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

Chapter Text

For the past few Sundays, Steve's patience has been tested.

He hasn't always been as patient as he is now, or patient at all. Some would probably laugh if he were to claim he was ever patient in his youth which he takes no offense to because he knows how he used to be. In college, he couldn't keep track on how many times he almost threw his laptop out the window of his dorm room when it decided to crash or freeze because it happened multiple times a day.

He never did throw the laptop out the window because while he really wanted to, his voice of reason (Sam, sometimes Peggy) kept reminding him that he couldn't afford to get a new one and his education and future career depended on that laptop, as much as he hated it. There's only so much you can do with pen and paper, even back then.

Sometimes his thin patience wasn't so bad though. Steve used to run every morning in college and Sam joined him after they met in their first year though it didn't take long before he regretted it because Steve didn't run, he sprinted. The whole way. Going at Sam's jogging speed was boring and Steve got impatient.

He doesn't run as much these days and now his runs are much shorter and not quite as fast. He doesn't sprint anymore since he's thirty-five and not as fast as he used to be. Sam still refuses to join him though, despite that, but that's okay. Steve has another running partner who can mostly keep up with him because he's slowed down but he's still pretty fast.

Running is the one instance where having no patience benefited him. The rest just caused him to lose his temper but having a kid, well. He learned to be patient and ignore his short temper real quick.

But sometimes... sometimes his patience is still tested, even this many years later.

Steve pushes his sleeve up and looks at the time on his watch for what feels like the thousandth time but probably isn't more than the fifth. Ten minutes have passed since he got into his shoes and grabbed the walking bag with essentials (keys, treats, poop bags, etc) along with the leash.

Ten minutes of standing here, waiting while his four year old golden retriever Cooper sits in front of him and gives him the biggest, pleading eyes.

Cooper is smart. He has no concept of time like every other dog but he has somehow figured out when it's Sunday and he's ready for a trip to the dog park without a words said. Steve doesn't even have to grab his leash off the hook before he comes sprinting over to the front door and sits ready, tail wagging and eyes wide with excitement.

But now it's been ten minutes and he's starting to get impatient.

Steve doesn't blame him.

With a sigh, he drops his arm and looks down the hall to the room at the end.

“Lily!” he calls out, loud because the door is closed.

“What!” comes the reply, muffled by the door.

“It's been ten minutes, come on!”

A moment passes, then another, and then the door opens and his daughter pokes her head out. It still shocks him how big she's gotten. She's eleven now and the shortest in her class but he remembers when he could fit her in his own two hands like it was yesterday. Sometimes it leaves him flabbergasted when he remembers how much she's grown.

And how much of a personality she's developed.

At the moment she's looking at him like he's the biggest idiot in the universe—chin dipped, brows low, and eyes narrowed into slits—and to her, he probably is. He's used to being the receiver of looks like this and sometimes he even likes it but his patience is wearing thin so he returns it with his brows raised sternly.

“It hasn't been ten minutes,” she says as she steps out of her room.

She's dressed for a walk at least, though her hair is still loose over her shoulders.

“It has,” Steve says and taps the watch on his wrist. “I've been timing you.”

Lily rolls her eyes at him and walks over. She hands him a hair tie and turns her back to him the moment he takes it from between her fingers, throwing her long, blonde locks over her shoulders.

Out of habit, Steve doesn't even think when he rolls the hair tie down to his wrist and reaches out to gather her hair in his hands. He's done this enough times now, it's part of their daily routine. She's brushed it thoroughly this time unlike some mornings which is nice. His fingers glide right through.

“Can't do it yourself?” he asks her, brushing the hairs back from her face.

Lily shakes her head a little and hums mm-mm in denial.

Steve smiles at the back of her head and separates her hair into three sections. The braid is quick and maybe not his best work but it'll keep her hair out of her face for at least most of the walk. It's a bit windy today, he doesn't expect all her hair to stay in the braid. It never does, anyway.

“All done,” he says after and tosses the braid over her shoulder.

Lily lets it stay there today. Sometimes she doesn't. Sometimes she throws it right back and makes it a point to hit him with it but not today. She spins around on her heels with a toothy smile on her lips and says, “Thanks, dad.”

“You're very welcome,” Steve says with a smile. “You ready to go now?”

“Yep!”

Lily takes the leash out of his hand and he lets her. She spins back around and looks at Cooper who hasn't moved from his spot on the floor. When she looks at him, his tail starts wagging again and this time it's so much that it makes his whole body shake. He lets out an impatient whine, eyes big and pleading.

Steve smiles at them and slings the walking bag across his chest while Lily holds out the leash and asks, “Wanna go for a walk?”

The answer she gets comes in a deep boof and then Cooper stands up on all fours. He does a little hop with his front paws and briefly goes over to her but then he turns and heads for the door, looking back at them when they don't immediately follow. His tail wags and he whines impatiently.

Steve says, “I don't think he wants to.”

Lily snorts at him. She puts the leash on Cooper and then they leave the apartment.

 


 

The dog park isn't far away but it still takes them almost thirty minutes to get there. Cooper stops them to relieve himself three times—once for poop, twice for pee—and Lily stops them halfway there to beg for ice cream. Steve buys her a popsicle because it's Sunday and she doesn't get one often.

There are already a good handful dogs when they finally get to the park. Some he recognizes because they've been coming here regularly since they got Cooper just over three years ago and a couple he doesn't. Most of them are big dogs around Cooper's size though there are a few smaller ones running around as well. Not that the big dogs seem to pay them any attention.

Cooper gets let off his leash after Steve has shut the gate they came through and Lily has gotten him to sit down. His attention is fully on the bundle of dogs play fighting further into the park and the second he gets the go-ahead, he sprints off toward them and joins them. Steve recognizes the husky and the German shepherd but there's a boxer he hasn't seen before too.

There are new dogs here more days than not so Steve thinks nothing of it. It's a gorgeous dog, he thinks while the dog steps over to Cooper and sniffs at him and Cooper sniffs back, but that's all the attention he gives them before he grabs Lily's hand and takes her with him over to the side so they're not in the way at the gate.

Lily is a lot more interested in that dog though. Not that that's surprising, she's a dog person.

“What kinda dog is that?” she asks him and points out to the bundle.

Steve follows her finger and asks, “Which one?”

“The one sniffing Cooper's butt.”

“Looks like a boxer. Big one, too.”

“How old is it?”

“I don't know.”

It doesn't take long before Cooper loses interest in the boxer and moves on to the other dogs, the ones he already knows. They start playing and Steve expects the boxer to join in as well but it doesn't. Instead it trots over toward one of the benches that are lined up along the fence around the park.

There's a man sitting there. He's leaned back against the bench with his hands resting on his thighs, though he brings them up when the boxer comes over to him. Steve can't see his face from where they're standing, the distance too long, but he can see that the man is wearing at least a few layers despite the spring weather and long, brown locks fall out from under the plain blue cap on his head.

The boxer starts wagging its tail before it reaches the man and it immediately leans into his hands when he reaches out and takes its head into them. The man must be the dog's owner, clearly a loving one too.

Steve takes his eyes off them and looks down at Lily. “We can go ask, if you want,” he says.

Lily looks up at him with huge eyes and that's answer enough.

He keeps her hand in his as they walk over there, his attention still partially on Cooper because he is his responsibility. The man on the bench doesn't look up before they're a few steps away and he only does because his dog notices them approaching and turns to them with a happy wag of its tail.

The man lifts his head which means the cap brim is no longer hiding his face and the friendly smile that was growing on Steve's lips suddenly freezes, as do his legs mid-step when his eyes lock with the man's startling blue ones.

He knows those eyes. Hell, he knows that face.

“Bucky?” he breathes out in surprise.

There's a light scruff running along his jaw, well taken care of and regularly groomed judging by the clear line from shaving under his chin, and there are age marks in the corners of his eyes but Steve knows that face. He knows those eyes, that cleft chin, those pink, plush lips that are currently pulled into tight line.

He has aged and he looks different but there is no doubt in Steve's mind that this is Bucky.

Bucky stares at him with a calculating look in his eyes, brows furrowed in confusion. It doesn't take more than a couple seconds before it seems to click for him too and those familiar eyes widen and those lips stretch out into a smile that creates crowfeet in the corners of his eyes.

“Steve?” he says and Steve can't help but let out an airy laugh.

“Bucky,” he says again and steps forward after letting go of Lily's hand.

Bucky moves to stand without letting go of his dog but Steve moves in and wraps his arms around him in a hug before he's all the way up anyway. Bucky laughs into his shoulder and throws an arm around him to hug him back, though only the one.

The hug is tight but short. It can't have been more than a couple seconds before Bucky leans back and Steve lets him go despite the urge to keep holding on. But he steps back and looks at Bucky, his smile so wide that his cheeks almost hurt from it.

It feels weird, looking at him like this. Steve was always the shorter one but now, he's standing with an inch or two on Bucky. It may not be the most obvious thing, especially not when they're not back to back or side by side, but it is to him. He was so short for the first fourteen years of his life, height is a hard thing not to notice.

It's also hard not to notice that Bucky doesn't keep standing but instead sits back down, his hand still on his dog's back. Steve's brows furrow momentarily but before he can even think about asking or commenting, Bucky speaks again.

“Look at you,” he says, eyes raking over him. “You got tall. Finally grew into your personality, huh?”

Steve narrows his eyes, smile going a little crooked. “Was that a compliment?”

“Absolutely not,” Bucky says. “That was an insult.”

Steve scoffs, his smile wide again.

“I'm kidding,” Bucky says with a chuckle. “You look good, pal.”

“Thanks,” Steve says, cheeks a little warm. “You look good too, Buck.”

Bucky smiles at him but he doesn't say anything. Instead he looks to the side and his smile softens. When Steve follows his gaze, he sees Lily coming up to his side. She slides her hand back into his and he curls his fingers around it, holding on.

“Lily,” he says and looks back at Bucky. “This is Bucky. He was my best friend when I was your age. Bucky, this is Lily. My daughter.”

A flash of something crosses Bucky's face and then it's gone. “You have a daughter,” he says.

Steve nods. “Eleven years old,” he says.

“And four months,” Lily adds.

“And four months,” Steve repeats.

Bucky stares at him for a moment, then he looks at Lily, smiles, and says, “It's nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” Lily says. “How old is your dog?”

“Titan?” Bucky looks down at his dog who's sat down between his legs now, leaning into his hand. “He just turned three last month.” He looks back up, eyes on Lily. “Which one's yours?”

“The golden retriever,” Lily says and points at Cooper who's gone to drink water from a bowl in the corner. “His name is Cooper and he's four years old. He's a rescue.”

“Oh yeah?” Bucky smiles at her and says, “That's awesome. How long have you had him?”

“We got him when he was one,” she says, “and I've taught him a bunch of tricks.”

“What kinda tricks?”

“He can do sit, lay down, roll over, shake, and spin.”

“Wow, that's impressive,” Bucky says and he sounds like he actually means it.

Steve smiles, the smile growing a little wider when Bucky meets his eye in a glance.

Bucky smiles back, soft around the edges.

“Does Titan know any tricks?” Lily asks.

“Oh, plenty,” Bucky says. “He can open doors, get my stuff from the drawer, grab a water bottle from the fridge, he knows lots of tricks. He's real smart.”

“He's a service dog?” Steve asks before he can stop himself.

“He's my service dog, yeah,” Bucky says and looks at him. “But he's off work right now.”

Steve looks back at him in silence for a moment. There are a million questions racing through his head but none are ones appropriate to ask someone he hasn't seen or talked to in eighteen years. A lot has happened and clearly not all has been good for Bucky. Not all has been good for Steve either but right now, Steve is just happy to see him.

After a moment, he smiles and asks, “Mind if we sit down for a bit?”

“Not at all,” Bucky says. He moves what's on his left—a leash and a red service dog vest, Steve notices then—into his lap and gestures to the open space left on the bench.

Steve lifts Lily off the ground and sits down next to Bucky on the bench. Lily makes herself comfortable in his lap, back leaned against his chest and legs thrown over his thigh. There's some space left between them and Bucky, even with Lily's feet on the bench. An appropriate amount of space, Steve thinks.

“So,” Bucky says after a beat. “You guys enjoying some father/daughter quality time while mom's asleep, huh?”

“My mom's not home,” Lily says. “She comes home in fifty-three days.”

The smile on Bucky's lips stiffens. He blinks, then shoots a confused look at Steve.

Steve offers him a small smile and mouths deployed.

The smile doesn't get less stiff. “Gotcha,” Bucky says and nods.

Steve looks at him, observes him. There's a tightness in Bucky's lips, like he wants to say something but is holding himself back. Bucky averts his eye and looks down at Titan instead, pretending to focus on running his right hand over the top of his head.

Steve says, “You can say it.”

Next to him, Bucky shrugs. “Say what?”

“You got this look on your face when I said deployed, so. You can say it.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

Steve gives him a look. “Bucky.”

“It's just...” Bucky visibly hesitates, then he makes a face. “The military. It's—”

“Awful,” Steve finishes for him.

“Stupid,” Lily adds quietly.

Bucky's face relaxes. He looks at them and slowly asks, “You agree?”

“We do,” Steve says with a nod. “Neither of us are particular fans of the military.”

“Oh.” Bucky lets out a breath. It sounds relieved. “I thought you'd be all... pro-army and that.”

“Why would I?”

“Well, I mean. Because your wife is in the military.”

Steve smiles. “I'm not married.”

“Girlfriend, then.”

“Don't have one.”

Bucky stares at him.

“Lily's mom and I aren't together,” Steve explains.

After a beat, Bucky asks, “Because she's in the military?”

Steve laughs and says, “It didn't help but no, for other reasons. It's, uh. A long story.”

“Right,” Bucky says. “One you don't wanna share with someone who's practically a stranger.”

Steve smiles apologetically.

“It's okay,” Bucky says and smiles back. “I get it.”

“I don't want you to be a stranger,” Steve says quietly after a moment.

“Steve,” Bucky says, his smile softening. “It's been eighteen years.”

“Yeah but.” Steve moves Lily on his lap, shifting her weight. He pauses for a long moment, then he smiles, albeit sadly. “I've missed you, Buck.”

“I've missed you too, pal,” Bucky says quietly.

Steve opens his mouth to say something else. What, he doesn't know, but before he can, Cooper comes running up to them and steals his attention away from Bucky. Cooper momentarily sniffs at Titan but when he senses the disinterest, he moves over to Steve and Lily and looks up at them, eyes bright and tongue lolling out of his mouth as he pants.

Lily shifts and repositions herself in Steve's lap so she can scoot forward and reach Cooper. He leans into her hands immediately, drooling onto Steve's pants but not Lily's despite them being right there too.

“Dad,” Lily says as she plays with Cooper's ears. “Can we buy Cooper a new toy?”

“You don't think he has enough already?” Steve asks.

Lily gives him a look over her shoulder.

Next to him, Bucky stifles a laugh.

Steve does the same and says, “Forget I asked. Sure. Wanna do that now?”

“Yeah,” Lily says. “We gotta go home and get my money first.”

“Okay.” Steve turns to Bucky with an apologetic smile and says, “Sorry. Guess we're leaving.”

“It's okay,” Bucky says with a shake of his head. “Your kid comes first, I get it.”

Steve nods and then moves to stand. Cooper backs up when he does and when he's on his feet, he sets Lily down on the ground. While she gets the leash back on Cooper, Steve turns to look at Bucky.

“I'll, uh.” He clears his throat, rubs at his legs. “I'll see you around. Right?”

“I live here,” Bucky says. “And this park is the closest to my apartment. We'll probably be coming here once in a while so Titan can get to be a normal dog. So yeah, you'll see me around.”

“We're here every Sunday,” Lily pipes up next to Steve.

“Every Sunday,” Steve confirms with a half shrug. “It's tradition.”

Bucky pauses and looks at Steve. “Are you sure you want me to impose on your tradition?” he asks carefully.

“We don't mind,” Steve says. “Do we, Lily?”

“Nope,” Lily says. “We don't mind.”

Bucky smiles at Steve, then Lily. “Okay,” he says. “I'll see you around, then.”

Steve smiles back. “See you around.”

 


 

That night, his dreams are filled with a familiar face.

It smiles at him and follows him through memory after memory and when the alarm on his phone washes it all away by waking him, Steve wants nothing more than to throw it at the wall and dive back into that land of memories. But that's not an option because before he can even reach out and shut the alarm off, the bed dips and then there's a rough tongue licking his cheek.

Steve groans and shoves Cooper's muzzle away, though halfheartedly. It only gives him a couple seconds' peace, just time enough to roll over onto his side and turn the alarm off, and then Cooper is right back on him, licking his face insistently.

Steve doesn't push him away this time but he sighs and mutters, “Cooper, stop. It's too early.”

Cooper responds with an impatient huff and paws at his shoulder.

Steve puts up with it for almost a minute, then he gives in and sits up with a groan. Cooper moves away when he does. He hops off the bed and trots out of the room with his tail held high. Steve has no choice but to get up and follow him out, quickly stepping into a pair of sweats that's been thrown onto the chair by his desk.

He takes Cooper outside to relieve himself. There's a yard behind the building, fenced in and gated off. It's not particularly big but there are patches of grass and old furniture that's surprisingly not broken yet despite looking one kick away from falling apart. Steve only comes here a few times a day, whenever Cooper needs to relieve himself.

When Cooper is done and has sniffed to every corner, Steve leads him back inside. Their apartment is on the first floor so they only have to climb one set of stairs and round one corner before they make it back to the door. He unlocks it, gets Cooper inside, and closes the door behind himself.

“Go wake Lily,” he says as he hangs the keys on the hook nearby.

Cooper is already on his way to Lily's room when he says it and he disappears behind the door standing ajar before Steve has stepped all the way out of his shoes. Steve doesn't follow him, instead he heads for the kitchen to get the coffee and breakfast made.

The coffee is brewing when Cooper comes back out with no Lily following him. Some mornings she is, other mornings she has a harder time getting out of bed. Monday mornings are usually the ones that are hardest and sometimes Steve has to drag her out. Today he doesn't because by the time he's pouring a cup of coffee for himself, Lily comes shuffling into the kitchen with her mouth dropped open in a yawn.

“Morning, sleepyhead,” he greets her and smiles.

The response he gets is a long groan as Lily drags her feet over to him. There's a hair tie between her two fingers when she holds her hand up and Steve, setting his cup down, takes it. She turns around and he gathers her hair into his hands.

“Did you brush it?” he asks, rhetorically because he can already tell.

“Yeah,” Lily mutters sleepily.

“Properly?”

Lily hums and nods her head.

“So I won't find any knots?”

“Nope.”

Steve smiles and kisses the top of her head. “Good girl.”

He puts her hair in a simple braid because it's the one he can do the quickest and while they don't have the busiest mornings, usually, they also don't have time to sit and braid hair for very long. As much as Steve knows Lily would like it. When it's done and secured with the tie, he makes her breakfast while Lily gives Cooper his.

With those two settled, Steve heads into the bathroom and showers. He stands with his head tipped back, eyes closed, and the water falling over his naked body while his mind drifts. It drifts back to his dreams, to yesterday, to the face he knows so well that has changed so much yet is still so familiar.

It doesn't matter how long it's been, Bucky still makes him feel... everything.

Both good and bad.

He snaps himself out of it after a minute and is quick to finish the shower, then he steps out and gets into his scrubs. They're dark blue today. He doesn't always get dressed at home, sometimes he does it at the hospital, but it's easier to do it at home. It doesn't waste as much time either.

When he comes back out, he finds Lily planted on the couch with the tablet in her lap and Cooper half asleep on the cushion next to her. She's dressed for school and her bag is leaning against the wall in the foyer so he assumes she must've packed it already too.

“Got your lunch?” he asks her and grabs his wallet from the dining room table.

“Yep,” Lily says without looking up.

“Your carrots too?”

Lily wrinkles her nose. “But I don't like them,” she says.

“You ate some for dinner last night.”

“Yeah but they tasted good.”

“These do too.”

“No, they don't.”

“Have you had them before?”

Lily pauses, slumping further down with a pout. “Yes,” she says.

Steve gives her a look. “Your nose just grew.”

Lily sighs and looks up from the tablet. “Dad,” she whines. “I don't want them.”

“Too bad,” Steve says. “Go put them in your bag.”

Lily groans but she puts the tablet down and gets up. She walks to the kitchen with her arms heavy down her sides and a scowl on her lips. She grabs the bag of baby carrots from the fridge and shoves them into the front room of her bag, then she turns to him and her scowl deepens.

“I'm not eating them,” she says.

“Oh yeah?” Steve shrugs and says, “That's fine. More dessert for me tonight.”

Lily whines, her scowl turning into a pout. “You're mean.”

“I sure am,” he says, then gestures to the door. “Come on, let's go before we're late.”

 


 

Steve rushes back onto the subway after dropping Lily off at school. It's filled with people on their way to work or school or wherever and he knows there won't be any seating space or someone else will need it more than him so he doesn't bother even thinking about it and steps aside, grabs hold onto a pole just as the train starts moving instead.

It doesn't take long before his mind starts to drift and before he knows it, he's back to thinking about Bucky. He hasn't thought about him in so many years, so long that he was certain he'd forgotten about him, and now he's all he can think about.

Steve met Bucky when he was eight and Bucky was seven. By all accounts, they shouldn't have worked as friends. Bucky was a happy, outgoing kid from an upper-middle class family who was friends with everyone on the playground and Steve was the angry kid from a poor family that no one wanted to go near, except bullies to push him into the dirt.

It was a day much like any other when Bucky shoved his way into his life. A kid from Steve's class had called him something. He doesn't remember what it was and it doesn't matter much either but it pissed him off so he'd punched the kid in the face. Or, he had tried to but the kid dodged and Steve ended up being the one to get punched in the face, hard enough to knock him on his ass.

He remembers blacking out for maybe a couple seconds, maybe a full minute, he doesn't know, but when he came to again, he was being dragged to the school nurse by Bucky. He'd sat with him while the nurse patched him up, stayed until his mom came to pick him up, and then he just never left again.

To this day, Steve doesn't know why Bucky decided to stick around because Steve wasn't exactly an easy person to be around but he did.

And then college happened.

Bucky'd gotten accepted at a college in another state and was moving away, while Steve was staying in New York. They'd had one last night together the night before Bucky left. A night full of sadness and mistakes and then, well. Then Bucky left and they lost contact, little by little.

That was eighteen years ago.

Seeing Bucky again, after all this time, has made Steve... confused. Disoriented.

Steve snaps out of his drifting thoughts when he nears his stop. He gets off and walks the rest of the way to the hospital but his mind stays stuck on Bucky. He's still thinking about him, a frown on his lips, when he walks into the staff locker room and heads to his locker to put his things away.

Claire is there, getting her things from the locker next to his. She's on the night shift before his morning shift most days of the week so they usually run into each other when he arrives. This morning is no different, except Steve doesn't immediately wish her a good morning—or a belated good night.

“Uh oh,” she says and shuts her locker. “Someone doesn't look happy. Rough morning?”

“Nah, I'm just...” Steve sighs and finishes, “Thinking.”

“About anything interesting?”

Steve stuffs his bag into the locker, then he says, “I ran into my childhood best friend yesterday.”

Claire closes her locker, shoves her bag over her shoulder, and leans against the locker. She doesn't say anything but she looks at him expectantly, a silent go on, and Steve scratches his bearded cheek in hesitation. He makes up his mind quick and shoots her a glance.

“Shouldn't you be heading home?” he asks.

“I should,” Claire says, “but not if you've got something you need to get off your chest.”

Steve looks at her. She looks exhausted, her eyes blinking slowly. He could honestly talk about this whole... Bucky thing for a while but a part of him doesn't want to just because he doesn't want to think about how their friendship ended and another part of him doesn't want to keep Claire here and away from her bed and much needed rest.

So he smiles at her and says, “Go home, Claire. Get some rest.”

“Alright,” Claire says and stands back up. “If you're sure.”

“I'm sure,” he assures her, nodding.

“Alright,” Claire says, again.

She puts a hand on his shoulder and gives him a little squeeze before she walks past him and heads out of the staff room. It leaves him standing alone. He takes in a deep breath and closes his locker after changing into the shoes he's dedicated to work; a pair of worn running shoes. He puts his lunch in the fridge and then heads out get himself a cup of hospital coffee from the crappy brewer.

With it in hand, he sits down in front of the computer to catch up on his patient reports before he gets started on the day. And he does his best not to think about Bucky for a single second during the day.

(He fails. Multiple times.

Better luck tomorrow, he hopes.)

Chapter Text

Steve does not have better luck the next day.

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon doesn't only apply to words, as it turns out. Apparently it also applies to reuniting with someone from your past because suddenly, they're everywhere. And not just in his mind either, though Bucky does pop up there frequently too.

 


 

Steve sits down on the chair nearest the wall with a tired sigh. It's not the most comfortable chair he's ever sat on but there's a decent cushion stabled to the back and the sun has moved so it no longer shines in through the window and right into his face. And he's got food on a plate in front of him so who is he to complain?

Sam sits down on the chair across from him while Natasha sits on the one to his left and Sharon takes the one next to Sam on the other side. They all have food with them, drinks in glass with the diner's logo on too. Natasha has already started drinking hers before she's sat down, her fries almost gone even though they got their orders less than two minutes ago.

“Shut up,” she says when she catches him looking. “I'm starving.”

“I didn't say anything,” Steve says which technically isn't a lie.

“No,” Natasha says, “but you were giving me a look.”

“I'm just impressed by how fast you eat.”

Natasha keeps her eyes locked to his when she takes a handful of fries and shoves them into her mouth, chewing with her mouth open. Steve makes a face of disgust at her and pointedly doesn't laugh even though he wants to and almost does.

“I don't know how you two are adults,” Sam says. “You act like children.”

“He started it,” Natasha says but her mouth is full so it comes out muffled.

“I didn't start shit,” Steve says and picks up a fry from his own plate, intending to throw it at her.

Before he can though, Sharon picks it out of his hand and says, “You're a father, stop it.”

Steve huffs and leans back in his seat. He looks at Natasha for a moment, then he sticks his tongue out at her.

Natasha opens her mouth wide and shows him the chewed fries.

“I am never having kids,” Sam proclaims quietly with a shake of his head.

“You already have kids,” Steve says. The next fry he picks up goes into his own mouth.

“Cats don't count as kids,” Sam says.

“Yes, they do,” Natasha says immediately.

“Absolutely not,” Sam says. “Riley takes care of them more than me anyway.”

Steve smiles at him and asks, “How's he doing, by the way?”

Riley is Sam's boyfriend and a former firefighter who got caught in a bad house fire that cost him both his career and full mobility in his right leg. He can still walk fine some days but only for a short time. He has a crutch for when he needs to take his weight off it and now that he's retired, he spends his time fostering cats.

Mostly kittens but sometimes he takes in adult ones too.

It keeps him busy and distracted on the days that aren't so good. And while Sam likes to complain about the amount of cats in their house, even the two that are theirs, Steve knows that he has a soft spot for every new foster Riley takes in. He knows because he has seen how Sam acts around the fosters.

“So-so,” Sam says with a shrug. “He's been doing good at PT and we go for a walk most evenings when he's got the energy for it. And we just got a new batch of foster kittens so he's kept busy the rest of the day.”

“Are Jasper and Fiona still acting like parents?” Natasha asks, a smile on her lips.

“I don't think they ever won't,” Sam says. “They look after any foster kitten like it's their own.”

“That's cute,” Sharon coos, words not muffled despite the burger bite in her mouth.

Steve picks up his own burger with a smile on his lips. When he lifts it to his mouth, the front door to the diner opens and someone steps in. And that someone makes him pause and freeze before he can even sink his teeth into the burger in his hands.

It's Bucky.

He looks different today. He's not wearing a cap to hide half his face though there is a pair of glasses—the frames black and thick on the top but thin along the bottom—on the bridge of his nose. It does hide his face a little but his hair is pulled back into a bun that sits messily on the back of his head, freeing his face.

Much like Sunday, he's wearing layers again but they're not thick ones that seem too warm for the time of year this time. This time, it's more season appropriate; a simple dark gray shirt underneath a black bomber jacket with a patch of something colorful on the right side of the chest, his hands buried in the pockets. His jeans are light and hugs his thighs nicely, pronouncing the thickness of them.

Steve can't see further down, vision blocked by chairs and tables, but Bucky looks good.

Really good.

Too good.

Steve closes his mouth and swallows thickly, heart hammering.

What he can see is Titan standing by his side as well as a man next to him. The man has dirty blond hair probably not deliberately put into a bird's nest. He's taller than Bucky by a couple inches and he's not quite as wide but he is muscular, his short sleeved shirt showing off an impressive set of biceps.

Next to Bucky, the guy looks like a mess. Holed sweatpants, bedhead, a colorful band aid on his cheek, and his right wrist wrapped in bandage. They look mismatched, yet Bucky looks so comfortable next to him that Steve can only assume they're close. Probably very close.

Steve keeps his eyes on them as they head toward the ordering counter and watches as they both tilt their heads up to look at the menu. They look it over for maybe half a minute before Bucky taps his friend on the shoulder. The friend looks at him and Bucky takes both hands out of his pockets and—

Oh.

Steve's stomach drops when he sees Bucky's left hand. It's a prosthetic.

He tears his eyes away, both to give the two some privacy and to look at Sharon when she says his name.

“You okay?” she asks him.

Steve smiles, a little tightly, and nods. “Yeah, I'm fine,” he says.

Sharon looks at him, eyes narrowed because she knows him well enough to know when he's lying or at least not telling the truth. But she doesn't say anything or press further. She merely nods and turns her attention back to Sam who's showing pictures of the new foster cats.

Steve tries to do the same but it doesn't take long before his attention drifts back to Bucky. And he freezes in place because Bucky is already looking back at him, eyes a little wider and mouth hanging open ever so slightly like he's as surprised to see him as Steve is.

They stare at each other across the diner for what feels like an eternity but what can't be more than a couple seconds. In that moment, time stands still and all Steve has eyes for is Bucky. Everything else doesn't matter, doesn't exist.

The moment passes and then Bucky smiles, slow and almost shy. Steve smiles back, of course he does, and almost raises a hand in a greeting wave but remembers the burger in his hands last second and ends up not doing more than a quick move of his hands.

Bucky turns back to his friend and makes a few quick hand movements. That's sign language. Steve knows those words. Bucky signs be right back to his friend and then he turns and walks over toward the table that Steve is seated at, Titan following along, his leash attached to Bucky's hip.

“Uh,” Steve says intelligently and sits up a little, smile gone. He looks down at the plate in front of him, panicking for a split second before he puts his burger down and wipes his hands even though they're already clean. He then smooths down the front of the scrubs—they're light blue today—under his jacket and shifts in his seat, clearing his throat and running a hand over his beard.

As he does, the other three around the table watch him with questioning looks in their eyes.

“What the hell are you doing?” Sam asks after a long beat.

“Nothing,” Steve says too quick and shoots him a glance before he's drawn back to Bucky.

Bucky, who comes up to their table and stops, his smile a little wider but no less shy and his eyes locked onto Steve's. A heavy silence falls over the table and Steve knows his friends are looking between them with curiosity but he only has eyes for Bucky and doesn't care right now.

He feels like he's sixteen again, smiling so big he fears his face might split in half.

“Hi,” Bucky says in a breath, then.

“Hi,” Steve echoes. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Right back at you,” Bucky says and slips his left hand into his pocket.

Steve notices but doesn't comment on it. “You come here often?” he asks instead.

He pointedly ignores Sharon's stifled snort.

“Sometimes,” Bucky says, then he motions over to his friend. “Clint gets us lunch here most days but I was busy during lunch so. Decided to join him for a late one instead. Needed some fresh air, and all that.”

Steve looks over at Clint who seems to be swallowed by his phone. He's leaning against the order counter, slouching and seemingly not paying attention to his surroundings, thumbs tapping around on his phone. Steve looks at him for a moment, then he looks back at Bucky and smiles.

He ignores the jealous sting in his chest.

“Well,” he says. “It's good to see you again.”

“You too,” Bucky says and smiles back. “I don't see you for eighteen years and now twice in a few days? Must be destiny.”

Steve huffs and gives him a flat look. “Or coincidence,” he says.

Bucky clicks his tongue and says, “Don't be such a downer, Stevie.”

“You st—”

Sam clears his throat pointedly across the table, cutting him off.

Steve flushes and takes his eyes off Bucky. He looks at Sam first, cheeks burning under the curious stare. When he glances at Natasha and Sharon, he finds them with similar looks in their eyes though Natasha's is more teasing than curious.

He clears his throat, shifts in his seat. “Buck,” he says. “This is Sam, Natasha, and Sharon. Guys, this is Bucky.”

“Hi,” Bucky says to the table.

“Hi, Bucky,” the three say back, all with varying degrees of interest.

Steve shoots them a warning look but he knows it won't help one bit.

“So,” Natasha says and leans forward, chin in hand. “Bucky. How do you know Steve?”

“Childhood friends,” Bucky says. “Best friends, actually. We... lost touch after high school.”

Sam hums and shoots a look at Steve. “Weird how Steve's never mentioned you before.”

Steve suddenly finds his burger really interesting, his cheeks burning hot.

He's not looking so he misses whatever journey Bucky's face goes on and when he glances up at him, he finds him smiling, albeit a little tightly, and shrugging both shoulders.

“I don't blame him,” Bucky says. “It was eighteen years ago.”

Sam hums again, eyes on Steve.

Steve pokes absently at his burger and avoids his eye.

“Anyway,” Bucky says. “I should get going. Got lunch to eat and homework to deal with.”

Steve looks at him, brows raised slightly. “You're in school?” he asks.

“Technically, I suppose,” Bucky says. “I teach.”

“Oh. You're, ah. You're a teacher?”

Bucky nods and says, “Sure am. Fifth grade history teacher at Xavier's.”

“Wow,” Steve says in amazement. “That's incredible.”

Bucky rubs the back of his neck, his ears a little pink. “It's alright,” he says.

“Don't downplay your career,” Steve says. “Teaching is an important job.”

“I suppose.” Bucky looks at him, eyes wandering downward. “And you're clearly something in medicine. Doctor?”

“Nurse,” Steve corrects.

Bucky stares, then he smiles. “Like—”

“Yeah,” Steve interrupts and smiles back, just a little.

Bucky's smile softens. “That's great, Steve,” he says. “She would've liked that.”

“I like to think so.”

Bucky wasn't there when Steve's mom passed, a few years after they lost contact. He hadn't called or messaged him or reached out in any way. His parents had, they'd send him their condolences because they were friends with his mom. But there had been nothing from Bucky.

Steve doesn't blame him. They weren't friends anymore, why would he reach out?

(Truth to be told, he was angry about it for a while but he's moved on.

He needed something to be angry about back then because grieving over his mom was too awful. Bucky's absence was an easy choice. For a while and then he couldn't allow himself to be angry at him anymore and his anger shifted to what took his mom away instead.)

“Well,” Bucky says after a beat. “I really should get going.”

“Yeah, of course,” Steve says with a nod. “I'll, uh. I'll see you around?”

Bucky smiles at him and holds his hand out as he says, “The universe has decided to push us together again, Steve.”

“Shut up,” Steve says, cutting him off.

Bucky laughs. “You'll see me around,” he says and it sounds like a promise.

He leaves, then. Steve watches him as he and Titan walk back over to Clint who's standing with takeout containers in each hand and a small bag between his teeth. He watches as Bucky pulls his left hand back out of his pocket to snatch the bag out of his friend's mouth and he watches as they turn to leave out the door.

Clint walks out first and before Bucky follows him, he looks back over at Steve and meets his eye. Steve smiles at him and Bucky smiles back and raises his hand, then he walks out with Titan and catches up with Clint waiting on the street.

Steve can only see them out the window for a couple seconds and then they're gone.

A pregnant silence hangs over the table, after.

Natasha is the one to break it.

“Steve,” she says with interest. “Who was that?”

“I told you,” Steve says and picks up his burger. “That's Bucky.”

Across the table, Sharon says, “And who's Bucky?”

“You just met him.”

“Steve,” Sam says. “Come on, man. We want details.”

Steve takes a big bite of his burger and averts his eyes.

“What's with you?” Sam asks. “What, were you guys more than best friends or?”

“Did you have a crush on him?” Sharon asks, teasingly.

Steve stops chewing. His face hardens but his blushing cheeks give him away.

“Oh my god, you did.”

Steve thinks about lying. He thinks about asking them to talk about something else and knows they would because he'd be desperate enough and they might bring it up later but would leave it for the time being.

But when he opens his mouth, what comes out is, “We kissed once.”

It'd happened the night before Bucky left for college. Steve had been the one to initiate it because Bucky was leaving and he didn't know when he would see him again or if Bucky would find someone better and abandon him and Steve just had to do it. He'd grabbed his face and pulled him in for an awkward and desperate kiss.

Steve knows he's bisexual now. He didn't know back then and didn't admit it to himself until far into his adult life but he knows he's always loved Bucky. And maybe he always will. He certainly feels something for him still but that something is clouded by hurt because of how their friendship took a turn after that kiss.

Steve doesn't remember how the night ended but every interaction they had after was awkward and uncomfortable and further and further apart. Eventually Steve stopped picking up Bucky's calls and Bucky stopped calling, stopped sending him letters, stopped reaching out.

Steve was angry for a long time and he supposes part of him still is.

But he still loves him, despite it.

“Wow,” Sam says. “So you guys were...?”

“Friends,” Steve finishes for him. “And then nothing.”

“That didn't look like nothing,” Natasha says. “That looked like two childhood friends who had feel—”

“Stop,” Steve cuts her off with and gives her a hard look. “Please don't tease me about this.”

Natasha looks at him. “I wasn't gonna tease you,” she says. “I was gonna say—”

“I don't care.” Steve picks up his burger and asks, “Can we just talk about something else? Please.”

He takes a bite and chews. He knows the others are giving each other looks and having a silent conversation but he doesn't care. He lets them and sits there in silence while he eats and Sharon starts talking about her last trip out of the country.

The distraction is a blessing.

 


 

Natasha sends him a picture of her cat Liho later. The picture is taken from a low angle, below her chin, and it's taken very close to her face. She, much like any other time, looks disinterested with no care in the world. Behind her, he can see Natasha's two fingers pop up, giving her cat a set of finger-ears between her already pointy black ones.

It's Natasha's way of apologizing. Not that she has anything to apologize for but he replies with “you're forgiven” anyway and she sends back a thumbs up. And then a middle finger because that's how they work, the two of them.

 


 

Steve doesn't stop thinking about Bucky.

The memory of that kiss haunts his dreams all night.

 


 

“How long now?”

“Two minutes.”

“Okay.”

A beat passes.

Lily groans and slumps against the back of the couch. Her bottom lip juts out in a displeased pout and her chin almost disappears into the collar of her shirt with how slumped down she is. She kicks her legs out impatiently, her feet almost hitting the table in front of them.

There's a laptop set there, skype the only thing open on screen. Peggy's picture is looking back at them, along with their long history of beginnings and ends of video calls. The picture is old, taken back when Lily was still a baby and Peggy wasn't deployed overseas yet. She's smiling in it, soft and happy with Lily in her arms.

Steve has plenty pictures of her but this is among his favorites.

She looks so at peace in it.

“How long now?” Lily asks again, impatient as ever.

“Thirty seconds,” Steve answers patiently.

Peggy only gets thirty minutes on video chat a week. Every other week she gives the full half an hour to Steve and Lily and the other times she splits up her time and gives them twenty minutes and Daniel ten. They email each other and have the occasional phone call too but otherwise, this is all they get.

It's never easy but they make it work.

That doesn't make Lily hate it any less.

She misses her mom and doesn't hide it. He knows that she's perfectly content and happy with him. Daniel too, of course, even if she hasn't called him dad or any variation of it yet but he takes care of her and loves her like one and she loves him too. But as much fun having two dads is, it's nothing compared to having her mom around.

Steve never had anyone but his mom. His dad died when he was very young so he doesn't remember much of him, only bits and pieces of a burly man who rocked him to sleep when he was an infant and whatever little his mom used to tell him about him. He never knew his dad but he knew his mom and he knows a good mother's love doesn't compare.

Peggy being gone is rough on all of them but especially Lily.

She knows it's not forever, though.

Steve looks down at his watch. When the arm ticks over to fifty, he pats Lily's knee.

“Ten seconds,” he says and Lily sits up.

She scoots to the edge of the couch and shifts the laptop a little even though she already adjusted it perfectly ten minutes ago when they were setting up. Quietly under her breath, she counts down from ten and when she hits six, the notification proclaiming Peggy is online pops up and her gray bubble turns green.

Lily hurries to move the mouse over to the call button and presses.

A second later, the call is accepted and Peggy pops up.

The picture is a little blurry and pixelated but she's there, hair put up in a quick ponytail and a toothy smile on her lips. She's not in her uniform, at least not fully. She's in a white tank top and the screen cuts off by her stomach so Steve can't see the rest.

In the background is the usual boring and bland wall. She never shows more than that because she's not allowed to, just like she's not allowed to disclose her location so he knows not to ask where she is. The answer will always be classified and while the not knowing has been killing him all these years, he has gotten used to it.

“Mom!” Lily exclaims and Peggy's smile widens on the screen.

“Hello, darling,” she says, accent as smooth as ever. “Look at you! Did you get taller since last week?”

“I wish,” Lily says with a huff and an eye roll. “I'm still the shortest in my class.”

“That's alright,” Peggy says. “Your dad was the shortest in his class when he was your age too.”

“So it's his fault,” Lily says and shoots Steve a look.

Steve looks back, then he looks at Peggy and flatly says, “You're here for ten seconds and you've already turned our daughter against me.” He scoffs, albeit halfheartedly. “Thanks for that.”

Peggy chuckles. “You're welcome,” she says. “And hello to you too, by the way.”

“Hey, Pegs,” Steve says and smiles. “Everything good?”

“As good as it can be,” Peggy says. “I'm about ready to come home, to be honest.”

“Good 'cause we miss you here. Ain't that right, Lily?”

“Yeah!” Lily says. “Can you come home early this time?”

Peggy smiles, soft but despairing. “I'm afraid not,” she says. “Unfortunately they need me over here.”

Lily pouts and mutters, “The military sucks.”

“Well. You are not wrong.”

“Then why do you work for them?”

There's a long pause from Peggy's end and it makes Steve frown.

It's not the first time Lily has asked a question like that and Peggy has always had the same answer; because it's her job. She's there (wherever there is) to train soldiers and keep them in line. And despite how hard the distance is, she started doing this because she liked it. Steve knows because he was there when she started.

Which is why the pause instantly alerts him.

“Peggy?” he asks, prompting.

“It's been a rough one, this time,” Peggy says, quietly. Her smile has faded from her lips. “And... to be honest, I'm not sure I like doing this so much anymore.”

Steve blinks, then he says, “That's new.”

“Not really,” Peggy says and smiles, though it doesn't reach her eyes. “I've been having doubts the last few years.”

“You never said anything.”

“Why do you think I never told either of you off when you talked negatively about my employment? It's because I don't disagree.”

“Then come home,” Lily says, almost pleading.

“I will, darling,” Peggy says. When she smiles this time, it reaches her eyes. “Before you know it, I will be back home with you and then we can spend all the time together, just you and I.”

Lily smiles at her, big and wide.

“Peggy,” Steve says and gives her a look. “We're gonna talk about this sometime.”

“I'd like that,” Peggy says. “I think it's about time we did.”

Steve smiles and nods, then he puts a hand on Lily's back and asks, “Lily, why don't you tell mom about your school project?”

And Lily doesn't hesitate to lunge into talking about it excitedly.

Steve lets the two of them talk. He sits back and watches them, a small smile on his lips. He misses Peggy too, of course he does, but this is more Lily's time than it is his. This is her mom after all and he can talk to Peggy over email or phone another time if he wants to.

Steve sits there for a couple minutes before Cooper comes over to nudge at his knee. Steve pets him for a little bit but then he gets up and decides to take him out to the building's yard and give Lily some alone time with her mom.

He's gone for just under twenty minutes and when he comes back with a panting Cooper, worn out from playing fetch, he finds Lily sitting slumped down on the couch and staring at the laptop. She doesn't look happy and he can't hear Peggy anymore.

Steve tells Cooper to go lay down while he steps out of his shoes, then he walks over to the couch and sits down. Lily instantly falls sideways into his side and he drapes an arm around her, pulling her a little closer. He kisses the top of her head, caresses her arm gently for a minute.

“You okay?” he asks quietly.

“Yeah,” Lily says in a sigh. “It just sucks.”

“I know, sweetheart,” Steve says. “But you heard your mom. Maybe we don't have to deal with this for much longer.”

“But she's still not home now,” Lily whines.

Steve doesn't say anything to that because he knows he can't make her feel better about it. Instead he squeezes her lightly and asks, “You wanna go change the number?”

“Can I change it to one?”

“That's not gonna make her come home tomorrow.”

“You said the numbers were magic when I was six.”

“Okay, you know what.”

Steve wraps his arm around her waist and takes her with him when he stands. She laughs when he does and she instantly goes rag-doll over his shoulder when he maneuvers her over it carefully. He holds her there while he walks into the kitchen and smiles, the apartment filled with her bright laughter.

When he gets to the fridge, he brings her around front and sets her down. She shoves at him with a laugh—she's not strong but he still takes a step back—and then reaches up to the calendar held up by a magnet on the fridge. There's a number written on the blank space above the month. It currently reads forty-nine but Lily erases the nine and replaces it with an eight.

Forty-eight days and Peggy comes home.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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.”

“Concussion?”

“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.”

“Who's Peggy?”

“Lily's mom.”

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.”

“Right.”

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.”

Steve pauses.

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.

Interesting.

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.”

“Okay.”

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.”

“Why 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.

Chapter Text

Bucky, 10:59PM:
are you busy tomorrow?

Steve stares down at the text. He's so consumed by it that he barely even registers when someone sits down next to him on the subway, only moving his leg aside out of habit. It's early in the morning and maybe his inability to process the words on the screen in his hand can be blamed on the lack of caffeine in him.

His alarm hadn't gone off this morning and his internal clock hadn't woken him up on time either, so he and Lily had to rush out of the apartment in ten minutes. Lily was the only one who got breakfast before they ran to the subway and Steve had pulled his phone out to text Natasha and ask her to walk and feed Cooper.

The message from Bucky had stumped him.

It's not a complicated text. are you busy tomorrow? is a yes or no question and one he knows the answer to. Tomorrow is today and today is Thursday which means he has to pick up Lily from her dance class after his shift at the hospital, go grocery shopping to figure out what they can make for dinner and then go home.

Yes, he's busy. But he could make time, if he wants to.

If he wants to.

Does he want to?

Steve locks his phone when the crackly voice overhead announces his stop. He stuffs his phone back into his pocket and gets up from his seat, heading out the doors when the train comes to a stop and they open. He rushes to work and does his usual routine when he gets there, saying sleep well to Claire and changing into his work shoes.

He doesn't think about the text. Or he tries not to.

But it must wear on his face because when he rounds the corner to the break room for a cup of coffee, Emily doesn't wish him a good morning like she usually does when they see each other but instead she frowns and asks, “Are you okay, Steve?”

“I'm fine,” he tells her with a sigh. “I'm just... tired.”

It's not technically a lie.

“Good thing I just brewed a new pot then,” Emily says with a smile.

“You're a godsend, Em,” he tells her and squeezes her shoulder.

Emily chuckles and pats his shoulder back before she heads out of the break room.

Steve pours himself a cup of still lukewarm coffee, then he leans against the counter and pulls his phone back out. He shoots off a text to Natasha and gets a thumbs up in reply immediately before he opens Bucky's text up and reads it again.

are you busy tomorrow?

He could make time.

He hesitates for a long moment, then he types and hits send before he can change his mind.

Steve, 08:17AM:
Unfortunately. Why do you ask?

He's a coward and he knows it. He has never been one to run from something that scares him. When Peggy told him she was pregnant with Lily, it scared him as much as it scared her but he dealt with it by reading everything baby and child related after Peggy decided she wanted to keep it. He dealt with it head on, always has when something scares him because that's his rule.

But rules don't apply when it comes to Bucky. Everything is different with Bucky.

Rules get bend and broken and ignored.

And Steve runs with his tail between his legs.

The reply comes when Steve has settled himself in front of the computer with half his cup gone and a patient report pulled up on the screen before him. His phone buzzes in his pocket and he doesn't even think before he pulls it out and opens the text.

Bucky, 08:21AM:
too busy for lunch with your old pal?

Damn him.

Damn Bucky and his fucking charms.

Steve has always been a weak fool for him, even when he wasn't aware of his feelings for him. And eighteen years apart hasn't changed that because all he wants to do is scream sweep me away, woo me, kiss me, love me back.

Please.

But he knows better than that.

Steve, 08:22AM:
I'm a nurse. We don't get lunch breaks so yes.

Bucky doesn't answer that and leaves him on read.

Steve doesn't blame him. He gives him a couple minutes but when no bubbles pop up, he shoves his phone back into his pocket and goes back to work. He has a couple new patients on top of his four from yesterday who stayed overnight and while that's a lot, none of them are highly demanding and he doesn't have to run from one room to another.

He's busy because he is on most days but it's not overwhelming which is a rarity he welcomes with open arms. It's a nice distraction and keeps him from thinking about Bucky. That, too, is nice since he hasn't been able to get him off his mind in what feels like forever. And he wants to not feel overwhelmed, just for a little bit.

But the universe doesn't let his mind rest for long because right as his stomach starts to growl with hunger around noon, he steps out of a patient's room, looks up, and is met with the sight of Bucky coming toward him from the elevators down the hall, Titan trotting alongside him.

“Bucky,” Steve says, surprised and frozen to the spot.

“I know,” Bucky says. “I know you said you don't get a lunch break but...”

He trails off and lifts his right hand and a brown bag along with it. The logo printed onto the front in black ink is of a single and simple cartoon wing. Steve hasn't seen it in years but he recognizes it instantly anyway.

“Is that from Howlie's?” he asks, stomach rumbling quietly.

Howlie's was Steve's favorite place to eat as a teenager. He used to go there too many times a week with Bucky and get their vegetarian wrap for lunch. It was cheap, the owners were rowdy but nice, and it wasn't far from where he used to live.

He hasn't gone there in years. He didn't even know they were still open.

“It is,” Bucky says with a smile. “I figured, ya know. I could bring lunch to you.”

Steve looks from the bag to him.

“You don't gotta eat with me,” Bucky says, cheeks a little flushed. “I just... wanted to drop it off.”

“I'm gonna punch you,” Steve says, then he turns and hurries down the hall. “Don't go anywhere!”

He finds Emily in the medicine closet. She lifts her gaze and looks at him when he pokes his head inside, a smile already growing on her face but when she takes a closer look at him, the smile turns a little thin-lipped and her eyes narrow ever so slightly.

“What's with the face?” she asks him.

“I need you to do me a favor,” he says.

Emily turns bodily to him, hand on her hip as she asks, “What's the favor?”

“Watch my patients. Just for... ten minutes, tops.”

Emily stares at him, studies him for a minute. “And is there a reason?”

Steve feels his cheeks heat up. He mutters incoherently and shrugs.

“Oh, now you have to tell me,” Emily says.

Steve scratches his cheek and says, “A... friend showed up with lunch.”

“A friend?” Emily asks, prompting and with interest.

“A friend,” Steve repeats. “Please? I'll owe you.”

“Okay,” Emily says after a beat. “Go have lunch with your friend. But ten minutes, tops. I got my own patients to deal with.”

“You're a godsend,” Steve tells her, then he rushes back out.

Bucky is where he left him, standing in the hall. He has moved to the side though, out of the way with Titan laying by his feet. Bucky is looking at the wall, undoubtedly reading the poster hanging on there. Steve knows the poster and knows it's nothing interesting so it doesn't come as a surprise when Bucky's attention cuts to him immediately.

“I hope you can eat fast,” Steve says as he walks over, “'cause I only have ten minutes.”

“I can do ten minutes,” Bucky says and follows him when Steve keeps walking.

 


 

There's a bench in the courtyard. It's next to the shrubbery in the corner underneath a couple windows on the main floor and it's in the shade at this time a day. Steve used to sit here when he was still a student to get some fresh air after a rough day and he leads Bucky there now. They sit down; Bucky on Steve's left and Titan curling up by Bucky's feet on the ground.

Bucky reaches into the bag after setting it on his lap and pulls out a wrap. He hands it to Steve with a smile and asks, “Veggie wrap still your favorite?”

Steve's heart does a funny thing in his chest. “You remembered,” he says quietly as he takes the wrap.

“'Course I did,” Bucky says and pulls out another one. “You ate one four times a week. Makes it kinda hard to forget.”

Steve scoffs halfheartedly and says, “Shut up, it was cheap.”

“You'll be happy to know it's still cheap then. Well. Cheaper than other places.”

“How cheap?”

Bucky gives him a look and says, “Cheap.”

“You're not gonna tell me,” Steve says. It comes out as a statement, not a question.

“Nope,” Bucky says. He smiles and unwraps his own wrap.

“Buck,” Steve starts to protest but Bucky doesn't let him finish.

“Steve,” he says, firmly. “Let me treat you to lunch. For old times' sake.”

“You never once bought me lunch back in the day.”

“Because you didn't let me. Let me now. You can get the next one.”

Steve blinks at him. “Next one,” he repeats, keeping his voice neutral.

“Yeah.” Bucky smiles at him and says, “This ain't a one time deal, pal.”

Slowly, a smile spreads across Steve's lips. It scares him, knowing Bucky plans on this being maybe not a frequent but regular thing, and a part of him wants to tell him no or that he can't do lunch that often. Even after so many years, he still wants to run from this feeling, this attraction.

But then Bucky looks at him with that smile and all Steve can do is say, “Okay. I'll get the next one.”

They unwrap and eat in silence for a little while. Bucky has gotten himself the whole-wheat wrap filled with mushrooms, onions, spinach, and cheese, the one he used to get when he occasionally ate with Steve at Howlie's, and suddenly Steve flashes back to his high school time.

A lot has changed in the eighteen years since that time but a lot is the same too.

The way Bucky eats is the same, for example. He takes a decent bite and leans back against the wall as he chews slowly, enjoying the flavor like he has all the time in the world and savoring it. Steve still eats like he doesn't know when his next meal is gonna be; with an urgency and big bites.

He usually doesn't anymore because his financial situation is much more stable now than when he was a teen. But he promised Emily it would only be ten minutes and he doesn't want to keep her waiting. And, he hasn't had Howlie's in years and he can't not inhale it because it's just as good as he remembers.

“Tell me about your kid,” Bucky says after a while.

“What do you wanna know?” Steve asks.

“She's... eleven?”

Steve hums and nods as he takes another bite, this one smaller.

Bucky echoes the hum and says, “That's kinda young to have a kid.”

“She was unplanned,” Steve says around his bite. “Never unwanted but unplanned.”

“What does she like?”

“Dogs. Animals in general. Video games.” Steve pauses, smiles a little. “Dancing.”

Bucky looks at him, a smile growing on his lips and humor in his eyes. “Dancing?”

“She didn't get it from me,” Steve says. “I still don't have a rhythmic bone in my body.”

“Ah, I'm sure you could bust a move.”

Steve gives him a flat look and says, “I've got two left feet and you know it, Buck.”

Bucky shrugs and takes a bite instead of saying anything.

“People have tried to teach me,” Steve says, “and none have succeeded.”

Bucky chuckles quietly. “What kinda dancing does she do?”

“Ballet. She has classes on Thursdays.”

“It's Thursday today.”

“I'm picking her up after work,” Steve says and takes a bite.

Bucky smiles, soft and fond. “I bet she's such a cute ballet dancer.”

“She is,” Steve says, a fond smile of his own. “She's adorable in her little tutu.”

Bucky groans and says, “Stop, that's too cute.”

“Do you wanna see?”

Steve doesn't wait for an answer. He shifts his wrap into his other hand and fishes his phone out of his pocket. Bucky doesn't give him an answer either, he just leans a little closer while Steve thumbs through his phone to his gallery. It doesn't take much scrolling before he finds a picture from Lily's last dance recital. He taps it, then turns his phone to Bucky with a smile.

Bucky looks down at it and Steve looks at him.

Steve hasn't been this close to him in eighteen years. The first thing he notices is that Bucky smells good. He smells like flowers and summer and Steve catches himself before he can lean closer and bury his nose in the scent. The second thing he notices is the smile because his eyes drift down to his lips before he can stop himself.

Bucky's smile is small but soft and reaches his eyes. The smile softens his whole face and makes Steve's heart beat faster and faster. Those lips, pink and plush, still look as kissable as they did when they were teens and Steve wants to do nothing more than let his self control snap.

But he doesn't.

“She looks like your mom.”

Steve blinks, snapping out of it.

Bucky looks up from the phone and meets his eye, his smile no less soft.

Steve stares at him for a moment, then he sits back and clears his throat. “Yeah,” he says and puts his phone back in his pocket. “Yeah, she does.”

“I wanted to reach out,” Bucky says. “When I heard about... about your mom passing. But, uh. I couldn't.”

“It's okay,” Steve says because it is. “You didn't have to reach out.”

“Maybe not but I should've.”

“Why? We hadn't talked in a couple years by then. You had no reason to.”

Bucky is quiet for a beat. “You lost your mom, Steve,” he says quietly. “We were best friends once, the least I could do was give my condolences. And I wanted to but, uh. I kinda couldn't.”

Steve looks at him and waits for him to elaborate.

Bucky doesn't, instead takes a bite of his wrap.

“You don't have to apologize,” Steve says. “It was rough and I miss her every day but I got through it.”

Bucky smiles at him, small and one that doesn't quite reach his eyes.

Steve returns it and doesn't question it.

“Can I ask about Lily's mom?” Bucky asks, a minute later.

“Sure, go ahead.”

“What's her name again?”

“Peggy.” Steve says, “Well, Margaret but she hates being called that.”

Bucky hums quietly. “Sounds familiar,” he muses with a smile on his lips.

Steve smiles and looks at him. “You'd like her,” he says.

Bucky meets his gaze. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Peggy would like him too, Steve thinks. She would like his wit and be fondly annoyed by his charms and she'd like his intelligence. Steve used to imagine what Bucky would think of Peggy, back when he first met her almost a year after losing contact with him, and he'd always liked to think Bucky would like her and Peggy would like him too.

Steve likes to think they would've gotten along from the start, if things had gone differently.

“I'd love to meet her,” Bucky tells him with a smile. “Some day.”

“That can be arranged,” Steve says, smile resting on his lips.

“How long until she comes home?”

“Thirty-five days.”

Bucky blows out a breath and says, “That's rough.”

“Yeah,” Steve says and shrugs a shoulder. “But we make it work.”

“So you're raising Lily on your own while she's overseas?”

“Nah, I've got my family. Chosen one, at least. You've met them all, actually. Except one.”

Bucky pauses for a moment, thinking. “The people at the diner,” he says then.

“That's most of them,” Steve says with a nod. “You've met Daniel too, Peggy's boyfriend. And hopefully Lily's stepdad in the near future.”

Bucky smiles and says, “That sounds nice.”

“Yeah, it's pretty nice.”

“How'd you and Peggy meet?”

Steve shoots him a look, a small smile on his lips. “I thought this was supposed to be about us catching up, not me yapping about myself.”

“I like hearing about you,” Bucky says. “We can talk about me next time but I'm not interesting.”

“Bucky Barnes isn't interesting?” Steve scoffs and says, “The world must truly be ending, then.”

Bucky huffs out a little chuckle and nudges his elbow into his side.

Steve smiles at him, chuckling quietly.

“I met Peggy in my second year of college,” he says then. “I'd just finished a class, can't remember which one. She was out in the parking lot, standing between Sharon and this guy. And she punched the guy square in the nose.”

Bucky grins and asks, “And then you fell in love?”

“It wasn't love at first sight,” Steve says with a shake of his head. “But I definitely knew I'd like her at that moment. We had different majors and never crossed paths but one day when I was in the library, studying away, she came up to my table and asked if she could sit. I said yes, she sat down, and we became friends.”

“Only friends?” Bucky asks, a brow quirked.

“For the first while,” Steve says. “I had a huge crush on her but I was too scared to ask her out, so she made the first move. Kissed me before summer break and the rest is history.”

“How long were you together for?”

“Years. I think Lily was... three when I started noticing how our relationship had developed. We were more friends than anything. We didn't kiss, we barely slept in the same bed.” Steve pauses, pushes the last bit of his wrap up, and then he says, “We had a talk when Lily was five and decided to break up.”

“And how did Lily take it?”

“She took it fine. She was sad at first but when she realized nothing changed and we were happier like this, she moved on quick. Started begging both me and Peggy for a dog.”

Bucky smiles, wide and toothy. “Looks like she won,” he says.

“Well,” Steve says, a small smile on his lips. “Didn't take much convincing on my part.”

“Peggy doesn't approve of your dog?”

“She does but Lily wasn't able to convince her and Daniel to get a dog too.”

“Damn.”

“Might convince them to get a cat though,” Steve muses quietly as he takes the last bite.

Bucky chuckles. After a long silence, he says, “So, Peggy's with Daniel now. You been dating anyone since the break up?”

“Nope,” Steve says around his mouthful.

“No?” Bucky raises his brows. “No one?”

“There hasn't been anyone I've been interested in,” Steve says with a shrug, cheeks flushed. “And I don't really date. It's just not my thing, I guess. And I'm too busy anyway.”

None of it is a lie. But sitting next to Bucky, it sits wrongly on his tongue.

Bucky hums. “Shame,” he mutters quietly, a beat later.

Steve sits up a little and curls the paper into a ball in his hand. He turns his wrist over and checks his watch, then he turns to Bucky and says, “Okay, I've got another minute left so tell me something about you from the last eighteen years.”

“Okay,” Bucky says with a light chuckle. “What do you wanna know?”

As he says it, he reaches around with his prosthetic hand and tugs a lock of hair behind his ear. It's directly in Steve's line of sight and the almost pointed look Bucky gives him afterward is nowhere near subtle.

Steve looks at him for a second. Then he turns and looks ahead instead.

“I'm not gonna ask about your arm,” he says after a beat.

“Why not?” Bucky asks. “I know you're wondering.”

“Are you in pain?”

“Not... all the time.”

“Okay,” Steve says and looks at him. “Then that's all I gotta know about it.”

Bucky blinks owlishly at him. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Unless you want to tell me more, I don't have to know.”

Bucky stares at him for a long moment. “You're too good,” he says then.

Steve lets out an amused huff, cheeks a little warm. “I'm really not.”

“You are,” Bucky says. “Twenty years ago, you would've bugged me about it until I told you what happened in as many details as possible. You learned restraint over the years. That's amazing, for you.”

Steve gives him a sideways glance, eyes narrowed. “Backhanded compliment, Buck,” he says.

“I'm aware,” Bucky says and smiles. “I knew you during your worst years, I get to do that.”

Steve scoffs and shoves at him halfheartedly.

Bucky laughs and shoves back.

For a second, Steve almost forgets where he is but then his gaze drops down to his watch. He sighs, shoulders falling as he slumps against the wall. When he looks back up, Bucky's smile has dimmed too.

“My time's up,” Steve tells him with an apologetic smile. “Two minutes ago, actually.”

Bucky sighs and says, “That was a fast ten minutes.”

“Twelve, technically.”

“Too fast, either way.”

“You're not wrong.”

Steve stands and Bucky follows, getting Titan to his feet too. Together they walk to the front of the hospital in silence, dumping their trash in a trashcan on the way. The front isn't as vacant as Steve would've liked for parting ways but they step over to the side and out of the way and that's good enough.

“Thanks again,” Steve says as he stops, standing in front of Bucky. “For lunch.”

“Sure thing, pal,” Bucky says, a smile on his lips. “Next one's on you.”

Steve gives him a sloppy salute and says, “Yes, sir.”

Bucky chuckles quietly as he shakes his head. He stands there for a moment, looking almost hesitant, before he takes in a breath and steps forward and closer to Steve. Out of pure instinct, Steve wants to step back or lean away but he ends up doing neither and stands frozen to the spot as Bucky steps into his space.

Bucky's lips touch his cheek and Steve's brain shuts down.

The kiss is light, Bucky's lips soft against the rough hairs on his cheek. It's brief but his lips linger there for a second too long before Bucky leans back and steps back out of Steve's space. Steve stares at him, cheeks burning hot and eyes wide with surprise.

Bucky smiles at him, small and almost shy, his cheeks a flushed and pretty pink.

“See you 'round, Stevie,” he says in a low voice, then he turns and walks away.

Steve stares after him, heart hammering in his chest. He stands there, stunned while Bucky and Titan walk further and further away until they finally disappear out of sight around the corner of the building.

By then, Steve has managed to close his mouth and let out a shaky breath.

“Bye,” he whispers, belated and to no one but the air around him.

 


 

Steve's cheek tingles for the rest of the day.

He doesn't stop thinking about it.

 


 

When he goes to pick up Lily from her dance class, his mind is still reeling. He makes it right at the end of today's class and moves over to the side where a couple other parents are waiting to pick up their kid as well as quietly as he can, tiptoeing and putting himself in the corner to be out of the way.

Lily sees him arriving and waves at him excitedly, bouncing where she stands on the floor.

Steve chuckles and waves back.

They're just about finishing off, the teacher talking about something that Steve doesn't pay attention to. He stares at his daughter for a long minute as she rocks on her heels and listens intently, laughing when the other kids do and sitting down when the others do, her knees pulled up to her chest.

He watches her for a couple minutes. Then he pulls his phone out and snaps a picture.

It captures her with a smile on her lips and her eyes bright as she looks at the teacher. Her tutu lays around her but flips up by her knees, showing off the new dance shoes that Sharon got her and the white leggings she wears underneath her black leotard. Her blonde hair is put up into a bun that was a lot less messy this morning when he'd rushed to do it for her.

It's a nice picture and Steve sends it to Bucky.

He pockets his phone after because then the kids get back on their feet and Lily comes running over to him, her smile wide and toothy. He bends down in his knees and catches her under the arms, lifting her and pulling her into his arms for a hug as she wraps herself around him.

“Hey, sweetheart,” he says as he holds her close. “Have a good day?”

Lily hums her answer into his neck, then she leans back and says, “We watched a movie in mr. Alleyne's class.”

“You did? Tell me about that.”

She does and while she does, Steve heads over to pick up her backpack and gets her out of her tutu and into her jacket. When they start to head for the subway to get back home, he puts her down and takes her hand instead but he still carries her backpack. She keeps talking the whole way home and Steve listens to every word, a smile on his lips and mind finally quiet.

Until they get home.

Cooper greets them with happy barks and a wagging tail. Steve takes him out for a pee after getting Lily situated with a pre-dinner snack and as he stands there while Cooper sniffs around for a good place to relieve himself, he pulls his phone out and sees the text that Bucky has send him.

Bucky, 6:01PM :
💗

Steve's heart does that funny thing in his chest again and his cheek starts tingling where Bucky kissed him earlier. He smiles, small and private, and puts his phone away to instead pick up after Cooper.

 


 

He thinks about that kiss long into the night, heart racing and cheeks flaming.

He's sure that in the morning, things will be overwhelming again but right now, in this moment, he feels like a teenager in love and he lets himself embrace it.

Chapter Text

Weeks pass and Steve starts texting with Bucky more.

It starts out with them trying to coordinate another lunch get-together which, as it turns out, isn't as easy as it sounds. Steve works most days, as does Bucky, and between Steve having Lily and Bucky going to therapy and preparing for his next class, finding time to hang out proves to be a challenge.

But they don't stop talking. They stay in contact and text throughout the day and a little too far into the night some days, which usually means Steve has to down a little more coffee in the morning to get through the day but it's worth it.

It doesn't make Steve less scared. In fact, he's more scared than ever. It's one thing that these old and unexplored feelings have risen to the surface again after all these years but it's another that he isn't out to Bucky. Yet, that is.

He has never been with a man or explored that attraction more than accepting his bisexuality. So of course it terrifies him to have the opportunity present itself in the form of the man who left and disappeared from his life after... that happened. Who wouldn't be scared?

But when they finally do find a day to make lunch work and Bucky shows up with a bag from Howlie's that Steve sends him money for and Steve doesn't do anything stupid and his heart doesn't immediately burst out of his chest, he forgets to be scared and lets himself be in the moment, wrapped up in the warm feeling that Bucky always gives him.

After a while, Steve gets used to having his phone nearby even when he's home. He used to keep his phone put to charge in his room unless Lily was at Daniel's or out with Sharon but he's kept it glued to him these past few weeks just in case Bucky texts him.

And he does and does a lot.

Often it's to send him pictures of Titan to which Steve always replies with a picture of Cooper, sometimes one of Lily too. Once, Bucky sends him a picture in the middle of a work day and Steve only sees it when he takes a breather and inhales his packed lunch from home.

Bucky, 11:09AM:
ruff day at the office [img]

The picture is of Titan, because of course it is. He's laying with his head in Bucky's lap and the rest of him spread out on a couch that Steve knows belongs to the teacher's lounge at Xavier's. Titan is rolled onto his back with his front paws folded up to his chest and his back legs spread wide. The folds around his muzzle have flopped down, baring his teeth.

If pictures could talk, this one would snore.

Steve smiles and forgets his lunch for a second to reply.

Steve, 12:03AM:
Do you have a kid you didn't tell me about?

Bucky, 12:03AM:
no?

Steve, 12:04AM:
Interesting. I'm pretty sure that qualifies as a dad joke.

Bucky's response isn't immediate but it is quick.

Bucky, 12:06AM:
i'm in the teacher lounge, you dick. don't make me laugh in front of my colleges

Steve, 12:06AM:
;)

Bucky starts typing a response but Steve has to put his phone down and abandon his lunch because right that moment, one of his patients ring for him and he has to get back to work.

It's hard, finding time to hang out and have lunch together. After more than two weeks pass without luck, Steve starts to doubt that they ever will find time. But when he walks up to the nurse's station after helping a patient in the bathroom on a Tuesday, he discovers that just because they have a hard time finding time to see each other, it doesn't mean they can't still give each other lunch.

Claire is working the day shift for once and she's standing there with a smile on her lips and an almost teasing glint in her eye. She lifts her hand when he comes closer, a questioning furrow in his brow, and brings up a bag from Howlie's with it.

Steve frowns at her, eyeing her suspiciously.

“What is this?” he asks slowly.

“This,” Claire says and holds the bag out, “is your lunch.”

Steve looks at the bag, then he looks at her, no less confused.

“Your friend stopped by,” Claire says. “Looked like he was in a rush but he asked me to make sure you got this.”

Steve stares at her. Then, with his cheeks burning, he reaches out and grabs the bag from her. Claire gives him a pointed look but she doesn't ask any questions or make any comments. She just pats his shoulder and walks away, thankfully.

When she rounds the corner, Steve doesn't waste any time and peers into the bag. There's a wrap labeled veggie laying at the bottom as well as an oatmeal cookie that he knows Howlie's don't sell. It isn't wrapped in anything and, shit. It looks homemade.

His heart does something funny in his chest. He ignores it and digs his phone out.

Steve, 12:03PM:
Leaving lunch with my hungry coworker? Dangerous.

Steve is munching on the cookie—delicious, baked to perfection—on his way to the staff room when the reply comes.

Bucky, 12:14PM:
she promised me she wouldn't eat it if i got her lunch next time too

Steve snorts, smiling as he types with his thumb.

Steve, 12:15PM:
Getting another lunch partner so soon? Damn, Barnes.

Bucky, 12:16PM:
aw don't be jealous, stevie. you know you're the only one for me

His smile stiffens on his lips and his feet stop moving in the doorway.

Bucky didn't mean it like that, Steve knows he didn't. But his stupid, pining heart still warms and beats faster like he's back to being a teenager and the simple mention of Bucky's name could make his knees weak. This really isn't helping.

Steve swallows thickly, smile now gone.

Steve, 12:19PM:
You sure know how to make a guy feel special.

He doesn't wait for Bucky's reply. Instead he stuffs his phone into his pocket and goes to put the lunch in the fridge before he rushes back out with the last of the cookie in his mouth. He pointedly doesn't think about it for the rest of the day but when he sits on the subway on his way to pick up Lily from Sharon's place, of course his mind goes right back there.

 


 

you know you're the only one for me

It plays on repeat in his mind, over and over. He thinks about it and nothing else as he makes dinner though thankfully Lily distracts him with retelling her day while they eat. But as soon as the food is gone and Lily has put herself on the couch with Cooper, watching a movie to wind down for the evening, that sentence comes right back and replays in his head.

the only one for me

It's annoying, is what it is. He's not supposed to feel this way, not at thirty-five. He's not supposed to get so... mushy and weak kneed by someone telling him something like that. But Bucky makes him feel things no one else has and he never really did move on despite his attempt with Peggy, so of course Bucky still makes him feel this type of way.

Peggy wasn't a replacement for Bucky. She wasn't a distraction or a way to fill the hole that Bucky left behind. He really was in love with her and that romantic love burned hot for years and then it died out, little by little. He still loves her and she loves him. But it hasn't been romantic in years and it never will be.

She's not his person and he's not hers.

She has Daniel and Daniel is her person.

Steve doesn't think he has to look far for his. And that's terrifying, all things considered.

“Dad?”

Steve blinks and snaps out of his thoughts, refocusing on the dishes in the sink he hasn't been cleaning for the past... however long. He takes his eyes off them and turns to look at Lily instead. She is standing in the doorway, leaning against the wall with her eyes big and pleading and head tilted.

She's being cute on purpose and Steve knows what's coming.

But he still asks, “What's up?”

“Can I have an ice cream?” Lily asks and smiles sweetly.

“When's your bedtime?” he asks her instead of an answer.

The pleading look turns into a pout. She slumps against the wall and mutters, “In five minutes.”

“Then why would you have ice cream?”

“I don't know. Because I want one.”

“Too bad,” Steve says and walks over to her.

He bends down and picks her up under the arms, shifting her when she goes rag-doll with a loud and drawn out groan. She ends up across his arms, head thrown back and arms dangling. She doesn't stop groaning.

“Aren't you tired?” he asks as he carries her toward her room.

“No-ooooo,” she groans.

“Okay. We'll see about that when you're in bed.”

“I don't wanna sleep, da-aaad.”

“And tomorrow morning, you're not gonna wanna get up.”

“I'll be up all night.”

“That's gonna be rough in the morning, pal.”

Lily groans again, loud in protest.

Steve rolls his eyes and continues walking. For no more than a second.

“Wait!”

Lily grabs onto the door frame by her room and Steve stops walking.

“I forgot to change the day,” Lily says, pointing toward the kitchen.

“Do you promise to go to bed after?”

“Yeah. Cross my heart.”

“Alright, then.”

Steve turns and walks them into the kitchen. There, he adjusts Lily in his arms so she can erase and rewrite the day on the fridge calendar. She takes her time doing it but she always does because she wants it to look good even though it'll be changed again tomorrow.

It's important to her and Steve knows this so he says nothing and lets her.

“Done!” Lily says after a minute and then she flops back in his arms, smiling this time.

Steve smiles down at her and carries her to bed.

On the fridge, it says ten days.

 


 

“It's incredible how annoying everything over here is now.”

Steve smiles down at his hands as he folds another shirt and adds it to the pile. He has his phone lodged between his ear and shoulder which isn't particularly comfortable but he doesn't hear the other person quite as well on speaker and Peggy is on the other end so he can't afford not to.

“More than usual?” he asks her.

“No, I don't think so,” Peggy says. “I think I'm just noticing it now rather than turning a blind eye to it.”

Steve hums and says, “Maybe 'cause you've quit a shitty job.”

“It's not so much quitting as it is not coming back. My enlistment contract is up. I'm simply not renewing it. That doesn't mean quitting.”

“I know you have a hard time with quitting—”

“It's not quitting.”

“Okay. It's not quitting.”

“Thank you.” Peggy pauses, then she asks, “It will be good though, won't it?”

“Of course. It'll be good to have you home and not miles away.”

Peggy hums quietly. “I hate being away from home,” she says. “And away from Lily. It's awful.”

“She misses you,” Steve tells her as he folds a pair of Lily's pants. “Every single day, Peg. She's gonna lose her shit when you tell her the news.”

Peggy laughs in his ear, then she lets out a breath and says, “I can't wait to see her. Does she still have that fridge counter I gave her years ago?”

“She changes the day every day before bed and gets upset if she misses a day. Sometimes she wants to count down an extra day. I don't know if she thinks that'll make you come home sooner but...” Steve trails off with a one-shouldered shrug.

“I wish it did,” Peggy muses quietly, then she takes in a breath. “Alright. How should we split her time this time?”

“What we did last time worked pretty well, I think.”

“Fifty-fifty, even split?”

“Or whatever Lily wants.”

“Whatever Lily wants,” Peggy agrees easily.

“I think it'd be good for her to stay with you and Daniel the first week though,” Steve says. “And good for you too.”

He can't see her but Peggy's smile is in her voice when she says, “I'd like that.”

“Okay,” Steve says, smiling too. “That's settled then.”

“And you'll be okay without her for a week?”

Steve gives the socks in his hands a flat look and says, “You make it sound like I don't have a life outside our daughter.”

“Well...”

“Peggy!”

Peggy chuckles in his ear and he scoffs.

“I'll have you know,” he says, “I do have a life outside her.”

Not much of one, if he's honest, but she doesn't need to know that.

“Oh, I'm sure,” Peggy says and her flat tone makes him roll his eyes.

Steve hesitates for a moment, then he clears his throat. “There's, uh. There's something you should know, actually.”

“Oh?” Peggy says with interest.

“I ran into Bucky. About a month back.”

Peggy falls quiet on the other end. “You haven't mentioned him in years,” she says.

“There was no reason to,” Steve says. “But... he showed up again.”

“And?” she prompts.

“And it's been going surprising well. We text. Had lunch with him once, still trying to find the time to have lunch together again. But yeah, it's been good.”

“You know that's not all I'm asking.”

Steve lets out a sigh. “I'm scared out of my fucking mind, Peg,” he admits quietly after a beat.

“And you're not talking to anyone about it.”

Steve chuckles humorlessly. “Stop being a mind reader.”

“It's called knowing you too well, darling,” Peggy says. “Not mind reading.”

Steve stops folding the laundry and lifts his head off his shoulder, holding his phone with his hand instead. He's silent for a long moment, then he says, “I've been thinking about telling Sam.”

“Good,” Peggy says. “You should. And we will talk more about it too but I'm running out of time, unfortunately.”

“Right.” Steve sighs, scratches his cheek, and says, “Well, enjoy the rest of your deployment time.”

“Oh, I can promise you I won't.”

Steve laughs and Peggy laughs with him.

 


 

“I've been talking with Bucky lately.”

There's a sudden silence coming from the kitchen where Sam had been rummaging around but Steve doesn't look up from his lap. He keeps his eyes down at the kitten laying on her back there, paws slapping at his fingers as he wiggles them wildly above her.

Riley is sitting next to him, leaning against the couch with his good leg bend and his bad leg stretched out. In his hands and held against his chest is a much smaller kitten. He has his pointy finger in her mouth and she's nursing on it even though no milk comes out. Sam is getting the formula ready.

Or he was until he stopped.

On the floor in front of them, another two kittens are playing with each other. Jasper is laying lazily by Riley's side and Fiona is sitting on the couch behind him, watching over them as if they're handling her kittens and not ones Riley (and Sam, as much as he doesn't want to admit it) is merely fostering.

When the silence stretches out for too long, Steve lifts his gaze and looks toward the kitchen. Sam is looking back at him, hands stilled halfway through screwing the lid on a bottle. Their eyes lock and Sam dips his chin, raises his brows, and gives him a prompting look.

“And?” he asks after a beat.

“And,” Steve echoes, “Peggy thinks I should talk to you about it.”

Sam stands still for a second. Then he finishes screwing the lid on and comes walking over. He crouches down as he hands the bottle to Riley but he doesn't look away from Steve. Instead he makes himself comfortable there on the floor, Jasper climbing into his lap once he sits down all the way.

“Okay,” he says. “I'm listening.”

Steve takes in a breath and says, “I didn't tell you the whole story. About... that kiss.”

“You gonna tell me now?”

“That was the plan.”

“But?”

“But that's not what I wanna talk about.”

Sam nods in understanding and doesn't say anything.

“I loved him,” Steve says in a breath. “I never told you about him because I wasn't out to myself yet and it made me panic anytime I even thought about him. And I thought I'd moved on, after all these years and Peggy, but... I don't think I ever did or ever will and it scares the shit out of me.”

“But you're out now, to yourself and us.”

“But not to him. And I don't know how to... handle this.”

“Because he's a man?”

“Yeah. Because he's a man.”

Sam hums. “Have you thought about telling him how you feel?”

Steve huffs and says, “Sam, he disappeared from my life after I kissed him.”

“You're both adults now,” Sam says. “If you tell him how you feel and he leaves, that's on him.”

“I don't want him to leave. I want to have him in my life but... not as a friend.”

“And you think he doesn't feel the same way about you.”

“He didn't back then.”

Sam looks at him. He doesn't say whether he agrees or not but the way his lips tighten says it all.

“He didn't,” Steve says again. He blinks, then he frowns. “Right?”

“I don't know, man,” Sam says. “I don't know him. You gotta ask him that yourself.”

Steve exhales and deflates against the couch. He looks down at his lap where the kitten has latched onto his hand and is currently gnawing at his finger. He lets her, wiggles them a little.

“Okay, you've got two options.”

Steve looks back at Sam who is holding up two fingers now.

“You either tell him how you feel,” Sam says, “or you don't and work on moving on.”

“I don't want to move on,” Steve says because he doesn't.

As terrifying as it is, he doesn't.

Sam looks surprised. “No?”

“No,” Steve says. “I want to know what it's like to get to love him.”

“So he's an experiment.”

“No, he's... he's my person, I think. Or he could be.”

“Your person?”

Steve hums. He says, “Like Daniel is Peggy's and Natasha is Sharon's and Riley is yours.”

Next to him, Riley shifts. When Steve briefly glances his way, he sees him smiling down at the kitten that's happily eating from the bottle, held to his chest and ears wiggling as she suckles.

“I'm surrounded by people who have found that person,” Steve says to Sam. “I want to know what that's like too.”

“And you think Bucky could be that for you,” Sam says.

“I have a pretty good feeling, yeah.”

“Then your only option seems to be to talk to him.”

Steve swallows thickly. “And that scares me,” he admits quietly. “Even after years of being out.”

“Yeah, that shit ain't easy.”

Steve hums quietly. “And I'm scared he'll leave again too.”

“Well, there's been a lot of growing and maturing since last time. Give him a chance to prove that.”

Steve takes in a breath and nods.

“And if he leaves again, we know people who can make him disappear for good.”

Steve gives him a flat look. “You're not gonna get Natasha to kill him,” he says.

“Of course not,” Sam says, then he winks.

Steve huffs out a laugh. “Glad to know we've turned to murder after a talk about maturity.”

“He hurt my best friend, 'course we turn to murder.”

Steve smiles at him and says, “Don't go to jail for me.”

“You'd do the same for me.”

“That doesn't make it better.”

“No but don't tell me what to do.”

“Don't go to jail for him,” Riley says without looking up.

“Yes, dear,” Sam says without hesitation.

Steve scoffs but then he laughs.

 


 

Lily decides to spend the night at Daniel's which gives Steve a rare night alone.

He settles for something quick and easy for dinner and decides to eat on the couch. Cooper curls up by his side the second he sits down and doesn't even beg for a taste of his food, he just sleeps while Steve works his way through the plateful and watches some crappy television. After, when his stomach is full and the plate is empty, he lays down with Cooper and watches a movie that he drifts off to after ten minutes.

He doesn't stay asleep though. When the credits play, he makes himself get up and takes Cooper out for a long walk in the cool evening air. There's no rush so when Cooper stops every two feet to sniff at some new smell that catches his attention, Steve just lets him do his thing and doesn't stress.

The walk ends up being well over an hour long. By the time they make it back to the apartment, Cooper has been worn out and he heads straight for his bed in the dining/living room after stopping by his bowl in the kitchen for some water. He's fast asleep within minutes, his soft snoring filling the otherwise quiet apartment.

Steve can't deny that he's tired too so he decides to have an early night. He dresses down to only his underwear and a short sleeved shirt that sits loosely on him and then makes himself comfortable under the sheets, on his back and eyes locked to the ceiling above him. And of course, that's when his mind starts to wander.

It comes as no surprise that his mind heads right for Bucky. That seems to be the common theme, these days.

He lays there for a long couple minutes before he rolls over and grabs his phone from the bedside table, yanking it out of the charger. He lays back down as he starts typing up a message and hits send before he can think about it too long.

Steve, 09:10PM:
Hypothetically speaking, what would you say your favorite takeout place is?

Bucky doesn't respond immediately, not that he expects him to either. He waits for the bubbles to pop up for a few minutes anyway but when nothing happens, he locks his phone and puts it back on the bedside table. He rolls over onto his side with a sigh and closes his eyes, head on the pillow.

He doesn't even manage to make himself comfortable again before his phone buzzes and he doesn't so much as think before he rolls back over and grabs his phone. The smile on his lips in involuntary but not unwelcome.

Bucky, 09:16PM:
probably sarge's. their sandwiches are chef's kiss.

The smile stays on his lips even as his brows furrow in confusion.

Steve, 09:16PM:
What does that mean?

Bucky, 09:17PM:
that it's perfection

Steve, 09:17PM:
Ah. So it's an internet thing.

Bucky, 09:18PM:
you are such a dad

Steve, 09:18PM:
Lily would call you lame for using internet slang at your age.

Bucky, 09:18PM:
hey now i'm pretty young

Steve, 09:19PM:
Not to her.

Bucky takes a while to respond again, so Steve puts his phone down but doesn't let go of it. He lays it on his chest and drums his fingers along it quietly as he waits for the response, staring up at the dark ceiling above him.

He waits for a while but when his phone buzzes, he's quick to pick it up.

Bucky, 09:25PM:
see? i'm hip with the youngings [img]

The picture is of Bucky, taken by someone else. He's crouched by the side of a cliff with his prosthetic arm rested on his bend knee while his right is lifted and bend, hand held over his eyes even though he's wearing a baseball cap. It's turned backward though and giving no shade. His hair is put into a messy bun that pokes out from underneath the brim of the cap and his face is clean shaven.

He's wearing shorts that have ridden up his thighs in his crouched position, as well as a tank top with a low cut under his pits. It shows off a lot of his torso, tan and soft looking skin, and it shows where his prosthetic ends in the middle of his bicep. Titan is standing in front of him, panting happily, but Steve only has eyes for Bucky.

Bucky has filled out over the years. A lot. As a teenager, he was on the skinny side. Not as skinny as Steve used to be before he was put on the right medications but skinny nonetheless. He's gotten... thick in his adult years. Broad shoulders, thick thighs, strong arms. Not to mention how much hairier he is, even without the scruff he has now.

Steve takes in a breath, then he reaches down and squeezes himself through his boxer briefs.

“Shit,” he curses quietly.

He doesn't have the most active libido, never really has, and there's nothing erotic about the picture, aside from the sweat on all that visible skin. But something about that picture still hits all his buttons and he has to take in a deep breath and put his phone away for a couple minutes to collect himself.

When he picks his phone back up, it's only after getting out of bed and walking into the kitchen to down a glass of water. He's back in bed, sitting against the headboard with a pillow in his lap, when he types out a response.

Steve, 09:30PM:
That sentence alone proves you're old.

Steve, 09:30PM:
Also hiking doesn't make you less old.

Bucky responds immediately.

Bucky, 09:30PM:
i'm younger than you

Steve, 09:31PM:
Ten months younger than me isn't enough to make you young.

Bucky, 09:31PM:
shut up

Bucky, 09:31PM:
why do you ask what my favorite takeout place is btw?

Steve, 09:32PM:
No reason. Just curious.

Bucky, 09:32PM:
hmm

Steve, 09:33PM:
:)

With a smile, Steve puts his phone to charge and settles into bed.

 


 

If he takes a shower fives minutes later and comes with Bucky's name whispered on his lips because he can't stop thinking about him, then that's his business.

 


 

In the end, he doesn't get to even look up Sarge's before Bucky shows up with lunch.

Steve is mid-stretch when he spots Bucky coming walking down the hall with a bag from Howlie's in his hand and Titan by his side. He drops his arms and readjusts his scrubs—they're light blue today—while a smile grows on his lips, bit by bit the closer Bucky comes.

They talk a lot but it's been a while since he's seen Bucky in person. Three weeks, to be exact. He looks about the same except he's shaved the scruff that was on his face the last time Steve saw him, his face now smooth and that familiar cleft chin visible again. There's a smile on his lips as he approaches Steve and it only grows wider when he lifts up the bag and raises his brows.

“You got time?” he asks, coming to a stop a few steps from him.

Steve smiles, then he gives him a look and says, “I thought I was supposed to get the next one.”

“Yeah, well.” Bucky shrugs and says, “I had time and was missing my friend, so.”

Steve ignores the flip his heart does and instead pulls his phone out of his pocket. “How much was it?” he asks as he thumbs through his phone.

“A total sum of zero dollars.”

Steve shoots him a look, brows low and eyes narrowed.

“I'm not gonna let you pay,” Bucky tells him.

Steve harrumphs and stuffs his phone back in his pocket. “I hate you,” he says.

Bucky smiles at him and says, “Sure you do, pal.”

 


 

They sit down on the same bench in the courtyard again. Bucky opens the bag between them and hands Steve his wrap while he lays his own in his lap. When the bag is empty, he curls it up into a ball and tosses it into the trashcan on his end of the bench, then he scoots a little closer to Steve and leans back against the wall with a smile on his lips.

They eat in silence for a few minutes. Steve hasn't eaten since breakfast with Lily that morning and he's been walking up and down the halls on his floor of the hospital for hours, too busy to even think about food, so when he takes that first bite and his stomach makes an appreciative rumble, he lets out a sated sigh as he slumps back against the wall too.

It happens a lot that he forgets to eat or chooses to skip lunch because he doesn't have the time to sit down and eat anything. Sometimes he manages to grab something quick like yogurt or an apple or a banana but most days he doesn't. So a lunch like this is a treat and he turns to Bucky with a smile.

Bucky smiles back, mouth full too.

They sit there for a while. Then Steve swallows his bite and says, “Peggy comes home on Sunday.”

“Already?” Bucky lets out a whistle and says, “Time flies, huh?”

“Yeah. Feels both really fast and extremely slow.”

Bucky hums. “Lily must be excited,” he says after a beat.

“She is,” Steve says and smiles. “She started making a welcome home sign a couple days ago.”

“That's cute,” Bucky says, his smile softening.

“She does it every single time. She's getting real good at it too.”

“Must be from her dad.”

Steve huffs and says, “Yeah, she must've taken all my artistic abilities.”

Bucky's smile is gone in the blink of an eye. He frowns and asks, “You don't draw anymore?”

“Nah, haven't in years.”

“Why not?”

Steve shrugs. “Don't have time for it.”

Bucky is quiet for a moment. He says, “You should join me in therapy sometime.”

Steve turns to him. “You do art there?”

“Sometimes. My therapist likes to push me to go to these group sessions once a month and sometimes we paint. They played with clay once but...” Bucky lifts his prosthetic hand and says, “Clay ain't exactly easy with one hand.”

“No,” Steve says with a small smile. “I can't imagine it is.”

“It's fun though,” Bucky says. “I've gotten some ideas for a more creative approach to history for the kids at Xavier's. They seemed to enjoy it too, so. Think about it.”

“Sure, Buck,” Steve says. “I'll think about it.”

A silence falls over them, after.

Steve finishes his wrap with only a couple more bites. While he chews the last bit, he curls the paper up into a ball and throws it into the trashcan, then he leans back against the wall and lays his hands on the bench, fingers curled around the edges.

The bench is facing out to a big open and grassy area in front of the doors leading back inside. The doors are glass and wide and you can see people walking by inside the hospital. Steve watches them for a couple moments. But when he feels his hand being touched, he looks away and down.

Bucky has laid his hand on top of his. The touch is light, almost hesitant.

Steve stares at their hands, then he lifts his gaze and looks at Bucky.

“What is this?” he asks.

“What?” Bucky shrugs and says, “Friends can hold hands.”

“Sure.” Steve pauses, staring at him. “I don't hold hands with my friends though.”

Bucky is quiet for a long moment. Then, he slowly starts to pull his hand away again.

Steve grabs it and curls his fingers around it before he can get too far away.

Bucky looks at him, Steve knows he is. He can feel his eyes boring into the side of his skull but Steve doesn't look back. He stares ahead of them pointedly, pretending to people watch while Bucky's hand slowly curls back around his. Steve thinks his heart might explode.

They sit in silence like that for a while.

“You should know,” Bucky says then. “I'm gay.”

Steve turns and looks at him. He doesn't say anything, doesn't tell him he knows or had a feeling or anything like that because he knows better. Instead he sits there and waits for Bucky to continue.

Bucky takes in a deep breath and says, “And if you're uncomfortable holding my hand knowing that, then—”

“Why would that make me uncomfortable?” Steve interrupts him to ask.

“Well.” Bucky lifts his shoulder in a shrug. He says, “Straight guys don't usually like holding a gay man's hand.”

“I'm not straight,” Steve says.

Bucky looks at him, a curious glint in his eye.

“I'm bi,” Steve says. He's been out for years but saying it out loud still makes his heart race.

Bucky smiles at him. The relief that washes over his face is so naked and raw that Steve's heart nearly trips over itself. He doesn't want to make assumptions, doesn't want to assume that the relief is anything but relief that neither of them are straight. But by god, he wants to hope.

“So,” Bucky says. “Yes to the hand holding?”

Steve smiles, his cheeks a little warm. “Hand holding's fine,” he says.

Bucky's smile widens on his lips.

Steve tries just to breathe.

There are a million thoughts racing around his head and none of them are cohesive. The second Bucky brushes his thumb against the back of his hand though, every single thought becomes quiet. Steve looks down at their joint hands and watches Bucky's thumb caress him so softly, almost shyly.

Then he looks up and asks, “When did you know?”

“When I was a kid, probably,” Bucky says. “But I didn't come out to anyone until after my first year of college. My parents took it well. It took a while for my dad to come around but he's a proud ally now.”

Steve smiles a little. “That's great, Buck,” he says.

“When did you?” Bucky asks and meets his eye.

“When I was twenty-eight.”

Bucky is quiet for a beat. “Is that why you and—”

“No,” Steve says. “That wasn't a problem for Peggy. Actually, she helped me accept it.”

Bucky frowns and asks, “You weren't okay with it?”

“Far from it,” Steve says with a shake of his head. “I denied it for a very long time and then... well, I couldn't hide it anymore so... had to come out.”

“It's not a fun thing to keep secret.”

“No. No, it isn't.”

“But I'm glad you're out now.”

Steve smiles at him. “Me too.”

Bucky smiles back and squeezes his hand again.

Steve hesitates, then he takes in a breath and shifts his hand to interlace their fingers.

Neither of them let go until Steve has to get back to work.

 


 

It would've been a perfect time to tell Bucky how he feels.

But Steve doesn't. One thing at a time is all he can handle.

 


 

Sarge's is a nice, little spot in mid-town. There's an arrangement of tables on the left when you step in through the door. Most are filled with chatty costumers eating food when Steve steps in through the door on a rare Friday off just before noon, though it isn't quite as noisy in here as it is out on the streets despite the small space and the amount of people crammed in here.

To his right is a counter. It's tall and the guy standing behind it, wearing a hair wrap and disposable gloves on his hands, has his arms raised to rest on the top. Steve meets his eye and the guy tips his chin at him.

“You Rogers?” he asks, his accent heavy.

Steve nods and steps toward him. “I am,” he says.

On the way over, Steve placed an order for pick up because it seemed easier and quicker. He did some research on the place last night and people kept mentioning that it got busy around lunch so he decided to be smart about it. He can smell why it gets so busy though; it smells amazing in here and his stomach grumbles hungrily.

Behind the counter, the guy turns and grabs a bag from the table behind him. With it in hand, he steps back over to the counter and holds it out for him. Steve steps forward and takes it with a smile. He paid for it when he placed the order and left a tip as well but he still stuffs a bill into the tip jar by the counter.

“Thank you,” he says to the guy, smiling as he takes a step back.

“Good day!” the guy calls after him.

Steve nods and steps outside.

He makes it less than two feet down the street before his phone buzzes in his pocket. He continues walking as he digs into his pocket and pulls his ringing phone out. However, when he sees the number calling, he frowns and steps to the side and out of the way. He doesn't have the number saved but he knows the number to Lily's school by heart.

With a frown, he presses accept call and puts his phone to his ear.

“Steve Rogers,” he answers with.

“Mr. Rogers,” a female voice says on the other end. It's ms. Foster, Lily's science teacher. “Hi. I'm calling about Lily.”

“Is she okay?” is his first question, cutting her off.

“She's not hurt,” ms. Foster says, “but she says she's not feeling well and she'd like to go home.”

Steve looks down at the takeout bag in his hand. There's no hesitation or question when he says, “Okay. Tell her I'm on my way.”

He hangs up and starts walking the other way down the sidewalk. He doesn't put his phone away. Instead he scrolls through his contacts until he finds Natasha. He presses call and puts his phone back to his ear, walking a little faster toward the subway.

Natasha picks up on the third ring.

“Nat,” he says before she can say hello. “I need you to do me a favor.”

 


 

Lily's school isn't far away. He takes a couple stops on the train and speeds down the street for a good ten minutes before he makes it there. When he does, he rushes inside and toward the principle's office. The kids are in class so the halls are empty, quiet aside from his rushing footsteps.

Lily is slumped down in a chair outside the office, hands folded in her lap, chin dipped, her lips turned downward into a pout, and her feet tugged under the chair. Ms. Foster is sitting next to her though she stands the moment Steve comes rushing over to them.

Steve drops to a couch in front of his daughter and reaches a hand out to touch her cheek. He smiles at her when she lifts her gaze from the floor. She responds by deepening her pout, pushing her bottom lip further out and tugging the corners of her lips further down.

“Hey, sweetheart,” Steve says quietly as he caresses her cheek. “You okay?”

Lily shrugs and says, “I wanna go home.”

“Okay,” Steve says. He leans forward to press a kiss to her forehead before he stands and turns to ms. Foster. He holds his hand out with a smile and when she takes it in her own in a shake, he says, “Thanks for calling and keeping an eye on her.”

“Of course, mr. Rogers,” ms. Foster says. “That's my job.”

Steve smiles at her, then he takes Lily's hand when she stands and they walk out of the building. On the way home, Lily keeps her shoulders slumped and her face turned downward. She kicks her legs during the subway ride to their end of the city, almost impatiently, and she hurries to get to her feet when their stop is announced.

She seems to be in a rush to get home. If it wasn't because she holds her head a little higher the closer to home they get, Steve would think she had to throw up. She's not pale and she doesn't look particularly under the weather at all.

Steve narrows his eyes at her but he says nothing.

When they reach home, Lily says a quick hello to Cooper before she drops her bag and her shoes by the front door and rushes into her room. She doesn't close her door but she doesn't keep it open either. She just pushes it behind her, probably with the intention to close it but it stays ajar.

Steve is slower at getting out of his outerwear. He toes out of his shoes and puts them aside, grabbing Lily's to put them in their place as well, then he hangs up his jacket and takes Lily's bag to the kitchen where it's supposed to be. He puts her lunch and water bottle in the fridge before making his way to her room.

Once there, he pushes the door open and peers inside. Lily is sitting by her desk, shoulders bunched up to her ears and right hand working frantically with a pencil. Steve watches her for a moment, then he walks further inside and takes a seat on the chair next to her. He looks over her shoulder and resists the urge to sigh.

She's coloring the letters on her welcome home, mom! sign.

“Did you wanna go home because you're not done with it?” he asks after a moment.

Lily stops coloring. She puts the pencil down, leans back in her chair, and looks down in her lap.

“She comes home in two days,” she says in a small voice. “It has to be perfect.”

“Okay,” Steve says and brushes her hair out of her face. “But you understand that this wasn't an okay thing to do, right? You can't skip school like that.”

“I know,” Lily says and sighs. “I'm just excited.”

“I know, sweetheart.” Steve kisses her head and says, “You get one pass only, got it?”

Lily nods. “Got it,” she says.

“If it happens again, you and I are gonna have to have a conversation about trust.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Good.” Steve stands. “I'll leave you to it then.”

He walks out but leaves the door all the way open this time. She doesn't ask him to close it, not even a little bit, and when he looks over his shoulder, he finds her already consumed by coloring again. He smiles at her, then he heads into the living room where he makes himself comfortable on the couch. Cooper joins him, though he stays curled up on the other end.

He sits there for a while before he pulls his phone out and finds a text waiting for him.

Bucky, 12:08PM:
thanks for lunch [img]

It's a selfie, this time. Bucky has the sandwich that he bought for him held up to his face, a happy and satisfied smile on his lips and his cheek bulging out with a bite. His eyes are squinting behind his glasses and his hair is pulled out of his face, probably in a bun though it's not visible in the picture.

Steve smiles and saves it, wishes he could have been there to see it in person.

This is fine too though. Lily always comes first after all.

 


 

Lily comes out of her room a couple hours later.

By then, Steve has worn Cooper out with a game of tug-and-war and has moved into the kitchen to make some belated lunch for the two of them. He pauses when he sees Lily come shuffling into the kitchen with the sign held out in front of her, a small and almost sheepish smile on her lips.

Steve turns to her and looks at the sign. It has WELCOME HOME, MOM! written in bold and colored letters in the center of the paper and around it are drawings; some of hearts and balloons and what Steve assumes is confetti though they're just colored lines, and at the bottom is a drawing of her and Peggy.

Steve smiles, then he lifts his gaze to meet Lily's.

Lily meets his eyes, blinking at him.

“Mom's gonna love it,” he tells her.

Lily smiles at him, wider and toothy this time.

 


 

At the end of the following day, Lily changes the day on the fridge.

One day, it says.

Chapter Text

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.

Daniel, 02:48PM:
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.”

“About what?”

“How you're handling the situation.”

Steve is silent for a beat. Then he says, “I'm still scared out of my mind.”

“But?”

“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.

Usually.

“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?”

“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.”

“How so?”

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.

Steve, 06:49AM:
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.

Natasha, 07:01AM:
:) [img]

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.”

“Wanna bet?”

“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.”

“Too late.”

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.”

“Plans nonetheless.”

“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.”

“A craving?”

“Dried mango.”

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?”

“Bucky.”

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.

Chapter Text

Xavier's is big for an elementary school. Steve could easily get lost here, he thinks, if it weren't for the signs that point him in the right direction and the helpful teacher who tells him where Bucky's classroom is. It's on the first floor and the classroom at the end of the East wing hall which is the furthest from the playground and parking lot and the most quiet place in the building, he imagines.

It's not silent though. The door to the classroom at the end of the hall stands wide open and Steve can hear a couple kids' voices stream out from inside before falling quiet and be replaced by a low and familiar adult one. It makes his heart do a funny thing and by the time he makes it to the classroom, there's a smile on his face that becomes fond when he peers inside.

Bucky is sat crouched down in the middle of the room. The chairs and tables have been pushed to the back and aside and the kids are sitting on the floor in front of him, curious eyes glued onto Bucky as he talks, though a couple in the back seem to have gotten a little bored and are making origami as quietly as origami making can be.

Bucky has a tablet held up in his prosthetic hand while his right moves as he talks. When he talks, it's with a soft voice that would have been quiet anywhere other than this silent part of the building. There's interest and fascination in his voice, one that reminds Steve of when they were teenagers and Bucky fell down a research hole and would tell him about it, eyes bright and hands moving with excitement.

In retrospect, Steve thinks he might've fallen in love with Bucky then. As he watches him now, talking like that with his face bright and a small smile curling at the corners of his lips, Steve knows that he's still in love with him now.

It never went away. It was only buried by fear.

Titan is the one who notices him first. He's laying by the desk at the front of the class, vest on but leash off and on the desk instead. He lifts his head and stares at him and Steve stares back, finds himself smiling even though he knows Titan won't know what that means.

Bucky notices him second. He pauses in his speech to swipe a finger across the table screen. When he does, he throws a glance at the doorway and smiles when he sees Steve. Steve smiles back and lifts his hand in a small wave but he doesn't step further inside. He doesn't want to disturb the class.

Bucky continues for another couple minutes. Then he lowers the tablet and says, “I think we're gonna end it here today.”

He gets to his feet and the kids do the same, though a little more rushed than him. The kids move over to the pushed away tables and chairs and start gathering their stuff together while Bucky steps over to his desk and looks at Steve. Steve looks back at him and smiles when he does and when Bucky beckons him inside, he doesn't hesitate to walk in.

“And kids,” Bucky says, turning back to his student. “Remember to get a parent or guardian to sign the permission slip for our field trip next month!”

“Yes, mr. Barnes!” a couple kids chime before they all tunnel out.

Steve watches them leave and doesn't take his eyes off the doorway until their rushed footsteps have disappeared down the hall, leaving them in a pleasant quiet with a very distant background noise of playing children. Titan makes an aborted grunt as he scoots further under the desk but otherwise, it's quiet.

It's only then that Steve turns back to Bucky with a smile on his lips and a glint in his eyes.

“Mr. Barnes,” he says, lets his tone be a bit teasing because he can't not.

Bucky huffs at him. “Don't start,” he says. “I get enough of that from Clint.”

“I think it's cute.”

“Shut up.”

Bucky rolls his eyes but Steve doesn't miss the flush on his bare cheeks.

It makes him smile.

“Anyway,” Bucky says and smiles at him. “Glad you finally decided to stop by my school.”

“Me too,” Steve says and returns the smile. “It's nice to see you in your element.”

“My element?”

“Teaching. I haven't seen you that bright eyed since we were teenagers and I lost you for a week because you fell into a research hole and buried your nose in books.”

Bucky shrugs a shoulder, flush growing darker. “I like it,” he says.

“I can tell.” Steve's smile turns fond and he says, “It suits you.”

Bucky smiles at him and scratches his flushed cheek. He asks, “Did you bring lunch? I'm starving.”

“I did,” Steve says and lifts the bag in his right hand. “Sarge's was closed so I grabbed our usual from Howlie's, hope that's okay.”

“I wouldn't say no to any food right now, that's how hungry I am.”

“Then I assume you wouldn't say no to dessert either.”

Bucky lifts his brows, his smile widening. “You bought dessert too?”

“I brought dessert.” Steve hands him the container in his other hand and says, “Lily made you a cupcake.”

Bucky's smile falters and dies on his lips. He stares at Steve for a moment before his eyes drop down to the container and his face goes through a variation of different expressions before it finally settles on something akin to touched which brings his smile back fondly.

It's an expression Steve hasn't seen before but it's one that makes his heart go nuts.

When Bucky looks back up and locks eyes with Steve, he asks, “She made me a cupcake?”

“She did,” Steve says, ignoring the breathlessness in his voice. “Made me promise I'd give it to you too.”

Bucky doesn't say anything. He merely smiles and reaches out to take the container out of Steve's hand. He holds it so gently and looks at it with his head bowed but Steve can still see the smile on his lips and the way the thumb of his right hand brushes over the clear lid. He doesn't have to say anything either. The look on his face when he lifts his head and looks at Steve with a smile says it all.

“Tell her thank you,” he says, “and that I loved it.”

“You haven't tried it yet,” Steve says.

“Do you expect me to eat it right now? Because I won't.”

“Why not?”

“Because I'm starving and would eat it too fast.”

“I think that's the point.”

“Absolutely not, I'm gonna savor every bite.”

With that, Bucky walks around his desk and bends down. He picks up his bag, opens it, and carefully places the container into it. After he's put the bag back down on the floor below the desk, he grabs Titan's leash and walks back around. Titan gets up from his spot the floor and stretches briefly before he follows him.

Steve watches him, a small smile on his lips.

“I'm gonna tell her that too,” he says.

“That's fine,” Bucky says and clips Titan's leash on. “As long as she knows I loved it.”

Steve smiles at him, then he lifts the bag in his hand. “Wanna go satisfy that hunger of yours?”

“Fuck yes, please.”

 


 

Bucky takes him to a staircase not far from the classroom. It's right by a couple windows that let in the daylight from outside despite a tree with a big, grown crown standing tall by it. It's quiet here too so when they sit down and Steve opens the bag from Howlie's, the sound of crinkling paper is loud and echoes in the empty hallway beside them.

Not that either of them care. Steve pauses once the bag is open and shares a look with Bucky that lasts no more than two seconds before they both snort and laugh about it. And when they get their food and unwrap it just as noisily, they both laugh too though more muted now.

Bucky wolfs down half his wrap within a couple minutes but then he stops and lowers the sandwich from his face. He leans back with an elbow resting on a step behind them and his leg stretched out to where Titan is chewing his way through a bone treat by the bottom of the stairs, vest off for now.

When Steve glances at him, he finds Bucky already looking back at him with a small smile resting on his lips. Steve would almost call it fond, even. The look in his eyes certainly is. Steve smiles back and raises his brows in a question that doesn't need to be said out loud.

“Did you ever think we'd be here again?” Bucky asks him.

Steve hums questioningly around the mouthful he's still chewing.

“At a school,” Bucky elaborates. “Hiding from everyone at lunch.”

“You couldn't pay me to go back to school,” Steve says around his mouthful.

“Steve,” Bucky says and shoves at him with his knee. “Come on.”

Steve grunts but thinks about it for a second. Then he swallows his bite and says, “I used to think about it. For a while, at least. Used to spend my lunches moping around in my dorm or wherever 'cause I didn't have you with me. It drove Sam nuts.”

Bucky smiles at him, then he says, “You could've visited.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“And I would've paid for the trip over.”

“I wouldn't have let you.”

“I know.”

“But I could've made it happen somehow.”

“Why didn't you?”

Steve pauses. “I don't know,” he lies. He does know why.

Bucky hums quietly but says nothing, instead takes another bite.

“Anyway,” Steve says and looks at him. “Did you ever think about it?”

“All the time,” Bucky says after swallowing. “I always hoped, even after we lost contact.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.” A soft smile settles on his lips. He says, “You're a hard man to forget, Steve.”

Steve smiles at him, cheeks a little warm. “You could've visited me too, you know.”

Bucky looks at him for a long moment. “Sure,” he says though he doesn't sound sure.

Steve takes another bite, then he shifts and turns to the side to lean his back against the wall and to face Bucky. He pulls one leg up, resting it against the step beside him, and bends the other, his foot an inch from Bucky's thigh. Bucky doesn't seem to mind it.

“You haven't told me much about your college time,” Steve says.

“Not much to tell,” Bucky says. “I had a decent first couple years followed by a real shitty third.”

Steve studies him for a beat, takes in the closed off expression on his face. Then his eyes drift down to Bucky's prosthetic arm that lays with the hand resting on his thigh. He looks for what can't be more than a second but Bucky catches him anyway.

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “That happened during my third year.”

Steve looks at him. “You still don't have to tell me,” he says.

“I know,” Bucky says. “I want to though. Some day.”

“I'll be waiting.”

“Good. Don't want you to run off on me again.”

Steve huffs and kicks at his thigh, though it's more of a poke.

Bucky smiles at him and slaps the side of his boot in retaliation.

A silence settles over them. It lasts for a while and while it does, Steve watches Bucky. He lets the silence linger even as he shifts to change his position again. He mirrors Bucky's position; leaned back with both his elbows on the step behind them though he keeps his legs bend instead of stretched out. He shifts just a little closer to Bucky too, keeps his eyes on him.

Bucky looks back. Then his eyes start to drift downward.

It makes Steve pause. He tries but fails not to blush and takes in a deep breath.

“Are you gonna kiss me?” he asks quietly, his heart in his throat.

“I want to,” Bucky says, just as quiet and with his eyes locked downward.

Steve licks his lips. “Then why don't you?”

“Because you told me not to.”

And just like that, Steve snaps out of it.

“What?” With a frown, he leans back a little and asks, “When did I tell you not to?”

Bucky looks him in the eye now. “Do you remember the night before I left for college?” he asks.

Steve flushes immediately and averts his eyes.

“I'm gonna take that as a yes.”

“I...” Steve clears his throat, scratches his cheek. “I... vaguely remember it.”

“What do you remember?”

Steve takes in a breath. “Kissing you,” he says.

“And?”

“Honestly? Not much else.”

Bucky pauses for a beat, then he asks, “Do you remember what you did after?”

“No,” Steve admits because he doesn't. Not really.

“Do you remember the kiss?”

Steve thinks about it. “I remember it was short.”

“It was,” Bucky says. “Barely a second. You shoved me away so hard, I almost fell off the bed. Then you apologized, told me to forget it ever happened, and ran out.”

Steve stares at him and slowly, bits and pieces start to come back. Hazy and vague but he remembers... something.

“We were at my place,” he says, eyes on Bucky.

“We were,” Bucky says and looks back. “I waited for you until your mom came home.”

“I ran to the alleyway next to the building and waited for you to leave.”

Bucky stares at him quietly.

“I had a panic attack,” Steve says. His first of many but Bucky doesn't need to know that.

Bucky stays silent for a minute. Then he mutters, “I suppose that makes sense.”

“It does?”

“Considering you didn't accept your attraction to men until your late twenties and you were eighteen at the time? Yeah, it does.”

Steve stares at him. “I'm sorry,” he says then.

“For what?”

“I'm the reason things got awkward between us, aren't I?”

Bucky smiles, though it doesn't quite reach his eyes. “I think it was only awkward for you,” he says. “You sounded so panicked and nervous anytime I called, I didn't know what to do. I definitely wasn't about to bring up the kiss 'cause that wasn't gonna help.”

“Probably not.”

“After a while, I stopped reaching out and gave you some space to figure yourself out. But then, uh.” Bucky pauses, shifts his prosthetic arm a little. “Well. Things happened and when you didn't reach out either, I figured it was too late anyway.”

Steve slumps back against the steps with a sigh and closes his eyes tight. “I'm a fucking asshole.”

“It's not your fault, Steve,” Bucky says. “I don't blame you.”

“I blamed you.”

Bucky is silent next to him.

Steve opens his eyes and tells him, “I didn't remember what happened after the kiss. I thought you stopped talking to me because of it.”

Bucky blinks at him. “You're an idiot,” he says.

“Yeah. I know.”

“But it's okay.”

Steve looks at him. He says, “You can't tell me you're not mad.”

“Honestly?” Bucky shrugs and says, “I'm not. I don't dwell on the past.”

“You're a history teacher.”

“Don't be a smartass.”

Steve smiles, small albeit sadly.

Bucky returns it in kind.

“Can I ask you something?” Steve asks after a pause.

“Of course.”

“Would you have kissed me back?”

Bucky looks at him. Then he reaches out and takes his hand.

Steve lets him, lets their fingers intertwine and never once does he take his eyes off Bucky.

“It would've been a lot harder to leave if you'd have let me,” Bucky says.

“Did you love me?”

“More than anything.”

Steve laughs, can't help. “I'm such a fucking moron,” he says.

“What, you didn't think I did?”

“Bucky, I thought you hated me because of the kiss. Of course I didn't.”

Bucky blinks at him. “You really are an oblivious idiot.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“That's okay. I love you in spite of that.”

Steve pauses and looks at him. His heart does a funny flip and trips over itself in his chest.

“Present tense,” Bucky says, a smile on his lips. “I never stopped loving you, Steve.”

“I never stopped either,” Steve admits quietly. “Even though I didn't accept it for a while.”

“Then I think you should kiss me again.”

“You want me to?”

“Yeah. Unless you want to run out on me again—”

“Oh my God, shut the fuck up.”

Steve leans in and shuts him up with a kiss.

The first time he kissed Bucky, it was rushed. He didn't get to commit these lips to memory, didn't get to fully experience how Bucky kisses. But he gets to now and so he does. He moves his lips over Bucky's in soft and light kisses as he makes himself familiar with the shape of them, the softness and the feeling of them against his own.

The angle is a little awkward with the way they're sitting; on stairs and side by side. But Steve stays leaned over Bucky and Bucky angles his head nicely underneath him, tilting it when Steve shifts closer to kiss him better. Steve knows it won't be long before the position will give them both cricks in their necks but right now, he doesn't care.

Kissing Bucky isn't what he expected it to be. He expected fireworks and weak knees and a rapid heartbeat. What he gets instead is a sense of calm rushing over him like a wave pushing the water to the shore. He feels warm and when Bucky lets go of his hand to touch the side of his face instead, he lets out a content sigh and lets himself be swallowed in the feeling.

He hasn't kissed like this before, not that he has kissed many. He wants to keep doing this forever but when a door opens with a squeak in the distance and rushed footsteps echo down a hall nearby, Steve leans back to break the kiss. He revels in the lingering feeling on his lips for a mere second before he opens his eyes and looks down at Bucky.

Bucky is already looking back at him, a small smile on his reddened lips and his eyes bright. Steve smiles back and can't help but lean back down to kiss him just once more, though this one is a mere peck that lasts only a brief moment.

“I liked this kiss better,” Bucky whispers once they part, then he drops his hand from Steve's face.

“Me too,” Steve says and smiles at him. “And look at that. I didn't run away.”

Bucky huffs and shoves Steve away with a hand on his face.

Steve laughs and doesn't fight it but lets himself be pushed away instead.

Bucky sits up and says, “I think it's gonna be me who runs away this time.”

“Yeah?” Steve tries to ignore the disappointment that settles in his chest.

“Yeah,” Bucky says with a sigh. “You unfortunately had to kiss me while I'm at work.”

“I'll kiss you outside of work too then,” Steve says and it's a promise.

Bucky smiles at him. “I'm looking forward to it,” he says.

Steve gets to kiss Bucky once more before they part ways. He tries to keep it short because Bucky has somewhere to be but one becomes two and two becomes a lingering third. He doesn't get to go for a fourth because then Bucky shoves him away again and walks away with a chuckle and his cheeks a little flushed.

With a smile, Steve watches him leave.

 


 

By the time he picks Lily up from school, the smile is still there on his lips but it's slightly smaller now and that happy fluttering feeling is still warm in his chest. They stop by the store on the way home to pick up some things for dinner and a few things not for dinner because Steve is in a good mood and Lily asks nicely so he lets her have a small bag of skittles.

She eats them after dinner, snacking on them as she does her homework by the table. Cooper is on the floor behind her, rolling his ball between his paws to get the kibble out of it, and Steve is in the kitchen cleaning up.

When the last plate has been washed off and put in the dishwasher, he rolls his sleeves back down and lets his eyes drift over to his phone that's charging in the outlet in the corner. He thinks about it for no more than five seconds before he walks over, grabs it, and hits send on the message he types before he can overthink it.

Steve, 06:59PM:
Let me take you out to dinner.

He doesn't put his phone away, after. He keeps it in his hand and stares down at the screen until it lights up with a new message. He doesn't hesitate to open it, turning to lean against the wall with a smile resting on his lips.

Bucky, 07:02PM:
when?

Steve, 07:02PM:
When are you free?

Bucky, 07:02PM:
i get off at 3 on friday

Steve, 07:03PM:
And no therapy?

Bucky, 07:03PM:
no therapy. i'm all yours if you want

“Dad!” Lily calls from the table.

Steve doesn't look up from his phone, thumbs typing, when he calls back, “Yeah?”

Steve, 07:04PM:
It's a date then :)

“I need help!”

With a smile, Steve puts his phone down and goes over to her.

He doesn't see the string of hearts Bucky'd send him until an hour later but it still leaves him with butterflies and a smile so wide that his cheeks hurt.

 


 

On Wednesday, Steve drops Lily off at school with her travel bag. She gets picked up by her mom in the afternoon and will stay there until Saturday evening unless she wants to come back to him sooner, like they agreed. But by the time Friday rolls around, she hasn't expressed any want of that so Steve doesn't have to call in a favor to have someone watch his daughter or cancel his date.

His date.

His date with Bucky.

Steve takes in a deep breath and smiles at his own reflection.

He's trimmed his beard. Not much but enough to clean it up a little which he hasn't done in probably too long and it'd gotten a little out of hand. It's a little shorter but still full and clean cut under his jaw. He's pushed his hair back too, slicked down with a bit of product that he hasn't used in... years, at this point.

He's not wearing anything too fancy though. It's a simple blue button-up that Sharon has told him complements his eyes and the nicest pair of jeans that he owns. They fit him nicely albeit a little tight because they're a couple years old and his thighs have grown in that time. He's stepped into his dress-wear shoes too because they're nice and haven't seen the light of day in too long.

He's made an effort, of course he has. He wants this to go well because Bucky has seen him at his worst and he wants to show him at his best too. He wants to be able to treat him right, make him happy, catch up on all that lost time that he caused between them.

Steve doesn't beat himself up over it, even though he still feels like it was his fault. Because it was. But he doesn't want to dwell in the past, he would much rather focus on his future with Bucky. Whether that ends up being romantic or not, it doesn't matter. He just want to give it a try and if it doesn't work out, then... well, he doesn't want to think about that.

Regardless of the turnout, Bucky is his person and his person has waited long enough.

The commute to Bucky's building is a long one. Halfway through it, he gets a text from Sharon. It's nothing but a picture of Natasha and Cooper walking side by side down the sidewalk. Natasha is looking over her shoulder, a small smile on her lips and her free hand held up and curled into a fist with only her thumb extended, and Cooper is happily trotting along with his tail held high.

Sharon and Natasha are taking him for the night because Steve doesn't plan on coming back home. He's not expecting anything but, well. He has hopes. And besides, Cooper loves Sharon and Natasha so it's no hardship for him to spend a day with them, getting pampered and getting to hang out with Natasha's cat Liho. Those two get along surprisingly well.

By the time he gets off the subway and heads toward Bucky's building, Steve can't deny that he's getting a little nervous. His heart is pounding in his chest and his palms feel a little sweaty. He's nervous and maybe a little afraid still but it doesn't feel as overwhelming anymore. So he lets himself be pulled up the stairs and down the hall until he stands in front of Bucky's apartment door.

He doesn't hesitate to knock. There's no barking on the other side but there is a muffled boof and ten seconds later, the door opens.

Bucky has his hair down today, soft looking brown locks falling down to his shoulders with one side tugged behind his ear and the other pushed back to not hide his face. He's clad in a simple white tee underneath a black bomber jacket and Steve doesn't bother looking further down because his eyes are stuck to his face.

There's a smile on his lips too, small and almost shy.

Steve smiles too, finds it hard not to.

Bucky looks the same as he did earlier this week but it's different now.

This is a date and seeing him knocks the breath right out of Steve.

“Hi,” he says, a little more breathy than he planned.

“Hi,” Bucky echoes and his smile grows on his lips.

Steve looks at him for a long moment, then he asks, “Would it be weird if I kissed you?”

“It'd be weird if you didn't,” Bucky says.

So Steve steps forward, leans in, and kisses him on the lips.

It's a light kiss, short too. It lasts barely two seconds before Steve leans back again and smiles at him. Bucky smiles back, whatever shyness lingered in his previous one gone just like that.

“You look nice,” Steve tells him in a quiet voice.

“Thank you,” Bucky says. “I showered.”

Steve lets out an amused huff and flatly says, “Thanks for that.”

“And thank you,” Bucky says and steps closer, “for showering too.”

When he leans in and kisses him, Steve doesn't hesitate to kiss back.

For a second, then he leans back and gives him a narrow eyed look.

There's a glint in Bucky's eyes, one that Steve knows to be teasing.

“What's that supposed to mean?” Steve asks him.

“Oh, you know.” Bucky rests his hand on Steve's hip to keep him close. He says, “Hospitals have this... smell. And it lingers.”

“So you're telling me I usually stink.”

“Only when you've been at work.”

Steve gives him a deadpan stare. But when Bucky grins at him, wide and toothy and so close to his own face, Steve can't help but roll his eyes and let a smile grow on his lips too. He reaches out and puts his hands on Bucky's waist, pulling him in.

“Well,” he says. “You're lucky I had time to shower before I came here, then.”

“I'm lucky just to have this,” Bucky says quietly and snakes his arm around his back, “but sure. I'm lucky you're considerate too. I hate the smell of hospitals.”

Steve doesn't question it, though part of him wants to.

Instead he merely smiles and, after a beat, asks, “You hungry?”

“Starving.”

Bucky steps back and out of Steve's arms. He turns around and steps back into his apartment where he crouches down in front of Titan who's been sitting quietly behind them since the door opened. When Bucky reaches out to pet him, Titan's tail wags and his tongue lolls out of his muzzle.

“Be good, boy,” Bucky tells him, then he stands back up and steps back out.

He closes and locks the door behind him and Steve frowns at him.

“You're not bringing Titan?” he asks.

“Nah,” Bucky says and turns to him with a smile. “I can go a few hours without him.”

Steve looks at him. His frown deepens.

Bucky rolls his eyes and says, “I've dealt with this shit for years, Steve. I know my own limits.”

“Okay,” Steve says slowly. “But... you know I won't mind if you bring him, right?”

“I know.” Bucky reaches his right hand out and Steve grabs it without thought. Bucky says, “But I don't think I'll need him.”

Steve smiles at him, his heart doing a funny flutter in his chest.

He squeezes his hand and asks, “Well then. Shall we?”

“Yes, please.”

 


 

Steve takes him to a diner fifteen minutes on foot from the building. Originally, he was going to make reservations at a restaurant, maybe even one that would be considered fancy, but that didn't feel right. He wants to treat Bucky right but that doesn't mean they have to do things the traditional way. Their story isn't traditional anyway.

The diner is nice though. Riley recommended it to him, it was where he and Sam had their second date. And it is a nice spot for a date; white table cloths draped over the tables with two chairs on either side and a small bouquet of red flowers decoratively in the middle. Steve leads Bucky to one by the large window in the back, the street outside dark and the lights dim.

A waiter comes over less than a minute after they've sat down. Bucky looks down at the menu laid out between them to figure out what he wants to order while Steve orders them some water. He doesn't look down at the menu because he's already taken a look at the menu when he looked up the place so while Bucky figures out what he wants—and he does so very quickly—Steve watches him.

He's still watching him with a small smile resting on his lips by the time Bucky gives his order to the waiter and looks up. Bucky meets his eye and smiles back while the waiter notes down their order and leaves them be.

Steve's smile grows a little wider once they're alone.

It makes Bucky breathe out a chuckle and he asks, “What?”

“Nothing,” Steve says. “I just can't believe I'm on a date with Bucky Barnes.”

“Oh really?” Bucky leans forward, elbows on the table and a smile on his lips. He says, “And here I am, not believing I'm on a date with Steve Rogers.”

Steve rolls his eyes with a halfhearted scoff.

“Don't give me that,” Bucky says and kicks him under the table. “Do you know how often I'd think about this? I used to daydream about taking you on dates every week when we were younger.”

“I'm sorry we didn't get to do that.”

Bucky gives him a look. “You weren't out,” he says. “And neither was I.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I know. But don't beat yourself up over it.”

“Fine,” Steve says. “I'm glad we get to do it now, at least.”

“Me too,” Bucky says and smiles at him fondly.

Steve returns the smile with ease.

He almost reaches across the table to grab Bucky's hand but before he can, the waiter returns with their drinks. She gives them each a tall glass halfway filled with ice cubes and pours water into both, then she places the can between them on the table. She tells them that their food will be with them shortly, smiles, and then she leaves.

Steve is the first to grab his glass. He lifts it, looks at Bucky, and says, “Cheers.”

Bucky smiles. He lifts his glass and knocks it against Steve's. “L'Chaim,” he says.

They drink; Bucky takes a quick sip while Steve swallows a good mouthful, his throat suddenly dry. He lowers his glass and licks his lips as he places it back on the table, eyes still locked onto Bucky. They're both silent after, looking at each other, and it doesn't take more than a minute before Steve realizes he doesn't know what to say.

He tells Bucky as much and Bucky lets out a little huff of a laugh.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Bucky says, “neither do I.”

Steve breathes out and slumps against his back. “It helps a little,” he says.

Bucky looks at him, studies him for a moment. “You're nervous,” he says then.

“Of course I am,” Steve admits easily.

“Why?”

“'Cause I want this to go well.”

“Steve.”

Bucky lays his right hand on the table, palm up in a silent invitation. Steve looks down at it and he finds himself hesitating for a long moment before he reaches out and places his own hand in Bucky's, heart fluttering when Bucky closes his fingers around him.

Steve closes his hand around his too and looks at him.

“It's gonna go well,” Bucky says and he sounds so sure, Steve almost believes him.

Almost.

“How do you know?” Steve asks.

“Because I've been gone on you forever,” Bucky says. “No matter how tonight goes, that's not gonna change.”

Steve pauses, then he says, “I don't know how to date.”

“Sure you do,” Bucky says. “We've had a few over the last couple months.”

“Those don't count as dates.”

“Why? Because they weren't official dates?”

“I suppose.”

“I got to hang out with the guy I like and have some good food. That's a date in my book.”

“So we did go on dates as teenagers too then.”

“In my dreams, yes.”

Steve huffs and rolls his eyes, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

“You don't gotta think of this as a date,” Bucky says. “We're two people having dinner together. Who maybe play footsie under the table and make eyes at each other.”

“Play footsie?” Steve looks at him, a grin on his lips as he asks, “How old are you?”

“Not as old as you.”

Steve narrows his eyes at him and squeezes his hand a little too tight.

Bucky sticks his tongue out at him and kicks him under the table.

Steve doesn't move his foot away when Bucky's stays after. Instead he says, “I don't wanna think of this as anything but a date. I want to date you, Bucky. Not pretend.”

“Okay,” Bucky says and smiles at him, small but soft. “It's a date, then.”

Steve smiles back. “Good.”

Despite the slight bump, they still manage to make easy conversation until the food arrives and the conversation continues long into their meal. Steve laughs and Bucky laughs too and it's nice. But when their plates are near empty and Steve's stomach is starting to get full, a natural lull falls over them and he watches as the smile fades from Bucky's lips and his face settles into a hard expression.

Steve frowns. He almost asks what's wrong but then Bucky clears his throat and speaks.

“I have something to tell you,” he says, eyes downcast.

Steve's frowns deepens. “Okay,” he says slowly.

“It's, uh.” Bucky scratches his cheek. “It's not exactly first date— well, first official date material.”

“I think we've known each other long enough to make it okay.”

After a moment, Bucky lifts his gaze and looks at him. “I wanna tell you about my arm.”

Steve loses his smile. He doesn't say anything, instead waits for Bucky to start.

“It was a motorcycle accident,” Bucky says. “A... friend took me for a ride on his bike in the middle of January in 2005. I trusted him to drive well and he did but the road got slippery all of the sudden and then... well, I don't know what happened but they told me I was out for three days and the surgeon could only save a third of my arm.”

When Bucky pauses, Steve asks, “And your friend?”

“He's okay now,” Bucky says. “Can't walk but he's getting by.”

“Must've been rough for you,” Steve says quietly.

“For both of us,” Bucky agrees with a nod. “I, uh. I heard about your mom a couple months after I got out of the hospital. I wanted to reach out but... I was all kinds of messed up at the time.”

“Buck.” Steve gives him a look and says, “Are you seriously apologizing for that?”

“You were alone, Steve.”

“And you almost died.”

Bucky doesn't say anything to that.

“And for the record,” Steve says, “I wouldn't have cared how messed up you were.”

“That's a lie.”

“It's not.”

“You don't know how messed up I was.”

“Doesn't matter. It would've still been you.”

Bucky pauses. Then he says, “I guess we're both idiots then.”

Steve gives a small smile. “Maybe a little.”

“Well.” Bucky returns the smile and says, “No point in dwelling in the past.”

Steve hums. He says, “You seem to be doing okay now though.”

“I am,” Bucky says. “Most days, at least. I go to therapy regularly and I have Titan. The accident gave me some brain damage and sometimes I have issues with balance. He can support my weight and find me somewhere to sit when I need it but he's not specialized in it. Mostly, he's there for my anxiety.”

Steve smiles, just a little. “I'm glad you have him,” he says.

“Me too,” Bucky says and smiles back.

“And thank you for telling me.”

“Thank you for listening.”

“Always, Buck. Always.”

Bucky is silent for a moment. He says, “I do believe we were destined to meet again, by the way.”

Steve looks at him, a little flat because he can't not.

“Don't give me that look,” Bucky says. “I think we needed to spend some time apart, grow up and figure ourselves out before we could give this, us, a chance. Call it destiny or coincidence but I'm glad whatever it is brought me back to you. And let me have you too, finally.”

Steve smiles at him, look softening. “How did I not know you were such a romantic?”

“I suppose there's a lot you don't know about me yet.”

“Good. I'd like to know everything there is to know about Bucky Barnes.”

“That might take a while.”

“I'm counting on it.”

 


 

“We're gonna communicate better from now on, right?”

Steve huffs and says, “Yeah, I think we gotta.”

Bucky lifts his glass. “To no more misunderstandings?”

“No more misunderstandings and miscommunication,” Steve says and lifts his glass too.

Bucky knocks his glass against Steve's and smiles at him.

Steve smiles back, wide and easy.

It feels healing.

 


 

After they finish their meals and pay the bill, Steve walks Bucky home. Bucky holds his hand the whole time and while they don't talk much, it's nice and comfortable and Steve walks with a smile on his face the whole time. Bucky does too, he notices every time he casts a glance his way and finds him smiling quietly.

When they near Bucky's building, Bucky asks him, “Do you wanna come inside?”

“Do you want me to?” Steve asks instead of answering.

Bucky looks him in the eye and nods so Steve follows him into the building.

Titan greets them when they step in through the door. He doesn't bark but he does a happy bounce when Bucky reaches down to pet him and his tail slaps against their legs as he circles around them both. Steve gets to greet him too though Titan loses interest in him quick and goes right back to Bucky.

Steve doesn't mind that. He doesn't mind waiting for a couple minutes while Bucky takes Titan out to piss either, especially not when it gets him a chance to take in the details of Bucky's apartment.

It's a nice apartment. It's not that big but there's not much in it either which leaves a good amount of floor space. The front door opens up to a spacious room furnished with a couch by the big window on the opposite wall and a messy desk with a computer in the corner. There's a dog bed and bowls set up there too, a couple toys laying here and there on the floor.

Next to the desk is the kitchen and that too is small but it's clean and, as far as Steve can tell, well organized. There's stairs leading up next to the door and Steve can only assume that's the bedroom but it's closed off by a wall so he can't see up there. There's a poster hung up on that wall; an old movie poster and it makes Steve smiles because they may have spend eighteen years apart but Bucky is still Bucky.

By the time Bucky comes back with Titan, Steve is standing by the desk and looking at the picture standing on the desk. It's of the Barnes family, all grown up and at a formal party. The moment the door opens and Bucky steps inside though, his attention shifts from the picture and lands back on Bucky.

“Hey,” Bucky says as he closes the door behind him.

“Hey,” Steve echoes and slowly steps over toward him.

Titan bypasses him and trots over to his bed to lay down.

“You, uh.” Bucky clears his throat, then he asks, “You want something to drink?”

“No,” Steve says. He stops a couple steps away.

Bucky watches him, licks his lips.

Steve lowers his gaze and follows his tongue with his eyes. Then he locks eyes with him and asks, “Did you invite me in for a drink?”

“No,” Bucky says with a shake of his head.

“Then don't offer me one.”

Bucky looks at him for a moment. Then he asks, “Wanna see my bedroom?”

Steve smiles and follows him up the steps.

Once they get there, Bucky kisses him before he can get to look around. Steve kisses back because how could he not and when Bucky puts his hands on his hips and guides him backwards, Steve's feet move willingly until his back hits the wall and he's pressed against it.

His own hands find Bucky's hips and he pulls him closer, tugs him in until they're front to front and pressed close together. The weight and closeness along with the shift Bucky's hips do very quickly makes Steve's pants feel a little tight and he doesn't even try to stop the moan that escapes between their moving lips.

They stand like that for several minutes, touching and kissing. Then Bucky leans back. He doesn't go far and when he speaks, his lips ghost over Steve's parted ones.

“Have you ever been with a man?” he asks, voice lowered to a whisper.

“No,” Steve says, whispering too.

“Wanna change that?”

Steve nods, maybe a little too eagerly.

Bucky smiles. He shifts his hips back and moves his right hand down between them to unbuckle his belt and undo his pants. Steve holds his breath when he does, staring into Bucky's eyes because he's so close that he can't look down and watch what his hand is doing.

But he can feel all of it, zeros in on every little touch.

“Breathe,” Bucky whispers against his lips.

Steve does and releases the breath he'd been holding though he does it slowly because Bucky is still so close and he doesn't want to blow in his face. Bucky kisses him after, only a a quick one that he doesn't let Steve return, and then he takes half a step back only to drop to his knees.

Steve doesn't hold his breath. Instead he curls his hands into fists and breathes in deeply when Bucky pulls his pants and underwear down to pool around his ankles, leaving him bare and exposed and half hard.

Bucky looks up at him, meets his eye with a heated look.

“Feel free to pull my hair,” he says and then he takes him in his mouth.

Steve does pull his hair. He finds it near impossible not to when Bucky is working his mouth on him and there's not much else to grab and hold onto, so he buries his fingers in his loose hair and curls his hand into a fist. Bucky doesn't seem to mind it; he moans around his cock and takes him a little deeper and Steve slams the back of his head against the wall and sees stars.

Steve could easily get off like this but he doesn't want that, so when he's fully hard, he tugs Bucky back and brings him back to his feet to kiss him. He can taste himself on his tongue but that doesn't bother him and he keeps kissing him while Bucky pulls him along toward the surprisingly big bed.

Their clothes disappear and Bucky takes his prosthetic off too. His entire left side is full of nasty scars that get worse and angrier the closer they get to what little is left of his arm. Steve looks and Bucky lets him but it's not long before Steve grabs him and kisses him, first on the lips and then he trails his kisses down his neck and down to his left shoulder until his lips touch scarred skin.

And then he goes further and further down.

Steve has never been with a man and doesn't really know what he's doing once he gets between Bucky's legs but Bucky guides him through it, tells him what to do and moans his praises when he does something right. Steve works him over for a while, finds that he really enjoys it and could do it all night if Bucky let him.

But Bucky doesn't let him and Steve ends up on his back with Bucky kneeling above him as he lines Steve's cock up under him. When he sinks down and takes him in, Steve has to scramble at his hips to hold on. Bucky sits down all the way and Steve lets out a moan so abruptly, it may as well have been punched out of him.

Bucky moans too, circling his hips and placing his hand on Steve's chest for support.

In the end, it doesn't last long.

Steve comes first and maybe embarrassingly quick but it's been a while. He holds onto Bucky's hips to keep him still and thrusts up into him a couple times before he empties into the condom with a deep and throaty moan. Bucky follows soon after, hand clutched onto Steve's heaving chest while Steve gets him off with a hand around his cock.

They don't move for a while after and Steve indulges in the afterglow for a few minutes, but then he pushes Bucky off and rearranges him on the bed. He gets up to dispose of the condom and to get something to clean them up with before they both get sticky.

When he gets back into bed, settling with the pillows below his head, Bucky instantly shifts closer to him. He throws a leg over his hips, his arm over his chest, and pillows his head on his shoulder while pressing himself against his side. Steve smiles and kisses his forehead while snaking an arm around his middle to pull him closer.

They're both a little sweaty still but he doesn't mind.

They lay there for a while in silence. Steve listens to Bucky's calm breathing and it's so deep that he almost thinks he's asleep. But then Bucky shifts against him and breaks the silence, his voice quiet and words slightly muffled by Steve's shoulder.

“Do you believe in soulmates?”

Steve looks at the ceiling and thinks for a second. “Not really,” he says then. “Do you?”

“Maybe,” Bucky says. “I think I might right now.”

Steve smiles, his cheeks warm, and looks down at him.

Bucky leans in when he does and kisses him softly. Against his lips, he whispers, “Stay.”

And Steve holds him close and says okay.

Chapter Text

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.

“Sure, sure.”

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?”

“About what?”

“About kids.”

“Ah.” Sam takes in a breath and says, “Yeah, we had a talk the other day.”

“And?”

“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.”

“Almost twelve!”

“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?”

“McDonald's.”

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?”

“Grandma Sarah?”

“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.”

“Dance practice?”

“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.

Chapter Text

Steve looks at his reflection in the mirror and smooths a hand over his beard. He has cleaned it up a little, trimmed it so it's a little less rough looking and overgrown, but he decided not to bother picking out the gray hairs that have started growing in between the blond. He used to be able to do that a few years ago but the patches have gotten so big, it's not worth the effort.

He takes a step back and turns his body ever so slightly while his eyes move down over himself. His outfit is simple because there's no reason to bother with formal wear when he'll only be around family but he has still made some effort. It's a simple pair of worn denim jeans that are cuffed over his shoes and a shirt that sits nicely on his shoulders.

Steve looks at himself.

Then he shrugs and mutters, “Good enough.”

He leaves his bedroom after pocketing his phone and heads to the front door. Cooper stands from where he's been laying on the floor right outside the open door and comes trotting after him with his ears perked and his tail held high and wagging excitedly.

Steve grabs the keys, then he crouches down in front of Cooper and takes his muzzle in one hand while he pets his head with the other. Cooper leans into him and licks at his face, and Steve smiles at him apologetically.

“Sorry, buddy,” he says. “You gotta stay back.”

Cooper doesn't understand but he sits down and keeps quiet when Steve leaves.

The walk to Bucky's apartment from the subway isn't a long one but Steve manages to cut it short anyway, walking fast and just shy of running. They're not in a rush, they're in good time, but Steve hasn't seen Bucky all week and he's impatient. He misses him, sue him.

When he makes it to the right floor and finds Bucky's door, he only pauses for long enough to do a quick fix of himself before he lifts his fist and knocks on the wood. He can hear movement behind the door, something that sounds a lot like dog paws clacking against the wooden floor, and only seconds later the door opens.

Bucky smiles at him from the other side. His hair is down today and he's shaved since the last time Steve saw him, his jaw smooth now instead of covered in stubble and it makes his pink lips more prominent. It draws Steve in without thought, leaning in to kiss him hello.

Bucky chuckles against his lips and mutters a, “Hi,” before he kisses back.

Steve hums but doesn't stop kissing him, instead he grabs onto him and pulls him closer.

They kiss for a while, slow and unhurried in Bucky's doorway. Steve could honestly do this all day and maybe take it even further but then Bucky puts a hand on his chest and pushes him away, breaking the kiss and putting some distance between them. Not much but enough.

Steve tries to chase after him but Bucky turns his head away with a snort.

“Steve,” he says and gives him a look. “We have somewhere to be, remember?”

Steve sighs and hangs his head, resting it on Bucky's shoulder.

Bucky pats it and says, “I thought you were excited about this.”

“I am,” Steve says and lifts his head. “But I haven't seen you all week.”

“Oh, so now you're clingy?”

“Now that I get to kiss you? Yeah.”

Bucky snorts and shakes his head. “You're an idiot,” he says fondly.

“Takes one to know one.”

“Careful with the insults or you might not get to kiss me again.”

Steve narrows his eyes, lips tightening into a thin line.

Bucky smiles at him. “Come on,” he says. “We can spend time together after.”

“Okay,” Steve says and lets go of him. “It's a date.”

“It's a date,” Bucky echoes.

Steve smiles, then he brings a hand up to cup Bucky's cheek and brushes a thumb over the smooth skin. “You look good, by the way,” he says.

“Thank you,” Bucky says, leaning into his hand. “So do you.”

Steve looks at him for a moment. “You sure we can't be a little late?” he asks then.

“I'm not gonna be responsible for making you late to your friends' engagement party.”

“Not an engagement party.”

“Okay, celebration then.”

“But you could.”

“I won't. Let's go.”

Steve sighs but he doesn't argue.

 


 

Bucky is nervous, Steve can tell.

He hasn't stopped fidgeting the whole way over and now that they're standing in front of the door, he keeps shifting from one foot to the other and taking in deep breaths. Not having Titan there probably isn't helping.

Steve looks at him from the corner of his eye for only a moment before he takes his hand, intertwines their fingers, and gives him a little squeeze.

“You're gonna be fine,” he says, quietly after leaning closer.

“I know that,” Bucky says in a breath. “Meeting your partner's family for the first time is just... a lot. I wanna make a good impression.”

“You know most of them already,” Steve says. “And I've been talking you up, so.”

“Oh, well then I'm obviously gonna do great,” Bucky says flatly.

“Stop it.” Steve elbows his side. “They're gonna love you.”

“If you say so,” Bucky says. He doesn't sound convinced.

Steve squeezes his hand. “I've got you. You ready?”

Bucky takes in a deep breath, then he swallows thickly and nods.

Steve nods back, then he lifts his other hand and knocks on the door.

Natasha is the one who answers the door only seconds after. She opens it and sticks her left hand out right in his face to show off the ring that sits on her finger. It's a simple silver band with no bling or diamond or anything on. It's not what he's ever expected to seeing on her finger but it suits her.

“I'm engaged,” she says in lieu of a greeting.

Steve blinks at the ring, then he stares at her. “What happened to not liking marriage?”

“I have a convincing fiancée,” Natasha says with a shrug.

Steve smiles at her. He lets go of Bucky's hand and steps into her space to embrace her in a hug that she returns with a quiet chuckle. She squeezes him first and he squeezes her back, and then they step apart and smile at each other.

“Congrats, Nat,” he says. “I'm happy for you.”

“Thank you,” Natasha says, then she looks at Bucky. “And hello to you.”

“Hi,” Bucky says and he smiles but even that looks nervous.

Steve reaches out to grab his hand again.

“Well,” Natasha says to them both. “Come on in.”

Everyone is seated in the living room. Peggy, Daniel, Sam, and Riley have made themselves comfortable on the couch while Sharon is sitting on the armchair next to it with Lily planted in her lap. Lily doesn't stay there for long because the moment they come into the living room, she flies up and runs over to launch herself at Steve.

Steve catches her, lifts her up into his arms for a hug. She stays clinging to him even after the hug ends and he lets her but he turns his attention to everyone else and everyone else looks back at him, eyes curious and waiting.

Steve takes in a breath and squeezes Bucky's hand.

“Everyone,” he says and looks at him. “This is Bucky.”