve had feelings for him and didn't realize it until too late doesn't matter and didn't matter then either because those feelings weren't reciprocated. It's been eighteen years, Bucky has someone and Steve is happy for him.

But he can't deny that it hurts anyway.

For so long, Steve has wanted to believe he was over him. And maybe he was purely because he didn't have to see Bucky or hear his voice or even think about him because he forced himself not to once they drifted apart and lost contact. But having Bucky back in his life, even as little as it is, is making his heart do things it hasn't done since he was a teenager.

And maybe he isn't as over him as he thought he was.

Not that it matters.

“And even if I don't,” Bucky says as he takes a step back, a smile on his lips, “the universe will push us back together again.”

Steve gives him a flat look, then he rolls his eyes and laughs.

Bucky laughs with him and he says, “See you 'round,” before he turns around and walks away.

Steve keeps his eyes on him as he does so when Bucky looks over his shoulder a little ways down the sidewalk, he catches him do it. Bucky blinks at him, then he smiles and does a little wave and Steve doesn't stop himself from waving back. Bucky turns back around and disappears around the corner after that, Titan trotting alongside him calmly.

Steve doesn't turn back to his own company right away. He sits there for a minute and tries to subtly calm his heart a little so it's not racing in his chest anymore. It works but then he turns around and sees Daniel already looking back at him, a smile on his lips that reminds him too much of Peggy's gotcha smile, and then Steve's heartbeat picks up again and his face flushes.

Oh boy.

He busies himself by looking down at Cooper and readjusts his hold on his leash. He clears his throat before he says, “So. You're still picking up Lily tomorrow, right?”

“After her dance class, yes,” Daniel says. “I've got the day off, don't worry.”

“Great,” Steve says. “And if she wants to stay the night—”

“I'll let you know,” Daniel finishes for him. “Can we talk about what happened or do you want to keep avoiding it?”

Steve chews on his lip. “If I say I wanna keep avoiding it, will you let me?”

“You know the answer to that.”

Steve sighs and leans back in his seat. “I'm sure Sharon's already told you,” he says.

“She might have mentioned something. But I want to hear it from you.”

Steve hesitates, then he lifts his head and looks at Daniel.

“That was Bucky,” he says. “My childhood best friend up until high school.”

“And?” Daniel asks, prompting.

“And,” Steve echoes, then pauses for a beat before he continues. “And I was in love with him.”

“And now?”

Steve thinks about it for a moment. “I think there's still something there,” he says. “For me. But I don't think there ever was anything there for him, between us.”

Bucky never did bring up the kiss, after all. And he didn't reach out either.

Not that Steve made much of an effort either but. He was terrified.

“I won't tell you you're wrong,” Daniel says, “because I don't really know him.”

Steve huffs. “Neither do I, to be honest.”

“No but you know. You know when there's something there.”

Steve sighs and says, “Even if you're right and things have changed, it doesn't matter. I don't have time for romance, failed or successful.”

“Funny,” Daniel says with a smile. “Peggy said the same thing when we first met.”

“This is different.”

“More complicated, I'm sure. But is it that different?”

Steve is quiet for a moment, then he clenches his jaw and swallows thickly.

“Can we go back to avoiding it?” he asks quietly.

Daniel seems to hesitate but he nods anyway and drops the subject.

Steve smiles at him, a silent thank you.



Steve knows that he has to deal with these feelings eventually.

But eventually can wait. He doesn't want to deal with them right now. Especially if dealing with those feelings will push Bucky out of his life again. He can't let that happen, not when he just got him back. He can't mess up again.



Steve makes it back home around three in the afternoon. He takes Cooper off his leash after closing the door behind them and Cooper makes a beeline for his water bowl, panting a little even though all they did was walk. After, and before Steve has even gotten out of his shoes and jacket, Cooper trots over to the couch, hops up, and makes himself comfortable on his spot there.

The apartment is still empty. Sharon and Lily aren't back yet and Steve doesn't expect them back for at least another couple hours. To make it feel a little less empty, he puts on some music while he strips out of his clothes on his way to his bedroom.

He gets dressed in something more comfortable; a pair of loose and worn sweats and a thin shirt that has been washed so much over the years that the print on the chest is practically gone. He forgoes socks because he doesn't feel like wearing them but he does step into his slippers on the way back out of his room.

He cuts up what's left of the melon from a couple days ago and puts it in a bowl that he brings with him to the couch in the dining/living room. Cooper moves closer to him the moment he sits down and curls up by his thigh, though not before giving him pleading looks until Steve feeds him a piece of melon.

Halfway through an episode of a show Riley has been trying to get him to watch for ages, his attention drifts. His phone is on the coffee table, locked but sound and vibration on in case he ends up falling asleep on the couch. He chews on his lip for a moment, considering, then he reaches out to grab it and unlocks it.

He opens up the one message long conversation with Bucky and pauses. His thumb hovers, presses a couple letters, deletes them again.

How do you start a conversation with someone you haven't had a full length conversation with for eighteen years? Especially when you messed up your friendship by having feelings that weren't quite platonic. A simple hi, with or without a smiley face, seems too little and not enough. A long greeting seems like too much. Something witty, maybe, but his mind is blank.

It shouldn't be this hard. This is a man who used to be his best friend, the person he could and did share everything with, no matter how ridiculous or stupid, the person who brightened his worst days, the person who stuck with him even when he didn't have to.

But so much time has passed and they're practically strangers now.

How do you start a conversation after so long? Steve doesn't know.

In the end, he doesn't manage to draft up a text to Bucky. He only manages to type out a hey to start and then the door to the apartment is unlocked and Lily comes skipping inside with a bag in each hand and Sharon following in behind.

Steve smiles and puts his phone down. “Welcome back, ladies,” he says. “How was Girls' Day?”

“Good!” Lily says as she comes bounding over to the couch. She throws the bags next to Steve right before she throws herself next to Cooper, burying her face in the fur on his chest when he rolls over and exposes his belly, his tail wagging happily.

Sharon joins Steve on the couch, moving the bags to the table instead.

Steve asks her, “What did you guys end up doing?”

“This and that,” Sharon says vaguely. “Looked at some new dance shoes.”

“Anything good?”

“I don't know. Why don't you show your dad, Lily?”

Lily pulls herself off Cooper and throws herself at Steve instead. Steve catches her before she lands too heavily in an unfortunate place—she's eleven and this isn't the first time she's done something like it, he knows to anticipate it—and rearranges her so she can grab the bags from the table.

She opens one and pulls out a shoe box with a huge and excited smile on her face. Before she even opens it to take out the dance shoes he knows are in there, Steve looks over her head to look at Sharon. Sharon meets his eye and winks at him, smiling when he does.

He mouths a silent thank you and Sharon mouths back you're welcome.

They both need to do better at making Girls' Day more regular. It's good for them.



Steve doesn't text Bucky that night. In the end, Bucky is the one who texts him.

It happens Sunday around noon when Steve is cleaning up after a late brunch and cartoons with Lily. Lily has disappeared into her room to get out of her pajamas and into some actual clothes so they can take Cooper to the park, like every other Sunday.

His phone vibrates on the kitchen counter but he ignores it for a minute in favor of putting all the dishes in the dishwasher and getting it started once it's full so it can run while they're out. Once he's done, he picks up his phone and smiles when he sees the text from Bucky. The smile, however, falls the second he opens it.

Bucky, 12:02PM :
i won't be making it to the park today. something came up with clint. next week maybe?

They didn't have a set date so being disappointed feels stupid. What feels even more stupid is being angry about it. Maybe it's his own fault for expecting the day to go one way when that way wasn't set in a promise or maybe he's angry that someone else got to have Bucky loving them.

He doesn't respond to the text. He puts his phone away and cleans the kitchen while Lily gets ready to keep his mind off it. Lily comes bounding out into the kitchen with Cooper on her heels not long after and announces that she's ready to go.

And when they make it to the park, Steve pointedly doesn't think about Bucky.