Bucky wakes up sick.
Bucky knows this because when he gets up, the room starts spinning, his head starts pounding, and everything feels very, very wrong. So he does what the Barnes children do best when they're feeling under the weather: he calls for Mom.
This is how he learns his voice tops out at half its normal volume.
Luckily, Elizabeth knocks on his bedroom door. She opens it to show her head. "Bucky," she says. "Bucky, are you up?"
"Yeah, I'm up," he replies then sneezes. "Can you get Mom for me?"
Elizabeth nods. "She's getting ready in the bathroom, but sure," she says without questioning his motives. Bucky has never loved his youngest sister more. Elizabeth closes his door and runs off to finish whatever else she does to get ready.
"Your sister said you asked for me," Mom says ten minutes later, coming into his room.
"Mom," Bucky says rather calmly, he thinks, sniffling a little, "I might be sick." He wipes off the dried mucus he woke up with.
She sits at the edge of Bucky's bed beside him and reaches to check his temperature. "I think it's more than a 'might.'"
"But I can't be sick," Bucky says. "Today's Tuesday."
"I don't what that means, sweetie," Mom says, looking skeptical.
"I have a couple important tests today," he explains. He lets 'I also have make sure Steve doesn't do anything stupid then pull me or his other punk friends into it' go unsaid, hoping he looks as miserable as he feels.
"You can't even stand five minutes without getting lightheaded," Mom says in return. "That's why you had Elizabeth come get me. I wasn't born yesterday, James Buchanan. You're staying home."
Bucky rolls over and folds his pillow over his face. "I should've asked for Dad."
"He would've told you the exact same, Bucky," she says.
"I know. He's just would've been nicer about it," Bucky says, teasing her. "Can I at least go downstairs? If I have to stay, I’d rather be in den than my room."
Mom smiles. "Of course, honey. Let grab some blankets."
"So your dad will be dropping off some supplies during his lunch break," Mom says in a rush. Between dealing with Bucky and helping Elizabeth, she had lost a serious amount of time. "Not supplies, food, James. Food. He's dropping off food. God, where did I put my keys?" She unpacks her purse then repacks once she sees they're not there.
Bucky nods. "Alright."
"And our work numbers are on the fridge." She glances at her watch, running her fingers through her hair. "I'm going to be late. Sorry. Sorry, James. You're a responsible kid. You know where they are. Call if you need anything."
"Mom, I'm fine," he says.
"If you were fine, you'd be at school," she mutters. "Don't leave this spot unless you absolutely must. In case of a fire, for example."
Bucky buries himself under the comforters Mom put out, seeking warmth. "I don't think I'm in the right condition to start a house fire."
"I know, I know. Don't get smart, Bucky. Oh, what am I forgetting?" she asks herself. "I got it! Elizabeth and I won't be home for dinner tonight. Don't worry about telling your father. He already knows." Bucky watches as she grabs her keys – when did she find them? –and purse. "We're going to see your father's mother. Your grandmother, of course. God help that woman. We'll be in Baltimore for a few hours after school."
"That's fine," Bucky says. "I'll be fine."
"James," she says, stressing his name, "I'm sorry I can't stay with you today. I just – I have so much work at the office. I can't afford to take a sick day or work from home. Seriously, I know how you are. Call if you need anything. I already told your father you'll be calling, so he's expecting to hear from you. Call him, please."
"Mom, I promise," he says, coughing. "Go to work. I'll be fine."
Mom pauses and sighs before walking over to kiss his forehead. "I know, sweetheart. I'll see you later. Feel better. We have orange juice!"
Bucky drifts off shortly after his mother leaves.
When Bucky wakes for the second time, he spots a blond head reclining against the sofa, reading. "Steve?" he asks, voice riddled with sleep.
"Hey," Steve says, putting away his book. He reaches over to grab his bag, then he moves onto the sofa. "When did you wake up?"
"Oh, uh, a second ago," Bucky guesses. "What time is it? What are you doing here? How did you get in?" He blinks a few times, trying to wake up faster.
"It's twenty past four, and I found the spare key. You weren't at school today, so I brought your homework," Steve says as he pulls Bucky's things from his bag and hands them over. "There isn’t much."
"Yeah," Bucky says, flipping through his missed assignments. "I had a couple tests today," he adds. "You're a lifesaver."
Steve looks at him and laughs. "Calm down, Buck. You've done it for me; I'm returning the favor."
He sighs. "Really, Steve, you didn't need to come out here. We live in opposite directions from the school. And I have a car. Of course I wouldn't mind lugging around a couple extra textbooks. My sister could've picked this up or my parents. Or it could've waited until I felt better. It's just homework."
"You don't honestly believe that?" Steve asks but he's not expecting a real answer; he knows Bucky too well. "The day you do is when I'll know you've been replaced by one of those things in your sci-fi books. You probably rehearsed this in anticipation."
"You sound so sure," Bucky replies, and Steve pulls him in, wrapping his arms around, then saying, "I am so sure."
"I did not," Bucky says, pushing Steve lightly. "I mostly slept."
"Likely story," Steve says before looking down like he's catching up with his own thoughts. "I mean," he starts, "I also wanted to check on you. I think the last time you stayed home from school was in sixth grade. I may have got a little worried." He shakes his head. "Sam told me I was being irrational."
"You are irrational. That's why I like you," Bucky says as he watches Steve smile.
"What are you watching?" Steve asks, picking up the remote.
Bucky shrugs. "Nothing, really. The Price is Right was on earlier? I've been sleeping. You can turn it off if you like," he says. He slips down further into the couch before resting his head on Steve's lap, then looks up like he's daring him to say something.
"You're such a jerk," Steve says while he starts massaging Bucky's scalp. The pressure feels delightful. "Have you had lunch yet?"
Steve could lull him back to sleep with those hands, Bucky thinks, but not wanting him to stop, he says, "Dad brought over soup while I was sleeping, I think? Maybe later, though. I just wanna talk right now. Tell me what I missed, and make it good."
Bucky's finishing his third, or maybe his fourth, he guesses, bowl of lukewarm Campbell's Chicken Noodle when Keith drops his bookbag down on the ground and flops onto the side chair closest to the sofa Steve and he are sitting on.
Steve takes the bowl from Bucky and heads towards the kitchen. He would never describe Steve as messy, per se, but tidiness isn't something that comes naturally to him; he only seems concerned about neatness when he's over.
If Bucky's interested in being honest, and he's interested in being honest, this has only increased since they've gotten together. Bucky suspects Steve's worried that his parents will suddenly think he's no longer good enough. Even if he's stubbornly keeping the thought secret, it shows.
But if they hadn't had a problem with them being friends when Steve was picking fights in elementary school, they shouldn't have a problem with it now, Bucky reasons. And Steve always has a cause. They're as proud of him as they are in Bucky, truly. Now if there were only a way to get him to see it.
Anyway, it's when Steve heading towards the kitchen that Keith says, "School blows. I wish I got to stay home."
Bucky raises his eyebrows. "And do what? Enjoy the comforts of Kleenex overdrying your nose and being too tired to do anything?"
"Miss Curtis made us work on multiplication tables," Keith says as he pulls out a blue workbook, "so I have math homework. Then I had baseball, and Michael McDonald caused a lot of trouble again, but it wasn't even funny this time."
Steve returns with a glass of water, bottle of aspirin and fresh bowl of soup. He looks at Bucky and says, "The soup's for me; the aspirin and water, you." He sits back down, handing over the latter over, and Bucky uses it as an excuse to scoot closer.
"Can't be too hard if it's homework," Bucky says, then mouths a 'thank you' to Steve and takes two aspirins, swallowing them down. He sets the glass on the floor after he takes a drink and returns to leaning against Steve, still giving him enough room to eat nevertheless.
"You're just saying that 'cause you're older. You've had years of practice," his brother says disdainfully.
"Years of what?" Rebecca asks. Keith jumps a little in his seat, clearly surprised, while Steve continues eating undisturbed.
He throws her look. "Multiplication tables. Wanna help?"
Rebecca shrugs. "Sure. Got nothing better to do," she says, walking over. She pulls the workbook from his hands and slides down to settle in the space between the chair and edge of the coffee table.
"Keith, Becca," Dad says, walking into the den roughly a half hour later. "Come and eat dinner." His sleeves are rolled up and suddenly Bucky can smell what he's been cooking.
Bucky slumps down to rest his head on Steve's lap again – who proceeds to brush Bucky's hair away from his face and lightly press his forehead, looking to see if his fever has gone down – then frowns. "Anything would be better than Campbell's, but this is torture," he says to himself.
"What's the meal, daddy-o?" Rebecca asks.
"Roasted chicken and wild rice casserole." He looks over at Steve and says, "Would you like to join us? Winifred and Beth aren't here tonight and Bucky's sick; the more's always the merrier."
"No thanks," Steve answers unexpectedly. Bucky starts saying, "You don't have to do that for me," but Steve continues, "It's fine. I had some soup a little earlier. We'll eat again when Bucky's feeling up to it."
"I'll get you next time. Chez Barnes is always open. Except for Monday through Friday from dusk to dawn, but if anyone asks, we're never closed. Just don't trust Bucky with an open flame," Dad says, laughing at his own joke.
"Can I eat in here too?" Keith asks.
"Dinner is meant for the table," he replies, keeping his voice even. "We've been through this before, Keith."
"But Dad," Keith whines, and here it comes – here comes the embarrassment, Bucky thinks, melting further into Steve's lap as if it were at all possible. "Why does Steve get to, and I don't? He's not sick. Only Bucky is."
"Keith, Steve's a guest," Dad says, but Keith quickly adds, "Steve is not a guest. He's always here."
Rebecca laughs and nods in agreement. "Well, younger brother," she says, stretching her arms up over her head, reaching outwards, before grasping onto the coffee table legs. She leans back. "Steve gets preferential treatment now that he's Bucky's boyfriend. The rules, they've changed."
"He's still Steve, though," Keith mutters, frowning. Bucky hears Steve stifle a laugh. "Dad, come on. Dad."
"Okay, how about this: I'll let you eat with James if he's still feeling sick tomorrow," he says with a smile. "I'll even let Mom know of our little arrangement. How does that sound?"
Keith looks down at his feet and huffs. "Fine, I guess," he says.
"I don't know how you're getting enjoyment in this," Bucky says, whispering to Steve under the absolute chaos of his family.
Steve looks down, grinning, and threads his fingers gently through Bucky's hair, pausing to say, "They're fun."
Bucky says, "You're only saying that because of the novelty – and you hadn't seen them for two years."
"I'm sick and I find out my friend is only using me for my siblings. That stings."
"Bucky, am not," Steve says sweetly, then leans in to kiss Bucky's forehead, nose, and mouth. There's a lingering taste of the canned chicken noodle. It's not ideal but it's still all Steve.
Bucky smiles and reaches up to touch Steve's cheek, blushing. "Am so – and stop kissing me," he orders. "You're gonna get yourself sick next, then I'm gonna have to make homework rounds."
"Which you have done twice this month alone," Steve says. He kisses him again.
"Ew, gross," Keith interrupts, glaring at both. "Get a room."
Bucky sighs. "I thought it was time for dinner," he says pointedly.
"Alright, kids," Dad says, clapping his hands on his thighs. "Let's go eat and give your brother some privacy."
"Are you sure I can't eat with Bucky and Steve?" Keith asks once more.
Dad shrugs. "We made a deal, kid. What have your mother and I always taught you?"
"Never back out of a promise," Keith says, sighing and resigned to his fate.
"Okay, let's eat, then," Rebecca says suddenly, looking self-satisfied. Bucky knows that look and knows instantly whatever she says next can't and won't be good. "But, uh, Dad, can I find the camera first?" she asks, standing up. "We gotta take a picture of this for when Bucky brags about how he 'never gets sick.'"
Bucky's eyes widen while Steve lets out the laugh he's been holding in.
"Becca, Rebecca, no," Bucky pleads in between coughs, but he falls on deaf ears because what Steve says next is, "Becca, yes," still laughing and she's running out of the den to locate the camera.
"It's in my office, Becca," Dad yells.
"I thought you guys were on my side. Steve, Dad, Keith?"
"Becca scares me more than you," Keith replies.
"She is very scary," Steve says, nodding his head. Then: "It's one photo, Buck, of you lying on my lap with blankets and quilts and everything else piled on top. That ain't embarrassing, and it'll be another week or two before it gets developed anyway; you'll be better then. No one's rubbing salt in your wounds just yet."
"It feels like it, though," Bucky huffs, disappointed. He knows how he pathetic he sounds, but it is the first time he's been sick since moving back, and he missed two tests today, he has a book report due on Thursday, and he's pretty sure his chem teacher assigned new lab partners. Last thing he wants is his family – and Steve, apparently – laughing at him.
And, really, he's entitled to some whining – thinks he has earned it, in fact. That nevertheless is not an argument he's inclined to have right now, so when his father says, "Steve's right, James," Bucky tosses a cover over his head and mumbles, "I hate when Steve's sensible. It's not his job to be sensible."
"Well, you're sick," Steve says right back. "Someone has to be," and Steve looks at Bucky, just looks at him with an ease and familiarity that could brighten up any room, and smiles like there's nowhere else he rather be.
Rebecca returns with the camera shortly after, beaming with excitement.
"Let's get this over with," Bucky says through his teeth, and Rebecca snaps the picture, then another, and another, "Just to be safe," she explains.
"Hey, let's see a movie this weekend."
"Is anything good even out?" Bucky asks. Keith and Rebecca must be upstairs, finishing up their homework, because it's just Steve and him in the den now and that's been the case for about an hour or so. Bucky loves his siblings – he really does – but right now, he's enjoying the silence.
Steve hums an affirmative. "Nat went to see Pretty in Pink with Sam last weekend. Said they both enjoyed it."
"Sam would enjoy anything long as Natasha's along for the ride," Bucky says, laughing. Steve slaps his arm for the comment but doesn't put in the effort to dissuade the notion. "But if Nat enjoyed, it must be good," he finishes.
Steve shakes his head. "Or, at the very least, entertaining. There's a difference."
"We can go," Bucky says. "I hope I'm feeling better by then. If I don't wake up fine tomorrow, one of my parents will have to get me a doctor's note to excuse the absence." He shudders at the thought.
"That's not so bad," Steve says in return.
Bucky doesn't disagree, but he has spent the past semester playing catch up with the school curriculum, filling in the gaps his family's move left him with. He wasn't far behind and taking a couple credits after school helped a lot. It's just the order he took certain subjects in Leningrad was at a direct contrast with what's traditionally done in Arlington, and Bucky doesn't want to lose the momentum he's built up.
He genuinely loves school – loves learning and building and applying the knowledge to help – and hates missing days when he doesn't have to, but Bucky guesses being contagious is as good of a reason he'd ever get.
So Bucky says, "It's not," and Steve presses a light kiss on top his forehead.
"You'll be alright," he says quietly. "It's just the flu."
"Will you be staying the night, Steve?" Dad asks, breaking the silence they drifted into. The television has been muted for hours now as they all watch the credits for St. Elsewhere play on screen.
"What time it is? Steve asks, eyes wide. It must be just dawning on him.
"A little after ten," Dad replies. "Figured you'd need help pulling out the sofa bed if those were your plans since Bucky's not at full strength."
"No, sir, that's not needed," Steve says. He sighs. "I actually – I should be home right now. I promised my mom I would be since she'll be off soon. Didn't realize it got so late."
"You didn't tell me that," Bucky says, feeling a little guilty. "I would've told you to leave earlier had I known."
He doesn't want Steve to, but he knows how much he values the time he gets with Mrs. Rogers. She mostly works night shifts at George Washington University Hospital. What they get is more limited than Bucky and his siblings receive with their parents, and The Barneses also work tight schedules.
"I know, Bucky. I know. It slipped my mind," Steve says. "I'll stop by tomorrow if I don't see you?"
"Yeah," Bucky agrees. "That'd be nice."
Steve taps Bucky's shoulder, asking him to get up, then starts organizing his things.
"Would you like a ride?" Dad asks politely. While Steve normally rides his bike everywhere, there's always a chance he came by foot, bus, or combination of the two.
"Yeah," Steve answers after weighing the decision; he must have walked. "Thanks, Mr. Barnes."
Steve picks up his things then bends back down to kiss Bucky's left temple. "I'll see you tomorrow, Buck," he says as gets up and heads towards the garage, waving goodbye, with Dad trailing behind.