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All I Want

Chapter Text

Excerpt from “Alpha To Omega: Sex and Genders Through the Ages”; core reading for SOC 380 during Spring 2011 term at New York University

More interesting even than the sexual revolution of the 1960s was the Omega workforce liberation, a movement which also coincided with widespread availability of reliable oral contraception and the advent of safe, short-term heat suppressants.  The use of such products, of course, made it considerably easier for omegas to spend more time in public, and allowed them to seek out regular work, changing the face of the modern family.

Whereas omegas in prior generations had largely been viewed as prime mates, drawing large dowries and primarily mating only with wealthy alphas, the ability (and indeed desire) of the modern omega to find gainful employment opened up economic and social constrictions, allowing for increasingly more varied mating combinations and granting more upward mobility for impoverished people of all sexes.  Many omegas have found work in fields formerly thought to be specific for beta females, forging long and fruitful careers as secretaries, nurses, and teachers.  The rise in double income homes, particularly in the United States, led to huge growth in both economics and education, further advancing the country as a leader in all aspects of prosperity.

Notes scrawled on a series of sticky notes within the pages of the text:

Funny that he waxes poetic about the advances for omegas here but fails to point out how much male O’s social worth have dropped over the years -B

No, that comes up in c17 about reproductive therapies and obstetric improvements… remember the horrifying infographic about birth between OF v OM v BF?  ~N

I erased it from my head to avoid the nightmares.  Doesn’t change the fact that we got screwed in both the mate and the job market.  -B

idk how I’m supposed to respond to this, James. 
Do you want reassurance that your sugar alpha will come?  ~N

Ha.  I just don’t want to have to read this fluffy shit for a course - esp not one where the prof is going to continue rolling his eyes at me whenever I bring up obvious examples of discrimination.  -B

… really tho.  
You have lovely birthing hips. 
It’s only a matter of time, I’m sure.  ~N

idk why I bother talking to you.  -B

♥ ~N


 

Coming Attractions Notice, New York Times Art Section, 12 February 2012

OPENING AT MOMA

SG Rogers, Beauty in Sex and Gender

Pepper Potts is proud to announce the opening of her third sponsored exhibit of Brooklyn artist SG Rogers, debuting for the first time at the Museum of Modern Art this Friday.  The exhibit will feature the mixed media portraiture that first brought spotlight to the rising young artist, and is a tribute to the strength, fragility, and beauty of the contemporary human body, with particular focus on breaking stereotypes grounded in sex and gender norms.

The opening will feature a cocktail hour and appearances by Pepper Potts and Tony Stark.  RSVPs are required for opening night.  The exhibit is expected to run through the end of April.

Voicemail left 7:36PM, 12 February 2012:   "Hey Steve, it’s me.  I uh… I just wanted to check in and see if you’re doing okay.  I mean - I know you’re not okay, but.  Y’know.  Saw the article in the Times today that the opening is going ahead this weekend, and I hadn’t heard from you since yesterday, and - I mean, I’m here for you, okay?  If you want someone to come along with or something, just let me know… anything you need, seriously.  And if you don’t, if you could just let me know you got this, I’d really appreciate it.  Riley says hi, and that if you wanna come over or anything the door’s always open.  Hang in there, and let me know.  I love you, man."

Text to: Sam    Sent: 02:39AM
hey Sam, thx for your message
i’m… i am.
not going to the opening but thanks for the offer. 
i told Pep i'm not gonna be good company
she and Tony are gonna take care of it

Text to: Sam   Sent: 02:40AM
and thanks fro the rest
sorry ive been so shitty, i just need to be alone r now
i’ll let you know when it changes

Text to: Sam  Sent: 02:43AM
you just take care of Riley and my goddaughter, okay?
thats what i need right now
ilu2


 

Email + Attachments sent 7 May, 2015

From: j.b.barnes@nyu.edu
To: nataliaromanovna@pg.net
Subject: venting

idk why this is getting to me so bad but i had to talk to somebody about it :(  really not what I needed on a monday, esp after this weekend…

OMEGA LABOR LAW FAILS TO PASS SENATE
Naturalist Party Leader Confident Decision Will Save Modern Families

WASHINGTON, DC - A bill initially presented as an anti-discrimination law, originally intended to increase omega presence in traditionally alpha-dominated fields, was struck down by a decisive Senate vote which is now being hailed as a major win for the modern American family.

“While the original intent behind the bill may have been well-meaning, the fact is that the specific language of it moved into dangerous territory; one which we, as a nation, could not risk being put into action.  I am absolutely thrilled that we were able to get members on both side of the aisle to see the light,” Senate Majority leader Jasper Sitwell said in a statement released late Saturday night.  “The Naturalist party does recognize the importance of omegas having the right to find work in any field which they want to pursue,” the congressman continued, “however instituting mandates and quotas will hurt American businesses, and could eventually lead to omega homemakers being forced from their places as heads of family into careers which they are not suited for; hurting both the children that rely on them and the businesses forced to take them on.”

Omega rights activists groups have already released numerous statements on their intents to lobby for similar, less-stringent policies that are being entertained by the House labor committee, however the impressive loss does not bode well for future votes in the heavily-conservative Senate.

“Make no mistake that we will continue working tirelessly for our brothers’ and sisters’ right to work in any career that they desire, particularly those who are as well-suited and trained as their alpha and beta counterparts,” promised Linda Walker, co-author of the initial Senate bill.  “While I’m disheartened by the narrow-mindedness of some of my fellow lawmakers, the fact that we were able to bring this issue to vote is clear progress for omegas everywhere.”

Progress, however, that is unlikely to translate into the workforce in the near future.  Key portions of the bill cited a 2010 study focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) businesses, where the employment demographic of the top fifty companies in the US was reported to be less than ten percent omega; the majority of those who were employed worked in support services for said companies.  ( read more at ONN.com )

From: nataliaromanovna@pg.net
To: j.b.barnes@nyu.edu
Subject: [external]RE: venting

Sitwell is an evil little worm who will get his due eventually, but I’m sorry all the same.  That said, I still don’t think you have anything to worry about - just keep doing what you’re doing.

Pierce has been so consistently impressed that there’s no way he doesn’t hire you come fall.

From: j.b.barnes@nyu.edu
To: nataliaromanovna@pg.net
Subject: RE:[external]RE: venting

The ‘protect omegas by keeping them in the home’ movement should have died in the 60s - I wish I could meet Sitwell if only to beat his ass w a frying pan.  He might as well just say we’re supposed to be barefoot and pregnant.

As for the rest, I hope you’re right.  At this point I don’t even need him to be impressed, just paying me would be nice >_<

From: nataliaromanovna@pg.net
To: j.b.barnes@nyu.edu
Subject: [external] this subj line is getting 2 ugly 2 read

Patience, young grasshopper, ur day is coming :x  lmk if you can escape at a decent hour tonight, I’ll grab you a drink to vent over

From: j.b.barnes@nyu.edu
To: nataliaromanovna@pg.net
Subject: if u didn’t have a super secret wrk email system it wouldn’t b a prob

It might depend on what you define as decent hr, but I’ll text you when I wrap up this report. 

And thank you, you’re the best ( ˘ ³˘)♥

Chapter Text

As soon as the door was closed behind him, Bucky leaned against it and let himself slide to the floor with a pathetic groan.  He’d held it together for the entire train ride back from Midtown, putting on a totally careless face for the world despite who shitty the afternoon had been.  

Hell, how shitty the whole year had been.

But once he was back in the safe confines of his shoebox of a studio apartment in Brooklyn, Bucky could sit on the floor and mope as much as he wanted to.  He wasn’t that worried about crying at this point – by now he was so used to afternoons like this, and so tired of being disappointed and anxious about fucking everything that he didn’t even think he had the energy for tears, even if his self-pity was getting to be strong enough that he’d have no trouble crying a whole bucket of them if he did work himself up to it.

It wasn’t worth it.  Instead, Bucky sat there on the floor until the light in the room had completely shifted and his ass had gone numb from sitting on the cracked linoleum of his entryway.  With a sigh, he finally pushed himself to standing again, pausing for a few seconds as pins and needles danced along his legs and feet and his head spun from sitting so long and not having eaten all day.  Once he was sure he’d be able to walk without his legs folding under him, Bucky crossed the couple of steps through the main room of his studio, stopping in the kitchenette area and filling a glass of water at the sink.  

His phone buzzed irritably in his pocket, but he ignored it for chugging the entire glass in a single go.  Once it was empty he licked his lips as he set it aside, taking his time before finally digging the phone out and glancing at the notifications on the screen:  two missed calls from Natasha, and four texts from the same.  Without thinking, Bucky unlocked the phone and went straight to the message app.

Text From:   Nat   Received 07:46AM 
good luck, you’ll be great!!  lmk how it goes :)

Text From:  Nat   Received 10:21AM 
still going?  

Text From:  Nat    Received  01:10PM 
come on barnes, you’re killing me  

Text From:  Nat   Received 03:02PM 
respond in the next 20 or i’m putting an APB out for your ass

Bucky frowned at the screen, biting his lip as he decided what to do.  On one hand, he did feel pretty shitty for ignoring Natasha all day, when she’d clearly been trying to be supportive and keep an eye out for him.  On the other hand – he really, really didn’t want to have this conversation with her.  Again.

After taking a deep, steadying breath, Bucky bit the bullet and pressed the Return Call icon next to her name.  If he knew one thing, it was that Natasha Romanoff would absolutely go through with calling the cops if she didn’t hear from him within the allotted amount of time.

The line picked up before the sound of the first ring had even finished.  

“How many times do I have to tell you to answer your damned texts, James?  I’ve been worried sick since lunch,” the Alpha demanded immediately, and Bucky’s stomach just plummeted further.  He really, really should have gone with messaging her back.  “Anyway, how’d it go?”  The question pierced through his inner turmoil, bringing Bucky back to the heart of the problem.

“Yeah, uh,” he started, before clearing his throat when he heard how hoarse it was.  “They said they had a few other options, that they might be back in touch with me by the end of the week,” he said nonchalantly, trying to stay positive.  “But given the way the projects manager grilled me about how empty my CV was, and how adamant the HR director was about going into all of the reasons they can’t afford to add oral contraception to their health benefits…”

“Fuck,” Natasha muttered on her end of the line, perfectly summing up Bucky’s feelings about the whole charade.

“I know – at least HammerTech was honest enough to just come out and say no, right?”  Bucky asked, his voice falsely cheery even to his own ears.  

“I’m sorry, Bucky,” Natasha responded seriously, after a long moment of silence.

Bucky swallowed around the lump in his throat, hating that hearing her say it affected him as much as it did.  Because really, he should have been used to the rejection process by now.  In the past six months, Bucky’d had seventeen interviews end with some placating version of the words ‘you aren’t quite what we’re looking for,’ and been sent out the door with some bullshit excuse and a recommendation to try applying again during the spring hiring cycle.  And those were from the companies who were at least kind (or maybe sadistic) enough to actually offer him an interview – the vast majority of the applications that he sent out came back with the position denied outright.

And to make matters worse, he knew that none of it should have been exactly surprising: less than five percent of the workforce who went into science and technology fields were omegas, and within the niche of specialized robotics engineering, that percentage was even lower.  Still, he figured that meant that there should be some chance for him to break into the business.  God knew that he’d busted his ass hard enough in college, and then again in graduate school, to be at the top of his classes and prove that he could hack it in the industry just as well as an Alpha or Beta could.

Unfortunately, no one else seemed to have noticed as much yet – and all he had to show for his hard work now was a couple of shiny, impressive diplomas and over a quarter of a million dollars in debt.  Debts which he had to start paying back in the uncomfortably near future… and he had no idea where the money was going to come from.  He’d even stooped to applying to an entry-level mechanic position in a small appliances company that morning; it was so far below his level that it was laughable, and they’d still turned him down so quickly that they couldn’t possibly have given his application a second glance.

“Wanna come over and hit things for awhile?”  Natasha asked gently, breaking through his reverie again.  “Clint’s stopping by for dinner tonight - you can stay after and eat too, if you want.”

Bucky exhaled a watery sigh, scrubbing his face with his right hand.  “Yeah,” he finally replied, “yeah, that sounds awesome, actually.  I’ll get changed and be over in an hour?”

“Sounds good,” Natasha responded kindly before hanging up.  She was a better friend than Bucky probably deserved, especially given how miserable he’d been lately.

Bucky hung up his phone, leaving it on the kitchen counter and taking the few steps that it required to cross to the opposite corner of his room.  He threw his coat on the bed, knowing he’d need it for the walk home that night, before carefully changing out of his suit and hanging it on the rickety coat rack he’d saved from a dumpster outside Macy’s; the thing was a rusted piece of junk, but it kept the few decent items of clothing that he had from getting wrinkled.  That done, he grabbed a pair of jeans and a t-shirt from where they were neatly folded in the milk crates he kept underneath the rack, changing into them quickly before retrieving clean socks and underwear for later.  Finally, he dug his gym bag out from under the twin bed that was shoved against the wall next to him, glancing inside to make sure his sneakers and clothes were still in decent shape before dropping the underwear inside and zipping it closed.  

After slipping his coat back on, Bucky grabbed his second-hand briefcase and stack of mail from where he’d dropped them next to the door, stowing the case under the bed as usual and adding the envelope gaudily marked LOAN REPAYMENT REMINDER on top of all of the others next to the battered laptop on his desk. He paused at the door with a sigh as he glanced around the apartment, making sure that his meagre belongings were in their usual order, before pulling the door shut - giving it an extra tug to make sure that the damned lock actually caught - and secured the deadbolt with the key he quickly tucked inside his coat pocket as he hurried up the building’s stairwell to the busy street outside.

The walk to Natasha’s building took Bucky across most of Brooklyn, and was one that he arguably shouldn’t have been making on his own, but he preferred to save the money he’d waste on bus fares and use the trek as a warm-up for the gym.  As if his obsession with designing and building machines didn’t make him an atypical enough omega, Bucky also loved the burn of a good workout.  He had no problem with the inherent softness that tended to go along with his sex, per say, but he liked to look and feel strong despite it.  Of course, it had been difficult to keep up of late, given the fact that his student ID access to Columbia’s rec centers had expired and Bucky could hardly afford to blow the money on a gym membership given all of his other financial woes.  He tried to jog regularly, and did as many bodyweight workouts as he could at home given that his room was barely wide enough for him to do push-ups in.  Luckily, Natasha’s building had a new, gorgeous gym that she was all too happy to sneak Bucky into, especially when she knew he needed it.

To further prove that she was the best friend that a person could ask for, Nat buzzed Bucky through the security door at the entrance to her apartment building without a word, just a crooked, tight smirk as she dropped her pair of boxing mitts onto the bag that rested against his hip.  They made their way to the gym at the rear of the building in total silence, which continued as Bucky stubbornly pushed himself through max sets on each of the arm and leg machines in the room (while Natasha shamelessly glared down any other alpha that dared to scoff incredulously in his direction).  His tank top was already soaked by the time they finally stepped up to the heavy bag in the far corner of the gym, and aside from occasionally murmuring reminders to keep his hands up and his wrists flat, Natasha kept quiet until Bucky finally dropped his shaking, useless arms to his side in exhaustion.

“Any better?”  She asked simply as Bucky nearly clocked himself trying to unfasten the glove’s velcro strap with his teeth.

“Much,” Bucky panted, bending at the waist once he managed to pull both of the mitts off.  It was true; for as much as his lungs and his muscles burned, it at least gave him something else to focus on other than the debacle that had been the rest of his day.  And if he’d maybe imagined that the bag was his old mentor Alexander Pierce during the worst of his pummeling, well… no one needed to know.

“Good,” Natasha responded with a shrewd smile, as if she knew exactly what he’d been thinking.  “Let’s head down and get you showered then while I put the finishing touches on food; I’m starved.”

By the time Bucky was finally finished showering (Nat’s apartment had the best water heater and pressure in all of New York, he was certain), the apartment smelled so strongly of roast chicken that he felt his mouth watering as he towel-dried his hair as fast as possible.   He made his way into the living room after getting dressed, unsurprised to find the familiar, blond beta male stretched out on the couch, seemingly oblivious to Bucky’s entrance and the sounds of Natasha finishing up in the kitchen.

“Oh - hey Buck,” Clint murmured as Bucky made his way into his peripheral vision.  The awkward smile that he gave Bucky was confirmation enough that Natasha had already let her boyfriend know why they had a third wheel for dinner.  “Er… I heard about the interview,” Clint continued, “that’s so shitty man, I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Bucky lied, shrugging as he dropped into the overstuffed recliner on the opposite side of the living room.  “There’s always next time, right?”

He couldn’t quite bring himself to look Clint in the face as he added the last bit: Clint’s noncommittal hum probably meant that it’d been too muffled for him to hear what Bucky’d actually said, but given how trite the thought had been in the first place, it seemed appropriate.

Nat spared them both the pain of trying to come up with small talk by flashing the lights in the kitchen, signalling that their food was ready to eat.

They all loaded their own plate with roast chicken breasts and wild rice and sauteed spinach - a far cry from the lentils and rice that Bucky would have had to settle for at home - then headed back into the living room.  Bucky felt guilty as he dug into his food; somehow he guessed that Nat and Clint probably would have had a nice dinner in together around the dining room table had they not been putting Bucky up.

While he appreciated the attempts at including him, right down to the closed-captioned Mythbusters re-run that Nat had put on while they ate, the events of the day and their aftermath started to settle in again as the endorphins from Bucky’s workout wore off.  It was hard, not to focus on how bleak his future looked yet again, even with a pile of great food and his favorite show in front of him.  With a guilty look towards where his friends were subtly pressed against each other on the couch, Bucky’s mind started its usual spiral of trying to figure out what the hell he was going to do next.

At this point he had to find a job, some source of income, somehow .  He’d exhausted all of the networking he’d done in college and grad school, and had gotten to the point where he knew recruiters around the city were annoyed as hell with him.  Most frustrating of all, he knew that he had the grades and the smarts to hack it in any engineering position in the city, if he could just get his foot in a door.

Bucky paused with his fork halfway to his mouth as the thought hit him.  There were suppressants out there that would mask an omega’s pheromones enough that he or she could pass as a beta.  If he could pull the act off for long enough to get his foot in the door somewhere, to prove to a company what he was capable of, before they could write him off for his sex, it might just be worth it.  And Bucky knew the work would never be the issue…

“No.”  Natasha suddenly said from her spot on the couch, looking across the room at him with a frown.

“What?”  Bucky asked instinctively, realizing that his mouth was still half-full of chicken and he had a forkful of spinach that he’d been holding around his chin the entire time.

“You had the look; the I’m going to do something stupidly reckless look,”  Nat responded matter-of-factly.

“That’s not a thing,” Bucky retorted immediately, jamming the spinach in his mouth when he realized how petulant his voice sounded.  As soon as he’d swallowed it, he rolled his eyes and continued, unable to stand the way Nat continued to stare him down, especially as Clint joined in.  “Alright, fine – I was just thinking… I could try a round of interviews on suppressants.  Go in as a beta, get past the first round…”

“Wow,” Natasha interrupted him. “Yeah, that might be the worst idea I’ve ever heard.  Do you have any idea how dangerous full suppressants are?”

Bucky sighed, setting his plate down on the side table next to him, “Considering how much biology I actually had to study?  Yeah, I do,” he shot back, “so I know that the infertility risks and the cancer rates are only increased if you use them for an extended period of time or have a predisposition – I’m only planning on a couple of weeks, tops.”

“It’d never work,” Natasha said with certainty.  Bucky opened his mouth to counter, but she continued ahead.  “No, seriously James – it would never work.  Unless you’re planning on getting fake IDs for the companies to review and know of a way to go back and change all of your demographics information saved on your college and worksites.  You wouldn’t get through the interview because they would see you were lying, and worse, you could get arrested.”

Bucky dropped his eyes to his plate, glaring at his fork and the tiny pile of rice left as if they were at fault for the whole mess.  Now that she said it, Bucky had to admit that Nat was right – it was a completely asinine idea.

“I know,” Clint said suddenly, snapping his fingers.  “Sell your eggs.”

“What?”  Bucky asked, after a long beat of silence where he and Nat had simply stared at Clint in confusion.

“Y’know, your eggs,” Clint repeated, as if they were the idiots. “Instead of the suppression thing – aren’t there hormone treatments and ways to take them out?  I bet there’s a ton of rich couples on the Upper East Side, infertile bonded pairs or beta couples who would pay a fuckin’ arm and a leg for them.”

Bucky vaguely remembered seeing ads in the classified section of Columbia’s student paper for egg donors – mainly he remembered laughing at how ridiculous the entire idea was.  But now that Clint said it…  “I mean, yeah, I might make a few grand off of it, but how does that help me with the loan issues and finding a job?”

“A few thousand?” Clint scoffed, “C’mon man, you’re selling yourself SO short.  You’re hot, you’re healthy, you’ve got a clean family history, and you’re an omega with a fuckin’ graduate level engineering degree.  Christ, you might as well be a unicorn.”

Bucky blinked at him in surprise, both over the compliments and over how right Clint actually sounded.  He glanced across the room at Natasha, wondering if he was getting his hopes up too much, but she simply shook her head.  “Nope, I’m not getting involved in this one… it’s not stupid enough for me to have to talk you out of it, but you’re on your own if you want to go selling babies.”

“They’re not babies, they’re just the eggs.  They’re literally just cells, Nat,” Bucky responded, before picking his plate up and clearing the last bits of food off of it as he thought.  It was a ridiculous idea, and it didn’t solve his job problems at all – but if he really could get enough to at least get the first six months of his repayments taken care of, it would save him a world of stress.

He didn’t catch what it was that Natasha muttered in response, nor did he even try to understand the furious signing that went on between her and Clint on the couch in the tense silence that followed - and once the Mythbuster team had finally gotten around to blowing up the car they had been toying with for the entire episode, Bucky got up from his chair to gather up the dishes in the living room and made his way to the kitchen to clean up.

“You don’t have to do that, you know,” Natasha pointed out as he grabbed a couple of tupperware containers out of the cabinet above the sink.

Bucky shrugged, already scooping spinach into the one on top.  “It’s the least I can do after you invited me over and made dinner - and it’s not like I don’t know my way around your kitchen.”

“I know,” Natasha responded quietly, making her way across the room to stand next to him.  “But I’m not just talking about the leftovers.”

Bucky ignored her long enough to box up all of the remaining food, before finally leaning against the countertop with a sigh.  “I just - I don’t have anything else at this point, Nat.  And the clock is ticking, and it’s not exactly as if I can just ask someone for the money.”

The pained frown that Natasha gave him was somehow worse than the look of disappointment he’d been expecting.  “Just don’t do anything stupid, okay?”  She finally asked.  “We’ll figure something out, I promise.”

Bucky forced a smile, appreciating the sentiment.  And while he had no doubt that his friend would do whatever she could to help him, Bucky also knew that he was right.  At the end of the day he was largely alone in his dilemma.

They washed up the dishes together then returned to the living room, where Clint insisted on settling in for a movie so that they could all chill out.  It was some cheesy action flick that Bucky largely ended up ignoring, but it was good for escaping for a bit, at least.  Once they had finished watching (and then incessantly mocking) the movie Bucky was beginning to feel like he was getting close to overstaying his welcome, so he excused himself to pack up his gym clothes and get ready to go.  

Natasha met him at the door with a plastic bag - one he knew without opening was full of their left-overs.

“Nat,” he started, hating how warm his cheeks and neck immediately felt.

“I bought extra, and the apples are gonna go bad before we can eat them,” the alpha argued immediately.  Before Bucky could argue she continued on.  “Seriously - Clint would rather live off pizza anyway, and I’m supposed to be on an assignment for the rest of the week… you’re sparing me from cleaning out the freezer.”

In the end, Bucky didn’t have the energy to argue with her, or the pride to ignore the fact that he was already close to the end of his grocery budget for the month as it was.  He gave her an extra-tight hug of thanks, knowing that it was nowhere near enough for payback, then fled into the hallway before he could catch the look of pity he was afraid he might find on her face.

By the time he finally stumbled back into his apartment, Bucky felt like he was wrecked, like the ups and downs of the day were finally catching up to him.  He wanted nothing more than to simply fall into bed and sleep until noon the next day – but as he was stowing his gym bag under his bed, his eyes fell on the stack of bill reminders next to his laptop.  He chewed nervously on the inside of his cheek as his eyes roamed to the photo on the wall just above it: it was a glossy five by seven in a cheap frame, depicting Bucky with his family almost nine years ago at his high school graduation.  He considered how proud his mom and dad looked standing there with him, how young and hopeful both he and Becca still seemed, and remembered how excited he’d been at the time, knowing that he was about to go on to college and actually fulfill all of his dreams.

It seemed so damned unfair that he was stuck in the mess he was now.  With one final look at his mom’s face, Bucky dropped heavily into his desk chair, booting up his old laptop and checking his email one last time for job offers.

The only new item in his inbox was a brief note from a nearby department store, where he’d applied to sell electronics or household appliances in a desperate attempt to just find some source of income.  They’d rejected his job application on account of not having the funds to pay an employee with such an advanced degree.

Bucky looked up at the picture again, then down at the stack of bills sitting at his elbow.  His parents had sacrificed so much, had always gone out of their way to support him, to make sure he knew what he was capable of, that he never gave up on pursuing his goals because eventually he’d reach them.  And now… now, if he didn’t find a way to produce at least fifteen hundred dollars by the end of the month, he’d probably end up homeless.

With a heavy, determined frown on his face, Bucky forcefully clicked for a new tab to open in his web browser, before typing in the words omega egg donor new york city compensation and settling in for a night of research.

Chapter Text

Steve had barely walked through the door before Sam had shoved the baby into his arms with a short “Here, take this,” and retreated quickly to the kitchen.  

Tommy blinked placidly at Steve before offering him a bright smile as he recognized the familiar alpha, and Steve couldn’t help but chuckle.  He wasn’t even particularly surprised by the brusque greeting, especially once he recognized the faint, acrid smell of smoke wafting from the doorway on the far side of the apartment.  

“I’m guessing Riley’s not in yet?”  Steve called out, settling Sam’s son onto his hip with practiced ease before following him to the kitchen, stopping in the entryway to lean against the wall.  

“Yeah, Maggie had dance class until 4:30 so he had to go pick her up,” Sam responded distractedly as he stirred the pot in front of him, “and you know traffic coming back from Tribeca at this hour; we really should just get her involved in a closer studio, but she loves her teacher…”

“Or we could switch the day I come over,” Steve responded teasingly, waggling his fingers in front of Tommy’s face and grinning when he was rewarded with a peal of laughter.  “It’s not as if I have much else going on in my busy social schedule.”

“No man, it’s fine,” Sam insisted over his shoulder as Steve hefted the baby higher on his hip and made his way into the kitchen.  “Besides,” he added with a grin, glancing over his shoulder as he continued stirring the sauce pot on the stove, “if we didn’t have you over on Tuesdays, who would entertain the little monster so I could get dinner done in time?”

“I knew there had to be an ulterior motive for family dinners,” Steve responded dramatically, leaning to the side as Tommy reached for his glasses.  At ten months old, Sam’s son was getting to be just dexterous enough that he could probably pull them off of Steve’s face if he got a good enough grip on them, and Steve was so blind without them that he didn’t want to risk it.  “Let’s find you some toys, little man,” he murmured,sliding Tommy into the seat of his highchair and grabbing the teething ring he saw sitting on the kitchen table - he was able to wave it around in front of the boy’s face quickly enough that it distracted him before he could throw a fit over Steve denying him the joy of gumming on shiny, breakable objects.  While Steve was plenty strong enough to carry the baby around, he was also small enough that juggling him was beginning to get unnecessarily awkward.

Once Steve had Tommy sufficiently settled and distracted and Sam had their dinner back under control, they were able to start chatting properly, interspersing small talk and anecdotes about work and the rest of their week with relentlessly teasing each other and games of peekaboo when the baby fussed over the momentary lapses in attention.

“I think he’s got another tooth coming in,” Sam mused as Steve ducked the rattle that Tommy had decided he was done with.  “Besides the usual drool spigot, he’s been pretty fussy and clingy for the past couple days.”  Tommy pounded his fists against the tray of his highchair and yelled, as if he was denying the accusations by his dad, and Steve had to hide his laughter with a cough.  

Sam didn’t even bother to hide his amusement.  “Yeah, you definitely have been,” he grinned as he turned towards the baby, stalking up to the highchair on his way to the pantry and dropping a loud kiss on the top of his raven curls.  “It’s a good thing you’re so cute.”

Tommy giggled and rubbed at his hair for a moment, before turning his attention back to reaching for the pile of toys Steve had stacked on the table to keep him busy.

“D’you need any help?”  Steve asked as he handed a stuffed elephant over, watching while Sam dumped a box of pasta into the boiling pot he was watching on the stove.

Before Sam could answer they both heard the sound of the front door to the apartment opening - a moment later Sam’s daughter Maggie came barreling into the room, shouting Steve’s name with a wide grin as she skidded to a stop on the hardwood in front of him and wrapped arms around his waist.  “Uncle Steve, Uncle Steve, you’re here!!”

Not to be outdone, her brother started squealing excitedly, only to grow louder when he saw Riley step into the kitchen, reaching out with grabby hands in the direction of his dam.

“Yikes, okay,” the omega chuckled, shaking his head as he scooped the baby out of his highchair.  Tommy immediately grabbed at his chest, leaving no question as to why he was so worked up, and Steve felt his cheeks heat up as he looked away instinctively.  “I guess dinner’s late,” Riley snorted, tactfully ignoring Steve’s discomfort.  “Steve, it’s good to see you.  Babe -”  he crossed the kitchen in a couple of short steps and stole a brief, chaste kiss from Sam, “I’ll just go get the monster settled.”

Steve turned his attention to helping Maggie out of her puffy pink coat, but not before he caught the dopey smile that Sam gave the retreating omega as Riley left the kitchen in the direction of the nursery.  He forced his brightest smile onto his face, doing his best to ignore the momentary ache he felt beneath his sternum, seeing how obviously happy and in love his friends were.

“Uncle Steve, you wanna see the dance I learned?”  Maggie asked excitedly, taking a number of exaggerated steps backwards and pointing her toes out.  The juxtaposition of her purple leotard and tights in the middle of the Wilsons’ cramped kitchen was so amusing that Steve nearly said yes, but not before her father spoke up.

“Let’s save the dancing for after supper, Princess,” Sam intervened.  “Maybe tell Steve about school, instead?”

Luckily, the little girl was all-too-happy to comply, and immediately launched into an elaborate story about a caterpillar book and their plans to hatch a butterfly later in the spring, how well she’d scored on her colors test, and a silly game of mixing letters and numbers that Steve didn’t entirely understand, but was amused by all the same.  It amazed him, sometimes, how quickly both of Sam’s kids were growing and how damned smart Maggie was becoming already.  For as off the wall as their conversations tended to be, Steve still figured that these silly times - playing and talking in the kitchen before dinner - were arguably the highlight of his week.

By the time Riley came back into the kitchen with Tommy, Sam was wrapping up dinner preparation and giving marching orders for everyone to wash up before they ate.  Steve, always one to set a good example (at least when little eyes were watching) was the first one to hightail it to the powder room in the back hallway, as well as supervisor as Maggie insisted she could wash her hands on her own.  

Dinner, of course, was well-organized chaos.  For as well-behaved as Maggie and Tommy were, they still loved the attention that went along with mealtime; Steve had a strong suspicion that they both tended to be especially silly in showing-off while he was there.  As Maggie put more effort into making up a story about a spaghetti mountain than she did into eating, Steve couldn’t help but be grateful for the fact that his friends went through the hassle of including him like this - especially once Tommy decided he was done with trying to gum his chopped-up noodles and dumped a handful of them in his hair instead, and dinner was finally declared over.

Sam took the baby for a bath while Riley began cleaning up the kitchen; Steve was allowed to help for approximately ten seconds before he was shooed off by the omega, and instead took it upon himself to keep Maggie occupied, a task he was always more than happy to claim.  He set his phone up to play music in the living room: Sam had outlawed KidzBop, swearing up and down that it was a crime against music and that he couldn’t allow his own flesh and blood to be exposed to it.  Because Steve didn’t think he was too far from the truth, he was happy to comply with the rule: thankfully, Maggie seemed to love Big Band, so was content with Steve’s “old peoples music.”

Once she’d finished showing off the new routine she had learned during the week, Maggie insisted that Steve dance with her to her third “most favoritest song” in a row.  Under any other circumstances, Steve would have said no, but then he’d been terrible at denying his goddaughter anything since the day she’d been born.  He couldn’t even find it in himself to be embarrassed when Sam walked in to find them still dancing frantically around the room, he just laughed as Sam promised to show them all how it was done and joined in, calling Riley away from the kitchen to join in the dance party.

Steve completely lost track of time: he was too busy revelling in all of it, teasing Sam right back as he joked about his white boy dancing, cheering Maggie every time she called out for everyone to watch a new move, and even helping Tommy along when he pulled himself up on the coffee table and started bobbing along to the beat.

“The infant has better rhythm than you do, Rogers,” Sam snorted, watching over Riley’s shoulder as the couple danced on their own.

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve responded with a shrug - it wasn’t as if he could deny the truth.  “I wasn’t lucky enough to get blessed with dancin’ genes like the squirts were.”

“What’s that mean?” Maggie asked, pushing her hair out of her face as she stopped her spin abruptly.  “We aren’t wearin’ jeans.”

Riley rolled his eyes at the both of them before turning to Maggie, “It means your daddies are both better dancers than Uncle Steve - genes are the things you get from your parents that make you the way you are.”

For a moment Steve was worried that Maggie might continue to push the point, or ask something terrifying like how daddies used genes to make babies in the first place… but the playlist switched songs to Hound Dog and she was suddenly too busy squealing in excitement to say anything more.

They kept it up for the better part of an hour, before Tommy started whining to get picked up and rubbing at his eyes and Maggie’s frantic spinning and hopping slowed to a relatively sedate bounce.  

“Alright guys, I think it’s time we tell Steve goodnight and start getting ready for bed,” Riley said, rising up from where he’d been seated on the couch and taking Tommy gently from Steve’s arms.  Tommy was just with it enough to give Steve a half-hearted wave bye-bye  and lean into a kiss from Sam, before he nuzzled against Riley’s chest, already nodding off as he was carried down the hallway towards the nursery.

In the short silence that followed it looked like Maggie might argue to against the idea of bedtime, but her eyes suddenly lit up instead.  “Can Uncle Steve put me in bed?!”

“You want Uncle Steve to tuck you in?” Sam huffed incredulously, feigning at being offended but giving his amusement away with the huge grin he didn’t even bother holding back.  “What am I? Chopped liver?”

“No Daddy,” Maggie responded with a giggle, running across the room and hugging Sam around the legs.  “But you tuck me in ev’ry night, Steve’s just for special ‘casions.  And he does the best voices for bedtime stories.”

“Well, alright then,” Sam conceded easily, kneeling down and holding his arms out for Maggie to jump into for a tight hug.  “I wouldn’t wanna get in the way of special occasions,” he added, giving Steve a wink over her shoulder - as if Steve didn’t tuck her in every Tuesday night.  

There was a quiet murmur back and forth between the two of them that Steve did his best to ignore, then Maggie pressed a loud kiss to Sam’s cheek and bounced back with an impatient smile in Steve’s direction.  “C’mon, I gotta brush teeth!”

Between countless Tuesday night dinners and the frequency with which Steve babysat for Sam and Riley, he was an old hat at the bedtime routine, especially with how self-sufficient Maggie was becoming.  He helped to set up her toothbrush then went to her room to grab a pair of Frozen pajamas, bringing them back into the bathroom after he’d heard the toilet flush and helping her wash her hands and change out of her leotard.   After she’d passed a quick teeth inspection Maggie led the way back to her room, grabbing a book from her bookshelf and snuggling into the corner of her bed, so that there was plenty of room for Steve to sit beside her.

Unsurprisingly, Maggie had picked the same book that she’d raved about before dinner.  It didn’t exactly lend itself to character voices, but Steve still made a point of saying each of the types of food that the caterpillar ate in different silly tones, living up to his reputation and making Maggie giggle all the while.

It only took two and a half readings of The Very Hungry Caterpillar before Maggie finally dozed off enough that Steve could sneak out of her room, after tucking her comforter up underneath her chin and dimming the lights in her bedroom.  He padded down the hallway, past where Tommy was already settled down in the nursery, and made his way back to the living room where Sam and Riley were already waiting for him on the couch.

“Thanks, man,” Sam said with a smile as Steve sank into the recliner across from them, looking up from where he’d been nuzzled against his mate’s neck.  “I swear getting them down takes half as much time when you’re over here.  Just sayin’, if you ever wanted to move in…”

Steve couldn’t help laughing as he shook his head, “I love you guys, but I’m not gonna go that far.”  

Even as he said it, Steve couldn’t entirely ignore the pang in his chest when he thought about what his other options were.  In all honesty, for as chaotic and loud as they could be, his evenings with the Wilsons were pretty consistently the best part of his week - he loved his godchildren, he loved the noise and the laughter and the bedtime routines, even at their most frantic.  Especially when compared to his usual nights at home.

While Steve loved his apartment and his job, he could hardly deny how lonely his life was outside of his friends; especially compared to what he’d initially planned for himself.  Years ago, he’d have thought that by now he’d have the same routine around his own house, of being busy trying to entertain kids and get dinner on the table and wrangle them all into bed, all the while being content and domestic and in love.  But then…

“And then Tommy had to abandon the plane before Maggie crashed it into the ice shelf, but they were able to save Manhattan, at least.”

Steve blinked as Sam’s words actually registered through his miserable musings, frowning as he looked over at his friend.  “Wha?”

“You were on another planet, pal,” Riley answered, giving him a small, sad smile that Steve had a feeling was usually reserved for the kids when they needed encouragement.  “Everything alright?”

Steve shrugged, shifting uncomfortably in his chair as he thought of how to answer, knowing all the while that both Sam and Riley knew him well enough to see through all of the lies he’d initially concocted up as an answer.  “I’m fine,” he finally murmured, “just… y’know.  Work’s been pretty relaxed of late, so I’ve been spending more time at home, and I guess tonight just got me thinking.  About - you know.”

Sam sighed as he unwrapped his arm from around Riley’s shoulders, and they both sat forward after sharing a glance, giving Steve their full attention.  He immediately felt guilty for it: while it could sometimes hurt, seeing how obviously happy his friends were with each other, Steve had never once begrudged them for it.  Hell, for all that the two of them had been through, they definitely deserved every bit of the happiness that they had now.  But at the same time, especially when he was in one of his darker moods, Steve could hardly deny that being around a bonded pair so perfect for each other was hard to stomach.

“I meant what I said, you know,” Sam said softly, interrupting Steve’s thoughts before they could head for a much darker territory.  “About you being great with the kids.”

“Thanks,” Steve smiled automatically.  “Although, they make it pretty easy,” he continued with a shrug, “think they lucked out in the parent department or something…”

Riley snorted softly at that, looking at Sam and reaching for his hand, but Sam continued to stare Steve down as if he were solving a particularly difficult client.  “Have you ever thought about having one of your own?”  he asked shrewdly.

While Steve sat and stared at him with his mouth hanging open stupidly, Riley’s eyes narrowed for a moment before turning back to Steve.  “It wouldn’t be a terrible idea to get on that: the window’s only so big before you’re gonna be too far behind us to really make playdates.”

Steve huffed at the smartass addition, relaxing as he realized that they were joking with him.  “Think I need to worry about finding a mate, first.  I hear those are usually required to make a baby.”

“Not necessarily,” Sam countered, his face looking pensive as both Steve and Riley looked at him in confusion.  Steve, for his part, had been expecting some half-hearted attempt by the pair to convince him that he could just go out and start dating again; God knew they’d brought it up enough times, especially in the past year.  

“Uh, yeah I do, unless you know something I don’t…” Steve prompted, trying to figure out where the hell his fellow alpha was going with his point.

“I mean, you could always adopt,” Sam answered with a shrug.  “I know it’s not necessarily the best route, but it’s an option,”  he added hastily, clearly having caught the unimpressed look on Steve’s face.

The thing was, for as many advances as fertility treatments and obstetrics had made over the years, the birth rate in the United States still wasn’t that impressive.  The vast majority of babies born were the result of highly-desired pregnancies, so available infants in the adoption pool were rare and typically fraught with issues.  Of course Steve could also look abroad, particularly to countries where Omega contraceptives were outlawed - but the babies that those countries did allow to be adopted to the US were usually so institutionalized that it took years of therapy to rehabilitate them.  For as much as Steve would love to have helped all of the kids in such sad situations, he wasn’t sure that he was up for the challenges that went with going through it - especially by himself.  And given his own extensive health history, he preferred the idea of raising a child whose genetics he actually knew.

Plus, the far more selfish part of him that he couldn’t quite suppress still revelled in the idea of having offspring that was naturally his own.

“Or there’s plenty of fertility services -” Riley added thoughtfully.  “I know they cater more to pairs who can’t mate, but under the right circumstances they make exceptions.  You’d definitely count.”

“So you’ve finally moved on from trying to set me up with someone, straight to saying that I should just have a baby?  On my own?”  Steve asked incredulously.

“It’s not the ideal situation,” Sam conceded, rubbing at the back of his neck, “but if anyone could do it, it’d be you.  You’ve got the finances and a flexible enough job schedule to make it work, you love kids.”

“And you’re terrific with them,” Riley added, jumping in on his mate’s point.  “We’d definitely vouch for your fitness as a caretaker.”

Steve couldn’t do much but stare at them, unable to come up with a reasonable response.

“I’m not saying tomorrow,” Sam continued after a few moments’ silence.  “It’s just - you’ve wanted to be a family man for as long as I’ve known you, and I get your hang up on the idea of taking a new mate, I do.  But the idea of you giving up on kids, too…” he shook his head sadly.

“We just want you to be happy,” Riley added quietly.  “Truly happy, for yourself.  And it kinda feels like you’ve hit a plateau in the last few months, so it might be worth a thought.”

“I’m…” Steve started, still uncharacteristically lost for words.  The entire suggestion still had him so gobsmacked that he wasn’t even sure what he thought of his friends’ idea yet.  “I’ll give it a thought,” he finally agreed, sitting back in his chair and starting to do exactly that.  Sam and Riley both seemed to take the hint; thankfully they dropped the topic, and ended up leaned back in their spot on the couch, quietly making neutral small talk that Steve only half-listened to until it was late enough that he could justify heading home without looking like he was fleeing.

The ride back to Lenox Hill was short and quiet, considering the time of night, which turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing - it left Steve replaying the conversation between the three of them over and over, to the point that he couldn’t even appreciate the unseasonably warm weather or the feel of riding his Harley for the first time of the season.  By the time he’d parked his bike in its assigned spot of the building’s underground garage he was even more consumed by it, to the point that he couldn’t think of much else than the fact that his friends were worried about him and the sudden, startling thought that he could start a family, after all.

He rode the elevator up from the garage to the thirty-second floor alone, as usual, and exited into the hallway that was empty and silent, as always.  Steve had loved how private the condominium had seemed when he’d first bought it, but on nights like these he wished he had streetnoise or neighbors to distract him from his thoughts.  

The lights in the entryway turned on as soon as Steve let himself in the door.  Automatically, he dropped his keys into the bowl on the accent table next to the hall closet door, kicking his shoes into their rightful storage space and meandering his way down the entry hall in his socks.

As soon as he reached the living room he called out for music, letting the unit’s rudimentary AI start up the stereo that played to the living room.  For as much thinking as he still knew he needed to do, Steve didn’t think he could bear it in silence.

After grabbing a glass of water from the kitchen Steve padded back into the living room, dropping into his favorite overstuffed chair as Bing Crosby crooned softly overhead.  He let his eyes wander around the condo as his mind did the same, taking in the open dining room that abutted to the living room, then back the opposite direction down the hallway towards the bedrooms and his suite and studio.  

Truthfully, the condo was far too big for one person - it’d been too big for a newlywed couple when he’d first bought it, but it had been the first time in his life that Steve had real money and he’d been lovedrunk and planning .  It was an obnoxiously large living space for just two people, but it was a space that would remain comfortable at least until those two had become four or more.  

And then, instead, two had become one.  Steve had been too devastated for the first year to do much of anything; once he’d finally become functional, he hadn’t been able to bring himself to move away from the space he’d shared with his mate.  There were still too many memories.  Worse yet, he still had hope - he knew better than to imagine that he’d ever find anyone who could replace Peggy, but Steve had picked and decorated the space with the idea that they would one day raise their kids here.  The idea of just packing up and moving away from that for good wasn’t one he was ready to face, even years later.

Which brought him back to Sam’s suggestion.  Steve would never have come up with it on his own, but now that the seed was there, he couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Already, he could picture where a play area would fit in the living room, where a highchair would wind up next to his usual spot at the dining room table.  The spare room could be converted into a nursery and they’d still have a guest room available - not that anyone ever stayed in either of them anymore.  And all of the hollow, lifeless paintings that Steve had just left up on the walls over the years could be sold, replaced with the family portraits and art projects that he’d meant to take their places, anyway.

The idea of willingly becoming a single parent was probably crazy, but Steve had never been particularly sane, at least when it came to facing down challenges.   With a heavy sigh, he forced himself to look above the mantle, to the wedding picture he’d never been able to bring himself to take down.  He could practically hear Peg’s teasing voice, pointing out how big of a drama queen he was being.

He called out for the music to stop and dimmed the lights in the living area, then made his way down the far hallway towards the master bedroom, grabbing his tablet out of the media closet as he passed it.  

As far as Steve could see it, his dilemma was this: the likelihood of ever finding a suitable mate grew slimmer by the year.  While he was blessedly healthy now, his childhood ailments had stunted his growth enough that anyone who met him as a casual acquaintance would assume he was either impotent or an Omega himself; either way, he definitely wasn’t the type that had suitors lining up for him based on looks.  However, as soon as people realized who he was and put together how much he was worth, well - the name Steve Rogers was considerably more attractive than the man apparently was.

The last thing he wanted from a relationship was someone after him for money and status.  It was ironic, really, how his good luck in business had become so synonymous with his bad luck in love.

As it was, there wasn’t much Steve could do about it.  While he’d give up his work in a heartbeat, if it meant bringing his mate back or finding someone new, it wasn’t as if abandoning his current life would guarantee happiness, either.   His art was adequate and his design firm was flourishing, but since losing Peggy it felt like he was surviving more than he was living most days.  And while Sam was right - having a baby wasn’t necessarily going to be the perfect solution - Steve knew that starting the family he’d always wanted would definitely help relieve his constant sense of loneliness, and give him a reason to really start living again.

With that thought in mind Steve finally woke his tablet, opening the search bar and typing in surrogacy services New York City .  He’d make the necessary calls and question agencies properly in the morning, but it didn’t hurt to get a headstart on research.

Chapter Text

Bucky spent the better part of the next week researching fertility services around New York City.  His initial search had confirmed Clint’s claim: the better-known clinics around Midtown offered upwards of twenty thousand dollars for ‘highly-desirable’ egg donors, and that was without taking into account the additional money that some couples had offered as extra incentive for those who were the perfect match.  The couple of profiles that he’d read over had been ridiculous in how specific their selection criteria were, but it was an eye-opener all the same.  Considering the fact that he’d applied for six basic, entry-level technician jobs in the same amount of time and gotten rejections from all of them, what had started as a hair-brained idea was beginning to look more and more like a feasible way to at least get his head above water for a bit.

As a last-ditch effort Bucky sent an inquiry about positions available as a low-level intern for the same company that he’d turned down as a graduate student; Red Room Industries hadn’t been as well-known as HYDRATech, so he’d respectfully declined their offer for an unpaid position with the latter.  Bucky barely refrained from mentioning his regret in his cover letter: it would be wildly unprofessional, a fact that could hardly help him convince the HR department to give him a second chance.

Bucky then fell further down the egg donation rabbit hole while waiting on a response to the job posting...  After an exhaustive comparison between  Angie’s List and a number of Omega health and reproductive rights agency websites, he finally came to find the best option in the city.  Conceive Solutions was only ten years old, but already had more successful pregnancies than any other reproductive clinic in the country.  Even better, it had been founded in New York by a pair of Omega physicians - now one was a world-renowned leader in reproductive endocrinology and the other the most sought-after obstetrician in the five boroughs.  Try as he might, Bucky couldn’t find a single bad review about them; a fact that initially struck him as suspicious, but proved to be an anomaly when he read up on their competition.

The consensus was they cared deeply for their patients, respected and valued their donors, and made sure that they were always fairly compensated.  Even better, Bucky thought, was the commitment that the company had towards encouraging clients and donors to get to know each other, to build supportive friendships that they insisted led to happier, healthier outcomes.

While Bucky didn’t necessarily need any new friends, he liked the idea of at least knowing the people he was handing an egg off to.  It made the entire process seem a little less shady.

And then, he found the other services Conceive Solutions needed.  While their demand for egg donors was high, a few pages deep on the website revealed that they were always looking for surrogates as well.  Bucky had initially stumbled on the ad by accident, and tried to back out of the page as quickly as his ancient, lagging laptop would allow.  While he was waiting for his browser to respond, though, Bucky caught a glimpse of the average compensation that the surrogates received… and nearly fell out of his chair.  It wasn’t surprising, of course, that omegas willing to actually go through the process of carrying a fetus to term would be paid better than those who simply took a month of hormones and underwent the minor procedure of harvesting their resultant eggs, but still.  Surrogates’ base compensation started at double that of the highest pay range for egg donors, plus came with stipends for food and clothing for those who needed them.

Bucky duplicated the tab on his browser, leaving the information page up in one tab while he navigated away from it in the other.  While he wasn’t ready to sign up to that big of a commitment just yet, it was an opportunity he couldn’t help but think he should probably mull over.  Of course, as soon as Bucky gave his mind permission to even think of something so ridiculous, it took off on him.  He tried laying down to sleep, but after tossing and turning on his lumpy twin mattress for an hour and a half he’d flipped the light in his room back on, grabbing a spiral notebook and putting all of his thoughts to paper.

He started with his most recent loan statement, copying down his amounts owed and interest rates, and calculating exactly how much he would need to earn over the next year to break even on payments and still afford rent and food.  Even if he limited his entire budget to a survival spending rate, Bucky would need to donate at least twice to make enough; and that was assuming he was able to draw the highest paying families for donation and had zero unexpected expenses.  With a surrogacy, though… he’d still have to budget like mad, but it could work.  Especially if - he crawled to the end of his mattress and woke up his laptop, opening the surrogacy tag and reading through it in earnest.  

His hopes were soon confirmed: omegas whose own eggs were artificially inseminated could draw the one-time egg donor compensation and receive all surrogacy benefits.  The sound of his laptop closing was startling in the silence of his room, even though it had been Bucky who had done it.  He fell back into bed, his mind churning even more furiously than it had been before.

After getting a few hours of fitful sleep, Bucky woke the next morning to an email thanking him for his application but informing him that Red Room was only looking for students still working towards or in-between degrees, but insisting that he consider re-applying for a position when they had their usual fall hiring season.  Considering the fact that it left no details on said hiring season or contact information on where to find out said information, he knew better than to take the offer very seriously.

He glanced sideways on his desk, to where his notebook was still sitting open from his furious internal debate the night before.  Seeing the budgets, as well as the pros and cons lists that he’d scribbled for each procedure laid out in the light of day filled him with a sudden, odd sense of calm.  It wasn’t a perfect solution - not by a long shot - but it was looking more and more like a reasonable one.  

Considering he had no idea where else he was going to find the money, Bucky figured he had nothing to lose in applying, at least.

He clicked the link under the contact us section of the Conceive Solutions website, navigating his way through the ‘potential donors’ pages until he finally came to the egg donor application.  It took most of the morning to painstakingly fill out the form, listing out all of his personal data, family information, schooling background and other requirements for the intake.  Luckily, he was able to copy all of his information over to a second application for surrogates; by lunchtime, he’d officially submitted the required paperwork.

Instead of sitting back and relaxing, though, Bucky could feel an odd sense of nervous tension coming on, so he changed into workout gear and took off on a run. Thankfully, the midday sun and pleasant weather was able to ease some of his nerves as he jogged clear to Prospect Park and did a lap around the perimeter before jogging back home.  He was shaky and sweaty when he finally got back to his door, and a touch faint with hunger, but it was worth it for the release of the endorphin rush.  

He was in the middle of scarfing down cold rice and kidney beans over the sink in his kitchen when his laptop chimed with an email alert.  With a frown, he covered the container and put it back in his tiny cube refrigerator - he needed to get at least one more meal out of it anyway, if he wanted to make Natasha’s leftovers last another couple of days.  After filling a glass of water Bucky made his way back to his desk, mulling over who could have sent the email: he didn’t remember any outstanding job applications out, but wouldn’t mind the pleasant surprise of an interview offer.

He blinked when he loaded his email inbox - it was a follow-up email from Conceive Solutions.

Bucky hadn’t even considered that he would hear back from the company in under a week, especially considering how detailed the information he had sent them had been,  but sure enough the response thanked him for his application and indicated that they were very excited to learn more about him.  Instead of showering as he had planned, Bucky spent the rest of the afternoon filling out yet more information forms, calling the omega clinic he usually got his annual check-ups at for additional information and then tracking down his old family practitioner’s office in Indiana, so that they could send along his full medical record and family history per the agency’s request.  There was also a short psychological evaluation and embarrassingly long lifestyle questionnaire, as well as a link where he had to upload all of his higher education transcripts.

By the time Bucky was finally finished the room was nearly dark, and he realized for the first time that he was shivering, probably from sitting in the same space all afternoon still wet and clammy from his run.  After looking over this requirements check-list one final time Bucky stripped out of his running gear and climbed into the tiny shower in his bathroom, nearly crying in relief when the water that poured out of the spigot was actually hot.  He stayed under the spray until it turned lukewarm, then toweled off and made his way back into his room for a clean pair of underwear.  He practically inhaled a cold piece of chicken, then finally crawled into bed and promptly passed out.

Between how little sleep he’d gotten over the past week and how much thought he’d put into the applications throughout the day Bucky slept like a rock that night - a fact that was a little disconcerting when he woke the next morning and really thought about just what he had been signing himself up for.  He laid in bed for a few minutes, thinking about how quick the turnaround on his application had been.  For the first time, it occurred to him that he might actually get approved as a surrogate… a thought that was both terrifying and also a strange relief, simultaneously.  He tried not to dwell on it too much, and instead went about his morning as usual - eating a piece of dry bread and a bruised banana and drinking a cup of instant coffee as he scrolled through postings on Monster.com and the Times’ classified section.  

He was in the middle of sending an email inquiry about a retail position at a nearby electronics store when his cell phone began to ring, startling him away from his computer screen.  Bucky frowned at the unfamiliar number for a moment before hesitantly accepting the call.

“Hello, is this James Barnes?” a smooth, feminine voice asked on the other side of the line.

“It is,” Bucky answered calmly, his mind racing to guess who it could be calling (and all the while praying it wasn’t a telemarketer getting his hopes up).  “Who’s this?”

“My name’s Marie Weiss, I’m one of the social workers at Conceive Solutions.”

Bucky’s heart felt like it had jumped into his throat.  “Oh, great!” He’d practically shouted it, wincing in embarrassment when he realized his mistake.  At least, he figured, it made him sound far more enthusiastic than he felt.

The woman on the other end of the line chuckled shortly.  “I hope this isn’t a bad time - we were really excited to read through your information, and were hoping to move forward with your application process.  Do you have time to do a couple of phone interviews this morning?”

Despite the misgivings he’d felt when he’d first woken up, Bucky immediately answered yes.  He spent the next hour on the phone, discussing the lifestyle and psychological aspects of his application with the social worker, then another solid hour with a nurse, reviewing his medical history and asking outstanding questions that he somehow hadn’t covered yet.  By the time he was finally able to hang up, Bucky had the unnerving feeling that the staff at Solutions might know more about him that even he did.

He also had an appointment for a physical exam with Doctor Helen Cho scheduled for the next day.

The majority of the appointment was relatively easy - first Bucky sat down with one of the nurses, again confirming the answers he’d filled out on his paperwork, then getting his height and weight measured, performing an eye exam, and having a few vials of blood drawn for basic lab testing.  Next Doctor Cho had then met him in an exam room, again confirming everything that Bucky had already told the agency and then performing his physical exam.  It wasn’t terrible, really: she seemed kind and professional, and made the entire experience as comfortable as a full physical with a new doctor really could be.  She ended with the pelvic exam; it was nothing new, of course - Bucky had been getting one yearly since the first time he’d presented as an omega, either with his family doctor or at various omega clinics around New York City after he’d moved away from home.  All the same, he was infinitely grateful when Doctor Cho finished and left the room, telling him to change back into his street clothes for the final part of their interview.

Bucky sighed as he settled back into the chair in the exam room once he’d finished fastening his belt, appreciating the fact that he didn’t have to sit around in a draughty gown while they discussed his results.  He’d barely had time to retrieve his phone from his jacket pocket when there was a knock at the door - a moment later Doctor Cho re-entered the room, tablet in hand.

“Alright, Mister Barnes,” she started with a pleasant smile, settling in to the chair opposite him and tapping her stylus against the screen.

“Please, call me James,” Bucky interrupted, smiling apologetically.  Mister Barnes sounded too much like she should be talking to his dad - a thought Bucky definitely didn’t want to be entertaining, given the circumstances.

“James, then,” she responded pleasantly, “it will be a couple of days before all of the blood panels come back, but based on your history and your physical exam, I can’t imagine that there are going to be any issues as far as your health is concerned.”

Bucky nodded along; it was exactly what he’d been expecting  to hear.  At the same time, though, he was careful not to get his hopes up: the tone in her voice was also a familiar one - the one he was used to hearing right before his well-laid plans got rejected.

“Now, given your family history and your educational background I think you’ll be an excellent donor candidate,” Dr. Cho continued, her manner becoming more business-like, “and at your age and health status I would be perfectly comfortable with cycling you up to two times a year for egg harvesting.”

“That’s great,” Bucky forced out, swallowing down his panic as best as he could - by his math he’d have to donate at least four times to make up for the earnings he could bring in on a single surrogacy, or three times to cover a year’s worth of loan payments.  If he was going to be capped at only two cycles a year, it hardly seemed like it would be worth the effort.  “But, uh… what about the other application?”

Doctor Cho’s smile changed slightly as she sat her tablet down on the exam table and leaned forward.  “The thing is, James,” she started calmly, “while you’re exactly what we’re looking for in an egg donor, we don’t generally take unmated, childless omegas on as surrogates.”

“Why not?” Bucky asked, his voice surprisingly calm for as much anger as he felt wash over him while hearing her words. It took everything in his power, but he made sure to reel in his emotions, reminding himself that there had to be exceptions to the rule - provided he didn’t give her a reason to not consider them.

“It’s more of an agency policy, really,” Dr. Cho continued, “as you know, we’re a clinic of a nationwide network of fertility providers.  And over the years, across all of our branches, we’ve found that our outcomes are better with surrogates who are… a bit more experienced.”

“I don’t understand,” Bucky cut in, “the risks of genetic abnormalities are lower in younger ovaries, that’s basic science.  Wouldn’t younger donors inherently have better outcomes?”

“Yes,” she agreed diplomatically, “that’s why we have a hard age cap on our egg donors at thirty-five years old, unless they’re a family member specifically requested by the client.  For surrogates, however, the requirements are considerably different.”

Bucky nodded silently, breathing through his nose as Doctor Cho continued.  “Again, I don’t want to discourage you - you’d make an incredible egg donor, and you’ve clearly given this a lot of thought.  I just feel that it would be in your best personal interest to stick to that role, at least in your current living situation.”

“With all do respect, doctor,” Bucky began quietly, “isn’t it more the job of the obstetrician to determine who is and is not fit to gestate?  Given the fact that she’ll be the one managing the actual pregnancy?”  He kept his face as passive as possible, giving her no reason to see the question as obstinence on his part.

After a second’s hesitation Doctor Cho nodded.  “That’s a fair question.  We have worked as a team to develop the requirement standards for our surrogates, but I can see if my partner’s available to discuss it further with you, if you don’t mind waiting a moment?”

“That’s fine,” Bucky agreed, keeping his voice equally pleasant.

The second that the door had closed behind her, Bucky was on his phone: he had every intention of searching for other options, but in the moment he was so panicked that his fingers froze over the open search bar.  Once he’d gotten over his initial disquiet, he hadn’t even considered the possibility that he’d be rejected outright as a surrogate; especially not after how quickly he’d moved through the application process without indicating that he was ineligible.  Even worse, though, was the strict limit on how many times he could donate.  The logical part of his brain knew that made sense: he was fully aware of the hormone treatments that would be necessary for harvesting eggs and how badly they could mess with his body if he were on them for too-extended a period of time.  

But his logical brain had no pull over the side that was watching all of the careful budget plans he’d worked on fall down in front of him.  He was in the middle of searching for other, back-up agency options when the door opened again, startling him into dropping his phone.

Doctor Cho entered the room first, followed closely by a petite brunette in a matching white lab coat.  “James,” she said cordially, gesturing towards the woman as she closed the door behind them, “this is my colleague, Doctor Jane Foster.”

Doctor Foster extended her hand for Bucky to shake, giving him a kind smile as she did; despite her politeness, Bucky could tell immediately that she was a force to be reckoned with.  Even if he hadn’t known her professional accolades prior to meeting her, something about her seemed to practically ooze brilliance.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Doctor Foster said, taking a seat on the third chair in the room and turning it so that she faced Bucky completely.  “Doctor Cho told me a bit about your case, and I was able to glance through your chart: you’ve got quite an impressive resumé.”

Bucky forced a smile of his own, swallowing down the disappointment he could already feel building - as well as the unsettling feeling that he was setting himself up to be auctioned.  “Thank you,” he finally responded, “I’m excited about the chance of being a donor, I really am, but I was hoping that I might be qualified as a surrogate.”

“The vast majority of the surrogate carriers in our program are mated omegas with families of their own,” Doctor Foster began, obviously reciting a routine speech.  “We’ve found over the years that the process is easier on clients who have been through it before, and who have an adequate support system in place to help them cope with the stresses of pregnancy.”

“But you must make exceptions,” Bucky asked, uncaring of how desperate he sounded.  “I mean, if someone’s healthy and is otherwise a good candidate…”

“We want to do what’s in the best interest of all involved parties,” Doctor Foster answered after a beat of silence.  “That means choosing the best egg donors, of course, but there’s also something of an art to making sure that the surrogate and the new family is a good fit, and making sure that the surrogate is going to be healthy and stable throughout the entire process: both the physical challenges of pregnancy and the emotional challenges that go along after.”

Bucky swallowed thickly - her argument made perfect sense, but it didn’t bode well for his situation at all.  “So you don’t have a single surrogate in my position.”  It wasn’t a question, just a flat statement of dejection.

“Why are you so set on surrogacy, James?”  Doctor Cho cut in, leaning forward in her chair.  Doctor Foster did the same next to her, her intelligent brown eyes narrowing as she waited for Bucky’s answer.

As he searched for the words to say, Bucky realized there was no point in making a story up: it was obvious that both of the women had treated enough omegas in his shoes, and would be able to see through any lies immediately.  He sighed, rubbing his palms against his jeans.  “I - I really need the money, honestly.  That impressive resumé came with a hell of a student loan debt, and I put all of my eggs in one employment basket and got screwed over by an alpha supervisor.”  

If the doctors were put-off by the bitterness in his words, neither of them showed it.  “A single surrogacy buys me another year to find a good job without putting me on the street,” Bucky continued calmly.  “And I mean - I’m willing to do everything I can to ensure a good outcome.  With the stipends I can take even better care of myself, and I really do want to help a family out.”  He shrugged, dropping his hands back between his knees and letting his shoulders slump forward.  “If being a donor is the only way I can do that, then I’ll settle for it.  It’s just… having the option for surrogacy would help.  A lot.”

Bucky couldn’t bring himself to look at them again after finishing his piece; he’d seen far too many looks of pity on the face of HR directors over the past few months, the look the kinder ones always gave before dashing his hopes.  Seeing it happen to his last-ditch effort was too much for him to take.  It felt like an eternity passed, with the three of them sat together in the silent exam room, before Doctor Foster shuffled the stack of papers she’d walked in with.

“There is one concession we have as an agency, which allows for qualified, unmated omegas to apply as surrogates,” she said evenly.

Bucky’s eyes flew to her face immediately, but he was too surprised to respond verbally.  “We would need an eligible alpha to sign your surrogacy application, along with legal documents designating them as your support throughout gestation and the immediate postpartum period,” she continued.  “The alpha doesn’t need to be in any form of romantic relationship with the surrogate, but they do need to be well-known to the omega prior to signing the contract.  They need to be willing to attend a one-time class for support alphas, have a stable source of income and housing, and be willing to provide the emotional support necessary to help the omega endure the pregnancy, as well as physical support and assistance if needed in the months after birth.”

“Okay?” Bucky asked, still trying to wrap his head around what she was getting at.

“Pregnancy is an incredibly stressful time, even for the healthiest omega.  And regardless of one's intentions, walking away from the infant after the birth takes a huge emotional toll - especially in those who don’t have a family of their own to recover with.”

“I’m not… I really have no interest in having a baby of my own right now,” Bucky choked out, immediately regretting it.  “I mean, I don’t have a problem with kids, and obviously I don’t mind the idea of having one for these circumstances, but,” the doctors shared a quick glance with one another which stopped Bucky in his tracks.  “I just mean, that’s not gonna be an issue.  Not for me, anyway.”

“All the same,” Doctor Cho replied, “it’s a blanket rule for any omega without a mate.  Evolution is a difficult thing to break.”

Bucky resented the implication behind her words, but kept it to himself all the same.

“So,” Doctor Foster started after another extended pause, “do you have someone who would be able to fill that role?”

“I do,” Bucky responded immediately, his mind already racing as he tried to think of ways to convince Natasha to help him.  “Can I - do you have any information on it?  I just need to talk to my friend…”

Doctor Foster handed over her stack of papers, giving Bucky a moment to flip through them: unlike the glossy, colorful brochures intended for potential omega applicants, these seemed stark and overly-professional in a way they said they weren’t often used.  

“Don’t hesitate to give us a call if you have any more questions or concerns,” Doctor Cho said softly.  “As soon as we get your bloodwork back we can add you to the database as an egg donor, if you’d like.”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Bucky answered carelessly, flipping through the list of specific requirements that one had to meet to become a support alpha.

“There are a few other tests that would need to be run before you could be approved as a surrogate,” Doctor Foster added.  “We can run them before you leave, so that all of your medical requirements are fulfilled.”

“What are they?” Bucky asked, turning his attention away from the packet.

“A few more blood tests, checking for chronic infections and STDs, and making sure your vaccine titers for things like rubella are still high enough to be safe during pregnancy,” she answered.  “Doctor Cho’s exam will cover the majority of what I need to make my final decision, but on the obstetrics end I need to get a little better picture of your total health.  They’re all tests that I would usually give someone at their first prenatal appointment - but for our surrogates we like to get them all out of the way prior to conception, in case we need to treat anything first.”

Bucky, of course, agreed to everything she needed.  A half hour later he’d been stuck three more times and peed in a cup, and was finally free to leave.

He fired off a text as he made his way out of the lobby of Conceive Solutions, all the while trying to work out how the hell he was going to actually convince Natasha to go along with his plan.  While Nat was his best friend, and had been his rock in the years since they had met as undergrads, she’d made her opinions on the idea of Bucky selling his eggs pretty clear the night that Clint had brought it up.  Now he was going to have to ask her to help in something considerably more significant that simple hormone treatments and outpatient procedures.  While she had consistently supported Bucky for as long as they’d been friends, she was still Natasha Romanoff: Bucky wasn’t certain that anyone could convince her to do something she felt strongly against.

His phone buzzed in his pocket just before Bucky’s train arrived, confirming that Natasha would be free and able to see him that afternoon.  He changed trains accordingly, making his way to her favorite coffee shop in Brooklyn Heights instead of continuing home to his place in Bed-Stuy.  

The cafe was relatively dead when Bucky arrived, a few minutes before the time they’d agreed on.  As an extra incentive for her cooperation, he made sure to order Nat’s favorite espresso drink, pointedly ignoring how overly-priced the damned thing was as he handed his credit card over to pay for it.  Luckily he came to the shop regularly enough that the barista was happy to fill a second cup with water for him, so that he didn’t look too suspicious sitting around with just the single order.  She also handed him a couple of slightly-dry looking pastries when she called his order.

One good thing about living in a city full of millennial omegas, Bucky thought as he dropped a dollar in the tip jar and took the order with a smile, was how good they all seemed to be at looking out for one another, at least.  

He’d given up on feeling embarrassed over receiving free or reduced food years ago.

It wasn’t long after he’d gotten a corner table and started picking apart the berry scone on his plate that the door opened and a shock of red hair made her way confidently into the shop.  Bucky waived to catch Natasha’s attention, returning her smile when she saw that he already had an order waiting for her.

“You didn’t have to bribe me to see you, James,” she said with a sly smile, sliding into the seat across from him and dropping her messenger bag on the floor before lifting her coffee cup to take a long, appreciative drink.

“I know that, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt,” Bucky answered with a smile of his own.  “How’s your week been?”

Natasha snorted as she set her cup down on the table.  “He asks after disappearing for a week,” she muttered, although there wasn’t much heat behind it.  Before Bucky could so much as apologize she gave him a rundown of how her work trip had been.  The nature of Nat’s job meant that she could rarely share actual specifics, but she was a lively enough storyteller that Bucky was usually entertained by the redacted versions all the same.

“And I take it Clint was able to avoid winding up in a dumpster, this time?” He teased as she was winding down.

If he hadn’t known her as well as he did, Bucky would have probably been intimidated by Natasha’s glare.  As it was, he definitely didn’t miss the quirk of her lips that she tried to hide behind another sip of coffee.  “I’m invoking my right to neither confirm nor deny that question, in protection of my mate’s honor.”  Bucky snorted, knowing damned well that it meant he hadn’t.  “But,” Natasha continued archly, “I don’t think you went off the radar and then came half-way across the borough to butter me up with coffee and donuts just to make small talk about work.  What’s up?”

Bucky swallowed thickly, knowing better than to even try to evade Nat’s question.  “I looked into Clint’s suggestion, actually.  About donating eggs.  Turns out he was right - you can actually make a pretty decent amount of cash if you qualify for the right agencies in the city.  Which it turns out I do.”

“So you’ve already applied?” Natasha asked neutrally.

“Yeah,” Bucky answered, trying to will his heart to stop pounding as hard as it was.  “I took a couple of days to read up on the process and look into companies, and put out a few feelers on job offers.  When the work ideas all fell through, I figured I’d send my information to the top-rated agency.  I uh… I just met with the doctors today.”

“And?” She asked, her face still cooly blank.  It was far more terrifying than if she’d gotten angry.

Bucky played with the lid of his cup, feeling more and more nervous by the second.  “I mean, I’ve still gotta wait for the blood tests to come back, but they pushed all my stuff through in a couple of days.  So… I’m pretty positive I’ll be approved.”

Natasha arched a single eyebrow.  “Congratulations,” she said flatly, not bothering to hide how unimpressed she was.  “What did you need from me?”

“Uh,” Bucky started, simultaneously hating how well his friend could see through him while also being thankful for the fact that she never beat things around the bush.  He dug the stack of papers Doctor Foster had sent him with out of his bag, using it as a temporary distraction before continuing in a rush.  “I, um… I looked into their other programs.  And I applied to be a surrogate, too.”

Natasha’s entire posture changed, suddenly becoming tense enough that it sent a chill down Bucky’s spine.  “A what?”

“A surrogate - a carrier,” Bucky answered, even though he knew she’d understood him.  “Not all couples can actually gestate a fetus, so it’d cut down on the number of procedures, really.  I could just - donate the egg and then carry it to term myself.”

“You said you were just looking into giving up cells, James,” Natasha responded angrily, her voice dropping dangerously low.  “Selling a baby is a hell of a lot different than an egg.”

“That’s the thing though, look at how much better the compensation is for a surrogate,” Bucky insisted, pushing the paperwork across the table.  He started listing off the figures himself, when Natasha ignored it completely.  “All of the health care costs are covered by the agency, then there’s a needs-based allowance for food and clothing, and I qualify for both!  Then if I can get a part-time job or something to help cover my rent…”

“You realize this is targeting poor omegas, don’t you?” Natasha cut him off bitterly.  “They’re looking to turn a profit off of people in your predicament.”

“No,” Bucky argued, taking a deep breath and trying to calm himself.  “They’re making it so that it’s not cost-prohibitive to omegas who otherwise couldn’t do it.  There are a couple of clinics that are shadier like that, but this one - it even has a perfect rating from the National Coalition of Omega Reproductive Rights.  The doctors are omegas themselves, and they’re trying to-”

“Get to the point, James,”  Natasha interrupted him.  “It sounds like you’ve already made your mind up, so why are you telling me this, now?”

Bucky chewed on the inside of his cheek, shuffling the stack of papers to the packet he’d been looking for before sliding it across the table, practically begging Nat to look at it.  “Like I was trying to say, they’re trying to look out for single omegas, especially.  Initially they weren’t even gonna consider me as a surrogate, but they said if I had a friend willing to sign my application as a support alpha we could go ahead with the process.”

“No,” Natasha said immediately, scooping up her bag from where she’d dropped it next to her chair.  “No, I love you James, but I’m not going to have any part in this.  This is insane.”

Bucky reached across the table, grabbing her wrist desperately before she could go.  His heart pounded in his chest as he tried to come up with something, anything that might change her mind.  “Listen, I get it, Nat,” he started.  “And believe me, if I thought I had any other choice here, I wouldn’t have even looked into it.  But the fact is, I’m not gonna find a job that pays enough to get me out of the hole I’m in, not anytime soon.”

Natasha pursed her lips - her arm still felt tense in Bucky's hand, but she hadn't pulled away yet, at least.  "Have you tried calling your sister, yet?" She asked after a moment.

"No," Bucky responded immediately, considerably louder than intended.  He noticed the barista looking oddly in their direction and dropped his voice immediately.  "No, after everything that happened, I couldn't.  That's her money, God knows I don't deserve it."  His voice was still rough as he trailed off - thankfully Natasha didn't push the point any further.

He took a deep, shaking breath, recollecting himself before continuing.  “This… I know it’s just a bandaid, but it’s money.  Life-changing money.  And I can still work during it, find something to at least help cover rent and put all the rest into loan payments.”  He paused again, taking a deep breath as Natasha made eye contact again, holding her gaze and not bothering to hide his desperation.  “I don’t wanna drag you into this, but I need you, Natasha.  I really don’t have another choice.  So just - please?”

The silence that followed took at least four years off of Bucky’s life: Natasha dropped her bag back onto the floor and picked up her cup, considering him over the rim in silence, her bright emerald eyes just as inscrutable as they always were.  She’d never been cruel to him - it was a big reason why they’d become such good friends in college, when she was one of the few alphas he met that actually treated him like a person instead of a piece of ass.  But the longer she sat across from him in silence, the more unnerved he became, worried that this might finally be the straw that broke the back of their friendship.

“I hate this,” she finally said, flatly.  Bucky felt it physically, as if she’d punched him in the gut.  “I hate that you’ve been driven to this, I hate that you’re willing to do it, I hate that the stupid doctors or the company or whoever is dragging me into this mess with you.”  She punctuated her final point by pulling her hand away from Bucky’s loosening grip and grabbing the chocolate cinnamon bun in front of her, ripping a piece of it off viciously then chewing on it with just as much venom.  “Just so we’ve got that established,” she continued around a mouthful of dough.  “Don’t be surprised if I remind you of as much, frequently.”

Bucky swallowed thickly, trying to find his voice to say something, anything.  It… almost sounded like she was going to agree to help him, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up, not yet.

Natasha took a couple more bites of pastry, seeming to calm down as she did, then took a long drink from her coffee cup, setting it down with a heavy sigh.  “My only requirement,” she said heavily, “is that you have to meet with whoever picks you ahead of time.  And you have to be honest with me and turn them down if the alpha’s a creep.”  She finally picked up the packet from Bucky’s numb fingers, glancing over the list of requirements with a heavy frown.  “And I’m going to do a background check on them before you agree to anything, that’s non-negotiable.”

Bucky blinked stupidly as her words actually caught up to him.  “Wait… are you saying you’ll do it?”

“It looks that way, God help me,” Natasha sighed, smirking a bit as she looked up from the paper and made eye-contact with Bucky again.  It was still obvious that she wasn’t happy about the situation, but Bucky guessed his relief could be seen from space and figured that the alpha’s mood was improving along with it.  “Now, tell me what do they need me to do, before I come to my senses and change my mind.”

Bucky was out of his seat and hugging her fiercely before he could stop himself - the surprised huff of air that Natasha let out as he glomped onto her said that the PDA probably wasn’t entirely appreciated, but he could hardly go on sitting there while his plan was actually coming together.  After a beat he composed himself, letting go of Nat’s shoulders and returning to his chair.  He took a sip from his water cup to collect his emotions, then started going into the requirements he’d picked up at the checkout desk, all the while barely keeping a lid on the fact that, for the first time in a long time, things were finally looking up for him.

Chapter Text

It took the better part of the rest of the week for Steve to finally decide on a surrogacy agency.

Thankfully Peter, the new hire who had started in April, had made it easy enough for the rest of the design team to pick up the slack - leaving Steve with the sole responsibility of looking over the final drafts of their products and giving them the yay or nay before sending them back to their happy clients.  It was a laughably small amount of work, really, but that had been the whole point of him starting SHIELD Graphics in the first place: Steve had majored in graphics design as a means to an end in college, fearing that it would be his only hope of a stable income in the art world.  A few strokes of luck later and he was the owner of his own company, with a sizeable income and plenty of spare time to focus on his art and his personal life.

His personal life, which for the first time in years actually seemed to have a purpose again: figuring out the best way to start a family.

True to his plan Steve had called around to each of the surrogacy agencies in the New York City area, immediately crossing those who offered him a no-questions-asked look at their available omegas off of the list.  He wanted to make sure that he used a reputable agency who treated their surrogates well, not one auctioning wombs off to the highest bidder.  Even after he’d narrowed his options down to the top couple of clinics in the city, Steve broadened his search to the best ones on the East Coast.  For a day and a half he entertained the idea of visiting the Omega clinic in Boston - apparently the best fertility clinic in the country - but he ended up deciding against it.  Although the costs and travel would hardly have been an issue, Steve still considered himself a Brooklyn boy through-and-through; the idea of having his children born anywhere other than NYC felt like sacrilege.  

He finally ended up deciding on Conceive Solutions: their program was built by doctors who had trained at the Omega clinic, and all of the reviews he could find from both clients and surrogates had been nothing but positive.   The staff contacted him almost immediately after submitting his formal application, but instead of coming back with price lists they asked for background checks and an in-person interview.  He gave them the personal information necessary for the background check and signed off his permission for the agency to receive his records, then found himself a couple of days later seated in a nondescript office in Midtown, seated across the desk from the social worker responsible for reviewing his file.

“Mister Rogers,” the woman - Wanda Maximoff, per her introduction and the gold-plated name plate on her desk - started, “thank you for the quick turnaround on the information we requested, and for taking the time to come in today.  I like meeting with potential clients early in the review process, it helps with both approving our most qualified applicants and getting them matched with the best possible surrogates.”

She was a petite woman with olive skin, long, dark hair and large, soulful eyes, who looked too young to be in charge of determining a person’s fitness as a parent if Steve was being honest with himself.  Then again, if anyone knew what it was like to be mistaken for being far younger than they actually were, it was Steve.  He was almost certain that the woman was a beta - although it was purely conjecture on his part.  Steve knew he probably could have made an effort of properly smelling the office and known for sure, but it seemed rude (and completely unnecessary) given the circumstances, and he was determined to be on his best behavior.  It was an effort, admittedly, that didn’t come particularly easy to him.

“Please, call me Steve,” he replied pleasantly, trying to shake off his nerves as best he could.  “It wasn’t a problem, and I’m honored to be considered highly qualified, honestly.”

Her answering smile was all teeth.  “Well of course, applications from single alphas can sometimes raise concerns within the agency, but given your background and your references… and you wrote that you do a fair amount of volunteering with children?”

Steve did his best not to take the alpha comment personally.  “I do,” he answered instead, “I mean - I was never officially trained in art therapy, but I was able to get connected with the volunteer coordinator at Mount Sinai through a friend.  Working with the kids there, and taking care of my godchildren, it’s helped a lot.”

Wanda nodded encouragingly.

“And I guess,” Steve continued with her prompt, “I’m at the point in my life where I can do most of my work from home, and I’m comfortable with my condo and my finances.  And… I’m ready to move on, and start the family that I always thought I’d have by now.”

“Fair enough,” she responded softly.  “I think we’ll be able to help you with that, Steve.”

She had a number of questions related to the answers Steve had given on his psychology assessment, as well as about his family history and personal background.  For as painful as it was to talk about Peggy, Steve was able to share enough that it seemed to satisfy Wanda, and he legitimately enjoyed talking about his mother and grandparents, for as much as he still missed them.  He also opened up about his friendship with Sam and Riley, and how much they’d helped him through the rough points in his life.  The questions about his work were easy enough: Steve had already answered most of them in his application, and the details were easy enough to look up online, which it was clear that Wanda already had.  Which left only the questions around his brief arrest records… which were in the distant past and all relatively minor, but still relevant enough for Wanda to bring up.  Steve felt himself begin to sweat as he explained the circumstances behind them and why the charges were dropped, hoping like hell that a couple of stupid, honest mistakes in his youth didn’t come back to ruin him now.  

In the end, he left feeling like the interview was by and large a success: his answers were good enough to earn him a home visit at least, and on a weekend to boot.  

Wanda showed up at Steve’s condo the next afternoon, clipboard in hand as she made her way through the living room and kitchen and dining area, her face giving nothing away as she scribbled notes that Steve had no hope of making out.  

“I’ve already ordered a screen grate for the fireplace,” he pointed out nervously as she paused in the living room.

“And the balcony door locks?” She asked, nodding as Steve answered affirmatively.

Next he gave her the tour of the guest rooms, focusing on the one nearest to the master suite.  “I figured I’d convert it to the nursery, since it’s so close,” Steve murmured as Wanda walked around the otherwise-empty room.  “I was using it as a studio for a bit, but it makes more sense like this.”

“Where’d the studio move to?” She asked conversationally.

Steve rubbed the back of his head self-consciously as she made her way toward the door of the master bedroom.  “Well, I haven’t used the office in the master suite in years, and it has better light anyway…”

He trailed off, following her through the entry into the master suite.  The area was large enough that it could have been an apartment in itself, really: the bedroom comfortably fit a pair of overstuffed chairs and footrests, in addition to the king bed, side tables and large bookshelf.  Along the far wall was the entrance to the enormous walk-in closet that Steve had only ever managed to fill half of, and that was including the boxes of belongings of his mom’s and Peggy’s that he never could bring himself to throw out.  Everything in the master bathroom was doubled up, a fact that seemed even more ridiculously ostentatious than usual now that he saw it through Wanda’s eyes.  She made her way back through the bedroom, passing its separate balcony and glancing into the study-turned-studio.  

If the number of blank canvases and stilted figure sketches thrown into the room struck her as odd, Wanda did a wonderful job of hiding it from Steve.  “You said you own?” She asked quietly, cutting back through the bedroom and returning to the hallway they’d entered through.

“Er, yeah,” Steve confirmed.  “I mean, I’ve got a couple years left on the mortgage, but - yeah, it’s been in my name for about six years now.  And I figure, there’s plenty of space and a handful of really good preschools within walking distance, so we’ll probably stay here for a while.”

“Well, I think that about does it, unless you had anything else you wanted to add?” She asked, capping her pen and tucking the clipboard back inside her bag.  Steve shook his head stupidly, racking his brain for something that might help his case but ultimately deciding that he’d probably given all that he could in argument of being approved.  Wanda nodded as if she had expected as much.  “Very well then, another one of our case managers was supposed to be calling your references this afternoon, so I’ll be in touch as soon as we have the results of those conversations.”  She paused in the entryway as Steve hurried ahead to let her out.  She gave him a sincere smile as she made her way out the door, leaving with, “Thank you.  You have a beautiful home.”

The next day passed in silence, leaving Steve so jittery and tense that he spent half of it throwing paint on a canvas; abstract art had never particularly been his strong suit, but the rush of bold colors that were left in his wake did a relatively decent job of clearing his head, at least.  Finally, six days after the idea had been planted in his head by his friends, Steve was approved as a client of Conceive Solutions and given full-access to their database of egg donors and surrogates.

Steve didn’t even bother pretending that he’d be able to focus on anything else: he left the office early with a notice that he’d be in late the following day, and headed straight back to his condo to begin searching through his options.  

The process was ridiculously overwhelming at first; while he knew that he wanted to stick to surrogates that lived in the New York City area, the agency’s website gave Steve access to all egg donors on the East Coast.  After hours of blindly searching through profiles, he finally shook off the initial shock of the approval and made himself a game plan.  

There were more than enough egg donors in the city to chose from, so he began by limiting his search to within fifty miles of Manhattan.  While it made the list more manageable, Steve still wasn’t any closer to making a decision.  He forced himself to pause and order dinner, realizing how late in the evening it was getting, and in doing so really allowed himself to think tangibly about his children, for the first time in what felt like ages.

When he’d first bonded with Peggy, it had been easy to imagine a house full of kids, all a perfect mix of the two of them.  He’d known it was probably inevitable that they would all have brown hair, and if they were lucky they’d have inherited Peggy’s curls, too.  Steve had always hoped that at least one of their kids would end up with his blue eyes - although he knew it’d be better for their sakes if they took after their mother for nearly everything else.

Once he’d allowed himself to revisit the memories, it was hard to shake the mental image from his head.  As soon as he’d finished eating Steve was back on his tablet, narrowing his search further - first limiting the donors by hair color, then by height (none shorter than five foot six… a limit that might have been hypocritical, given the fact that Steve himself was a full inch shorter than that, but he figured he owed it to his son or daughter to at least give them that advantage).  After heavy debate, he decided to narrow by eye color as well, selecting blue eyes as a last-ditch effort to help fulfil his mental image.

He clicked ‘sort’ before he could put too much thought into how weird the process was, basically picking the attributes he wanted for his future children on a series of tick-boxes.

The final list was twenty omegas long, and Steve took the time to read each and every one of their profiles, making notes on their education and significant attributes that were included.  Each and every one were impressive, but it wasn’t until he was nearing the end of the list that Steve was really blown away.

Entry 32-557-038: he was a male omega, around Steve’s age judging by the picture included with his profile.  Physically, he had everything Steve was looking for - striking pale eyes, incredible bone structure, chestnut hair that Steve was willing to bet would curl if he wore it a bit longer.  His demographics listed him as five foot eleven, and while it was difficult to tell from the headshot Steve was guessing by the number of sports listed in his interests that he was likely an athletic build.  But even more than that, the guy was smart; remarkably so, judging by his resumé.  

The agency listed each donor’s IQ scores in their profiles, and while Steve didn’t put a ton of weight behind them, he couldn’t help the low whistle that escaped him as he read the donor’s numbers.  More than that, though, was his degrees and honors: top of his class in high school, top of his class in robotics engineering at NYU, then high honors in biomedical engineering as a graduate student at Columbia.  

After seeing how hard Peggy had had to work her ass off trying to break into her own career, he could only imagine the amount of bullshit the poor guy had slogged through to have excelled in such alpha-dominated programs.  The fact that he’d been able to have done so and still apparently thrived definitely had Steve’s interest piqued - to the point that once he’d finally finished reading through the rest if his options in the list, he couldn’t have imagined picking anyone else as a donor.

He gave in and passed out as the sun began to rise on Tuesday morning, catching a couple of hours of sleep before waking up again and searching through the surrogate options on the page.  For as badly as he’d wanted to call in and request the donor immediately, Steve forced himself to wait until he’d also picked a surrogate, and given it all another consideration; it definitely wasn’t a decision he had any business rushing, given how enormous of an impact it would ultimately wind up having on his life.

Unfortunately, there was a minor disaster at work that took up his attention in the afternoon - by the time Steve had the client satisfied and Peter reassured that he wasn’t going to lose his job for a simple gradient mistake, it was time for Steve to head to Sam and Riley’s place.  For a moment he actually considered skipping: all that he had to show for his day of work was an egg donor and the decision that his surrogate would definitely have to be a male omega… but before he could make the call he’d guilted himself into shutting his tablet down and heading to the garage.

In four years Steve had never once missed a Tuesday dinner with the Wilsons, and he was hardly about to start now, regardless of how wrapped up in the search process he was.

As always, Maggie and Tommy were incredible distractions: they’d played Princess and ponies for hours after dinner, a game which largely involved Maggie dressing up and the adults taking turns crawling around on the floor with the kids on their backs.  Steve came out of it with a crick in his neck, but it was entirely worth it for as entertained as it kept the kids.  

He kept up his tradition of tucking Maggie in as well, before making his way back to the living room for adult time once he’d finally gotten her tucked in.

“Okay, spill,” Riley said with a grin, before Steve’s ass had even hit the recliner cushions.

“About what?” Steve asked innocently, although he couldn’t entirely hold back his own smile.

“Oh my God, you did get approved, and you didn’t even tell us!” Sam exclaimed incredulously, keeping his voice low enough that it wouldn’t reach the kids bedrooms but making no secret about his feelings.

“Just yesterday,” Steve answered, “and if we’re being honest, I’ve spent most of my time since then looking through options for donors, so excuse me for being a little preoccupied.”

“You find one, yet?” Sam asked.

Steve didn’t bother smothering his smile over his answer.  “I… yeah, I think I did.  I still need to pick a surrogate and meet them before we go forward, but - it’s a start, right?”

“Is he cute?” Riley asked teasingly, brushing off the look of mock indignance that Sam gave him.  

“I mean,” Steve laughed, “I was more interested in how smart he sounds, if we’re being honest, but yeah.  I’m not gonna pick a troll, this poor kid deserves some chance.”

“Don’t start,” Sam scoffed, holding his hand out in Steve’s direction and making grabbing motions at his phone.  “But I still wanna see - what’s the hold up with the surrogate?”

Steve was already loading the database for Conceive Solutions, logging in so that he could access the account of the donor he’d saved as he answered.  “The agency requires that clients and carriers meet ahead of time to make sure they’re a good fit - their policy is to encourage a working friendship during the pregnancy, and they’ve turned out really good outcomes over the years because of it.”  He was basically just repeating the company line as he pulled up the page that Sam had asked for, but it had been one of the things that had really excited Steve about the agency: given his circumstances, he’d been afraid that he wouldn’t get to have any type of role in the pregnancy until the kid was born, and he wanted to experience as much of it as was possible without a mate.

Sam was making another comment, but Steve missed it, frowning as the profile for the donor finally finished loading.  For some strange reason, the status bar on the profile had changed color: for one terrible moment, Steve was afraid that he’d been too late and missed his chance at requesting him.  Before he could really panic though, he actually read the words on the bar - he was still listed as available egg donor, however next to it had been added the words available surrogate as well.

“Oh,” Steve breathed, feeling a rush of excitement as his perfect solution came together.

“What is it?” Riley asked, bringing Steve back to the present.

Instead of answering immediately, Steve handed his phone over, letting the couple look at the omega’s profile.

“Wow, he is cute,” Riley murmured with a wolf whistle.

“C’mon, man,” Sam laughed, giving his mate a gentle shove.

“What?” Riley chuckled back, “You know I’m not going anywhere, Mister Wilson - but I can still appreciate a fine looking man when I see one.  And you can’t say I’m wrong.”

“He’s alright,” Sam admitted grudgingly, although the smile on his face softened his tone considerably.

“And he’s a surrogate - that wasn’t listed yesterday,” Steve cut in, unable to keep quiet in his excitement.  “But that solves my problem - I’ll just ask if he could do both.”  

It really was the perfect solution, plus it would save time, eliminating the need for an extra procedure plus IVF.  He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that Steve completely missed the look of unease that passed between Sam and Riley.

“I mean, I know IVF treatments are getting better and better, but there’s still gotta be more risks in them than the conventional artificial insemination, right?” Steve asked, thinking aloud.  He hadn’t really allowed himself to worry about the potential complications that could have gone along with them, but they’d been in the back of his mind all the same.  While Steve was confident that he had the skills and means to be a single parent, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle suddenly being responsible for two or more newborns.  “Obviously I wanna be a dad, but the idea of something like Steve Plus Eight kinda sounds like a nightmare.”

Steve realized something was up when the joke fell completely flat.

“I’m pretty sure they don’t implant as many embryos as they used to anymore, for that reason,” Sam responded hesitantly.

Steve started at the unexpected shift in mood, frowning slightly as he looked across the room again.

Riley shifted uncomfortably for a moment before asking quietly, “Are you, uh - are you sure that’s the best idea, Steve?  I mean - asking someone - asking a male omega that…”

“If he’s willing to go forward with it, yeah,” Steve responded, reaching across the coffee table and taking his phone back from Sam with a bit more force than was probably necessary.  “It’s what he’s signed up for, right?”

Steve knew that he was being overly-defensive, but the fact that his dream was being shut down as quickly as it was being formed, by the pair who had inspired it no-less, hurt more than he cared to admit.  He knew he didn’t need to explain to either of them why picking anyone other than a male omega was completely out of the question.

“Maybe,” Riley answered slowly, “it’s just, carrying a baby is one thing.  Carrying a baby that you know is your own - I’ve gotta imagine that’s a different can of worms.”

Steve conceded the point; it wasn’t as if he could argue with an omega over the experience of carrying a child, but he didn’t allow it to change his mind completely.  At the very least he could ask: it was ultimately up to the omega to decide, anyway.  Instead of arguing any further Steve changed the subject of conversation to a more neutral topic, grateful that his friends rolled with it.  They both wished him luck when he finally left for the night - with Sam throwing in a friendly warning that Steve keep them better updated going forward - and Steve spent his drive home mulling over his options, unable to come up with a better plan than the one to ask his chosen donor to be surrogate as well.

He was up most of the night, looking over the profile more times than he cared to think about, but by the time eight am rolled around he’d finally made his decision: he dialed Wanda’s office number as soon as he knew they’d opened.

“Hello, Mister Rogers?” Her familiar voice asked on the other end.

“Yeah, uh - hi.  This is Steve Rogers,” he confirmed stupidly, swallowing as he felt his heart begin racing in his chest.  “I’ve been looking over the database and, um, I think I’ve found an option I’d like to meet.”

“Great,” she responded warmly, seemingly unbothered by Steve’s delivery.  “Do you have the entry number available?”

“I do - it’s 32557038.”

Wanda hummed shortly, and Steve could just make out the sounds of typing on the other end of the line.  “Alright, and for the surrogate?”

“He’s listed as both?”  Steve replied, letting his voice trail off hopefully.  

The silence that followed on Wanda’s end was pointed enough that it made Steve even more nervous.  

“I just thought,” he continued in a rush, “rather than making it more complicated and adding the extra procedures and the IVF, if he’s willing to do both I’d prefer to not get another person involved.”

“Okay,” Wanda finally answered, after another excruciatingly long pause.  “It’s not exactly routine for us to go this route, but it’s not unheard of either.  Just so you’re aware, even with artificial insemination, the costs to the client are still the same…”

“Money’s not a problem,” Steve interrupted, doing his best not to be offended.  “In fact, if it makes a difference, I’m willing to pay him extra for the trouble.”

He winced even as he said it; it was true, of course, but the last thing he’d wanted to do was to throw his money around, as if it should be a determining factor.  Steve really didn’t want to be that elitist alpha, but he was also feeling increasingly desperate.

“Okay, noted,” Wanda replied calmly.  “And I didn’t meant to imply that I thought you were looking for a discount, I’m just making you aware that when we have carriers that are also genetically related to the baby, there are legal fees involved.  In place of the usual IVF costs, those fees would go to our attorneys who are responsible for the relinquishment documents that the carrier must sign prior to conception.”

“That’s… an issue?” Steve asked, feeling like his stomach had suddenly been filled with lead.  He’d never even considered the idea that he could go through this entire process and still come out alone.

“Adoption agencies often run into the problem where the birth parents decide at the last moment that they don’t want to actually give their child up,” Wanda answered gently.  “It’s never been an issue with our agency - typically because our surrogates already have families of their own and have no genetic link to the infants, so the separation isn’t as traumatic.  But also because in situations where that isn’t the case, we require all of the legal work to be done up front, to avoid it becoming an issue.”

Steve swallowed thickly, letting relief wash over him with her answer.  It was fair, he supposed, and good to know that there were protections in place to make sure that he wouldn’t end up getting screwed over by fate, again.  “Alright.  I’d still like to meet with him, to see if he’s amenable to both?  And I was serious about the extra money, if that’s an option?”

“Meeting him is a requirement,” Wanda answered, “both parties must meet with one another and agree on the surrogacy, and the donors are highly encouraged to do the same.  I’ll get in touch with him, and see if he’s interested in setting up a meeting - I’m pretty sure he’s had a few offers already, but I can mention your offer for additional compensation.”  Again, Steve heard typing on the other end of the line.  “Did you have any other donors that you were interested in?”

Steve closed his eyes, wishing he hadn’t been such an idiot - of course the guy would have had multiple couples interested in him, he was probably the most desirable omega on the East Coast.  “Er, not at the moment,” he finally admitted, “I guess if he’s unavailable I’ll take another look, but…”

“That’s fine, it’s no rush,” Wanda replied.  “I’ll check on his interest and availability, is there any particular time that would work best for you?”

“I can be as flexible as the rest of you need,” Steve answered earnestly, “just send me the time and where to meet, and I’ll be there.”

Within the hour Wanda had done exactly that.  Steve spent most of the following morning catching up on missed work and doing his best not to completely panic about the meeting he had scheduled that afternoon.  

Thankfully he was able to lose himself for a while between emails, conference calls, and a brochure design for one of Stark Industry’s newest projects that he insisted on taking on for himself.  He worked through his regular lunch hour, going until the alarm on his phone announced that he had half an hour to make the twenty block trip to Conceive Solutions’ main office.  Of course, because he was in a hurry it meant that there was an issue with the exit from SHIELD’s parking garage, and the traffic cutting across Midtown was even more hellish than usual, and the garage he had planned on using around the corner from the agency was completely full of leaseholders.

By the time he finally made his way into the building Steve hurried to the receptionist desk on the fourth floor, cursing himself for not just taking a damned taxi as he was taken straight back to Miss Maximoff’s office.  His mouth was open to apologize for running late when he realized that there was already someone else in the office, stopping him short before he could even make it completely through the door.  

The omega turned slightly in his chair the second Steve entered the room, giving him a small, slightly-crooked smile and rising from his seat.  Steve was vaguely aware of the fact that Wanda was saying something, but he completely missed her words, he was so caught up taking in the sight of the other man.  

As an artist, Steve had met hundreds of beautiful people, had painted and sketched and rendered nearly every body type imaginable, to the point that he hadn’t thought it was possible to be him to be awestruck by something as simple as a person’s looks.  And yet, something about the omega: the combination of his thick, dark hair, his lush, full lips, his jaw line that looked sharp enough to actually cut something, completely blew Steve away.  He was considerably taller than Steve, not that that was saying much, but also broad and powerfully built, in a way that wasn’t at all common for most omegas.  And his eyes… despite all of the colors that Steve had made his living off of, he had no idea how to go about describing them.  

The man was breathtaking in person.

“Mister Rogers?”  

Wanda’s voice finally cut through the fog that had taken over his mind, snapping Steve out of his trance.

“Er, right - sorry about that… got caught up at work, missed lunch, y’know how it goes,” Steve rambled quickly.  He extended his hand, hoping that he hadn’t totally creeped the poor guy out as he gave his most charming smile in an attempt to make up for it.  “Call me Steve, please.”

“James Barnes,” the omega responded with a smile of his own, giving Steve’s hand a firm shake before releasing it and sliding back into his chair, “and no worries, I’ve only been here a couple of minutes.”

Steve took a seat in the chair next to him, smoothing the wrinkles out of his khakis and thanking anyone willing to listen that he’d gone for a more casual work look that day, especially given the other man’s outfit.  While the dark-wash jeans and brick red henley that James wore were obviously well-cared for (and did wonders for his complexion), Steve was just competent enough with his fashion knowledge to know that their style was a few years out of date.

“Right,” Wanda said after a moment, giving them both a look that Steve couldn’t quite read before straightening the stack of papers on the desk in front of her.  “I was just reviewing your offer sheet with Mister Barnes here, and going over the next steps in the process should the two of you agree on moving forward with this.”

“Sure, sorry to interrupt,” Steve responded sheepishly, leaning back and waiting for Wanda to continue.

She smiled tightly as she nodded.  “James, you said that you met again with Doctor Cho and Doctor Foster this morning to discuss possible procedures?”

“I did,” James agreed, glancing shortly at Steve out of the side of his eyes before continuing.  “I would prefer to go ahead with the surrogacy, as long as today goes well, and after seeing the revised offer sheet I’m happy to be donor as well.”

“So I take it you’re opting for artificial insemination?” Wanda asked carefully, focused completely on the omega.  Her gaze was intense enough that, even without it directed at him, Steve felt uncomfortable.

“Like I said,” James replied, “it depends on how today’s meeting goes, but yeah - if Steve here wants to go ahead with the offer, I think that’s the best procedure for all of us.”

“Very well,” Wanda agreed, turning her attention towards Steve and sliding a sheet across the table.  “And you’re still amenable to the terms of agreement as well?”

Steve glanced briefly over the numbers, noting that they were all exactly what he’d been quoted, along with the bonus he’d offered for the egg donation.  “I mean, I’m with James here,” he said, giving the omega a small smile, “I think we oughta talk for a bit before we go all-in, but yeah… if he’s comfortable with it, I am too.”

There was a momentary pause as Wanda typed something quickly into her computer, but then she turned her attention back to the two of them.  “In that case, we’ll briefly go over the timeline of what comes next.  James, a lot of this will dependent on how long it takes your cycle to regulate once you’ve come off of any hormonal contraceptives…”

“That won’t be a problem, ma’am,” James interrupted.  “I uh - it’s been over a year since that’s been an issue.  And I’ve been really regular ever since.”

The back of his neck turned an impressive shade of red as he admitted as much, and Steve guessed from the heat he could feel in his own cheeks and ears that he was probably doing the same.  He shook it off as well as he could, realizing that he was probably going to have to get used to knowing a hell of a lot of personal information about the stranger in a very short amount of time if they were going to move forward with the surrogacy process.

“In that case,” Wanda continued easily, “Doctor Cho should have given you a method to track your ovulation?”  James nodded shortly in response.  “Then we will plan for the two of you to return once you’ve hit the peak of your cycle for the procedure.  From there, James, you’ll be expected to follow Doctor Foster’s orders as far as prenatal care goes, and to attend follow-up appointments every four weeks for the first twenty-eight weeks, every two weeks for the following weeks until term, and then every week between weeks thirty-six until birth, unless she specifies otherwise.”

“Understood,” James murmured.

“Steve,” she continued, “you’re invited to each of the appointments as well, and are privy to any information as it relates to the gestation and the health of the fetus.  We encourage that our clients and surrogates foster a professional kinship outside of the office as well, although what that looks like of course is up to the two of you to decide.”

Steve nodded along, glad to see James follow suit, at least for the moment.  

“James will have a support alpha throughout the duration of the process as well, who is also welcome to any health information that he is comfortable with sharing.  I trust that that will not be an issue?”

Wanda directed the question directly at Steve, who blinked in surprise.

“No, not at all,” he responded after a moment.  “I mean, whatever he needs to make him most comfortable.”  He glanced sideways at the omega, giving him an apologetic shrug for talking like he wasn’t there.

James raised his eyebrows shortly, as if it was expected.  Steve did his best not to let the implication get under his skin.

“Very well, then,” she continued, turning to her next sheet of paper and sliding it across the desk towards James.  “All that will leave, then, will be for you to sign and return this prior to scheduling the insemination.”  She gave him a moment to look over the paper before continuing, directing the rest towards Steve as well.  “Those documents are your relinquishment of parental rights, they state that your name will not be allowed to appear on any legal documents of the resulting child, and sole custody of any viable child that comes from procedures performed by this agency will belong to Mister Rogers.”

“I mean, I can sign this now, if you want,” James responded with a breathy laugh, leaning forward and holding his hand out as if to reach for a pen.

Steve remembered Riley’s discomfort from the night before, and immediately felt his nerves over the entire ordeal waning.  He still had to convince the guy to trust him, of course, but it was pretty clear that James wasn’t going to have an issue with the idea of surrogacy.  And for as shitty of luck as Steve had had in love over the years, he had grown to the point that he felt like he was pretty confident in his ability to make friends, at least.

He could practically see his plan coming together in the grin on James’ face.

“We’ll wait until you’re actually committed to the procedure,” Wanda deadpanned, giving them both a bemused look as she sat back in her chair.  “Now, do either of you have any questions for me?”


 

Bucky had to guess that Steve had already met with Miss Maximoff at least once, considering he had nothing additional to ask the social worker after she had finished her spiel.  Bucky shook his head in agreement - all of the answers he’d needed had already been provided before the alpha had shown up.  It had taken him a few minutes to put together that the social worker had clearly asked Bucky to come well ahead of the meeting, a fact that had bothered him initially, until he’d had the situation properly explained.

Wanda had been clear that she wasn’t excited about the idea of matching a pair of single, unbonded individuals together as client and surrogate, however there was nothing in Conceive Solutions’ protocols that expressly forbade it.  Bucky couldn’t help worrying what he might be getting into, particularly as she grilled him about the final agreement decision being his, and the importance of reporting any untoward behavior that the alpha might express towards him, as well as his rights and protections as a surrogate…

But then the guy had finally showed up and all of those worries had essentially gone out the window.

Steve Rogers wasn’t at all what Bucky had been expecting: he was short, shorter even than Natasha, and rail thin, although there was an air of strength about him that lead Bucky to guess he was scrappy as hell.  His blond hair was cut a bit long on the top, but tastefully swept back from his face, and behind his plastic-rimmed glasses were the bluest eyes that Bucky had ever seen.  When he spoke his voice had been far deeper than Bucky had guessed it would be, and he couldn’t quite help but notice that the alpha’s hands seemed enormous for his frame.

It was all that Bucky to pay attention throughout the course of the meeting and act like a normal human being, instead of staring at the stranger.  

Wanda gave them both another moment to change their minds about last-minute questions, before nodding decisively.  “Very well, then,” she said with a smile, gathering her paperwork back into an ordered stack and stowing it in a file folder, “don’t hesitate to call me if any questions come up after you leave.  And James,” she added, turning her attention directly towards him, “I’ll be waiting on your decision - just let us know how you’d like to proceed and we’ll start getting things in order.”

With their dismissal both Steve and Bucky rose from their seats, giving Wanda a brief farewell then heading out of her office.  It was a marginally uncomfortable walk through the lobby - the entire time Bucky felt as if he should be saying something, asking Steve when he wanted to talk, introducing himself further, something - but given the setting he had no idea how to even begin.   Instead, he settled for hitting the down button next to the elevator and rocking back on his heels, giving Steve an (admittedly awkward) smile.

“I know it’s a weird hour,” Steve finally said apologetically, as the elevator door opened in front of them,  “but I missed lunch today and the cafe downstairs looked pretty decent - you wanna head down there and grab something to eat?”

Bucky’d had the same problem, only instead of forgetting to eat he’d run out of the last of Nat’s leftovers and hadn’t been ready to break into his last bag of beans yet.  “That sounds great,” he agreed amicably, hoping that the grumble his stomach gave wasn’t loud enough for Steve to notice.

They spent the rest of the elevator ride down in awkward silence, before quickly making their way outside and into the aforementioned cafe.  Bucky winced internally as he looked over the menu board - the fact that it lacked prices was an immediate red flag, and he sincerely hoped that the place wasn’t so swanky as to charge for water.  When their turn came to order he asked for a turkey sandwich and tap water, but before he could dig his wallet out Steve was ordering his own food and insisting that he get the bill for the both of them.  

“It was my idea, I’ve got this,” he said nonchalantly, waving off Bucky’s half-hearted protest as he handed a black AmEx card to the cashier.

Bucky did his best not to take it to heart; after all, if things went his way, the alpha would essentially be paying his living expenses for the next year. He shook the thought off as he accepted his water glass from the counter and followed Steve towards an empty table next to the window.  There was no point in getting weird about the circumstances now, not when he was supposed to be getting to know the guy and proving himself to be a good choice for a surrogate in the first place.

“So,” Steve started, stirring his iced tea with a straw once Bucky was seated across from him, “your profile said you were in the greater NYC area, but didn’t say what neighborhood…”

“I’m living in Bed-Stuy,” Bucky answered easily, figuring it was an innocuous enough question to start.

“No shit?” Steve asked with a blinding grin.  “I grew up in Red Hook.”

“Really?”  Bucky asked, before he could stop himself.  It was poor form, and he kicked himself immediately for it; but it didn’t change the fact that from what he knew of the neighborhood it didn’t seem hugely likely that a guy from Red Hook would have the money to be hiring a surrogate through an agency as pricey as Conceive Solutions - much less be paying extra for the surrogate to be his donor, as well.

“Yeah,” Steve answered, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously.  If he was at all offended by Bucky’s question he did a hell of a job of hiding it.  “I moved to Manhattan a couple of years after college; had some crazy luck, made some money, and was able to move away and open a company that took off.”  The color in his cheeks was distractingly charming as he continued.  “I’ve barely been back to Brooklyn the last few years, but it’s still home, y’know?”

Bucky hummed an affirmative - he couldn’t exactly agree with the idea of home, not anymore, but he wasn’t going to ruin the moment because of it.

“How long’ve you been in Bed-Stuy?”

“A little over three years now,” Bucky answered, surprising himself as he thought about it; he barely ever thought about how long he’d actually been living in his sad deathtrap of a studio, not if he could avoid it.  “Moved there after my first year of grad school because the rent was so much cheaper than anything I could find in the city.”

Steve nodded along pleasantly, “So you were in Manhattan before that?”

“I stayed on NYU’s campus for most of undergrad,” Bucky confirmed.  “But then my graduate loans started getting out of hand, and I was the kind of idiot who settled for an unpaid internship for the experience.”  He shrugged helplessly as he trailed off, trying his best for nonchalance, rather than giving away the fact that it was the whole damned reason they were having the conversation in the first place.

“Fair enough,” Steve replied diplomatically.  “You from New York, then?”

“God no,” Bucky chuckled.  “No, although it’s startin’ to feel like I’ve been here long enough to almost count it.  I was born in Indiana, actually - lived there through high school, then came out to the big city for college.”

“Nice,” Steve smiled, “your family must’ve been proud.”

“They were,” Bucky responded immediately, swallowing down the bitterness in his throat as he thought about them in the past tense.  He really didn’t want to be having this conversation, not now.

Luckily the awkwardness was interrupted by a waiter showing up with their plates of food, setting each down in front of them and checking that they were set before heading back to the counter.  “Is it just you, then, or -” Steve trailed off, unwrapping his silverware from its napkin and stabbing a piece of chicken off of its bed of spinach.

It took Bucky a moment to catch onto his meaning.  “Oh, you mean family?” He asked, picking up his sandwich and shrugging his left shoulder.  “No, I’ve got a sister - she’s in Chicago now, though.  We don’t get to talk much anymore.”

“Sorry,” Steve responded sincerely.  He took a moment to chew and swallow, giving Bucky time to jam a bite of sandwich in his mouth and pray that they changed the subject soon.  “It was just me and my ma growing up,” Steve offered quietly.  “And my grandparents lived in Park Slope while they were alive, so we got to see them a lot, too.  But it’s just been friends for me, for a while now.”

“I hear that,” Bucky said quietly, feeling guilty for being glad that they had that in common, at least.

They ate in silence for a few minutes after that, while Bucky racked his brain, trying to come up with a more comfortable topic of conversation.  

“You mentioned you run a business?” He finally asked, once the awkwardness was too much to bear.

Steve nodded as he finished his bite.  “Yeah, we’re not that big - only up to twenty employees now - but we’ve got a good group of clients that we represent.”  He paused a moment to wipe his mouth before continuing.  “What about you, your profile said you studied robotics engineering?”

Bucky’s felt the back of his neck heat up, cursing the fact that Steve had both dodged the question and threw back exactly the talking point that he’d been hoping to avoid.  He supposed it was his own fault for bringing up employment, though.  “Yeah, in undergrad,” he said with a nod.  “But then towards the end of it I kinda had a change of heart - decided that bionics was the way I wanted to go.  So I took a few extra biology courses, then went for a graduate degree in biomedical engineering.”

He left out the whole event that lead to his interests changing, as well as the fact that he realized early on that he wasn’t going to be able to land a job in industry with a simple bachelor’s degree.  If Steve caught on to the fact that he was omitting shit, he didn’t push it: something that Bucky was overwhelmingly grateful for.

“Biomedical engineering, so,” Steve trailed off with a frown, “implant devices?  Like - isn’t there an artificial pancreas someone’s working on?”

“There is,” Bucky conceded, “but I was more interested in limbs.  Prosthetics were wildly overpriced and barely functional - I wanted to figure out a way to use robotics to make improvements on both.”

“Damn,” Steve whistled, pushing his food around on his plate with a lopsided smile.  “That sounds a hell of a lot more impressive than designing business cards.”

Bucky shrugged, laughing it off, “I mean - marketing’s important if you’re gonna make any money.”  He jumped onto the change in topic as quickly as he could, before Steve went back to try to ask what Bucky was doing for work (a fat nothing, still).  “So - you’re a graphic artist?”

“Officially, yeah,” Steve answered.  “I mean, that’s what I got my degree in: I knew I wanted to do arts, I figured it was the most likely way to actually find a job after I graduated.”  Bucky nodded along before continuing to eat his sandwich - he didn’t know a damned thing about art, really, but it seemed to make sense.  “Anyway, I do some traditional art on the side, too - that’s kinda how I got my break, actually, ridiculous stroke of luck,” Steve shrugged, brushing a lock of hair that had fallen onto his forehead back up into place and blushing slightly.  “But yeah, the company is a graphic arts firm.”

Bucky didn’t push for specifics and Steve didn’t ask any further about his job prospects - it ended up feeling like a fair compromise.

“I feel like I’ve gotta ask,” Bucky asked once the first half of his sandwich was gone.  “Given the circumstances and, y’know, the whole point of this…” Steve raised his eyebrows in question, but Bucky powered through, deciding Wanda had been right earlier - he deserved to know what he was getting into before he committed to anything.  “Why did you pick the agency?  And, uh, want to meet me?”

Steve sat his fork down and wiped his mouth primly, clearly taken by the question, but he nodded all the same.  “Wow, yeah - I guess that’s fair,” he agreed, before taking a deep breath.  “I - well - a few years ago I thought I had everything going for me and had my life all planned out.  I had a great job, a great place, a… a mate.  And I figured that by now I’d definitely have a family to go along with that.”  He cleared his throat shortly and took a sip of iced tea - Bucky just sat across from him in silence, listening intently.  “Things happened, obviously.  And now I guess I’m to the point where I feel like I’m ready to move on, but - believe it or not, I’m not exactly the hottest catch on the market.”

He said it with a sweeping gesture down his body and a smirk, Bucky had to bite his tongue to keep himself from saying how much he doubted the truth behind the statement.

“So I applied to the best fertility clinic I could find in the city, and when I got approved I looked for the best omega in the agency.  And since it’s just me, and the idea of trying to raise quadruplets or something all on my own is more than a little terrifying, when I saw the opportunity to avoid IVF I jumped for it.”

Bucky blanched - he’d never even thought about the likelihood of carrying multiples.  He was suddenly glad that he’d come up with the idea as well.

“What about you?” Steve asked innocently, cutting off Bucky’s thoughts.

“Well,” he started, momentarily trying to come up with some bullshit that sounded good before stopping himself.  It seemed like Steve had been nothing but honest to that point, and it was obvious that he was interested in… working with Bucky.  It only made sense that Bucky return the favor.  

“I need the money,” he finally answered simply.  “I made a few really bad borrowing choices in school, and then an even worse choice in internship.  And I’ve spent the last year trying to dig out of it with no luck, so - a friend recommended the idea of donating eggs.  When I realized I could help even more as a surrogate, and how much farther it would go towards getting me out of debt, I figured I had nothing to lose in applying.”

Bucky forced himself to look up from his plate as he finished speaking, realizing how pathetic moping over it would have looked.  There was a brief flash of emotion across Steve’s face that he couldn’t quite place - it wasn’t the pity that Bucky had been expecting, but the anger behind his eyes didn’t exactly make sense, either.

“Fair enough,” Steve finally replied slowly.  “I mean, I’m sorry about the money issues, but hopefully we can work something mutually beneficial out of all of this.”

Bucky nodded and took another bite of his sandwich, unable to think of any better way to respond.

“Anyway,” Steve said a couple of minutes later, popping his last bite of salad into his mouth as he finished.  “I’m gonna need to run back to the office to sign things off for the day, and I don’t wanna hold you up any longer - but I did have one more question,” he sat his fork down on his empty plate, considering Bucky across the table with a suddenly serious look, “and this is kinda a deal breaker, so be honest.”

The bite of sandwich in Bucky’s mouth might as well have been a piece of chalk, for as quickly as it went dry and tasteless.  He forced himself to finish chewing and swallow, nodding for Steve to go ahead like he wasn’t suddenly panicking over the change in tone.  He’d really thought that he had this in the bag, but now…

“Alright,” Steve finally said with gravity, “who’s your baseball team?”

Bucky couldn’t stop his confused frown.  That was - possibly the last thing he had expected the alpha to say.  He took a moment to gather himself as he took a sip of water, waiting until he’d set his glass back down and wiped his mouth with his napkin before answering.

“Er, well - we didn’t have an MLB anywhere near Shelbyville obviously, and I didn’t ever get caught up in the battle between the Chicago teams that my classmates tended to have.  I guess it was the Dodgers, when I was growing up.”

Steve’s serious face morphed into a mildly confused frown.  “Los Angeles?”

“Yeah,” Bucky answered self-consciously.  “I mean, I played all through elementary and high school, and when I was little Dale Reid was just taking off with him and the guy was my hero.”

“The first omega to make the bigs as a catcher,” Steve murmured thoughtfully.

“The first omega to make the bigs in any position other than pitcher,” Bucky corrected matter of factly.  “I got roped into pitching a lot, but I was able to play shortstop from time to time, and… I dunno.  I guess I had this dream that one day I’d make it big, have Reid throwing down to me to pick off any idiot who thought he could steal second on us.”  He dropped his eyes to his empty plate as he finished, and could only imagine how red his face was, given how hot it suddenly felt.

“Makes sense,” Steve said kindly after a moment, before chuckling.  “And honestly, as long as you didn’t say the Yankees I’ve got no problem.”

“That would’ve been your deal-breaker?” Bucky asked, glancing across the table at him and laughing shortly at the absurdity of it all.

“No, not really,” Steve countered,with a shit-eating grin all over his face, “but it’s about as close to an irreconcilable difference as you can get.”  

He continued smiling as he dug a pen out of the pocket of his cardigan, then stood and took his wallet from his back pocket.  “I really do need to get going, though.  It was great to meet you,” Steve added, pulling a card from his wallet and scribbling something on the back of it.

He handed the small piece of cardstock over to Bucky, suddenly looking sheepish.  “Er, it’s my cell number.  In case you have any questions or wanna know anything else that might help you make your decision.”  He chewed his lip distractingly as Bucky glanced over the circular red and blue logo for SHIELD Design.  “And, I mean it’s your call obviously, but I hope I can see you again later.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Bucky responded awkwardly, giving a small wave as Steve nodded one last time and made his way for the door of the cafe, then kicking himself for being such an awkward dork.

The good news was it looked like Steve wanted to go ahead with the surrogacy, and for all intents and purposes seemed to be a good enough guy.  The bad news was… Bucky was suddenly struck with the feeling that he had no idea what the hell he wanted to do.

His whole brilliant idea had been a great one, until he realized that he actually had to make a decision and go forward with it.

He sat in his chair for a solid minute, gulping down what was left of his now-tepid water, before digging his phone out of his pocket and hitting the redial button.  If nothing else, he could at least keep his promise to his best friend to check-in immediately.

Natasha’s phone had barely finished its second ring when there was an answer on the other end of the line.  “Tell me everything - what’d you think?”  She asked, cutting directly to the chase as usual.

“Yeah, hi,” Bucky snorted, running his hand through his hair nervously, “good to talk to you too, Nat.  I’m having a great day.”

“Glad to hear it,” Natasha murmured, and he could practically see her eyebrow raised at him  in her tone of voice.  “But I’m kind of in the middle of something and don’t have a lot of time to waste - how’d it go?”

“It was good,” Bucky answered, feeling an odd weight lifted off his chest as he realized he was telling the truth.  “Really good, actually.  He’s a single alpha, sounds like his mate probably died - I didn’t ask specifics.  Name’s Steve Rogers.”  

He gave the last bit without prompting, knowing that it was what Natasha was especially interested in.  The furious sound of rushed typing on the other end of the phone confirmed his suspicions.  “And the agency is okay with that, breeding an unmated pair?”  She asked skeptically after a second.  “ You’re okay with it?  He’s not a creep?”

“I don’t think they’re excited about it, no,” Bucky admitted with a shrug, “the social worker seemed a little hesitant about it and I’m gonna have to sign a shitload of legal forms before we can go forward.  But he’s not a creep at all.  He’s… he’s nice.”

“He’s nice,” Natasha deadpanned, sounding thoroughly unimpressed.

“I mean he was polite, and he asked questions about me and seemed genuinely interested, and he didn’t come across as an asshole,” Bucky clarified.  “And he was still enough of a smartass that I didn’t get the feeling that it was an act.  He seemed really genuine - I liked him.”  The last bit was a little bit too true, and he was infinitely glad that they were having this conversation over the phone: Bucky got the feeling that Natasha would have seen through him in a second, adding a whole other level of awkwardness to the conversation.

Instead she just hummed an affirmative, apparently satisfied with the answer.  “Looks like he has two priors - a pair of misdemeanors seven and eight years ago,” she snorted suddenly, “both the result of disorderly conduct during protests, apparently.  Looks like he was pretty involved in the Omega Right to Work movement when he was in college.”

Bucky couldn’t help but smile: in the short amount of time he’d spent with Steve, that wasn’t hugely surprising.  

“And - oh,”  Natasha continued, sounding so legitimately surprised that it actually gave Bucky pause.  It was so rare that she let her guard down like that that he knew whatever she had found was genuinely shocking.  “Yeah, you’re right; his mate did die.  A little over four years ago.”

The way she ended the statement made it sound like there was something Natasha wasn’t telling him, but Bucky didn’t feel comfortable asking her.  If anything, it was probably information that he should be getting from Steve, anyway, and they definitely weren’t close enough for that conversation to be happening yet.

“So,” Bucky prompted after a long, uncomfortably silent pause, “nothing too damning on his record?”

“No,” Natasha confirmed immediately, and again Bucky felt such a wave of relief that he could have cried from it.  “No, it looks like he checks out, as long as you liked him.”

“So - I should go ahead with it?”  He asked, biting the hell out of the inside of his cheek as he waited for her answer.

Bucky should have known better than to have hoped that Natasha Romanoff would make things easy on him.  

“That’s your call,” she responded nonchalantly, “you know how I feel about this.  I see no reason here that you should turn him down, and I’ll do what I can to help you through the process - but whether or not you move forward is entirely on you, James.”

Bucky winced at her words; while he appreciated the fact that Nat treated him as an equal ninety-nine percent of the time, this was one instance where he almost wished she’d take control of the situation and make the decision for him.  He knew he didn’t have a better option in mind, but all the same…

His eyes wandered out the window in front of him, to where a cab had stopped to let its passenger out.  The rider in the back struggled for a few seconds to heave himself out, pausing with his hand pressed against the small of his back as the other passenger paid their fare then hopped out next to him with an indulgent smile.  Bucky had to guess that the poor Omega was at least eight months pregnant: his abdomen looked huge and heavy and uncomfortable, leading the way into the building as his mate made his way along beside.  

Bucky blinked away the mental image of himself in the same position - before comforting himself with the fact that he’d at least  have money to pay for a cab, for a change.  And it wasn’t a matter of forever, it was nine months.  He’d spent three times that amount of time working like a dog for HYDRA: having a baby couldn’t possibly be worse.

“Yeah,” he finally muttered, clearing his throat as he did so.  “Yeah, okay.  I’m gonna call them and tell them I’ll do it.”

“Alright,” Natasha answered dryly, “I’m going to get back to work.  Let me know an evening this week when you want to stop by for dinner, we can finish catching up.”

“Yeah, will do,” Bucky agreed before hanging up.  Natasha knew full-well that he had nothing else going on in his life, but the fact that she kept up the act of giving Bucky control over their schedule was just one of the reasons he loved her so much.  

With the call ended he finally slid out of his chair, giving a short wave of thanks to the cashier and waiter behind the counter - both for the food and for letting him hang around far longer after eating than was probably polite - then made his way out the door and onto the street, heading towards the nearest subway station.  For as many thoughts as were flying through his head, Bucky felt strangely calm as he dialed another number on his phone, never missing a step as he continued walking along while it rang.

“Um, hi - Miss Maximoff?” he started, when the line finally picked up on the fifth ring.  “Yeah, this is James Barnes.  I just finished meeting with Steve Rogers, and I wanna go ahead and start setting up those appointments you mentioned.”

Chapter Text

Bucky had had every intention of meeting up with Steve again before having any procedures done.

As soon as he’d signed on as a surrogate, he’d sent Steve a text - one that the alpha had quickly and politely responded to.  And they had made honest attempts at seeing one another, each offering options and ideas and trying to make plans work.  But Steve apparently had a couple of projects at work that took up most of his weekdays, then his goddaughter had a dance recital and an old friend was in town for the weekend.  For his part, Bucky was as free as usual, except for the one Sunday where they looked like they had a brunch date set, only to have him get a last-minute interview at a genius bar in Queens.

To add insult to injury, they couldn’t even be bothered to send him a follow-up after.

All the while, Bucky was taking the prenatal vitamins Doctor Cho had given him as directed, and faithfully peeing on the little kit of sticks that she’d sent him every morning, in order to officially track his hormones.  And as they began to change from yellow to green - indicating the hormone surge that happened right before ovulation - their window for meeting up closed.

The next thing he knew Bucky was sitting in a private office down the hallway from the Conceive Solutions clinic, staring blankly at the Science Today magazine that was open on his lap and occasionally pinching the side of his thigh to keep his leg from bouncing with nerves.  The only thing that saved Bucky from freaking out completely was how ramrod straight Natasha was sitting in the chair next to him: a subtle but clear sign that she was worked up, too.  Given how odd an occurrence that was made him feel considerably better as the minutes ticked by, winding his nerves up progressively more and more.

“Do you think this is weird?” Bucky finally asked quietly, glancing at Natasha out of the corner of his eye.  “I mean, sticking us off in a corner like this?  Why not just put us in the regular waiting room?”

“Probably because you reek of pheromones and they don’t want to start a riot,” Natasha answered smoothly, not looking up from her phone.

Bucky frowned and ducked his nose into the collar of his shirt, sniffing self-consciously.  He’d showered with a neutralizing soap that morning and practically covered himself in deodorant for the trip over - there was no way he could smell that bad, not unless someone was looking for it.

Natasha snorted in amusement.  “Relax, I’m kidding,” she chided, nudging his ankle with one of her boots.  “My guess is that they either have a separate suite for… these procedures, or they knew you’d likely be freaking out and decided to keep you away from all of the other hormonal patients in the main waiting room.  No offense.”  She added the last bit as Bucky opened his mouth to defend himself.  

It was painfully insincere.

Bucky slouched in his chair, crossing his arms as he gave into the urge to pout.  It felt odd, sitting in this small room with just Nat - he hadn’t necessarily been looking forward to waiting in a room full of pregnant omegas and their mates, either, but at least it could have made for prime people watching.  It suddenly occurred to him that Steve probably would have been there, too: it only made sense that he would have an appointment with Doctor Cho as well.

An odd, uncomfortable shiver ran down Bucky’s spine at the thought, forcing him to shift self-consciously in his seat.  He immediately pushed all thoughts of the alpha as far out of his mind as possible, realizing that it was for the best, given the state he was in.

If Natasha noticed Bucky’s issue she graciously kept quiet about it.  He had no idea how much time passed from there on, with the two of them sitting in stilted silence, nothing but the tick of the clock and the occasional turn of a page to break it.

Finally, when Bucky was beginning to worry that he might end up crawling out of his skin, the door in the far corner of the room opened.  “Mister Barnes?” asked the woman who stepped through it, a petite brunette in a set of scrubs with the Conceive Solutions insignia embroidered on the shoulder.

Before Bucky could stand up, Natasha’s hand closed like a vise on his knee.  “You’re sure you want to go through with this?”  She asked quietly, her eyebrows drawn into a worried furrow.  

“Yeah,” Bucky said as nonchalantly as possible, closing his magazine with a lazy grin and dropping it back onto the table he’d taken it from.  

She still looked worried as hell so he gave her a gentle smile, doing his best to hide how disconcerting it was to see his friend so obviously worried about him, then brushed her hand away as he rolled to his feet. “It’s gonna be fine, Nat.  My body was literally made to do this.”

Natasha didn’t look particularly convinced as he turned and made his way towards the nurse, but she didn’t hold him back, either.

“My name’s Connie,” the nurse said pleasantly, smiling as Bucky made his way through the open door and completely ignoring the interaction that had gone down between him and Nat.  “I’m one of the nurses that works with Doctor Cho, and I’ll be performing the procedure today.  We’ll just step back here into the procedure room,” she led the way down a short hallway, stopping and motioning for Bucky to enter the indicated room first.

He hustled through the door as instructed, stepping into a small but pleasant exam room.  There was a single window with frosted glass, allowing light in without actually giving a view of the world outside,  with a smaller wooden door on the adjacent wall, and the walls had been painted a light, muted green.  Bucky guessed that it was meant to be a natural, relaxing look, especially given the small wood and leather chair that sat in the corner of the room beside the door.  It might have been successful, had it not been for the large, paper-covered exam table that took up the majority of the room, and the metal instrument tray and lamp beside it.

“You can go ahead and take a seat for now, I’ve just got a couple of questions before we begin,” Connie said, closing the door behind her and pulling a small tablet out of the pocket of her scrub top.  

Bucky eased himself into the chair as instructed, swallowing down his sudden rush of nerves as he did so.

“Alright,” Connie said after a couple of taps on the tablet screen, “I have to ask you a few basic questions before we start anything, so please bear with me - could you start by stating your name and date of birth for me?”

“Sure,” Bucky responded, clearing his throat shortly before answering.  “James Barnes, birthdate March tenth, 1990.”  

“Thank you,” Connie responded, “and what are we doing for you today?”

Bucky swallowed thickly.  “Artificial insemination,” he answered, as calmly as possible.  “I’m gonna be a surrogate carrier.”

“And who’s the client?” Connie asked, nodding along.

“Steve Rogers,” Bucky answered, licking his bottom lip as Connie nodded and tapped her screen again.

“Great, thank you,” she said after a second.  “And just a couple of questions before we start talking about the procedure - how long have you been taking your prenatal vitamins?”

“Since Doctor Cho prescribed them, a little over two weeks ago,” Bucky answered.

“And you’re ovulating now?”

Bucky stilled his leg, noticing belatedly that he’d been bouncing his heel against the floor.  “Yeah.  I mean - the kit she gave me was green this morning.”

“Okay, good,” Connie said distractedly.  “And have you had sex in the past week?”

“No,” Bucky responded, feeling heat rising in his neck and face as he shook his head emphatically.  “No, it’s - it’s been a lot longer than that.”

“Very well, then,” Connie finished, tapping twice more on the tablet before locking it and dropping it back in her pocket.  “We should be all set - I’m just going to walk through the procedure one more time with you.”

Bucky nodded along: Doctor Cho had already gone over everything with him, but she’d also indicated that her nursing staff would repeat it all again, so nothing was particularly surprising.

“The first stage of the insemination is going to be a hormone injection - the kit you had is ninety-six percent effective at predicting an omega’s ovulation, but we want to time everything as optimally as possible for conception.  The injection is a small shot, we’ll give it in whichever shoulder you’d prefer, and it’ll take about ten minutes to take effect.  The purpose of it is to act as a heat accelerant - it’s a concentrated version of your natural hormone surge, and it should tell your ovary to release an egg today.”

Bucky nodded along, indicating that he was following.

“The risks of the injection are very low - some patients have a bit of soreness at the injection site, however it’s a small needle so it shouldn’t have any lasting damage.  Most omegas describe the effects of the shot as feeling like their first few heats as teenagers: it will be more intense than your current cycles, it will likely cause some excess slick and minor abdominal cramping, but it should wear off by the time you leave the office.”

“Joy,” Bucky muttered, giving Connie an apologetic grimace as she nodded and did the same back.  

“I’ll come back into the room after the ten minutes is up - we’ll have you get as comfortable as possible on the exam table and I’ll administer the semen sample at that time.  Do you have any questions for me or that I can ask Doctor Cho before the injection?”

Bucky thought for a moment; it felt like he probably should, given the enormity of what they were about to do, but in that instant he couldn’t think of anything that he hadn’t already either asked or looked up on his own in the days leading up to it.  “No,” he finally answered, “no, I think I’m good.”

“Okay,” Connie responded kindly, grabbing a pair of purple gloves from the box on the wall and pulling them on before moving to the instrument table and picking up an alcohol pad and small syringe that had been hidden underneath a blue towel.  “In that case we’ll go ahead with the injection - do you have a side you’d prefer?”

Bucky instinctively pulled up the left sleeve of his t-shirt, turning in his chair so that the nurse had access to his deltoid.  Connie swabbed the area briefly with alcohol, before murmuring, “Just a little pinch…”

A moment later she was dabbing the area with a cotton ball and moving across the room again, dropping the syringe in the sharps box and flinging her gloves into the trash can.

“That’ll be ten minutes,” she said as she washed her hands in the small sink next to the door.  “Go ahead and change into the gown there on the table - you’re welcome to leave your shirt on if you’d like to under it, but I’ll need you bare from the waist down.  I’m just going to go get the sample, and I’ll knock before I come in, alright?”

“Sure, that works,” Bucky answered pleasantly, waiting until the door had closed behind her before finally rising out of the chair.  After a second’s worth of debate he peeled his shirt off over his head, deciding that if the effects of the shot were anything like Connie had warned him he didn’t want to risk walking around smelling like a brothel for the rest of the morning.

By the time Bucky had changed into the exam gown as directed and carefully folded his clothes over the chair in the corner of the room, he was beginning to feel the hint of a cramp starting in his pelvis and a rush of jitters that wouldn’t allow him to keep still.  He couldn’t be sure if it was actually the shot, or a placebo effect from knowing what the shot was supposed to do, or just an internal freak-out over what was to come next… either way, he quickly found himself pacing around the perimeter of the small exam room, feeling feverish as the nervous energy continued building under his skin.

In an attempt to calm down he let his mind wander, wondering what was going on outside the walls of the room.  Unfortunately, the first thing that came to him was the idea that Steve was probably sitting in a similar room at that moment - after all, a sperm sample could only viable for so long, right?

That thought quickly led down the path to actually imagining the process that went into getting the sample in the first place.  Bucky paused in his pacing when he recognized the unpleasant sensation of slick oozing down the inside of his thigh, and immediately shut the idea out of his mind.

He’d met Steve Rogers all of one time, and while the guy was attractive, and had treated Bucky more kindly than most alphas tended to, it was hardly appropriate to be mooning over him.  Especially given the fact that they were minutes away from entering into a ridiculously complicated business deal.  And it wasn’t as if an omega like him even if he actually did stand a chance with an alpha like Steve..

Bucky jumped when his thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door again, and hopped onto the exam table as gingerly as possible, schooling his features as best as he could as Connie poked her head into the room.

“Everything alright?”  She asked pleasantly, eyes cast down at the floor.

Bucky noticed, as the door shut behind her, that she was an omega - something he probably should have assumed given the delicacy of the situation.  At least her scent was subtle.  “Yeah,” he responded a second later, clearing his throat when his voice came out half an octave higher than usual.  “I mean, yeah.  And, uh - I think it’s working.”

Connie smiled and glanced up, making eye contact with him as she advanced away from the door and into the room.  She carried a small basin covered with a blue towel in both hands - Bucky kept his eyes averted from it, certain of what was inside of it but repressing the thought like a champ.

“Any palpitations or trouble breathing?” Connie asked as she set the basin down on the metal instrument table.

“Just… just the usual discomfort.  The uh, stuff you warned me about,” Bucky admitted, feeling his cheeks flush even worse than they had already.

“Sorry,” Connie responded sympathetically.  “It is a fast acting agent, at least - the worst should almost be over already.”

Bucky hummed in agreement, glad to hear it but ready for the whole ordeal to be over with all the same.

“So that being said,” Connie continued, “I want to explain the procedure one last time and then we can move along.”  She paused a moment, before continuing when Bucky made no argument.  “I’m going to have you get positioned for the insemination - you can arrange yourself however is most comfortable for you as long as we keep your pelvis angled like so,” she tilted her hand towards him, extending the wrist so that her palm sloped down towards the floor.  “I have the semen sample here in a syringe - it comes with an inflatable ring at the base that essentially replicates an alpha’s knot.  Once the syringe is in place I’ll inflate the ring, then inject the sample.  The ring deflates on its own over the course of about fifteen minutes, although you’re welcome to remove the syringe as soon as it’s comfortable to do so.”

Bucky swallowed thickly, nodding his understanding when he found himself unable to voice it.

“Through this door is a bathroom that has a shower stall in it,” she continued, pointing to the side door of the room, “you’re more than welcome to use it to clean up in once you’re finished, just make sure to lock both doors once you’re in because it’s shared between the two exam rooms in this suite.  Once you’re all set, you can come back out to the waiting room - otherwise I’ll come and check on you if you aren’t out in twenty-five minutes.”

“Okay,” Bucky finally agreed, clenching his fists in an attempt to keep himself from trembling.

“Any questions?” Connie asked gently, watching him with huge, empathetic eyes.

Bucky shook his head silently, before scooting further onto the exam table and lying flat on his back, deciding he’d rather go through the procedure face-up… for as much as the hormones had him worked up, the idea of presenting to a stranger was too degrading to even consider. 

“Alright,” Connie said calmly, over the squeaking sound of what Bucky knew must have been the wheels on the instrument table.  “If I could just have you pull your legs up on the table as well, and bend your knees up so that your feet are flat on the table and as tight to your bum as possible.”

Bucky took a deep breath and did as he was told, exhaling deeply through his nose as he felt the draft between his legs with the movement.  He frowned as he stared at the ceiling tile directly above him, suddenly realizing he could use it for distraction - for as keyed up as he was, at least simple math had never let him down.

It was pointless and simple and wouldn’t accomplish a damned thing, but Bucky decided to figure out the surface dimensions of the building.

“Good,” Connie continued.  Bucky heard the unmistakable snap of a glove being put on.  He squinted, trying to gauge the size of the tile.  

“Now I’m just going to move your gown a bit,” Connie warned, as he felt the thin fabric inch further up his thighs.  

Bucky swallowed down another bout of panic, simultaneously glad for the nurse’s care and wishing that she’d just get it over with already.  The average dimensions for a drop-ceiling in the US were two by two feet.  Multiplying that by the number of tiles in the room could give him an idea for the surface area of the ceiling...

“Okay,” Connie continued, as if she’d read his earlier thoughts.  “Let your knees fall open a bit more -”

Bucky felt his face burn as he followed her instructions.  There had been six suites on the hall when they’d walked onto the floor - figuring that each was set up in the same way as the one he was in currently meant four exam rooms and a reception area for the smallest suites, with the larger ones being twice their size.

“Good.  Now you’re just going to feel my hand, first.”  As she’d warned, there was a brush of an exam glove against the inside of his thigh, “And now some pressure.”

There was a tiny bit of pressure before the rigid cylinder slid easily inside of him - while it was small enough to not be painful it was uncomfortable all the same.  He factored in the hallway width based on what he could remember of New York fire code requirements, giving him a rough estimate of the surface area of the ceiling for the entire floor.  Multiplying that by the standard floor to ceiling height gave him the square footage...

“Now the ring,” Connie’s calm voice warned.

Bucky heard the sound of a faint rush of air and suddenly felt full - before he could completely register the sensation he heard a low moan, which he didn’t realize had come from him until he rocked down against the syringe.

“Sorry!” He practically squealed, coming back to himself to realize that his fingers were gripping the side of the exam table violently enough to shred the paper and his face was burning so hot that Bucky momentarily worried that he might actually burst into flames.  “I’m sorry - it’s… I’m…” he babbled, unable to actually bring himself to admit the problem: that it had been way, way too long since Bucky’d been properly knotted.  

He was more likely to die of mortification than he was to actually get the words out.

“It’s okay,” Connie responded kindly, her face still thankfully hidden by Bucky’s exam gown. “That’s a completely natural response,” she murmured after a pause, clearly waiting for him to calm down before she continued.

Bucky took a number of deep breaths, trying to will himself to relax and largely failing.

Even worse, he’d completely lost track of his numbers.

“I’m gonna go ahead and inject the sample now, okay?”  Connie asked after at least an eternity of silence.

Bucky nodded furiously, not trusting his voice to work.  Even though there was no way she could have seen him, Connie seemed to get the point.  There was the tiniest bit of pressure as the cylinder moved again, then a sensation of a jet of fluid deep inside of him.  

A second later Connie had moved his gown again so that it covered his knees, then was gently draping a thin sheet over his knees.  “Okay, you did a great job,” she said gently over the sound of instruments being dropped into something metal and the scrape of wheels on the floor again.  “Like I said before, the balloon is going to deflate on its own over the next fifteen minutes.  If you start to feel it come loose, you can remove it as soon as is comfortable.”

She was moving around the side of the table now, but Bucky still felt so ashamed that he couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eye, no matter how compassionate she sounded.  

“I’m just going to leave a call button for you right here,” Connie continued - if she was at all bothered by his lack of eye-contact she didn’t show it.  “You can press it if you need me, otherwise I’ll leave you free to relax a bit and wash-up.  Do you have any questions?”

“No, thank you,” Bucky responded tersely, forcing himself to glance at her shortly and doing his best to force a smile.  

She gave him a small nod and smile of her own, before mercifully leaving him alone.

Bucky stared at the ceiling tile again as he listened to the door shut gently, but he couldn’t bring himself to start the calculations again.  Instead he closed his eyes, grounding himself on the table and willing his mind to stay blank as he laid there and listened to nothing.

Unfortunately his calves began to cramp up after a while, but when he shifted to change position he realized that it would require him to move his pelvis as well; besides breaking the instructions Connie had given him, Bucky knew it would also jostle the syringe, which was the last thing he wanted to deal with.  Instead he grit his teeth and flexed his calves one at a time, pumping his ankles in a vain attempt to stretch them.

As a last-ditch effort to get rid of the discomfort, Bucky let his mind wander again, trying to focus on anything other than the pain in his legs.  Unfortunately he’d worked so hard at clearing his mind with the damned math problems that he was having trouble escaping the room.  He glanced around, looking at the dull green walls and the sterile surfaces, the silence of the room ringing loudly in his ears, and the reality of the morning suddenly came crashing down on him.

Bucky had never been a particularly romantic person.  He’d had dreams and goals, and he’d always imagined that he would eventually fall in love and have a family, but he’d never been the type of omega to fantasize about his future mate or bonding or breeding with them.  All the same, he’d definitely never considered that his first child would be conceived like this: with the help of a stranger, on a cold, hard exam table, in silence and alone.

The first tear ran down the right side of his face, somehow managing to burn even hotter than his flushed skin, and pooled in his ear.  It was like a dam breaking.

Before Bucky could completely comprehend what was happening, much less stop it, he was crying.  The tears kept coming faster and faster, dripping into his hair and onto the exam table, as his nose clogged completely and his throat closed up.  He cried, his mind spiraling as he thought about losing his family, about losing his self-worth, about how Rumlow had used him and Pierce had betrayed him and HYDRA had taken every ounce of professional credibility that he might have built up in his young life then spit him out with nothing.  

He cried, because this was what all of his dreams and hard work had come to, and it was so fucking unfair that he couldn’t do anything else.

Bucky had no idea how long it took him to finally choke down the last of his sobs, much less to get the tears to finally quit flowing, but they seemed to stop just as abruptly as they’d come on, leaving him feeling like he’d been hit by a truck.  His stomach ached as he finally got himself under control, although whether that was from his meltdown or the after-effects of the hormones Bucky wasn’t entirely sure.  

What he did notice, as he shifted to wipe his face with the right sleeve of his gown, was the way that the balloon shifted inside of him with the movement.  He took a deep breath and reached down between his legs, thankful when the syringe slipped out with a gentle tug.

Bucky did his best to ignore the awful squelching sound as he dropped the syringe on the instrument table beside him, and quickly averted his eyes from the thing, facing the door to the bathroom as he sat on the edge of the exam table and willed his legs to stop trembling.   After a few seconds he was able to ease himself off of the table; thankfully standing was no problem, and while he still felt inexplicably violated Bucky wasn’t particularly in any pain.  

He quickly crossed the room, making his way into the tiny bathroom through the door and locking both doors from the inside as Connie had instructed.  He stripped out of his exam gown and turned the water on as high and as warm as it would go, before stepping under the spray with a sigh.  There was a small bottle of soap on the tiny shelf above the faucet - it was spicy and relaxing and undoubtedly meant to cover whatever pheromones the injection had caused him to pump out, and Bucky rubbed it liberally over his skin, thankful that the agency had put as much thought into the set-up as they had.

By the time he had finally gotten enough of the shower and was drying his hair with one of the fluffy white towels left out on the bathroom rack, Bucky felt like he had his emotions in check - and was more than a little embarrassed for having lost control of them as badly as he had.   Before leaving the bathroom he rubbed his eyes with cold water for a moment, hoping to bring down the worst of the evidence before giving up and moving back into his exam room to get dressed again.

Natasha was waiting exactly where he’d left her in the office - she glanced up at Bucky as he walked back through the door, pursing her lips as she looked him over.  A second later she was dropping her book into her purse and shouldering the bag, all as she rose smoothly from her seat.  “You’re all set, then?”  She asked tonelessly.

“Yeah,” Bucky confirmed lowly, glad to hear that his voice back to normal.  “I already set the four week appointment up when we scheduled this one.  We can go.”

“Good,” Natasha answered, making her way towards the exit of the office.  “There’s a new froyo placed that opened a block over, I wanted to go try it.”

Bucky couldn’t help but smile, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans before following in her wake.  Nat normally wasn’t one for sweets, but she’d clearly seen what a mess he was and was looking out for him as well as she could.  He wasn’t sure what he appreciated more: the fact that she was able to read him so well, or the fact that she didn’t say a word about it, going straight into trying to make Bucky feel better, instead of forcing him to go through some awkward conversation just to get to the root of his issues.

They’d never been particularly good at talking to each other, at least not when it came to uncomfortable topics, but as friends they’d always looked out for one another’s best interests.  As the elevator doors opened to take them down, Bucky found himself finally able to relax - regardless of how terrible the morning had been, he was taking the steps he needed to finally start getting his life right again.

In time, maybe he’d even be able to help Natasha out for a change.

Chapter Text

If Steve was honest with himself, he spent the week and a half following his appointment at Conceive Solutions avoiding the thought of James as much as possible.

He’d had every intention of trying to meet up with the omega prior to the procedure, but none of their plans had been able to work out: it turned out that stepping back in the management of one’s own business was a hell of a lot more difficult than Steve had ever intended, and while he was glad to be starting to process early, it didn’t exactly make the job of building a new friendship any easier.

And then Steve had gotten a call from one of the nurses at Conceive Solutions to let him know that his surrogate was ovulating, and asking him to come in later in the week to give a semen sample.  The appointment was awkward enough, made worse by the fact that while he was locked in the tiny exam room by himself, with only a couple of uninspired pornography magazines up for browsing, all Steve’s mind could think about was the fact that James was probably somewhere else in the clinic at that moment, just waiting for him to be done.  It certainly hadn’t helped make the donation process any easier.  And when Steve finally gave in and let his mind wander to something that did , well - he wasn’t in a rush to make eye contact with the omega any time soon.

After a solid ten days of radio silence, though, Steve realized that he probably should do something to break the ice again.  He was pretty certain that there was supposed to be a four-week follow-up appointment at some point, and he definitely wanted to make things a little more comfortable between the two of them prior to it.

It only took another day’s worth of internal debate for Steve to finally get up the nerve to send the text message that he had painstakingly written (and re-written) at least a dozen times prior to pushing the button.

To: CS James  Sent: 01:18 PM
hi James, sorry for radio silence
i’m totally free this wknd, if you still wanted to try to meet up?

It didn’t sound particularly lame, nor did it come across as too desperate - and it was the truth, Steve did feel bad for having been completely absent since the day they’d met.

Though in fairness, James hadn’t been in touch since the procedure, either.

With the text finally sent Steve settled into work, glancing over applications for the new interns they had been planning to take on from SVA over the summer and reviewing one of Peter’s designs.  He was so engrossed with the portfolios in front of him that Steve almost missed his text chime sounding a couple of hours later.  He blinked, bringing himself back into the present, and glanced down at his screen, unlocking the phone immediately when he saw the name on the updates bar.

From:  CS James  Received: 04:03 PM
hey Steve, same here
this wknd works great for me, i’m free both days
have anything in mind? 

Steve grinned at his phone, feeling as if a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders as he read the response.  He’d been worried about contacting the omega too soon after the procedure, for fear of seeming too overbearing, which had then bled into being worried about being too stand-offish and failing in his role as an alpha.  The completely casual response seemed to imply neither, thankfully.

To:  CS James  Sent: 04:05 PM
not really
weather’s supposed to be decent i think
and it’s been too long since i’ve been out in bkln

Even as he was typing the last bit, Steve was checking the forecast on his computer, making sure that he was correct in his guess.  Sure enough, it looked like it was shaping up to be a perfect summer weekend, and wouldn’t be too hot to be outside, just yet.  When James failed to come back with an immediate response, Steve figured he’d go one further.

To:  CS James  Sent: 04:08 PM
good wknd for Coney Island ;)

It was a painfully corny suggestion, one that Steve regretted immediately.  Coney was a place for hanging out with friends and reminiscing and maybe dating (he pushed that thought of his mind immediately) - it was also a tourist trap that would be a madhouse on a weekend at the end of June.  James would definitely shut it down immediately, but hopefully it would prompt him to come back with something better, to at least get them started.

Steve’s phone chimed again, calling his attention.

From:  CS James  Received: 04:11 PM
i’ve never been

Steve blinked at the response incredulously, laughing as he typed out his reply.

To:  CS James  Sent: 04:13 PM
WAT
u said youve lived in brooklyn for 3 yrs!

From:  CS James  Received: 04:14 PM
sorry?
its never been a big priority

Steve chewed his lip as he considered his options.  It was still a corny idea - but if the omega had really lived in Brooklyn for all that time and never once been to its most famous theme park… well, that was just a crime.  Plus, it had been years since Steve had been.  It could be a fun way to spend a day, and it would be nice to have some new, less-painful thoughts of the place tucked away in his mind, considering he’d most definitely be taking Maggie and Tommy (and his own kid, his mind supplied with an excited shiver), soon enough.

He sent the text before he could talk himself out of it again.

To:  CS James  Sent: 04:15 PM
u opposed?

From:  CS James  Received:  04:17 PM
no
and apparently i’m committing some crime by not going
so if u want to i’m down ;)

Steve chuckled at James' answer, especially relieved by the winking face. 

To:  CS James  Sent: 04:18 PM
i feel like if we don’t i’ll fail u as a friend and a brooklynite
meet me at the stillwell ave subway stop at 11a on Sat?

From:  CS James  Received:  04:19 PM
haha can’t have that
sure, i’ll see u there

They didn’t communicate again until James sent a confirmation text Friday evening, but it didn’t make Steve any less excited about meeting up with him as he made his way up the stairs of the Stillwell avenue subway stop, grinning at the familiar sounds and smells that went along with Coney Island on a summer morning.  He’d gone so far as to have taken the hour-long subway trip from Midtown for nostalgia’s sake, adding another element of excitement to the day.

As soon as he was at street level Steve’s eyes panned around the area - as fun as it might have been to have taken a moment to get lost in his thoughts and memories of the hundreds of times he’d rushed down the street towards Luna park, his train had dumped him five minutes after eleven, and he didn’t want to keep James waiting any longer than he already had.  After a couple of seconds, he noticed the familiar omega standing outside the Foodmart across Stillwell Avenue.

Thankfully he was focused on his phone, which gave Steve plenty of opportunity to ogle as he waited for the light to change and let him across the street.  He was dressed in a tan pair of cargo shorts and a white t-shirt that Steve could tell, even from a distance, was threadbare but in the best possible way.  Similar to the outfit that he’d worn when they’d met at Conceive Solutions, James’ clothes seemed old but well-cared for, and clearly fit him well.  As he started to cross the street, Steve couldn’t help but notice how broad the shirt made his shoulders seem - it was the only explanation to how much more muscular James looked than what Steve had remembered.

He was just stepping onto the curb when James looked up from his phone, double-taking slightly and smiling in greeting as he pushed the plastic rimmed sunglasses he’d been wearing up onto his forehead.  The up-and-down look he gave Steve was lightning fast, but still noticeable enough that it made Steve feel a little ridiculous for the rolled-up skinny jeans and black t-shirt combination that he’d thought would make him look cool when he’d picked it out that morning.

Instead he just looked like a damned yuppie, especially compared to James’ considerably more low-key outfit.

“Uh, hi… James?”  Steve asked hesitantly, waving like an awkward idiot when he’d finally stepped up next to the omega.

At the very least, he had the decency to smile and drop his phone into the back pocket of his shorts, as if Steve wasn’t the most awkward idiot in the world.  “Hey, Steve,” James responded pleasantly, waving as well before shaking his head.  “And please, all my friends call me Bucky.  It’s weird to hear ‘James’ if I’m not in trouble or somethin’.”

Steve immediately made the note in his head to stop with the James business, although he couldn’t help wondering where the hell a name like Bucky would come from.  Apparently he didn’t do a particularly good job of hiding as much on his face, because James (Bucky) was already chuckling in response.

“My mom’s maiden name was Buchanan, so my parents decided it would be a nice tradition to start carrying over the name for the middle name of their first born.  Then when I started first grade there were three other Jameses in the class, and I definitely didn’t want to be called Jimmy, so… Bucky happened.”

“Makes sense,” Steve laughed, giving Bucky an apologetic smile for having forced him to explain in the first place.

“I mean, I feel like it works for me,” Bucky said with a shrug.  “And - I dunno, it’s nice to have something familiar to hang onto like that.”

“Not a problem, Bucky,” Steve said with a smile, noting with a little thrill that it meant the omega already thought of him as a friend.  It felt like a step forward, at least.

“So,” Bucky said after a couple of seconds, gesturing around them, “this is the famous Coney Island?”

Steve laughed, shaking his head and starting down the sidewalk with a gesture for Bucky to follow him towards Surf Avenue.  “Not exactly, we’re still a couple blocks from the park.  This is like… the pre-game area for Coney Island.”  The fact that Gargiulo’s already looked like it was packed drove home his point pretty well as they passed it.

They shared idle small-talk as they made their way down Stillwell Avenue, chatting easily about the weather and the things they’d been up to since they’d seen each other last.  Or rather, Steve talked about things - Bucky seemed to have remembered each of the excuses Steve had given prior to the appointment, and politely asked about them.  Steve was touched by the omega’s interest; but came up feeling like a jackass when he tried returning the gesture, only to find that Bucky hadn’t landed the job he’d interviewed for.

Luckily, that awkward point of conversation was allowed to die off as they came up to the entrance to Luna park.  Steve couldn’t help but notice the tight grimace on Bucky’s face as he read the ticket prices listed at the booth.  He shook his head as Bucky reached into his pocket, presumably for his wallet, before stepping forward and buying the both of them forty tokens to ride.

“You don’t have to,” Bucky started, color rising in his cheeks that Steve knew had nothing to do with the mid-morning sun growing hotter in the sky.

“I know I don’t,” Steve answered smoothly, handing over half of the stack of tokens as they walked away from the booth and into the park.  “Here’s the deal,” he continued after a couple of moments of increasingly uncomfortable silence, “going forward, how about whoever picks the activity pays, huh?  I roped you into Coney Island, it’s only fair that I pick up the tokens this time.”

Bucky still didn’t look entirely comfortable with the gesture, but he gave Steve a small smile anyway.  “Alright, fine,” he agreed with a sigh, “I suppose that’s fair.  Although I guess that means my suggestion to head to the Bahamas for a week is out...”

Steve laughed at the joke, glad to feel the tension between them starting to dissipate.

“But seriously,” Bucky continued, “I’m fine with the rule, but if we need any more tokens today I’m gettin’ them.”

“Sounds fair to me,” Steve answered easily, grinning when Bucky’s smile began to look more sincere.  “Now come on - let’s get going before the place starts filling up even more.”

They started by making a full loop around Luna park, eyeing the crowds and the games and the rides available to choose from.  At one point Bucky grabbed a park map from one of the kiosks, glancing over the rides and some of the history behind them.

Steve bit his tongue to avoid teasing the poor guy for looking like such a tourist.

It wasn’t until they reached the far side of the park, where the screams of riders and the rickety sounds of wheels on old wood tracks were the loudest, that either of them really started to show a genuine interest in the rides: the whole time Steve was silently hoping that they’d continue walking by, even as he caught Bucky looking longingly towards the Cyclone. 

Because of course the omega would want to ride the damned deathtrap.

“Er - wanna take a spin?” he finally asked, after they’d been standing next to the ride for over a minute.

Bucky jumped slightly in response.  “I mean, I was mostly just admiring the design,” he started quickly, “given how old it is and how great of a ride it’s still supposed to be.”  The red car hurtled down the hill closest to them, speeding off with the sound of the passengers screams.  Steve could barely make out Bucky’s disappointed sigh over the noise.  “But - I dunno when it is in pregnancy that you’re supposed to stop riding roller coasters, and wooden ones are especially rough, so; it’s not worth the risk.”

He turned away from the ride completely, which Steve couldn’t help being glad for - it meant that he missed whatever stupid thing Steve’s face did when he thought about the fact that Bucky might already be pregnant, and that he was actually worrying about the baby’s well-being.  Steve wasn’t entirely proud of the thrill that went through him over the thought, which he pushed out of his mind with a mental shake before following in Bucky’s wake.

“If it makes you feel any better,” he offered after a few seconds, “I’ve only been on the damned thing once, and I barely made it ten feet off the ride before I up-chucked on my date’s shoes.”

“Seriously?”  Bucky asked, his nose scrunching in disgust, although Steve could tell by the look in his eyes that he was amused all the same.

“Yup,” Steve answered shamelessly.  “I never really was able to ride the ‘Extreme’ thrill rides growing up - and not just because of the height restrictions, so keep a lid on the short jokes.” 

“I wasn’t gonna make a joke!” Bucky insisted, throwing his hands up in mock-surrender and laughing.

Steve chuckled along with him.  “But seriously, I had a heart issue when I was little, and a back issue that I needed a brace for.  Cardiologists were able to fix the heart easy enough once I was older and the back thing resolved pretty well on its own when I reached puberty, but because of it I couldn’t even think about riding the Cyclone ‘til I was in high school.  Went with my best friend at her insistence on my seventeenth birthday.”  He sighed, remembering how excited he’d been to be able to have gone on a proper date with Peggy, and to feel like a normal kid riding whichever rides his thrill-seeking girlfriend wanted to.

He realized, belatedly, that Bucky was still snickering.

“It’s a really rough ride, okay?  Don’t be a jerk about it,” Steve muttered, unable to keep himself from smiling and giving up the fact that he really wasn’t all that bothered by Bucky’s amusement.

If nothing else, the omega had a really nice laugh; Steve couldn’t help but hope he could make him that happy more often.

The settled on the Wonder Wheel, a ride with plenty of history itself and one that offered both a great view of the park and zero risk to Bucky’s potential condition.  It was a tiny-bit awkward, especially given the fact that the park was busy enough that they had no choice but to be paired along with another couple in the same car.  Steve had enough memories of dates with Peggy culminating in make-out sessions on the ride.  Sharing it now with Bucky, while a pair of teenagers sucked face across the car from them was almost too much.

“You came here a lot, growing up?” Bucky asked as they reached the top of the ride, pointedly looking out over the park as if he could ignore the awkwardness a couple of feet away from them.

“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Steve answered, shrugging and turning his full attention on Bucky, so that he could ignore the others as well.  “At least a couple of times a month during the summer, when I was healthy enough for it.  And then more towards the end of high school and summer breaks from college.” 

Bucky nodded absently.  “Yeah, we had a couple of theme parks in Indiana - and one summer my whole family took a trip to a bigger park in Ohio,” he blushed slightly, smirking as he turned his attention to Steve.  “I had a phase in junior high where I thought I wanted to design roller coasters, I blew about three years of allowance money trying to build miniatures in my dad’s shop.”

“That’s - really cool,” Steve responded sincerely, trying not to look too dopey over the idea of Bucky as a kid, playing the role of mad scientist as he tried to figure out the physics behind his favorite roller coasters.

“No,” Bucky laughed, “it was really friggin’ nerdy.  But it kept me out of trouble.”

Steve laughed along as well, barely stopping himself from pointing out that any kid who decided to build model roller coasters from scratch for fun probably wasn’t getting into a ton of trouble to begin with - while he was fairly confident that it was probably the truth, he figured that they weren’t close enough yet to tease one another like that.  All the same, the conversation seemed to lighten the mood between the two of them; they spent the rest of the ride ignoring the teenagers, and instead enjoying the view from the top of the ride, pointing out familiar landmarks while also sharing random, innocuous stories from their youth.

Once the ride was over Steve felt considerably more comfortable, and the relaxed posture of Bucky’s shoulders indicated that he felt the same.  They wandered around a bit longer, stopping to ride the Coney Tower for laughs, then made their way toward the boardwalk to find something to eat and do more people watching.

They both agreed that Bucky had to try the original Nathan’s for lunch when he admitted he’d never had one of their hot dogs.  By some miracle they were able to find a bench facing the water that was free a short walk down the boardwalk and grabbed it immediately, settling in before splitting their orders between one another.  They ate in comfortable silence for a while, both content to enjoy the sun and the hotdogs and the bizarre sights and sounds that went along with Coney Island in the height of summer.

“I probably should’ve asked before we bought a bunch of junk food,” Steve mentioned as he unwrapped his second hot dog, glancing at Bucky out of the corner of his eye.  “But, uh - how’ve you been feeling?”

“Fine,” Bucky responded immediately, finishing the last of his own dog and licking a distracting dollop of mustard off of the corner of his mouth.  Try as he might, Steve couldn’t look away - after a second Bucky frowned and continued.  “I mean, you mean about the… procedure.  Right?”

Steve nodded immediately, turning his head and taking a bite of his lunch in a brave attempt to save face and silently thanking Bucky for giving him an out.  “Yeah,” he said after a second, “I mean, no symptoms or anything yet?”

Bucky shook his head as he took a drink from his water bottle.  “No, it’s still too early for morning sickness or anything like that.  And I don’t feel different or anything.”  He rummaged through the bag between them for a moment, pausing when he grabbed out the pretzel dog. 

“I mean,” he continued hesitantly, “I guess I might have a little more energy, and my hair and nails are definitely healthier - but I think that’s more the prenatals than anything else.”  He kept his full attention on liberally spreading a ketchup packet over his food as he continued, but Steve didn’t miss the color rising in his cheeks.  “And I’ve gotta pee a lot more often, but that’s probably because Doctor Foster wants me to drink water like a damned fish.”

“Sorry,” Steve muttered apologetically, feeling inexplicably guilty about the revelation.

“Nah, it’s not a big deal,” Bucky chuckled, shaking his head.  “I mean, it’s gonna get a lot worse - and I signed up for it.  I’m just trying to think if I’ve noticed any other hints.”

“Guess we’ll know for sure soon enough?” Steve asked, not wanting to pressure the omega into telling him anything he didn’t want to.

Bucky nodded as he chewed.  “Week and a half.  I’ve got the confirmation appointment scheduled for July eleventh,” he answered after swallowing.  “Uh, if you didn’t know already.  Or… if you wanted to come.”

“Yeah, the office told me,” Steve answered shortly, not bothering to point out the fact that he’d been there on the same day as Bucky’s appointment… they’d finally gotten comfortable with one another, he thought, so bringing up something so awkward seemed counter-productive.  “And I mean - I was thinking about it, but if you’d rather not -”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Bucky responded in a rush.  “I mean, if you wanna I’ve got no problem with it.  Pretty sure they’re just gonna have me pee in a cup and take a blood sample though, so if you’ve got something else on that day and want to wait for the more exciting appointments I hardly blame you.”

“No, if you’re cool with it I’d like to be there,” Steve insisted, shaking his head emphatically.  “I dunno, I just - I’d like to be there to know.”

“Alright,” Bucky responded awkwardly, “sounds good.”

They finished the last of their food in silence before starting back down the boardwalk, weaving in and out of groups and families.  Steve attempted to bring up idle chat about the sights as they went along, doing his best to ignore the excitement that he felt in thinking about the upcoming appointment: the whole point of the day had been to hang out and get to know one another without the agency being involved, after all.

It was Bucky that steered them back up 12th Street towards the carnival games, vaguely suggesting that they might be fun for people watching, at the very least.

He wasn’t wrong: they’d barely made it to the middle of the main fairway when they came upon a pair of young men - both obviously alphas who probably hadn’t even finished high school yet - posturing and boasting loudly about their AAU baseball teams as they waited for their turn on the fastpitch toss.

Bucky rolled his eyes as they walked past, but Steve stopped on a whim, nodding his head towards them with a smirk as the attendant explained the rules of the game.  They were relatively simple: for ten tokens each player had three opportunities to throw a pitch from the rubber mound outside of the booth into the painted catcher’s mitt on the tarp inside; if the radar gun read faster than seventy five miles per hour, they won one of the lower-tiered prizes.  If they threw faster than seventy five at least twice, they got to choose from one of the tacky, super-hero themed teddy bears that lined the top of the booth.

“Bet neither of them break sixty,” Steve muttered, so that only Bucky could hear him as they stood at the edge of the fairway and watched the guys hand over their tokens with a ridiculous swagger.

The first one practically strutted to the mound, laughing loudly at how close the target was to him.

“No way I’m takin’ that bet,” Bucky chuckled lowly, crossing his arms and shaking his head. 

The first alpha wound up and threw the ball, with a follow-through that was so sloppy that Steve figured even he might have been able to beat him.  The speedometer on the board clocked the pitch at 49 mph, and Steve had to hide a snort of laughter as a cough behind his hand as the alpha scoffed incredulously.  He glanced up at Bucky, whose lips were pressed so tightly together that they were white, presumably to keep his own laughter in check.

The rest of the kid’s throws were just as sad, leaving his friend loudly mocking him and drawing an even larger crowd to watch the debacle.  To Steve’s unholy delight, the second, larger alpha did even worse - his first toss might have had enough speed to have beat his friend, but it was so far off target that the radar didn’t even register it.

By the end they were both loudly bitching to anyone who would listen that the game was clearly rigged.

“You said you played in high school, right?” Steve asked quietly, counting up his remaining handful of tokens.  Given how few rides they’d been on they still had enough between the two of them for a round of throws.

Bucky laughed, “Almost ten years ago, yeah.  Why?”

Steve smirked at him.  “Well, I got to play pitcher on the JV team my senior year, but the only real pitch I had was a slider.  My change was okay, but apparently I telegraphed it…” he shook his head fondly, already holding his tokens out for Bucky to take, “and I really want that Captain AmeriBear.”

Bucky scoffed and frowned at the coins in his hand.  “Wait, you want me to throw?  Steve, that’s ridiculous - the kids were probably right.  It’s a carnival game, safe bet is it is rigged.”

The complaints of the young alphas who had embarrassed themselves were finally starting to calm down to a dull roar, but were still obnoxious enough to hold both Bucky and Steve’s attention.

“It might be,” Steve conceded after a few seconds.  “But I also really want to watch these little twerps get embarrassed, and I know I don’t have a chance at being the one who does it.”  He shook the tokens at Bucky again, playing dirty and giving his best puppy dog eyes.  “Please?  I don’t have anything else I wanna spend these on.”

Bucky sighed, squinting for a moment as he really eyed the game up, before finally taking the tokens from Steve’s hand.  He paused for a moment, stretching his right shoulder above his head before bending his arm back and using his left hand to help stretch out his triceps.  Steve tried (and failed spectacularly) not to pay attention to the way his shoulder muscles rippled under Bucky’s shirt, or to notice the sliver of firm, toned abdomen that peaked out between the hem of his t-shirt and his shorts.

After a solid minute of stretches Bucky finally put Steve out of his misery, digging the rest of the tokens out of his pocket and walking up to the game’s attendant confidently. The pair of alphas, who were still whining about getting another throw, stood by in stunned silence as Bucky strode past them and handed his tokens over as if they weren’t there.

The taller of the two studied Bucky closely as the booth attendant dug out a new set of baseballs - so closely that Steve felt a hot flare of jealousy build up in his chest.   His buddy puffed up, looking like he was going to make another complaint, only to get cut off as he elbowed him in the ribs.

“The breeder thinks he’s got a shot,” the jerk stage-whispered before sniggering in Bucky’s direction.  “Just shut up and stand back, this is gonna be rich.”

Steve took a step in their direction, biting his tongue so hard that it hurt in an attempt to keep himself from yelling at the little assholes, but stopped short when Bucky turned back towards him.  He caught the tight look on the omega’s face, a mixture of both anger and shame, and immediately felt guilty for having put the guy up to it in the first place.  He hardly deserved to be made a laughing stock, especially not for the sake of Steve’s own pride.

“You got this, Buck,” he heard himself say roughly, surprising them both from the look that Bucky gave him.  But it also made his lips quirk into a crooked little smirk, one that made Steve’s heart trip over itself before he finally stepped up to the mound and got into position. 

Bucky took an inordinate amount of time to study the tarp, Steve thought, before finally winding up and letting a pitch go.  It hit the tarp with a respectable thwack, but the speedometer on the board only read 67 mph.

“Oh,” the booth attendant whined exaggeratedly, “not bad, but not quite there, champ.”

Steve narrowed his eyes at the jackass, but before he could say anything Bucky shrugged it off and accepted the second baseball.  “What are your rules about the distance we throw from?”  He asked nonchalantly, rolling the ball over in his fingers as he considered his target.

“Just that you stay behind the line,” the attendant answered, giving Bucky yet another incredulous look.

Bucky ignored him completely, turning to Steve with a knowing smile.  “Could you make sure no one walks in front of me?” he asked sweetly, before turning and walking a solid ten feet to the left of the booth.

Steve had no idea what the omega was playing at but he followed his directions, standing at the actual pitching line for the booth, and trying to make himself as large as possible to deter walkers away.  (Luckily the corridor was relatively dead except for the few onlookers still standing around and gawking at the games; otherwise the request could have wound up being more than a little embarrassing for Steve).

This time Bucky wound up as if he were actually throwing a pitch, bringing his hands together as he rocked back then stepping forward and throwing the ball with all of his might towards the center of the tarp.  Steve watched, impressed, as he finished with his follow-through, then tore his eyes away to look at the board as the ball smacked against the tarp, making the same noise as before.

The odometer read 78 mph. 

The attendant looked like he’d swallowed a bug.

“I get one more, right?” Bucky asked lazily, strutting towards the attendant with his hand out for the last baseball.

“Yeah, sure,” the guy muttered, handing it over.  Steve was half-expecting him to go back against his rule and force Bucky to throw from the pitching mound, but he stayed silent as Bucky again went back to his spot a few yards beyond.

His third throw was even better than his second, clocking in at 80 mph.   The attendant didn’t even look Bucky in the eye as he asked him what he wanted for a prize; if Bucky was bothered by it he hid it well, and nonchalantly asked for the Captain Ameribear. 

“Thanks,” he muttered as the attendant practically chucked it into his hands, before turning towards Steve and continuing on the same route they’d been on before they were sidetracked.

As soon as they were out of view of the booth, Bucky handed the bear over to Steve with a cocky smirk. 

“That was impressive, I’m not gonna lie,” Steve chuckled, before taking the bear with a bright “Thanks.”

“My pleasure,” Bucky snorted.  “The idiot probably didn’t even know where the radar gun is in the booth.  I guarantee he won’t let anyone pitch from anywhere other than the mound again.”

“What d’you mean?”  Steve asked, completely confused.

Bucky chuckled softly, “I mean, I had a feeling it was rigged after watching the guys before us: their mechanics were shit but the big one was throwing pretty hard, enough that he probably should’ve been clocking in the sixties.  On that first throw I tried to watch where the sensor was actually located: the thing uses doppler to figure out how fast the ball is going, so unless you clock it from directly behind the pitcher, you’re going to end up with interference that’s going to read the ball as going slower than it actually is.  I just moved so that I was actually throwing at the radar gun.”

“That’s brilliant,” Steve laughed, shaking his head at the omega’s ingenuity.

Bucky dropped his gaze to his shoes, but not quite quickly enough that Steve missed the grin that spread on his face as he rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously.  “Nah, it’s just physics.”

They doubled back to walk along the boardwalk for a while in silence, basking in the glow of Bucky’s win for a while, before Steve finally felt the urge to speak up again.  “So… wha’d’you do now?”  He asked in a rush, blushing slightly as Bucky looked towards him with a confused frown.

“I mean, for exercise,” he clarified, feeling even more ridiculous than he’d started.  “You said you played baseball in high school, but - I’m guessing there aren’t a ton of regular intramural teams in Bed-Stuy.”

That sounded - normal, Steve told himself.  And not at all like he was implying that he was thinking about the fact that Bucky very clearly worked out, which Steve was very much continuing to enjoy as the afternoon went on.

Bucky’s laugh was pleasant enough that Steve let himself relax a bit, figuring that he’d hidden his meaning well-enough.  “Nah, I haven’t played baseball in years,” Bucky answered amusedly.  “I used to run track, too, but those days are clearly long over.”  He shook his head, although his eyes looked fond, as if he was remembering pleasant memories at least.  “I mostly just jog, now,” Bucky continued after a few moments, “around Brooklyn.  It’s a good stress-reliever.  And I try to get to see my friend Natasha at least a couple of nights a week: the gym in her building is awesome, and she’s been teaching me how to punch shit since we met as undergrads.”

“Nice,” Steve responded evenly.  “I run too, or - I try to.  Never really could as a kid, had asthma for as long as I can remember and was real sickly growing up, but then puberty was kind to me and I kinda grew out of the worst of it?”  He shrugged, realizing how improbable that sounded.  “I mean, I still take a couple of maintenance meds, but as long as the pollen and the smog aren’t too bad, I can take a few laps around Central park.  I ran the New York Marathon, a few years back.”

“Damn,” Bucky responded, looking far more impressed than Steve had planned for.

“I mean, I was in one of the slowest heats,” Steve explained, feeling his cheeks heat up, “and I’m never doing it again, but it was a nice bucket-list accomplishment, y’know?”

Bucky hummed, before asking, “What else?”

Steve frowned inquisitively, having no idea what the omega was actually asking.

“I mean,” Bucky clarified, running his fingers through his hair as Steve noticed a bit of color perking up in the apples of his cheeks, “aside from running.  D’you do any other - exercise stuff?”

“So my secret identity as a gym rat is that apparent, huh?” Steve drawled jokingly, shaking his head and chuckling when Bucky sputtered.  “I’m kidding - I actually train Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitzu,” Steve admitted after a beat.  “I got started during a random self-defense class that I took in undergrad, mainly cuz I was dating the instructor.  But they both ended up being fun and something that allowed me to blow-off steam without getting my ass kicked, so as soon as I got some money I joined a gym and kept up with it.”

“That’s awesome,” Bucky mused, frowning when Steve scoffed at him.  “No, seriously, it’d be cool as hell to train in something like that.  I just throw punches at a heavy bag while Nat watches and tries to make sure I don’t break my hand or anything equally stupid.”

It was on the tip of Steve’s tongue to bring up the fact that his Guro would probably let Bucky visit a class for free on Steve’s invitation, when he remembered the fact that Bucky couldn’t exactly be sparring.  It was kind of embarrassing, despite the fact that he’d at least thought before he’d run his mouth - but it also sent a jolt of excited energy down Steve’s spine.

“We could go for a run together sometime,” he ended up saying instead, glancing up at Bucky.  “I mean, if you want.  It could be a fun way to hang out together.”

“Yeah, I’d like that,” Bucky agreed immediately.  “It’s been awhile since I’ve really had a running buddy.”  He took a breath like he was going to say something else, before pausing slightly.  “Er, later, anyway.  I’ll let you know once I’ve got my schedule, so we can see what we can work out.”

“Schedule?” Steve asked, unable to help prying.

“Uh, yeah,” Bucky told his shoes.  “I - I got a job, actually.  Start tomorrow, so I’ll know better what kind of free time I’m actually gonna have going forward.”

“Really?”  Steve asked, grinning.  There was a tiny, obnoxious voice in his head that wanted to start to worry about the idea of the omega working so early in his pregnancy, but Steve stomped it down immediately - the fact that Bucky was here meant he had no intention on going back on their agreement, and it wasn’t as if millions of omegas didn’t work during their entire pregnancies.  “Congrats, Bucky - that’s great!”

Bucky scoffed as he shook his head.  “I mean, it’s just part-time in a coffeeshop,” he responded bashfully.  “I figured I’d settle for something that could help pay the rent, at least until I can find somethin’ better.”

Steve schooled his face as well as he could, barely holding back a sympathetic wince as he listened to Bucky’s explanation - he couldn’t imagine how frustrating it must be for the omega, even with the limited amount that he knew about his job history.  “Alright,” he ended up saying after a minute, knowing that any platitudes would just make things more uncomfortable, “well - just let me know when you’re free.  It’s been way too long since I’ve run around Prospect park, so it’d be awesome to have an excuse to get out to Brooklyn.”

“Will do,” Bucky responded with a smile, visibly relaxing as if he was grateful that Steve had dropped the point.  “And, um, thanks a lot for today.  I had a really good time.”

“Same here,” Steve said brightly, “thanks for coming out.” 

With one final wave they both made their ways up the stairs to their respective platforms, before setting off in opposite directions on the D.

They exchanged daily texts over the next week, after Steve had decided to send a simple good luck text on Bucky’s first day of work that Bucky had seemed to appreciate.  Despite their increased contact, though, meeting up again proved to be a challenge.  Bucky’s hours seemed like they were considerably more than part-time, and the start of July brought with it three surprise ‘Almost Thirty’ birthday parties that Tony insisted on throwing for Steve.  Although they were far bigger ordeals than Steve ever would have asked for for himself, Tony still knew him well enough to plan them so that everyone invited enjoyed themselves.  Steve griped about each of them initially, but in the end it was nice to have the reminders that there were still so many people around to celebrate him, and that he had friends good enough to take the time to arrange it all.

They had time enough to meet up for a quick brunch the Saturday before to the eleventh, one that Bucky had to rush off from to make it to his afternoon shift on time and that was more than a little stilted as the upcoming appointment hung over the both of them, but it was nice to meet up with one another all the same. 

Steve took the day of the appointment to work from home, knowing that he didn’t have a prayer of being productive with all of the nerves and excitement he was feeling around the news that they might get. He arrived at the CS clinic fifteen minutes early for Bucky’s exam, and couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face when he saw the familiar brunet already seated in the waiting room.  He raised his hand to wave as he made his way towards him, only to stop when he noticed that the seat next to Bucky was already occupied - by a stern-looking redhead whose hair was pulled back into a severe ponytail.  Although she didn’t look much larger than Steve, she seemed remarkably intimidating.

Under normal circumstances Steve would have approached them anyway; he’d never been one to back-down from a fight, and had spent his entire life refusing to be intimidated, even when it went against his self-interest.  This was hardly a normal circumstance, though - now that he’d stopped and looked, he could see how clearly nervous Bucky looked: the poor guy hardly needed more stress on his plate.  And Steve wasn’t about to start something with a stranger in the middle of an obstetrics waiting room.

He caught Bucky’s eye as he took a seat a few chairs down from him and gave a friendly smile and wave, one which Bucky immediately returned.  Steve couldn’t be for certain whether it was his imagination or not, but he felt like the omega relaxed a bit after that, a thought that he couldn’t quite help feeling pleased about. 

Steve grabbed a random parenting magazine from the side table beside him, absently flipping through it in an attempt to keep his mind occupied as he waited.  He wasn’t, however, able to bring himself to completely ignore the pair down the row from him - over the next few minutes he could sense Bucky becoming increasingly uncomfortable, bouncing his leg against the floor while he looked at his cell phone and leaning over to talk to the woman with him in a low, hurried whisper.

Finally, after five minutes of awkwardness, Bucky rose from his chair and hustled towards the receptionist’s desk, speaking quietly to the young man working at check-in.  After a short back and forth the guy nodded towards the door to the clinic, and without another look back Bucky disappeared behind the door.

Steve was already on his feet when the redhead approached him. 

“Steve Rogers, right?”  She asked shortly, her vivid green eyes practically boring into him.

“Er, yeah,” Steve answered, “can I help you?”

“Natasha Romanoff, I’m James’ support alpha,” the woman responded, holding her hand out to shake.

Steve took it, returning the firm grip while using every ounce of self-control he had not to excuse himself to go after Bucky. 

“Do you think we could step out in the hall, just for a moment?”  Natasha asked, interrupting Steve’s train of thought.

Although he badly wanted to question why, Steve nodded and followed her out the main door to the waiting room, figuring it would be better to get the meeting over as quickly as possible so that he didn’t miss any of the appointment.

“You planning on givin’ me a shovel talk, Miss Romanoff?” Steve asked teasingly as soon as the door was closed behind him.

Instead of laughing at the poor joke Natasha just seemed to study him closer.  “Do I need to, Mister Rogers?”

The delivery was so deadpan that Steve couldn’t stop his burst of laughter.  “No,” he admitted once he’d gotten himself together, “no, you don’t.  You just had that look, I suppose.”

“Listen,” Natasha said, sighing as the smirk she’d had during Steve’s outburst slid off of her face, “I’ve told James this is a terrible idea from the start, but I also know how smart he is and how much thought he put into this whole mess before getting himself into it.  That said…” she sighed, “he’s been through alot, Rogers.  I just want to make sure that he doesn’t end up getting screwed over again.”

“He won’t be,” Steve swore, feeling less offended by Natasha’s implications towards him and more angry at the shit Bucky’d been through.  “At the very least I promise this will be a successful business transaction, I’ll make sure every cent of his contract is paid to him.  And at the most… I just wanna be a good friend to him.  He seems like a really great guy, I’d like to get to know him better.”

Natasha watched Steve like a hawk for a moment, silently scrutinizing him as he finished talking - it took every ounce of self control that he had to avoid squirming under the weight of it. Finally she must have decided that she was satisfied with whatever she found: she nodded as her mouth quirked into a crooked smirk.  “That’s good to hear, Steve - James could definitely use some more friends.  God knows I can only do so much to look after him.”

Steve couldn’t help but frown at that: Bucky seemed to be a good enough person that Steve found it hard to believe that he could possibly have trouble when it came to making friends.  He went from being offended by Natasha’s obvious implications that he was untrustworthy to being concerned over the idea that she might actually have reasons to be worried about him.

“Well,” he said after a painfully awkward pause, “I’m gonna head back in, in case Bucky’s name gets called…”

He didn’t wait for Natasha’s response, instead turning and making his way back through the door before she could argue otherwise.

It was hard to miss how quickly all of the eyes of the people in the waiting room looked away from Steve when he walked back inside, although he couldn’t exactly blame them - he definitely  knew what it must have looked like, to see a pair of alphas (even if they weren’t the most physically intimidating ones in the world) square off seconds after an omega had fled the room.  At least they’d given no indication that their conversation had been anything less than civil.

“Mister Rogers?”  the receptionist called out before Steve could reclaim his seat, “They’re actually ready for you back here, if you could come through the door next to me I’ll point you to the exam room.”

Steve did as instructed, and a couple of minutes later was walking down the hallway to exam room five.  He knocked shortly before opening the closed door, blushing when he found Bucky already seated on the table.

“Sorry,” Bucky started immediately, “I was worried about being too nervous to give a urine sample so I drank a whole one of those liter water bottles this morning, and I, uh - couldn’t really wait to give the sample any more.”

“No worries,” Steve responded with a chuckle, rubbing the back of his neck, “I totally understand.”

Bucky frowned slightly as he looked down at Steve, before signing.  “Nat cornered you, didn’t she?”

“Not cornered, no,” Steve answered sincerely.  “No, she asked me to step out and talk to her for a second, just so we could meet properly.”

Bucky rolled his eyes and muttered something himself, but didn’t say anything further.

“You two aren’t, uh…” Steve started to ask before he could stop himself.

“Aren’t?” Bucky asked in confusion when Steve didn’t continue with his train of thought.  He looked at Steve again with a frown, before it just as quickly changed into an incredulous laugh.  “Oh god, no .  We aren’t dating,” he said between guffaws.  “No, gross - I love Natasha to death, she’s been my best friend since freshman year of undergrad, but that’d be like dating my sister.  We’d probably kill each other if we tried to be at all romantic.”

Steve hated how relieved he felt as he listened to Bucky’s answer.  “Alright,” he said when Bucky had finished, forcing himself to laugh shortly as well.  “Sorry, I didn’t - she didn’t imply that you were, of course, I just - I just wondered.  With the whole support thing.”

Bucky shook his head rigorously, wiping his hand over his face as he got himself under control.  “I had to have a support alpha to sign on as an unmated surrogate, and she’s the only person I could trust to help me out like that.  But we’re definitely just really good friends.”

There was a knock on the door as he finished speaking, and a moment later a brunette nurse made her way into the room.  Steve returned her friendly smile, reading the nametag on her scrub top as she turned her attention to Bucky.

“Hey James,” Connie said with a smile of her own, pushing her way further into the room with a small carrier full of what Steve recognized as blood-drawing equipment.  “Sorry to interrupt, I just needed to draw a quick HCG level before Doctor Foster comes in to see you guys.”

“No problem,” Bucky responded easily, already holding his left arm out so that she could use it.  The nurse made quick work of applying the tourniquet, so that it was barely a minute later before she had a vial of blood and was slapping a bandaid on the omega’s arm.

Steve studied the awkward poster on the wall in front of him that illustrated the changes in fetal development through the trimesters, trying to give Bucky some semblance of privacy during the whole thing.

“There we go,” Connie said pleasantly, gathering up her materials again just as quickly as she’d brought them in, “I’ll get this labeled and sent off to the lab before lunch, it usually takes them about four hours to turn the results around, so either Doctor Foster or I will give you a call with the results first thing tomorrow morning.”

Steve glanced up at that, noticing how closely Bucky was watching her.  “I take it that means the urine test was positive?” he asked neutrally, before she could leave the room.

“Oh,” Connie responded, sounding surprised.  “Uh, yeah - Doctor Foster will come in and go over it all with you completely, but yeah, the urine pregnancy test was positive.  We’ll just send the blood test off to the lab to confirm that it’s viable.”

Bucky nodded shortly, murmuring, “Great, thanks,” as Connie nodded and made her way out the door.

Steve felt like he’d been hit by a truck.

After another solid minute of silence, he guessed that his shock was readily apparent on his face, when Bucky quipped, “First shot - nice work there, Stevie.”

Steve glanced over at Bucky, who was sitting on the exam table with a smirk as he looked down at Steve.  The look on his face might have fooled Steve into believing that the omega was completely at ease, but the rigid way that he held his back and shoulders said otherwise… Bucky looked to be just as worked up as Steve felt.

Before he could stop it, Steve burst into nervous giggles.

Bucky joined instantaneously, leaving them both sitting in their respective spots, laughing like idiots.  Steve almost had himself together when the door opened again, shutting them both up as they wiped at the tears on their faces and schooled their expressions while Doctor Foster made her way into the room.

“Sorry for the wait there,” she said smoothly, giving them both a slightly amused look as she made her way across the room and placed her tablet on the counter next to the sink, leaning against it as she spoke.  “But congratulations - the urine pregnancy test was positive.  We’ll just send the blood test off to make sure that we don’t have to worry about the embryo being anywhere outside of the uterus, or having any other complications, but given how rarely it happens it’s more for precaution than anything else.”

“Yeah, that’s something I’d rather know sooner than later,” Bucky murmured, crossing his arms and leaning forward slightly on the exam table.

Doctor Foster nodded along as she turned to the sink and washed her hands.  “I agree; it’s not exactly routine for all pregnancies, but in our surrogates especially we want to get a handle on everything as early as possible so that we don’t have any surprises.”  She dried her hands quickly before turning back to the table, unlooping her stethoscope from her neck as she did.  “James, I just want to get a quick listen to your heart and lungs before we continue,” she started, rattling off questions about his symptoms as she did.  Once again Steve did his best to avert his eyes during the exam, wondering if he shouldn’t just excuse himself for it - but if Bucky had any problem with his being there he gave no indication of it.

Even when the doctor lifted his shirt to listen to his heart, leaving Steve with an eyeful of abs that were considerably more toned than he had been expecting, Bucky just went along with the flow.  Steve studied the tiles on the floor, silently naming off every color that he saw and imagining the color schemes and fonts that each would work best with.

“Alright, everything checks out,” Doctor Foster said as she finished, looping her stethoscope back around her neck and making her way into sit in the third seat in the room, before pointing towards the chair next to Steve.  “You’re more than welcome to move into the seat if it’s more comfortable for you, James.  Usually on a first visit we would perform the full pelvic exam and history and physical, but given the fact that we just did all of that during your application process we don’t need to repeat the rest of it now, especially since you aren’t having any concerning symptoms.  Today was mostly to perform the confirmatory tests and answer any questions that either of you have, then to talk about planning the appointments going forward.”

An awkward moment passed before Bucky moved down into the chair as Doctor Foster had indicated, licking his lips nervous as he sat.  “I mean, I had a couple of questions about exercising,” he started hesitantly.

“As much as you’re comfortable doing,” Doctor Foster answered immediately, with a smile.  “Seriously, I encourage all of my patients to try to make time for exercise during their pregnancy, as much as they have energy for.  It can be difficult, especially with the fatigue you’ll likely experience through your first trimester and the discomfort that goes along with the third trimester, but the stronger you are going into that last trimester the less your back pain should be.  Not to mention, it’ll make you better prepared for giving birth.”

“So - I don’t have any restrictions?”  Bucky asked skeptically.  Steve couldn’t help wondering the same.  “So far I’ve been keeping up my usual jogging and lifting routine at the gym…”

Doctor Foster leaned back in her chair.  “I’ve had patients who’ve kept up their crossfit routines until their due date,” she answered after a moment.  “I wasn’t particularly excited about approving those kinds of workouts, but their trainers made reasonable concessions and they all did great.  Obviously you won’t be doing any floor work on your stomach for much longer, and once you hit your second trimester I’m going to encourage you to stay off of your back - by that point your uterus will be large enough to compress your vena cava, and we don’t want you to be in the middle of a work-out and stop the blood returning from your legs.”

Steve winced sympathetically, glancing askance at Bucky - who was taking the recommendations completely in-stride.

“Running will probably become more difficult as you get larger,” Doctor Foster continued, “but again, I’ve had patients running marathons at full-term.  I wouldn’t want a pregnant patient to try to get into marathon shape during pregnancy by any means, but if you’re already at that level of fitness when you become pregnant, it’s entirely possible to keep it up while you’re gestating.

“If you’d like,” she continued, “we can revisit this in a couple of months and I can give you some specific dos and don’ts - but for now especially, as long as you aren’t at risk of a hard fall or any abdominal trauma, you don’t have any physical limitations.  Keep doing whatever you have been.”

“Sounds good,” Bucky responded with a tight nod.  “That… that was really the only question I had.  Miss Maximoff kind of went over the follow-up schedule with us during our last meeting, and Doctor Cho gave me quite a bit of reading material on what to expect.”

Steve nodded along in agreement.  “Yeah, I’ve done a bit of reading too - aside from an idea of what the appointments are gonna be like, I don’t think I have any questions either.”

“Great,” Doctor Foster responded brightly.  “Well James, I want you to continue the prenatal vitamins, of course, and as balanced a diet as you can manage.  Have you had any morning sickness yet?”

“No,” Bucky answered simply, “not yet.”  He knocked on the wall behind him as he added the second part, causing Doctor Foster to give him a rueful smile.

“Don’t be surprised if it starts in the next week or so,” she responded sympathetically.  “I’ll give you a packet on things that typically help patients get through it, and if it becomes an issue for you you can always call the office; I’d be happy to get a prescription to your pharmacy if you need anything to help with it. 

“As for going forward,” she continued, “we’ll see you back here in two weeks, only I want you to plan for an extra half-hour for the appointment, since we usually do the dating scan between eight and ten weeks.”

“Dating scan?” Steve asked cluelessly.

“The first ultrasound,” Doctor Foster explained, knocking Steve off his feet again.  “Just a very basic one, since it will still be too early to see much, but if we get the first ultrasound between weeks eight and twelve it gives us the most accurate conception date and allows us to estimate the delivery date within a couple of days.”

“We already know the conception date,” Bucky responded with a frown.

“We do,” Doctor Foster agreed calmly, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise - I went into the routine spiel.”  She cleared her throat shortly before continuing, “All the same, we do prefer to have a dating scan on our surrogate carriers as well; it’s a good benchmark for early growth and data to compare as a baseline when we get later in pregnancy and are looking at anatomy scans and the like.  That said, if you’re opposed to the idea, James, this is one scan that we could get away with skipping.”

Steve couldn’t help feeling disappointed over the idea of missing out on an ultrasound so early, but he also understood Bucky’s resentment over the implications behind it.

“No,” Bucky said reluctantly, “I’m not opposed, not really.  Not if it’ll still give us some useful data.”  He paused for a moment picking at a thread on the hem of his t-shirt.  “Uh, but… um, what kind of probe would you need to use?  That early?”

“Probe?”  Doctor Foster asked gently.

“I mean,” Bucky continued, blushing spectacularly, “I thought the uterus was still down in the pelvis until week ten, so - would this one be an internal one or a normal one?”

As he listened to the question, Steve felt his own face heating up, to the point that he probably could have fried an egg on his forehead when Bucky finished talking.  The omega’s reluctance made considerably more sense - Steve hadn’t even thought about the fact that the procedure Doctor Foster was recommending might be an internal one.

“Oh, no,” Doctor Foster answered, shaking her head as she put together Bucky’s meaning.  “No - you’re correct that the uterus is still pretty small at that point, but by eight weeks we can almost always get a good enough image transabdominally that we can date the fetus - all we really need is a clear view of its spine to measure its size.  And we’ll have you come in with a full bladder, which will help elevate the uterus in the pelvis as well.  A couple of days before, either a nurse or a tech will call you with instructions, but we should be able to do everything externally.”

“Alright,” Bucky said, relaxing back into his chair.  “In that case, I’ve got no problem with it.”

“Sorry for the misunderstanding,” Doctor Foster responded apologetically.  “So aside from the regular visit and the dating scan at week eight, we’ll see you back at week twelve for another appointment.  At that time we’ll also get bloodwork for your first trimester genetics screen and do another ultrasound.  By that point, the fetus will be developed enough that we can check for signs of genetic abnormalities.”

Steve swallowed thickly, trying to repress the sick feeling he felt in his stomach. “Is - is that a concern?”  He asked nervously.

“Not exactly,” Doctor Foster responded matter-of-factly.  “Neither of you have a family history that makes me worry about any congenital issues, and given how young you both are the likelihood of the fetus having an abnormal number of chromosomes is relatively very low.  All the same, we want to screen for them as early as possible, and between the blood test and the ultrasound we’ll be able to almost completely rule-out the likelihood of any chromosomal abnormalities coming as a surprise.”

She paused for a moment, watching them both closely and waiting for questions.  Steve glanced at Bucky out of the corner of his eye, who still looked just a shell-shocked as Steve himself was feeling.

“I’ll write all of this out for the both of you in your discharge papers, as well as a bit on the other major tests we’ll be looking to do - those are the bulk of the first trimester visits, though,” she said gently.  “Do you have any other questions?”

Steve made brief eye contact with Bucky, who shook his head before turning to say as much to Doctor Foster, so she made her way out of the room after reminding them to call if anything changed.  From there, they both made their way to the receptionist’s desk, stopping to schedule the follow-up appointment at a time that would work for the both of them before parting with an awkward promise to text one another about meeting up again.

Bucky went straight for Natasha once they exited into the waiting room - the alpha looked concerned for a moment upon seeing him, but flashed Steve a tight smile and wave before the two of them quickly left in front of him.  Steve waited around in the waiting area for a moment, wanting to avoid the discomfort that would have gone along with riding the elevator with the pair, before finally heading home in a daze.

He still felt like he was reeling that evening, when he got a call from Conceive Solutions confirming that Bucky’s blood test had come back positive as well.  He’d barely hung up the phone when his text alert chimed.

From:  Bucky  Received: 06:25 PM
just heard from dr foster, the test came back viable

Steve grinned like an idiot as he typed his response, then went straight to his studio for the rest of the night, feeling more energized and inspired than he had in years.

To:  Bucky  Sent: 06:26 PM
they called me too - thanks!!

The amount of work that Steve was able to accomplish the next day was staggering, given how badly he wanted to spend his entire work day telling clients and subordinates alike about Bucky’s appointment results.  He kept them to himself, though, reminding himself constantly of Doctor Foster’s warning that they were still incredibly early-on in the process and the feeling that he had to avoid jinxing it.  Instead, he kept himself as busy as possible, which was good for both productivity and making the day pass quickly.

The real challenge was dinner at the Wilsons’ that night.

It was as if the kids were able to pick up on Steve’s excited energy - which honestly wasn’t a problem, given the fact that it gave them all a chance to blow off steam, even as Riley and Sam watched with poorly-concealed amusement. 

Steve was almost positive that he heard the camera app on Sam’s phone take at least twenty pictures while he was in the middle of playing Princess and ponies with the kids, but never bothered complaining about it.  Hearing Tommy giggle as much as he did was entirely worth the embarrassment that Steve would end up facing on snapchat for it.

The real excitement came after dinner, though, while Steve kept the kids busy as their parents cleaned up.  One moment he was in the middle of trying to follow-along to Maggie’s newest dance routine, when Tommy started squawking for attention from where he had pulled himself up to stand next to the living room table.  Steve turned to the baby to go help him dance - only to find Tommy a full foot away from where he’d left him, taking short, wobbly steps as he toddled in Steve’s direction.

The shock of seeing his godson walk for the first time was so much that all Steve could do was yell Sam’s name as he fumbled with his phone, flipping the camera app on with shaking hands and starting to record as he squatted down and encouraged Tommy to keep going.  In the end, he made it another three steps before falling on his butt with a grin.

Steve didn’t even realize that Sam had rushed into the room until the alpha whooped and ran into the living room, picking his son up and spinning him around with pride.

“Of course you’d show off for Uncle Steve and make us miss it,” Riley scolded gently as he made his way around the couch, although the meaning behind the words were totally lost to the pride in his voice and the misty sheen that Steve could see in his eyes.

Steve moved to join in on the group hug, only to be stopped by a small fist pulling on his pant leg.  “Steve,” Maggie whined, “yer not watching me finish dancing!”

Steve laughed, pocketing his cell phone and scooping her up.  “I’m sorry, princess - I’ll watch you a little later, but right now we’ve gotta celebrate your brother, okay?”

Before Maggie could make an argument against the idea Sam declared (in a voice far more watery than Steve would dare point out to him, given the circumstances) that first steps meant ice cream - and just like that there wasn’t another complaint for the rest of the night.

Even with the excitement and the sugar, it was surprisingly easy to get the kids down a couple of hours later: Steve did double duty, bathing them both while Riley got laundry started before the chocolate they’d given the kids inevitably stained their clothes, and felt remarkably accomplished when he was able to hand over a clean, sleepy baby for nursing before tucking Maggie in as usual.

He made his way back to the living room half an hour later with a proud grin, snickering at how cozy Sam and Riley looked while watching the video Steve had taken on his phone.  “That wasn’t so bad,” he teased, dropping into his usual chair with an air of nonchalance - even as his excitement over the news he still had to share built to the point that it was practically a physical presence of its own.  “Now that Tommy’s up and walking, you just let me know if you guys need a night off.  It’s been too long since I’ve babysat overnight, and with the both of them walking it’ll be real fun.”

“Be careful, man,” Sam laughed as Riley groaned and buried his face in his mate’s neck, “or we’re gonna start taking you up on that a lot more often.”

“I mean,” Steve said, doing his best to hold back the grin that was threatening to take over his face, “it’s no problem, really.  I’m gonna need the practice, anyway.”

There was a beat of silence as the statement set in, one that was entirely worth it for the look of surprise that spread over both Sam and Riley’s faces as they sat up and looked towards him. 

“Wait, practice?” Riley asked. “You mean… did it work?”  He was smiling so widely that it looked almost painful.

“Yeah,” Steve answered, clearing his throat when he realized how choked-up he sounded.  “Yeah, we had the confirmation appointment yesterday.  He’s pregnant.”

He had no idea which of them moved first, but it seemed like Steve barely had time to blink before he was swept up in a tight group hug, sandwiched between both of his friends.  They spent the rest of the night giving Steve pointers on getting ready for the baby, as well as razzing him for how quickly he’d moved from when they’d first given him the brilliant idea. 

By the time Steve finally left hours later, his face was sore from how hard he’d been smiling all night  - a realization that had him grinning like an idiot all over again as he pointed his Harley towards home and rode off into the night.  

Chapter Text

The weirdest thing about being pregnant, Bucky thought, was how similar it felt to being in his usual state of health; at least as far as the first four weeks had gone.  Had it not been for his missed heat (and obviously, the surreal appointment that had confirmed it all in the first place), he probably never would have noticed anything different.  Sure, he was sleeping better -  although it wasn’t necessarily because he was more tired, so much as he didn’t have as many sleepless, worried nights; especially since the payout he’d gotten just for going through with the insemination had knocked off three months’ worth of loan payments, ending his endless stream of PAST DUE envelopes for the first time in months.  And he’d been honest when he’d told Steve that he felt a little livelier, but Bucky had attributed that to the sleep situation and the fact that he was regularly eating real food again, for the first time in over a year.

The check he’d gotten after the confirmation appointment had gone a long way in terms of relieving Bucky’s financial strain, but it had been the grocery stipend that he’d gotten the next day that had really made a difference in his daily life.  After finding a cheap, faded but functional frying pan at his favorite thrift shop, Bucky had grabbed his collection of canvas bags and the grocery list that he’d admittedly spent far more time than was probably reasonable on (there’d been an absurd amount of information online regarding nutrition and pregnancy, and even though Bucky considered himself scientifically literate enough to separate the bullshit from useful sources, it still took a while to wade through it all), and made his way two blocks up and three blocks over to his favorite bodega.

There were a number of closer shops that Bucky could have stopped at for groceries, all of which he’d checked out when he’d first moved into the neighborhood, but over the years Ganes’ Food Store had proven itself to be well-worth the walk, if only because of the woman who owned and ran it.

Mrs. Ciobanu had probably played as big of a role as Natasha had in making sure that Bucky hadn’t ended up with scurvy over the years: not only were her prices the most reasonable of any of the bodegas in the neighborhood, but the old woman seemed to have a soft spot for omegas in Bucky’s situation.  It was odd, given the fact that he’d never really talked to her much, but he’d guessed that the woman had figured his money problems out by the ridiculous amounts of cheap rice and dried beans he’d bought over the first couple of months of shopping at her store.  One day, she’d randomly thrown an old bag of oranges and a handful of wilted romaine into his bag as she’d rang Bucky up.  Before he could protest that the items weren’t his, she’d handed the bag over, charging him only for the items she’d scanned.

Bucky had hurried towards the door in embarrassment, before noticing the sign on the shop wall: This store has no waste. If you do not have money for the basics, tell the owner and she will give you good food not suitable for regular sale.

He wasn’t exactly ashamed of how heavily he’d come to rely on her handouts over the past year, but they were usually his only source of fresh fruit and vegetables, so he wasn’t proud enough to have turned them down or taken his shopping anywhere else, either.

All the same it felt good to be able to set down a basket-full of fresh, pricier items on the counter with the intent of paying for them for a change.  Bucky carefully arranged his carton of milk, eggs, spring mix and wheat bread (still the off-brand cheap stuff, but at least it was healthier than the Wonder Bread knockoff he’d been settling for) next to a bag of beans and another of brown rice, digging the cans of chicken out of the bottom of his basket as he listened to the beep of the scanner.  He’d debated for an embarrassingly long amount of time between tuna and the chicken in water, before remembering a warning he’d read somewhere about mercury levels in fish posing an issue during pregnancy.  In the end he’d settled on the chicken, making a mental note to read up on it and ask Doctor Foster about at his next appointment.

It had taken twice as long as his usual shopping trips, between having to inspect the produce and actually reading the labels instead of just the price tag, but Bucky finally found himself with a full basket, piling items on the counter for the matronly old omega shop owner to ring up for him.  Once everything was unloaded he dug his canvas sacks out of the bottom of the basket, handing them over with the same apologetic grimace that he gave every time he stopped, kicking himself for not having better-arranged his items.

As always the look was ignored entirely, as the woman went to work scanning and bagging the items with impressive efficiency.  “You got job?” Mrs. Ciobanu asked out of the blue once the first canvas was full, raising her eyebrows as she finished scanning his bag of apples.

Bucky felt himself blush spectacularly; from anyone else he might have been offended, but the woman sounded as if she were mildly impressed.  “Yeah,” he answered quietly, “yeah, I finally did.”  Bucky cut himself off before he could add his usual qualifiers, that it was just a barista position at a local coffee shop: because he could finally answer that yes, he did have a job, and enough money to buy groceries for a change.

“And I’m having a baby,” he blurted, before he could stop himself.

Bucky had no idea where the added comment had come from: it was true, and if he was being honest Conceive Solutions was the whole reason he could finally go on a proper grocery trip rather than scraping for the cheapest essentials and counting on the kindness of others.  At the same time though, it had been the first time he’d said the words out loud - Natasha had known the second he’d walked out of the clinic, and it wasn’t as if it was information he was sharing with anyone else.

Somehow, saying it made it all more real.  Bucky couldn’t begin to describe the rush of emotions that immediately flooded through him, like a shock of electricity running down his back and out to his fingertips and feet.  He stood a little straighter, rolling his shoulders back as Mrs. Ciobanu considered him thoughtfully.  She didn’t say anything, thankfully - just finished bagging his groceries, adding a hand of slightly bruised bananas and a bag of carrots before holding her hand up.  “You wait here,” she instructed gruffly, before making her way towards the produce section with a surprisingly quick stooping gate.

A few moments later Mrs. Ciobanu returned to the checkout counter.  She held up the two items she’d retrieved, pausing just long enough for Bucky to recognize the odd-shaped piece of root to be fresh ginger before she packed both it and the box of saltines she held in her opposite hand into the last bit of space available in his grocery bags.

“For the mornings,” she said emphatically, pointing towards his stomach with a nod, “to make tea, for when you’re sick.”

“I can’t -” Bucky started, feeling his face flush as he reached for his wallet again, “I mean, thank you so much, but I can’t just take all that.” It was one thing to accept the produce that she otherwise would have thrown away, but Bucky had benefited so much from the woman’s kindness over the years that he wasn’t about to start taking perfectly good, fresh items, especially now that he actually had money to buy them.  “Let me pay for the root at least,” he added as he was already thumbing through bills, thankful that he’d brought more than enough with him.

“Pah,” she exclaimed with a frown, waving his hands away.  “You can.  You brought me good business for years, and I make it a point to look out for you young omegas.  I can afford the root, and you will be needing it soon enough.”

Bucky exhaled sharply through his nose, already beginning to smile as he did: he’d expected her to turn him down, if he was honest, but he wasn’t about to take no for an answer.  He finally found a five-dollar bill and dropped it in the change jar next to the register before scooping his bags up.  “Then at least take this as help for the next shopper who needs it,” Bucky insisted.

Her frown barely changed, but Bucky had known the shop owner for long enough that her eyes softened as he finished speaking; thankfully, she didn’t pull the money out of the jar, or tell him off any further.  Instead, she slid his groceries to the edge of the checkout counter with a stiff nod, responding with a short, “I can do that.”  Bucky was lifting the bags, testing their weight as he worked out how best to carry them all the way back to his apartment, when she added more lightly, “You’re a good boy, James. You have a blessed day.”

“Thank you, Mrs Ciobanu - you do the same.  I’ll see you later.”  Bucky shouldered the heavier of the two grocery bags and made his way out the door with a spring in his step, pausing at the door to give one final wave before making his way out onto the sidewalk to trek home.

The walk home was a quick one, and while the sun was already hot in the July sky it was still early enough in the morning that it at least wasn’t stifling, yet.  All the same, Bucky was glad to let himself back into his apartment a short while later, wiping the gross sheen of sweat off of his forehead as he sat his heavy grocery bags down then kneeling down in front of the tiny cube refrigerator in his ‘kitchen’.  It was a hassle, trying to figure out the best configuration to allow him to actually fit all of his purchases into the cramped space, but it was such a novel challenge to have that Bucky couldn’t bring himself to be annoyed by it.  Plus, the tiny bit of cool air that the thing pumped out was a nice change over the staleness of the rest of his room.

A few minutes later Bucky was finally able to stow his shopping bags underneath the kitchen sink, having found storage spaces for his fruit and dry goods as well.  Everything was off of the floor and stored in airtight containers: by some miracle he had managed to keep his drab apartment pest-free for over a year, and he was meticulous about keeping anything that could serve as food for them inaccessible, in hopes of keeping it that way.  He started a batch of kidney beans soaking in the crockpot on the counter - the thing had been a lifesaver over the years, after he’d found it in a charity pile and managed to rewire it so that it could safely cook dry beans and rice when he needed them - then grabbed his cell phone from where it had been charging on his desk, grinning stupidly when he saw the text messages that were waiting for him.

As expected, there was one from Natasha, a response to a random Buzzfeed article he’d sent her the night before, followed by three from Steve.

They hadn’t been able to meet up again since the confirmation appointment, unfortunately, and it was largely Bucky’s fault: it wasn’t that he didn’t want to hang out with the alpha, by any means.  On the contrary, once he’d gotten over the minor freak-out of being told he was officially pregnant (and Natasha really did deserve a medal of some sort for putting up with him over the twenty-four hours that followed), Bucky had legitimately wanted to hang out with Steve again; he’d enjoyed their trip to Coney Island, and had looked forward to getting to know the man better.  But the trip to Manhattan was such a pain in the ass, especially after a long day of work, and he felt bad asking Steve to come out to Brooklyn again so soon.  Then there was the fact that the part-time job that he’d signed on for was turning out to be not-quite-so part-time: even though he was technically still on probation, Bucky had only gotten a single day off since starting at Ultimate Coffee.

The job itself was… okay.  It was mind-numbing, standing around making drinks all day, and more than a little frustrating dealing with customers.  But it was also nice to actually be out of his apartment and doing something other than putting all of his energy into hopeless job searches, and the money to cover his rent was a huge weight off of Bucky’s shoulders.  And since it was a small franchise shop, with only a handful of baristas and a manager who was gone more often than he was there, there was at least a sense of camaraderie that he’d never gotten while working the Student Union coffee cart as an undergrad.

For better or for worse.

By and large, Bucky didn’t mind his co workers; they were nice enough without being intrusive or annoying, and so far everyone he’d been paired with had pulled their own weight throughout their shifts.  His only real complaint was the fact that it seemed like everyone other than him was still a teenager, working a part-time job while they started on their undergrad degree.  And while they were all hard-enough workers, doing the same thing Bucky had done himself at their age, being around them on a daily basis made him feel fucking ancient.

He was most commonly paired up with Teddy, a gangly beta who still seemed to be in the process of growing into his hands and feet, for as clumsy as he was with equipment around the shop.  Luckily he had a knack for dealing with customers and no reservations about manning the till - leaving Bucky to act as barista during most of their shifts together and sparing him from the bulk of customer interactions.  Then there was America, an alpha who was frighteningly competent no matter where she was working in the shop; Bucky wasn’t sure if it was his subconscious allowing him to relax for a change, but he noticed that all of his worst days seemed to correspond to the shifts that he shared with America - a fact that he was ridiculously thankful for.  He’d had a shift or two with Kate as well, whom Bucky had the feeling was well-off enough to not need to be slumming behind the counter of a local coffee shop… although seeing the way that she interacted with America on the days when she came into the shop off-shift made Bucky suspect that her interest in the job had nothing to do with the pocket change that it afforded her.

For the most part, they left Bucky to his own devices, making polite small talk when the shop was slow but otherwise ignoring the elephant in the room: that he was obviously nearly a decade their senior, and long out of undergrad studies.  Teddy seemed far more interested in his personal life than Bucky would have liked, but after a couple of shifts of gruffly answering that he was looking at work emails when asked why he was on his phone so much the point finally seemed to get across. 

But while his newfound sense of routine and purpose (and of course, spending money) was a welcome change in Bucky’s life, it didn’t stop him from regularly browsing job posting on career engineering sites.  While he didn’t search with the desperation that had gone with his original job search, Bucky still found himself browsing during most of his available downtime, especially during slow shifts at work or when he was getting ready for the day - a process that took increasingly longer now that he had a reason to look presentable and the means to actually cook for the day.

Bucky had taken to making eggs for breakfast on most mornings, because they were filling and nutritious and felt like a luxury, considering how long it had been since he’d been able to eat them regularly.  It meant getting up considerably earlier than he was used to, of course, if he was going to cook them fresh and still arrive to work on time; but for a hot breakfast it was entirely worth it.

His phone had woken him up with an announcement that he was beginning the seventh week of pregnancy, thanks to the gestational app he’d downloaded - Bucky didn’t have time to read through the information, but made a mental note to look it over during a lull in his shift.  Instead he slid out of bed and made the short trip to the bathroom, peeing and washing his face before heading to the kitchen to start making breakfast.

He lost himself completely in the calming task of warming the frying pan on the hot plate, then whisking a couple of eggs together with a splash of milk before sprinkling them with salt and pepper and pouring them into the pan.  Bucky sipped water and flipped through his newsfeed as they cooked, enjoying the domestic normalcy of the routine - right up until he moved to stir the pan and caught a whiff of the sizzling eggs, which immediately had his stomach churning violently.

He had just enough time to yank the pan off of the hot plate and run for the bathroom, lurching in front of the toilet as he heaved into the bowl.  It took nearly half an hour to get his stomach back under control, and even then he still felt queasy and gross as he stripped out of his pajamas and climbed straight into the shower to both cleanup for the day and to feel like a human again.  By the time he finally left the bedroom he had just enough time to clean up the mess in the kitchen and change into his work outfit, before running out the door with a sleeve of saltines in hand and the hope that he would be able to keep things down by his lunch break.

Luckily, he was able to box the eggs up while breathing through his mouth, packing them away in the refrigerator before leaving for work with the relief that the food at least hadn’t been wasted.  That night he mixed them with brown rice and a bag of frozen vegetables - it was bland and nothing like the fried rice he’d inexplicably been dreaming about all day, but Bucky was glad to be able to stomach it, at least.

It ended up being the first in a long list of small victories.

The first thing that started giving him trouble out of the blue was the smell of the bathroom cleaning solution at work: it had become an unspoken tradition for him and Teddy to alternate who was stuck dealing with the pair of bathrooms and who had to battle with cleaning the espresso machine at the end of their closing shifts together.  The machine, of course, was the far-more finicky process, with all of its parts and cleaning solutions and the actual importance of its sanitation between business days, so Bucky was happy to end a long day with the mindless task of mopping up and wiping down a couple of bathroom stalls.  But that evening, when the first spray of orange-zest cleaning solution ended in him gagging violently, he had no choice but to retreat back to the front of the store and pray that Teddy would be willing to permanently delegate cleaning jobs.  He wasn’t sure whether it was Teddy being grateful for getting out of fighting with burned coffee grounds or if he was just green enough to give away how awful he felt: either way, the young beta happily agreed to take care of the bathroom, and continued to do so without Bucky asking again.

Then came the weird mood swings.

They weren’t as dramatic as Bucky had been expecting, if he’d been honest with himself, having grown up watching comedies where pregnant omegas would sit and eat ice cream while crying at the drop of a hat.  He could tell that his fuse was a little shorter, sure, but was self-aware enough to catch himself before he could snap at Teddy for teasing him about texting Steve during his shift or to yell at the customers who were too busy looking at their phones to get around to ordering when they came to the front of the line during the morning rush.  He’d even held it together the morning when an older alpha in a ridiculously expensive-looking suit - who had definitely ordered a vanilla latte at the register - blew up in Bucky’s face for not having read his mind and made it with chai (he’d felt choked up about the whole ordeal for the rest of the morning, but no one needed to know as much).

Of course, there had been the afternoon when one of the regulars had gently checked to make sure that Bucky had made her daily iced coffee with decaf, just in time for him to realize that he had grabbed the wrong pitcher of cold brew out of the refrigerator and would need to start the order over again.  Something about the kind way she’d told him it was fine and gratefully accepted the remade drink had resulted in him hiding in the back of the dry-goods storeroom, furiously wiping at tears that refused to stop running down his face for no god damned reason other than to piss him off, apparently.

Luckily, if she noticed it at all America had the decency to never bring it up again.  

But the worst, as far as Bucky was concerned, was the growing feeling of fatigue that he couldn’t seem to really shake, no matter how much sleep he got.  He hadn’t been so naïve as to have thought that he wouldn’t have to eventually have to deal with feeling more tired, of course, but at the same time he’d gotten so used to feeling better than usual that the sudden rush of feeling dead on his feet an hour into his third shift of week seven took Bucky by surprise.  He managed to power through it by sheer force of will, somehow keeping up with orders and drink ingredients even though his head felt like it weighed at least a ton.  He ended up falling asleep with his chin in his hand in the break room over lunch, and was mortified when Kate found him half an hour later to check on why he hadn’t returned to the front.  He accepted her espresso with a self-deprecating chuckle and thanks, only to mournfully dump it when she wasn’t looking and fill the cup with decaf to avoid raising suspicions.

Thankfully, he’d been short-shifted, so he had time enough to take a nap between the end of his shift and meeting Nat for their increasingly customary work-out: it meant that he’d showed up a couple minutes late, having somehow managed to sleep through his alarm, but at least it meant that he was human-enough to get through his gym routine as usual.

Natasha helped him lift the bar off of the bench, standing at the ready as she watched Bucky slowly and deliberately lower the bar towards his chest, straining to keep his arms steady.  He exhaled harshly as he pressed it back up, then repeated the motion.  He was halfway through his first set when he caught the inquisitive look Natasha was giving him.

“This isn’t some weird type of compensation, is it?” she asked as they made eye contact, raising her eyebrow while Bucky pushed himself through a fifth rep.

“Wha - d’you mean?” he panted, pressing up for a fifth time.  He locked his elbows as he finished the set, letting the bar drift back towards its stand.

Thankfully, Nat took a moment to make sure it was safely racked before continuing her thought.

“I mean, you’ve been in here lifting like a mad man since you found out you were pregnant,” she answered smoothly.  “Not that I particularly have a problem with it, I just want to make sure this isn’t some deeper issue that you need to talk about, or something.”

Bucky snorted as he ducked under the bar and sat up, swinging his legs to the side of the bench so that he could face her.  “They teach you that at CS?” he teased, deflecting the the question.

He regretted it as soon as he’d said it; both because of how petty he knew it sounded and because Nat was the last person he wanted to piss off.  Rather than acknowledging as much, Bucky fled for the pull machine on the opposite side of the gym, setting up the lat bar as Natasha settled herself on the leg press next to him.

“They told us some things to look out for,” she admitted after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence had passed, “but no - I just noticed that you’ve been going a lot harder since that appointment, and I figured I should check in on you.  You know, do that job you asked me to do in the first place?”

Bucky closed his eyes and grimaced as he listened to Natasha’s words, feeling even worse for having dismissed her.  Because she was right: he had practically begged her to sign the paperwork, and even if Bucky had only intended for it to be a means to an end to make the agency agree to hire him as a surrogate, Natasha Romanoff was hardly one to do things half-assed once she committed to them.  He finished his last rep of lats, waiting until he released the bar before glancing over at her.

“I know, I’m sorry,” Bucky murmured, forcing himself to hold eye contact with his friend.  “But no, this isn’t some freakout over the idea that...y’know.”

“You’re knocked up?” Natasha supplied with a smirk.

Bucky guffawed, reaching up to grab the lat bar again and setting his grip as he positioned himself on the bench, shaking his head for having assumed that she’d let him off that easily.  “Sure,” he answered as he pulled down on his first rep, “it’s weird,” he added shortly pulling the bar down then letting it smoothly recoil, “and I still freak out about it a little,” he admitted as he repeated the exercise, “but it’s not why I’m here.”  He knocked out the rest of his reps, standing as he returned the bar to its place before shrugging and continuing.  “Honestly, I’ve been feeling really good,” he insisted as he lifted his t-shirt and wiped the sweat off of his forehead.  “And feeling good makes me want to work out, because it makes me feel even better.”

He glanced over at Natasha, who’d quit her leg presses and was sitting on the machine, studying him as he spoke.  “Plus, Doctor Foster said the stronger I am the easier the hard parts of this will be, so I guess I wanna take advantage of this time to maximize that.”  Bucky didn’t bother sitting back down on the bench, instead moving sideways and taking a seat on the rowing machine.  When he sat down he could barely see Natasha’s face with the machine between them, and immediately wished he’d have thought of as much earlier.

“Er, if you want…” he added after a second, pulling back on the row bar in a quick, smooth motion, “I can cut it back to the once a week like we used to.”  Bucky didn’t want to cut back on things if he didn’t have to, not really, but he’d work something out if it was bothering Natasha.  If he played his cards right, he could probably find a set of free weights in a thrift shop within his new budget; or even better, Steve almost certainly had a gym membership somewhere.  If he could find a way to convince the alpha to let him tag along…

“No, it’s not a problem,” Natasha replied, suddenly dropping onto the pull-down bench next to Bucky with a heavy sigh and startling him out of his musing.  “You’re welcome as often as you want, I just wanted to check that you’re okay.”

For a moment, Bucky focused on continuing his workout, paying attention only to his form as he continued pulling back on the rowing machine. His legs were burning, his back was on fire, and he was suddenly completely exhausted - far more than he should have been, regardless of how hard he’d worked out.  Worse than that, though, was the niggling sense of guilt that he felt underneath it all for having dragged Natasha into his mess in the first place.

The machine beeped at him as Bucky hit his ERG goal, and he slid back into start position, drawing a couple of deep, even breaths before he finally glanced up at Nat again.  “Thanks, Nat,” he panted, “that… that really means a lot.  All of this does.”

“Yeah, well I kinda give a shit about you, Barnes,” Natasha drawled as she let the lat bar go, looking down at him with a sardonic smile.  “Don’t start making it weird, okay?”

Bucky laughed and agreed to her request, actually accepting her hand when Natasha offered it to help him up from the rowing machine, and just like that the atmosphere was back to their normal.  From there they finished their workouts as usual, cooling down on the treadmills before making their way up the stairs to Natasha’s apartment.  The place already smelled incredible, a fact that was explained when Clint stuck his head out of the kitchen with a grin. 

“Hey guys, how was the workout?”

“It was good,” Bucky responded easily, kicking his shoes off beside the door as Nat made her way through the foyer and kissed her boyfriend on the cheek before disappearing into the kitchen.  “Why didn’t you join us?” he added teasingly.

“Afraid I’ve lost the evolutionary drive to pick shit up and put it down without reason,” Clint snarked, not missing a beat.

Nat bumped Clint with her shoulder as she made her way back into the dining room, smirking at his loud, overly-dramatic squawk as she tossed Bucky one of the water bottles she was holding.  “Hydrate up a bit, then you can grab the shower first, if you’d like.”

“Thanks,” Bucky said, twisting the top off the bottle and taking a long pull from it; he would inevitably have to pee in the middle of whatever movie they put on after dinner because of it, but he was feeling worn-out enough from his workout to not care.  “Are you sure you want to wait?”  he asked once the bottle was half-empty.  “I don’t mind taking second, if you need to work on food or something.”

Natasha clapped Clint on the shoulder with a smile, “I’ll be sitting around tonight, this one’s in charge of food,” she said fondly.

“Hope strip steaks are okay,” Clint added after a moment, giving Bucky a smug but friendly smirk.

Bucky’s stomach gave an appreciative grumble over the idea of steak and potatoes - he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a meal that sounded so decadent.  “Way more than okay,” he replied, shouldering his gym bag and heading towards the bathroom without another word.

He showered and changed into fresh clothes quickly then wandered back into the kitchen, figuring that he’d rather at least offer to help with the food prep than to sit around in the living room on his own.  He had to call Clint’s name twice, the beta was so focused on the oil sizzling in the cast iron skillet in front of him.

“Sorry,” Clint said bashfully, pointing to his hearing aid, “I turned them down in hopes of picking up something other than the background noise in the kitchen.”

“It’s all good,” Bucky responded easily, “is there anything I can do to help?”

Clint put him in charge of throwing a salad together as he stirred a pan of roast potatoes in the oven then grabbed the steaks out of the refrigerator to begin prepping them.  “How did you want yours?” he asked, as Bucky was in the middle of slicing tomatoes into a bowl of spring mix.

He opened his mouth to respond, before remembering the vague warnings about raw meat consumption and the dozens of problems they could cause for a fetus, especially early on.  “Could you get it really well done?” he ended up asking, swallowing down his disappointment.

Clint recoiled as if he’d been slapped, doing nothing for Bucky’s self-consciousness.

“It’s just,” Bucky stammered, trying his best to justify his apparently horrific request, “it’s still so early on that any kind of infection could cause a miscarriage or really terrible birth defects for the baby, and technically I’m not supposed to eat under-cooked food for the duration of the pregnancy, but the first trimester is the most important.  It’s still forming all its organs, so…”

“No, I get it,” Clint sighed, cutting Bucky off before rummaging in the cabinet below Natasha’s sink.  A couple of seconds later he stood back up, bringing another frying pan out and glaring at it like it had personally offended him.  “It’s an abomination against meat everywhere,” he continued, “but I get that the kid comes first… I’ll even cook the hell out of your poor dinner, cuz I’m a good friend like that.”

Bucky tossed the stem of the tomato he had finished dicing at Clint’s head, who snickered but otherwise went back to cooking in silence.  Bucky went on to chop carrots and cucumbers as well, enjoying their quiet companionship as he slipped past where Clint was working at the stovetop to dig cheese out of the refrigerator as well.  He was still half-in Natasha’s meat drawer when Clint spoke up again.

“Nat says you’ve got another appointment coming up next week?”

Bucky waited until he’d grabbed the brick of parmesan he’d been searching for and closed the door behind him, facing Clint so that he knew his answer was intelligible for the beta.  “Yeah,” he answered, “my doctor wants to get an early dating ultrasound to check for the viability, I think, so she asked me to come in for that.”

Clint paused with his hand still over the skillet, frowning as he looked at Bucky’s still-flat abdomen.  “It’s… big enough to do an ultrasound on, already?”

Bucky shrugged, trying to pretend that the whole idea wasn’t bizarre to him as well. “Apparently eight weeks is the cut-off for when it’s big enough to at least measure on the screen and see a heartbeat, so – yeah.”

“Wait, did you say eight weeks?” Clint asked with a confused frown.  “There’s no way it’s been that long since your first appointment, has it?”

Bucky shook his head as he grated the cheese over the salad bowl, putting the finishing touches on it.  “No, it’s been six weeks since… that,” he answered, pausing to wrap the cheese up once he was done and swallowing down the discomfort that inherently seemed to come with thinking about his procedure.  “But pregnancies are dated by the age of the egg, so technically gestation starts on the first day of your new cycle.”

“If you’re gonna start talking about periods you can stop right there,” Clint interrupted, shuddering as he transferred the first two steaks onto a plate, “I’m totally cool with being ignorant if that’s the case.”

And that was how Natasha found them, with Bucky’s arm wrapped playfully around Clint’s head as Clint tried to pull his own hearing aids out, making ridiculous gagging noises as Bucky over-dramatically ranted about omega liberation and the normalization of reproductive health.

He was banished from the kitchen for acting like a child while the two of them finished dinner prep, but it meant that he got to pick which movie they watched during dinner and ultimately felt like a worthy trade-off.

The fact that Clint still had the giggles when he brought out Bucky’s plate told him that there were no hard feelings, not that he’d expected any.  Natasha rolled her eyes fondly between the two of them, but they ultimately settled into a comfortable silence as they each ate their dinner, interjecting only to make fun of the MST3K episode they were watching.  Bucky shook his head as he surreptitiously scraped the rosemary off of his potatoes - usually he loved roasted, seasoned vegetables, but something about the little sprigs were putting him off.  Not that he was about to let Clint know as much.

Once he’d cleaned his plate Bucky gathered the others dishes and took them to the kitchen as recompense for having bailed on plating duty.  When he returned to the living room Clint and Natasha were curled together on the couch, so he settled back in his own chair with a contented sigh, basking in the glow of something so simple as an evening in with good food and friends watching a crappy movie.

It was a surprise when he opened his eyes an indeterminable amount of time later to find Clint shaking his shoulder, standing over him with a shit-eating grin on his face.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, man,” he said with a laugh as Bucky blinked blearily up at him.  “And not that we don’t love to have you around, but it’s time you get your ass out of that chair and we start getting ready to go to sleep, ourselves.”

Bucky rubbed his eyes as he sat up in his chair, wincing at the crick in his neck and straining to read the clock on the opposite wall of the room: there was no way that it really read eleven PM, he knew, but he couldn’t get his eyes to focus enough to read anything else.

Natasha walked into the room from the back hallway, phone in hand and Bucky’s gym bag slung over her shoulder.  “Oh good,” she smirked when she made eye contact with Bucky, “you’re already up - your cab will be here in a couple of minutes.”

“I don’t need,” Bucky started with a frown.

“You’ve been out cold for the past two and a half hours,” Clint cut him off, “we aren’t about to send you walking across Brooklyn on your own, and I’m too lazy to head back to Bed-Stuy tonight.”

“Besides,” Nat added, “I’ve already prepaid the driver.”  She raised her eyebrows as Bucky opened his mouth to argue again.  “Don’t you dare bring up the cost, James - consider it worth the peace of mind to know you made it home safely.”

“Really,” Clint chimed in, “you’ll be doing us a solid.”

Bucky groaned as he pushed himself out of the chair, stretching awkwardly as he simultaneously side-stepped away from Clint.  “Alright, alright - fine.  But don’t either of you get to thinking that this is gonna become the norm; I’m perfectly capable of getting myself to the subway, same as I was a month ago.”

“We know,” Natasha responded gently as she handed his bag over.  Bucky had already shouldered it when she added, “Are you sure you don’t need a pit stop before you go?  This time of night, it’s bound to be at least a fifteen-minute cab ride.”

“Fuck off,” Bucky muttered, although the words were entirely betrayed by the huff of fond laughter that he couldn’t quite suppress in time.  He reached out and pulled Nat into a one-armed hug, smiling even wider when she actually accepted and hugged him back.  “Thanks,” he murmured into her ear, even more sincerely than he’d intended, “for everything.”

“No problem,” Natasha said just as gently, “take care of yourself, alright?  Go home and get some real sleep.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Bucky chuckled as they separated, looking over Nat’s shoulder and giving Clint a wave as he raised his voice.  “And thanks for dinner, man.”

“Not at all, good to see you Barnes,” Clint waved back.

By the time he’d arrived at home Bucky had to pee again, of course, and was also so bone-tired that he couldn’t help but feel grateful for his friends’ insistence that he take a cab home, especially considering that the trip by train would have been at least three times as long counting time spent walking.  He didn’t admit to as much, but he did send them both a text as thanks, confirming that he’d made it home safely, before briefly cleaning up and then passing out for the night.

The next couple of days were largely the same: Bucky woke up, with his alarm set well before he actually had to wake up so that he could lie around in bed, sipping ginger water and nibbling saltine crackers while his stomach settled before dragging himself off to work.  He’d trudge through his work day, flipping through job sites during slow times and trying to keep himself awake and alert enough to fill orders correctly during the rest of his shift, before finally hitting his second wind when it came time to clock out for the day.  In some ways, he was glad for the weird surge of energy he got on going home - at least it meant that he could usually get a short run in before dinner, but he wished it didn’t come at the expense of spending the entire late morning feeling like a zombie.

He was halfway through his Tuesday shift and planning on sticking to his new routine.  Even better, the persistent queasiness that had been refusing to let up on him finally seemed to clear when Bucky’s lunch break rolled around.  He was already dreaming of the chicken salad he had packed away in the back refrigerator when he stopped at the counter to clock out and tell Teddy he was on his own for half an hour, when his ringtone went off.

Bucky frowned as he pulled his phone out of his pocket, wondering who would be calling him in the middle of the day.  His stomach felt like it dropped into his shoes when he saw the name STEVE on the screen; for as often as they texted, Steve had never actually called him.  Somehow, it made the contact seem infinitely more urgent.

“I, uh… I need to take this,” he stammered, already turning away from Teddy toward the break room, “I’ll be right back.”

Bucky closed the door behind him as he slid his finger across the screen to accept the call.  “Hey,” he started, barely noticing how breathless his voice sounded, “is everything alright?”

“Oh, hey,” Steve answered on the other end of the line, sounding surprised,  “I figured I’d leave a voicemail - do you have a sec?”

“Yeah, I just went on lunch,” Bucky answered truthfully, “what’s going on?”

“What?  Nothing,” Steve started, “I was just calling to…” he trailed off, just as Bucky felt his heart finally slowing to a regular pace.   “Shit,” Steve cursed, “I should’ve texted.”

“It’s fine,” Bucky responded, forcing himself to laugh shortly.  “It just took me by surprise, is all - I’m not used to getting phone calls unless something’s wrong.”  He mentally kicked himself when he realized how lame it made him sound.

Thankfully, Steve didn’t seem to pick up on it.  “Yeah, that never even crossed my mind,” he muttered ruefully.  “Anyway, everything’s fine.  I actually just wanted to see if you have anything going on tomorrow night.”

Bucky leaned against the wall of the break room as the last of the adrenaline he’d felt seeing Steve’s name on the caller ID wore off. “I work until four, otherwise nothing at all.”

“Great,” Steve continued, “I got a pair of tickets to the Mets game tomorrow, if you wanna join?  I know it’s kinda last minute, so no pressure if you don’t want to, but they’re playing the Dodgers and I figured I’d at least give you a call and extend the offer.”

“Really?” Bucky asked incredulously, before realizing how rude he sounded.  “I mean, I’d love to, but - I’m not really up on the Mets this season.  Or baseball in general, really.  I don’t wanna disappoint, if you’re looking for a fan or somethin’...”

He trailed off, not wanting to go into the fact that he hadn’t had the time or energy to follow sports during his months of fruitless job searching, and that even if he had, the shitty wifi that he (illegally) shared with the other four units on his floor could hardly support the MLB streaming services that he couldn’t dream of affording, anyway.

He almost missed the soft, amused scoff that Steve responded with.  “I don’t care about going with a fan, Buck.  I just remembered you saying you used to play, and with the pitching game and whatnot, I thought it might be a fun way for us to hang out.  But if you’d rather do something else -”

“No,” Bucky interrupted, shaking himself for having been such an idiot in the first place.  Of course he wanted to be around Steve more, and even though the idea of trekking out to Flushing sounded like an exhausting pain the ass, the chance to see a major league game and catch up with the alpha further did sound worth the trouble.  “No,” he continued, “if you don’t mind my being clueless, I’m definitely down.”

“Awesome!” Steve responded immediately, sounding so sincerely excited that it made Bucky’s heart flutter in his chest for a couple of beats.  “It would probably be easier for us to meet at the stadium, right?  Do you think you can get to Queens by seven?  First pitch is at seven thirty, but that gives us plenty of time to get in and get our seats and stuff.”

Bucky agreed that it wouldn’t be an issue, they hashed out the details of where they would meet, and before he knew it Bucky was making his way back out to the front of the shop, having inhaled his lunch in an attempt to both clock in before his break was actually scheduled to be up and to calm his growing excitement over the next day. 

Unfortunately, Teddy picked up on the fact that something was up immediately, first bugging him about being alright and then trying to needle Bucky into talking about the phone call that had him running for privacy in the first place.  In the end, Bucky made the mistake of admitting that it had been a friend making plans for the following evening - which, of course, the kid took to mean that Bucky had a date.

He spent the rest of his shift and the entirety of the next day dodging questions about his ‘beau,’ which only seemed to become more ridiculous when Bucky insisted that he didn’t have a significant other - never mind the fact that if he did, it wouldn’t be any of his coworkers business.  Pointing out as much over lunch led to Teddy finally dropping the issue, at least until his own boyfriend showed up just in time for Bucky to clock out.  He had just finished hanging his apron in the back of the store, and was waving goodbye to Teddy when he called, “Goodnight, have fun!  Be safe !”

“It’s not a date,” Bucky muttered darkly, both to shut the kid up and to remind himself as much as he made his way for the door.

Besides, his mind supplied unhelpfully, it wasn't as if he wasn't already knocked up.

Luckily his trip home from work was quick enough that he had plenty of time to lie down for a much-needed nap: in his excitement over the idea of the game Bucky’d had trouble falling asleep the night before, compounding on the usual exhaustion that he felt at the end of an irritating shift.  He crashed as soon as his head hit the pillow it seemed, waking up when his alarm went off with just enough time to pull a comb through his hair (which had been growing in increasingly thicker and wavier as the month went on, to the point that any attempt he made at taming the mess only ended in it looking poofier than when he’d started) and change into a clean gray t-shirt and his best pair of jeans.

He spent the better half of his walk to the train station praying that the seats Steve had gotten them would be in the shade, given how oppressive the evening sun still felt.

The trip to Flushing required two train changes, and for reasons Bucky couldn’t begin to make excuses for he hadn’t taken into account that he’d be dealing with both the usual evening commuters and all of the other Mets fans traveling by subway to see the game. By the time he finally made it to the Citi Field stop he was ten minutes late, and had to jog from the station to the entry of the park after sending an apologetic text to Steve promising that he’d be there as fast as possible.

It all meant that Bucky was a frazzled, sweaty mess by the time that he finally made it to the ticket gate that he’d agreed to meet Steve at, a fact that was made even more disconcerting when he caught sight of him standing apart from the milling crowd, scrolling nonchalantly through his phone behind a pair of sunglasses that Bucky was willing to bet cost multiples of his monthly rent with utilities included.  He swallowed thickly, trying in vain to smooth back his hair with his fingertips and praying that his collar wasn’t completely sweat-stained as he took in the alpha’s full outfit, from his casual Mets hat and t-shirt to the slim, light-washed jeans that hugged his legs.  Somehow, the fit of the clothing managed to make Steve’s small frame look powerful in a way that Bucky’s traitorous body couldn’t help but appreciate… he shook himself, forcefully swallowing down his admiration in an attempt to sound like a functioning human as he approached.

Steve glanced up from his phone as Bucky opened his mouth to say hi, pausing for just a moment and staring before breaking into a blinding grin as he pocketed his phone and waved in Bucky’s direction.

“Hey,” Steve said brightly, moving his sunglasses to rest above the brim of his hat, “I’m glad you could make it!”

“Yeah, sorry about the delay,” Bucky responded bashfully, forcing a smile of his own as Steve waved him off and produced the pair of tickets from his front pocket.  They made small-talk about their respective days as they waited in line to enter the stadium, then spent a few minutes inside wandering around the main concourse, scoping out the concessions and people-watching as they went.

“Did you want to grab something before we head to the seats?” Steve asked out of the blue, gesturing towards one of the packed Nathan’s vendors that they passed along the way.

Bucky’s stomach, like an absolute traitor, lurched over the idea of a ballpark frank - reminding him that ‘morning sickness’, in addition to being a pain in the ass, was a complete misnomer.

“I think I’m going to pass for now,” Bucky responded nonchalantly, hoping that Steve would do the same.  Thankfully, he took the hint, changing the topic completely as he led the way towards the main field entrance.

They continued walking - right up until they were making their way along the fifth row of seats from the field, where Steve settled into the seat directly behind home plate.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Bucky murmured, gaping as he stood like an idiot, gawking out at the view.  When Steve frowned at him in confusion, he clarified incredulously, “These can’t seriously be our seats.”

“Uh, yeah,” Steve responded, shrugging as he settled back and obviously tried to look relaxed.  “I… know a lot of folks with corporate tickets, one of them owed me a favor and said he wanted to get me back with tickets, so -” he gestured to the field.

A warm, tingling sensation flashed through Bucky’s chest, out into his face and arms as he dropped into the seat next to Steve and did his best to ignore the implications behind the admission.  Did that mean that Steve had actually asked for the tickets?  Especially given their first conversation, when Bucky had admitted to being a Dodger’s fan growing up?

“I mean, he just - he had the tickets available for tonight already, and I just figured…” Steve rambled on, cutting through Bucky’s internal freakout.

“They’re awesome,” Bucky responded, refusing to let himself feel disappointed by Steve’s answer.  Of course it had all been a coincidence - but that didn’t mean that Bucky couldn’t still be thankful for the fact that Steve had thought of him.  “Seriously, thank you,” he added, realizing that he hadn’t said as much yet and hoping that it would cut through the weird tension that was building between them.

Thankfully, it seemed to.  Bucky settled into his seat, flipping through the program that they’d picked up at the gate and glancing over the rosters and stats for each team, trying his best to find names that he recognized.  He was so engrossed in it that it took him a couple of moments to realize that Steve’s casual “So who’s your favorite on the current roster?” had actually been directed at him.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve really been able to follow baseball,” Bucky admitted, feeling guilty for having taken Steve up on the offer in the first place, before reminding himself that he’d warned him of as much when Steve had first extended the offer, so that the alpha could have invited someone who would have at least been better company..

Instead of looking disappointed like Bucky had expected, Steve brushed the comment off completely; then went into a long-winded, enthusiastic synopsis of the Mets’ season to date, effectively summarizing their record and the strengths and weaknesses of the starting line-up and the team in general.  He was even able to run-down basics about the Dodgers, so that by the time the announcer was calling out the starting lineups and the grounds crew was raking the field one last time, Bucky actually felt like he had a handle on what to expect.

And then the anthem ended and Steve actually dug the scorecard out of the game program and a pen from his jeans, and Bucky couldn’t help but chuckle.  “Oh no,” he teased, “you’re not the kinda guy who’s into fancy stats too, are you?”

Steve snorted in amusement, although the apples of his cheeks became flushed enough that Bucky knew he was onto something.  “I mean… the numbers game is kinda fun, but I’m mostly interested in what happens on the field.”

“Mmhmm,” Bucky hummed, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning as he turned back to the field but obviously kept his eyes trained on Steve.

“I do!” Steve laughed, “The scorecard, it’s just - it used to be my only prayer of really participating in a team was to be team manager, and old habits die hard.  We can’t all make it on our athletic prowess.”

“Yeah, I was clearly a paragon of masculine strength,” Bucky quipped back.

The joke fell completely flat, leaving them both inexplicably flustered as their seatmates began filling in around them.

“You didn’t say,” Bucky said, speaking up over the announcer as he read off the starting line-up for the Dodgers and breaking through the uncomfortable silence that had settled between them, “what got you into baseball?”

It seemed like a neutral enough question, Bucky hoped, and was something he was legitimately interested in, given the lack of history they’d both shared so far and the amount of importance the sport seemed to have on Steve.

“It was my mom, actually.  She loved baseball, had been a Mets fan all her life,” Steve said nonchalantly, although Bucky caught the way that he watched him from warily from the corner of his eye.

Bucky could just imagine the kinds of reactions an admission like that had gotten Steve in the past: it wasn’t exactly the height of alphadom, to admit that one’s interests were influenced by their mom, and given Steve’s stature Bucky could just imagine how much shit he’d gotten for it over the years.  He raised his eyebrows in pleasant but neutral interest, prompting Steve to continue with a simple “Yeah?”

It was subtle, but Bucky could see the tension go out of Steve’s shoulders before he started again.  “Yeah,” he continued, a bit brighter, “she was working all the time, especially when I was in grade school, so she didn’t have many evenings that were totally free - but I can’t tell you how many Mets games we sat around watching together while I was supposed to be working on homework.  And every year, she got tickets around my birthday so that we could come out to Shea and see a game.”

“That’s awesome,” Bucky responded, smiling himself as Steve beamed at him.  “My ma was more of a football fan, really, but she came around to baseball when I started playing it.”

She’d also been the one that had fought the fiercest when his high school athletic director had forbade Bucky from joining the freshman football team when they hadn’t even let him try-out for the squad, not that Bucky was going to bring it up and ruin the moment.  Shelbyville had been relatively progressive, for a rural Midwestern town, but not so much that they were going to permit co-ed tackle football teams in varsity competitions.  In the end he’d made the junior varsity baseball team, which had helped to placate the animosity a little - but it had set the stage for her always reassuring Bucky that he had every right to any position he wanted, as long as he was willing to work hard enough for it.

Bucky pushed the memory far out of mind, swallowing down the emotion that went with it.  If Steve noticed his sudden change of mood, he did a good job of hiding it.  “I never cared a lot for football until I met my friend Sam; his mate is so into it that you can’t really help but get excited, too.”

From there they settled into an easy, comfortable conversation about their teams, all the while enjoying what was turning out to be a decent baseball game as the Mets looked like they would take an early lead in the second inning, loading the bases on their first three batters without any outs, only to be held to a single run when the Dodgers managed to pull a double play and their pitcher struck out the final batter of the inning with a slider that had even the visiting crowd sounding impressed.

Bucky was so intent on watching the replay on the center field screen that he completely missed the concessions vendor stopped at the end of their row, until Steve stood up and fished his wallet out of his back pocket.  “D’you want anything?” he asked easily, gesturing for the man’s attention as he did, “I lost track at the office so I didn’t have a chance to grab dinner.”

Bucky’s stomach, once again feeling the need to make his life difficult, decided to chime in and let them both know that it was in the same boat: growling loudly over the thought of food.  Unfortunately, he still felt leery about the idea of hotdogs for some reason, having the distinct feeling that eating one would be a terrible idea in the long run.

“Uh, I could go for a popcorn or pretzel or something,” he responded vaguely, hoping that the response wasn’t too weird (and that Steve wouldn’t end up buying one for himself… suddenly the idea of even smelling one seemed indescribably gross).

Apparently he hadn’t hid his growing anxiety well enough: Steve glanced down at Bucky with a concerned frown, letting his arm fall as he did.  “I mean, we could go out to one of the stands, if you want something else.  There’s even a couple restaurants on the upper concourse, if you need real food or something.”

He sounded so legitimately concerned about it that it made Bucky feel even more self-conscious.

“I’ll be fine,” Bucky insisted, “just… if I can get a popcorn and a water, it’ll hold me over until I get home.”  He shifted uncomfortably in his seat over Steve’s concerned stare, before finally continuing, “Really, it’s fine.  I don’t think my stomach is up to a bunch of ballpark food right now.  Get whatever you want."

His insistence was good enough to get Steve to sit down, at least, although Bucky did feel guilty when he ended up waving the vendor away.  A few seconds later Steve was on his phone, tapping away at the screen in concentration.  For an irrational moment the thought occurred to Bucky that he had offended the alpha, but before he could come up with an adequate apology Steve was handing his phone over to Bucky.

“It’s a vendor app that one of my friends helped design,” Steve explained, nodding towards the screen, “we can order from any of the stands on this level and guest services will bring us the food.  I’m gonna get a burger, I think.”

Bucky blinked in surprise, unable to come up with a proper response and blown away by Steve’s thoughtfulness.  After a beat he accepted the phone, scrolling through the app and finally seeing something that looked appetizing.  “I’ll do the chicken sandwich and a water, if that’s alright,” he responded sheepishly, handing the phone back to Steve who immediately tapped the appropriate icons.

“No problem,” he said brightly, finishing up with whatever he was doing on the screen then locking the phone and setting it in the cup holder next to him, “order should be here in the next ten minutes.”

“Thank you,” Bucky responded sincerely, trying not to feel too awkward as the first Dodgers batter of the inning stepped into the batter’s box.  He continued to stew in his guilt for having made the whole stupid thing more difficult, before blurting, “Sorry.  About being weird about dinner, I mean,” he clarified, keeping his eyes locked on the field.  “Food’s just been kinda hard over the past week.”

Silence hung in the air between them after Bucky finished talking, interrupted by the crack of a bat on a ball as the batter knocked his first pitch foul.

“Is it,” Steve started, licking his lips and looking supremely uncomfortable as he glanced over and held eye contact with Bucky, “is it pregnancy-related?”

“I mean, I get a little queasy in the mornings, but it’s nothing I can’t handle,” Bucky said nonchalantly, figuring it was better to be honest without going into the details.  “And I’ve started noticing smells more often… the cleaning solution we use in the bathroom at work is my new nemesis.  Luckily, the kids hate cleaning out the machines, so we’ve worked out an arrangement.”  He shrugged, realizing that Steve would have no idea how the hell the anecdote related to his being weird about ordering concessions.  “I guess I didn’t want to push it with hot dogs, I guess.”

Steve nodded, looking more than a little bit uncomfortable - Bucky felt guilty as soon as he noticed it.  He should have just kept his mouth shut, really; it wasn’t as if complaining about it was going to change anything, or that the alpha could do anything about his issues, anyway.

“But, uh… things are okay?” Steve asked after a few moments of awkward silence, “I mean, nothing concerning?”

“Not at all,” Bucky answered immediately, glancing towards the field when the crack of the bat interrupted him.  The Mets’ batter got a decent piece of the ball, but ended up grounding it straight to the Dodgers’ second baseman, who was able to turn the double play with ease.  Bucky waited until Steve had finished muttering and marking down his scorecard before continuing.  “No, as far as I can tell everything is probably on track.  I haven’t noticed anything wrong .”

“Awesome,” Steve responded with a smile, pulling his phone out of his pocket.  “So that puts you at seven weeks,” Steve mused, tapping an icon on the screen and scrolling down the app that Bucky recognized on first sight as the Mets ran out onto the field to start the new inning.  “Which is still weird, if you ask me, but anyway… seven weeks makes the embryo -”

“The size of a blueberry,” Bucky cut in automatically, so that they both ended up saying it simultaneously.  The grin that Steve gave him made Bucky flush uncomfortably, so he turned his attention to his water bottle, fidgeting with the cap and taking a sip from it to stall in hopes of hiding his embarrassment.

“Did you get The Bump app, too?” Steve asked kindly, turning the phone so that Bucky could see it - not that he had to look hard, considering that he saw it every Monday morning.

Bucky glanced at the screen but continued to avoid looking directly at Steve, for fear of what stupid shit he might say if he saw the alpha’s excitement again - deep inside of him, his subconscious was preening like a damned traitor.  “Yeah,” he finally responded nonchalantly, “I mean, I wanted to know what to expect, and it’s kinda fun to know what’s going on in there, y’know?”

“Makes sense,” Steve responded, but there was a happiness in the tone of his voice that didn’t quite fit the nonchalance behind the words.

(Bucky decided not to acknowledge the funny little dip that his stomach gave when he heard it, or when he noticed the way that Steve’s eyes drifted from the game below them in his direction throughout the rest of the night)

The rest of the game was close enough that it held their attention for the most part, although Bucky started to feel his energy flagging as the bottom of the seventh inning dragged on.  The Dodgers need to pull their starter, he thought, as the Mets’ eighth batter hit yet another foul ball down the right field line.  He had every intention of saying as much to Steve - but the next thing he knew he was startling awake as a cheer went through the crowd.

Bucky blinked in surprise as the Mets ran for their dugout, surreptitiously trying to wake up enough to piece together what he’d missed from the replays and stats on the scoreboard.

“That was…” Steve started excitedly, but Bucky didn’t have to turn to see the frown on his face as the alpha trailed off from whatever he was going to say.  “Oh jeez,” he ended up muttering instead, “you worked the early shift today, didn’t you?  Why didn’t you say as much… if you needed to go home and sleep, we should just get you out of here.  Are you feeling alright?”

“I’m fine,” Bucky cut him off petulantly, trying to suppress the rising annoyance he felt coming on over the idea of being coddled, even by Steve.  “Tomorrow’s my day off, and I really did want to see a game live.” 

It was true… but now that the game was winding down, Bucky was also longing for his bed and being dead to the world for the next twelve hours.

“Come on,” Steve responded after a second, standing and checking his pockets - presumably for his phone and wallet, “this is as good as done, and I know a shortcut to the exit closest to the subway, we can get out before the rush.”

There was definitely part of Bucky that felt guilty for accepting Steve’s offer: he didn’t know the alpha particularly well yet, but he had a strong suspicion that he wasn’t the type who would leave sporting events early if he didn’t have a damned good reason to.  All the same, it seemed like the second that he’d had an out offered, Bucky’s exhaustion increased, making the idea of getting back to his apartment as fast as possible sound better by the second.

Ultimately he gave in, accepting Steve’s offer and following him out of the stadium, across the parking lots and attractions leading up to the field and finally onto the first train heading back towards New York.  The car was quiet and dark enough that Bucky ended up nodding off again, a fact that he didn’t realize until he was being gently prodded awake.

“Er,” Steve started, looking sheepish in the seat next to him, “your switch is coming up at the next stop, if you were planning on heading back to Bed-Stuy tonight.”

“Yeah,” Bucky responded stupidly, pausing for a second to yawn and regain his bearings.  He glanced up at the LED sign above the door, realizing that Steve was right - his stop was next if he was going to catch the G train and avoid going into Manhattan.

“Uh, sorry we had to leave early,” he muttered stupidly as the train began slowing, rubbing his eyes and trying to gain enough consciousness to at least sound like a human as he said goodbye.  “But thanks so much for inviting me tonight, I had a great time, honest.”

“Thanks for coming,” Steve laughed, totally blowing the apology off, “next time we’ll have to make sure we schedule an evening when you haven’t had to work all day, okay?  No sweat.”

Bucky nodded along, still feeling mortified about it all but glad that Steve seemed to understand, at least. 

“Just,” Steve added as Bucky stood when the train came to a stop, “text me when you make it in, if you don’t mind?  I just… wanna know you made it home okay.”

“Sure,” Bucky promised, refusing to let himself read anything more into the request.  He glanced back as he stepped off the train, giving an awkward wave to Steve as the train doors slid shut behind him, then made his way up the escalator to the appropriate transfer point.

Bucky stayed awake by sheer will alone, forcing himself to keep his eyes open as he waited for his second connecting station to come up, then pinching the inside of his thigh as he rode the last few stops on the J and finally came to the one closest to home.  He waited until he was in his apartment to dig his phone out of his jeans, sending Steve a quick text with another thank you before stripping out of his clothes and dropping into bed.

He was already half-asleep when his message tone sounded, but Bucky was too exhausted to even think about getting up to read it.  When his guts finally felt steady enough to allow Bucky to crawl out of bed late the next morning, the text was still the first thing waiting on his notifications.

From:  Steve  Received: 10:51 PM
thx so much for letting me know
and for coming out on a work night… i had a great time!

From:  Steve  Received: 11:02 PM
and i’m guessing you’re already asleep, so have a good one ;)
see you Monday if we don’t talk before

Bucky blinked down at the last messages, itching his scalp as he switched over to the calendar on his phone.  He’d totally lost track of how quickly their follow-up appointment with Doctor Foster was approaching, and realized with a jolt that Steve was right; that they were already only a couple of days away from seeing each other again, and seeing the ultrasound for the first time.

He made an honest effort not to stress out too much over the impending procedure, but in the end Bucky wound up regretting the fact that he had gotten the reminder on a day when he didn’t have work to distract him.  Going out for a run and hauling his laundry down the street to the laundromat had helped, but ultimately he still ended up spending an embarrassing chunk of his day reading up on gestational blogs, trying to get every tip that he could as far as what to expect during the appointment and how to best guarantee an adequate view of the fetus without having to switch to an internal probe.

Connie’s call had told him all he needed to know, of course, but Bucky still liked having other sources to back it up.

On Monday morning Bucky prepped for the appointment with Doctor Foster exactly as he’d been instructed to: he peed as he was getting ready to leave his apartment, then downed the two large glasses of water Connie had said he’d need to drink for the ultrasound to work.  Just before he walked out the door, he panicked and filled the glass a third time before gulping it down and jogging to the subway station.  It left him feeling nauseous as he rode the M train into Manhattan, but in the end he figured that it would be worth it to avoid needing the internal probe.

He was able to make it to the office without issue, given that the trains were surprisingly light on passengers given the late morning hour.  Unfortunately, it meant that he was a solid twenty minutes early for the ultrasound appointment.  Bucky signed in at the desk, then grabbed a seat in the corner of the waiting room, settling in to read his battered copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and trying his best to ignore the increasing pressure in his bladder.  He’d made it a solid three pages - which, as far as Bucky was concerned, was admirable given how distracted he was - before he was interrupted.

“Hey,” a familiar, friendly voice finally broke through the fog.  Bucky glanced up from the page, smiling instinctively when he saw the sincere grin Steve was giving him.  “Uh - this seat taken?”

“No,” Bucky responded immediately, bending down to scoot his bag out of the way so that Steve could sit, barely suppressing a wince when the movement just made the pressure worse.  “Grab a pew,” he continued nonchalantly, “how’s your morning been?”

“Not bad,” Steve answered as he dropped into the chair next to Bucky, “I didn’t get much work done but our new hires are really stepping up to the plate in terms of picking up my old project load, so it’s working out.”  He tapped his foot for a moment, glancing around the room again, before continuing, “Natasha didn’t join you today?”

Bucky shook his head easily.  “Nah,” he said with a shrug, jamming the old coffee shop receipt in his book to mark his spot and closing it, “she’s been pretty busy with work of late, so I told her to save her days off for when I really need her.”

He bit his tongue to keep himself from adding something painfully stupid, like the fact that Steve being there was good enough.

“Have you been waiting long?” Steve asked, frowning as if he’d read Bucky’s thoughts.  “If you want, I can come over earlier next time… just let me know, it’s a quick drive over from the office…”

“It’s no big deal,” Bucky insisted, cutting him off and forcing a smile.  “I’ve only been here a few minutes, and it’s all good,” he paused, waiving the book at Steve, “I’m actually pretty good at keepin’ myself busy.”

Steve’s cheeks immediately turned pink.  He turned his attention to his loafers, a fact that Bucky was grateful for, given the way his heart felt like it stuttered in his chest.  “All the same,” Steve muttered after a moment, “I feel bad, making you sit in here by yourself.  Just let me know when you’re heading into the city next time.”

The door to the clinic opened before Bucky could respond, and he was saved the trouble of arguing by the tall, thin man who poked his head into the waiting room and called his name.  Bucky rose to his feet, grabbing his bag and jamming the novel inside as he made his way towards the door, vaguely noticing the fact that Steve was a step behind him.

“Hi, are you James?” the man asked, giving Bucky a broad smile as he followed him through the door to the clinic.

“Yeah,” Bucky responded awkwardly, gesturing over his shoulder, “and uh - that’s Steve, he’s the adoptive dad.”  He’d been expecting Connie to bring them back, and felt exceedingly out of place to suddenly be dealing with a new staff member in an entirely different set of scrubs.

“Cool, great to meet you,” maroon scrubs said kindly to Steve, leading them down the hallway towards the opposite end of the clinic as Bucky had gone for his first couple of appointments.  “My name’s Ian, I’m one of the ultrasound technicians -” he paused outside an open exam room, motioning for Bucky to head in ahead of him, “if you could just head on in here and have a seat on the table, I’ll get the machine set up and we can get a look at your little one.”

“I thought Doctor Foster was going to be doing the procedure,” Bucky asked, frowning as he climbed onto the exam table, all the while trying to get his building anxiety under control.  It was doing nothing for the growing discomfort in his abdomen.

“Oh, no,” Ian laughed nervously, as he flipped a switch on the ultrasound machine and began typing on its keyboard.  “I mean, she’s going to interpret all of the images, but I’m the ultrasound tech - I capture all of the scans for her and the rest of the docs to interpret.”  He made a few more keystrokes before stopping and looking at Bucky apologetically, apparently catching on to how flippant the answer had been.  “Er, if that’s alright?  We do have one other tech, if you’d be more comfortable with a woman doing it, but I’m not sure what her schedule looks like this afternoon…”

“It’s fine,” Bucky answered, relaxing back on the table - if he waited much longer he was afraid his bladder might actually burst.  “I was just confused, is all.  But it’s totally fine, especially if she’s still going to be seeing it.”

“Definitely,” Ian promised immediately, grabbing a couple of white hand towels from the counter next to him.  “Alright then, if you could just lie back there, I’ll go ahead and pull the legs out for you so you can get comfortable -” Bucky followed his instructions, and a second later there was a padded rest underneath his legs, “and if you could go ahead and pull your shirt up a bit - I’m really only gonna need it exposed to your belly button,” Bucky complied immediately, swallowing down his discomfort and looking anywhere but the corner where Steve was still standing and watching.  “And I’m gonna need to go pretty low down on your pelvis,” Ian explained apologetically, “so if you wouldn’t mind just popping the button on your jeans, then I’ll tuck the towel here so we don’t get any goop on your clothes.”

Bucky did as requested, not bothering to ask what the hell the beta meant by ‘goop.’  There was a sharp inhale as he leaned back, drawing Bucky’s attention to where Steve was still standing, with his eyes now as big as dinner plates as he stared at Bucky’s abdomen.  Confused, Bucky looked down as well, noticing the tiny bump that protruded below his navel.

“That’s like, eighty percent water right now,” he said ruefully, painfully self-conscious of what he looked like.

If Steve heard him, he didn’t give much of an indication of it.  Ian, though, gave Bucky a sympathetic wince.  “Sorry, I’ll make this as quick as I can so you can run to the bathroom.”

Bucky shrugged, keeping his eyes focused solely on the technician and not Steve, who was giving off so much nervous energy that Bucky felt his own skin crawling with it, or the machine, which now had his name and birth date typed into it and made shit so suddenly, painfully real that it made Bucky feel queasy thinking about it.

“I’m okay,” Bucky finally insisted, biting the inside of his cheek so that he didn’t squirm: somehow, lying back made his bladder even more uncomfortable.

He reminded himself how much worse the internal probe would be, as incentive to suck it up.

“Alright then,” Ian said a few seconds later, turning to Bucky with a flat, grey probe in his hand as he squeezed a line of clear jelly onto it, “let’s see if this little one wants to cooperate and say hi.”

Before Bucky could respond the probe was on his abdomen - it wasn’t as shocking as he’d been expecting, since the jelly was blessedly warm, at least, but he barely had a chance to appreciate it before the thing was digging in just above his pubic bone.  Logically, Bucky knew that it was the only way the technician had a prayer of getting a decent shot of the embryo… he’d watched enough YouTube videos the night before to know how the process worked, and that he definitely didn’t want to switch to the internal probe.

Unfortunately, all he could think about was the panicked mantra that kept turning through his mind: that he was going to piss himself if the probe kept pressing against his bladder.

He was still busy staring at the ceiling, trying to think about deserts and sand and sponges - anything that would keep his mind from wandering to liquids - when Ian gave an excited “Ah ha!” while Steve gasped.

Bucky’d had no intention of looking at the ultrasound screen; the way he figured, it was meant to be Steve’s experience, anyway, but he could hardly stop himself once he knew there was something there.

“Alright,” Ian said with a grin, turning the probe slightly and pointing to the grainy, gray-scale mess of blurs and dots.  “So on ultrasound, black is fluid and grey is tissue, meaning this big dark circle here is the gestational sack tucked into the side of the uterus.  And this,” he wiggled the probe slightly, jabbing it deeper into Bucky’s abdomen with enough force that he barely swallowed down the resulting grunt.  The little gray blob that came into view knocked the wind out of him more than the probe ever could have.  “There we go,” Ian continued, clicking a few buttons on his screen so that the machine began saving screenshots, “Dad, meet baby.”

Bucky tore his eyes away from the screen to actually get a look at Steve, who looked so overcome with emotion that he immediately regretted it.  He turned his head back towards the ultrasound, trying to erase the image of those huge, wet eyes transfixed on the blurry screen in front of them.

“Can you,” Steve started, clearing his throat when the words came out in a croak, “can you tell anything about it?  Is it okay?”

“Looks perfect so far,” Ian responded, tapping on the screen a couple of times and zooming in on the image.  A couple more clicks, this time on the tracking pad, and he was putting down markers along the midline of the little gray blob.  “It’s about one and a half centimeters long, which is right on track for its expected dates.  And if you look,” two more clicks, another shot saved and he was twirling the probe gain, changing the view, “it’s actually starting to take a shape.  There’s the head, and then of course the thorax, and you can see the little arm buds starting to grow, right where they should be…”

“It looks like a gummy bear,” Bucky blurted, surprising himself when he actually heard his own voice.

Ian chuckled gently as he continued working, “Kind of, at this point.  It’ll look more like a person when you guys come in for the next scan.  Now, if you look here,” he moved his cursor, pointing to a spot in the middle of the blob that was a shade darker, and flickering like a flame, “that’s its heart beating.  Give me just a sec to get one more measurement and we can take a listen, if you want.”

“Yes, please,” Steve breathed, moving closer to the machine.

Bucky couldn’t imagine saying anything at the moment: he was too transfixed by the flickering spot to acknowledge anything else.  A moment later, Ian had pressed another button, and the tiny exam room was suddenly filled with a soft, impossibly fast woosh-woosh-woosh noise.  It was crazy, because since the very first procedure Bucky’d had the mindset that he was pregnant: the subtle physical signs that had been showing up over the past week and a half only drove the point home, making it impossible to deny.  But something about actually hearing the proof that a little person with an honest to God beating heart was already living and growing inside of him hit him like a brick in the face - suddenly the air in the room was too thick to get into his lungs, and the screen was blurred by tears that had sprung out of nowhere.

Luckily, Steve and Ian were too focused on the screen to notice Bucky’s breakdown.

“That’s… wow.  Holy shit,” Steve murmured, covering his mouth as he moved closer to the ultrasound machine.

“That’s a pretty common response,” Ian responded with a gentle laugh.  “Alright - so at the later anatomy scans we’ll be able to actually get a good look at the basic structures in the heart, but for now it’s clipping along at 159 beats per minute, which is exactly what we expect at this age of gestation.”

They kept talking, because Bucky was vaguely aware of voices continuing around him, but what was being said was completely lost on him.  Instead all of his focus was on the tiny blob on the screen, and it’s damned heartbeat , and the vain attempt at holding his shit together while his brain tried to process the fact that Bucky was looking at an actual fetus that was actually alive and actually growing inside of him at that very moment.

It was a struggle, to say the least.

“Alright then,” Ian said after a few more seconds, breaking through the fog of Bucky’s freak out before finally taking the probe away and handing him a hand towel to wipe himself off with, “official length is going to be 1.66 centimeters, which dates to eight weeks and one day.  So your due date is going to be March fourteenth, give or take four days.”

Bucky blinked in surprise, coming to his senses when Ian said the date.  It was embarrassing, given how simple the math was, but he’d not actually thought ahead to his due date until that moment, or realized just how close it fell to his own birthday.  Not that anyone outside of Nat and Clint ever bothered to celebrate, so being massively pregnant or in the hospital wouldn’t exactly put a damper on Bucky’s social plans, but still - the realization was a jolt all the same, and one more tidbit that suddenly made the entire process uncomfortably more real.

“So, I’m going to go let Doctor Foster look over the images for a moment, then she’ll be in to do the rest of the appointment and go over any questions you guys have, okay?” Ian asked, tearing a couple of photos off of the side of the machine and handing them to Steve.

Speaking of being uncomfortable, Bucky’s bladder made itself known with a vengeance as he tried to button his jeans again.  “Uh, can I run to the restroom, first?  Please?” he asked, sitting up and trying his best not to squirm as the pressure in his pelvis reached critical mass.

“Oh, of course,” Ian answered, “just make sure you grab one of the sterile cups while you’re in there and leave a sample, I’ll make sure your nurse knows you’re back there so she can get it dipped before Doctor Foster comes back.  And we’ll be moving to one of the exam rooms so I can get another scan done back here, but I’ll leave the door open so you can find it.”

“No problem,” Bucky responded, already on his way out the door, pointedly avoiding Steve’s eye as he crossed the room - in part to avoid any further delay in getting to piss, and in part because he figured the guy could genuinely use a moment, given how emotional he’d sounded during the ultrasound.

Bucky rushed the short way down the hallway to the clinic bathroom pausing just long enough to break the seal on one of the sterile cups lined up along the wall and twist its top off before flicking his fly open and sighing in relief as he was finally able to empty his bladder.  Once he’d finished, making sure to get the sample as requested and sliding the re-capped jar inside of the specimen cabinet on the far side of the bathroom, Bucky closed his eyes and took a moment to try to collect himself.  Unfortunately, the silence only seemed to make his freakout worse - all he could think about was the sound of the rushing little heartbeat they’d heard on the monitor, and all of the bizarrely intense emotions it had stirred up inside of him. Giving up, he crossed the bathroom, staring into the mirror over the sink as he washed his hands, silently willing himself to calm the hell down: he’d watched at least a dozen videos of dating ultrasounds the night prior to the appointment, and had known exactly what to expect going into the exam room.  It wasn’t as if hearing and seeing the fetus had changed anything - it was just more good news that Bucky’s plan was coming together, that his initial procedure had worked and that he was on his way to further payouts for a successful gestation.

He almost had it together when his mental pep talk was interrupted by a knock at the bathroom door.  Bucky cursed under his breath, finally shutting the taps off and drying his hands hastily on a paper towel as he pulled the door open bashfully.

“Sorry about that,” he muttered, sidestepping the tall, blonde woman who was waiting on the other side of the door, looking every bit as anxious to use the toilet as Bucky had been when he’d locked himself inside a few minutes prior.

“No worries,” she responded, sounding sincere - but still slipping past Bucky and shutting the door quickly behind her.

The absurdity of the moment wasn’t lost on him, and thankfully helped to cut through some of the residual tension that Bucky could still feel himself carrying.  He chuckled lowly, finally turning back down the hall and heading in the direction of the exam rooms.  He found Steve sitting inside one of the few doors that were ajar and entered the room, closing the door quietly behind him before crossing the room and climbing onto the exam table. 

Steve, he noticed, still seemed to be in a daze, staring with bright, suspiciously wet eyes at the blurry gray scale photographs that Ian had printed from the ultrasound machine.  He sniffed quietly and wiped his face on the sleeve of shirt as the paper sheet that covered the exam table crinkled beneath Bucky, before finally looking up with a sheepish smile. 

“Sorry about that,” he said thickly as he cheeks turned an impressive shade of pink, “It’s weird, but I uh… I think I’ve been looking forward to this for longer than I even realized.”

Bucky shook his head at the apology, but before he could bring himself to say anything in response, the door to the exam room swung open and Doctor Foster slipped inside with a smile. 

“Hi guys - Ian was just showing me the images from the scan, everything looks like it’s right on track for where we want it to be, which is great news.”  She tapped the screen of her tablet a couple of times before setting it on her lap and putting her full attention on Bucky.  “Now then, James: how’ve you been feeling?”

“Fine, overall,” Bucky answered honestly.  “I get pretty tired as the day goes on, but I’m able to get through work alright and I’ve been hitting my friend’s gym pretty regularly.”

“Any trouble with nausea?” she asked.

“It’s pretty bad first thing in the morning,” Bucky answered, “but as long as I set my alarm early enough that I can lie in bed for a while it’s pretty good about dissipating.  I’m starting to get sick of saltines and thinned-out oatmeal, though.”  he added the last bit with a wry smile.

“I can imagine,” Doctor Foster chuckled, “but it’s good to hear that you’re able to keep something down, at least.  And you’ve maintained your weight, so I’m not too worried about it at the moment - is it ever an issue during the day?”

“Sometimes I’ll catch a whiff of certain smells that make me really nauseous, but the only time I’ve really been sick has been in the mornings,” Bucky answered.

“That’s actually great,” she responded.  “Don’t hesitate to call if it gets worse, I can phone in a prescription at any time if you need it, but for now let’s just stick with what’s working.  A lot of carriers end up dropping weight this early in a pregnancy, because of nausea and vomiting, so as long as you’re not bothered by it I’m really happy with your symptom management so far.”

Bucky shook his head, “I’m fine with it.  Like I said, it’s a little annoying, but it’s nothing that I can’t live with at the end of the day.”

Doctor Foster nodded along, ticking off boxes on her tablet as she did.  “Alright then, any other issues?  Spotting, cramping, nipple or vaginal discharge?”

“Er,” Bucky started, feeling himself blush spectacularly.

“Sorry,” Steve cut in, sounding every bit as uncomfortable as Bucky felt (he couldn’t bring himself to actually look at the alpha), “do you want me to step out for this part?”

“No,” Bucky insisted immediately.  In reality he would rather not talk about such personal things around Steve - he liked the guy, and Bucky had never particularly been the type who went around sharing about his bodily functions - but it was all part of the agreement that Steve knew what was going on with the pregnancy.  Plus, as the blogs that Bucky had been perusing over the past month were all-too-happy to point out: it was going to get a hell of a lot more personal as the months went on.  “No,” he continued, “it’s fine, you don’t have to go unless you want to.”

He turned his attention back to Doctor Foster, who had watched the entire exchange like an umpire in a tennis match.  “And no, none of those have been an issue.  Like I said, the smells and the morning sickness are there, and I’ve noticed that my chest gets a little sore when I’m lifting weights - and I mean, I have to pee all the time - but otherwise nothing’s really changed.”

“Good,” Doctor Foster responded, still clicking away, “and no headaches, exercise intolerance, trouble breathing, or hand or foot swelling?”

“Nope,” Bucky answered simply, shaking his head as he did.

“Sorry,” she responded with a gentle smile, “there’s a few symptoms we’ve got to keep our eyes peeled for, so I have to ask everyone at every appointment.”  With that she set the tablet aside and moving to wash her hands at the sink.  “James, if it’s alright I just want to get a good listen to your heart and lungs and check your abdomen and chest - as long as you aren’t having any symptoms we don’t need to do another pelvic anytime soon, which is why we didn’t bother having you change into the gown, but if you wouldn’t mind taking your t-shirt off it’d be a huge help.”

Bucky pulled the thin, faded shirt off over his head even as she was finishing asking the question, folding it in half and setting it on the pillow behind him, as Doctor Foster approached the bed.  Once again, he made a conscious effort to avoid looking at the other observer in the room - not that he had anything to be particularly embarrassed about Steve seeing him with his shirt off.  If anything, Bucky figured he was more toned now than he was when he’d first gotten pregnant, giving the amount of gym time he’d been putting in with Nat and how much better his diet had gotten.  His nipples were a little darker - not that the alpha would have had any clue about what they’d looked like in the first place - but otherwise there was no outward indication that his body was any different than it had been prior to conception.

“Thanks,” Doctor Foster murmured quietly, putting her stethoscope in her ears as she approached the bed.  She worked quickly and efficiently, first listening to his back as she had Bucky take a series of deep breaths, then concentrating closely as she listened to his heart, both while he was sitting and lying down.  “It’s not uncommon to develop a murmur during pregnancy, because of how much the carrier’s blood volume increases,” she explained as she looped her stethoscope back around her neck, “I don’t hear one in you yet, but that’s why I was listening so closely.”

“Good to know,” Bucky murmured, nodding as she asked for permission to check his pecs and wincing as she pressed down on the left one.

“Sorry,” she murmured, “are you having much pain in them on a day-to-day basis?”

“Not as long as I keep pressure off of them,” Bucky answered, “and honestly, it’s more of a dull ache than a real pain, it just got me more than I was expecting.”

She nodded along as she moved on to the other, “I don’t have any hard data on this, but in my experience I feel like this first trimester is a little easier on omega males in that regard - you guys start with less glands than females do, so there’s initially more development needed.  That’s why your chests typically don’t get as… noticeable, too.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asked, more for conversation’s sake than anything.  It wasn’t exactly a secret that omega males lactated after giving birth - it only made sense, from an evolutionary standpoint - but more than anything he was grateful for the knowledge that they tended to involute after their kids were weaned.  He didn’t see anything inherently wrong with having breasts, not really, but he preferred the way he looked now and didn’t even want to think with having to deal with running with them for the rest of his life.  “Uh,” he added as an afterthought, “no big deal if there isn’t, but since I’m not really gonna - y’know - use them… is there anything we can do to-?”  he trailed off, hoping she would catch his gyst.

“Stop them from growing in the first place?” she asked sardonically, already moving on to his abdomen.  Bucky nodded gratefully, only to have his hopes dashed.  “Unfortunately, no - and you aren’t the first guy to ask me, for the record.  But the hormones that go along with breast and milk development play into maintaining the pregnancy and then later to inducing birth, so they aren’t really something that we can safely toy with.  Sorry.”

“I’ll deal,” Bucky answered nonchalantly, doing his best not to squirm as she pressed deep into the area above his pubic bone.

“Any pain, there?” Doctor Foster murmured, seemingly satisfied when Bucky shook his head negatively.  “And speaking of hormonal changes - you said you have to urinate more often, any issues with the other end?”

It took Bucky a second to process what she was asking, but he got it as she offered him a hand to sit up.  “Oh, no - I mean, I feel bloated all the time, but that’s moving, no problems.”

“Good,” she responded, “another problem with progesterone: it relaxes the uterus to support a pregnancy in the first place, but it has the same effect on the gut.  I know it’s not particularly easy now, when you’re dealing with nausea and appetite issues, but try to eat as much fiber as you can stomach.  Once the uterus starts taking up more space and the pressure in your abdomen increases, you’ll be glad for it.”

“Noted,” Bucky said tightly, making the mistake of letting his eyes drift towards Steve’s chair as he pulled his shirt back over his head. 

The alpha was every bit as mortified as Bucky was feeling, if the alarming shade of red on his face and neck was anything to go by.

“Now,” Doctor Foster continued, apparently missing the heavy layer of discomfort hanging between the two of them, “do you guys have any questions for me?”

There was a long pause, before Bucky finally forced himself to speak up again.  “No, I think that covers it for me,” he insisted, exhaling in relief when Steve nodded emphatically and stated the same.

“Alright then,” she said with a smile, “if anything changes don’t hesitate to call me - otherwise just keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll see you back in two weeks for the genetic screening tests.”  She left the room as quickly and innocuously as she’d entered, although it took Steve and Bucky another half a minute before they could make eye contact with one another and finally make their way out of the exam room and back towards the waiting room.

They checked out together in uncomfortable silence, speaking only when they had to compare their schedules to pick out the best date and time to schedule the ultrasound and appointment in four weeks.  Once everything was finally decided Bucky programed the date and time into his phone, as if there were a chance in hell that he’d forget something so important.  Still, it gave him something to do with his hands, and something to focus on while Steve set up his portal account so that he’d be able to download the pictures from home.

There was no reason for Bucky to hang around for it, not really, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave alone, and instead used his time to send Nat a text that everything had gone fine then browsed headlines as Steve finally wrapped up.  It ended up being worth it, for the broad grin that he got when the alpha turned away from the desk and saw Bucky still standing there.  Bucky returned the smile, ignoring the way that it made his stomach flip as he followed Steve out of the waiting room, they remained comfortably silent until they were both waiting in front of the elevator after Steve had pressed the down button.

“Do you have any plans for lunch?” Steve asked out of the blue, tucking the prints from the ultrasound carefully into his back pocket.

“I’m supposed to be back to work by one,” Bucky answered as the door slid open.  He glanced down at his phone, seeing that it was only eleven, before adding, “I figured I would just grab something on my way back to Brooklyn.”

Even though he was still reeling from the tidal wave of emotions that had come up during the course of the appointment, Bucky found himself surprised to realize that he didn’t really want to be alone with his feelings - not yet, at least.

“No pressure or anything,” Steve said, holding his arm in the door so that Bucky could get in first, “but there’s a pretty good bistro-type place around the corner from the subway stop.  If you wanted to grab something together?  And just… decompress?”

The smile that he gave Bucky was a little on the shy side from what he was used to seeing on Steve’s face, and he was so relieved by it that Bucky couldn’t imagine saying anything other than yes.

Chapter Text

Even though grabbing lunch together had done wonders for clearing the awkward tension between him and Bucky after the appointment with Doctor Foster, Steve had still been pleasantly surprised to get a text from him a couple of days later, asking if Steve was still up to joining him for a run.  Steve, of course, agreed immediately - it had been far too long since he’d gone for a run around Prospect Park, and the ability to take a morning off when he felt like it was one of the many perks to owning his own business.  Plus, he was hardly about to turn down an opportunity to hang out with a new friend.

So he’d made his way to Park Slope the following Thursday morning on the subway, early enough that most commuters were still heading the opposite direction into the city for work, before getting off at Prospect Avenue and jogging the rest of the way to the Fifteenth Street entrance as a warm-up. 

He was in the middle of grabbing his cell phone out of his shorts pocket as he crossed the final crosswalk to enter the park green, glancing around at the groups of joggers and bikers who were gathered to presumably go on their own morning workouts, when Steve caught a vaguely familiar brunet standing next to the entry pillar.  He did a brief double-take, appreciating the guy’s build, before realizing that beneath his stubble were a pair of cheekbones that he knew all-too-well.  Thankfully he’d been studying his own phone, and completely missed whatever stupid thing Steve’s face did when he computed the fact that he was looking at Bucky with a five o’clock shadow - he shook himself, trying to remember how to act like a normal human being, and finally finished jogging in his direction.

If the heavy ring of sweat around the collar of Bucky’s gray t-shirt was any indication he must have already ran there from his place.  Steve was in the middle of trying to work out how far a run it was from Bed-Stuy when Bucky noticed him, making the huge, welcoming grin he gave Steve when he saw him even more unnerving.

“Hey!” he said as Steve approached, pushing his hair back off his forehead and wiping his brow with the back of his hand.  “I realized when I got here that we hadn’t actually specified which entrance so I was about to text you, but I guess it won’t be necessary.”

“Great minds,” Steve responded with a chuckle, one that he was relieved to hear sounded entirely normal, thank you very much, before nodding back in the direction he’d come from.  “That, and this was the closest entrance to my subway stop, so I figured I’d get here then give you a call if it was wrong.”

“Works for me,” Bucky shrugged, dropping his phone into the pocket of his running shorts and turning towards the park.  “So - I’ve got a route that I usually run, it ends up being a lap and a half, first around the East and West drives and then cutting through Center drive to end it.”  He paused, stretching his calf out against the curb that they were standing next to.  “It ends up being a little over five miles, if that works for you?”

“Sounds perfect,” Steve answered as he pulled his right foot behind him and stretched his hamstrings.

“Or, if you’d prefer the trails -” Bucky continued, but Steve cut him off with a laugh.

“The drives are good for me, and five miles is usually my go-to for a workout,” he said with a smile.  “We could work out a different route next time, if you want, but I’m fine with your usual if you are.”

“Alright then,” Bucky conceded pleasantly, stretching his arms over his head and turning so that he faced the running trail completely, “you good to go?”

Steve nodded as he set his watch to start recording, then took off in Bucky’s wake. 

It had been years since he’d actually come back to Brooklyn to go for a run, but the Park was still as familiar as Steve had remembered it, a fact that made the morning jog that much more enjoyable.  Granted, he never would have run the course as fast a they were going, back in the day: although puberty had helped him get his asthma under control, Steve hadn’t really gotten into running until he’d had the time and money to sink into working with a trainer.

It almost made him envious of the easy, loping stride that Bucky had as he ran along in front of him, making the entire thing look effortless, but considering how much he was enjoying the view Steve was hardly about to start complaining.

Bucky ran without any type of watch or headphones, so Steve didn’t bother pulling his ear buds out of his pocket - usually he would run with music, even on the days that he joined Sam and they ran together, but he wasn’t about to be the guy who shut Bucky out, especially when the omega didn’t seem to have anything to listen to.  It ended up being the right call. Less than a quarter of a mile in Bucky started up a conversation: mainly smalltalk banalities on how his week was going and asking Steve about his own, but it was pleasant all the same.  Even better for Steve, though, was the fact that Bucky seemed perfectly content carrying the majority of the conversation himself.

It helped immensely in hiding how winded he was after the first mile, but of course it couldn’t last forever.

Steve continued to hold his own, keeping pace alongside Bucky as they turned off of the east drive of the park and cut towards the park zoo.  A biker came up on them, ringing his bell to alert that he needed to pass, so Bucky momentarily fell behind Steve to get out of the guy’s way.   “You said you ran the marathon?” he asked out of the blue, once he’d moved back to his spot on Steve’s left.

“Uh, yeah,” Steve answered, “just the once, about six years ago.”

“The full twenty-six miles, though?” Bucky asked, glancing sideways at him.

Steve nodded, unable to help preening just a tiny bit - especially since Bucky sounded more impressed than incredulous, unlike most people who knew about it.  “Yup - that’s why I don’t feel the need to do it again,” Steve deadpanned, smiling when Bucky huffed a short laugh. 

“My, uh - my mate was finishing her training.  With the police academy,” he continued, surprising even himself as he kept talking.  “I said I’d run it with her, as celebration.  Didn’t really think she’d actually take me up on it, but that was Peggy.”

They continued along in silence for a while, making Steve worry that he’d said too much - on one hand, it had only seemed fair to open up a bit to Bucky, given how much of the omegas life he had already been privilege to; but on the other hand, it wasn’t exactly as if the guy needed, or even necessarily wanted to know more about Steve than he had to.  He was in the middle of debating whether or not to apologize for it when Bucky finally spoke up again.

“That’s a hell of a way to show someone your support,” he said in a rush, keeping his eyes ahead on the lane in front of them, in a tone that gave Steve little comfort.  A few strides later, he glanced down again, this time with a small frown.  “Wait - you said that was six years ago… how old were you?  Er,” he continued immediately, “I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“I was twenty-three when I ran it,” Steve answered simply, figuring he’d leave it at that.  God knew that Bucky was good enough at math to figure out his current age, if that was what he was digging at.  “And it’s no problem,” he added after a moment.  “I mean, you can ask whatever you want, really.  I don’t have a lot of secrets, and it’s not as if CS didn’t already give me a ton of info on you.”

“All the same,” Bucky responded after a moment, “I don’t - I don’t wanna pry.  So if there’s anything you don’t feel like answering, you can say as much without offending me.”

While they continued chatting, Bucky seemed to be trying to prove his point, and only brought up superficial questions throughout the rest of the run.  Steve wasn’t exactly complaining: it made for comfortable enough conversation, and it wasn’t as if either of them seemed particularly awkward about it.  It also meant that the run went by surprisingly quickly.

Ultimately he couldn’t help feeling proud of himself as they finally slowed to a sedate jog for the final quarter mile - pregnant or not, Bucky was still impressively athletic, and given how much longer the omega’s legs were than his Steve figured he’d earned the right to internally gloat about his ability to keep up.  Their cool-down ended at the same entrance they’d started from, only by now carts were starting to line the sidewalk along the drives.  Steve took advantage of the fact and stopped to buy a bottle of water, feeling parched for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the way that Bucky had used the bottom of his t-shirt to pat the sweat off of his forehead when he’d come to a stop.

His abdomen definitely looked thicker than when they’d first met, Steve’s traitorous mind pointed out as he accepted the pair of bottles from their ice chest and handed over the two dollars that the vendor had asked for.  It still wasn’t a noticeable bump by any means, but having saw the way it had been distended during the ultrasound by a few glasses of water Steve’s hindbrain couldn’t help obsessing over the fact that it couldn’t be that far off before the pregnancy would be obviously showing.

Steve forcibly shook the thought off, silently chastising himself as he made his way to where Bucky was still stretching out underneath a nearby shade tree and handing one of the bottles over with a smile.

“Thanks,” Bucky said with a bright grin, taking the bottle and again mopping at his forehead - this time with his sleeve, thankfully - before brushing his hair off of his brow and taking a long drink.

Steve uncapped his own bottle and tipped it back as fast as he could, largely to keep himself from standing and staring at the omega’s throat like a total creep.

After a few minutes of stretching in companionable silence, it was Bucky who cleared his throat, calling Steve’s attention back to him.  “Uh,” he started, pushing himself off of the grass and brushing his shorts off, “I get it if you’ve gotta hustle back to work or something, but if you want, there’s a pretty good coffee shop on the other side of the circle.  I mean, to grab breakfast. If you want.”

“Breakfast sounds great,” Steve responded immediately, smiling as he capped his bottle back up, “and I’m not in any rush - I’ve got a couple of projects that need working on but I was planning on staying home today, so… yeah,” he trailed off, barely restraining himself from pointing out that it was the perk of owning his business.  Given Bucky’s circumstances, it seemed shitty to point as much out.  “Lead the way,” he ended up finishing awkwardly.

Thankfully, if Bucky was put-off by Steve’s rambling, he didn’t show it.  Instead, he paused just long enough to toss his bottle in the nearest recycling bin, then started back in the direction of Steve’s subway stop.

The walk was a short one, as the coffee shop that Bucky’d had in mind was only a couple of streets down from the park entrance, and turned out to be a cozy little place filled with two-person tables and natural light from the huge front windows, but thankfully had air conditioning that was adequate to cool them off perfectly as they walked in.  The morning sun wasn’t sweltering just yet, but it was humid enough out that it was basically promising that it wouldn’t be long.

Bucky wiped his forehead again as he stepped through the door behind Steve, and the alpha couldn’t help trying to steal another look at his middle.  The Bump app had said that at nine weeks he should start showing any day now, and while it wasn’t exactly a question that Steve felt comfortable asking outright, it also wasn’t a milestone that he wanted to miss.

“Any idea what you want?” Bucky asked, nodding towards the board with a smile.

Steve finally turned his attention towards the chalkboard behind the counter, hoping that it hadn’t been a hint and kicking himself for his complete lack of subtlety regardless.  He was in the middle of pulling his wallet out of his pocket when Bucky cleared his throat.

“Er,” the omega started, already holding up a battered wallet when Steve looked his way, “this one’s gonna be my treat.”  Before Steve could argue, Bucky pushed on, “That was the deal, right?  Breakfast was my idea, so I pick this one up.”

There was a faint tinge of pink on his cheekbones as Bucky finished talking, but he straightened his back and looked down at Steve, as if challenging the alpha to try to argue with him.  Steve, of course, was at a loss - it had been his compromise, after all, so it wasn’t exactly as if he could make an argument.  Not without sounding like an ass, at least.

“Alright,” he conceded, tucking his billfold back into his running shorts and studying the board again - he’d been planning on some sugary monstrosity of a mocha, feeling like he’d earned it after their run that morning, but he wasn’t about to ask Bucky to waste that kind of money on what basically turned out to be a caffeinated milkshake.  “I’ll just do an iced coffee with a splash of milk and a bran muffin,” he finally answered, figuring both were reasonable enough that they shouldn’t put Bucky out too much.

The grin that he got in response was entirely worth swallowing his pride.

“Okay, great,” Bucky answered brightly, looking genuinely thrilled that Steve had actually conceded to him.  “Why don’t you grab a table, I’m gonna go put the order in and run to the bathroom,” he said after a moment, glancing around at how full the place was getting.  “If I’m not back before it’s done it’ll be under my name.”

“Will do,” Steve agreed easily, before moving to take the last two-person table at the front of the shop, settling into the seat that faced the counter with a sigh.  He allowed himself a moment to drain the last of his water bottle and soak in the warm summer sun as it filtered through the window to his left, then dug his phone out of his pocket, mindlessly flipping through his newsfeed.  As if he hadn’t already done so on the train to Brooklyn earlier that day - there was nothing new, of course, but it gave him something to do while he waited, rather than sit and creep the order line that Bucky was standing in.

Of course, the already familiar, boring headlines hardly kept him from noticing how long the familiar brunet was taking at the front of the line, or from surreptitiously stealing enough of a glance that he caught the wide, friendly grin he gave the barista as he leaned against the counter while she entered their order.  Before he fully comprehended what was going on, Steve was swallowing down a sudden, visceral roil of anger. 

He turned away from the counter completely, staring out the window with unseeing eyes as he got his emotions in check, while simultaneously wondering where the hell they had come from in the first place.  Steve had never been the type to get jealous, not really, and especially not over something as petty as a potential mate.  Not that he even thought of Bucky as such - which made the whole thing even more ridiculous.

The sound of a plate and two cups hitting the tabletop brought Steve back to the present.

“Sorry about that,” Bucky said sheepishly as he slid into the chair across from him, arranging the plate so that the bran muffin was closest to Steve.

Steve blinked in confusion, shaking off the last of the emotions he’d been dealing with.  “Sorry about what?”

“Just,” Bucky started with a shrug, “running off like I did.”  He grabbed the bagel that was also on the plate, tearing a piece of it off as Steve noticed a trace of pink rising on the apples of his cheeks.  “My bladder feels like it gets smaller every damned day, and I had to rinse the sweat out of this or I’d be itching all day.”

As if to demonstrate, Bucky raked his fingernails through the thickest patch of whiskers on his chin.  Steve did his best not to choke on his coffee.

“It’s fine,” Steve insisted after a moment, once he was sure he had his voice.  “I mean, I get it - it's not a big deal.  You weren’t even gone that long.”  Bucky dropped the apology, thankfully, and took a moment to start eating.  Steve, however, couldn’t quite let the facial hair go; especially now that Bucky had basically given him a segue to bring it up.

“So - the beard.  Is it a new thing?”

Bucky snorted as he finished chewing the bite he had taken, shaking his head.  “I hardly think it counts as a beard,” he said ruefully, “but no - I’ve just been too lazy to shave the past couple of mornings.” he sighed, rubbing the stubble on his cheek thoughtfully.  “I thought with the hormones I’d be able to get away with it, but… no dice, apparently.”

“It works,” Steve replied automatically, before jamming a piece of muffin in his mouth and cursing internally.  He definitely hadn’t meant to say as much out loud.  Thankfully, Bucky didn’t seem to take it too seriously; instead he gave a laugh and a sarcastic thanks, leaving Steve to sip on his coffee and silently thank anyone willing to listen for not having made things too awkward.

“Er, speaking of hormones,” he said after a few minutes of companionable quiet, unable to come up with a better segue, “is the nausea getting better?  If you can get up and run and eat and stuff.”

Bucky chuckled darkly, “Sort of - or, I’m learning to deal with it better,” he said with a shrug.  “Honestly, I just get up early enough that I can lay around in bed nibbling saltines until the worst of it clears.”

“How long does that take?” Steve asked with a frown.

“About half an hour, most mornings.”

Steve winced as he did the mental math, remembering how early they’d met up at the park.  “So you were up at what - five this morning?  On your day off?”

“About quarter ‘til, actually,” Bucky answered, shaking his head as Steve opened his mouth to apologize.  “No, don’t feel bad.  It’s not a big deal,” Bucky insisted.  “Honestly, as hot as it’s supposed to get today, I would’ve gone running at the same time, anyway.”

“Still,” Steve sighed, not bothering to hide his concern, “I figured - don’t you need more sleep than that?"

Bucky gave him a grin, using his straw to stir the green sludge in his cup.  “Like you said, it’s my day off - I’m gonna go back home, shower, and fall back into bed for a few hours.”

“Fair enough,” Steve conceded with a snort.

“I’ll be honest, though,” Bucky added, “I’d do unspeakable shit for a coffee right now.”

He glanced longingly at Steve’s drink, before finally taking a sip of his own.  Steve couldn’t help but watch - although for a change, he was more transfixed by whatever the hell it was that was in the cup than by his attraction to the omega. 

“It’s kale, apples and ginger,” Bucky said drolly, answering Steve’s unspoken question as he swirled the green sludge around in its plastic cup before taking a sip out of its straw.  He looked surprisingly okay with it, for as disgusting as the combination sounded.  “I’ve found it’s a lot easier to keep liquids down in the morning,” he explained, “and I’m not thinking I’m gonna be craving greens anytime soon.”

“Sounds… good,” Steve deadpanned, feeling proud as Bucky laughed at the joke. 

“It actually isn’t bad,” Bucky responded after a second, “and the ginger helps with nausea, so it’s a combination I’m pretty familiar with at this point.  But there are days when handling drinks all day starts turning into cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Can’t you just get a decaf?” Steve asked - as far as he knew, small amounts of coffee weren’t likely to do any harm to the baby, and as much as he appreciated Bucky thinking of it, it also seemed hardly fair for him to deprive himself like that.

The withering look that Bucky shot him as he sipped on his smoothie was all of the answer that Steve needed to that question. 

“Anyway,” he said after a few moments of quiet, “I appreciate it all the same.  It was great to get out in Prospect Park again.”

Bucky laughed quietly, “Even if we both came out of it looking like the return of the Swamp Thing.”

“It was fun!” Steve insisted truthfully, blushing as Bucky started to laugh at his reaction.  “Seriously,” he continued, even though it was obvious that Buck had been teasing him in the first place, “I enjoyed it.  If you ever wanna run a different route, you could come join me and my friend Sam - we usually go a few laps around Central Park on Friday mornings.  Just,” he shrugged, pulling a piece off of his muffin, “if you’re free.”

“I might have to take you up on it,” Bucky responded pleasantly, playing with the straw in his smoothie cup.  They both ate in companionable silence for a few seconds, before he added suddenly, “And hey - if you’re free this weekend, there’s a street art festival in Williamsburg on Saturday that I thought might be fun.  If… if you wanna go.”

Steve’s heart did - something stupid - in his chest, tripping over itself and the idea of Bucky wanting to hang out with him further, to the point of seeking out artsy things for them to do.  That, coupled with the shy smile he ended it with, was almost too much for Steve to handle.  But as soon as it had soared, his heart dropped, remembering just what the upcoming weekend actually was.

“I’d love to,” he started, wincing over how regretful his voice sounded, “but this weekend’s my godson’s first birthday, and the party’s on Saturday.”  The momentary flash of disappointment across Bucky’s face did nothing for Steve’s insides.  “And it’s a whole to-do, they’ve got family coming in from out of state and those that live in the city don’t have a car, so I promised to pick up the cake and get it to the hall…”

“It’s cool,” Bucky interrupted him, picking his bagel apart into pieces on the plate in front of him, “no worries, really.  I think it’s a festival series - and I couldn’t ask you to miss a party, anyway.”

“We’ll make it up,” Steve promised, still feeling guilty as hell.  It wasn’t as if he could skip the party, of course, but knowing that he’d been responsible for the continued look of disappointment on Bucky’s face was gut-wrenching. 

“For sure,” Bucky agreed pleasantly, as if he were totally unaware of Steve’s continued internal self-flagellation.  Thankfully, it meant that he changed the subject, carrying the conversation as they finished their breakfasts and finally ended up making their way out of the shop, going their separate ways with the promise that they’d be in touch soon.

The rest of his Thursday went as usual: once Steve got home he went to work on answering his morning emails, then decided to dedicate his afternoon to a canvas he’d been working on for the better part of a week.  He had his usual dinner with the Wilsons, where Tommy proudly showed off his first word outside of Dada and Papa (“No!”), Maggie talked Steve into helping her draw a birthday card for Tommy’s upcoming party, and he, Sam, and Riley put the finishing touches on party plans once the kids were finally down for the night.  Friday saw Steve working on edits for Shield projects and taking an afternoon trip to his favorite art store to pick up the last of the supplies he needed for his own present to Tommy, and just like that it was already the weekend of the party.

Seeing as Steve was one of the few attendees who both lived in the city and owned a car, he had promised Sam and Riley that he’d get the cake from the bakery to the hall they were renting, leaving the two of them to worry about the other transportation details.  They’d both insisted multiple times that Steve’s help wasn’t necessary, but thankfully didn’t argue against him doing it; he knew that they’d have their hands full enough just trying to get the kids ready for the event, much less prepping the hall, and while Sam’s sister Sarah was taking care of most of the food details, Steve still insisted that the cake and the decorations were the least that he could do.

Initially, when it had sounded like Sam wanted to try hosting the party at their building, the same as he’d done for Maggie’s first birthday, Steve had tried to talk them into using his place instead.  In the end they’d all agreed that hosting it at an outside facility would be the smallest possible headache for all parties involved, and therefore the best bet.

Steve picked the cake up first thing in the morning, confirming that the train on it was the right color over text with Riley and grabbing the smaller, similarly decorated cake that he’d ordered for Tommy to destroy himself: he’d seen enough adorable ideas on Pinterest of kids destroying their personal cakes, and had been trying all week to shake the underlying feelings of guilt that he’d had with regards to how absent he’d been for Maggie’s first party years ago.

Thankfully, both Sam and Riley had been kind enough not to bring his compensation up.

With the cakes in tow, Steve made his way to the hall they’d rented in Midtown, where he set up the decorations and draped one of the powder rooms in tarps for the surprise he’d planned for the older kids.  He’d just finished hanging the over-sized canvas he’d painted to go with the mural in Tommy’s room when the rest of the food for the party arrived, and by the time everything was set up the kids had arrived and the party was ready to be kicked off.

It was a lot of organized chaos, which had always seemed to be Sam and Riley’s specialty, but it was also great to get to catch up with members of Sam’s family and get to meet Riley’s, many of whom had traveled from Georgia for the event and Steve had never had the chance to properly meet. 

After lunch and cake had been served, and Steve had saved the four videos of Tommy smearing cake over himself and Sam and anyone else who dared to come close enough for his little hands to reach (including Steve’s camera lense in the final shot - which might have been his favorite), he’d helped to get the kids cleaned up then led all of the cousins into the ‘studio’ he’d set up for them.

The kids were surprisingly excited over the idea of painting their own trains for Tommy’s mural, and even the baby got into it, smearing his favorite colors across the small piece of canvas Steve had saved for him with finger paints and sticking his handprints on the older cousins’ paintings who were willing to allow the birthday boy to ‘help.’

Steve finished hanging the last of the paintings to dry then stripped out of his smock and made his way into the hall’s kitchen to finish cleaning up, grinning when he found Sam’s sister Sarah inside, rinsing out some of the serving bowls that had been emptied from lunch. 

“Hey there Pablo,” Sarah said with a grin as Steve stepped up next to her at the sink, stealing the spigot to rinse paint off of his hands, “I stuck my head in to get a look at the painting session - it looks like the whole thing was a success.”

“Yeah,” Steve responded with a smile of his own, “yeah, I think it turned out alright.”

“Of course it did,” Sarah laughed, “you gave a bunch of preschoolers finger paints, which is always a blast for them, and somehow managed to keep it in control enough that they didn’t make a complete mess of themselves or each other, which I’ll tell you now is a massive win for caretakers everywhere.”

Steve shrugged, holding back a smile as he did.  “I mean, I thought it would be a fun way to keep them busy, plus it was free labor to finish the painting when I ran late on it,” he winked with the last bit as Sarah laughed at him, clearly not buying the lie.

“But seriously,” she continued, “you were great with them, as always.”  There was a brief pause while they both looked out the serving window into the main hall, where Maggie was in the middle of organizing some type of game amongst all of the cousins, holding onto her brother’s hand as he tried to toddle along beside her.  Steve felt his throat close up with emotion as he watched them all playing together, already imagining what it would be like the following year, when his own son or daughter would be in the mix. 

As if she were reading his mind, Sarah asked, “Any chance you think you’ll be having one of your own?”

Steve turned the sink off in front of him, drying his hands deliberately as he debated how to answer.  So far, he’d only told Sam and Riley - even at work, he’d kept his reasons for cutting back on his office hours vague enough that no one actually knew about Bucky’s pregnancy.  On one hand, he was dying to share it, especially now that he had the ultrasound screenshots practically burning a hole in his wallet.  On the other hand, things were still so early, still felt almost too good to be real.  He’d heard enough old wive’s tales about it being bad luck to publicly reveal pregnancies before the first trimester was over, and while Steve didn’t necessarily believe them, he also didn’t think he’d ever be able to forgive himself if he spilled the beans and something happened.

At the same time, though, he’d been close to Sarah for years - she was the only one of Sam or Riley’s family who also lived in the area, she was the one who’d made a point of pestering Steve into coming to the Wilson holiday parties in that first year after Peggy had passed, when Sam had offered but not pushed when Steve had turned him down.  He’d never had a sister himself, but Steve had to imagine that if he had, their relationship would have been the same that the two of them shared.

And he was so damned tired of keeping it a secret.

“Yeah,” he ended up answering, wiping his hands on the front of his jeans to finish drying them as he reached into his back pocket and retrieved his wallet, “middle of March, actually.”

He did his best to keep some semblance of control over his face as he pulled the ultrasound screenshot out of the billfold, but once Steve caught the look of shock on Sarah’s face, he couldn’t help but grin.  “Wait, seriously?” she asked, taking the glossy print-out from him but still staring incredulously at Steve.

“Yeah,” he chuckled, “it was Sam’s idea, actually - I found a clinic in the city that specializes in surrogacy, got approved, found an omega that was willing to donate an egg and carry a pregnancy to term…” he nodded to the ultrasound, smiling even wider when he caught a glimpse of the little blob of gray.  “He’s about nine weeks along now, so far everything is going great.”

“That’s…” Sarah started, before setting the bowl she’d been hoping down in the sink and pulling Steve into a tight hug, “that’s great.  I’m so, so happy for you.”

Steve squeezed her back, feeling slightly embarrassed when he realized how tight his throat felt with emotion, but he quickly shook the embarrassment off - it felt so good to have shared the picture, to have someone else know about the baby and be happy about it.  Hell, as far as he was concerned, the ultrasound picture belonged right along one of his exhibits in MOMA, or on a billboard in Times Square, he was so damned proud of it.

He had a huge, stupid, watery grin on his face when they parted a few seconds later, but Steve didn’t give a damn.

“Although,” Sarah added, smirking as she reached over and brushed a piece of hair off of Steve’s forehead - one he realized was covered in green paint, when she laughed and wiped her fingers after, “I think you’re selling yourself short in the mate department.  But I’m happy to hear about the baby, you deserve that kind of good news.”

“Thanks,” Steve responded, ignoring the bit about the mate completely, “it’s all happened kinda fast, but I’m really happy about it to, obviously.  I can’t wait for him or her to get here.”

“Believe me,” Sarah laughed, “it’s going to fly by.  Before you know it it’ll be Valentine’s Day and you’ll be tearing your nursery apart, wishing you had more time to get ready.”

Steve gave her a teasing grin, “Now why does it sound like you’re speaking from experience,” he chuckled, watching as her oldest started organizing the kids into a game of duck-duck-goose.  Tommy, of course, was too little to understand the concept of the game, and kept toddling around the outside of the circle, trying to catch the bigger kids as they chased after each other.

“Laugh it up now,” Sarah replied dryly, “and I’ll be very happy to say I told you so later.”

“And here I thought you were gonna say you wouldn’t help when there’s missing pieces after I’ve assembled the crib or something,” Steve chuckled, playing right along.

To his surprise, the smile faded off of Sarah’s face as he said it.  “Steve, you know you could call me if you needed something - same with Sam.”

“I know,” he said sincerely - God knew they’d proven it enough times over the years, “I know that, and I love you guys for it.”

“You’re family,” she replied roughly, reaching out and squeezing his shoulder, “and don’t you forget it.  You got adopted by the Wilsons, whether you like it or not.”

Steve nodded, his throat too tight to reply and confident that she knew he believed it, anyway.  After a few moments (and another quick hug), he finally made his way out of the kitchen.  “Oh, and uh - Sarah,” Steve added as he paused by the door.  “I - I don’t wanna jinx anything, with the pregnancy, so I was gonna wait a couple of weeks before I said anything…”

“My lips are sealed, Steve,” she promised with a grin.

The party continued on late into the afternoon, when the cake was nearly gone and it was finally far enough past Tommy’s naptime that he was hiding against Riley’s shoulder and twisting his hair, too cranky to play or pose for pictures anymore.  Steve helped clean up once the last of the guests had left, got one final goodbye hug from both Maggie and Tommy, then made his way back to his place, feeling more content than he had in recent memory.

The following Monday brought with it a morning meeting that Steve had to actually be in the office for, so he made his way to work after sending a gif of a random actor facepalming in response to a terrible pun that Bucky had ended their conversation with the night prior.  He couldn’t help but laugh to himself as the message was marked as read on his phone, smirking as the ellipses bubble popped up on Bucky’s side of the screen.

From: Bucky  Received: 09:45 AM
ur just jealous that you didn’t come up with it first :P

To:  Bucky  Sent: 09:46 AM
whatever u say, pal
if that’s what helps u sleep at night ;)

“Hey boss,” Peter’s voice called out from across the room, pulling Steve’s attention away from his phone. 

It took him a second to realize that he still had a stupid grin on his face, one he suppressed into his best lazy smile as he tucked his phone into the pocket of his slacks and walked towards the younger man’s desk.  “Hey Peter, how was your weekend?”

“Not bad,” Peter answered pleasantly enough, but instead of breaking into his usual chatter of small-talk, he glanced nervously towards the closed door of Steve’s office in the corner.  “Er, your ten o’clock got here a little early and asked if she could just wait for you in there, and uh - I ended up saying okay.  I hope that’s alright?”

Steve frowned, not loving the idea that a stranger was already in his office - especially considering the fact that he was fifteen minutes early for said appointment - but given the obvious discomfort in Peter’s voice, he dropped it.  They could discuss personal boundaries at another time, preferably when Steve wasn’t already running late for a major client.

“Uh, sure,” he ended up saying, before tipping his travel mug back to finish the last of his coffee and adjusting his messenger bag on his shoulder.  “I guess I’ll just… get to it, then,” he continued, making his way to the corner of the office.

He paused with his hand on the door handle, glancing back across the room to call, “Oh, and Peter - just take a message if I get any calls in the next hour, this shouldn’t take much longer than that.”  Peter gave him a thumbs-up, and Steve turned the handle completely, making his way into the office with his professional smile.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he started - but completely lost the train of thought when he caught a glimpse of the person in the chair across from his desk.

Between her sharp black suit and the harsh french knot her hair was scraped back into the woman looked considerably different than the last time Steve had saw her, seated across the waiting room at Conceive Solutions, but Bucky’s support alpha wasn’t exactly the type of person that was difficult to recognize. 

“Miss, uh - Natasha?  Er, I mean, Romanoff,” Steve babbled, unable to hide how flustered he was to see the familiar alpha in his office. 

She gave him a small smirk, rising out of her chair and taking the hand that he hadn’t even noticed he was still extending in greeting.  “It should probably be Detective Romanoff, at least today,” she replied drolly, shaking his hand twice before dropping it and returning to her seat, “and it’s good to see you again, Mister Rogers.   I’m sorry for being so early, but I wasn’t sure what to expect of traffic this time of morning.”

“Please, call me Steve,” he responded in reflex, making his way around his desk and trying to force himself to relax as he pulled his laptop out of his bag and took a seat, “otherwise I feel like I should be wearing a cardigan and house shoes.”

Natasha laughed politely at his joke, then reached into her own bag and pulled out a manilla envelope.  Steve caught the NYPD insignia on it, and couldn’t help but acknowledge the elephant in the room.  “So I’m guessing you’re here about the poster design ideas for Brooklyn Public Schools?”  he asked, flushing slightly when she simply raised her eyebrows in response.  “Just, I mean - I guess I was expecting someone from HR to come in, that’s usually who our contact person is when it comes to things like this.”

“I’m on the outreach committee and my caseload has been light for the past couple of weeks,” she answered breezily, “plus our drug and alcohol education program is getting an overhaul, and we’re trying to incorporate a new module for youth violence, so I figured I would make the trip over and save our HR department the trouble of an extra meeting.  As long as you’re alright with it, of course.”

“Oh, of course, it’s no problem,” Steve responded immediately, shaking his head and taking the folder as she slid it across the desk.  “I mean, obviously, we’re happy to work with the department, and I don’t have an issue with who I meet with, it was just - I was just saying, is all.”

Natasha gave him an unreadable smile, and Steve shut his mouth, instead focusing on getting to work with the project.

After Shield had rolled out public service posters for the Manhattan borough police department, contacts from the other boroughs had been rolling in, looking for new educational posters for public schools, billboards, bus stops, and the like.  While it hadn’t exactly been the company’s sexiest project to date, it had led to a ton of great publicity, and had Shield design work plastered all over the city - a fact that Tony was always happy to point out was excellent for business.

Steve talked over the goals for Brooklyn PD’s own project, showing Natasha examples from the work they’d done in Queens and the Bronx and getting her input on basic design ideas the department had in mind.

“Are you guys going to want to use your own models, or will the stock we have from the rest of the city work?” Steve asked, going over the proposal from Natasha’s folder.

“I’ll get back on you for certain,” she replied, “but I think it’d be best to have familiar faces on them.  Help humanize the department.”

Steve made a note of as much, nodding along - it had been the same decision most of the others had made, but it meant they needed to get a photographer in and made the project a little bigger.  All the while, though, he couldn’t completely ignore the elephant in the room, still thrown by her presence in the first place.

“And will you be our main contact,” he asked as they were nearing the end of the meeting, “or was today just a… special visit?”

“Special how?” Natasha asked, giving him an innocent blink.

“I just mean,” Steve started, fidgeting slightly in his chair as he tried desperately to get comfortable, “I mean, obviously we’re excited as a company to work with the department, but I can’t shake the feeling that this ,” he pointed back and forth between the two of them, “isn’t really about PSA posters at all.”

Steve had expected the direct question to either throw Natasha off of her game or draw an enigmatic response from her.  Instead, she stared him down, giving the uncomfortable feeling that her bright green eyes were managing to look through him, before answering evenly, “Like I said before, James is my dearest friend - the closest thing to family I’ve ever had, if you want to be poetic about it.  And I’ve noticed that the two of you have been spending more and more time together, which I imagine will continue to be the case, given the circumstances, so I figured I would reach out as well.”

“To spy on me?” Steve asked, incredulously.

The short chuckle that Natasha responded with didn’t actually make him feel any better.

“Actually, I was hoping for something more along the lines of a comfortable acquaintance,” she said, when he’d failed to laugh along with her.  “I don’t have any need to spy on you.”

Steve bit his tongue, barely restraining himself from voicing the question that ran through his head: because you’ve done it already?  He cleared his throat, realizing that the continued silence probably just made him look guiltier.  “Well, I guess it’s good to know you trust me, then,” he muttered, internally wincing when he realized that it sounded no better.

“I do,” Natasha replied, sounding so sincere that Steve was taken aback by it. 

He shuffled through the papers on his desk, putting the proposals she’s brought away and clipping together the examples he’d assembled for her to take back to their team, all the while trying to come up with a response.  In the end, she beat him to it.

“You know,” she started calmly, “for the sake of full disclosure, I probably should admit -” Steve looked up from the mock-up in front of him, frowning as he waited for whatever Natasha was going to say. 

“My first job out of the academy was with the Special Victims Unit in Manhattan.”

Steve wasn’t entirely positive what he’d been expecting her to say, but that certainly hadn’t been it.  The admission hung in the air between them for a few moments, sinking in as Steve started to do the math: in all likelihood Natasha was the same age as Bucky, or at least close to it.  That meant… his heart began to sink as he put it together, even as she continued speaking.

“I was only on a couple of cases with her, but I did get to meet Margaret Carter a couple of times.   She was incredible at her job - read people better than anyone I’ve ever seen in the field.”

“She was,” Steve responded thickly, “you were lucky to have worked with her.”

“I agree,” Natasha stated.  “And had you been anyone else, I probably would have refused to sign on as James’s support - I’ve seen him hurt by too many alphas to have agreed to watch him put himself in such a dangerous situation,” she held eye-contact with Steve the entire time, barely blinking as she continued talking.  “But when I saw your file and that you’d been married to Officer Carter, I knew that we could trust anyone that she had.”

Steve nodded tightly, not trusting himself to respond to what had been said.  It was stupid, how much it still hurt to hear someone talk about Peggy when he wasn’t expecting it - but at the same time, Steve did have a small appreciation for Natasha for bringing it up.  And, he couldn’t help being begrudgingly thankful to know that Bucky had someone who cared so deeply about him: even if it meant the magnifying glass was uncomfortably pointed at him.

“Well then,” Steve said once there were finally no papers left to sort, “thanks.  I appreciate your honesty.”  He cleared his throat, getting back into his business tone as he passed the Shield folder over to Natasha.  “You’re free to take those examples back to discuss with your team.  In the meantime, I’ll send over our notes to my design team here, have them start a few mock-ups that we’ll email to your contact by the middle of next week, if that works for you?”

“That sounds perfect,” Natasha responded pleasantly, completely unfazed by Steve’s tone.  She took the proffered file, tucking it into her bag before rising from her seat.  “Just call the office when they’re ready, they’ll get you set up with the appropriate contact information to email the mock-ups to.”  She turned like she was going to go for the door, before pausing and fishing a card out of one of the smaller pockets of her bag.  “Unless you’d like to meet in person again,” she said, giving him an entirely different smile as she handed the card over.

“And it doesn’t have to be about work,” she added softly, as Steve read over the card in his hand - the front was official NYPD, with her name, rank and office contact, but as he flipped it over he found a cell phone number handwritten in ink.  “Just, let me know.”

She waited a moment, before turning and making her way out of the office in earnest.

“I’m guessing you want me to not tell Bucky about this chat, right?” Steve asked, before she could open the door to the main room.

It was gratifying to watch Natasha pause in the doorway, clearly considering before turning to face him again.  That was, until she gave him such a nonchalant shrug that he might as well have asked her who her favorite pop star was.  “We’re all adults here,” she answered breezily, reaching for the door handle while holding eye contact with Steve, “you’re more than welcome to tell James whatever you’d like.”

Before Steve could think of anyway to answer to that, Natasha opened the door and gave him one final, broad smile.  “Anyway, feel free to contact the office whenever you’ve got mock-ups ready for the posters - and let me know when you want to grab a coffee.”

And then, with a fashionable flash of black and red, she was gone. 

Steve remained seated at his desk for a few moments, still reeling from the entire bizarre encounter, when Peter suddenly appeared in the doorway, looking concerned.

“Um, is everything okay, sir?” he asked, looking around the room like he was expecting to find a bloodbath. 

Steve shook himself, knowing that his own discomfort must be palpable to have his protege so obviously worried.  “Fine, Pete -” he said as confidently as he could, “it sounds like they’ll be happy with the same basic idea as the Queens’ PD posters were, so if we could start delegating out the design jobs I’ll send out the mock-up assignments by the end of the day.” 

Luckily the younger man took the hint, and left the room as quickly as he’d entered.  Steve took a moment, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against his palms as he leaned on his desk, trying to get his head back in order after such a weird meeting. 

He finally felt like he had himself together when the text alert on his phone went off.

From: Bucky  Received: 10:15 AM
sleeping isn’t an issue but that’s besides the point

Steve stared at the text for a solid minute, debating how to respond to it - should he bring up the meeting with Natasha?  Would it make Bucky angry, driving a rift between the two friends?  Or worse, would he be angry at Steve, if he found out at a later date and felt like the two of them were going behind his back.

There wasn’t a good answer, he realized with a sigh, and after three attempts at drafting a text that sounded both relaxed and honest, Steve gave up on the idea of bringing it up.  Maybe at a later time, or if Natasha actually took him up on the coffee idea.  For the time being, Steve figured it was better to continue building the tentative friendship they had going - which meant making up for skipping out the weekend prior, not tattling on Bucky’s best friend.

To:  Bucky  Sent: 10:21 AM
fair enough
are u free this weekend?
it’s supposed to be beautiful but hot
i was thinking of going to the beach

It turned out that Bucky had never been to Rockaway Beach - a fact that Steve thought was almost as bad as his never having experienced Coney Island, so they ended up agreeing to meet there on Friday morning with the hope of missing the worst of the beach crush.  Steve decided to take his Harley instead of the train - the drive back to Manhattan would likely be a bear, but the day was too nice to miss out on the bike.  He parked as near to the 67th Beach as he could, then went to meet up with Bucky at the subway stop as planned: within ten minutes of Steve’s arrival Bucky was making his way out of the subway turnstiles, dressed in large, baggy gym shorts and a white t-shirt and looking sweaty but otherwise no worse for wear. 

“Hey, glad you could make it,” Steve said with a smile as Bucky caught up to him, pointing them both in the direction of the beach.

“I’m glad you had the idea - it’s a good day for swimming and not much else,” Bucky responded, pushing his hair back off of his forehead.

They were both sweaty by the time they’d finally made it to the shore, but luckily it didn’t take them long to find a free piece of sand.  Bucky had laughed at Steve’s huge pack when they’d first started walking together, but that laughing stopped as soon as the enormous umbrella he’d packed within was stuck in the sand.

“You’re a genius,” Bucky sighed, falling down onto the ratty towel he’d brought and stretching out in the tiny patch of shade, “I’m sorry I doubted you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve laughed, shaking his head at the theatrics, “don’t get too used to it.”

Once their spot was set up Steve dug his sunscreen out of his bag, liberally applying it to his arms and neck and chest, knowing that he’d regret wearing his tanktop, otherwise.

“Do you mind if I use some of that?” Bucky asked, lifting his sunglasses off of his nose and glancing up at Steve. 

“Course not,” Steve responded easily, handing the tube over.  It was perfectly fine, until Bucky stripped his t-shirt over his head.

Luckily, the omega was too busy covering his arms and front in sunscreen to notice the fact that Steve was suddenly completely incapable of taking his eyes off of him.  He was glad for the over-sized sunglasses he’d picked for the day, but even with them covered, he was afraid that his crush on Bucky could probably be seen from space.  The worst by far, though, was his abdomen - Bucky was still relatively toned, but the definition of his lower abs were noticeably different; Steve was certain that it’d be any day before the pregnancy started showing in earnest.

He was trying his best to come up with the least creepy way to ask about it when Bucky turned to him outright.  “I don’t suppose you could give me a hand with my back?”

“I- wha?” Steve asked eloquently, shaking himself from his daze.

“My back,” Bucky laughed, “I do wanna go swimming eventually, but I’ve got pretty Irish skin - if I don’t get my back covered I’ll have some weird burned racing stripes or something.”

“Can’t have that,” Steve said with a laugh, sitting up and forcing his hands to remain still as he squeezed the cream out into his palms.  The fact that Bucky was facing away from him helped slightly, although it did nothing to erase the ridiculous definition of his back muscles.  Steve cursed internally, reminding himself that he was a man, not a damned animal, and that Bucky was a friend.  It helped stop with the subconscious objectification at least, although that also could have been the fact that he was finally able to stop touching the omega.

“All set,” Steve said, his voice surprisingly steady as he capped the sunscreen and set it aside.

“Uh,” Bucky started, clearing his throat and rolling his shoulders as he turned back to face Steve, “d’you need me to get you?”

Steve blinked in surprise at the offer - he’d fully planned on swimming in his tank like he always did, especially since it gave him as good of coverage as anything (he had the Irish curse, too, not that he was about to say as much).  At the same time though, Bucky was offering, and he didn’t want to come across as weird or rude for having refused it.

With a nod - as much for himself as for Bucky - Steve stripped his tank top off over his head, turning to face the opposite direction as he heard Bucky uncap the sunscreen.  “Thanks,” he said quietly, swallowing down a gasp at the first touch.  The cream was cold, but beyond that, Steve couldn’t remember the last time someone had rubbed his back - and definitely not someone with hands as large and strong as Bucky’s.  If he hadn’t been so self-conscious of how thin his own back and shoulders were, and the tiny curvature that was still left in his spine if you paid close attention to it, as Bucky inevitably was now, Steve might have even gotten turned on by it.

Instead, he just spent the couple of minutes it took for Bucky to cover his back in a state of ridiculously uncomfortable confusion.

Once they were both adequately covered they laid back on their respective towels, enjoying the light breeze coming off the water and the sound of the beach around them as they waited for the cream to set completely and (in Steve’s case, at least), shook off the weirdness of the whole sunscreen debacle.

“I’ve, uh, never been swimming in an Ocean before,” Bucky admitted out of nowhere, propping himself up on his elbows as he looked out at the water.

“Really?” Steve asked, trying his best not to sound too incredulous.

“Nope,” Bucky said, shaking his head.  “We went to Lake Michigan and Lake Erie a bunch of times growing up, but we usually stayed in the Midwest.”  He waited for a moment, before adding thoughtfully, “We did go to Disney World when I was about eleven, but we stayed in Orlando the whole time.”

“Huh,” Steve murmured.  Growing up he’d come to Rockaway Beach quite a bit over the summer, and in the years since graduating college had traveled all over - but obviously was living under considerably different circumstances than Bucky, so it hardly seemed appropriate to say as much now.  “I mean, this was my only experience until I was about eighteen,” he ended up saying, before continuing with a dry smile, “and I didn’t go to Disney World until I was twentyfive, so you’ve got me beat, there.”

Bucky grinned at that, sitting up in full and pushing himself off of his towel.  “Alright then,” he said after a moment, stepping out of his shorts to reveal his swimming trunks underneath, “anything I should know?”

Steve couldn’t answer immediately - he was too amused by the ridiculous, bright purple swim trunks with confusing purple arrows all over them to focus on anything else.

“They’re my friend Clint’s,” Bucky said after a moment, following Steve’s eyes and glancing down with a blush.

“I like ‘em,” Steve said simply.  He followed Bucky’s lead, standing up and pulling down his pants as well, then standing tall in the face of Bucky’s laughter. 

“You were really gonna give me hell about these?” the omega laughed, still chuckling as he pointed at the (admittedly ridiculous) star spangled shorts that Steve was wearing. 

“They were a birthday present,” Steve responded, standing tall and sticking his chest out as Bucky continued laughing, “and my only advice would be not to swallow any water when I dunk you under for making fun of them.”

“You’re on,” Bucky said with a laugh, slipping out of his shoes and taking off at a sprint for the water.

The water was perfect for as hot as the day was, and once they’d swam out a distance from the shore there was plenty of room for the two of them to roughhouse like idiots.  Steve had always loved swimming - even when he’d been scrawny, the water had felt like a great equalizer - but he’d never really had a friend that he could exactly wrestle with.  He was careful not to be too rough with Bucky, of course, and had the feeling that the omega was extending the same amount of caution, likely with the baby in mind. 

All the same, it was as much fun as Steve could remember having in a long time.

Without really recognizing it they’d spent hours in the water - as Steve got closer to the shore he started to realize how pink his shoulders were getting despite the liberal sunscreen they’d put on, and he was starving.  The stomach rumble that sounded immediately to his left said that Bucky was feeling the same. 

“Think we should pack up and head up to the boardwalk to grab some lunch?” Steve asked, tactfully not mentioning his hint as they made their way back to the umbrella.

Bucky agreed, of course, and then insisted on splitting the gear evenly as they carried it up towards the boardwalk; in the end Steve didn’t put up an argument, especially since it wasn’t particularly heavy to begin with.  His favorite crabshack was only a few blocks up from where they’d been swimming, so Steve was ecstatic when Bucky agreed to it. 

They stowed their gear outside the door, alongside other piles of umbrellas and wet blankets, before making their way inside.  Steve was about to make his way to the host’s booth, when he glanced at Bucky and immediately paused. 

The omega looked pale and sweaty as he glanced around the restaurant, rubbing his nose and avoiding Steve’s eyes as he shifted his weight back and forth.

“Are you alright?” Steve asked with a frown.

“I -” Bucky started, before covering his mouth and shaking his head.

Steve turned them both around and rushed out the door, deciding that no crabcakes were worth whatever was going on with Bucky.

Once they were out in the sun Bucky took a few deep, desperate breaths, closing his eyes and clenching his lips together.  Thankfully, Steve noticed his color returning almost immediately.

“I’m sorry about that,” Bucky muttered after a couple of minutes, “usually I love sea food, but… I mean, if they have seating outside, I might be okay.”

“Nope,” Steve said, shaking his head emphatically.  “No, if the smell’s gonna bother you that bad I’d rather get something else anyway.”

He figured it was a testament to just how close Bucky’d come to actually getting sick when the omega acquiesced immediately -  Steve had been expecting at least a little pushback.  In the end they’d wound up at a pizzeria near the subway stop they’d met up at.  They destroyed a cheese pie and fruit salad largely in silence, but it seemed to leave them both feeling a million times better.

“If you want,” Steve started once he’d sent the bill back up with their waiter, “we could probably head back to the beach.”

Bucky winced, rubbing his neck as he answered.  “I’d love to, but - I’m gettin’ to the point that I’m really, really beat.  I think I’d just end up sleeping in the sand.”

“I mean,” Steve laughed, “that’s an option, too, but I get it.”  Truthfully, now that he’d had food, Steve was starting to feel a little drowsy himself, so he could hardly blame him for wanting to go home, even if he was slightly bummed to see the day come to an end.

They each changed back into their dry clothes in the bathroom once the the bill was taken care of, then made their way back outside.  Steve debated bringing it up the entire time they were walking back to the subway, but once he actually got a glance at his Harley in the parking lot just beyond the station, he bit the bullet and asked.

“I actually rode my bike here today, if you’d rather get a ride home instead of taking the train?” he asked in a rush, trying for nonchalant.

“Bike?” Bucky parroted, sounding confused.

“Yeah,” Steve answered, nodding towards the parking lot across the street, “my Harley bike, not a pedal bike.  I mean, no pressure if you don’t want to, but - you’re more than welcome if you want a ride.”

“I dunno -” Bucky muttered, looking uneasily at the Harley.  Steve doubted that he even recognized he was doing it, but the omega was resting his palm against the lowest part of his abdomen, as if shielding the baby as he worried over his decision.

It was so tender that for one terrifying, irrational moment, Steve almost cried.

“I have an extra helmet,” he ended up pointing out instead, grateful when his voice actually came out sounding normal, “and I mean, it’s not like I can really ride it like an idiot this time of day in the city, so it wouldn’t be that much different safety-wise as riding the subway.”

“I trust you,” Bucky said quickly, leaving Steve with another awkward lump in his throat, “but I can imagine how big mess traffic’s gonna be going back into the city, and Bed-Stuy would be out of your way.  I’m just - I’m gonna take the train, today.”  The last part was definitive enough that it didn’t leave much argument for Steve to make otherwise.  “Thanks for the offer, though.”

Steve gave him a weak smile, trying his best not to take the refusal too personally as they parted ways, confirming that they’d see each other for the ultrasound appointment later that week.

Steve was busy enough with work and his early attempts to start baby-proofing the apartment that the next few days passed in a blur, to the point that the appointment confirmation call from CS might have taken him by surprise, if he hadn’t been so excited about the prospect of it coming up.

He made his way to the clinic a solid half hour prior to their scheduled appointment, for the sole purpose of beating Bucky there.  It was stupid, probably, and he’d feel especially ridiculous if Natasha ended up joining the omega that day, but he’d felt so guilty when he’d walked in and saw him seated there alone before their last appointment and was too distracted to get anything else done anyway that in the end his impatience had won out.

The waiting room was practically empty when Steve walked in, and seeing as Bucky hadn’t arrived yet he didn’t bother checking in, instead settling into a seat in the same corner of the room Bucky had chosen for their first two visits and flipping through the Bump app, reading the “what to expect” bit about the ten-week screening tests for the tenth time in an attempt to both calm his nerves and pass the time.

Bucky arrived ten minutes prior to their scheduled time, giving Steve a smile as he signed the check-in sheet before making his way over.  He was wearing the same dark-washed jeans as usual, and Steve couldn’t help but study his midsection, trying to decide if the black t-shirt he’d picked for the day was actually stretched out or if it was just his imagination playing tricks on him.

Ultimately, Steve didn’t get much chance to figure it out - Bucky had just enough time to drop into the seat next to him and slip his backpack off of his right shoulder when the clinic door opened.

“James?” Connie’s voice called out, from where she had appeared in the clinic door with a smile.

Bucky raised his eyebrows at Steve, leaving the conversation at that as he rose out of his chair and made his way towards the clinic entrance.

“How are you guys doing today?” Connie asked pleasantly as they both followed her down the hallway, pausing in front of the scale.

Steve caught the quick, uncomfortable glance that Bucky shot in his direction - luckily the nurse did too, glancing around him and making eye-contact with Steve.  “We’re going to be heading back to ultrasound room two,” she said pleasantly, motioning down the hall, “if you want to just head there, first?”

“No problem,” Steve responded, easily, pausing as Bucky started to slip out of his tennis shoes.  “I can take your bag, if you’d like?” he asked neutrally as the omega started to slip his backpack off his shoulder.

“Er, yeah - sure,” Bucky said after a moment, handing it over to Steve with a tiny frown.  “Thanks,” he added as Steve had already started walking away.

Steve just waved and made his way down the length of the hall, sliding in the third to last door on the right - the same one he barely remembered from their appointment a couple of weeks prior, he’d left it in such a state.  Now, though, being back in the familiar light-teal walls, he felt his heart rate starting to increase, already growing anxious over the idea of seeing the baby again.  He’d already studied the printouts from the initial scan so often that they were permanently emblazoned on his brain - the idea that he was getting to do it again, so soon after, and that they’d be completely different images (he’d done enough reading up online over the week, so he had an idea of all of the physical changes baby Rogers had already gone through)...

Needless to say, he was a mess by the time Bucky joined him in the room, with Connie following close behind.  Luckily, he still had enough control over himself to school his face as Bucky hopped onto the exam table and Connie began collecting supplies out of the pink phlebotomy bin she’d carried in with her.

“I was just telling James,” she said as she turned to the table with a handful of tubes, “that Doctor Foster is at the hospital this afternoon so she won’t be available for an appointment, per say, but she will see the results of the ultrasound and all of the bloodwork and give you a call later in the week.”

“That’s no problem,” Steve replied - they’d already been told as much when they’d scheduled the appointment in the first place, but he could imagine that the poor staff was met with kickback for not getting to see a physician on a regular basis.  “Uh - everything’s okay so far, though?”

“Perfect,” Connie answered with a smile, turning the same look on Bucky as she prepped the crook of his elbow and wrapped a tourniquet around his biceps.  “And the good news is, between the results of this bloodwork and the images that Ian comes in and gets on the ultrasound, we’ll have a pretty reliable handle on the fetus’s risk of any chromosome abnormalities.” 

She paused as she focused on drawing the vials of blood from Bucky’s arm, and neither of the men said anything in the interim - for his part, Steve had already up on the combined screening tests, so none of the information was either new or surprising.

“Plus,” Connie added as she removed the needle and pressed a cotton ball to the area she’d pulled the needle out of, “I don’t think anyone is disappointed by the opportunity to have more ultrasounds.”

Steve couldn’t have agreed more, although he kept as much to himself when he saw the uncomfortable smile that Bucky gave her in response.  “Alright, I’m all set,” Connie said breezily as she began fixing stickers onto each of the vials, “did you guys have any questions?  I’d be happy to pass anything along to Doctor Foster if I can’t answer it.”

Steve paused for a moment, giving Bucky a chance to ask first - unable to help smiling when the Omega glanced in his direction, apparently making the same decision.

“No, I don’t think I have anything at the moment,” Steve answered sheepishly, which Bucky quickly agreed to.

“In that case just sit tight, Ian should be finishing up in his other room so he’ll be in with you shortly.”

Steve nodded his thanks, settling back further in the uncomfortable plastic chair and trying to come up with some type of smalltalk to break the uncomfortable silence that had descended on the room once the door had closed.  Before he was able to come up with something better than the weather, Bucky shifted uncomfortably on the table, fidgeting with the button of his jeans drawing his attention from breaking the ice to worrying about the omega.

“You alright?” Steve asked, hoping that it wasn’t too stupid a question.

Bucky startled slightly as he turned his attention to Steve.  “Yeah,” he said immediately, “I’m fine.  I mean - I’ve gotta pee like a racehorse, but at this point that’s par for the course with coming here.”

Steve swallowed down a laugh, settling for an empathetic wince when he couldn’t come up with a better response.  Bucky opened his mouth like he was going to say something else, but was interrupted by the door opening as Ian hurried into the room.

“Hey again, guys - sorry about the wait,” he said in a rush, powering up the ultrasound machine.  “I hope everything’s going okay?”

“Going great,” Bucky answered as he slid further up the table and lay back.

Steve just focused on trying to keep his heart from beating out of his chest in anticipation.

Logically, he knew that the process was probably going faster, especially since they had already done their introductions and Bucky knew the drill for having the scan done, but time still seemed to drag by as Ian typed all of the necessary information into the machine and Bucky situated himself for the procedure.  But then finally, finally , Ian squirted gel on the probe and pressed it against the little mound of Bucky’s belly, and the little dark oval of his womb appeared on the screen again.

Steve didn’t realize he’d gotten out of his chair until he was standing immediately behind Ian, ducking down under his free elbow as he approached the screen and looked at the tiny image that had come into view.

It was more obviously a baby, this time - still tiny with a massive, alien-looking head, but now with obvious legs and arms, and a humanoid shape, and Steve was so in love that it hurt to breathe. 

“Baby’s growing nicely, as you can see,” Ian said gently, pointing out its little head and arms on the screen, exactly where Steve had thought he’d seen them.  Even better, as he zoomed in to take the measurements, the tiny, flickering heart came into view, again proving that it was all real - there was really a little embryo, with a tiny beating heart, getting stronger, growing larger.

The technician was in the middle of measuring its length when its legs disappeared from view.  “Oh, come on,” Ian laughed, shaking the probe against Bucky’s abdomen.

“Is everything okay?” Bucky asked, wincing as the probe jabbed in further.  Steve held his breath, waiting for the answer.

“It’s totally fine,” Ian responded calmly, shaking the probe again - the shape came back into view, this time facing the opposite direction on the screen.  “Baby just decided to get camera shy and rolled on me; I need them to be in a transverse plane to make this measurement.”

“Can you feel it?” Steve asked, his voice barely above a whisper as he ripped his eyes away from the screen to look at Bucky.  The idea of the baby moving already hadn’t even crossed his mind.

“No,” Bucky answered, craning his neck to see better, “is it doing it now?”

“It’s too small for you to feel yet,” Ian chimed in, “most first-time carriers don’t start to notice movements…”

“Until sixteen weeks, I know,” Bucky interrupted with a frown. “I just - it didn’t even occur to me that it was moving already.”

“Oh yeah, has been for at least a couple of weeks,” Ian responded, clicking on the screen a couple of times and dropping measurement lines across the picture of the fetus.

“Are they growing alright?”  Steve asked, watching as the gestational age appeared on the screen, along with the same due date as the previous scan. 

“Right on schedule,” Ian answered, “as you can see, the limb buds are fully formed now and started to lengthen, and the crown-to-rump size has doubled.”

“So the gummy bear’s a circus peanut?”  Steve asked, shooting Bucky an impish smile.  He still hadn’t got over the fact that the omega had come up with the baby’s first nickname, and wanted to keep on the same theme.

“It’s only a little over an inch long,” Bucky responded, holding his finger and his thumb apart, “so - more like a real peanut.”

Ian chuckled, “James is right, I’ve got an official length of 3.18 centimeters.”  He clicked on the machine a couple of times, saving screenshots as he zoomed in further, focusing on the baby’s head.  “Okay - so the meat of this scan is going to be to measure the nuchal translucency, which is basically just to look and see if it has much swelling in the back of its neck.  It’s a pretty common sign of chromosomal issues, so we make sure to look for it in everyone during the first trimester.”

Steve held his breath as Ian settled on an angle and started dropping measurement points again, along a tiny black streak on the screen that Steve barely noticed beneath the baby’s skull.  After the longest minute of his life, Ian finally quit clicking and hit another button.  “I’ll need Doctor Foster to check my work, of course, but from what I’m seeing the measurements are totally normal.”

Steve exhaled deeply, feeling his knees sag in relief.  He would have kept and loved the baby either way, he realized, but at the same time having confirmation that it seemed to be healthy so far was an enormous weight off of his shoulders.

“I don’t suppose we could hear the heartbeat again?” he asked as Ian typed on the screen.

“That was going to be my last measurement,” he responded with a smile, turning the probe slightly and bringing the flickering into view again.  He hit a button, and the fast, soft whooshing sound that had made Steve cry a couple of weeks earlier filled the room again.

To no one’s surprise, he felt just as overcome as he had the first time he’d heard it.

Steve had no idea how long Ian left the sound running - after a few seconds he closed his eyes, focusing more on the rhythm, trying to memorize it as well as he could, especially since he vaguely remembered that it would be awhile before they performed another scan and he had the opportunity to listen again.

“Clipping along at 157 beats per minute today,” Ian said softly, bringing Steve back to the present, “which is exactly where we’d expect it right now.  Was there anything else either of you wanted to see?”

Steve could have stayed there watching for hours, especially as one of the tiny legs on the screen kicked out, but he also remembered how obviously uncomfortable Bucky had looked when he’d laid back on the table.  As much as he wanted more time with to look at the fetus, it wasn’t exactly as if there was much more that could be seen on ultrasound, and it was hardly fair to keep the omega hostage all day.

“I’m good,” Steve ended up answering, his voice thankfully sounding relatively honest.

Bucky quickly agreed, and a few seconds later Ian took one final screen capture before removing the probe and handing a towel over.  Bucky cleaned up quickly, before racing out of the room as Steve waited for Ian to print him a couple of screenshots.

“Are you guys family friends?” Ian asked conversationally as he ripped off the first glossy print.

“Huh?” Steve asked ineloquently, reluctantly looking away from the photo to stare at the tech in confusion.

“Just - I figured, I mean, not that it’s really my business, but I was gonna ask how long you guys have known each other.”

“About thirteen weeks,” Steve answered, schooling his features so that he didn’t frown too much, “we’re both in the surrogacy program.”

Ian flushed spectacularly.  “No, I knew that,” he said, turning his attention to the printout as it slowly appeared from the printer on the side of the ultrasound machine, “I just figured - you guys seemed pretty close, and we don’t usually approve singles…” he paused as he ripped the second picture cleanly off of the roll.  “I’m sorry, I don’t really go through files ahead of time, I just - guess I’m doing a shit job of making smalltalk.”

“It’s alright,” Steve responded, feeling marginally bad for how embarrassed the guy obviously was (and all the while trying to ignore the flutter in his chest that he felt over the idea of the two of them looking like close friends to the outside eye), “I mean, I’m hardly ashamed, and it’s not like you needed to know to do your job or anything.  But no, we met through the agency.”

“Very good,” Ian said shortly, handing over the third and final picture.  “Well, congrats - to my eye everything looks like it’s going perfect so far.  Doctor Foster will give you a call in a couple of days to review the results of the blood tests and give you the final verdict on the ultrasound.”

“Awesome, thanks so much.  I’ll just - go set up our next appointment?”  Steve asked.

“Yeah, we’re done here,” Ian answered with a nod, “I’ll see you in ten weeks for the really fun one.  You know your way back to the reception desk?”

“I’m all set,” Steve answered, pausing and grabbing Bucky’s bag from the spot he’d dropped it next to his chair and making his way out to find the omega.

He was almost surprised to find Bucky waiting next to the receptionist desk already - Steve had no idea he’d been in the room during his awkward conversation with Ian, but he’d half-expected Bucky to have already been out of the building.

Bucky glanced up as Steve approached, his eyes widening when he saw the backpack in Steve’s hand.  “Shit, I’m sorry,” he muttered, reaching for the strap as Steve handed it over, “thanks for bringing it out - I had to go so bad that I forgot all about it.

“It’s no problem,” Steve responded, hesitating before stepping up to the scheduling window.  “Er, are you alright?”

Steve’d been so wrapped up in watching the ultrasound that he hadn’t really checked in with Bucky - looking at him now, the omega looked uncharacteristically worn.

“I’m good,” Bucky answered, giving Steve a smile that looked decidedly off.  “And uh, I’m afraid I can’t grab lunch or anything today: one of my coworkers has an exam this afternoon so I agreed to start my shift at noon instead of one.”

“That’s cool,” Steve said, trying not to think about how big a slap in the face it would be to have a job where shifts were determined by kids having college exams. 

Their turn came up before Steve could say anything else, so they both stepped up to the window, agreeing on an appointment time for the twelve week check-up and confirming that there weren’t any tests or appointments needed in the meantime.  Once everything was in order they made their way out of the clinic together, pausing in front of the elevator doors as Bucky hit the down button.

“If you want, though,” Bucky said out of the blue, once they’d both entered the empty elevator and were in the middle of heading down, “I’m free this coming Sunday and Monday.  Just - if you felt like hanging out again.”

Steve barely kept his face schooled, smiling politely rather than grinning like a total idiot.  “That sounds great,” he agreed, the disappointment of missing out on lunch already starting to fade, “just shoot me a text if you have any ideas where you wanna go.”

“Will do,” Bucky said with a smile as the doors opened in front of them.  They both walked through the lobby, pausing outside of the revolving door as Bucky turned towards the nearest subway stop and Steve started towards his parking garage. “Er - have a good one!  I’ll text you soon,” Bucky promised, finally turning on his heel and walking away.

Steve did the same, this time finally letting loose the smile he’d been holding back.

Chapter Text

A few days after the scan - once the results from the bloodwork had come back and Connie had called Bucky to tell him that everything with the baby looked perfect by the first trimester screen - he found himself lying face-down in bed, trying to orient himself enough to figure out where the annoying buzz of his alarm was coming from.  As was becoming his new usual, rolling over first thing in the morning was a dangerous exercise, causing his stomach to lurch precariously as he finally did so.  Thankfully, he didn’t actually heave, and was able to move cautiously enough that he was finally able to flip the alarm off and nibble on a couple of saltine crackers, trying to will his stomach to calm down enough to put his bed back together and get started with his day.

Thirty minutes later, Bucky was still staring at the old, yellowed water mark on his ceiling, belching miserably as he pulled the thread worn comforter back onto his bed before deciding that having all of the components of his bed set on the mattress would have to count as good enough for the day.

He glanced at his alarm clock, realizing that he really had to start getting ready if he was going to make it to work on time, nauseous or not.

“Please just work with me here?” he muttered toward his midsection, before finally biting the bullet and sitting up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed in the same motion and immediately propelling himself towards the bathroom.

His stomach wasn’t exactly happy with him, but Bucky was able to get the shower turned on and in under the spray without throwing up outright, so he decided to count it as a win.

Once the water was warm enough to be tolerable he stripped out of the boxers and t-shirt he’d been sleeping in and stepped inside, pulling the shower curtain behind him and squeezing shampoo into his hands.  He scrubbed his fingertips through his hair quickly, before reaching for the dollar store brand of scent-blocking soap that he’d bought to keep his pheromones to a minimum, working the bar between his palms to get as thick of a lather as possible.

With his eyes still closed Bucky leaned under the spray again, rinsing the shampoo out of his hair while simultaneously working the lather over the skin of his shoulders, quickly trailing his hands down to his armpits, pecs, and finally over his abdomen, sliding easily over the gentle convexity at the bottom.

He was in the middle of bending down to do the same to his legs when Bucky’s brain caught up to what had happened; his left hand flew back to his lower abdomen, taking in the odd shape of it as Bucky finished rinsing shampoo suds out of his eyes and flung the shower curtain open with his right.  

Looking down at himself properly, in the light of the flickering fluorescent bulb that lit his bathroom, Bucky took in the gentle, subtle outward slope that had formed between his navel and the top of his pubic bone.  His jeans had been feeling increasingly tighter for weeks, to the point that even his best pair cut uncomfortably into his sides, but this was the first time he’d noticed an actual bump.

Even in that moment, staring directly at it, it took Bucky a solid ten seconds to really process the fact that his midsection was bowing outward, and another moment to appreciate the significance that it was because his womb was growing with a fetus inside of it.

A weird rush of heat, followed immediately by cold, shot through his spine to his fingertips, leaving him worried that he might end up getting sick that morning, after all - when Bucky shook his head, trying to clear it of the jumbled mess of confusion and emotions.  After all, he’d known this day would come eventually: twice, he’d seen the proof on an ultrasound screen, as if the morning sickness and exhaustion and odd emotions hadn’t been evidence enough.

With a deep breath, he smoothed his hand over the bump again, forcing his mind to calm down as he took it in objectively.

Once his shock had abated, it was taken over by another sudden, rash thought: that he had to show Steve.

Bucky turned sideways, standing on his toes as he looked into the rust-stained mirror that hung above the sink in the bathroom - it was small and dingy looking, and it would be an odd angle for a picture, but he could crop it down enough to get a decent photo of it, as long as his phone cooperated.

He was halfway through the bathroom door when Bucky realized how terrible of an idea a selfie was: not only because it was still early in the morning, and he was standing in the middle of his apartment, naked and dripping wet on the ratty all-weather carpet, but also because there was no way of showing that tiny bit of roundness without it getting dangerously close to his groin… making the idea of the picture horrifically awkward.

For as comfortable as Bucky felt around Steve, he wasn’t ready to start sending him pictures of his pants open around his bare torso, regardless of the context.

Shaking his head, Bucky moved back into the bathroom, toweling himself off and combing his hair before moving back into the bedroom and retrieving his work outfit from its place on his coat rack.  The cafe’s usual polo shirt was shapeless enough that it went on without an issue, but as soon as he stepped into his jeans, Bucky realized the problem that he hadn’t even started to plan for yet: the clasp that had been getting increasingly uncomfortable by the week had gone from cutting into the skin below his belly button, to flat-out refusing to close.  For one irrational second Bucky tried to suck his stomach in anyway, pulling at the flaps desperately, but it was no use; he let go of the button, exhaling as he probed the bump gently with his fingertips… it firm and unyielding, surprisingly so, although when he considered that it was a muscle (with a human growing inside, his brain unhelpfully reminded him) Bucky figured that it made sense.

It didn’t solve his wardrobe problem, though.

Thankfully he could still get the zipper of his jeans up, and after a moment of hopping around and confirming that they’d stay up he decided that it would have to do for the day.  He was already running late - once he’d made it through the workday he could figure out a way to make his jeans last a few weeks longer.  But leaving his jeans unbuttoned meant that Bucky needed to leave his shirt untucked too, a move that wasn’t explicitly against company policy but that was sloppy-looking enough to make him self-conscious about it, especially with the faceful of scruff that he’d been sporting.  

With a growl of frustration he rubbed his hand over the stubble on his chin, before pulling his shirt off over his head and turning on his heel to rush into the bathroom.  The shave was rough and a little sloppy, but within a couple of minutes he was able to scrape the last of the dollar store shave cream off of his face and declare it good enough.

His face looked rounder than Bucky had remembered, but he rinsed and toweled it dry before he could study it any further, flipping the light off and making his way back into the bedroom.

It took him another minute to pull his work shirt on one final time, then to grab the brown bag out of the bottom of his refrigerator, infinitely glad that he’d thought to pack both smoothie ingredients and a lunch the night before - and within seconds he was locking the door to his apartment behind him and jogging out of the building, rushing in a last-ditch effort to make it to work on time.

Bucky wasn’t too embarrassingly winded by the time he finally ran up to the shopfront twenty minutes later, and the early September heat meant that everyone was walking around Brooklyn with a sheen of sweat so it hardly set him apart - plus his jeans had managed to stay up while jogging, so he counted the morning a win.  That was, until he noticed the figure sitting hunched next to the glass door in front of him.  After a split-second of concern Bucky recognized it to be Teddy, and cursed under his breath as he hurried the last few yards to the building.

“Hey Teddy,” Bucky said conversationally, pulling his keychain out of his back pocket and flipping to the large, silver deadbolt key that opened the front door of the shop.

Teddy glanced up from the textbook that was seated in his lap, his scowl morphing into a grateful smile as Bucky started to unlock the door.  “Morning, Bucky,” he said as he stood to his full height, tucking the book under his arm.  “Sorry I didn’t get this opened earlier - I sort of forgot my keys at home.”

“It’s all good,” Bucky insisted, pushing his way inside the door and propping it open for him, then immediately making his way to the back to get to work.  While it would have been nice to have walked in to someone already getting the day set up, they were still plenty early enough to work together and open on time.

They’d worked together enough times that each man started on his usual job without discussion, Bucky getting each of the large drip machines going with the month’s primary roasts and turning the espresso machines on to heat up, while Teddy set up the cash register and took all of the chairs down from the bar around the storefront windows.  They both set up opposite ends of the display cases with the baked goods that had been left in the kitchen by the delivery men even earlier that morning, and still finished with enough time to take a short break before they would have to open the doors to customers.

Bucky grabbed his lunch bag out of the refrigerator, pulling out the bag of berries and kale inside and taking it to the front to drop them all in one of the commercial blenders in the front, dumping in a scoop of ice cubes and a cup of milk then turning the blender on.  He dumped the resultant green sludge into one of the cups that they usually used for iced coffee, taking a sip as he glanced around the shop and tried to determine what they still had left to be done.

Teddy, he noticed, had holed himself up in the breakroom in the back of the shop - Bucky had guessed that he must have had exams approaching, given how intently he was flipping through textbook pages.  He took stock of the milk and cream that they had in the front refrigerator, as well as the spare flavor syrups that they had under the bar as he continued drinking his smoothie - thankfully it seemed to be going down easy, as he didn’t seem to have any nausea returning despite the fact that he was continuing to eat and move around.  The only thing that Bucky could see that they still needed was the tray of danishes that Teddy had apparently forgot, so he grabbed the container that he’d used and took it to the back for proper cleaning, given that he technically wasn’t supposed to be using ingredients from home in any of the prep areas.

Although there was no door between the break room and the kitchen, Teddy didn’t even glance up from his book as Bucky made his way to the sink, and continued glaring down at the thing while Bucky scrubbed out the container and loaded the dishwasher with the pans they’d used so far that morning.

Finally, it got to the point that Bucky couldn’t ignore Teddy’s frustrated sighs anymore.

“Everything alright?” he asked neutrally, rinsing the blender out in the sink and taking a quick sip out of his cup as he walked closer to the refrigerator.

“Huh?  Oh, yeah,” Teddy responded distractedly, closing his book and looking sheepish - as he did, Bucky noticed how familiar the cover was, recognizing it from one of his basic science courses but not close enough to tell which.  “Sorry,” Teddy continued, distracting Bucky before he could figure it out, “I’ll get the danishes out in a minute, I just wanted to try to go through this quick review one last time.”

“It’s fine,” Bucky responded, in as encouraging a tone as he could, “I already have the Sumatran brewing, so I can just take care of them.”

“No, I’ve got it,” Teddy insisted, jumping up from his seat.

Bucky snorted, already setting his cup down and heading into the refrigerator.  “Really, I can handle it - you’ll just be responsible for re-stocking after lunch.”

To his surprise, the kid actually took Bucky up on the offer - when he walked back out with the tray of danishes he’d gone in for, Teddy was leaning over the book again, offering him a vague thanks as he passed.

“No problem,” Bucky said casually, glancing back again - if he strained enough he could make out a couple of equations on the page, piquing his interest even further.  “What’re you working on?” he asked, giving up all attempts at prepping as he paused in the entryway to the front of the shop.

Teddy sighed again, pushing his hair off of his forehead roughly as he frowned down at his book.  “I have a physics midterm on Friday and I’m not remotely ready for it.  I mean - kinetics and Newtonian motion was all easy enough, and they’re letting us make a formula sheet so that’ll be fine, I just - no matter how many practice problems I do, I can’t wrap my head around half of the thermal stuff.”

Bucky did his best not to look too excited as Teddy spoke, but at the same time, he could practically feel it bubbling up inside of him.  “Oh, I loved that course,” he said with glee, hurrying through to the front of the shop and dropping the tray next to the display case.  “Thermal was a lot tougher than kinetics, but once I was able to figure it out it was one of my favorites,” he continued, turning on his heel - they were starting to push it dangerous close to opening time, but he was willing to rush around a bit for something like this.  “If you want, we can go over problems together a little later; I’d be more than happy to help.”

The first thing he noticed when he made his way back to the back was how uncomfortable the younger man looked.  “Uh,” Teddy started, chewing his bottom lip, “I mean - I appreciate the offer Bucky, I really do, but… I mean, it’s just at Kingsborough, but I’m taking the calculus-based course, so I mean,” he trailed off awkwardly, but Bucky hardly needed him to finish the thought to hear what he was really saying.

It was calculus-based physics, so of course an omega wasn’t going to be any help with it.  Just like that, his good mood was trampled, replaced by an ugly, bitter anger that was so intense that it made his eyes water.

“Sure,” Bucky responded tightly, as his heart started racing until he was nauseous with it, “no problem.  I mean, I just tutored that course at NYU and was a TA for the next level up when I was at Columbia, but hey - I’m sure Khan Academy has some great videos that’ll help you out.”

He stormed back into the front of the shop before Teddy could respond, focusing solely on setting up the pastry display while all the while holding back the insane urge to cry.

Bucky was able to reel his emotions in before he unlocked the front door for customers at seven am, if just barely.  He wasn’t choked up or livid anymore, at least, although he still had trouble so much as looking at Teddy without feeling a wave of anger, something that didn’t exactly make for easy working conditions during the morning rush.  

It definitely didn’t help when the obligatory middle-aged alpha in an ill-fitting business suit felt the need to point out that Bucky would look better with a smile on his face.  He was able to force a grimace that looked close enough for the guy to at least drop a dollar in the tip jar when Bucky handed his Americano over, but left him feeling every bit as dirty as such interactions always did.

The lull that followed the rush was even worse, especially once the display case had been replenished and Teddy had bunkered down in the back of the kitchen with his book again, leaving Bucky with nothing to occupy his continually depressing thoughts.  It didn’t take long for him to become tired of the initial anger he’d felt, and move onto a dismal mixture of self-pity and depreciation.  After all, he figured, he probably would have turned down the offer had he been in Teddy’s shoes as well.  

If you really cared about your grades, why the hell would you take a tutoring offer from some nearly-thirty year-old who was barely making ends meet working as a barista?

Applying logic helped Bucky get over his anger at Teddy, at least, which made the remainder of the morning shift considerably smoother, but it didn’t entirely help with his mood.  Instead of anger at the younger alpha, Bucky just felt disappointment in himself, wallowing away in it over the entire damned situation.  He was so busy pitying himself, that he barely noticed that Teddy had moved back to the front of the store, still holding his textbook but now looking at Bucky with a contrite look on his face.

“I’m sorry I blew you off earlier, I’m just - I’m kind of freaking out about this stupid class,” Teddy started, talking mostly to his converse shoes as he hugged his textbook to his chest, reminding Bucky just how young he actually was.

“It’s alright, I get it,” Bucky insisted, as if he hadn’t been letting the rejection eat him up all morning.

Teddy shook his head, looking up and making eye contact with Bucky, “No, it was a pretty shitty thing to do, especially to blow an opportunity like that.  So uh, I mean, if you have time, and if you’re still interested.  I’d really like to take you up on that offer to help.”

“Sure,” Bucky said, fighting off the urge to smile, “of course it’s still an offer - what’s giving you trouble?”

For the rest of their shift, the pair used all of their available free time for Bucky to explain the equations that Teddy was struggling with and why they applied to each physics concept that he was trying to understand.  By the end of their shift they’d covered six different subjects off of Teddy’s study guide - an impressive feat, given how many customers and other distractions they’d had.

As if on cue, Bucky’s text alert chimed, and Teddy closed his textbook with a smirk.  “To be totally honest, I think I’m starting to reach my point of maximum retention.  And,” he nodded towards the phone in Bucky’s hand, “you should probably get around to answering some of those.”

“I already told you - ” Bucky muttered, feeling himself flush slightly as he recognized that the vast majority of the texts had, indeed, been from Steve.

“I know, I know - not a boyfriend,” Teddy interrupted with a knowing grin.  “I’m still gonna let you get back to your not- boyfriend.”

In fairness, Bucky figured, Teddy might have had a point.  Texting back and forth with Steve had become second nature, to the point that Bucky was entirely used to seeing a message from the alpha whenever he checked his phone on breaks.  Their chat thread was nearly as busy as the one between Bucky and Nat, with the exception of the days that Clint when on emoji sprees.  Even better than the frequency, though, was how easy it was becoming to talk to Steve over text - they were regularly updating one another on the mundanities of their day, on annoyances with clients and customers at work, and with amusing memes that they’d stumbled upon and figured that the other would appreciate.

In addition to the increasing texts, the two of them had found a way to meet up to run twice over the week that followed - first on one of Bucky’s rare Saturday mornings off, then again when Steve had called him out of the blue to say that he’d had a meeting cut short in Dumbo and to invite Bucky out for an impromptu afternoon run, provided he was free.

Thankfully, Bucky was able to talk America into taking the last two hours of his shift, so that he could make himself free.

They met up at the riverside park at Pier one, with a plan to take a leisurely jog down the trail that wound through the old docks-made-green spaces.  Bucky already felt like he was melting by the time he found Steve waiting in the shade of the bridge, but forced a smile on his face as he jogged up all the same - he was almost positive that he wasn’t going to actually overheat, and he was so looking forward to another run together that he didn’t want to cancel because of the weather.

Steve, of course, was somehow able to read his concerns, bringing up the heat even as he returned Bucky’s grin.  “So I mapped it out, and if we stick to the perimeter of each of the piers then the trail down to the end of the park is one and a half miles; which means we can make it a five kilometer loop and call it good enough, considering it’s hotter than hell out here.”

“Works for me,” Bucky agreed easily, “just… don’t expect much as far as pacing goes.  My goal for this one is just gonna be to stay upright.”

For a brief second there was a flash of worry across Steve’s face, and Bucky thought he might have said too much - that the alpha might take it as a reason to call the whole plan off, under the guise of looking out for Bucky’s safety.  Instead he shrugged, the look passing almost as quickly as it had appeared, before saying, “That’s really no issue for me, given how hard I’ve usually gotta work to keep up with your stork-legs.”

Bucky laughed the comment off, and after a few minutes of limbering up they both started out, keeping a leisurely pace as they worked their way down the riverfront.  The breeze coming off of the water helped a bit with the heat, at least, although Bucky still felt like he was sweating bullets in the midday sun, and made a point at stopping to drink at every other water fountain that they passed in the park.  Steve didn’t often follow suit, but he made a point of jogging in place while waiting for Bucky and never once made a comment about it, something that Bucky found himself oddly grateful for.

They were also able to keep comfortably mindless smalltalk going, even as they made their turn at the end of Pier six, giving each other updates on their weeks - as if they hadn’t been texting every day about a lot of the broader details.

“I’ve gotta work Saturday this weekend,” Steve huffed, dropping behind Bucky to let a team of bikers pass them and then coming back into step before he continued further.  “I mean, it’s a gala opening thing, so it’s more of a party than work, but - that’s most of the weekend shot.”

Bucky kept his eyes ahead on the trail, quashing the weird twist of disappointment that he felt in his chest; a ridiculous feeling, given the fact that most of his weekend would be taken up with work, as well.  “Will it be a fun group of people to be around, at least?”  He asked, for the sake of keeping the conversation going.

“Mmhmm, a lot of friends, so there’s worse ways to spend a Saturday,” Steve hummed, keeping up stride as he wiped the sweat off of his forehead with his armband.  “So there’s that, and then I’ve gotta start baby-proofing my living room.”

“Wait,” Bucky panted, slowing down as he frowned at the alpha, “baby-proofing?  Already?  Isn’t it… really early for that?”

Steve chuckled as he shook his head, apparently unbothered by Bucky’s outburst.  “I mean, I guess, if you just focus on the fact that Peanut won’t really be moving around for another year and a half, but there’s more to it than you’d think.  I wanna get it done now, while I don’t have to be focused on anything else.”  Steve continued to stride along, his face an odd mixture mild bashfulness and a dreamy look that Bucky couldn’t quite look away from, before he spoke up again.  “That, and my godson is starting to get scary-fast at toddling, so it’s as much for him as it is for the baby.”

“Do they, uh, visit often?” Bucky asked, before his brain could tell his mouth to shut up - as if it were any of his business.

Steve waited until they’d turned the upcoming corner in the trail to answer, still as pleasant as ever.  “They haven’t as much since Tommy was born, but now that he’s pretty well weaned, I think I’m gonna start trying my hand at babysitting.”  The grin he turned at Bucky was blinding as he added, “Y’know, for practice.”

The idea that Steve felt the need to be ‘practicing’ already was mildly terrifying, given the fact that it felt to Bucky like they’d barely even started the pregnancy, but he wasn’t about to say as much out loud.  Considering that it was going to be Steve who had to actually take the baby home once everything was said and done, he figured that he hardly had room to judge how much prep work the guy figured he needed to put in to getting ready for it.  All the same, the idea that Steve was already getting his house ready for a baby in it stuck in the back of his mind like a parasite, worming its way through his mind as they finished their run and parted, and continuing to bother him all the way to Natasha’s place and through the brief weight circuit routine that they went through together.

“Something bothering you?” Natasha finally asked as they were on the elevator down to her apartment, watching him shrewdly all the way.

“Nah,” Bucky lied, peeling the collar of his sweat-soaked t-shirt away from his neck and dreaming of how wonderful the post workout shower would be, “I’m just ready to be out of these clothes.”

“You’re distracted,” Natasha pushed, raising an eyebrow as if challenging him.

It was a look that Bucky knew all too well, one that meant that he was probably trapped until he caved and told her the truth, but he held on for one last attempt at distracting her.  “Probably just low blood sugar, from the run and all.”

Natasha had been entirely neutral when Bucky had called her earlier in the week, asking to change their usual workout plans so that he could go running with Steve first.  He half-expected her to reprimand him for having worked too hard, or to push further into what it was that was really on his mind, but to Bucky’s shock, she dropped it, shrugging as they made their way out of the elevator and leading the way down the hall to her apartment.

Once inside Bucky asked to use the guest shower, not wanting to be so rude as to ask to clean up first but also well-past needing to get out of his disgusting workout clothes.  Natasha made a show of getting him a glass of orange juice out of the kitchen first, but agreed easily, especially given the fact that it was just the two of them in the apartment.  “I hardly want you sweating on the furniture while you’re waiting,” she teased, calling out that there were fresh towels in the linen closet as Bucky playfully flipped her off over his shoulder.

He dug his clothes out of his gym bag and left them on the closed toilet lid, then adjusted the shower until it was slightly cooler than he usually preferred, before finally stepping in and standing under the spray.  Even in Nat’s second bathroom the water pressure was perfect, and he couldn’t help but appreciate how nice it was to stand at his full-height in a shower that he could actually turn around in.  He took his sweet time soaping up and washing his hair, then rinsed everything off for longer than was probably entirely necessary - but by the time that he finally stepped out of the shower he felt like he was finally done sweating.  He toweled off thoroughly - getting dressed was enough of a chore lately, given how his body was changing relative to his clothes, so fighting with tight jeans on wet skin was something that he definitely wanted to avoid.

Bucky finally pulled on a clean pair of underwear and stepped into his jeans, leaving the flaps open around the bump of his lower abs and took the towel to his hair a second time, drying it as thoroughly as he could before combing it out.  He didn’t bother with a shirt as he did so, especially since it was becoming so ridiculously thick that as soon as he’d fought through the worst of the tangles, he had to dry both his hair and his shoulders off again. 

His head was still under the towel when the door of the bathroom swung open behind him.  

“I’ve got that teriyaki chicken you like marinating - do you want pasta or rice to go with it?” Nat asked as she poked her head into the bathroom.

Bucky dropped the towel and scrambled for his t-shirt, pulling it on over his head in such a rush that it left his hair a mess and his collar soaked, then turned back to the sink to comb his hair out again, looking at Natasha in the mirror as he responded, “It doesn’t matter to me - whatever’s easiest.”

Given who she was, there was no doubt that Natasha had noticed how mortified Bucky felt, as well as the piece of string that was still attached to the buttonhole of his jeans, and Bucky cursed himself for not having just brought another pair of gym shorts to wear.  Thankfully, she was at least kind enough to not say anything about either his embarrassment or his poorly-fitting clothes: instead Nat shrugged, muttered something along the lines of “rice it is,” then disappeared and closed the door behind her as if nothing had ever happened.  

Bucky spent the rest of the evening waiting for the other shoe to drop - for her to tease him about it, or insist that they plan a shopping trip for clothes that fit, but the topic failed to come up during dinner and the campy horror movie that followed. He couldn’t be sure whether that was because she was sparing him the embarrassment of Clint overhearing, given the fact that the beta had dropped in for dinner and joined them both on the couch for the rest of the evening, but when it still hadn’t come up in their private text thread over the following day, he figured that he was actually in the clear.

It was a pleasant surprise, if Bucky was being honest.  For as much as he loved Natasha, she had a tendency of mothering him from time to time, whether he wanted it or not.

Otherwise, his life actually seemed to reach a semblance of normalcy as the days went on.  He still regularly woke up nauseous, but it was minor enough that he could use the time waiting for it to pass to catch up on emails and news updates, rather than just lying still in bed and praying he didn’t vomit.  Bucky still received email alerts for job posting on the websites he’d used during his year of unemployment, and still averaged about five applications a week in his search for a job that he felt more suited for, but he hadn’t been able to land an actual interview since starting at Ultimate’s.  While the radio silence was disappointing, he was grateful for the coffee shop for at least keeping him busy.  And given the fact that Teddy had significantly pulled his physics grades around after Bucky’s study session, he at least had their unofficial tutoring sessions to look forward to a couple of days a week at work.

“You could do this as a job, y’know,” Teddy murmured, smiling absently as he continued scratching notes in his notebook.  

Bucky frowned in confusion, pausing with his sandwich halfway to his mouth.  “No,” he finally said with a laugh, shaking his head for emphasis, “no, I did the teaching thing as a TA, I hated actually leading classes.”

“You’re an awesome tutor, though,” Teddy countered, shaking his pencil at Bucky with a smile.  “Seriously, people would pay stupid money for your help. Hell, I would pay stupid money, if I had it.”

Bucky went in for a bite at that, trying to hide his embarrassment as he felt the color rising on his cheeks: while the compliment was nice, and he was genuinely glad that he could help the kid out, he still stood by his argument - he’d rather do than teach. Plus, given how hesitant the kid had been to take his help in the past, and the fact that Bucky didn’t exactly have anything other than a couple of seemingly worthless degrees to show for his expertise, he sincerely doubted that students with money would be lining up to ask for his help; god knew that the majority of them he’d studied with as a peer hadn’t wanted anything to do with him.

To add insult to injury, Bucky totally misjudged how big of a bite he was taking, accidentally squeezing an anchovy out of the bread so that it landed with a sad plop on the tabletop.

For the first time Teddy actually grimaced, handing a napkin over between questions. “I still don’t understand how you eat that… stuff,” he trailed off awkwardly, clearly wanting to add more colorful descriptors to the food.

“They’re healthy and they’re cheap,” Bucky explained after he’d chewed and swallowed, before carefully picking up the tiny filet and sticking it back where it belonged. Truthfully, he’d been a little disgusted by the thought as well, but every blog he’d looked into had said that the tiny fish were a great source of healthy fats while being low in mercury, and after the crab shack debacle Bucky’s stomach had decided that it didn’t entirely hate seafood, after all.

Teddy continued to stare at him incredulously.  “Seriously,” Bucky continued, “they’ve got a ton of vitamins and minerals, and as long as you buy them in water and rinse them off -”

“I’ll take your word on it,” Teddy interrupted, turning his nose up as he went back to work. “But I don’t think anything could make me wanna eat healthy enough to make a sardine sandwich.”

“They’re anchovies,” Bucky corrected flippantly, “and when you get to be an old man like me, you’ll understand.”

Teddy snorted as he flipped the page of his textbook, and a few seconds later was changing the subject back to scalar wave integrals. Bucky tried to ignore the weird feeling that he’d dodged a bullet, happily launching into his tips for Hooke’s law, as if there wasn’t a much bigger, more obvious reason for all of his weird diet decisions.

If any of his other coworkers thought it odd that Bucky was regularly wearing his work polo untucked, or that he tied his apron awkwardly loose whenever he worked, so as to avoid drawing attention to the bump at his middle, none of them gave any indication of it.

Natasha’s silence only lasted until the next time that they hung out together.

They’d pushed each other through a brutal arm and back workout, one that Bucky knew was going to leave him wonderfully sore the next day, then got in a solid half hour of cardio before heading upstairs to Nat’s apartment for their usual post-workout dinner.  Clint wasn’t there when they got in, so Bucky got the shower first while Natasha was in charge of dinner.  He’d washed and dried himself off as quickly as possible, and got into his clothes immediately afterwards, not wanting a repeat of the last time he’d cleaned up in her bathroom.  Luckily, he was able to make it out without any interruptions, but as soon as he walked back into the living room to announce that the shower was free, Nat tossed something in his direction.

Bucky caught the thing easily, though he had to drop his gym duffel to do so.  Truthfully, the assault by plastic shopping bag was less shocking than the gaudy pink color of it, and the loopy white script proclaiming the name of the store it must have come from.

“I got you a present,” Nat explained, folding her arms and leaning against the doorframe of the kitchen.

“Uh - okay?”  Bucky replied, still frowning in confusion at the entire situation.  When Natasha didn’t bother to provide any further explanation he opened the bag, taking it as his cue to get on with it.  Inside was a single piece of nude-colored elastic material, one that looked to be nearly a foot wide and sewn into a large band. 

Taking it out of the bag, Bucky noticed the tag on the thing, proclaiming it a ‘Belly Band’ and showing diagrams of ways that it could be used to convert regular jeans and trousers into gestational pants.

“No offense,” Natasha said breezily, moving across the room as she did, “but I figured it would be a little more comfortable than the MacGyver situation you had going on with your pants the other day.”

Despite the fact that Bucky knew she wasn’t saying it to tease him, he still felt his cheeks heat up as Natasha spoke.  “None taken,” he lied, trying to decide how much he really wanted to talk about the belly situation.  “This’ll be pretty handy, actually.  Given that I’ve, uh, gained nine pounds already.”

If Natasha was surprised by the admission, she did a hell of a job of hiding it.  “Wasn’t that expected?”

“I guess,” Bucky conceded, shrugging as he did so, “I mean, Doctor Foster told me she was hoping that I’d gain about forty pounds by the time everything was said and done, I just didn’t expect it to creep up this fast at the beginning.  Especially considering I haven’t been able to eat a real breakfast in weeks.  So... I didn’t really budget for the clothes issue.”  He pulled tension on the band for a moment, watching how far it stretched while still feeling like it would give a fair amount of support - at least enough to keep his pants up without worry.

“Thanks,” he added after a moment, “this is really a lifesaver.”  He ducked back into the bathroom, digging his wallet out of his gym bag, “How much do I owe you for it?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Nat insisted, crossing into the living room and physically pushing Bucky’s hand away from his wallet before he could actually open it.  “Seriously, the thing was like, ten dollars.  Just get me a coffee and pastry the next time we’re out and we can call it even.”

Bucky opened his mouth to argue further, but was immediately shot down by Natasha’s glare, killing his argument before it had a chance to start.  With a sigh, he nodded and tossed the wallet back into the open bag, before turning his attention back to the strip of tan fabric in his hands.  “And this is supposed to just – work with any pair of pants?”

“Apparently, as long as you can get them on, it’s supposed to keep them up,” Nat answered, looking pleased with herself.  “And they have a bunch of other colors at Bump and Co, if you wanted to go get more to match with your outfit.”

She added the last bit teasingly, but Bucky didn’t miss the hint.  He made a mental note to check them out, smirking as he realized that the alpha had left him open to take his own jab at her.

“You mean to tell me you actually went to a gestational store?  On your own?” he asked, his smile growing as he asked it.  “Named Bump and Co?”

Natasha grunted, giving her hair a toss that Bucky would have assumed was a sign of annoyance, had he not known her as well as he did.  “I did,” she confirmed, looking like she was pondering the admission for a moment, “and on that note, I think you owe me two coffee pastry dates.”

Bucky laughed and agreed to as much - it was a simple enough request, especially given the fact that Nat didn’t mind if he cheated and just brought comps home from the coffeeshop for her after work, and otherwise the rest of the evening passed as usual, with the two of them sharing dinner and shooting the shit while binge-watching the first series that Netflix had recommended for them.  Bucky never actually mentioned how well the band worked that night, or how much more comfortable the thing was than some of his previous attempts at fastening his jeans had been, but the smug look that Natasha gave him when he stood and stretched at the end of the night told him that he probably didn’t have to.

Instead, he dropped by her office a couple of days later and left a last day of the work week box of donuts as a proper thank you.

It was an odd weekend where he actually had both Friday and Saturday off, and Steve had mentioned over text that he was in the same boat as far as lack of obligations went, so they agreed to meet up for Saturday brunch after Steve had brought up a diner he’d been meaning to get back to in Brooklyn.

Bucky’s alarm went off obnoxiously early the next morning - it was a shame to give up his one remaining day of sleeping in, but he figured that it was a necessary evil, if he was going to be able to sit through Steve’s fancy breakfast joint without getting sick all over the place.  All the same, he groaned as he rolled over to silence his phone, waiting a full twenty seconds before finally opening his eyes and facing the day.

It took him a moment to realize what was so off, as he stayed in the same place, frowning in confusion, when suddenly it hit him: the complete absence of nausea.  Hesitantly, he pushed himself out of bed, perching on the side of his creaky twin mattress and waiting for reality to sink in - but for a change, it never came.  When his stomach finally did make itself known, it was to growl in hunger… a feeling that was so foreign for six o’clock in the morning that he actually started laughing about it.

His incredulous chuckle continued as Bucky made his way to the bathroom, stepping into the shower and going about his usual morning routine.  By the time he was cleaned up and shaved he still had well over an hour to spare.  He started it by looking through his Monster account, tagging a couple of new job listings for further research when he got home, then flipping idly through the Bump app, reading up on the milestones for the week to come.  

The header for week twelve was a plum, indicating the size of the fetus as the first trimester came to an end - a fact that was crazy, given that it had felt like he’d only been showing for a couple of days, but which seemed legitimate when he looked down at the convexity protruding below his navel.  The write up for the week also went into the fact that it was common for carriers to be noticeably showing by now; he scoffed at the sentence, as if anyone in his position would need the reminder.  Part of Bucky wished he’d read ahead, though, as he came to the bit about the way that his hormones would be changing during the transition to the second trimester, and the fact that both the exhaustion and morning sickness that had been plaguing him was apparently due to be finished for most people within the next week or so.

It also mentioned that many omegas experienced headaches and dizzy spells in their place, but he decided to ignore it and focus on the positive of the morning: if he really was starting to turn the corner from the morning sickness business, his life would be improving immensely.  

So too, a nasty little voice in the back of his head chimed in, would the size of his waistline, if he was going to be able to start keeping more substantial food down.  He shook the thought off immediately, forcing it out of mind.  It wasn’t necessarily that Bucky was bothered by the idea of putting more weight on - he’d known what he was signing up for when he’d agreed to the pregnancy, after all - but having such a drastic change to his body wasn’t exactly something that he was excited about, either.

Inexplicably, the thought had him turning back to the bathroom, determined to make himself at least moderately more put-together before he went out in public.

After twenty minutes Bucky finally gave up on his hair, conceding defeat to both the curls and the cowlick in the front that was only going to go back to its usual place if he smothered it in hair gel; considering he had no idea how old the bottle of LA Looks that he found in the back of the cabinet under the bathroom sink was, Bucky figured that it wasn’t a battle worth fighting.  Instead he tousled his hair with a tiny bit of mousse, hoping that the messy, careless look was still in, then stepped back from the mirror to give himself one final look-over.

He had to pull down his t-shirt to hide the tan strip of the belly band, but as long as he paid attention to it, Bucky figured he’d be able to keep it hidden easily enough.  The look was a little on the sloppy side, with the slightly stretched t-shirt compulsively pulled down and untucked, but at least he could comfortably fit into pants for a change.  Speaking of - he adjusted his jeans one final time, reassuring himself that they wouldn’t fall down or something equally mortifying while he was walking around Brooklyn, then smoothed his hand down over his abdomen, turning sideways to judge one last time just how noticeable the bump was in the outfit.

The second that he realized what he was doing, Bucky turned away from the mirror, flipping the light to the bathroom off and stalking back into the apartment to grab his wallet, phone and keys: if he wasted anymore time he’d be pushing it to make it by the time that they’d agreed on, and the whole routine had been a waste of time, anyway.

It wasn’t as if he was going to impress anyone, he reminded himself sarcastically as he pulled the door to his apartment shut behind him and locked it securely.

The Bushwick diner that Steve had recommended was a relatively easy mile and a half walk from Bucky’s apartment, but he cursed as he stepped out into the early morning heat, knowing that there was no way he was jogging that far in his jeans if he didn’t want to be a complete sweatbomb.  Of course, he’d lost track of time while fighting with his stupid hair, so he had to hustle if he was going to make it to the spot by the appropriate time.

He huffed it through the seeder parts of his own neighborhood, waiting until he was north of Bushwick to pull his phone out and text Steve that he might be late, but by that point he found that he was close enough to schedule that it wasn’t worth sending an update.

Besides, Steve would probably be on the train and miss it, anyway.

He paused for a moment when he was a block up from the diner, stopping to fix his hair again in a dark real estate office window and wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand, before finally walking the last streets up and over to Monty’s Diner.

The good news was that Bucky was actually getting there five minutes earlier than Steve had asked him to.  The bad news was that there was already a line-up of people out the door of the place, which looked to extend at least a block around the side of the building.  Bucky slowed his walk as he looked it over, grimacing as his head immediately started trying to calculate how long they’d likely be waiting to get into the tiny restaurant, and his stomach gave an angry rumble at the results.

“Hey, good morning!” a familiar voice chirped from a few paces behind him, startling Bucky out of his thoughts as he turned to face it.  Steve’s eyes widened noticeably as he faced him, and seemed to zero in directly on his midsection, much to Bucky’s dismay.

“Morning,” Bucky answered after what felt like an eternity, trying not to feel too self-conscious as Steve practically tripped over his feet and dragged his gaze back up to Bucky’s face.  “How’s it going?” he added as pleasantly as possible, trying anything to cut the awkwardness that he felt being piled on the both of them.

“Sorry,” Steve murmured, shaking his head briefly before focusing on Bucky in earnest.  “I mean, it’s good – the ride over wasn’t too bad.  Did you have any trouble getting over?”

“Nope,” Bucky answered, shaking his head as well, “it’s a nice morning for a walk, at least.”

“Yeah, sure,” Steve agreed, “could do without the humidity, though.”

“That’s the end of summer in New York for ya, or so I’ve been told,” Bucky snarked back, slightly put off by the fact that they were talking about the weather, of all things.

“It is,” Steve chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck as his eyes drifted away from Bucky’s face, back to his midsection.  “You, uh,” he stuttered, after a beat of horrifically uncomfortable silence, “you look really good.  Er, you look well.”

“You mean I finally look knocked up,” Bucky retorted with a snort.  He waived off Steve’s panicked flail, not wanting to give him the wrong impression.  “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.  The Bump has been saying for the past couple of weeks that this was coming eventually - apparently everything’s grown enough that it’s up over the rim of the pelvis, it’s just a matter of how much give the carrier’s abs have in determining when the pregnancy is actually visible.”

He skimmed his palm along his abdomen, simultaneously pulling his t-shirt a bit lower again before turning and giving Steve a better angle to see it from, “And Peanut’s officially winning now, I guess.”

“Guess so,” Steve murmured, his fingers twitching oddly as he stared at Bucky for a moment longer before blinking and re-focusing on Bucky’s face.  “Anyway,” he continued, a touch too loudly to be entirely natural, “we should probably get heading in – I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”

“I could definitely eat,” Bucky agreed, wincing internally when he considered how it sounded, especially after Steve’s reaction to his physique.

If Steve thought anything of it, he hid it well – leading the way across the sidewalk and rapidly approaching the doors of the diner.  Bucky frowned in confusion as they walked in the opposite direction of the line, skirting the glass front of the building and making their way into the adjacent alley.  Steve glanced over his shoulder, as if he could sense Bucky’s bafflement, shrugging as they approached an unmarked door.  “So, I realize how shady this looks, but they don’t exactly take reservations here, and I promised the owner I wouldn’t make a show of it when I got them.”

“Got what?” Bucky asked, feeling more than a little unnerved.

“A reserved brunch table,” Steve chuckled, knocking briefly on the door and giving him a tiny, though obviously satisfied smile as it swung open.

The kitchen staff that had answered the door looked confused for a moment, as she looked back and forth between Bucky and Steve, but before she could ask where there delivery was a middle-aged, balding man with a bottle brush moustache and a blinding grin stepped into the doorway beside her.

 “Steve Rogers!” he boomed, holding a hand out and shaking Steve’s vigorously when it was offered.  “Punctual as always,” he added with a laugh, pulling Steve into a one armed hug before turning to Bucky, “and this is?”

“Bucky Barnes,” Bucky answered for himself, holding his own hand out (and praying that the stranger took the hint).  To his relief, that was the case - his handshake was firm and polite, but thankfully came without any additional contact.  

“Bucky, this is Bill Ripley,” Steve supplied, “he’s an old friend, and owns the place.”

“The diner’s been in the family for generations,” Bill added with a proud smile, “I took it over from my pop in the nineties, but we’ve been in business continuously since 1931.”

“Wow,” Bucky said, raising his eyebrows in honest surprise, “that’s pretty impressive, considering the neighborhood.”

“Yeah,” Bill nodded, “we had a rough go of it for a while in the early 2000s - the neighborhood had fell into some disrepair and the coffee houses in Williamsburg pulled away a lot of our business, but we were able to make a comeback with all the build up goin’ on around the area.  And then this guy made sure to put us back on the map.”

Steve blushed spectacularly as Bucky turned his attention towards him, shaking his head as he looked down a his shoes.  “Please,” he scoffed, “I had a couple paintings put up and re-designed the menu for you guys, but it’s the food that keeps people comin’ in.”

Bill shook his head fondly, prodding Bucky gently with his elbow, “Always so modest, but the fact was this guy’s paintings taking off in popularity brought attention to the whole neighborhood, so when the art reviewers came out to see originals they stopped in the restaurants, and word got out fast.

“Of course, now we’re so busy that we can’t possibly take reservations, even on weekdays,” Bill said with pride, gesturing to the packed diner around them, with the line to get in still visible around the corner windows.  “But after everything, I’m willing to make an exception for Steve here, especially when he brings his… special friends.”

Bucky didn’t miss the pause in Bill’s sentence, or the sharp look that Steve had given him that had seemed to prompt it, but he let it go.  The guy seemed friendly enough, and honestly Bucky was beginning to get so hungry - with food being so close - that it wasn’t worth letting it bother him.

Thankfully the restauranter took the hint, and left them to peruse their menus with a wish for a good meal.  Bucky looked over the laminated pages in silence for a couple of awkward moments, all the while itching to ask Steve what the hell that introduction had been about - as well as if he’d really designed the adorable little cartoon pancakes that he was looking at on the bottom of page four, or if any of his original artwork was still in the diner, or just how many ‘special friends’ he was bringing in for brunch.

He shook the last thought off, instead asking “So what’s good here?” as casually as he could, as if he hadn’t already told himself that he was going to settle for something with eggs and vegetables and fruit, no matter how appetizing the rest of the less-healthy options looked.

“Honestly, everything,” Steve replied enthusiastically, setting his open menu on the table in front of him, “but I usually go with the cinnamon-raisin bread french toast, since it’s pretty impossible to beat.”

That had definitely caught his eye, as well as the chocolate chip pancakes, and the pecan praline cinnamon rolls - but Bucky continually reminded himself that what he (and the baby) needed was protein and vitamins, not sugar and more sugar.  So when their waitress came around to take their order a couple of minutes later, he asked for the veggie frittata and fruit cup, swallowing down his jealousy when Steve ordered the french toast and a side of bacon.  

“Actually,” he interjected as the waitress was starting to make her leave, “could I get one of the cheddar biscuits, please?”  It wasn’t that much of a splurge, he told himself, and given the fact that neither she nor Steve batted an eye at the request, Bucky refused to let himself feel embarrassed by it.

Once they were alone again Bucky let his gaze wander around the restaurant, taking in the ambiance and really appreciating it for the first time.  While it was small and cramped an obviously an old building, it was also clean and obviously well-cared for, in a way that made it almost feel homey, if not for all of the people packed into it.  There were framed photographs and newspaper clippings all over the walls, interspersed with old signs that Bucky had to guess related to the neighborhood and a number of paintings as well.

His eyes caught on a gorgeous watercolor rendition of the Brooklyn Bridge, and Bucky couldn’t hold his question back any longer.  “So,” he asked conversationally, glancing at Steve out of the corner of his eye, “which of the pieces in here are Rogers originals?”

“Oh God,” Steve snorted, scrubbing his face with both hands as Bucky watched his ears turn red with only a little bit of glee.  “Firstly, Bill exaggerates.  Alot,” he sighed after a minute, glancing around the diner with a shy, tiny smile, “but I did kind of get my break by selling paintings out of a little coffee shop over by Pratt, so… I’ve tried to give pieces to different businesses around the area, just as a thank you, y’know?”

Bucky nodded politely, unable to help being amused by Steve’s modesty but also starting to piece together something that he’d completely missed about the alpha - that he must be relatively well-known, if he really did have business owners around Brooklyn clamouring for his artwork.

“And the ones here are?” he prompted, smiling in hope that Steve knew that it was all in fun, and that Bucky was less interested in making him squirm as he was in trying to get to know him better.

After a brief pause Steve actually pointed across the room, first to the watercolor that Bucky had originally been looking at and then to a fall scene on the opposite wall.  “Those two,” he said nonchalantly, “the bridge and then Prospect Park with the leaves changing.  Usually I’m more into impressionist stuff or portraits, but - early on I felt like landscapes were good practice, and they make for good kitsch in these local spots, so.”

“They’re gorgeous,” Bucky breathed, barely fighting off the urge to get up and look at the park painting even closer.  “And definitely not kitsch,” he added after a moment, chuckling as he shot Steve an incredulous look.

Their food came a short while later, so they both dug in with gusto, transitioning to small talk as they fixed their plates the way that each liked.  Somehow talking about the awkward introductions had cleared the air between the two of them; that, or the ridiculous amount of incredible looking breakfast food that had come to share their attention. 

Bucky talked about how his tutoring sessions with Teddy had been going, as well as the hypothetical idea of tutoring for a while as Steve dressed and cut his first piece of french toast, then started trying his own food as Steve mentioned a few of his ongoing projects at work.  It seemed like he was training his staff to take on most of the company’s projects as Steve transitioned himself into more of a supervisory role, but Bucky was admittedly so caught up in how fresh his fruit was and how perfectly his eggs had been baked that he may have missed a few details.

He nodded along, taking a bite into the biscuit as Steve continued rambling about the terrible client that had nearly made his assistant cry that week; while he was interested in what the alpha had to say, the pastry was too inviting to continue ignoring.  And at first bite, it was absolutely perfect – flaky and buttery, with just a hint of cheddar and salt, enough that Bucky probably would have made some ridiculously embarrassing noise of contentment over it had he not immediately gotten a jolt from the overwhelming aftertaste.

DISH SOAP , his mind practically wailed, as the taste completely overwhelmed his senses, nearly gagging him with its power.  There was no time for subtlety - Bucky yanked the napkin from his lap, bringing it to his mouth and spitting the bite into it as quickly as he could, then wadding it all into a ball as he desperately reached for his orange juice in an attempt to wash the taste out of his mouth.

It worked, thankfully, but of course hadn’t gone without notice - across the table Steve had gone completely silent, gaping awkwardly as Bucky set the glass back down on the table and muttered a bashful “Sorry about that.”

Steve frowned in obvious concern, but before he could say anything another voice spoke up from over Bucky’s shoulder.

“Everything alright here?” their waitress asked pleasantly, making Bucky wish that he could melt into the floor – or at least hide under the table in embarrassment.

He had to settle for trying to wad his entire napkin up in his hand, hoping that she wouldn’t notice the odd behavior as he did so.  Of course, Bucky’d never had any luck.  “Mine’s great,” Steve started, giving a half-hearted smile then continuing to look across the table with big, concerned eyes.

The waitress followed his gaze across the table, took a glimpse at Bucky’s plate, then clucked softly as she reached over and scooped the biscuit off of his plate.  “Oh no, I’m sorry, Hon – I should’ve warned you about the oregano.”

“The… wha?” Bucky asked stupidly, somehow managing to feel even more confused.

“This is your first, isn’t it?”  She asked kindly, dropping the offending biscuit into a passing buss boy’s bin before continuing without Bucky’s answer, “I had the same issue when I was pregnant with my first two, swore that my mate wasn’t rinsing the dishes well-enough because every time he made marinara I tasted Dawn in it, only to realize that it was the hormones making oregano taste awful.  Apparently it’s pretty common, but don’t worry, it’ll probably go away before the third trimester.”

Bucky gaped at her like an idiot, too confused by the entire conversation to even be surprised that she’d put together that he was pregnant.

“I can grab you a blueberry scone to replace it, if you’d like, or some toast - just let me know what I can grab for you,” she added hastily.

“I’m -” Bucky started, head still spinning with the absurdity of it all.  “Toast is fine, thanks.  Wheat, if you have it.”

“No problem, I’ll get that right out for you,” the waitress promised, finally disappearing into the kitchen, much to Bucky’s relief.

They spent a solid minute eating in awkward silence, with Bucky cautiously taking bites of his eggs, feeling immeasurably grateful that they continued to taste deliciously normal, while Steve focused so closely on his french toast that he might as well have stuck his face in it.  They both remained so engrossed in their food that Bucky nearly missed it when Steve finally spoke up again.

“Has that been happening to you a lot?” the alpha asked softly, gesturing towards Bucky’s plate with his fork when Bucky gave him little more than a confused look.  “I mean, the taste thing.  I know you said you were having trouble with smells for a while, but…”

“No, that was the first time,” Bucky answered, “thank God.  Although I am kinda bummed out - I was looking forward to that stupid thing.”

The joke was apparently the right thing to say, because it had Steve chuckling immediately.  “You can have some of this, if you want,” he added, turning his plate so that the untouched half-piece of french toast on his plate was facing Bucky, “I’m never able to finish all of it, not unless I wanna go home and nap for the rest of the day.”

Bucky meant to turn the offer down, but after some friendly back-and-forth he did finally try a bite off of Steve’s plate, as well as a piece of bacon, and ultimately decided to abandon what was left of his own food for Steve’s offer.

They sat around chatting companionably once they’d both had considerably more than their fill, until they noticed that a couple of hours had passed and the line for a table was still out he door and around the corner, so Steve finally got the bill and paid (after much hemming and hawing with Bill, who had drastically under-charged them).  

“I know it’s hot as hell out,” Steve conceded as they finally made their way out the door, tucking his wallet into his back pocket, “but um - if you still wanted to hang out, maybe walk around for a bit, I find it usually makes me feel a little bit less terrible after a heavy meal.”

Bucky bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from grinning like an idiot - it was definitely hot enough out that he probably should have said no, but Steve had a point, and he definitely didn’t want their morning to end just yet.  “Sounds perfect,” he agreed, letting Steve lead the way out the door towards Bushwick Avenue.

Work, and life, both continued on as usual for Bucky, at least until the lunch rush a few days later.

Bucky had just finished reloading the lemon pound cake in the pastry window (consciously breathing through his mouth all the while, so as to avoid getting nauseous from the overly-sweet scent of citrus), when he felt it - a sharp, stabbing pain that lanced through the right side of his lower belly.  It was gone as fast as it had come on, so that he felt totally normal by the time he was standing next to the counter, but it didn’t stop the wave of panic that set in almost immediately.  

Thankfully, he was able to hide it from his customers - if anyone noticed that something was off with their barista, they kept it to themselves, instead shuffling through the line without comment as he put up one overly-extravagant drink after the other.  Teddy had given him a couple of odd looks, but Bucky ignored him, instead focusing on the work as much as he could, constantly ignoring the voice in the back of his head whining at him that something was very wrong.

The second that the line was empty Bucky excused himself to the bathroom, was nearly sick with relief when he didn’t find his boxer briefs stained with blood - not that it totally quelled the fear that something terrible was happening to him.  For a moment he considered calling Doctor Foster, or even just taking the afternoon off and going to the nearest hospital, but ultimately he decided against it.  The pain had barely lasted for a second, and nothing else was happening.  In all likelihood, he was just overreacting over something minor, something that absolutely wasn’t worth dumping the afternoon rush on Teddy and risking losing his job over.

With his meltdown (largely) at bay, Bucky finally washed his hands and made his way out of the bathroom, going back to the front and taking over for drink making as the afternoon rush started up enough to require four hands again.

Luckily, they got busy enough that Bucky was able to completely focus on drink orders, making sure that he was getting the right ratios of milk to cream to espresso and keeping himself from burning his fingers on the machinery to think about his earlier episode.  He might have forgotten about it completely, had he not felt the same exact searing pain cutting through his lower belly as he turned with another completed order.

He leaned against the counter as he handed the last pair of lattes across the bar, forcing a smile and hoping that his growing panic wasn’t entirely obvious.  For a moment, Bucky thought he’d succeeded - the customers offered vague thanks, looking up from their phones for just long enough to be less-than-rude, before making their way out the door.  Bucky sagged where he stood, breathing deeply through his nose, reminding himself that the pain was probably nothing, if it passed so quickly.

When he finally got the nerve to stand on his own again, he caught Teddy watching him, concerned frown in place as he wiped down the counters.

“You okay, man?”  He asked in an undertone, as if they weren’t the only two people in the store.

“Yeah, fine,” Bucky lied, moving away from the counter to check the levels on each of the drip coffee carafes that they had displayed, doing his best to look busy while simultaneously waiting to see if the pain came on again.

“You’re sure?” Teddy asked, pushing the point, “Cuz I mean - you look a little pale, and I thought you winced for a second there.  If you need to take this last hour off or something, I can handle things until America gets in.”

Bucky shook his head emphatically, refusing to let the pain become a bigger deal than it was.  “No, really, I’m fine,” he insisted.  “It was just a cramp, not like they’re gonna get any worse or better if I’m here versus if I’m home.”

“I mean, it’s not… is it a uterus thing?”  To his credit, Teddy kept an entirely straight face, even as his ears began turning bright red.  “Cuz I mean, if you need some Midol or something, I’m pretty sure I’ve got a packet of it in my bookbag.  I can run back and get it, if you want.”

“I don’t think - no, I’m good without it,” Bucky answered, confused as hell by the offer.  He wasn’t even sure if he could take Midol while pregnant, but that was besides the point… he had been ninety-nine percent sure that Teddy was an alpha from the beginning, and as his own sense of smell had progressed over the weeks he’d become even more certain of his coworker’s sex.  So unless he was wearing some crazy scent modifiers - and where did a kid his age even get the money and access to something like that?

“Why do you even have Midol?”  He asked incredulously, unable to stop himself.  “I mean - I appreciate the offer, but I really didn’t think you were an omega.”

Teddy shrugged awkwardly, “I mean - I’m clearly not, but Billy is.  And, I dunno… something like half the population of the whole world has ‘em, right?”  Bucky stared at him blankly, watching as color rose on Teddy’s cheeks.  “I mean, uteruses that is.  Uteri?  Anyway, I figure I’m around omegas often enough, and it’s not like all of you can always have supplies on you, and my mom always said it was polite to have supplies like that handy around the gym and classes, so… yeah.  I’ve got Midol and ibuprofen and stuff in my backpack.  If you need it.”

Teddy looked terribly embarrassed as he finished talking, but Bucky was too busy being shocked by the kindness of the younger alpha.  He’d seemed like a decent guy in the amount of time that Bucky had gotten to know him, but this might have been the most thoughtful thing he’d ever heard anyone do - most alphas weren’t even willing to buy their mates hygiene products at a drugstore, much less randomly carry supplies for omega strangers.

“That’s - that’s really sweet of you,” Bucky finally forced himself to say, trying his best to ease the kid’s misery.  “But really, I’m good.  Let’s just - knock this last hour out and head home, okay?”

Their remaining time on the clock passed painfully slowly, with far too few customers and far too many awkward silences between the pair, but Bucky was grateful at least that the pain never came back.  When Kate finally made her way through the door to clock in, Bucky excused himself to go to the bathroom, fleeing back to the employees area and once again checking to make sure that nothing was wrong.  

There still was no blood, to his relief, but after two terrifying experiences in a single afternoon Bucky figured that he had to check-in with someone , just in case.  He peed and readjusted his pants and the belly band, then washed his hands quickly.  After a moment’s debate, Bucky dug his cell phone out of his back pocket, purposely avoiding looking at himself in the mirror as he dialed the number for the Conceive Solutions clinic.  

After briefly explaining his situation to one of the receptionists he was put on hold for a nurse, realized with a start that he’d started trembling as his nerves continued building, and spent the following minute trying to calm the hell down.  It was only his hands that were shaking once Connie’s voice finally came through on the other end of the phone to ask what was wrong.

“I, ah… I don’t even know if it’s something I should be worrying about,” Bucky started apologetically, clearing his throat before continuing, “but I had a couple of seconds of really sharp pain in my lower right side today, while I was at work.  And it happened twice.”

“Alright,” Connie acknowledged calmly, “and you said they both just came and went?  You aren’t having any pain now?”

“Yeah,” Bucky responded, “I mean, yeah, I’m not hurting now.  Both times were just like a quick stab of pain, then went away.”

The conversation continued much the same way, with Connie asking clarifying questions and Bucky answering them all as well as he could, all the while growing increasingly more panicked as he had to continue talking about it, more certain that whatever it was that he’d felt was even more of a problem than he’d initially feared.

“And have you had any spotting?”  Connie asked, in that same soothing voice, as if she could tell that Bucky was slowly devolving even though she couldn’t see him.

“No,” he said immediately, “no, I’ve checked a couple of times, there hasn’t been any blood at all.”

“Okay,” Connie responded with a sigh, pausing for a breath before continuing.  “So I don’t want you to panic, because none of this is sounding like a major problem, but I am glad that you called.”  Another pause, and Bucky thought that he could hear a keyboard typing on the other end of the line before Connie spoke up again, “That being said, is there any way that you could come in and get checked out today?  Since it’s your first time having symptoms -“

It would be a bear trying to get back out to Brooklyn from Manhattan in rush hour, which meant that he’d probably miss his gym date with Natasha later that night, but Bucky wasn’t about to say as much, or to let it stand in the way of having peace of mind.  “I can totally come in,” he interrupted, “no problem, I’m just finishing up at work, I can catch the next train…”

“Doctor Foster isn’t in the office today,” Connie continued, cutting in on her own, “she’s had a couple of deliveries today so I doubt she’ll be back to the clinic before tomorrow.  But if you can go to the emergency room at Lenox Hill Hospital, I’ll call ahead and make sure that they know you’re on your way and need to be seen by her team.”

Bucky swallowed thickly, feeling bile rise in his chest – it was irrational, he knew, considering that getting checked out at the hospital would be no different than what would have been done in the office, but again; somehow going to an emergency room made the entire ordeal seem that much more hopeless.  “That – yeah, I can do that, too,” he said weakly, realizing that he’d been quiet for too long.

“We have a great staff that we work with there,” Connie promised gently, “they’ll take great care of you, I promise, James.  And if you have your clinic insurance card on you…”

“Yeah, I do,” Bucky answered roughly, recognizing a lead when he heard one.

“Great,” Connie continued, “then if you just use that for registration, you won’t have any fees for the visit, and if you need any medications for anything it’ll go on the card as well.”

“Okay, sure.  Thank you, I’ll - I’ll head there right away.”

Bucky exhaled deeply as he finally closed his phone app, tucking the phone into his back pocket before leaning on the sink as he did his best to regain his composure.  He knew that he didn’t have the time to get a hold of himself, not really, if he was going to make it to the hospital in a timely fashion - but he still wanted to pause and try to get his emotions under enough control to be seen in public.  

After a couple of minutes of meditative breathing Bucky finally stood again, taking just enough time to splash cold water on his face and untie his work apron before finally abandoning the employee restroom.  From there he made his way into the breakroom to hang his hat and apron, wincing internally when he found Teddy still hanging around at the break table.

“Hey man,” Teddy said good-naturedly, obviously missing Bucky’s rush to get out the door without further interaction, “doing better?  Sure you don’t want something for the road?”

Bucky forced a smile, trying his damndest to act natural.  “No, I’m good - thanks again though.  I’ll just… I’ll see you tomorrow.  Bring that assignment along, if you want to work it over after close.”

He added the last bit as an afterthought, smiling sincerely at the appreciative grin he got from the kid, all the while trying to convince himself that it really was going to be that simple: that he’d get a clean bill of health from Doctor Foster, laugh off the overreaction, and be back to life as usual before his next shift started.

If he was entirely honest with himself, Bucky wasn’t sure that he’d be able to handle anything less.

He waved a distracted goodbye to America as he made his way out the door of Ultimate Coffee, immediately turning and walking towards the nearest subway stop.  He’d barely made it to the end of the block before he stopped, realizing the problems with his plan: while he definitely wasn’t familiar with Lenox Hill by any stretch of the imagination, he knew the neighborhood’s reputation - and given how high the property values were around the area, he could guess that the walk from the nearest train station to the hospital would be at least a few blocks.  Worse still, was how long the trip was likely to be - even if he could figure out a closer drop-off, he was likely to need a minimum of two trains: first to get from Prospect Park into Manhattan, then to switch to midtown and finally to the hospital.  The idea of being stuck in a crowded train or station, of getting jostled around by the other commuters going into the city, of having another episode like the ones he’d already had…

Bucky shook his head as someone barked at him to move out of the way, snapping out of his panic long enough to step off to the side of the sidewalk.  It was only when he dug his phone out of his pocket to check the train schedules that he realized that his right hand had made its way to the bump, seemingly trying to protect it on its own volition.

With a sigh, Bucky pocketed his phone again, making up his mind before the MTA app could even load completely.  While he usually wouldn’t even think to go the route he was about to, the enormity of the entire situation was properly crashing down on him, as was the sudden need to get to the hospital as fast as possible.  He stepped to the opposite side of the sidewalk, throwing his arm in the air as he did to hail one of the passing yellow cabs.

To his surprise, one’s FARE light popped on immediately, and a second later it was slowing to a stop in front of him.  “Thanks,” Bucky said awkwardly, dropping into the rear seat of the cab and pulling the door shut behind him.  

After a couple of seconds of odd silence, the driver glanced at him in the rear-view mirror, “Where we going?”

“Oh, uh, Lenox Hill?”  Bucky answered, unsure of how specific he was supposed to be up front - it had been years since he'd actually been in a cab on his own, and usually that just involved falling into the backseat with whichever friend he was with at the time and letting them handle the interactions.

The driver frowned spectacularly, shaking his head and turning in the front seat, “Oh no, sorry kid, but I don’t drive into Manhattan in the afternoon, and I sure as hell ain’t going that far North.  If you want a ride to one of the stations…”

“Please,” Bucky interrupted, surprising even himself by how desperate his voice sounded.  Sure, he could just get out of the damned cab and get another, but if they all acted the same way - he didn’t feel like he had the time to wait for someone willing to make the drive.  “Please, I’ve gotta get to the hospital.  You know how bad the train is gonna be at this hour, and it’s not something that’s bad enough to tie up an ambulance, but… it’s just really important that I get to Lenox Hill Hospital.  Please.”

The cabbie’s brow didn’t exactly unfurrow, but something in his eyes softened as Bucky continued to plead, and he sighed heavily as Bucky trailed off, blinking back tears.  “You’re not gonna get sick in the back of my car?”

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Bucky promised, wiping at the wetness on his cheeks with the back of his hand, “but I do need to get to my doctor.”

“Okay, fine - I’ll make an exception just this once.  But next time if you need a ride into Manhattan, you’ve gotta call a cab ahead of time; we ain’t all gonna be so nice.”

Bucky barely contained his sigh of relief as they finally pulled away from the curb, and instead settled back into the seat, pulling the seat belt over his shoulder and fastening it across his lap.  As they moved into traffic, he pulled his cellphone back out of his pocket, considering the blank screen: on one hand, he knew that he should probably shoot Natasha a text, to at least let her know where he was going, especially in the event that something actually went wrong and she was called as his emergency contact.  At the same time, telling her meant that he would actually have to either say or type the words out loud… and Bucky wasn’t sure that he was ready for that.  Talking to Connie had been terrifying enough.

With that thought in mind, he opened his phone decisively; only instead of thumbing through to his contacts list, Bucky shut the thing off entirely, a move that was good for keeping him from sending any texts he would regret, but bad for keeping his mind otherwise occupied.

He stared out the window as the streets rolled by, his eyes barely registering the street signs as they passed or the prime people-watching on the sidewalk as he instead replayed the afternoon in its entirety, trying to remember exactly what had been happening prior to each episode of pain, to try to pin down exactly what might have caused them.  Of course, beyond lifting and twisting he couldn’t determine what exactly had set it off, and before long was remembering everything else he’d done in the forty-eight hours prior, from the run around Prospect Park each day to the box squats he’d done at the gym with Nat.

Doctor Foster had told him that staying active was good for the both of them, but of course she hadn’t specified which exercises were okay.  If he’d overdone it with lifting, and somehow taxed himself to the point that working had pushed his body over the edge, had caused him to...

“You alright back there?”

The voice cut through Bucky’s thoughts like a knife, bringing him back to himself in a rush.  He blinked in surprise, vaguely recognizing the fact that he was hyperventilating.  After drawing a deep breathing and holding it, Bucky glanced up to find the cab driver watching him in the mirror again, his eyebrows drawn together tightly in concern.  Bucky could just imagine how bad he looked, given the fact that he could practically feel the panic rolling off of himself in waves, like the cold sweat that was pooling at the small of his back.

“I’m - I will be,” he answered, licking his lips and willing himself to believe it.

If nothing else, it got the driver to go a little faster.  

Time still felt like it was dragging on impossibly slowly, but they finally made it to Lenox Hill, with the driver stopping just underneath the red awning that read EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT on the hospital’s north side.  Of course, the trip wound up costing all of Bucky’s tip money from the day, as well as the last twenty he’d had stored away in his wallet.

He did his best to keep his face neutral as he handed it over, making a mental note to bring up potential travel reimbursements to the receptionists at Conceive Solutions, assuming he made it out of the afternoon without the worst-case news.

“Good luck,” the driver said gruffly as Bucky eased his way out of the back of the cab, clenching his jaw tightly as he did so and fighting down the wave of panicked nausea that washed over him as he looked across the sidewalk at the door - the door he knew he had to go through, that he wanted to go through, but that scared the hell out of him all the same.

Bucky carried himself into the emergency department on shaky legs, checking in first with the security guard at the door and then making his way to the reception desk, where he handed over his ID and insurance card in return for a thick stack of paper on a clipboard.  He wasn’t sure if it was the fact that Connie had called ahead for him, the fact that Conceive Solutions was stamped all over the insurance, or his being a pregnant omega in obvious distress, but Bucky’d barely had time to finish filling out the first two pages on the registration forms before he was called back to the triage area, bypassing the crowds of other patients seated around the waiting room.

From there it was a blur of vital signs and answering nurses questions, largely repeating everything he had already told Connie earlier in the day, along with basic information about his health history and what had gone on in the pregnancy so far.  Bucky was grateful for the no-nonsense way the matronly nurse went about asking question after question, as it kept his mind occupied enough that he couldn’t begin to panic again over what might actually be happening to either him or the fetus.

As soon as the intake forms were completed and the triage nurse had entered all of her information she slapped a hospital band on Bucky’s left wrist, then he was moved back to a gurney and handed a hospital gown, with instructions to change out of his clothing and wait for Doctor Foster to come by to see him.  As soon as the privacy curtain was closed around him he did as told, pulling his work polo off over his head and quickly sliding a hospital gown on in its place, then stepping out of his jeans and the belly band before folding them all carefully and tucking them into the personal belongings bag that was sitting on the foot of the bed.  After a moment’s hesitation he stepped out of his underwear as well, before pulling the back of the gown shut and gingerly taking a seat in the middle of the bed, all the while trying to keep himself as calm as possible.

Without a phone to distract himself with or a clock to tell the time, he wasn’t able to succeed entirely - but he was able to avoid another panic attack, at least.

Bucky exhaled in relief when the privacy curtain was finally pulled back, only to shrink back in the bed instinctively when he saw the person making their way towards him.  Instead of Doctor Foster, it was an enormous blond man in tight blue scrubs.  Although his smile was kind, Bucky couldn’t help frowning as he tried to read the guy’s name badge.

“Good afternoon,” he said charmingly, pulling the curtain shut behind him as he sidled up to Bucky’s gurney, “my name is Thor Odinson, and I work for the obstetrics team here at the hospital.  I hear that you were having some abdominal pain earlier today?”

Bucky nodded affirmatively, noting that his badge seemed legitimate, but feeling unnerved all the same.  “I, yeah, I did, but - I called one of the nurses at Conceive Solutions, and they said that Doctor Foster would be seeing me?”

If he was at all bothered by the implication, Thor didn’t show it.  “Ah, yes; I work with Doctor Foster as one of her physician’s assistants.  She has a couple of active deliveries going on right now, so she asked me to come down and get a look at you.”  He paused for a moment, tilting his head slightly as his smile faded, “that is, if you’re comfortable with my examining you.  If you’d prefer to wait for Doctor Foster, then I’ll just take a history for her then step out.”

“No,” Bucky responded automatically, swallowing down his discomfort and forcing a smile of his own - while he’d prefer to have the more familiar (and frankly, less alpha) doctor examining him, he also didn’t want to have to wait forever to get a diagnosis for what had brought him to the ER in the first place, and especially didn’t want to delay treatment if there was actually something wrong with the baby.  “No, that’s fine, as long as she’ll know what’s going on, too.  I’m okay with it if you all are.”

The bright, friendly grin returned to Thor’s face immediately.  “Excellent - and not to worry, everything will be run by Doctor Foster before we send you anywhere, and if you don’t mind the wait, she’ll probably stop by to see you before everything is said and done, anyway.”

“Alright,” Bucky agreed, leaning back into the pillow on his bed and waiting as Thor booted up the computer next to them, obviously signing in to the hospital’s record system.

“Now then,” Thor started conversationally, “I’ve heard a bit about you from Doctor Foster, but could you tell me what brought you in today?  You’re about three months along, right?”

“Yeah,” Bucky answered with a nod, “twelve weeks and three days, to be exact.  And uh, I was at work this afternoon and had a couple of instances of really sharp lower abdominal pain, so I called the office to tell them about it and the nurse recommended I come get examined.”

Thor nodded along as well, typing all the while, “Can you point to where the pain was?”

Bucky flattened his gown around his midsection, before running the fingers of his right hand along the junction between his hip bone and the gentle swell of the bump, “It was right along here - just a quick, stabbing pain that came and went within a second, right in the same place.”

“Okay,” Thor murmured, watching Bucky carefully before he went back to typing, “and was this the first time that’s happened?”

“Yeah,” Bucky answered, “that’s why it scared me so badly.”

“I can imagine,” Thor responded kindly.  “Did you have any other symptoms, any bleeding or spotting?”

“No, neither,” Bucky answered immediately.

“And what were you doing when each of these pains happened?”

Bucky rubbed the back of his neck, feeling inexplicably guilty as he answered.  “The first time I was loading stuff into a low display shelf, so I was squatting down with a pretty heavy tray.  Then the second time I was turning to give something to a customer.”

If Thor judged Bucky for his answer, he made no sign of it at all, just typing away between occasional, friendly glances.  “And any changes to your routine over the past couple of days?  Anything that might have caused you to strain your abs or something in your groin?”

Bucky grimaced, truly overcome with guilt now as he recounted his workouts from the couple of days prior, hastily adding at the end, “but I really didn’t go any harder on anything than I usually do, and it wasn’t like I had any pain during the lifting sessions or right away after.”

“Okay, good,” Thor responded gently, before turning away from the computer and giving Bucky his full attention, “and just so you know, that wasn’t me looking to get you in trouble.  It’s great to hear about carriers who are keeping their fitness up during their pregnancy - if you weren’t overdoing it above your normal or experiencing problems during the workout, it’s not very likely that anything you did caused the fetus any harm.”

Bucky barely swallowed down a sudden and inexplicable urge to cry as Thor finished speaking, his relief so great that all he could really do was nod and pick at his hospital gown.  Logically, he’d known that he was probably fine - but hearing the words from an expert, especially one acknowledging that even if there was something wrong, Bucky wasn’t at fault for it.  

He didn’t even notice that Thor was stalling until he looked up again to find the man watching him with an empathetic smile.  “You ready to keep going?” he asked gently.

Bucky scrubbed briefly at his eyes with the heel of his palm, taking a deep breath to get himself together before nodding gratefully, truly thankful of how patient the alpha was being - he could just imagine how difficult the entire process would have been if he’d been stuck with someone in a rush.  “Yeah, thanks.  I’m good.”

The rest of Thor’s questions were considerably easier and more generalized, revolving around Bucky’s medical history, his background, and his reproductive health history - they flew through all of the questions with ease, until Thor came to the last bit.

“And when was the last time you had sex?”

“Way too long ago for it to have been relevant,” Bucky answered incredulously.  Thor glanced up from the computer and raised his eyebrows slightly, making it painfully apparent that Bucky’s issue wasn’t an adequate one.  

His face felt like it was going to spontaneously combust as Bucky answered, “a little over a year ago.”

“Alright, thanks,” Thor responded mildly, showing no real reaction to Bucky’s answer as he made a dozen more keystrokes then looked up from the screen again.  “Anything else we should add?”

“Uh,” Bucky said stupidly, “not that I can think of.”

“Me neither,” Thor said with a short laugh, logging off of the computer and folding it back into its space by the wall.  “Okay, that being the case, I’m gonna go get your nurse so we can start the physical.”

“My nurse?”  Bucky asked confusedly - he’d not seen anyone other than Thor since the triage staff had brought him back.

“Yes, your triage came through quickly enough that I was able to just come down here and take care of all of the rest of your intake myself, but in order to do any kind of pelvic exam on you I’ll need a chaperone here.  We’ll just bring in one of the omega nurses to help me, it’ll only take a minute for me to grab one and get everything that we need around.”

Thor disappeared outside of the curtain before Bucky could ask any further questions, so instead he leaned back against his pillow, trying again to wrap his head around everything that had happened that afternoon.  On one hand, he was a little offended that Thor had just assumed that he needed a chaperone for an exam, of all things.  But on the other hand - Bucky would have to be lying to himself if he said that he hadn't kind of appreciated the idea of another omega in the room, if he was going to be so vulnerable with an alpha, whether he was a medical professional or not.  

Bucky did open his phone in the minutes of privacy that followed, shooting Natasha a quick text that he might be late for their workout that night and that he’d call and explain later before setting the phone to silent and tucking it back into his belongings bag.  A few more minutes passed before the curtain opened again, this time revealing another man in scrubs.  

He was tall, although nowhere near as large as Thor had been, with dark blond hair and kind-looking hazel eyes that set Bucky at ease immediately.  Although he seemed to be wearing scent blockers, his build was such that Bucky could tell that he’d probably had a baby in the relatively recent past, given how wide his hips seemed and the way that his scrub top fit across his chest, so when Bucky noticed the RN label on his name badge he had to give Thor credit… he knew how to pick someone that Bucky could relate to, it seemed.

“Hey, my name’s Riley,” he introduced himself, his voice calm with just a hint of twang that told Bucky that he must have lived in the south at some point during his life, “sorry I didn’t get in here to see you sooner, but we’ve been getting slammed this afternoon - I understand that Thor was already in to talk to you, and that we’re gonna be doing a couple of exams to check up on how the pregnancy’s going?”

“Basically,” Bucky agreed.  “I uh - had a little scare earlier today, so I just wanted to check and make sure that everything was alright.”

Riley nodded along sympathetically as he moved to one of the tiny cabinets on the wall, digging out a bucket of tubes and needles before turning his attention back to Bucky.  “That was the gist of what I got from Thor - now he just wants to run a couple of basic blood tests on you for completeness sake, then once I’ve got those sent off I’ll go and grab the rest of the supplies for the exam, okay?”

“Sure,” Bucky agreed, passing his arm over the side of the gurney to give the nurse better access.  Truthfully, between all of his CS visits he was getting to the point where he figured he’d have felt weird being seen by a doctor and not having been asked for a blood and urine sample.  

“Usually we’d have you in one of the obstetrics rooms down here, because the exam table in there has actual stirrups and a light,” Riley explained as he stuck Bucky, quickly filling the tubes he needed then taking them out as he’d said he would.  

Bucky barely had time to pick at the bandage he’d stuck in the crook of his elbow before the curtain opened again, with both Thor and Riley returning together.  Thor started arranging a small bin of instruments on a metal tray, calmly explaining the exams to Bucky (as if he needed to be reminded what a pelvic exam was like), while Riley slipped a pillow cover over the large foam triangle he’d brought in with him.  

“We’re gonna have to make due with the ramp here, since we don’t have the proper exam table like I mentioned,” he said with an apologetic grimace once Thor had finished talking, then helped slide the pad underneath Bucky’s bottom as Thor stepped out of the room to wash his hands.

“He’s good,” Riley murmured once the alpha had left, still moving around the tiny space enclosed by the curtain, covering Bucky’s legs in a separate sheet and setting up the floor lamp that he’d brought in with him.  “I mean, I know these suck, but Thor’s been with Doctor Foster for a long time and he knows his stuff - you’re in good hands.”

“Thanks,” Bucky replied weakly, forcing a smile before the curtain opened again.  

He put his whole focus into studying the ceiling tiles as Thor pulled on his gloves and leaned over the bed, slowly and calmly helping Bucky get his legs into position while Riley stood by with the instruments.  He’d been right, at least - Bucky doubted that a speculum would ever feel comfortable, but he was grateful at least that it hadn’t been painful like exams that he’d gotten over the years at some of the free omega clinics in the city.  And even better, it was all blessedly short - before he knew it the speculum was gone, with Thor announcing that his cervix looked absolutely fine.  He gave Bucky a brief warning regarding the bimanual exam, but just as quickly it seemed his fingers were there, his voice calmly reassuring Bucky that his uterus was the right size and that it didn’t feel like anything was wrong.  When Bucky confirmed that he wasn’t in any pain with the manipulation, Thor’s hands were gone.

The entirety of the exam had been painfully awkward - but overall good, as far as exams went.

“Alright,” he said brightly, peeling the glove off of his left hand and using it to gently move the blanket down so that it was covering Bucky’s legs and turning as he removed the right one as well, “I’ll just give you a second to get situated…”

Even as he spoke, Riley was already moving as well, taking the ramp out from under Bucky’s ass carefully and - thankfully - giving him a moment to rearrange his legs and his gown himself.  Once he was comfortable enough he glanced back up at Thor, forcing himself to make eye contact with the alpha despite how awkward he felt.

“So based on what you’ve told me and the physical, I’m almost certain that what you were feeling this afternoon were just growing pains,” Thor started, cutting straight to the point with such certainty that Bucky actually felt himself sag back into his pillow in relief.  “But, that being said, I’d like to get one more study - just a couple of ultrasound views - to make sure that we aren’t missing anything.”

“Sure, that’s no problem,” Bucky responded immediately, grateful that his voice didn’t come out anywhere near as shaky as he felt.

Thor nodded as he reached outside of the curtain, pumping the hand sanitizer unit in the walkway and stepping back in as he rubbed the alcohol over his hands.  “Great.  I’m going to order an external one to confirm that everything still looks good with the baby, then an internal one to evaluate your cervix and ovaries.”

“Alright,” Bucky said, situating himself on the bed in a vain attempt to get more comfortable while not squirming over the idea of the internal ultrasound probe, “are they just going to come in here with it?”

“Oh no,” Riley cut in, smiling as he folded down the spotlight that Thor had used during the exam, “we’ll have you go down to one of the dedicated ultrasonography rooms, they have the better machines down there.”

Thor tilted his head in Riley’s direction, “Exactly - and this time of day we should be able to squeeze you in with one of the obstetrics techs, so we can be sure we’ll get exactly the shots that Doctor Foster needs to confirm that everything is alright.”

“And they’ll come up to get you,” Riley added, as Thor folded down the computer again and began typing away, presumably putting orders in for the test, “so for now you can just hang out and relax.”  

The nurse frowned lightly, glancing over Thor’s shoulder for a second and around the tiny, curtained-off space as if he was missing something, before speaking up again.  “Um, is there anything else I can help you out with?  Making any phone calls or something, if you want someone to know you’re here.”

“No,” Bucky answered, shaking his head for emphasis; although it was nice to have relatively good news so far, he didn’t want to contact anyone until he knew he was really out of the woods: the idea of calling and scaring the hell out of Nat, or of telling Steve that everything was fine only to find out that it wasn’t the case… “I’ve still got power on my phone,” he continued as casually as possible, “I’ll shoot them a text once we know some more.

“But, uh - I’d love some water, or something,” Bucky added as an afterthought, licking parched, sore lips that he hadn’t even noticed he’d been chewing on.

Riley winced as he glanced at Thor, who had looked away from his computer with a regretful sigh, “I’m afraid I can’t clear you for anything to eat or drink just yet, not until we have the ultrasound and confirm that you aren’t going to need any urgent interventions.”

“Okay,” Bucky sighed, leaning back into his pillow and licking his lips again, even though he was too dry for it to help.  Thor finished collecting the last of the supplies and ducked away behind the curtain again with a friendly wave, but Riley seemed to hesitate for a moment as he looked around the space again.

“Do you,” he started, somewhat awkwardly, “just, with you being here alone - do you want me to come down with you for the ultrasound?  I’ve got a couple of hours left on my shift and we’re slow enough right now that someone else could look after my other patients…”

The offer touched Bucky, but he could hardly ask for special treatment just because he was too stubborn to call any of his actual emergency contacts.  “No, I’ll be alright,” he said instead, giving Riley a sincere smile, “but thanks so much for the offer.”

“Of course,” Riley responded.  “Your call button is on the wall, by the way, in case you need anything.  Otherwise transport should be up for you soon, and I’ll be back in to check on you later.”

Thankfully, it was barely half an hour before an orderly was pulling open the curtain again, checking Bucky’s wristband and moving him into a wheelchair before pushing him through the emergency room, down a couple of halls and finally to the radiology department, where a friendly young tech in alarmingly pink scrubs was already waiting outside of a darkroom.

She introduced herself as Darcy as Bucky was wheeled into the room and finally allowed to move up onto the ultrasound table without assistance.  “My understanding is we’re gonna get a look at your little one and then make sure your ovaries and cervix look okay, is that right?”

“Er - yeah,” Bucky answered, momentarily put off by the implication that the fetus was his .  But then, it was his uterus that they were looking at, and it wasn’t exactly as if he was in the position to be arguing semantics with a tech that was just trying to be friendly.

“Alright great, and about how far along are you now?”  Darcy asked as she started typing his information in on the ultrasound’s keyboard.

“Twelve weeks and three days, we had it confirmed by ultrasound a few weeks ago,” he answered, watching as she nodded along and finished up whatever it was that she was entering for data.

“Great, and when’s the last time you emptied your bladder?”

Bucky blinked, suddenly remembering the protocol he’d had to go for the scans at CS and the fact that he was on water restrictions until the damned test was over.  “Uh, I went a while before I came in, but that was at least a couple of hours ago.”  As he sat and actually thought about it, his bladder chimed in, glad to be finally getting attention over his anxiety and building thirst.  “I could probably go again though, honestly.”

Darcy winced sympathetically, “Let’s just wait until after I get the external ultrasound done, it’ll make it a little easier.”  She paused, draping his lap in a sheet and then lifting his gown up to his nipple line, so that the bump was exposed entirely.  “You’re at the point right now where we could probably get a decent look at baby without it,” she explained as she squirted a line of warm jelly just above his pubic bone and followed it with the probe, “but having the bladder a little distended will make it even easier and quicker.”

A moment later the familiar gray blob appeared on the screen, prompting a broad smile from Darcy.  “So,” she started, moving the probe around slightly to change her view of the fetus and tapping the screen to save certain shots, “technically I can’t tell you anything diagnostic during this because that job is up to the docs, but - there’s baby, and you can see it’s moving,” as she said it a tiny limb that even Bucky could recognize as an arm moved towards what looked like the head, “and we can see that the heart is beating,” she added, before hitting another button and filling the room with the sound of the heartbeat, still every bit as strong and fast as Bucky’d remembered hearing it before.

He didn’t bother trying to choke back the sob of relief that escaped him as he listened, and Darcy was kind enough to give him a minute to listen before saying anything or moving on.  Once Bucky was better composed, she got a couple more angles, before removing the probe and carefully wiping his belly off with a washcloth.

“Okay,” she said cheerily, “now if you want you can run to the bathroom before we do the internal bit.”

“How long do you think that’ll last?” Bucky croaked - while he did have to go, he was ready to know whether or not something was wrong and have the entire nightmare over with.

“Ten minutes, max,” Darcy answered as she put a plastic bag over what looked like a long, thin wand of a probe.

“Let’s just get it done,” Bucky sighed, leaning back into the table.

As he said it, the table shifted slightly, before a squeaking noise preceded Darcy moving a pair of stirrups into view.  “Alright then,” she said once they were in place, “I’ll just have you put your heels up here and slide your bottom down to the edge of the bed.”

Bucky grimaced as he followed instructions - two pelvic exams in the same afternoon was decidedly not how he’d been looking forward to spending his day - then waited for further instructions.

“The probe here is actually a little smaller than your standard speculum,” Darcy explained calmly, as if she’d been reading his mind, “and it’s not that terrible cold metal, so there’s another plus.  I’m just going to use it to check and make sure that you don’t have any free fluid around your uterus or ovaries, to make sure your ovaries have good blood flow to them, and then to make sure that your cervix is appropriately closed.  Just let me know if you need me to stop or have any questions.”

Bucky nodded tightly, unable to think of any, so Darcy went ahead with the exam - and Bucky immediately regretted his decision about the bathroom.  It wasn’t so much that he worried that he was actually going to wet himself, or even that it hurt, so much that the lube-covered probe felt completely bizarre as it slid into him.

He didn’t pay as close of attention to the screen this time around, instead just staring at the ceiling and trying to focus on anything other than what was happening beneath the sheet over his legs, but Darcy went about explaining everything all the same - pointing out where there was blood flowing in and out of each ovary on the doppler before wrapping up and taking the probe out.

“That should be it, then,” she said as she stripped her gloves off, “bathroom is just through that door if you still wanted to use it, but before you go, do you want any printouts from the external scan?”

“I - yeah,” Bucky responded, pausing as he pushed himself off of the exam table, “actually, if you could give me a couple of the best ones, that’d be great.”

“No problem,” Darcy replied, tapping the screen to scroll back through the pictures.  Bucky took it as his cue to head to the bathroom, so he made his way across the tiny room and through the door that she had indicated, then spent the few seconds that he needed to empty his bladder and clean off as much of the gel as he could reach to convince himself that the whole point of the print outs were to have something to give to Steve, to reassure him that the entire visit had just been one big false alarm.

After all, what else would he want them for?

His wheelchair and transport were already waiting outside the open door to the ultrasound suite when he walked back into the room, so he accepted the printouts from Darcy and her good luck wishes with a smile, then sat back as he was pushed back through the same route that had brought him down from the emergency department in the first place.  It was difficult not to feel a little humiliated that they wouldn't just let him walk the distance on his own, but Bucky did his best to ignore the feeling.

He had barely gotten himself situated on the bed again, and was just taking a second to properly study the ultrasound printout that Darcy had given him, when the curtain to his area flung open again.  He blinked in surprise, automatically tucking the glossy black-and-white print under his covers and hoping that his cheeks weren’t burning as obviously as they felt as Thor made his way back to the bedside.

“Good news,” the alpha boomed, grinning in a way that said if he had noticed Bucky’s inexplicable guilt over the stupid printout, then he didn’t think anything of it, “by my look everything seems perfect, with the fetus and with you, so I’m just going to run upstairs and run everything by Doctor Foster, then we can probably get you on your way.  Do you have any questions or concerns before I go up?”

“Um,” Bucky started, shifting uncomfortably on the gurney, “if it wasn’t a problem with the pregnancy or anything else in the area, what was I feeling today?”

“More than likely growing pains, specifically round ligament pain,” Thor stated matter-of-factly, setting his feet slightly as he started to explain.  “You see, there are a couple of ligaments that attach the uterus to the pelvis, and they have the ability to stretch like any other ligaments in the body, but can sometimes get irritated.  In the case of the round ligament, it can be particularly bothersome during someone’s first pregnancy, because it’s the first time your uterus has really grown large enough to stretch it.”

“So it’ll happen again,” Bucky asked in the pause that followed, feeling considerably less than pleased with the news.

“Potentially,” Thor said with a shrug, “some people never experience it at all, others struggle with it from time to time through the entire second trimester and beyond.”  He rubbed at the back of his neck, looking just apologetic enough that Bucky was able to ignore the way his biceps bulged comically in his scrub top - almost.  “We haven’t done a ton of research into it,” he continued, cutting off Bucky’s train of thought, “but anecdotally I feel like it’s a little more common in male omegas, at least in early pregnancy, cuz you don’t have quite as much ligamentous laxity as females tend to with their estrogen levels… but it tends to even out.  Plus,” he added hopefully, “now that you’ve felt it a couple of times, you’ll be able to recognize it from anything scarier in the future.”

“Here’s hoping,” Bucky agreed skeptically, biting his lip as he racked his brain for any other questions he should be asking.  He came up with nothing, and wound up telling Thor as much.

“Alright, then,” Thor responded, “like I said before, I’ll just go up and check in with Doctor Foster, let her look over your images as well, and as long as she agrees that we’re good to go, I’ll get you set for your discharge.”

“Sounds great,” Bucky nodded, watching as Thor turned to leave before adding, “oh, and um… is she going to be down to see me?”

“Most likely yes, as long as you don’t mind waiting until she’s free to drop by,” Thor answered, “I’m not sure where she’ll be as far as deliveries go…”

“I’m in no rush,” Bucky interrupted.  He meant no offense to Thor, who had seemed more than competent throughout the entire visit - but he’d feel better hearing it from Doctor Foster, all the same.

“I’ll send her down, then,” Thor promised with a nod, before disappearing behind the curtain completely.

It seemed like no time had passed at all before the curtain opened again, only this time it was Riley, walking in with a clear plastic cup full of ice cubes.  “We don’t have the official word yet, so I’m gonna need you to go easy on these,” he said with a conspiratory grin as he handed the cup over.  Bucky was so grateful that he could have kissed him, if it wouldn’t have been so wildly inappropriate.

He carefully tipped the cup to his mouth so that only a couple of ice chips fell into it, and had barely finished chewing on the first ice chip, when he heard raised, obviously angry voices coming from the direction of the triage area, immediately setting him on edge.  While there were no other sounds indicating that it was a danger, per say, it was unnerving to hear in a hospital - and his nerves had already been stretched to their limits.

“Wait here,” Riley said sternly, squeezing Bucky’s left shoulder before turning towards the curtain, “if the commotion starts to escalate, duck down behind the gurney.”

Bucky nodded to acknowledge Riley’s command, as if he had much else of a choice, then leaned back in the bed and tried to calm his increasingly rapid heartbeat.  As the conversation moved closer to his cubicle, Bucky was able to start to make out the words that the group was actually saying - and started to recognize at least one of the voices.

“Sir, I have to ask you again, you can’t come back here unless you’ve been invited,”  An unfamiliar masculine voice pleaded.

“And I’m tellin’ you, our doctor’s office called me, and said to meet him here,” the second voice was more familiar, and although the words were relatively calm and even, they were decidedly louder than necessary, with a hint of a growl that indicated the man was barely keeping himself in control.

“All the same, we have to go through the check-in process…”

“James Barnes,” the voice asked again, and now Bucky had no doubt that it was Steve… he fell back against the bed, feeling like the world’s biggest asshole for not having called him when the whole mess had started, before pushing himself back up into a seated position, swinging his legs off of the bed in preparation to just go out and get him.

“We’ll tell you if he’s here, after we’ve confirmed your ID and that you have access to his medical infor…”

“That’s MY baby that you’re talking about!” Steve shouted, sounding like he had finally lost his cool.  “That’s what I’ve been telling you, I’M the adoptive father, the agency called ME, and I have to know if they’re okay!”  

“Steve,” a third voice entered the fray, and Bucky paused in making his way to the curtain when he recognized it as Riley.

“Riley,” Steve said, his voice calming considerably, “it’s about Bucky - the surrogate - the nurse at CS called and said he’s here and he was having pain…”

It sounded like their voices were trailing off, and Bucky had to guess that Riley had moved them away, to a more private location where Bucky could only barely make out their voices.  Thankfully, they seemed considerably calmer sounding as the conversation continued, although Bucky really couldn’t make out anything that was being said, until they seemed to stop talking altogether.

A moment later Riley’s head peeked in around Bucky’s curtain, his mouth and eyebrows both drawn tight with worry.  “So...  I’m guessing you heard that,” he started awkwardly.

“It’s fine,” Bucky insisted, settling himself back onto the bed as the nurse looked on with worry.  “It’s Steve, right?  Rogers?”

“Yeah,” Riley answered quietly, taking another step closer to Bucky’s gurney.  “He wanted to come in and see you and get an update, but really, this  - it’s entirely up to you.  Even with the contract, if you want privacy until Doctor Foster comes down…”

“No, send him in,” Bucky interrupted, although the swell of gratitude he felt for Riley was so overwhelming that his throat tightened with it.  “It’s alright, really - he’s - he’s a friend.  And, he probably should be here.”

Something passed over Riley’s face, something that looked like an odd mixture of both relief and understanding, before he nodded shortly and turned back out into the hallway, calling out softly, “Alright, he’s in here.”

The words had barely left Riley’s mouth before a small force of nature plowed through the curtain, his wide, panicked blue eyes immediately zeroing in on Bucky.  Steve looked terrible, he noted with a pang of guilt, like he was barely a second from either breaking down and crying or actually fighting whatever security staff must have been escorting him back, or maybe both.  Bucky was actually taken aback momentarily - while he’d admired the scrappy strength that Steve had emanated in the past, he’d never actually thought he could be intimidated by the alpha until that moment, and his instincts had no idea what to do with it.

“Bucky,” Steve breathed, still looking like he was wound tight enough to snap as he moved closer to the bed, “Jesus - the clinic called me an hour ago but I missed the first one cuz I was in a meeting, and then when I got through to the nurses they told me you’d been sent here, and I came as fast as I could but they won’t tell me anything else out front… are you?  And I mean, is the baby okay?”

“I’m fine,” Bucky swore, as calmly as he could - although he was sure that the fact that he was still laying on a hospital gurney and swamped in a gown didn’t exactly help his cause.  “Seriously, they’ve done scans, they checked the fetal heart rate, they’ve done like - twenty tests.  Everything’s come back normal, I’m just waiting on the PA to go over everything with Doctor Foster so she can come in and let me go.”

Riley was still standing at the curtain, looking supremely conflicted as he glanced between the two of them, so Bucky gave him a quick nod indicating that he’d be fine alone with Steve.  The alpha caught the motion and turned his attention back to the nurse as well, and Bucky felt like he could see the last vestiges of anger actually seep out of him as they made eye contact.  “Thanks so much Ril - er, Nurse Wilson.  I really can’t say how much I appreciate your help.”

“No problem, Mr. Rogers ,” he replied in a tone that Bucky thought might be teasing, although he suddenly felt so emotionally drained that he had no idea how to read the interaction.  “James, same deal with the call light as before,” Riley continued, turning his attention back to Bucky and his demeanor back to being all business, “just give me a holler if you need anything, otherwise I’ll send Doctor Foster back to you guys as soon as she comes down.”

Once they were alone Steve pulled a small plastic chair away from the wall, dropping into it so that he was nearly eye-level with Bucky. “What happened?”  He asked quietly after a couple of seconds.

Bucky very briefly explained the afternoon’s happening, how he’d called CS after the second pain and come in for safety’s sake after being instructed to, and again said how all of the tests they’d run so far seemed like they’d been normal.  As he finished talking Bucky remembered the ultrasound printouts, and handed both of the pictures over to Steve.  “The heart rate still sounded good, and they gave me a couple of screenshots, if you wanted to compare how much its grown since the last one…”

Steve took the pictures from Bucky like they were the most precious treasure on earth.

“I’m - uh,” Bucky started, finally looking away from the anguish on Steve’s face to focus on the tiny snag he’d felt in the weave of his blanket, and taking a moment to pick at it before he succumbed to the wave of guilt he felt, “I’m sorry I didn’t call you, first.  I should’ve let you know what was going on…”

“No,” Steve interrupted thickly, shaking his head but keeping his eyes glued to the grainy black-and-white photo in his hands, “no, it’s alright Buck.  I mean,” he coughed, taking a moment to rub his eyes awkwardly with the back of his right hand before finally looking at Bucky again.  “I’d rather you got in here and got yourself and - and the baby - taken care of, rather than wasting time on callin’ me.

“And I’m sorry I wasn’t here earlier,” he added as an afterthought, “you shouldn’t’ve been here alone.”

“It’s been alright,” Bucky said with a shrug, hoping he could sell the lie.  “I mean, everyone here’s been really nice, and it’s not like it was that long a wait.”

“Still,” Steve started, shaking his head.  

Whatever he was about to say was cut off by the curtain opening again, this time bringing Doctor Foster into the room.  “Hey guys,” she started, giving them both a soft smile, “Steve, I’m glad to see we were able to get a hold of you, and James - I’m sorry to be seeing you here. ”  

While she seemed every bit as professional as she had been during each of Bucky’s office visits, she was a lot more personable in her light green scrubs - for some reason, that and her demeanor helped to set Bucky at ease.

“I’ll get right to the point,” she continued, “I’ve looked over everything that Thor documented and the scans we got downstairs, and between that and your lab work I see no reason to think that there’s anything wrong with the baby, or with you, James.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Bucky saw Steve’s entire body sag with relief - all he could do was nod and try his best to hold himself together.

“My best guess is that you’re experiencing some round ligament pain, like Thor said.  There’s a small chance that it could have had to do with your workouts last night, but I wouldn’t say that they were causative at all.  It’s something that a lot of our pregnant patients experience, our pregnant males, especially, so it’s really not anything I want you to worry about.”

“Should I take it easier at the gym?”  Bucky asked, his voice sounding surprisingly scratchy to his own ears.  

“Not necessarily,” Doctor Foster responded immediately, “if you’re going to be deadlifting or squatting or doing any other lifting that really involves your core, you should probably limit yourself to under fifty pounds from here on out.  Otherwise, like we said before - just keep exercising within your usual limits.  And today we’ll add, if it hurts, quit doing it.”

“You don’t need to tell me twice,” Bucky chuckled ruefully.

Doctor Foster looked between the two of them again, before continuing on, “Alright, we’ll get your discharge papers around, and I’m going to have Thor add in them a brief list on our usual exercise recommendations for omegas in their second trimesters - if you want any more specific information, don’t hesitate to give the office a call and one of the nurses will email you more resources.  Otherwise, since we were able to get everything else done today I don’t think I need to see you in the office again until we hit sixteen weeks.  I can have our schedulers give you a call tomorrow to get whatever follow-up you had changed?”

“That’d be perfect,” Steve answered, finally speaking up.  “Call Buck - er, James - and set it up as works for him, I’ll move my schedule to accommodate whatever you guys decide.”

“Will do,” Doctor Foster agreed.  She gave Bucky a few more instructions, as well as symptoms to watch out for and ones that should have him coming back to the hospital, then left when they had no further questions, telling Bucky that he was free to change back into his clothes and that Riley would be bringing him his final paperwork.

The two of them sat in awkward silence for a solid minute after she left, both still so overcome with relief that they didn’t seem to know what to do with it.

“So, uh,” Steve finally spoke up, clearing his voice when it came out hoarse and watery before continuing, “I’ll just step out and let you get dressed in peace.  I’ve gotta go apologize to the folks at the security and registration desk for losing my cool, anyway.”

“Sure,” Bucky responded, even though neither of them actually moved. “Although - given the circumstances, I’m sure you’re fine.  They’ve gotta know it’s an emotional situation, and if they’d been really worried about you, someone would’ve physically stopped you from getting back here.”

“Yeah, still,” Steve said, huffing a watery laugh as he ran his fingers through his wrecked hair.  “I’m just… I’m really glad this ended the way it did.”

His voice trailed off as he talked, and Bucky hardly needed to be an expert at reading emotions to tell that Steve was pretty close to tears again.  He watched as the alphas fingers on his free hand twitched, the others gripping tightly to the ultrasound printout like it was a lifeline.  Bucky continued to watch as the other man struggled, getting an idea that might help calm him down and pushing his own discomfort out of mind as he reached out and took Steve’s hand, squeezing his wrist gently before moving it to the swell of his abdomen.

“Steve,” he insisted softly, “we’re okay, alright?”

Bucky had never actually watched a dam break, but as Steve’s face crumpled, he had to imagine that it would look pretty similar to watching the alpha start crying.  Bucky looked away, feeling like he should probably give the man some privacy but not wanting to interrupt his moment of relief, given the fact that his hand remained exactly where Bucky had left it, long, slender fingers trembling as they cradled his unborn child.  

He had no idea how long they sat like that, but thankfully no one interrupted them - Bucky had no idea if it was because of a delay in getting the actual discharge paperwork around if whoever was tasked with sending him out had been able to hear what was going on inside of the curtain.  Finally, Steve seemed to pull himself together - his crying had stopped after a couple of deep, jagged breaths and he’d sat up straight again, giving Bucky’s abdomen one final, awkward pat before he moved his hand and wiped his face with his forearm.

“Sorry, I’m just - when I got the call I started thinking the worst, you know, and… I don’t really have a good track record with getting calls about family from the hospital, so I kinda panicked.”  

Bucky nodded along as Steve rambled, knowing the feeling better than he’d like to admit but not being able to say as much.  “And thank you, for everything,” Steve added emphatically.  “I haven’t actually said that yet.”

It was on the tip of Bucky’s tongue to reply that it was no problem, but given the fact that he was lying in a hospital bed he caught the absurdity of it before he said it, instead saying “you’re welcome,” in a surprisingly calm voice.

There must have been something in the response that convinced Steve that things really were okay, because as soon as he’d said it the alpha nodded and pushed himself out of the chair.  “For real though, I’ll let you change,” he promised, pausing at the curtain before he walked out.  “And - oh - do you you need a ride anywhere?  We’re pretty much in the middle of rush hour.”

Bucky groaned as he sat up on the bed, realizing that he was going to have to call Nat and tell her that he’d be even later than he’d initially thought.  “I’m good, I was actually just gonna go hang out with Natasha tonight.  Even with the tests coming back normal, I’d feel better if someone was around this evening, you know?”

Judging by the way that Steve’s face lit up with the news, Bucky could tell that the feeling was mutual.  “Yeah, yeah that’s a great plan,” he said with a nod, “I really am gonna go talk to the people out front, then I’ll get you a car to get you back there, since it’ll be a bitch getting a cab in that direction at this hour.”

“Sure,” Bucky replied, figuring it wasn’t worth arguing Steve’s point, “I’ll just change and get the paperwork, then be right out.”  

As soon as the curtain had closed behind him Bucky grabbed his bag of belongings and quickly changed back into his clothes.  It was pretty well inevitable that Natasha would be righteously angry with him when she found out that he’d spent the afternoon in the emergency room without calling her, but he hoped that after she’d finished chewing him out she’d at least still let him pile on the couch with her and Clint.  He waited until he was fully dressed and comfortable again, before throwing the curtain open and grabbing his phone, reminding himself again that everything was going to be perfectly fine as he hit Natasha’s contact and listened to it start ringing.