Daniel takes Lily to pick Peggy up from the airport.
Steve stays behind at Daniel's to finish up there instead of coming along. It has been like this for the last handful times Peggy has come home. He knows he's important to her and they're family in a lot of ways but he's not Lily and he's not Daniel. He wants them to have their own reunion before the rest welcome her home. They deserve a private moment, as much as they can in an airport.
Cooper is with him, as is Sharon. Lily left them with detailed instructions on what she wants the house to look like when her mom comes home so while Sharon is putting the welcome home banner up on the wall facing the front door, Steve is in the kitchen decorating the cake that Lily and Daniel baked yesterday.
Cooper is to no help. He's in the way at first, a constant shadow like there's a string with one end tied around his collar and the other to both Steve's and Sharon's hip. Steve gets tired of it quick so he gives him a bone from his bag to keep him preoccupied. And Cooper does, carrying the bone to the corner of the living room. He gnaws loudly but he's distracted and no longer in the way.
They finish faster that way. It takes them about an hour and when they're done, they go out into the backyard to have a drink and talk a little while they wait. Cooper joins them not long after, bone gone and eaten. About fifteen minutes later, when the conversation has lulled into a pleasant silence, Steve's phone vibrates with a text from Daniel.
ETA 10 min.
Eleven minutes later, Cooper shoots up and sprints to the door with his tail wagging. Steve gets up to follow him, though Sharon isn't far behind. When Steve rounds the corner to the foyer, the front door opens and Peggy steps inside.
She looks tired, which comes as no surprise considering how long she's been sitting on a plane. Her hair is done up and pulled out of her face and Lily is clinging to her, arms wrapped around her neck and legs wrapped around her waist as best she can. Peggy has an arm underneath her and a smile on her lips that grows wider when she looks up and meets Steve's eye.
Steve pauses for half a second to take her in, then he returns the smile and rushes forward. Cooper steps aside to let him pass and Peggy shifts Lily further to her side so when they meet halfway, there's nothing between them and they embrace in a hug, though Peggy only wraps her one arm around him while Steve wraps both of his around her.
The hug is short lived but when they step apart, they don't go far. Steve stays in her space and only takes a short step back and Peggy keeps her hand on his shoulder, squeezing lightly. Both of them are smiling, wide enough to make their eyes squint a little.
“It's good to have you home, Peg,” Steve tells her after a moment.
“It's good to be home,” Peggy says, then she lifts her hand and touches his bearded chin. “I see we're keeping the beard.”
“You knew that already. Not the first time you've seen it.”
“First time in person.” Peggy rubs it for a second, then she says, “It's rougher than it looks.”
Steve scoffs halfheartedly. “Shut up,” he says.
Peggy chuckles and pats his shoulder. “Go help Daniel with the baggage,” she says then.
With a nod and a quick kiss on Lily's cheek, Steve does and lets Sharon come say hi and hug Peggy too. He heads down to the road where Daniel is hauling the luggage out from the cab's trunk. There isn't much so they manage to get it all in one trip; Daniel carries one slung over his shoulder and another held in his hand but he needs his other free for his cane, while Steve takes the last two bags.
Once the baggage has been brought inside, they sit down and eat the cake waiting for them at the dinner table. They talk and celebrate and catch Peggy up on what she's missed even though they've talked once a week. But now, there's no time limit and so much has happened in the time she's been away.
Peggy can't talk about any of what happened to her while she was away. It's confidential, she keeps saying when Lily asks. Steve knows better than to even bother because he knows he will always get that answer. Her work is secret and she can't talk about it but she seems happy to just sit and listen while the rest talk and catch her up.
Lily gets tired out eventually. She conks out after they relocate to the living room couch, laying on top of Peggy with her face buried in her neck and Peggy's fingers slowly carding through her loose hair. Steve is sitting next to them with Cooper flopped onto his side between them on the floor, fast asleep and snoring softly.
Sharon and Daniel are in the kitchen, cleaning up and probably eating the rest of the cake.
“I think Shield would be good,” Peggy says after a while.
Steve looks up from the floor to her. “Yeah?” he asks, prompting.
“Yeah,” Peggy echoes. “Sharon mentioned there's an opening in their communications department. I think I'd like to apply.”
“I think that's a great idea.” After a pause, Steve asks, “What does Daniel say?”
“He wants me to go for whatever I want,” Peggy says with a smile on her lips. “He's just happy to have me home for good now.”
Steve smiles. “We all are.”
Peggy returns his smile, then she looks down at Lily.
Steve follows her eyes. He asks, “Have you told Lily?”
“Not yet,” Peggy says quietly. “But we have a plan.”
“One you feel like sharing?”
Peggy's smile softens. “We're gonna make breakfast together tomorrow,” she says, “then I will ask her how she would feel about staying here more. With me. Indefinitely.”
“Ten bucks she cries.”
“Twenty she screams.”
Steve laughs, a quiet chuckle, and Peggy joins him.
They fall silent for a couple minutes, then Peggy asks, “Do you want to talk about Bucky?”
Steve lets out a sigh. “Do I have a choice?”
“Of course you do,” Peggy says. “We don't have to talk about him. But I am curious.”
“How you're handling the situation.”
Steve is silent for a beat. Then he says, “I'm still scared out of my mind.”
“But... I think it's gonna be okay.”
Peggy smiles at him. “Is that so?”
“Maybe,” Steve says and shrugs. “We... kinda held hands the other day.”
Peggy's smile widens and her eyes brighten. “That's promising,” she says.
“Except he said he holds his friends' hands all the time.”
Bucky hadn't, not in so many words at least, but she doesn't need to know that.
“Friends can hold hands,” Peggy says. “Friends like you and him? Holding hands mean more than that.”
“Maybe.” Steve takes in a breath, then he says, “He still thought I was straight.”
“Did you correct him?”
“Yes. He looked relieved when I told him I'm bi.”
“Steve,” Peggy says and gives him a look. “You're a smart man. You know what that means.”
“I know what it could mean. But it still scares me.”
Peggy hums. “And what do you do when you're scared?”
Steve doesn't reach into his pocket. He curls his hands into fists and resists the urge to.
He keeps his mom's engagement ring in his wallet and his wallet in his pocket. His parents never married. They got engaged when his mom was pregnant with him but his dad passed away shortly before his second birthday so there was never a wedding.
His mom never took the ring off though. She kept it in a silver chain that she wore always and when she passed away too, Steve inherited the ring. He keeps it in his wallet for safekeeping and as a reminder that she's always with him.
Steve has always found courage in his mom. She taught him how to be brave and to stand back up when life knocked him down. She taught him to love and to be kind first but to take no shit from people who don't deserve love or kindness.
She taught him so much and that ring has been a source of comfort for him since she passed. He doesn't look at it much these days but knowing it's there is usually enough.
“This is different,” he says quietly.
“Is it?” Peggy asks.
“It's Bucky,” Steve says after a beat. “Rules don't apply when it comes to him.”
“We're not talking about rules.”
“Logic doesn't apply either.”
“It never does with love.”
Steve doesn't say anything.
After a long breath, Peggy softly asks, “What would she say?”
“She'd tell me to take a deep breath,” Steve says quietly. “One deep breath and that's all the bravery I need.”
“Then take a deep breath, Steve.”
Steve looks at her, then he takes in a breath.
When Steve leaves early the next morning, it's with a tight hug from Lily. She clings to him a little longer than she usually does and he lets her. As excited as she is to spend the next handful days with her mom and Daniel, he knows she's going to miss him. And he will miss her too, of course he will.
He steps out the door quickly once Lily finally lets go, mouthing a good luck to Peggy before he closes the door behind him. He walks the long way home with Cooper leashed by his side. He can't take Cooper on the subway but that's okay because it's a nice morning for a walk and it'll tire Cooper out until Steve comes back later after work.
When they get to the apartment, Steve gives Cooper his breakfast and grabs something quick from the fridge for himself. He doesn't sit down to enjoy it, doesn't have the time, and once Cooper has finished with his food and has gone to lay down, Steve grabs his things and rushes out the door to catch his train.
He makes it to work on time. Claire is working the morning shift this week for once so when he comes out from the staff room with his scrubs and work shoes on, she smiles at him and holds out a mug filled with still steaming coffee. He grabs it, thanks her, and downs half as they stand and talk for a couple minutes.
Around noon, Sam shows up.
Steve is on his phone, sending a belated thumbs up to Bucky's on my way text, when someone approaching out the corner of his eye catches his attention. He looks up and when he sees Sam, he can't help but smile and he hurries to put his phone away.
Sam is an EMT at the same hospital Steve works at but they run into each other surprisingly rarely. They see each other when they can and that is outside of work more often than not. Almost always, actually. Occasionally they pass each other in the halls of the hospital and Steve sometimes sees Sam out by the front but it's rarely for longer than a second and a high five or fist bump in passing.
So when he sees Sam come toward him with a smile on his lips and no rush in his steps, it's a nice surprise that makes Steve smile instantly. They don't say anything but neither of them hesitate to step into each other's space to embrace in a tight hug, even though they saw each other not that long ago.
“You're a sight for sore eyes,” Steve says when they step apart, a hand on Sam's shoulder.
Sam chuckles lightly and says, “I had some time. Wanted to stop by and see how yesterday went.”
“It went fine,” Steve says. “We ate some cake, caught up as much as we could before Lily conked out. We let her stay home from school today so she can spend the day with Peggy instead.”
“That's nice.” Sam smiles and asks, “Has Peggy told her the news yet?”
“This morning, yeah. She screamed so I owe Peggy a twenty.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Of course you'd make a bet on her reaction.”
“Well.” Steve shrugs, a smile on his lips. “We make our own fun.”
“Don't I know it.”
Steve studies him for a second, then he asks, “Things good with Riley?”
“Things are good,” Sam says with a nod. “But, uh. I've been thinking. About kids.”
“And I'm not sure I want them, to be honest.”
Steve hums. “But you haven't told Riley that,” he says and it's not a question.
“I haven't,” Sam says. “We talked about kids long before we got married, obviously. And we agreed back then, we both wanted to adopt one day but now...”
“Now you've changed your mind,” Steve finished when Sam trails off.
“Maybe?” Sam says. It comes out sounding like a question. “I have... doubts.”
“For the regard, I think you'd be a great dad.”
“Oh, I'd be a great dad. That's not the issue.”
“I know it's not. You can still be a dad without kids though.”
“Do not start calling us cat dads too.”
“I hear Riley plans on making tee shirts.”
“I hate you,” Sam says with a groan but it sounds more fond than anything.
Steve laughs, a quiet chuckle that shakes his shoulders.
After a moment, Sam asks, “Did you want kids before Peggy got pregnant?”
“Honestly?” Steve shrugs and says, “I hadn't thought about kids at all, before then. But when she got pregnant, there wasn't a single doubt in my mind that I wanted to have that kid. If you're not a thousand percent sure you want kids, don't have kids. But talk it through with Riley. After all he's, you know. Your husband.”
Sam clicks his tongue. “I know,” he says. “I guess I should be happy there's no chance of an accidental pregnancy.”
“That does make it a little easier,” Steve says with a nod.
Sam makes an agreeing but incoherent noise and does a movement with his head.
Steve pats his shoulder and smiles at him. His eyes glance away for no more than a split second but that split second quickly becomes much longer when he does a double take. Bucky is coming toward them from further down the hall, Titan by his side and a bag from Howlie's in his hand.
He has his hair done up today, put into an artistically messy bun with the locks that have escaped tugged behind his ears. When he sees Steve looking, a smile spreads across his lips and Steve feels his heartbeat pick up and start to trip in his chest the closer Bucky comes.
In front of him, Sam notices his attention shifting. Steve sees the narrow eyed look he gives him before he turns to look over his shoulder and follows his gaze over to Bucky. Sam only looks for a short moment and when he turns back around, there's a small grin on his lips and Steve's cheeks suddenly feel real hot.
By the time Bucky makes it to them, Sam's grin has disappeared and has been replaced by a tight lipped smile and crossed arms. Steve elbows him in the side as he turns his attention back to Bucky and returns the smile directed at him.
“Hey, Buck,” he says in a breath.
“Hey, Stevie,” Bucky says, then he looks at Sam.
Sam meets his eye and his smile widens but stays tight lipped.
It makes Bucky falter a little. He clears his throat and shifts on the spot, shooting a glance at Steve.
“Sam,” Steve says and clears his throat. “You remember Bucky.”
“Oh, I remember,” Sam says. “Nice to see you again, man.”
It doesn't sound sincere but Bucky smiles anyway and says, “You too.”
They stand there in silence for a moment, looking at each other.
Then Sam takes in a breath and says, “Well. I should get back to work.”
“Right.” Steve turns to him and says, “We'll talk later?”
It comes out as a question and Sam nods in response, then he turns and walks down the hall from where Bucky came from. It leaves him behind Bucky's back and a little ways down, he turns back around and catches Steve's eye over Bucky's shoulder. He mouths something at him, Steve can't make out what exactly, but the gesture that comes after ends with Sam making a cutting motion across his throat and then pointing at Bucky.
Steve flips him off and waves him away, then he turns back to Bucky with a smile.
Bucky is looking at him, a curious smile on his lips. “You two have a weird relationship,” he says.
“He's my best friend,” Steve says with a one-shouldered shrug. “Of course we do.”
“I suppose that's fair,” Bucky says and nods his head.
“So,” Steve says and takes in a breath. “Did you bring lunch with you?”
“Who do you think I am?” Bucky raises the bag, jostles it a little.
Steve snatches the bag from him. “Good,” he says, “'cause I'm starving.”
He turns and walks the other way down the hall and he smiles when he hears Bucky laugh behind him. Bucky follows him quickly and they walk toward the courtyard together, Titan trotting along obediently.
“Peggy came home yesterday.”
Steve says it around a mouthful. It's not a small mouthful either and his words come out muffled. Bucky shoots him a look, one that is narrow eyed and mildly scolding, but he lifts his brows in a silent question at the same time so Steve chews, swallows, and repeats himself.
Bucky smiles. “How'd the welcome home party go?” he asks.
“Great,” Steve says. “Lily baked a cake with Daniel and gave me orders for how she wanted it to be decorated while they picked Peggy up at the airport.”
“You didn't go with them?” Bucky asks, brows furrowed.
Steve shakes his head. “I didn't wanna be in the way.”
“I thought you two were like family.”
“We are family, but.” Steve shrugs and says, “It's different.”
Steve pauses for a moment, then he says, “Peggy and I love each other. We'll always love each other in a... familial way. And that kind of love is strong but it's nothing compared to the love between a parent and their child. Or their person or significant other, or whatever you want to call it. I don't want to be in the way of that, so Daniel and Lily can have their own reunion with Peggy. I can wait for mine.”
“You're a good man,” Bucky says, fondness in his voice.
“Nah,” Steve says. “It's selfish. The first time Daniel came with us to the airport, I felt awkward being there. So I stopped coming along after that.”
“Okay, so you're a good man who just happens to be smart and avoid awkward situations.”
“Sure, Buck,” Steve says with a chuckle.
“How are you guys splitting the time?”
“Same as always; fifty-fifty or whatever Lily wants. If she wants to stay with her mom, she can even if it's technically my time. She's staying with Peggy and Daniel this first week though. Figured they could use some time together after so much apart.”
“So you're alone this week.”
“Well.” Steve shrugs. “I have Cooper. And my friends. I'm picking Lily up from dance on Thursday too 'cause Peggy has a job interview and Daniel is working.”
Bucky lifts his brows. “Job interview?”
“Peggy quit the military,” Steve says. “Sorry, she finished her contract and isn't renewing it. So she's gonna stay home this time. For good.”
A smile spreads across Bucky's face. He says, “That's great, Steve.”
“Yeah,” Steve says and smiles too. “I'm pretty happy about it.”
“Lily must be too.”
“Oh yeah, she's ecstatic.”
Bucky smiles at him, soft and happy. He has already finished his food and he holds his now empty right hand out to Steve. Steve looks at it for only a second before he shifts his wrap into his other hand and lets his left slide into Bucky's right.
His cheeks feel warm and they only get warmer when their fingers intertwine.
“And for the record,” Bucky says, “you have me too.”
Steve takes his eyes off their hands to look at Bucky. He smiles at him, small but soft.
“I know, Buck,” he says. “I know I do.”
It only takes a couple days for his Lily-less time to get to Steve. Being without his daughter is never easy and sure, it's nice to have some time to himself for maybe the first day and a half but then he really starts missing having her here. Cooper is a great distraction and helps him feel a little less lonely in the otherwise empty and quiet apartment.
Steve shifts his attention to Cooper instead which Cooper basks in happily. He takes him for long walks after work that turn into a short run on Tuesday and a longer one on Wednesday. He eats dinner on the couch instead of at the table and feeds Cooper a bite or two when he gives him pleading eyes and Cooper curls up in bed with him every night.
But when Steve wakes up in the mornings, he finds Cooper having moved to Lily's bed overnight.
He isn't the only one missing her here.
Steve picks up Lily from dance on Thursday. He gets there right as the class ends and Lily comes running over to him the second she spots him. He drops to a crouch with a wide smile and opens his arms only to wrap them around her when she crashes into him. The impact knocks a breathy laugh out of him but the laugh dies quick and settles back into a soft smile.
“Hi, sweetheart,” he says into her hair. “I've missed you.”
Lily hugs him a little tighter and mutters, “Missed you too, dad,” into his shoulder.
Eventually the hug ends and they take the subway further into town. Lily catches him up on her week during the ride, waving her arms around with excitement, and Steve listens to every word and says as little as possible because he just wants to listen to her talk. And boy can she talk and talk and talk.
And he loves every second of it.
When they make it to Daniel and Peggy's place, Steve unlocks the door and lets himself be dragged into Lily's room. She's redecorated and moved some things around, added a couple new ones too. Steve is on the bed while Lily shows him the new art project she's been making for school when the front door opens and Peggy's voice floods through the house.
Daniel and Peggy have bought dinner so after grabbing some plates, they settle down around the dinner table and start eating. Peggy is barely chewing her food with how fast she's eating, clearly hungry, so Steve takes his time and waits until there's a lull around the table.
Then he asks, “How did the interview go?”
“I think it went well,” Peggy says. “They seemed to like me, at least. And they were much more tolerable than my superiors in the military.”
“Which doesn't say much,” Daniel mutters quietly.
Peggy kicks him under the table in an unsubtle way. It makes Daniel drop his forkful of food.
Across the table, Lily laughs and Steve can't help but laugh along with her.
“Am I wrong?” Daniel asks with a brow quirked as he scoops up his fallen food.
“Well.” Peggy shrugs and says, “No.”
Daniel gives her a look, brows raised.
“But they were nice, nonetheless,” Peggy says and turns back to Steve. “I'll know more on Monday but they both seemed to want me on board.”
“That's great, Peg,” Steve says, a smile on his lips. “I'm excited for you.”
“Yeah,” Peggy says in a breath. “I'm pretty damn excited too.”
Steve smiles at her and Peggy smiles back.
On Friday, Steve has the day off so he texts Natasha.
You up for a race?
She doesn't respond right away but he already knows what she's going to say anyway. The two of them are competitive people, always have been. While Sam stopped trying to race him after losing one too many times in college, Natasha has always been relentless and kept coming back no matter how many times she's lost. And it's not often she loses, she's about as fast as Steve is.
Steve knows what her answer will be so by the time his phone buzzes with a new text, he has already changed into his workout clothes and has strapped the walking bag around his waist. Cooper is wagging his tail excitedly next to him while Steve finishes putting his shoes on and digs his phone out of the bag.
The picture is taken from her bathroom and in front of the mirror. She's standing with her one foot lifted onto the sink and is flipping him off with her free hand, her tongue stuck out and eyes on her phone. She's dressed in workout clothes and untied running shoes, her hair pulled up into an easy braid and no sling around her arm.
She dislocated her shoulder on a job last week. Sharon had send him a picture of her struggling to close the fridge in their apartment with her uninjured arm filled with food. She'd looked annoyed in the picture but Steve had laughed anyway. She seems to be doing just fine though, considering the sling has already come off.
The message Natasha send him now doesn't say challenge accepted but he knows it is.
With a smile, Steve pockets his phone and leaves the apartment.
He meets up with Natasha at the nearby park.
She's easy to spot; she's sat in a squat on a bench near the entrance of the park, her arms thrown lazily over her bend knees and an almost smug look resting on her face. She meets his eye and watches him as he approached her, though her eyes very briefly divert to Cooper who's tugging on his leash in an attempt to get to her faster, his tail wagging wildly.
“'Sup, loser,” she greets him once he comes closer.
“'Sup, loser,” he echoes. “How's the shoulder?”
Natasha rolls her previously injured shoulder and throws up a peace sign. “Good as new,” she says.
“Good,” Steve says. “Wouldn't wanna kick your ass while you're injured.”
“I could kick your ass with a broken leg.”
“Not in a race, you couldn't.”
“Don't go breaking your leg to prove a point.”
“Oh please. I'm not you.”
Steve narrows his eyes, his lips straightened into a thin line.
Natasha smiles toothily in response.
“Get up,” he says. “Race starts in ten, so. Better stretch out.”
“I am stretched,” she says but gets up anyway. “You were taking your time, I've been here a while.”
“I have a dog with me.” Steve stretches his arms above his head. By his feet, Cooper stretches out.
“Another reason you're gonna lose,” Natasha says with a grin.
Steve rolls his eyes at her but doesn't respond.
It doesn't take long to stretch out. By the time he's finished, Natasha has taken Cooper's leash and is doing a slow jog in a circle around him. Steve stands upright after touching his toes and turns to look at her, a flat expression on his face and eyes narrowed ever so slightly.
“Are you ready, slowpoke?” she asks him, her smile wide.
“I was born ready,” he says and rolls his shoulder.
He takes the leash back from her and moves Cooper over to his right side. Cooper looks up at him with bright eyes but Steve doesn't look back. Instead he starts hopping from foot to foot in a light on-the-spot jog.
Natasha comes to stand next to him, smile firmly stuck to her lips.
“On your marks,” she says and bends down in her knees.
“Get set,” he continues, doing the same and tightens his grip on Cooper's leash.
Steve looks at Natasha and Natasha looks back.
“Go!” they say in unison and then take off running.
In the end, it's a close race but Steve still wins. Even with Cooper happily sprinting alongside him, fast for an animal as lazy as he can be, Natasha is still just shy of faster than them and Steve makes it all the way around the park trail a couple seconds before she does.
She's not a sore loser though. She gives him a high five and congratulates a panting Cooper.
Afterward, they find a nearby bench to sit and cool down on. Steve pulls his water bottle out from the walking bag and pours some of it out for Cooper who licks messily at the stream as it comes pouring out. Steve stops when there's about third left in the bottle and downs the rest himself.
“So,” Natasha starts once they can breathe properly again. “How's it going with Bucky?”
Steve pauses, fingers in his sweaty hair to push it back. He gives her a look and asks, “Why is that all you ever wanna talk about these days?”
“Maybe because I'm interested in your happiness.”
“Don't get sappy on me, Romanoff.”
Steve sighs and shrugs. “It's... going.” He pauses, then he adds, “I think.”
“Wow,” Natasha says flatly. “You sound real sure about that.”
“I'm taking it slow,” Steve says. “Don't wanna mess it up.”
“Better hurry up before you die of old age.”
Steve flings his empty water bottle at her.
She slaps it away, sending it right back at him.
“Focus on your own love life,” Steve says as he bends down to pick the bottle up.
Natasha doesn't respond right away. She doesn't punch him or kick him or anything. When he sits back up and looks at her, he finds her staring back at him with an almost hesitating look in her eye while the rest of her face is kept carefully blank.
Steve says nothing and instead waits for her to.
“Speaking of that,” Natasha says, after a minute. “I bought Sharon a ring yesterday.”
Steve doesn't try to hide his surprise. “You're gonna propose?”
“It's complicated,” Natasha says with a small huffed out breath. “I don't like marriage, you know that. But I want to commit to her. Forever. So I want to give her a ring. It's not an engagement ring but... it's also not not one. You know?”
“Yeah,” Steve says and smiles at her. “I know.”
Natasha nods. She doesn't reply.
Steve knocks their knees together and when she looks at him, he smiles at him and says, “Looks like we both have plans in motion.”
Natasha huffs. She says, “Slow plans.”
“Do you think we will succeed?”
“I don't know. Only one way to find out.”
Natasha smiles at him. “You first,” she says.
Steve returns the smile. He nods, though he has a feeling she will go first anyway.
Saturday afternoon arrives before he knows it. The rapid knocking on the front door comes five minutes earlier than he was expecting but he's been doing nothing but wait for it for the past twenty minutes so he doesn't hesitate to rush past a barking Cooper with a smile on his lips that grows even wider when he opens the door.
Lily launches herself at him the second the door is open. Steve catches her under the arms and lifts her up and into his arms for a hug, a laugh spilling out of him when she does the same as she wraps herself around him like a koala. The hug is tight and Steve lets himself sink into it with his eyes closed for just a moment before he opens them again and looks at Peggy still standing in the hall.
She's smiling at them, small and fond. Lily's backpack is slung over her shoulder and the duffle bag with the rest of her stuff is by Peggy's feet, though she bends down to pick it back up as she steps forward and joins them inside the apartment.
Steve steps aside to let her through and closes the door after her, all without letting go of Lily.
“Hey,” he says. “Everything go okay?”
“Everything went smoothly,” Peggy says. “'though I'm pretty sure she ate us out of the house.”
Steve chuckles and says, “She's a growing girl. She'll do that.”
“I'm the shortest in my class,” Lily says into his shoulder.
“For now,” Steve says. “I'll bet ten bucks you're gonna outgrow them all.”
Lily leans back to look at him. “Do I get the ten bucks?”
“Sure. The ten bucks go to you.”
“Okay.” Lily smiles toothily at him and says, “I'll just make myself not grow then.”
Steve gives her a flat look. He turns that look to Peggy when she laughs.
“Well,” Peggy says and meets his eye. “She's certainly your daughter.”
Steve scoffs at her and rolls his eyes.
He takes Lily's bags into her room while she and Peggy properly greet Cooper. He doesn't bother unpacking just yet—she can do that herself, too—so he just leaves them on her bed before he comes back out and joins them. He finds them in the dining/living room; Peggy on the couch while Lily is sitting on the floor and tossing a ball at Cooper who catches it mid-air.
Steve sits down on the couch with Peggy. He asks, “What do you two wanna do today?”
“Lily said she wanted to make cupcakes,” Peggy says.
“Grandma Sarah's cupcakes,” Lily says before she flops down onto her back and laughs when Cooper looms over her and licks at her face.
“I don't think we have the ingredients for that,” Steve says. “We could go get them though, if you want?”
Lily shifts and peeks out from under Cooper. She smiles and says, “Let's go!”
They head to the store after Lily has gotten a snack and Steve has snapped a picture of the cupcake recipe in his mom's cookbook that he keeps stored between the wall to the pantry and the bread box. The store is only a couple stops and a five minute walk away and when they get there, Steve lets go of Lily's hand to grab a basket instead. She keeps holding onto her mom's hand though.
They make it a good way through the list and even get a few things not for the cupcakes, but when they stand by the sprinkles, Steve loses focuses because he sees something familiar out of the corner of his eye; a familiar dog with a familiar flash of red wrapped around his body.
He turns and only just catches Bucky walking by the end of the aisle and then he disappears. Steve doesn't even think, he just puts the basket down and tells Peggy he'll be right back before he rushes to follow after Bucky. He doesn't run up to him, knows better than that, but he keeps his distance and calls his name.
It stops Bucky in his tracks. When he turns around only a second later, there's a toothy smile on his lips and crinkles at the corners of his eyes. He knocks the air right of Steve's lungs and draws him closer and closer. But Steve stops an appropriate distance from him, aware of Titan. He knows the space Bucky is comfortable with.
“Steve,” Bucky says with an airy chuckle. “Hey. Fancy running into you here.”
“Likewise,” Steve says. He looks down and notices the lack of a basket in Bucky's hands, then he looks back up at him and quirks a brow in a silent question.
Bucky's cheeks flush a little. He says, “I had a craving and didn't wanna be tempted to get more than that.”
Steve hums. “Good craving.”
“Shut up. Like you're one to judge, you're not carrying anything either.”
“Well, I'm here with—” When Steve gestures behind him, he glances over his shoulder and sees Peggy and Lily coming toward them with their basket. He throws them a smile before he turns back to Bucky and finishes, “With my girls.”
Bucky looks at him, then he looks at the two joining them. His eyes stay on Lily for maybe a second but then they move to Peggy and settle on her. He stares at her and it feels like an eternity before he smiles. And it's a real smile, one that reaches his eyes too.
“You must be Peggy,” he says, eyes still on her.
Peggy nods and says, “And you must be Bucky.”
Bucky doesn't seem surprised by her accent. He merely says, “Yeah, that's me.”
“It's a pleasure to finally meet you.” Peggy smiles and says, “I've heard a lot about you.”
“Only good things, I hope.”
“Well. Some of it.”
“Steve Rogers,” Bucky gasps theatrically and looks at him. “Have you been talking shit about me?”
“No,” Steve says. It doesn't sound true even to his own ears.
Bucky gives him a disbelieving look while Peggy snorts next to him.
“For what it's worth,” Peggy says, “he has been talking just as much good about you.”
“That does soften the blow,” Bucky says quietly.
Steve rolls his eyes, then he looks down at Lily. “Did you find sprinkles?” he asks her.
Lily nods and reaches into the basket to pick up the two sprinkle bottles in there; one various shades of pink and red, another mixed colors. “They had glitter ones too,” she says, “but mom said no to those.”
“Glitter will get everywhere, sweetie,” Peggy says.
“Yeah, I know,” Lily says and dumps the sprinkles back in the basket. “But it's pretty.”
“We'll make glitter cupcakes next time,” Steve says.
In front of them, Bucky seems to perk up a little. “You guys are making cupcakes?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Steve says with a nod. “My ma's recipe.”
Bucky's face softens a little. He quietly says, “I remember those.”
Steve smiles at him, small but soft.
“And now I have a different craving,” Bucky says with a sigh.
Steve chuckles. “Sorry, Buck,” he says.
“Ah, it's okay,” Bucky says. “I'll just try to persuade you into making some for me another time.”
“Something tells me that won't be hard,” Peggy says, quietly but Steve hears her anyway.
He shoots her a narrow eyed look and Peggy smiles in return.
“Anyway,” Bucky says then. “I should get going, let you guys enjoy some family time.”
“It was lovely finally putting a face to the name,” Peggy says, her smile in place.
“Right back at you,” Bucky says, then he looks at Lily. “And it was nice seeing you again, Lily.”
“You too!” Lily says. “Can you give your dog an extra treat from me when he's done working?”
Steve smiles down at her, a small and private smile.
Bucky smiles too and says, “Sure. I bet he's gonna love that.”
Lily smiles up at him, wide and toothy.
With a nod and a smile directed at Steve, Bucky turns and walks away. Steve watches him until he disappears down another aisle but he doesn't look away then even though he can feel a pair of eyes boring into the side of his skull.
He hesitates for a long moment, then he clears his throat and turns his head to meet Peggy's eye. She raises her brows at him, a smile on her lips that looks both teasing and intrigued or curious. He knows she wants to say something, wants to ask and make him talk.
So he grabs Lily's hand and starts walking.
“Next on the list,” he says and pulls his phone up. “Baking powder!”
Peggy doesn't bring up Bucky for the rest of the shopping trip.
Steve loves baking.
Scratch that. Steve loves baking with other people. Alone, he hates it because he's not particularly good at it. He always messes something up and whatever he was trying to make comes out burned and tasting... not necessarily bad but not right either. He has never been able to figure out the secrets of baking so doing it alone is out of the question.
Doing it with Peggy and Lily is much better. They know what they're doing because they've both been baking a lot with Daniel and picking up on things that he's taught them. So after they get all the ingredients out and open mama Rogers' cookbook to the cupcake recipe, it comes as no surprise when Peggy takes over and Steve is put on helping hands duty.
He doesn't mind it though. He likes to have the two order him around and then take over whatever task they gave him when he inevitably doesn't do it well enough. He likes to stand back and hand them whatever they need, be at their beck and call and do their bidding. He likes to watch them have fun with it, the two of them. It's nice.
What he can do is decorate. It's the one artistic thing he does these days and only because Daniel bakes so much with Lily, there's always something to decorate at their place. He's decent at it too and he even bought various sizes of piping tips for Lily's birthday last year so they could make more elaborate designs when they wanted to.
When the cupcakes have cooled down after being taken out of the oven, they sit down by the dining table with sprinkles and frosting put into bags, both colored and white and all with different piping tips put on. Lily doesn't hesitate to get started and Steve follows suit shortly after while Peggy sits back for a moment to pet Cooper who's been desperate for attention.
Lily is quick to finish her first three. When she does, she pushes two of them over toward Peggy and says, “These are for mom and Daniel.” She pushes the last over toward Steve. “And this one's for dad.”
Steve smiles at the cupcake, then at her.
She's already pulled another bare cupcake over to herself and has grabbed the red frosting and the multicolored sprinkles. She sits up on her knees as she starts to squeeze the frosting out in thin and careful lines.
Steve leans closer and asks, “Who's that one for?”
Steve blinks. It's not the answer he was expecting.
Looking over at Peggy, it's clear she wasn't expecting that either.
“That's nice of you,” she says.
“You gotta give it to him,” Lily says and looks at Steve. “Please, dad?”
Steve smiles at her fondly. “I promise,” he says. “I'll give it to him when I see him on Monday.”
“Good,” Lily says. She smiles back at him for a moment before she returns to her work.
Steve should do the same. He finds himself staring at his daughter instead.
She never stops amazing him. She's always been kind and has always wanted to share whatever baked goods they didn't eat with whoever wanted some, regardless of whether she knew that person well or not. But the fact that she made a cupcake specifically for Bucky?
Steve's heart feels so warm, it may as well be burning through his chest.
He leans back in his seat and puts the piping bag down. When he looks at her, he finds Peggy already looking back with a small but kind smile resting on her lips. She's not decorating either, just sitting there and watching.
“Bucky seems nice,” she says when their eyes meet.
“Yeah?” Steve asks quietly after a beat.
Peggy hums, her smile softening. “Go for it,” she says.
Steve stares at her. Then he smiles and takes in a deep breath.