Mornings are always the same.
Steve drops Lily off at school and takes the subway to the hospital. He drops off his things in his locker and gets changed into his work shoes, then he grabs a mug from the cabinet in the staff room and pours himself a coffee that he takes out to the computer where he'll sit and catch up on his patients' reports while he drinks it.
Sometimes his days are different because he works at a hospital and hospitals are unpredictable but this Monday morning is no different than the other mornings, so when Claire comes walking up to him with her bag slung over her shoulder and her jacket already on, he only glances at her before his eyes move back to the screen in front of him.
“Morning, Claire,” he says and sets his cup down. “You heading out?”
“Yeah, my bed is calling,” Claire says. She stops next to him and lifts her arm, rests her elbow on the divider wall next to the computers. “There's a patient in room 313. Clint Barton.”
Steve clicks over and reads, then he frowns. “He fell out of a window?”
“That's what his friend says.”
“And what does he say?”
“He was a little out of it when he was brought in yesterday but he says the same thing. And he's deaf and doesn't want to wear his hearing aids because apparently they give him a headache.”
“A mild one. We have him on Tylenol.”
“I'll get him his morning dose, then.”
“Good.” Claire puts her arm back down and says, “He was mostly lucid when I checked on him so you should be fine. And his friend knows sign language but—”
“So do I,” Steve finishes for her and scoots his chair back.
“And that's exactly why you got him,” Claire says with a smile.
Steve returns the smile and stands. He gives her shoulder a squeeze and says, “Go home, get some sleep.”
Claire gives him a two-fingered salute with a tired sigh.
When she leaves, Steve takes his empty cup back to the kitchen and then heads for the medicine closet. He gets the right medication for Barton and then heads to room 313. He knocks lightly on the door when he gets there so Barton's friend knows he's coming before he pushes the door open and steps inside.
The smile on his lips freezes when he finds Bucky staring back at him inside.
Bucky is sitting on the chair in the corner, his hair put up in a loose ponytail. He's in sweats and a short sleeved shirt that sits loosely across his chest, the left sleeve ending less than an inch from where his prosthetic starts. The prosthetic is mostly black with some white decorative lines, the joints more mechanical than the rest.
Titan is laying by his feet, blinking lazily and wearing his vest.
There's a surprised look on Bucky's face, eyes a little wider behind his glasses and mouth parted in a slack o. But only for a moment before his face morphs into a smile that spreads wide on his lips and shows a row of white teeth.
“Look at that,” he says. “Told you the universe would push us back together again.”
Steve's face drops into a flat expression. “The universe doesn't care about us,” he says.
“Clearly it does.”
Steve rolls his eyes and turns his attention to the bed instead.
Clint Barton is a blond, white man. He's sitting with his legs crisscross and back against the tilted up bed. His left arm is in a sling, wrist and right leg in casts, and he's got a band-aid on his forehead, probably covering up stitches, and several bruises and scratches everywhere.
He looks oddly familiar.
Steve connects the dots quickly; that's Clint from the diner, aka Bucky's boyfriend.
Steve puts on a smile and walks over to him. “Good morning,” he says, signing with his empty hand. “I'm Steve, your day nurse. How are we feeling today?”
Clint gives him a thumbs up and says, “I'm starving.”
“Lucky for you,” Steve says and hands him the pills. “Breakfast is served in thirty minutes.”
Clint makes a face as he takes the pills. He signs, “Too long.”
“I can't magic it faster, unfortunately.” Steve takes the cup back from Clint when he's downed the pills, then he asks, “How's the pain?”
“Manageable,” Clint says and signs. “When can I go home?”
“Depends on how you're feeling later,” Steve tells him.
“Give me an estimate.”
“Okay.” Steve thinks for a second. He says, “Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.”
Clint sits back heavily with a sigh. “Good enough,” he signs after a moment, though he doesn't look happy about it.
Steve gives him a smile that he hopes comes off reassuring, then he shoots Bucky a glance. Bucky is looking at him but he's no longer sitting in the chair. He's stood up now, hands in the pockets of his sweats. Titan hasn't moved from his spot on the floor, he looks practically asleep though his eyes are still a little open.
When their eyes meet, Bucky smiles at him. Steve returns it briefly before turning back to Clint.
“If you need anything,” he says, “you can buzz me and I'll be right there.”
“Breakfast?” Clint asks him.
“You get special delivery.”
Clint grins at him, wide and toothy.
Steve smiles back at him. Then he shoots one final glance at Bucky before he turns to head back out of the room. The door hasn't closed behind him when he hears Bucky tell Titan to stay followed by a rush of footsteps coming toward him.
Steve keeps walking but he slows down, taking in a deep breath.
Bucky catches up with him halfway to the nurse station.
“Hey,” he says as he comes to walk next to him, on his left side.
Steve doesn't know if it's intentional or not—he's partially deaf in his right ear and Bucky used to always stay on his left side because of it—but it makes his heart do a funny flip in his chest.
“How did he fall out of the window?” he asks instead of greeting him back.
Next to him, Bucky huffs. “The first and only thing you need to know about Clint,” he says, “is that he's a fucking moron.”
Steve shoots him a look and says, “That doesn't answer my question.”
“The answer is, I don't know. This idiot gets hurt more often than I can keep up with.”
Steve hums. “That must be annoying.”
“It can be, at times.”
When they make it to the station, Steve smiles at Emily standing on the other side before he turns back to Bucky and says, “I know how it is. I got a couple idiots myself.”
“Oh yeah?” Bucky leans his back against the wall and gives him a curious look.
“Natasha and Sharon,” Steve says. “They work at Shield and every time they come back from a job, there's at least one injury. Workplace hazard, they say.”
“Shield,” Bucky muses. “That's the... spy agency, right?”
“Worldwide law-enforcement organization,” Steve says. “They call themselves agents.”
“Okay but we both know they're actually spies.”
Steve smiles at him. He doesn't deny it.
“How did you end up befriending two spies?” Bucky asks after a beat.
“Sharon is Peggy's sister. Well, cousins but they were raised together so they act like sisters. And I met Natasha through Sharon.”
Bucky's brows jump upward and his face does a funny thing before it settles into a smile. He says, “Tell me about her.”
“I'd love to but I'm at work and I have other patients to check on.”
“Right.” Bucky deflates a little, nodding.
“And besides,” Steve continues with a smile he can't pretend isn't forced. “You'd probably rather hang out with your boyfriend anyway.”
Bucky blinks at him. “My what now?”
“Your boyfriend,” Steve says, brows furrowing. “Clint?”
Bucky stares at him for a long moment, then he snorts loudly and says, “Clint is not my boyfriend.”
“Oh.” Steve deliberately keeps his reaction neutral but he's relieved.
And isn't that something.
“He's a friend,” Bucky says. “Probably my best friend but a friend and nothing else.”
Steve bites his lip, then he says, “I'm sorry.”
Bucky waves his hand dismissively at him. “Don't be,” he says. “I take no offense to it. But, uh. I probably should go back to him. You know, gotta keep an eye on the idiots in our lives.”
Steve nods. “Right,” he says. “And I should get back to work.”
Bucky lingers. He doesn't turn and walk back into Clint's room like Steve expects him to, instead he stays standing there with an almost hesitating look on his face. So Steve stays too, giving him a look with a brow quirked questioningly.
After a long moment, Bucky says, “We should get dinner sometime. Or lunch. To catch up.”
He doesn't get much free time, between work and being a father. He occasionally has a late lunch with his family—Daniel, Natasha, Sharon, Sam, sometimes Riley when he has the energy to venture out—and he knows he could find time for dinner with Bucky too, or a lunch sometime.
Admittedly, he's scared to hang out with Bucky on his own for too long because those feelings are still somewhere in his heart, hidden away, and while he's learned self control over the years, it's different when it's Bucky. With Bucky, his self control feels thinner and weaker and he's scared of ruining it again.
But it's just dinner or lunch. It's not a date or anything more than old friends catching up.
So he smiles and says, “I'd like that,” because it isn't a lie.
“Great,” Bucky says with a blinding smile that makes Steve's heart trip over itself. “I'll, uh. I'll text you then.”
Steve nods. “Okay.”
Bucky nods back and lingers for another beat before he turns around and walks away.
Steve watches him leave until he's back in room 313 and out of sight. He lets out a slow breath, then he turns his attention to Emily. She's already looking back at him, her hands moving suspiciously slow as she filters through the stack of prescriptions in her hand.
Steve lifts a finger and points at her. “Not a word,” he says.
“I didn't say anything,” Emily says with a light chuckle.
Steve huffs at her which pulls a laugh out of her and he shoots her a narrow eyed look, but then he walks away and heads to another one of his patients because he does have work to do.
When Steve steps back into room 313 a couple hours later with another round of pain medication, Clint looks at him for less than a second before he turns to Bucky with wide, doting eyes and signs, “Sweetheart!” at him.
Steve stops one step in. He shoots Bucky a look but says nothing.
Bucky returns it, deadpan and done with a capital d. “I told him you thought he was my boyfriend,” he explains, “and now he's being an asshole.”
“Ah.” Steve steps further inside and says, “I'm afraid we don't have a cure for that.”
“Many have tried and failed,” Clint says and grabs the pills when he's handed them. He's wearing his hearing aids, Steve notices. They're hard not to notice, considering the bright purple color of them.
“Your head okay?” he asks him after Clint has downed the pills.
“It's okay,” Clint says with a one-shouldered shrug. “Doesn't hurt as much anymore.”
Steve smiles at him and says, “Well, maybe you get to go home today after all then.”
“That'd be great,” Clint says. “My boyfriend Bucky can nurse me back to health at home.”
“Clint, stop,” Bucky moans. He has his face buried in his right hand, voice muffled.
Steve smiles at Clint. He deals with asshole patients all the time, though most aren't as entertaining as Clint, so he says, “Your boyfriend sounds like a real swell guy.”
“Swell,” Clint echoes, almost coos. “That's cute. I see why Bucky li—”
He's cut off before he can finish his sentence when a plastic cup hits him in the chest. Steve shoots a glance at Bucky and finds him glaring a hole through Clint's head, his cheeks and ears bright red and lips pulled into a thin line.
Steve looks back at Clint and asks, “Why Bucky what?”
“You're a smart man, Steve,” Clint says, rubbing at his chest. “You know that was meant to shut me up and I don't wanna find out what he throws at me next. I've got enough injuries to deal with.”
Steve hums, his lips pursed. “I'll ask when he leaves then,” he says.
“I'm never leaving,” Bucky says immediately.
“He's not lying,” Clint says. “This one sticks to you like superglue that's impossible to get rid of.”
Steve smiles, a little fond. “Yeah, he tends to do that.”
Bucky hasn't changed that much after all.
By the time Steve clocks out, Clint hasn't been discharged yet. He doesn't stop by the room to say goodbye to Bucky either because he has to run to the subway to catch his train since he's already late for picking Lily up. He considers texting him once they've made it home but he doesn't.
And when he comes into work the next morning, Clint is gone and the room is empty.
Steve still doesn't text Bucky.
“How are those veggies coming along?”
Steve looks up from his cutting board as he says it and looks over to Lily. She is carefully cutting up vegetables with a (blunt and round ended kid's) knife of her own next to him, standing on her stool because while she can easily look over the counter, she wants to be higher up when she's cutting. It helps her be more precise, she says.
Lily doesn't look back at him. She pokes her tongue out as she positions her knife on the long side of the carrot and then she presses down, cutting it in half. She says, “Good,” and holds up one half of what she just cut. “Is this good enough?”
Steve smiles at her and says, “That's perfect, sous chef.”
Lily looks at him now and smiles, wide and toothy.
One of her front teeth is missing. It'd been loose for a while and she'd been wiggling it for ages to get it to come out and finally, last night when she was brushing her teeth before bed, it had fallen out. She'd come running out from the bathroom with the tooth between two fingers and an open-mouthed smile to proudly show her new gap.
So the tooth fairy had to make a visit last night, even though she knows the tooth fairy money comes from Steve. She figured that out after the third tooth she lost because she's smart and observant. She still wants the money though.
Lily goes back to cutting the vegetables and Steve turns back to his own cutting board. He cuts the rest of the chicken into bite-sized pieces, then he steps over to the stove where a large pan with hot oil is waiting. He adds the chicken to it and when Lily is done with the vegetables, he adds those along with the sauce they made earlier to the pan as well.
Lily moves her stool over to the stove. Steve steps back when she does and lets her take the spatula from him. He steps up behind her, watching over while she stirs around in the pan with her tongue poked out between her lips in concentration.
They're almost done when Cooper suddenly shoots up from his position on the floor behind them. It's no more than a second later that there's a series of knocks on the door. The rhythm is familiar, one Steve has known since he started bringing Peggy back to his dorm room in college and one he has heard every time his best friend visits.
knock-knock-knock-knock, knock-knock, knock-knock-knock.
Cooper barks and Steve smiles.
“You got this for a second, sous chef?” he asks Lily, already stepping back.
Lily nods and lifts her elbow higher as she stirs. “I got this,” she says determinedly.
Steve kisses the top of her head, then he steps away and heads to the door with Cooper following close behind. The knocking has already stopped by the time they make it there and when he unlocks and opens the door, he smiles big and wide.
Sam returns the smile the second the door opens. “Hey, man,” he says and steps forward with a light chuckle, right into Steve's open arms.
Steve hugs him, arms tight around him. For a brief moment he closes his eyes but he opens them again when Sam loosens his grip on him and takes a step back. Steve lets him and smiles once they're apart again, hand still clasped on his shoulder.
“Glad you could make it,” he says, then he turns his attention to Riley.
Riley is standing behind Sam, leaning heavily on his crutch but there's a smile on his lips and he doesn't look as tired as he did the last time Steve saw him. His shirt is covered in small hairs though, undoubtedly from the kittens he's currently fostering.
“And you too,” Steve says to him and motions him forward. “Come here, bring it in.”
Sam steps aside and Riley moves forward, smiling as he leans into Steve's embrace. Riley is thinner than he used to be now, shorter than Steve too. But he's as healthy as he can be and when he puts his unused arm around Steve to hug him back and squeezes, Steve can tell he hasn't let himself lose his strength.
“It's been too long,” Steve says when they step apart again.
“It has,” Riley says. “You should come over sometime, meet the kittens.”
“Take a few off our hands,” Sam says, muttering theatrically.
Riley nudges at him with a click of his tongue.
Steve lets out an amused huff, then he says, “Well, come in before you start fighting in the hall.”
Cooper has been patiently waiting by the open door and when they step back inside, his tail starts to wag faster and faster until his whole body wiggles. He circles Sam first, panting while Sam bends down to pet him in greeting, and then he moves over to Riley. He doesn't circle him but instead just stands there and leans into his hand while Riley pets him hello, tail wagging happily.
Cooper is in love with Riley. Steve has accepted that when Riley is around, his dog has eyes for no one else.
Riley stays in the entry-way with Cooper while Steve and Sam head to the kitchen. Lily is still standing on her stool by the stove and stirring in the pan but she's turned around and looking over her shoulder when they get there, a big and toothy smile on her lips that grows wider when they step into view.
“Uncle Sam!” she exclaims and instantly abandons the food.
She comes running over to them and Steve steps aside as she launches herself at Sam. He watches them for a moment, watches as Sam catches her mid-air and hugs her tight, but then he heads over to the stove and turns it off after doing one final stir. It looks just about done, anyway.
“Hey, mini,” he hears Sam say behind him. “What 're you guys making in here?”
“Chicken stir fry,” Lily says while Steve puts the pan aside. “I cut the vegetables.”
“You did?” Sam sounds surprised and simultaneously impressed. “Wow. Steve, I think we got a future chef on our hands.”
With a smile, Steve turns back to them. Lily has attached herself to Sam; she's wrapped around him like a koala with her legs around his middle and her arms tight around his neck. Sam has an arm under her, keeping her there, and there's a smile on his lips and a happy look in his eyes.
Sam has always been her favorite uncle, ever since she was a baby.
“She's already my sous chef,” Steve says. “I wouldn't be surprised if she got promoted to head chef one day.”
“Then you would be my sous chef instead,” Lily says.
“And I'd happily be that.”
Riley joins them in the kitchen then, Cooper following him like a shadow with his tongue lolling out and his tail still wagging happily. Riley smiles at Lily and leans in to kiss her cheek in a hello before he turns to Steve and asks, “When's food gonna be ready?”
“You got a one-track mind,” Sam says with a huff. “It's always either food or cats with you.”
“Which one of us married me, again?” Riley asks and smiles toothily at Sam.
Sam gives him a flat look but he smiles when Riley kisses his cheek too.
“You can go hang out on the couch while I finish up in here,” Steve tells them. “Nat and Sharon should be here soon.”
Soon ends up being only three minutes later. Sam is helping Steve set the table while Lily and Riley are hanging out on the couch with Cooper when the door to the apartment opens and Natasha steps inside, Sharon coming in right behind her.
Lily doesn't get up to greet them with a hug like she usually does, mostly because Cooper is laying on her and keeping her from getting up. But they both come to her for it and once they've had their hellos, they move to the dinner table and start eating.
It's rare that everyone has the time and energy to have dinner together like this. Daniel was supposed to be here too to (almost) complete the family get-together but he got held back at work and couldn't make it which, unfortunately, isn't the first time. For any of them.
They all have fairly demanding jobs, though Natasha, Sharon, and Daniel's are a little more considering their occasionally unpredictable schedule. Most of the time Shield schedules their jobs, at least the ones out of town, but sometimes something comes up and they have to stay longer or go in even on off days.
Daniel doesn't work in the field like Natasha and Sharon but even his schedule is sometimes unpredictable. It's a little less than theirs but sometimes, only sometimes, even he gets held back.
Dinner is nice though, despite the missing family member. They talk and laugh like old times because with them, it never matters have long it's been since the last time they saw each other. They could go months without seeing each other and they would still act the same. They're family, of course they would.
When the food is nearly gone, Natasha leans over and asks about Riley's new foster kittens which makes Riley drop his fork immediately. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and holds a finger up as he taps around on it. After a moment, he hands the phone across the table to Natasha.
Lily is sitting next to her and leans over to see too.
“That's Nala,” Riley says. “She's around three weeks old and has just started walking.”
A wide smile spreads across Lily's face and when she lifts her gaze and locks eyes with Steve across the table, her eyes are practically heart shaped. Heart shaped and puppy eyed, begging.
Steve knows what's coming before she even opens her mouth.
“Da-aaad,” she says, pleadingly.
“No,” Steve responds immediately.
Lily pouts and slumps back in her seat, arms crossed.
“You have Cooper,” he continues. “Isn't that enough?”
“But he's not a cat,” Lily says.
“We can't have a cat here, Lily,” Steve says. “One pet only.”
Lily's pout deepens.
“There are plenty cats in the family. Aunt Nat's got one, uncle Sam and Riley have several.”
“One can never have too many cats,” Natasha says as she hands the phone back to Riley.
Steve gives her a flat look and says, “You're not helping.”
“I'm not trying to,” she says with a smile. “I'm on Lily's side on this.”
Lily's pout turns into a smile that she first directs at Natasha and then at Steve.
Steve returns it with the same flat look. “We're not getting a cat,” he says.
Natasha hums, then she leans down to Lily and says, “Good thing you have another parent, huh?”
Lily laughs and Steve kicks Natasha under the table.
Natasha sticks her tongue out at him.
Eventually, Lily finishes her dinner and leaves the table when she's told she can. Cooper gets up from his spot on the floor when she does and follows her out to the kitchen. Steve can see her from where he's sitting so he watches her put her plate and utensils in the dishwasher after rinsing it off and then turning to Cooper with a smile that she tries to hold back.
Cooper looks back, tail wagging and ears perked, eyes undoubtedly pleading.
After a moment, Lily lifts his gaze to meet Steve's. There's a silent question in hers.
“You can give him dinner,” he tells her.
Lily smiles widely at him, then she asks, “Is it one cup?”
“One cup, minus a bit.”
Lily grabs Cooper's food bowl and disappears out of view. It's not long before Cooper's loud eating fills the apartment from a distance and then Lily comes running by, though she doesn't stop and her door closes not long after.
At the table, Natasha says, “Never a dull moment with your daughter, Steve.”
“This is pretty tame,” Steve says. “Any other night, she'd play her video games out here.”
“Any other night, I'd have joined her,” Riley says.
“What's keeping you?”
“The food.” Riley reaches over and pours himself another portion.
Steve huffs and leans back in his seat, hand on his stomach. “Eat up,” he says. “The more you eat, the less leftovers you're taking home with you.”
“Like I'd mind that,” Riley says. “This is really good.”
“Thank you,” Steve says and smiles.
A silence lulls over the table. They have mostly finished eating by now, though Riley is still going through this new portion and Sharon is still snacking on the bread. The rest of them are quietly nursing their drinks—none of them alcoholic because Steve doesn't keep that in the apartment.
They eventually finish the rest of the food with only a little bit of the stir fry left. While the others stay seated by request, Steve rises and takes his own plate and whatever else he can carry into the kitchen. He empties the table little by little and when all that's left are the guests' drinks, he stays in the kitchen and starts cleaning up.
Halfway through putting the leftovers in containers, Natasha joins him.
“Can I ask you something without you getting mad?” she asks, leaning against the wall.
Steve puts lids on the containers and says, “If you have to ask that, you know the answer.”
“How's it going with Bucky?”
Steve pauses, lets out a sigh. “I thought we weren't talking about that.”
“I never agreed to that.”
Steve doesn't answer. He puts the closed containers aside and takes the pan to the sink.
“I only ask because I want you to be happy,” Natasha continues. “You know that, right?”
“And because you're curious.”
“And because I'm curious.”
Steve is quiet for a while as he washes the pan.
Natasha doesn't say anything either. She doesn't push or poke at him, she merely stands there and quietly takes a sip from her drink. He can feel her eyes on him but they're not heavy with interest, they're more light with curiosity.
“He wants to get dinner sometime,” Steve says then. “To catch up.”
“And did you say yes?”
“I said I'd like to.”
“That's not exactly a yes.”
“It's not exactly a no either.”
Natasha hums. “I suppose not. But do you want to? Have dinner with him, that is.”
“Yes.” Steve puts the pan away, then he says, “And no.”
Steve lets out a sigh and looks over at her, just in time to see Sam approaching behind her. There's a curious tilt in his head, his brows raised in silent question. Steve pauses, waits until Sam stops and leans against the other side of the wall.
Sam hasn't brought his drink along, unlike Natasha.
“Believe it or not,” Steve says with a humorless smile, “I'm scared shitless.”
“Steve Rogers is scared?” Sam says. He huffs and says, “Now, that's a first.”
“You guys know I've only been in one relationship,” Steve says. “I didn't throw myself out into the dating field after Peggy and I ended things. I think that's because... I never really got over him. What would be the point of looking for someone else when I'd already met my person?”
“And dating scares you,” Sam says. It's not a question.
Steve shrugs a shoulder. “Kind of.”
“Did he say dinner would be a date?” Natasha asks.
“No,” Steve says. “But I'm scared because I kind of want it to be.”
“Why is that be a bad thing?”
Steve hesitates for a beat, then he says, “Because we stopped talking after I kissed him.”
Neither Sam nor Natasha say a word.
“It was awkward between us after,” Steve says. “We talked less and less until eventually we just... stopped. And now it's been eighteen years.”
“And he doesn't seem to have a problem anymore,” Natasha says.
“Or he doesn't remember what happened.”
“Wouldn't that be good?”
Steve smiles, small and humorless. “I don't know,” he says.
He doesn't know whether that's a lie or not.
The guests stay until after the sun goes down.
By then, Lily has been put to bed and is fast asleep though she did give everyone a quick hug before she turned in for the night. Cooper joined her not long after Steve took him out for a quick pee in the backyard. He's curled up by the foot of her bed now, the door to her room ajar to let the light from the hall in.
The lights in her room are turned off which is an improvement. She used to have a nightlight on her bedside table that she refused to turn off until the sun was all the way up, even if she was still awake. She still has it and uses it when she's reading in bed but she turns it off when she goes to sleep.
Steve says goodnight to the guests as they leave in pairs; first Sam and Riley, then Sharon and Natasha. When all of them have gone with a container of leftovers in hand, he locks the door and settles himself on the couch. He turns on the television and surfs the channel until he finds some movie playing.
He doesn't end up watching much of it because, five minutes later, he falls asleep.
He misses the end of the movie, as well as the text that pops up on his phone.