The weeks that follow pass by in the blink of an eye.
Steve goes on a handful more dates with Bucky after their first official one, though most of them end up being a lunch whenever either of them have the time to stop by and spend whatever little time they have together. But they both make more of an effort to spend time together outside of their work places too and Steve even takes him to a fancy restaurant one evening when Lily is with her mom.
They take one look at the prices for the meals on the menu and decide that's a bad idea. They end up walking down the street of the city with street food in hand instead and when Bucky laughs so loud that a couple people around them throw them glances, Steve can only smile and lean in to kiss his cheek. It's a good date. The company is all that matters, not where they spend it.
Steve is happy, happier than he could ever put into words and he's not putting a lid on it.
Sam is maybe not the first to notice but he's the first to bring it up.
He does it on a late Wednesday afternoon after Steve has finished his shift. They're sitting in the parking lot outside the hospital, both perched on the low wall that separates the public parking from the ambulance drop off. Sam has his legs crisscross while Steve has stretched his out to the ground below them and they're both sipping at a juice carton they bought from the vending machine inside.
The weather's nice and the place is relatively quiet so when Sam speaks, he keeps his voice low.
“You've been happy lately,” he says. It's not a question, it's a statement.
Steve glances his way and can't help the smile that forms on his lips. “I am happy,” he says because he is.
“It's nice to see.”
“What, I wasn't happy before?”
“Not like this.”
Steve takes a sip of his juice and looks at him.
“You were happy,” Sam says. “Don't get me wrong. But you're happier now.”
Steve pauses. Then he says, “I guess you're right. My life... it's real good right now.”
“Good,” Sam says and smiles at him.
“So you're cool with Bucky now? I don't need to have a lawyer on stand-by in case you wanna commit a murder?”
“Well, I haven't actually hung out with the guy so maybe don't ditch the lawyer yet.”
Steve snorts and rolls his eyes but there's a smile on his lips.
Sam smiles back. “I could get used to this happy Steve,” he says. “It's a good look on you.”
“Thanks,” Steve says. “It's pretty nice.”
Sam hums. Then he grins and says, “And you're clearly getting laid on the regu—”
Steve doesn't let him finish. He punches him in the arm, his face burning.
Sam laughs and shoves him in return.
“What happens in the bedroom, stays in the bedroom,” Steve says.
After a beat, Steve adds, “And the living room.”
Sam looks at him.
“And the bathroom.”
Sam raises a brow.
“And maybe the kitchen.”
“Oh my god.”
Steve grins at him, a little teasingly. His cheeks are still burning hot.
“You know what?” Sam raises his hand, one open, the other closed around his juice. “I don't wanna know.”
“You're the one who brought it up.”
“Yeah, and now I regret it.”
Steve chuckles quietly.
They sit in silence for a couple minutes. In that time, they both finish their juice and Steve hops down to throw them out in the trashcan nearby. When he returns, he hops back onto the low wall but instead of having both his legs stretched out, he bends one and plants his foot on the wall and rests his arm on his knee.
It leaves him sitting in a slightly twisted position, turned more bodily toward Sam. He looks at him for a long moment but it's only when Sam looks back at him that he asks, “You talked to Riley yet?”
“Ah.” Sam takes in a breath and says, “Yeah, we had a talk the other day.”
“Turns out he's not sure he wants kids anymore either.”
“See, what 'd I tell you?” Steve taps his own forehead and says, “Communication.”
“Oh, don't you start,” Sam says and lifts a finger at him. “You don't get to get together with your childhood sweetheart and become a relationship guru. Do I need to remind you how you handled the Bucky situation?”
Steve flips him off and starts repeating his words mockingly but he doesn't get to finish because then Sam throws an arm around his neck and pulls him into a headlock. Steve fights it, not quietly either, but Sam is about as strong as him so it's only when Steve pats his forearm and calls uncle that Sam lets him go again.
Steve comes up for breath with a laugh. He doesn't need to look at his own reflection to know he's red faced and his hair is a mess, beard too probably. He fixes it as good as he can before he throws a halfhearted punch at Sam's shoulder who's still wheezing with laughter.
The punch only makes Sam laugh harder and Steve can do nothing but join him.
Life is pretty good.
“If there's one thing I hate, it's when people aren't organized.”
Steve chuckles quietly to himself, not because the sentence is particularly funny but because Bucky sounds so annoyed by it. He can picture it well; Bucky sitting slumped over his desk with his squinting eyes on the bright computer screen in front of him, lips turned downward in an annoyed pout.
It's a cute mental picture.
“I thought everything was done already,” Steve says and glances at the phone on the table.
Bucky is on the other end, put on speaker with the volume turned up as much as possible while Steve folds the laundry laid out in a big pile on the dining table. The call has been going on for well over twenty minutes now and for nineteen of them, Bucky has been working on his class' upcoming field trip to the museum.
Apparently, he's run into some... issues.
“So did I,” Bucky says. “But Jean told me we don't have transport yet, so.” Something heavy falls on his end, a hand slamming against a wooden surface. “Here I am, trying to find a fucking bus and a driver.”
“Jar!” Lily pipes up from the couch.
She's been sitting there for the past hour now, playing her video game with the volume turned down low and Cooper sound asleep by her side. She's been quiet the whole time too, only occasionally grunting in annoyance and shifting around, but of course she wouldn't let a chance like that go.
It makes Steve smile to himself.
On the phone, Bucky is silent for a long moment. Then, sounding too amused, he says, “Steve. Please tell me you do not have a swear jar.”
“I'm not supposed to lie,” Steve says and folds up a shirt.
“You're kidding,” Bucky says. “You have a swear jar. You, Steve Rogers, who couldn't speak a sentence without swearing once.”
“I grew up,” Steve says with a shrug.
“You got a child, is what you're saying.”
“Yes and kids aren't allowed to swear in school so we had to do something.”
“And you stopped swearing.”
“Well. In front of her, yeah.”
Bucky is quiet and Steve can almost feel his gaze through the phone.
After a beat, he adds, “Most of the time.”
“There it is.” Bucky sounds almost fond.
“Dad swears the most,” Lily says, voice raised so Bucky can hear it.
Steve looks over his shoulder to shoot her a look. Not that she sees it with her back turned to him.
On the phone, Bucky laughs and says, “That doesn't surprise me.”
“Shut up,” Steve says. “It doesn't happen often.”
“I'm sure. I think I need to have Lily tell me all your dirty secrets.”
“Don't use my daughter against me.”
“I do what I want!” Lily says.
“Within reason,” Steve says. “You're eleven.”
“It'll still be within reason when you're twelve.”
Lily grumbles something unintelligible in response.
“Yeah,” Bucky says, fondness clear in his voice. “She's definitely your daughter.”
“Shut up,” Steve says, again. “Don't you have transport to find?”
Bucky whines and says, “Don't remind me.”
There's a comfortable silence that settles over them while Bucky goes back to finding transport for the field trip and Steve continues folding the laundry. He's folding up the last few socks when the sound from the television behind him suddenly stops. It makes him look over his shoulder right as Lily pops up over the couch.
“Dad,” she says and throws her arms over the back, controller still in hand. “I'm hungry.”
“Okay.” Steve glances at the clock on the wall. “What do you want for dinner?”
Steve gives her a look and says, “Real food, Lily.”
“I don't know,” Lily says and slumps, her arms dangling. “Can we have one of grandma's?”
“Yeah. From her cookbook.”
“Of course. What do you want?”
Lily hums, then she says, “The one with potato.”
“Sweetheart, they all have potato in them. Grandma Sarah was Irish.”
Lily makes a face at him and lays her chin on the couch.
“How 'bout this,” Steve says and puts the socks down. “You go grab her cookbook and show me the one you want. If we got what we need for it, we can make it. How's that sound?”
“Okay,” Lily says and pushes herself up to stand. “But if we don't, I want McDonald's.”
“You're not getting McDonald's.”
Lily doesn't answer. She just runs to the kitchen to grab the cookbook after putting her controller down on the cushion she's been sitting on for the past while. Cooper gets up to follow her but not before stretching and yawning noisily. He's her shadow and needs to be where she is, it's always been like that.
“You guys are making me hungry,” Bucky says from the phone.
Steve smiles down at it and says, “Good thing you can make food yourself.”
“I can,” Bucky says, “but do I have time to? Absolutely not.”
“You can come eat with us,” Lily says as she comes back in, cookbook in hand.
There's a long pause on the other end, then Bucky quietly asks, “Are you okay with that?”
“Yep,” Lily says as she puts the book down and flips it open. “You can be my player two.”
“Don't you have homework?” Steve asks her.
“I can do them before he gets here.”
“I'm doing that with Mia at school.”
Steve smiles at her, then he says, “Okay then.”
“Are you coming over, Bucky?” Lily asks.
“I guess I am,” Bucky says. His voice is small, laced with fondness.
It makes Steve smile, his own heart warm.
“Cool,” Lily says and flips to a page. “I want that one, dad.”
Steve looks at the page, then he nods. “Yeah, that's easy. We can do that.”
“Bucky,” Lily says and leans over the phone. “We're having grandma Sarah's colcannon.”
“Oh sweet,” Bucky says and he sounds genuinely excited. “I haven't had that in ages.”
“Have you had it before?”
Bucky hums in affirmation. “She used to make it for us when I came over on Sundays.”
“My dad makes it really good.”
“I'm sure he does.” There's not a hint of sarcasm or teasing in Bucky's voice.
Steve clears his throat, then he says, “Lily, go put your clothes away.”
Lily doesn't argue. She just grabs her pile of folded laundry and hurries off to her room with Cooper right on her heels, trotting after her with his tail held high and his collar jingling as the tags swing around below his throat.
It leaves Steve alone with Bucky, both silent for a moment.
“Steve,” Bucky says then. “Are you okay with me coming over?”
“Yeah,” Steve says. “Yeah, it'd be nice. I'd like you two to spend some time together.”
He can't see him but he can hear Bucky's smile in his voice when he says, “Okay. I'll see you soon then.”
“See you soon.”
Bucky brings Titan and a shoulder bag. He looks tired or maybe even closer to exhausted, dark circles under his eyes like he hasn't been getting enough sleep the last few days which Steve knows he hasn't. Bad nights, he said when Steve asked. He didn't elaborate and Steve didn't pry further. It happens sometimes but especially when he's stressed, he also said, not that it made Steve less worried.
But there's a smile on his lips despite the obvious exhaustion sitting under his eyes. The smile is small but it softens his whole face and Steve is drawn in by it. He steps into his space and leans in to give him a kiss hello, pausing only briefly a few inches from him to give him time to pull away. Bucky doesn't and instead returns the kiss with a happy hum.
“Well, hello to you too,” Bucky says once they part again.
“Hi,” Steve says and brushes a lock of Bucky's hair behind his ear. It has been put into a bun today but it's messy and slowly coming undone. “Get here okay?”
“Yeah,” Bucky says with a sigh. “Almost fell asleep on the train though.”
Steve narrows his eyes at him. “You work too much.”
“These kids deserve an awesome field trip and I'll happily lose sleep over it to make it happen.”
“Then you're just gonna have to deal with me taking care of you meanwhile.”
Bucky looks at him, his smile going soft. “How the tables have turned, huh?”
“Well.” Steve shrugs and says, “I was sick a lot, you're overworked. Not exactly the same.”
“Sure, whatever you say.”
Steve invites him inside and Titan gets let off his leash once the door is closed. He shakes and stretches and then doesn't hesitate to run over to Cooper sitting patiently in the hall. They sniff at each other as a quick hello but it doesn't take long before Titan jumps on Cooper and Cooper immediately strikes back. They barely know each other yet neither hesitate to play like old friends.
Lily comes running out of her room not long after. There's a wide and toothy smile on her face and her arms stretch out long before she makes it to them and when she's close enough, she crashes into Bucky and wraps her arms around his middle, burrowing her face just below his chest.
Bucky looks surprised, eyes wide with shock, and Steve almost steps in with an apology ready on his tongue but then Bucky's face softens over and a smile settles on his lips as he looks down at Lily. Lily tilts her head back and smiles back at him when Bucky places his right arm around her to return her hug.
“That's a nice welcome,” he tells her.
“Can we go play now?” Lily asks and Steve doesn't need to see her face to know her eyes have turned pleading.
“Absolutely,” Bucky doesn't hesitate to say, then he looks at Steve. “Sorry, pal. Your daughter's kidnapping me.”
Lily has already grabbed onto Bucky's hand and is dragging him toward the dining/living room when Steve laughs and says, “Doesn't look like you're putting up much of a fight.”
“It's a consensual kidnapping.”
“Ah, of course.”
Steve watches them until they disappear around the wall, the dogs following along and nearly tripping over each other in their rush to be close to their humans. Steve can still hear them from where he's standing, can hear how Lily noisily untangles a second controller and hands it to Bucky and how there's a brief awkward silence where he assumes Lily realizes Bucky only has one hand.
Steve doesn't know everything about Bucky's prosthetic. He knows he wears it mostly to help with his balance issues because his brain handles it better with more weight on the left side. He knows the joints can bend and move almost like an actual flesh-and-blood arm but it's slow and mechanical and maybe not like an actual flesh-and-blood arm at all.
Playing a video game with a controller might be hard with only one fully functional hand.
Steve doesn't intercept. Instead he listens as Bucky grabs the controller from her and assures her that he can play just fine. He plays all the time with his friend Clint, he says. He's not very good but he wasn't good with two hands either so it's fine, he says and Lily laughs and the awkwardness lifts.
With a smile on his lips, Steve heads into the kitchen. Colcannon isn't hard to make nor does it take all that long but he takes his time with it anyway. It's not because he wants to impress or seduce Bucky with his cooking abilities, no. He could make colcannon with his eyes closed, he knows the recipe so well.
But he takes his time because he wants Lily to like Bucky. He wants them to get along and become a part of each other's lives because Lily is his everything and if Bucky is going to be a part of their family, she needs to approve of him as much as she approves of Daniel. Judging by the way she greeted him, Steve has no doubts that it'll be fine. But he gives them some time alone anyway.
Eventually, the food is done and Steve pulls it off the stove to cool off while he goes to set the table. His eyes go to the couch the second he steps foot in the other room. Lily is sitting slumped against the back with her legs drawn up and her controller in her hands while Bucky is sitting on the edge with his controller balanced on his knee. Both of them have their eyes glued to the screen in front of them and the dogs are laying curled up on the floor by their feet.
Steve pauses, plates in hand. The image that this makes turns up the heat in his chest and his heart does a flip before it melts and pours down his ribs until it settles warmly in his stomach. He smiles at them, that smile growing soft when Lily sits up and exclaims at something on the screen and Bucky throws his head back and laughs.
This is home, Steve decides. He could get used to this.
He sets the table quick and then he walks over to the couch where he puts his hands on the back right where Lily has her head rested. She doesn't look at him but she does shift and bonks her head against his hand for a quick moment so he puts that hand on her head and brushes her hair out of her face.
Bucky doesn't so much as glance at them, clearly swallowed up by the game.
“I hate to interrupt,” Steve says, “but dinner's ready.”
“Can we finish this level?” Lily asks.
“Do you want your food to get cold?”
On screen, the game pauses and Lily whines.
“Come on, Lily,” Bucky says as he gets up. “We can play another day.”
“Fine,” Lily sighs. She gets up too and heads to the table, Cooper following her and Titan following Cooper curiously.
Steve turns to Bucky with a smile. “Thank your for entertaining her,” he says.
“You don't gotta thank me,” Bucky says and smiles back. “It's not exactly a hardship.”
“No, I can't imagine it is. But still. Thank you.”
“Anytime. And I mean that.”
From the table, Lily asks, “Are we gonna eat or what?”
Steve and Bucky look at each other for a second, then they both snort.
Dinner is devoured over an easy flow of conversation. Lily is the one to do most of the leading with it, telling Bucky about everything and anything she can think of and Bucky listens and responds to all of it with the patience of a saint. Steve doesn't butt in, he merely sits back with a smile on his lips and watches them interact.
When all the food has been eaten and their plates are empty, Bucky turns to Steve and tells him that he should go do some prep work for the field trip. Steve doesn't argue with him, doesn't try to make him stay, instead he nods and tells him he can use the desk in his room if he wants. So Bucky does, disappearing into Steve's bedroom with his bag after taking his own dishes to the kitchen.
Titan doesn't follow him, surprisingly. He stays on his spot on the floor, curled up in the dog bed with Cooper. Neither of them are small dogs but somehow they make it work. It's a little cramped and they both spill out a little but they don't seem to mind, sleeping soundly.
The silence that lulls over the table doesn't last long.
“I like him,” Lily says after only a couple moments.
Steve smiles at her. “Yeah?”
“Yep,” Lily says with a deciding nod. “He's funny and cool and okay at video games.”
“And he has a cute dog,” Steve adds for her.
“He does!” Lily says, eyes suddenly wide. “Can we keep him?”
“The dog or Bucky?”
Lily hums, then she says, “Both.”
Steve chuckles, his smile soft and fond. “Yeah, Lily. We can keep them.”
Lily gets put to bed not long after the table has been cleared. She's out like a light only seconds after making herself comfortable under her blanket, curled up on her side with her arms wrapped around a stuffed bear that she's had since she was a baby. Steve watches her for a moment, then he closes the door as quietly as possible and turns the light off.
Steve walks back to the dining/living room on quiet feet to get the dogs. He takes them out to the backyard to let them relieve themselves and run around a bit to burn off some excess energy. When they get back, Steve gives them some food and then he leaves them be and walks into his bedroom.
Bucky is sitting by the desk, hunched over his open laptop with his eyes squinting at the bright screen. He has his glasses between two prosthetic fingers and is chewing on the temple tip while he taps around on the laptop with his right hand. There's a furrow in his brow and his shoulders are tense and Steve doesn't hesitate to walk over and put his hands on them.
He rubs them in a gentle massage, though he's careful on the left, and he smiles when Bucky lets out a sigh and deflates a little against him. Steve massages his shoulders for about minute, then he leans down and places a soft kiss on the bare skin of his neck.
“Lily's asleep,” he says in a whisper against his neck. “Wanna take a break?”
Bucky hums. It's not a no but it's not a yes either.
“We could make out a little.”
Bucky chuckles, then he pulls his glasses away from his mouth and says, “Tempting.”
“Tempting enough?” Steve asks and kisses his neck again.
“Let me just...” Bucky trails off, his focus back on the laptop as he continues tapping around.
Steve leans back. He reaches out to close the laptop, then he turns the chair around and grabs Bucky's hands. “Come on,” he says. “Let's go take a break.”
Bucky makes an incoherent complaint but he doesn't fight it when Steve pulls him to his feet and leads him toward the bed. He definitely doesn't fight it when Steve kisses him and starts unbuttoning his shirt either, sliding it off his shoulders and kissing his left softly.
Instead, Bucky puts his hand on Steve and lets them fall into bed together.
Bucky ends up falling asleep on Steve.
He conks out with his head pillowed on Steve's chest and himself nestled between Steve's spread legs, his shirt thrown somewhere carelessly and his prosthetic unbuckled but not off. Steve doesn't mind it. He lets out a huff and rolls his eyes but he gently pulls his prosthetic off to put it somewhere a little safer without complaint, then he pulls the covers over them both.
Bucky isn't exactly light and it's not the most comfortable position they're in but after some careful shifting, Steve manages to find one that's at least a little better and less suffocation. Bucky makes himself comfortable too; he shifts against him with a sleepy mumble before he settles down and sighs heavily. Never once does he open his eyes.
Steve smiles down at him. He wraps his arms around him and moves one hand up to his head to first undo his bun and then carefully card his fingers through his now loose hair. When Bucky doesn't move or wake, Steve leans in and presses a soft kiss to his forehead. And another when it pulls a sleepy moan from Bucky.
With a smile on his lips, Steve looks up at the ceiling. He breathes easy.