Exhausted didn’t begin to cover it. Steve had worked four shifts in a row at the ER, which was heinously illegal but Wanda’s mother had ‘surprised’ her from Bulgaria and Steve knew what a dramatic mess that was going to be. So he covered like he always did and just blushed a lot when his supervisor, Dr. Fury, yelled at him.
“Well, you look terrible,” his roommate called as soon as Steve stumbled across the threshold of their apartment.
Well, ‘apartment’ was generous.
‘Space that one had a life as a storage closet in a larger house but then had been subleased to desperate med students’ was significantly more accurate.
“Thanks,” he replied to Sam, “I’m seeing a new barber.”
“You stole that from Josh Lyman,” Sam’s boyfriend, Riley, replied.
“No, I only stole it from Josh Lyman if Sam had said I looked like ‘death on a Triscuit’ and honestly, fuck you both, I’m too tired to care,” Steve retorted as he stumbled towards the communal bathroom. “I’m showering and then I’m flopping and I’m not setting an alarm.”
“Hate to break it to you, but we have -”
“He can miss it,” Sam muttered, cutting Riley off.
Steve blinked a few times at the pair and then smacked his own forehead. “Sundays in the Park with George,” he said, referring to a monthly tradition that was occurring that afternoon. “Nope, alarm set. Let me get four hours and then I’ll be a human.”
“Cap, if you could also shave,” Sam said, gesturing to Steve’s four-day beard. “You’re looking…”
“You look like a fucking wolf, Rogers,” Riley said with a snort. “And I think Sharon’s coming.”
“For the actual seven hundredth time, I am not going out with Peggy’s cousin. Jesus fuck, cue the banjo music,” Steve grumbled.
Without waiting for their response, he stumbled into the bathroom and started the process of de-doctor-fying himself. First, the water went as hot as he could get it, and the aromatherapy lavender tablet was thrown onto the floor of the shower. He took four deep breaths and then climbed in. He started with a rough loofa, scrubbing methodically and reflecting over the shift.
The process of how he transitioned from Dr. Rogers to Steve had started when he was an Army medic, embedded with the 107th in Iraq. It was how he met Sam, actually, and when he’d gotten into med school at Penn when his tour was over, he wasn’t particularly surprised that Sam followed him to Philly.
He was much more surprised when his childhood best friend was looking for a fresh start and moved down at the same time. Somehow, their apartment building in University City had about fifteen people from Brooklyn living in it and their building owner - a really fun guy named Brian - had made them all become Phillies fans or jokingly pay a rent penalty.
Bucky paid the penalty.
Steve would have, but he was too broke.
Brain’s wife thought they were all ridiculous.
It was absolutely the best place Steve had ever lived.
And on the fourth Sunday of every month, all the Brooklyn folks in the building gathered in the park across the street (or in a bar around the corner) for absolutely no reason except that they wanted to. They called it after a play that Bucky had been in when he first tried to be an actor - which was after he got the guest spot on It’s Always Sunny and before he was a regular day player on Law & Order - because it sounded ridiculous and it made Bucky grumpy.
Nat, Sam, Riley, and Steve really liked making Bucky grumpy.
Steve moved from scrubbing with the rough loofa to washing his hair, and then his beard, which he’d trim and tame once he was out of the shower. He went through a mental to-do list of what had to be accomplished before he headed to the park. Finish making the potato salad and leave out the chives because Nat’s weird. Reply to that email from Peggy to let her know I’m still alive. Check in with Ma.
The litany continued - a never ending rolling list that always seemed to grow before it shrunk. Steve had gone to an organizational seminar once, in med school, where the speaker said that ‘brains were for having ideas, not keeping them’ and he thought that had been the most genius thing he’d ever heard and then promptly never bothered to operationalize it.
Too many facts about ulnas and spleens crowding out the rest, he supposed.
He was in the middle of wondering what to get Nat for her upcoming birthday when his head hit the pillow and he blacked out completely. About three hours later, he was awoken by Bucky banging at his bedroom door.
“STEVIE! Nat finished the spuds and Mack already grabbed the good spot. Meet us there?”
“I’m coming,” Steve said through a yawn. “Hold your horses.”
He grabbed a pair of jeans that had been discarded earlier in the week and smelled clean enough for sitting on the grass, his current favorite t-shirt, and a hoodie before stumbling into his shoes and out the door to meet Bucky.
It was a crisp, autumnal day, which were Steve’s favorites. He’d grown up in the Northeast and he loved the sound of leaves crunching under his feet as they got to their spot on the Woodlands west lawn. Bucky had been right, everyone was already there and they greeted him with a fresh coffee and a round of cheer that he’d made it. He knew from the look on Nat’s face that he was going to get A Talking To for working so much, but he focused on introducing himself to the few new faces that appeared.
Bucky soon tossed a football his way and a spontaneous game of touch football erupted, as it usually did. Someone pulled out a speaker and the sounds of Ariana Grande’s newest album filled their little area, before someone else connected their Spotify and … was that Nickel Creek?
Everything was idyllic and autumnal like they were in a goddamn episode of Gilmore Girls until a loud voice pierced the air.
As Steve turned to the sound of the voice, a dog barrelled towards their picnic and flopped face first into the potato salad. Everyone was too stunned to move for a few beats because the dog - obviously named Chance - was quickly followed by a young boy.
That voice came from the same direction that the boy - Peter - and Chance had come from and Steve whipped his head to see a man about his age jogging after the boy and dog. The man came to a halt upon seeing the scene before him.
In the time that Steve had turned his head, Peter had climbed on top of Chance to pull him out of the salad bowl and Nat - who had been the only person on the blanket with the food at the time - was frozen entirely.
“Peter, ohmygod, Peter this is why… is Chance eating their… ohmygod, Peter,” the man said in a stream of consciousness as he grabbed the boy and the dog and heaved them off of the blanket.
Steve was sure he was supposed to be relieved that the dog wasn’t eating the food any longer, but all he could think was “That man just deadlifted a child and a large dog and is hot as hell.”
Steve needed to get laid.
The man deposited the dog and the boy on the ground away from the blanket and then rushed back to the blanket. Steve stepped up to help a now-unfrozen-Nat sort the mess their picnic had become.
“Oh my god, you have no idea how sorry I am… please, let me pay for…” the man dug for his wallet, “all of this? Anything Chance touched…”
“Hi,” Steve said, sensing the man was possibly spiraling himself into a panic attack of some sort. “I’m Steve, and we were finished eating. It’s fine. Nat just doesn’t like dogs.”
“Why not?” The boy asked from his spot near said dog.
“Peter,” the man turned and addressed the boy, “that’s an example of things we don’t ask strangers.”
The boy - possibly around five or six - flailed himself dramatically upon the dog. “You tell me to be curious and then you tell me not to be. Pick a side, Dad.”
The man snorted - Steve guessed in spite of himself - and smiled at his son. “Peteypie, what did Auntie Pep say?”
Peter scowled slightly - a sight so cute that Steve’s fatherhood desires flared so hard that he nearly passed out - and then sighed, just as dramatically as before. “To remember that normal people have boundaries and just because you never learned them doesn’t mean I shouldn’t.”
Steve laughed so loudly the man looked shocked. “He’s something.”
The man smiled, a soft smile that went straight to Steve’s gut … and other regions. He stuck out his hand. “He absolutely is. Hi Steve, I’m Tony.”
“And that’s how Dad and Pop got together,” Peter finished with a flourish. Five-year-old Evelyn looked up at her big brother - all of ten and therefore full of wisdom - with wide eyes.
“And that’s how you and Pop met too!” Evelyn said with glee. She loved the idea that nearly everyone in the family had found each other because she had been found, too.
The family, of course, included Chance, the original rescue dog of the Stark men; Mimi, the rescue cat that Peter had found in a trash can by Uncle Rhodey’s house; Tessie, the floppy puppy Evelyn had picked out for her fifth birthday; and Cornflake, the hamster Steve still wasn’t fully sure how they’d acquired but whom his husband was inordinately attached to.
They were a family who rescued each other, Tony often said when he was sentimental (read: drunk), but Steve would have had it any other way.
“Pop!” Peter noticed Steve standing in the doorway. “Did you remember the thing?”
The special cake mix you found online that you want to make for your dad’s birthday that you have texted me about six times in the last three hours? “Yup, Petey, it’s in my backpack.”
Steve had moved on from emergency medicine once he moved in with Peter and Tony. He’d gone into general practice and had gotten bored pretty quickly, so he’d decided to add work at the free clinic in West Oak Lane to his schedule. He’d been the trauma specialist there for about eight years on top of keeping his privileges at several of the Philly area hospitals. Tony joked that Steve fancied himself a superhero. Steve would reply that he wasn’t, he’d only married one.
Mayor of the 8th largest city in the U.S. who had grown the economy and reduced crime wasn’t exactly the stuff of mere mortals.
“Evie, honey?” Steve called and the girl’s head popped up. He noticed her pigtails were askew, which means Peter had been in charge of getting them to school that morning. “Can you call Auntie Pep and ask when they’ll be here?”
“Steve, is that you?”
“No, it’s your Tuesday/Thursday husband.”
“Oh, good, actually, you’re the better cook,” Tony said with a smile in his voice as he emerged from his office. He made grabby hands in Steve’s direction and Steve obliged, crossing the room and gathering his husband into his arms.
“Happy birthday, baby,” Steve murmured into Tony’s ear. “Your gift is upstairs already.”
“My gift is in my arms,” Tony murmured back, “and sprawled across the sofa, and turning the oven on which makes me nervous.”
Steve snorted and gave Tony a gentle kiss. “Peter hasn’t needed the fire extinguisher in three weeks. That’s progress.”
Tony chuckled. “Decent day?”
Not even close but it’s your birthday, you monkey nut. “It was fine.”
“Papa Bear,” Evelyn called, “Auntie Pep says that they’ll be here at 6:45. Can I get the napkin tower pretty?”
Evelyn had a thing for spinning party napkins into shapes.
“Sure, Evie,” Steve replied with a smile. He felt Tony lace their fingers together and then pause.
“Is that -”
“Umhm,” Steve replied.
“Your birthday is not only special because it’s your birthday, but because it’s the day we met,” Steve reminded him. “And without Chance and potato salad, who knows if we would have ever found this.”
“And that Peter had just learned the word ‘toxicity’,” Tony quipped.
“DAD,” Peter cried. “Chance is throwing up everywhere.”
“Dogs can’t projectile vomit,” Tony muttered, mostly to himself Steve thought. They’d been talking for a bit and flirting for just as long. Louder, he said, “I’m sure he’s fine.”
They looked over to where Chance was … not fine.
“It’s just a lot of potatoes,” Tony said, “his tummy is probably too full.”
“But what if its tocksiskity,” Peter said. “What if there’s toshkic things?”
“I don’t think potatoes are toxic to dogs,” Tony said gently as they all watched Chance continue to vomit.
“Not that I know anything,” Bucky said slowly, approaching the group, “but I do know that Nat put things in the salad that weren’t potatoes. Like mayo and mustard and onions and some other shi - stuff.”
Tony looked at the dog and then back at Peter and then sighed deeply and pulled out his phone. “Well, we better go see Dr. Dawson. We don’t know what breed Chance really is, he’s a rescue, so I don’t know if he can handle onions or other stuff.”
“I’ll go with you,” Steve said quickly. “You probably could use a hand with the large vomiting dog and all.”
“I could,” Tony said with a smile and Steve heard Bucky swallow a snort.
And thus, every year on Tony’s birthday, Steve made a bowl of potato salad. They’d had potato salad with sushi, with barbeque, with pizza, and with burgers. This year, however, was their 5th anniversary and so Steve had gotten a little creative.
“Is that a dog made of potato salad?” Tony asked.
“It is,” Steve confirmed solemnly.
“With or without onions?”
“You’ll just have to eat to find out,” Steve said with a smile and called the rest of their family to the table to celebrate the man he loved.