They don't get to stay in one spot for too long very often. Sometimes even three days is asking for too much. Steve doesn’t always mind it, but he has to admit that being able to settle — as much as he can settle anymore — is nice.
They’ve been in this village for a week now. So far no one has given any inclination that they recognize them, and it’s a miracle. The people here are nice, and while they don’t all speak English, Steve has been working to pick up on their language, and he’s mostly conversational now. It helps that Natasha came back from her solo mission a few days ago, too; she has a knack for picking up on languages like no one Steve has ever seen before.
Sam likes it here too. He’s taken to a small family who lives in the house on the very edge of the village, spending much of the day talking to the mother and playing with the kids. Steve tags along sometimes even though he feels out of place. They’re all polite and he enjoys their company as much as he can, but he’s never been good at forming new connections, and kids make him nervous even though he likes them. It doesn’t help that he can’t seem to let himself relax fully, ever. There's always too much going on in his mind. But still, he likes watching Sam interact with them. He knows Sam has to miss his group back in DC, it’s something that makes him feel guilty every time he lets his thoughts drift that way. He never brings it up to Sam though, because he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want Steve’s guilt and that he doesn’t regret his actions even if it means a life on the run. Steve doesn’t know how much he actually believes him, but he figures he owes Sam enough to take his word for it and stop moping around him like a sad puppy.
Right now Steve is sitting on the back stoop of the house they’re renting from a baker and her husband. It has two rooms, one with a twin bed and one with a full, which the husband had apologized for when he saw their group of three, but Steve definitely doesn’t mind that. He likes feeling Sam’s warmth pressed against his back at night, even when it’s humid. He never realized how much he missed touch until he got it back. It’s kind of embarrassing, but Sam seems to have caught on because he started draping an arm over Steve’s waist at night, or running his hand over Steve’s shoulder when he passes him in their little kitchen.
Steve sighs, picking at the croissant he’s been holding without taking a bite of for going on ten minutes. His stomach growls at him again, louder and more insistent and he frowns. He has a tub of butter sitting next to his foot with a small spreading knife tucked into the soft butter. He helped churn the butter himself, and he’s actually pretty proud of it. Bucky would probably tell him he didn’t too bad for a city boy. He always used being born in Indiana against Steve despite both of them being raised in New York City. Steve grins at the memory. He’d heard from T’challa a week or so ago, that Bucky was back out of cryo. He hasn’t made an effort to get back to Wakanda yet though. He feels like his presence might just make Bucky’s recovery worse. And if he’s being honest with himself, he’s not quite ready to face who Bucky is now either. It was easy enough to focus on just saving Bucky before, he didn’t have to actually think about how much they’d both changed since they last saw each other. Sam tries to get him to talk about it sometimes, but Steve has always been too stubborn and closed off for his own good.
His stomach rumbles obnoxiously again and he rolls his eyes at himself, ripping off a chunk of the bread and popping it into his mouth. He hears a small shuffling sound to his left and then a tiny meow and grins, turning his head to see his two latest friends here.
A talkative black kitten and his shyer friend have been making routine trips to Steve’s stoop for the past four days. He’s affectionately named the black one Tony, because he can't help himself, and the other one is named Frodo because Steve had found a copy of Lord of the Rings at a flea market in the town they were in a few months back and has been reading and rereading it consistently ever since.
“How are you guys today?” Steve asks, grinning, Tony is already digging his claws into Steve’s pants leg, trying to climb towards the open container of butter. Frodo is trailing behind him, rubbing himself back and forth against Steve’s ankle. Steve laughs and Tony meows, complaining when Steve’s laughter shakes his precarious position on the top of his knee. Steve strokes his head softly and lifts the butter container up, using the knife to spread some butter on the lid, placing it on the ground in front of him. Frodo gets to it first, lapping happily at the dairy treat until Tony clobbers his way off Steve’s lap, practically tumbling on top of the quieter kitten.
“Don’t tell Anna,” Steve says, leaning forward to talk to the kittens in a conspiratorial tone. “You know how she feels about strays begging on her back steps. She’ll have my neck if she finds out I’m giving you scraps.”
Frodo just looks up at him for a second in response and then goes back to licking everything he can off the lid. Steve grins and scratches gently behind his ears. “I suppose you’re right, I made that butter I can do what I want with it.”
It’s stupid, he knows, to be talking to two kittens while sitting on a concrete stoop, but it’s calming. They’re his favorite part of this place, and he’s already trying to think of a reason to bring them with when they inevitably have to move on. He’s considering telling Sam they’re his emotional support cats. It’s not even a lie; there may be no paperwork to support it, but Steve always feels happiest when he’s petting the kittens and venting to them. Animals are easy, they want to love you and they also very little in return. Plus they’re great listeners, and they aren’t judgmental — at least much. Steve is pretty sure Tony has given him a judging look on occasion when Steve is lamenting the recent turn of events in his life. He thinks the look is something akin to “you brought this on yourself”, but he might just be projecting what he thinks real Tony would say to him.
He feels some level of understanding with the kittens too. I mean, they’re living on the streets, roaming around with seemingly no family but each other, relying on the kindness of strangers. It’s pretty much the life Steve is currently living. Steve snorts at himself, he sounds ridiculous even in his own head. Frodo meows softly at the sound and Steve spreads a tiny bit more butter on the lid. They really are the best kittens.
“I see you’re talking to your tiny friends again,” Sam says, standing behind Steve’s left shoulder. Steve looks up at him with a soft smile of acknowledgment and then looks back at the kittens. “I wish you’d talk to me like that.”
“You want me to tell you how cute and soft you are?” Steve asks, smirking up at him.
“It’d be a start,” Sam grins and offers another glance at the kittens and then turns to walk into their house, a plastic bag Steve just now notices shifting in his hand. Steve looks at the bag to avoid looking Sam in the eyes. His face feeling overheated suddenly. It’s a game he’s been playing, a dangerous one since he doesn’t even know how to navigate it. And he certainly doesn’t know how to react when Sam responds in a way that sounds genuine and interested. Sam sighs and Steve hears the door creak open more. “Come on, help me clean up these vegetables. I’m making stir fry for dinner.”
Steve watches Sam’s back disappear into the house and turns back to the kittens. They’re done with the butter now, cleaning themselves instead, looking sated. Steve smiles a little and then rocks forward on his heels to grab the container and lid, careful to keep the lid away from the butter. He doesn’t want stray cat germs in his butter. He heaves himself up to his feet with a huff and looks down at the kittens. They’re both staring up at him, small pink tongues flicking out continuously to lick around their mouths. He’ll take that as a compliment. He can hear Sam moving around in the kitchen and bites his lip.
“Do you think I should go for it?” Steve asks the cats. Frodo stares up at him, blue eyes offering no helpful answers. “What do you think, Tony? Should I make the first move here?”
Tony blinks up at him, golden eyes sparkling when the sun hits them. He winks one eye and Steve knows it’s crazy to think that means anything other than that he probably has a piece of dirt in his eye, but he can’t help but take it as a sign. “You know, I think the real Tony would say the same thing under different circumstances.”
Tony meows up at him and Steve grins. Sam calls to him to hurry up and he turns back towards the house, sparing one last look at the kittens. Frodo is cleaning himself again, but Tony is still watching him, winking one small, golden eye again. Steve thinks about the feeling of Sam’s arm wrapped around him at night and goes inside.