It’s pouring down rain. Not a simple little drizzle or a sprinkle, but a deluge: heavy, fat drops that soak into your bones instead of just your clothes.
“Seriously?” Steve asks his reflection. He’s in a Starbucks by his art school and he can’t quite believe it’s raining so hard in December. Honestly, he feels a little cheated. It’s December, it should be snow.
Steve heaves a sigh and adjusts his knit cap.
“You gonna make it home alright?”
Steve looks over at Sam. “I’ll be fine,” he says. “Just forgot my umbrella.”
“You sure? You’ve got your portfolio with you today. That thing’s as big as you are.”
“Shut up, it is not...” But Steve readjusts the heavy leather folder anyway. Even with it tucked into his arm pit the portfolio reaches all the way to his hip. If only the handles hadn’t broken. He fixes his cap again and then his scarf and jacket and then checks to make sure his cuffs are over his shoes so he doesn’t get water on his socks.
“You sure you don’t want to wait an hour for a ride? I’ll be off at three.”
“I’m fine, Sam.”
“Okay, okay. Text me when you get home though, so I know you didn’t get sucked down a storm drain or something.”
“Yes, mother,” Steve grunts but he salutes Sam as he nudges the door open with his shoulder.
“Tell Bucky I say hi!”
“Tell him yourself!” Steve hollers back but his voice is drowned out by the rain and wind.
It’s cold and wet and Steve is drenched in seconds. “This is terrible,” he mutters. But he soldiers on because he has to get home somehow and he doesn’t have the money for a cab.
Steve’s three blocks from home (and nearly blown over by the wind twice) when he hears what sounds like a whimper from an alleyway. He stops and turns to face the backstreet slowly.
“Hello?” he calls.
Again, a whimper. Or a whine. But definitely something sad and probably in pain.
Steve steps into the alleyway and the wind immediately cuts its howling. “Are you okay?”
There’s a clang from behind a dumpster and Steve catches a glimpse of something red.
Immediately, Steve drops his portfolio and rushes over to the end of the alley. “Are you okay?” he asks again as he tries to shove the dumpster away.
There’s another whimper and then Steve sees it, huddled down half behind the trash bin.
It’s a dragon. A tiny, cat-sized, red and gold dragon with big blue eyes and tiny little spikes going down its back all the way to four finger length spikes on its tail. It’s soaked and its scales look dull dirty and, all in all, it looks pitiful.
Steve reaches out for it. “Come’er, little guy. It’s okay, I won’t hurt you.”
The dragon doesn’t seem to believe Steve and it backs into the little gap even farther.
“No, no, no, no. Come here. I promise everything will be okay. Come’er,” Steve wiggles his fingers at the little dragon, arm straining towards the little guy.
“I promise not to hurt you. Come’er. My name’s Steve, okay? It can’t be fun in this rain. Let me take you home, okay? I have warm blankets and everything.”
The dragon seems to consider this for a moment, its head tipping to the side gently. Suddenly, it makes a little chirping sound before it flings itself at Steve’s chest, nearly knocking the man over. The dragon’s tiny claws scrabble for purchase on Steve’s wet jacket, its snout nuzzling under Steve’s chin.
“Whoa, there. Let me—” Steve unzips his coat not even halfway down before the little dragon slithers its way inside. Steve can feel its fingers curling into his shirt, making the dragon’s wings fan out over his chest, the claws on the dragon’s hind legs clutch onto his belt, and its tail curls over his left hip.
The dragon chirps again, snout under his scarf, by his ear.
“You’re like a furnace,” Steve murmurs as he zips his coat and stands. “Let me grab my portfolio and we’ll head home, okay?”
Steve gets a little chirp in response.
When Steve arrives at his apartment, he sticks his head through the door and glances around for his roommate, Bucky.
“Bucky, you home?” Steve asks as he slips through the door. He sets his portfolio down gently and, keeping a hand on the dragon’s back, moves into the main room. “Bucks?”
His only response is a chirp from his jacket.
“Awesome.” Steve’s shoulders relax, “Bucky’s not home. He doesn’t like it when I bring home strays. Let’s head to the bathroom and get dried off, yeah?”
Keeping a hand on the dragon’s back, Steve bounds down the hallway to the bathroom.
“Okay, towels first,” Steve says, flicking open the cabinet by the sink. He grabs a few fluffy, shockingly orange towels and sets them on the counter.
Steve pulls his sopping hat off and drops it in the sink while his other hand unzips his coat. He reaches for the small dragon but the creature holds onto Steve shirt, not wanting to move.
“Come on, time for fluffy towels. They’re warm, too. I promise.”
The dragon stares at him for a long moment before it slowly releases its little claws from his shirt. Gently, Steve sets it on the counter. Steve tosses his jacket into the tub before grabbing a towel.
“Better?” He asks, running the cloth over the dragon’s wet scales. He’s careful with the spines on the dragon’s back and dabs at the fragile membrane of the wings. He drapes the towel over the dragon.
“Give me a second, I have an idea!” Steve goes back to the cabinet and rummages around for one of Bucky’s hair drier. “It’s loud but it’ll feel awesome, okay?”
The dragon wiggles his head out from under the orange fabric and watches as Steve plugs the drier in. It chirps.
Steve flicks the hair drier on and looks at the dragon. “Come’re,” he gestures.
The dragon, bringing the towel, traipses across the counter. Steve angles the drier onto the dragon’s chest. It trills excitedly, tiny claws grabbing the barrel and directing it under a wing.
“Better?” Steve asks again after a moment.
The dragon moves, butting its head against Steve’s chest and makes a purring noise deep in its chest.
Steve laughs. “I’m glad! I do have to ask though—not that I expect an answer—but are you a boy dragon or a girl dragon?”
The dragon gives Steve a look that he mostly sees on Bucky’s face.
“Don’t look at me like that! I can’t tell! I’m not dragon kind!”
The dragon takes pity on him soon enough though and looks around. It hops off the counter and lands on the floor in a graceless, towel-tangled heap.
“Shit! Are you okay?”
But the dragon shakes it off with a little chirp.
“Okay,” Steve says, clicking the hair drier off and setting it on the counter. “I’m gonna dry off while you… look around. Okay?”
The dragon chirps again before it moves to the basket under the sink, the one full of cleaning supplies and hand tools. The dragon grabs the basket with its front claws and tips it over. It picks through the mess until it find a wrench. Picking the tool up in its snout, the dragon bounds over to Steve’s feet and sets it down with another little chirp.
Steve looks down, pushing the towel to his shoulders. “A wrench?” he asks, raising an eyebrow. “That doesn’t tell me much, little dragon.”
The dragon chirps and places a little claw on the handle.
The dragon chirps.
“Still doesn’t tell me much but I’m guessing you mean ‘boy,’ right?”
Another happy chirp.
Steve smiles down at the little dragon. “You always gonna be that tiny or are you just a baby?”
The chirp Steve gets for that is definitely not a happy chirp. Steve laughs and pulls at his shirt and toes off his shoes.
“I guess I shouldn’t make fun of you for that. I’m always gonna be tiny, too.”
The dragon chirps again but he also butts his head against Steve’s calf.
“Thanks, I guess. Being comforted by a dragon, won’t Bucky be impressed?” Steve mutters as he finishes shucking the last of his clothes. He tosses all of his wet things into the tub and grabs another towel to wrap around his naked waist.
Steve’s halfway out the door when he stops and looks over his should, a dark blush across his cheeks. “You… you aren’t one of those dragons that can turn into a person, are you?”
The dragon chirps and bounds out the door instead of answering.
The dragon is already clawing at Steve’s bedroom door when Steve finally leaves the bathroom, cheeks back to their normal color.
“Alright, alright, cool your jets. It’s just a bedroom.” But as soon as Steve opens the door the dragon’s already slithered in and is exploring every corner. He’s a little red blur, going from under Steve’s bed to on top of it to his drafting desk to his chest of drawers to in his chest of drawers to his books shelf and then, finally, back to on top of Steve’s bed where he curls up on Steve’s pillow.
“Jesus, you’re a fast little thing, aren’t you?” By now, Steve’s dressed in a pair of sweat pants and two hooded sweaters.
“Come on; let’s clean up the mess you left in the bathroom, yeah?”
The dragon leaps off the bed and follows Steve back into the bathroom. Steve collects his pocket contents from his wet clothes, wrings them out, and then gathers them up to throw in the wash. He throws one of the used towels on the floor to collect the puddles and it’s then that the dragon decides to help.
The little dragon jumps on the towel and pushes his head and shoulders into it, his hind legs pushing against the tiles and he slides halfway across the bathroom.
Steve’s busy putting the bucket of supplies back together so doesn’t notice until the little dragon runs the towel into his ankle.
“Ow! What’re you—”
But the dragon gives him a look and Steve can’t help but laugh.
“Alright, alright. We’re almost done. Bring me that other towel, will you?”
And, surprisingly, the dragon does.
“Thanks,” Steve says slowly. “You know, you’re pretty smart. Do you have a name or, actually, a family that’s missing you?”
The dragon tips his head to the side, stares, and then chirps again.
“Is that a no?”
The dragon chirps.
“Alright, later then. Let’s go. Washer’s in the hallway.” Steve scoops up the towels, clothes, and the dragon, and makes his way to the hall closet where the washer and drier are kept. He places the dragon on the drier and throws everything into the washer. Once that’s started, he looks over at the red and gold creature and asks, “You hungry?”
The dragon chirps happily and launches himself as Steve again.
“Okay, that’s a ‘yes.’” Steve laughs, placing hand on the dragons back to hold him in place. He rubs his thumb against the dragon’s scales and walks into the kitchen.
“What do you want to eat? I have—” But before Steve can finish the front door opens and Bucky walks through it, just as drenched as Steve and the dragon had been.
Steve stills, one hand on the little dragon, the other on the fridge door.
Bucky’s eyes narrow and his lips twist into a frown.
“What,” Bucky asks, “is that?”
“Is that a dragon, Steve? Is that a dragon, Steve?”
“He was all alone in an alley way and he was crying and it’s pouring outside. He can’t go back out there.”
Steve pouts, “Bucky.”
“A dragon, Steve! Those things are dangerous! This is worse than that angry raccoon you brought home three years ago.”
“You had to get rabies shots, Steve.”
“But look at him! I can’t put him outside! He’ll drown. And he’s cold and hungry!”
The dragon chirps, agreeing.
Steve pouts, “But he’s so little, Bucks. … Like me.”
Bucky glares. “He’s also a dragon. He’ll be fine.”
“But what if he’s just a baby? I can’t put a baby dragon out on the streets! Not in weather like this! Not this time of year! Dragons need warmth and it’s thirty-seven degrees outside. And raining.”
“Sam says hi!”
“What? I—” Bucky blushes. “Don’t change the subject, Steve.”
“He was wearing that blue shirt you like.”
“I’m keeping it!” Steve grabs blindly into the fridge and runs to his room.
“It’s only staying the night!” Bucky hollers down the hallway but Steve knows that if the dragon stays the night it’ll stay the week and then it’ll stay for longer.
“Yay,” Steve murmurs into the dragon’s neck. “And look, leftovers!”
The dragon chirps.
When Steve wakes up the next day, the dragon is curled up under the blankets next to his stomach.
“Hey little guy,” Steve says, still sleepy.
The dragon yawns, showing his bright, sharp teeth. Steve rubs under the dragon’s chin with his knuckles.
The dragon chirps, scurrying off the bed and out Steve’s door. Steve hears another chirp before he even makes it from under the covers.
When he makes it into the kitchen Bucky’s already there cooking breakfast, his long hair pulled into a ponytail. The dragon is standing on his hind legs, his claws gripping onto the edge of a cabinet, neck stretched out and nose sniffing at the stove.
“Hey, you little shit,” Bucky says.
“You talking to me or the dragon?” Steve asks, rubbing at his stubble.
“I don’t know what Sam sees in you.”
Bucky blushes, “Shut up.”
“You’re coffee always sucks, Bucky.”
“Then you make it.”
“You’re the one that wakes up first.”
“Not my fault. I’ve bought you six alarm clocks.”
Steve grunts instead of answering. He moves over the stool at the bar and sits.
“Come’er, Baby,” he calls.
The dragon looks at Steve and then bounds over. Steve bends and plucks the little red ball of energy off the floor and sets him on the counter. The dragon butts his head against Steve’s chin.
“How’s your arm feeling?”
Steve glances out the window and sees it’s snowing.
“Your arm always hurts in the winter, Bucks. You don’t have to lie to me.”
Bucky grunts. “It’s fine, Steve.” He raises his left arm, the metal fingers flexing and waving. “Stark Cybernetic Prosthetics is an amazing branch of S.I.”
The dragon chirps.
Steve smiles, “See, Bucks? There’s no reason to hate Baby. He agrees with you!”
“I said he agrees with you.”
“No, what did you call him?”
“Uh…” Steve blushes. “I, uh, called him ‘Baby.’ He… He doesn’t really respond to anything else.”
Bucky rubs at his forehead with his flesh hand. “You’re an idiot.”
Steve blushes and mutters, “Am not.”
“Mmmhmm,” Bucky hums sarcastically.
Steve blows his friend a raspberry and then picks up Baby and moves to the couch with him. He lies down and Baby curls up on his chest.
“News or cartoons?” Steve asks as he picks up the remote
“News it is.” Steve flicks the TV on.
“Steve, do you work today?”
“No. It’s my Friday off.”
Steve hears a “no school on Fridays” muttered from the kitchen and goes back to the news.
“Tony Stark is still missing,” he says.
“What is that?” Bucky asks, poking his head from the kitchen. “One week? Two?”
“Ten days, apparently.”
“His mom sure looks upset.”
Baby whines on Steve’s chest and Steve runs a hand down the dragon’s spine covered back.
“Do they still suspect kidnapping?” Bucky asks. He sets a plate full of food on the coffee table as he passes, heading for the armchair.
“Dunno, they haven’t got a ransom message yet.” Steve grabs his plate off the table and moves to sit up, Baby rolling off his chest with a disgruntled chirp. Steve grabs a sausage off the plate and holds it out to the dragon.
Baby trills, accepts Steve’s apology, and snatches the sausage out of Steve’s hand before taking it to the other end of the couch to eat. Baby does this for all of breakfast, snatching food from Steve’s fingers and walking off to eat it before coming back for more. The dragon lets out a happy little trill every time Steve offers him more food.
“Are we doing anything today?” Bucky asks as he collects their empty plates.
“I don’t think so. Oh! Hey, will you grab me my phone?”
“Where is it?”
But Baby has already launched himself off the couch and is scrambling down the hallway. The two men watch as the dragon disappears into Steve’s room and then, seconds later, come tearing back with Steve’s phone clutched in his little claws over his head.
“He’s like an awkward red bat,” Bucky says when Baby tosses the phone in Steve’s lap.
“He’s cute though.”
“Let’s see,” Steve says, opening the browser on his phone, “what do dragons need to live?”
“‘Fun Bearded Dragon Facts and Information,’ ‘Bearded Dragons, Lizards,’ ‘Are Dragons Real?’” Steve hums and looks over at Baby, who’s sitting next to him on the couch now. “Those don’t really sound helpful. Think you can manage to tell me what kind of dragon you are?”
Baby chirps and nuzzles his head into Steve’s thigh before rolling onto his back and exposing his soft underbelly.
“You’re like a cat,” Steve says, rubbing at Baby’s soft gold belly scales, “except I’m not allergic to you. Maybe I should google ‘dragon expert instead.’”
Baby chirps and grabs the remote to play with the buttons.
“That’s weird,” Steve says hours later. “Everything I’ve found says that for Baby’s colors and characteristics, he should be the size of a house, at least. Cat and dog sized dragons are usually brown or green. Earthy colors.”
“What if he’s a baby? Like, an actual baby dragon?”
“A kitten? No, he’d be white and his wings wouldn’t be grown in yet. It says here he’s what’s called a ‘Red Imperial Dragon’ but with his tail spikes longer than his snout but shorter than his wings, he’s probably only in early adulthood. But just… really, really small. Red Imperials can grow up to fifty feet tall, Bucks.” Steve looks over at the dragon curled up on three of Steve’s old sweaters. “What happened to you, Baby? Why are you so small?”
“Maybe he’s a midget?”
Baby sleepily chirps his agreement.
Bucky drops his book on his face with a groan.
“We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry, Baby,” Steve says to the dragon.
It’s three weeks later and Steve can’t find his glasses.
“Bucky!” Steve yells as he rummages around in his nightstand drawer. “Have you seen my glasses?”
From the kitchen, Bucky hollers, “Bathroom counter last I saw!”
“Really? I thought I brought them into my room,” but Steve goes to look anyway. “They’re not there!”
“Your drafting table?”
“No, already looked.”
“I dunno. Ask Baby?”
“Baby? Why would Baby know where my glasses are?”
Bucky walks into the hallway and shrugs. “I dunno. I needed my crescent set yesterday and I sorta gave up and asked Baby and he disappeared for a bit and then come over with it in his mouth.” Bucky reaches up and plays with the chain of his dog tags.
Bucky shrugs again, hand tightening around the metal in his fist. “Yeah.”
Steve’s mouth twists. “Where even is Baby?”
“Your underwear drawer probably.”
Bucky wonders off down the hall, “Likes your lacey knickers.”
Baby, as it turns out, is curled up under all six of Steve’s blankets and the heated pad (which is set on ‘high’) that Steve uses when the cold makes his joints hurt.
“Hey, Baby,” Steve coos as he reaches a hand out and rubs at Baby’s cheek. “Have you seen my glasses? I need them for work today.”
Baby gives a little sleepy chirp as he crawls out from his warm miniature den. Steve watches as the dragon hops off the edge of the bed and then slinks under it. A moment later, Baby pops back out, a little dust covered, but with Steve’s glasses in his snout.
Steve raises an eyebrow at the dragon as he slides his glasses in a pocket for later. “What else you got down there?” He asks as he moves to his knees to look under the bed.
Baby chirps happily and then slips back into the darkness. Steve can hear clanking and he has to dart away to avoid being hit by: five spoons, a wrench, Bucky’s crescent set, a screwdriver, two calculators, all four of the missing remotes, a ladle, a tire iron, two pairs of scissors, a hole punch, a shiny little bookmark Sam gave Bucky for his birthday, their teaspoon/tablespoon set, seven of Bucky’s black hair ties, the house phone, a can opener, their missing cheese grater, all of Steve’s paint brushes, and the apple sectioner.
Baby darts out and grabs the glasses from Steve’s pocket. The dragon gently places them on top of the pile he’s made. Then, he carefully crawls to the top, drapes his winds over the pile, and gives a happy little chirp.
“Uh…” Steve starts, mostly just amazed by the amount of stuff Baby’s accumulated. Then it hits him.
“Is this your hoard, Baby?”
Baby chirps, preening.
“And these are all…” Steve rests his cheek on his fist, thinking. “…Tools. They’re all tools. Aren’t they?”
Steve reaches out and scratches under Baby’s chin. “A little tool hoard, huh?”
Baby grabs Steve’s glasses and offers them back.
“Thanks,” Steve says, taking them from the little dragon. “You should probably give Bucky his things back, Baby.”
The dragon pouts. Somehow.
“You can keep the extra things but if it’s not mine or if it’s needed, you should give it back.”
Baby whines, drooping.
“Don’t be like that.”
He whines again, gathering his things close. He looks at Steve, his dragon eyes seeming impossibly big.
“Don’t look at me like that…” Steve rubs a hand over his face. “Goddamnit, bullied around by a pint sized dragon. At least give Bucky back his bookmark, okay? He doesn’t remember it right now but he’ll miss it in a few days when he’s feeling better.”
Baby perks up and looks about for the shiny metal falcon clip. He finds it and trills, holding it out with both clawed hands to Steve.
“Thank you.” Steve leans down and gives Baby a kiss to the top of his head. “I have to get to work; be good for Bucky, okay? He’s wearing his dog tags today and that’s not really a good sign.”
Baby chirps and hops off his hoard. He runs up to Steve and butts his head into the man’s shin. Baby chirps again.
Baby chirps and darts back to his hoard. He starts shoving it back under Steve’s bed. He almost doesn’t notice when Steve finishes bundling himself up. Baby sits in the middle of the room, waiting for Steve to say goodbye. But when Steve reaches for the doorknob without saying anything, Baby gives a frantic little chirp.
“Oh, almost forgot.” Steve says to himself. He walks back over and bends low. Baby rears up, claws clutching Steve’s scarf, and rubs his face against Steve’s jaw.
“Love you, too, Baby. Behave and I’ll be home soon. Then we’ll have Christmas, okay?”
Baby chirps again and watches as Steve leaves a crack in the door for the tiny dragon. Baby dives back under the bed to organize his hoard.
Distantly, he hears, “Here, Bucky. I found the bookmark Sam gave you in my room.”
Baby pokes his head back out when he hears Steve’s sigh.
“I’m headed to work, okay? It’s Christmas Eve.”
“Really? Okay, have fun. Bye.”
“Goodbye, Bucky. Don’t forget to feed Baby!”
The door closes.
Baby creeps over to the bedroom door and sticks his head out. He chirps.
Bucky chirps back.
Baby runs out of the room and straight to where Bucky’s curled up on the couch. He hops up onto Bucky’s chest and kneads at Bucky’s chest with his front claws.
“You ever feel like you’ve forgotten something important?”
Bucky doesn’t respond, just twists the bookmark around in his metal prosthetic hand, studying it.
Baby chirps again, head settling on Bucky’s shoulder.
When Steve returns from work, he feels bone tired and like he could sleep for days.
“Hey, Baby,” he greets as the dragon runs down the hallway to him, chirping the entire distance. He scoops the dragon up and walks into the kitchen where he can hear Bucky and someone else talking.
“Jesus, Steve, you’d think a book store wouldn’t be so bad on Christmas Eve.”
Steve smiles, “Hi, Sam. Didn’t think I’d see you today. Bucks was wearing his tags.”
Sam shrugs and reaches for his beer. “Bucky called around noon and said he was bored.”
“No, I said, ‘This goddamn dragon won’t stop rubbing his fucking face on my head, come over and watch it go crazy for a laser pointer.’”
Steve looks down at where Baby is butting his head against his chest. “Where they being mean to you?”
Baby looks up and chirps, eyes wide.
Sam tips his head back and laughs while Bucky mutters, “He’s a goddamn liar.”
Steve laughs as well. “I’m gonna change and then I’ll be back out. I’m glad you’re feeling better, Bucky.”
Baby watches over Steve’s shoulder as Sam asks, “How bad was it?”
Baby hears, “I couldn’t remember a few things this morning.”
But whatever Sam was going to say is cut off by Steve closing his bedroom door.
Baby hops from Steve’s chest onto the bed and chirps again.
“What?” Steve asks as he toes his shoes off. “You want my glasses back?”
Baby trills excitedly when Steve hands the frames over.
When Steve and Baby return to the kitchen, Sam and Bucky are still talking about the incident that gave Bucky his Purple Heart.
“Are we still volunteering at the VA center tomorrow?” Steve cuts in.
“Planning on it,” Sam and Bucky say together.
But when Steve wakes the next day he can barely breathe without hacking up a lung.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, Sam,” Bucky says into his phone as he paces by the couch that Steve’s collapsed onto.
Baby gives a little worried chirp before he hops onto the couch with Steve. The dragon trills gently and bumps his face into Steve’s chin.
“I’m fine, Baby, I—” but Steve is coughing wetly into the blanket Bucky draped over him and Baby gives a worried little trill.
“—stay home with him,” Bucky runs a hand through his loose hair as he passes by the coffee table again.
Steve whines and buries his face in his pillow. “Bucky, you have to go. The center! They’ll be short staffed if you don’t.”
Bucky glares and presses the phone into his shoulder. “I can’t exactly go and take care of you.”
“You don’t have to,” Steve coughs out. “Baby can fetch me things. You should go help Sam and the guys.”
“I am not leaving you here with just a dragon to help you—”
“Mrs. Carter across the hall—”
“That’s bullshit. Peggy’s grandma is, like, a hundr—”
“Not helping! Look—”
But Steve is busy trying to smother his coughs in the couch again.
“Fuck,” Bucky mutters. He raises the phone back to his ear and says, “I’ll call you back, Sam.”
Steve doesn’t hear what Sam says to that but when Bucky hangs up his cheeks are red.
“Just leave me my phone and some water and crackers and I’ll text you every five minutes and you can go see Sam and Dum Dum and Jim and then hopefully I’ll be feeling better by dinner time.”
With a sigh, Bucky plops down onto the coffee table. “I can’t just leave you here alone.”
“I’m not alone, Bucks.”
Baby chirps excitedly and places a clawed hand on Bucky’s knee. He chirps again.
“And it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve been sick, either.” As if to accent this point, Steve coughs again.
“If you’re sure—”
“Yes. I’m just gonna sleep and watch TV all day.”
Bucky stands slowly. “Okay, I’ll grab you your sick bag.”
Steve groans but doesn’t say anything as Bucky goes to rummage in the hall closet for the duffle he keeps full of tissues, pills, water bottles, crackers, and generally anything else Bucky feels Steve might need close at hand.
Steve rolls his eyes but says, “Thanks,” anyway.
When Bucky finally leaves for the VA center, Steve is half asleep on the couch with Baby curled under the blankets against his chest. The dragon purrs and nuzzles his snout next to Steve’s neck.
“Yeah,” Steve slurs, “love you, too.”
“—evidence that Obadiah Stane, Howard Stark’s close friend and confidante, may have had something to do with the disappearance of nineteen year old Anthony Stark, who has been missing for almost thirty-two days now.”
“The information came from James Rhodes, childhood friend of Tony Stark, who has said—”
Baby trills, bouncing on the edge of the couch, little claws gripping the piping of the cushion for stability. The dragon tills again.
“Baby,” Steve starts, but Baby launches himself at Steve’s chest, nuzzling and chirping. Steve smiles down at the wriggling mess of dragon on his torso.
“I’m excited, too,” Steve finally says. Baby seems to settle, blinking slowly at Steve. “I hope they find him. I hope he’s okay, too. I remember when Bucky was MIA after his Humvee was— It… it’s not pleasant. Waiting and hoping it—” But Baby places a tiny paw on Steve lips and gives a small chirp.
“Yeah,” Steve agrees, raising a hand to rub at his eyes. He clears his throat and looks back down at Baby. He asks, “You hungry?”
Baby perks up and chirps, scurrying off Steve and darting toward the kitchen.
Steve pulls the blanket off and stands slowly, weary of vertigo. When none comes, he snatches his cell phone off the table and follows Baby’s sad chirps into the kitchen.
“What do you want to eat?” He asks as he opens the refrigerator door.
Baby darts inside the machine, chirping and sniffing at the dishes. He comes back out just as fast, though, because it’s cold in there.
Steve laughs, “You are beyond scatterbrained sometimes, Baby.”
“How about yesterday’s ham?”
“With mashed potatoes and carrots?”
“With extra ham, for you?”
Baby trills and butts his head against Steve’s ankle.
Steve returns to the couch once he’s finished reheating two plates of food. He set’s Baby’s plate of cubed ham on the coffee table and curls back up into his blankets.
He’s halfway through his own food when his phone goes off. He’s not surprised to find it’s Bucky calling.
“What’s up? Did Sam finally convince you to let him drag you into the supply closet? Are we gonna gossip about it? Is he a good kisser?”
Steve laughs. “I’m fine, Bucky. I feel better than when I went to bed last night.”
“You sure?” Bucky asks. “You sure you’re not actually dead and I’m talking to your evil twin, Scumbag Steve?”
“Gross. And I’m fine. I could probably walk down there and join you guys.”
“You will not.What have you done all day?”
“Slept. Woke up to Baby watching the news. Did you hear?”
“Baby was watching the news? And no. Hear what?”
“The police think Obadiah Stane has something to do with Tony Stark’s disappearance.”
“Mr. Stane?” Bucky paused and seemed to think for a long moment. “I can see that. He’s… unsettling. I’ve only met him once or twice at the Stark Vet C.P. Clinic.”
Steve hummed, stabbing at his food. “How is it down there? Jim start any fights?”
“Thankfully, no. We had a great turn out though. We’re cleaning up the kitchens and the rec rooms now and then we’re taking the left overs to the homeless shelter. So hopefully we’ll be done around five or six? And then we can all crash Gabe’s Christmas dinner.”
Steve laughs, “Looking forward to it. I’m probably gonna nap again before then though.”
“Whatever, you’re just lazy. Ass.”
Steve blows a raspberry. “Dickbutt.”
“That’s it,” Bucky says. “I’m child-locking our internet.”
“I don’t know if you can do that.”
“I’ll find a way.”
“Get back to work.”
“You just faked being sick to get out of cleaning.”
“Bye, Bucky. Give Sam a kiss for me.”
“Stay out of trouble. I’ll see you later.”
Steve tosses his phone on the coffee table and when he looks up Baby’s staring at him, head tilted to the side.
“What?” Steve asks.
Baby gives half chirp and reaches for Steve’s knee.
“Come’er. You can hop that.”
But Baby flexes his paw and reaches again, arm wavering and not quite getting Steve’s knee.
Steve gives up first and places a leg on the coffee table for Baby to crawl across into his lap. Baby rubs his face against Steve’s skinny ribs and lets out a low purr before curling back up against Steve’s side.
“Me, too,” Steve pulls the blanket back over both of them.
When Bucky gets back to the apartment, Steve’s showered and ready to leave.
“You do look a lot better,” Buck admits grudgingly.
Steve smiles, “Told ya, let’s go.”
“Got your inhaler?”
Steve turns to Baby, who’s sitting on the key table by the door. Baby chirps and sits on his hind legs to rub his face against Steve’s jaw in a goodbye.
“Behave while we’re gone, Baby. We’ll be back soon.”
Baby chirps and Steve and Bucky leave for Gabe’s dinner.
Later that night, when Steve and Bucky return, they’re too busy laughing about Monty and Gabe’s houseplant to notice there weren’t any welcoming chirps.
Steve wakes in the middle of the night feeling like his stomach is on fire. He jerks awake and throws back the covers because the pain isn’t in his stomach, it’s on his stomach. He looks down and, by the light of the street lamps coming through the window, he sees Baby, twitching and whimpering in his sleep.
“Baby,” Steve reaches for the dragon, laying a gentle hand on his back. The small dragon is burning up, almost unbearably hot. “Baby,” Steve breaths.
Baby whimpers and clutches at Steve’s bed sheets.
Steve bursts into Bucky’s room with a shout of, “Bucky!”
Bucky jumps, hand slapping onto his nightstand for a weapon that isn’t there. “What—What?”
“What?” Bucky pushes his hair out of his face and stares at Steve like maybe he’s crazy.
“Baby’s sick. He’s burning up and whimpering and I don’t—I don’t—”
Bucky’s out of the bed and across the room before he even thinks about it. He pulls Steve into a hug. “It’s okay, alright? Let’s go check on, Baby.” Bucky keeps an arm around Steve’s shoulders as they make their way back to Steve’ room.
Baby is still in the middle of Steve’s bed, whimpering and clawing at the sheets. He’s a tiny little ball of heat and Bucky can feel it before his even tries to touch the dragon.
“Go grab my laptop, Steve,” Bucky orders. He reaches out with metal hand and touches Baby’s cheek. Gently, he asks, “You alright there?”
Baby whimpers again but wraps himself around Bucky’s cool forearm as best he can.
Steve bursts back into the room, one hand flying across the keyboard.
“Okay,” Steve breathes, “the internet says dragons naturally run hot—blah, blah, blah, I knew that—but when they run especially hot it can only mean a few things; illness, pregnancy, or magical interference. If it is preg—go down in a few da—illness or magical interference try to lower the temp—lukewarm rag across the back, not cold—could be a sock to the system and cause further complications. If it doesn’t get better in twenty-four hours—most likely magical—call specialist. Seven-one-eight—”
“Washcloth,” Bucky says and it’s enough to snap through Steve’s anxiety.
Steve dumps the laptop on the foot of the bed and runs to the bathroom.
Baby whines again, wiggling against Bucky’s arm.
“You’ll be okay,” Bucky murmurs, moving his hand to press his cool palm to the dragon’s stomach. There’s a delicate knit-membrane, under the outer micro-thin layer of adamantium, in Bucky’s prosthetic that registers temperature and pressure, and it’s currently sending a signal to Bucky telling him the dragon’s skin temperature is around one hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit. The internal temperature is probably closer to one-thirty-five and that is definitely worrying.
Steve comes back with a wet hand towel and a pitcher of lukewarm water. It sloshes as he sets it on his nightstand but he’s too busy climbing onto his pillows so he can easily drape the clothe over the dragon’s back and wings
Baby squeaks and wiggles.
“He’s really hot, Steve.”
Steve squeaks, too.
They spend the rest of the morning changing the towel and trying to comfort the distressed dragon. Bucky falls asleep with his arm awkwardly twisted on the bed more than once. Steve sandwiches himself upside down between the wall and his mattress and doesn’t even doze. Baby occasionally butts his head against whichever part of Steve he can reach to comfort the man.
By the time noon passes, Baby actually seems worse and Steve breaks. He calls the dragon specialist while Baby cries in the background.
“Eir’s Dragon Services. Jane speaking.”
“Hi! Uhm, my name’s Steve. My dragon, he’s really sick and I don’t know what to do. I saw your page online and I’ve been trying to lower his temperature but he just keeps getting hotter and I’m getting really worried. Do you make house calls or is there somewhere can take him or schedule an appointment or something? I’m—he’s just… he’s only… tiny.”
There’s a long pause before Jane responds. “Uhm, let me transfer you to our medical team, okay? I’m actually just temping for my girlfriend soo…”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll wait,” Steve says, running hand through his hair as he paces next to his bed. Bucky’s still curled on the floor but he’s awake and watching Steve freak out.
Suddenly, a man’s voice is on the line. “Loki speaking,” is all he says.
“Hi, my name’s Steve my dr—”
Steve does, mostly out of shock. “Wh-what?”
“Get closer.” There’s a moment when neither speak, then, “What kind of dragon do you have?”
“I—I don’t know. I found him behind a dumpster on the third. He’s only been here for a month.”
“What’s your address?”
Steve rattles it off before he can think better of it.
“We’ll be there in twenty minutes.” And then, to someone else, “Thor, grab your coat, we’re making a house call.”
“So you’ll come see him? Now?”
“Yes, twenty minutes,” and then the line goes dead.
Steve takes a deep breath while he stares at the phone in his hand. He looks up at Bucky and tries to give a reassuring smile.
Bucky tries to mirror it.
It’s a very tense twenty minutes.
When the doorbell rings, Steve’s across the entire apartment in a flash, door wrenched open before he even checks the peephole.
There are two very tall men in his doorway, one just slightly shorter than the other. The brunet, the shorter one, breezes past Steve without a word and he heads straight for the source of the whimpering. The taller, blond one gives Steve a wide smile and steps inside.
“My name is Thor,” he says. “Please forgive Loki, he worries.” His voice is accented, like English isn’t his first language.
Steve nods, “Baby, the dragon, is this way,” and he closes the door and leads Thor down the hall.
Loki is sitting on Steve’s bed, hand hovering over Baby’s bare back, damp towel tossed towards Steve’s pillow.
Baby is growling, a low rattle Steve’s never heard before. Bucky looks just as uncomfortable, but he hasn’t moved because Baby is still on his arm.
“You said you found him?” Loki asks, surprisingly gentle.
“Y-yes.” Steve glances at Thor, second guessing Loki’s even voice. But Thor just smiles from where he’s leaning in the doorway. “In an alleyway down by the art school campus.”
Loki nods, humming, “Something is very wrong then.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
Loki looks at Steve, then at Bucky, as if appraising them. Then he says, “He shouldn’t be this small. He’s covered in a dark magic not his own and yet both of you are covered in his,” he nods to Baby, “red magic. Do you know what this means?”
Steve shakes his head.
Loki nods, “I’d thought not.” He shifts, laying his torso on the bed so he’s face level with Baby. He speaks directly to the dragon, “I will not hurt you. As a promise between dragons, I am here to help you. The growling is making you weak.”
Steve and Bucky both watch as Baby stares as Loki, then, slowly, he stops his warning snarl.
“Thank you,” Loki says. He holds a hand out and Baby gently reaches his snout out to sniff at the offered limb. Baby suddenly pitches forward and butts his head into Loki’s palm. Haltingly, the dragon moves off of Bucky’s metal arm and collapses against Loki’s side.
“Is he gonna be okay?” Bucky asks, standing now.
“That is yet to be seen.” Loki rubs a hand down Baby’s spined back and raises his hand, flicking his fingers like they have dust on them. “He’s covered in a dark spell. It’s keeping him small and weak. His natural red magic was defending him but very recently he used a great portion of it on you two. I can see it, hanging around your mind,” he points to Bucky, “and your torso,” he points to Steve. “He must care about you two a great deal, to risk so much.”
Steve feels like crying. “Why?” he asks. “Why would he do that? What did he do?”
Loki looks at them like maybe they’re idiots. “He’s healed you. And it’s killing him.”
Steve feels like the world is tipping sideways.
“My memory problems… your cold…” Bucky places a hand on Steve’s shoulder.
Steve doesn’t realize he’s crying until he can’t see the room he’s standing in. “I,” he chokes out, “I didn’t ask—ask for that. Why—why would—? He might die and—”
Bucky pulls Steve into a hug, tucking his chin over Steve’s head.
“It’s more than that,” Loki says evenly. “If it was a cold it wouldn’t have had such a problem but—you call him Baby, correct?—Baby didn’t just heal your cold. It was your heart, your anemia, your asthma, your scoliosis, your color-blindness. How have you not noticed? He’s give you so much.”
“How do you—” Steve chokes out, pulling back from Bucky and rubbing at his face. “How do you know?”
Loki’s lips quirk, “I am dragon-kind, too. A world serpent. And Baby has told me as much.” He runs a finger under the tiny dragon’s chin and Baby tips his head tiredly into the touch. “He refuses to turn back into his human form, though. He isn’t sure he can turn back, he feels so weak. He says the spell kept him from changing forms. But the spell itself is broken. Its aftereffects, though, are still poisoning him.”
Loki sighs, “And he says you won’t love him if he does take his human form.”
“That’s not true at all!” Steve moves quickly, sitting on the edge of the bed. He runs a hand over Baby’s too hot skin. “I just want him to get better. He’s my friend, not my pet.”
Loki gives a half smile and straightens up. “Have you always known he had a human form?”
Steve shrugs, “I looked it up when I first found him and for his coloring, he should have a human form. I didn’t want to pressure him if he was scared or uncomfortable. If he just needed a place to stay for a bit, it’s no trouble to me.” Steve trails the side of his thumb down Baby’s long neck.
Baby croons and falls into the touch.
“Will he heal better in his human form?” Steve asks.
Loki nods. “Dragon form takes more magic than human form. He needs to recoup his magic as fast as possible to fight the last of the dark spell. Once his magic is fully restored, he should be completely better. And back to his full size in his dragon form, too.”
“Then you should change back,” Steve says. “You should change into your human form so you can heal and then we can all go out for drinks or something. Just…” Steve feels like he can’t breathe. “Don’t die.”
Loki moves off the bed and over to his co-worker. They whisper to each other in their native language and Bucky goes to sit in the chair at Steve’s drafting table.
“Baby,” Bucky says, “I’ll go on that goddamn date with Sam if you survive this.”
Baby gives a weak chirp and, with a shudder, there’s suddenly a very naked man on Steve’s bed instead of a small dragon. The man has his face buried between the mattress and Steve’s thigh. His skin is flushed red and his chocolate hair is matted with sweat.
“I’m going to call an ambulance,” Loki says, pulling out his phone.
Steve nods. He hesitates but after a moment he runs his hand through the man’s hair. “Are you okay?”
The man chirps, sounding just like his dragon form, and it’s so ridiculous that Steve laughs.
“Can someone—pants?” the man asks, voices slurred. He moves shakily, pushing himself up onto his hands and folding his legs under himself. He flops over and leans against the wall, eyes closed, face bright red.
Bucky stands before Steve can and nods. “Yeah, one sec.” He grabs one of Steve’s pairs of sweatpants out of his chest of drawers and hands the bundle of fabric to the man.
“Ambulance should be here in about ten minutes,” Loki says. “I’ve told them to take him to Ddraig Goch Hospital; they specialize in dragon kind.”
“Thanks,” Steve says to Loki. He looks back at the man, who’s just holding the pants on his lap instead of moving to put them on. Steve can’t help but notice the guy’s lashes are incredibly dark. It’s as he’s studying the man’s face that Steve realizes he knows who this man is.
Embarrassingly, all Steve says is, “Oh, shit. You! It’s you! You’re okay!” and he lurches forward to tackle the man in a hug before he thinks better of it.
Tony Stark chirps in surprise.
It’s a week later and Steve walks out of his work to see a smartly dressed red-headed woman waiting for him by a sleek black car. He tries not to groan, expecting her to be another detective or reporter here to question him. He did have Tony Stark in his apartment for a month without telling anyone while the guy was MIA.
It’s not like he knew that though.
The woman smiles, “Steve Rogers, right?”
Steve nods, “I don’t have time to talk.” He tries to walk past her, adjusting his scarf but she keeps pace with him.
He doesn’t miss how the car pulls away from the curb to follow.
“I’m not here to question you, Mister Rogers.” She brushes a strand of hair behind an ear. “My name is Pepper Potts. I’m Tony Stark’s personal assistant.”
Steve looks at her: looks at the way she holds herself, a small little smile playing on her lips, her hands in nice navy blue gloves and a cream colored coat. She’s not wearing heals.
“Alright,” he says, coming to a stop. He holds a hand out, “Steve Rogers.”
Pepper smiles and shakes his hand, quick and firm. “First of all, I want to say thank you for taking care of Tony. He can be a handful. So, thank you.”
Steve smiles because, yeah, Baby was a handful. He’d steal socks from the laundry just so you’d chase him or burrow into under blankets just to jump out at you as you passed by.
“Anytime,” Steve shrugs.
“Good,” she says. “I was wondering if you’d have time right now.”
“Time for what?”
“Tony.” She tucks her hair behind an ear again. “He’s asking to see you.”
“Oh.” Steve stalls. He looks down, pulling his scarf up to his nose. He knows he’s blushing.
“I thought,” he stops, glancing back at the car. Steve clears his throat. “I thought he was still in the hospital.”
Pepper nods, “He is. But he wants to see you.”
“Only if you have the time. If not, he can wait. He won’t like it, but he will.”
Steve thinks about for a moment. He runs a hand through his hair and then again to smooth it out.
Steve nods. “Let me text Bucky.”
It’s a short ride to the hospital. Steve stares out the window and hopes it won’t be awkward when he sees Tony Stark again. The last time he saw Tony was when he was being loaded into the back of an ambulance and trying to tell one of the paramedics that he loved Steve and that Steve was a good guy. Like a hero, not the kind that wear trilbies. Really, guys, he’s the best.
Steve tries not to think about that as they pull up to what looks like a service entrance. Pepper knocks on the door and a man Steve recognizes as James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes open the door.
“This him?” Rhodey asks.
“Short, cute, and blond. Just like Tony said.”
It’s a silent walk to Tony’s room and when they arrive at the door Pepper gestures at him to go through.
“Uhm, thanks,” Steve says, hand on the knob.
Pepper and Rhodey smile.
The first thing Steve notices about the room is that it’s very big and very bright. One whole wall is windows.
The second is that Tony looks so much better than he did when he was being loaded into that ambulance. His skin isn’t flushed or sweaty and he’s not gasping for breath or delusional with fever.
Tony is busy tapping away on a glossy tablet, though.
Before Steve can stop himself, he says, “I guess Bucky owes you that date now.”
Tony hums, not looking up.
“Then again,” Steve says, sitting in the chair by the bed, “you might not remember Bucky saying that.”
“What?” Tony glances at him and then does a double take.
“Steve!” Tony throws his arms around the blond. “You came! You really came!” Tony trills.
“Ye-yeah, of course,” Steve pats Tony’s back. “You asked.”
Tony settles back against the pillows and smiles.
Steve fusses with his scarf.
Tony keeps smiling.
Steve clears his throat. It’s awkward, sitting with Tony now that he’s in his human form. Mostly because he’s human now and it turns out he’s probably the most famous person in the United States right now. Also, one of the most good looking.
“Oh! Right!” Tony snaps a hand. “I wanted to explain a few things to you! Since you were probably wondering why I was cursed in the first place.”
“Yeah, that’d be nice. But you don’t—”
“I do. Let me explain. And get comfortable it’s gonna take a while.”
Steve raises an eyebrow. “You got a chair not made of plastic, then?”
Tony tips his head back and laughs. “You can crawl up here,” he leers.
Steve blushes and averts his eyes.
Tony’s cheeks heat, too.
“Anyway, jumping right in.” Tony clears his throat. “So basically, I figured out that Stane was selling Stark weapons to the Black Market overseas in the Middle East. I’d confronted him, which was a huge mistake on my part. I was going to report him to my dad and the police but he hired a witch to curse me. The curse, which was, and I quote, to ‘turn me as small and insignificant physically as I am small and insignificant as I was in every other aspect of my life and will only break by true love’.”
Tony shrugs and grabs the water bottle of the bedside table. He picks at the label.
He continues, “I was in that alleyway for about a week, hissing and growing at anything that moved and it was fucking cold and that rain. But then you came along!”
The way Tony says it makes Steve think of every time Baby would chirp.
“And you promised everything would be okay and that you wouldn’t hurt me, which, by the way, you should never promise a dragon anything because we hold onto that sort of thing. But anyway, you were warm and sweet and… uhm,” Tony blushes and clears his throat.
“Anyway, so I stayed with you because I figured if Stane got word I was still alive then he’d really get angry and I didn’t want you guys getting hurt. So I kept my eye on my story in the news.
“But then I ended up breaking the curse. Which is the weird part because it doesn’t have to be ‘true love’s kiss’ like in the movies. It can just sorta be any selfless act based on love, so…
“You wanna know what broke the curse? Healing you and Bucky.”
Tony shrugs a shoulder, a small smile playing on his face.
“And then I heard Obie—Stane was finally being fingered for my disappearance. Which was awesome but I…” Tony blushes again, not looking at Steve.
“I liked it,” he admits. “I liked living with you. And Bucky. And then I got really sick. And then you called the other dragons and then I got pneumonia. But I’m better now.”
Tony flashes Steve a giant grin.
“That’s a surprisingly succinct story,” Steve says.
Tony laughs. “You’re such a little shit. Like, you have no idea. It was so much fun watching you and Bucks go at it.”
“You can come over anytime, Tony. I’m sure Bucky will like the fact you talk back now.”
“I’m not really a lap dragon anymore.”
Steve shrugs a shoulder. “As long as you don’t break the couch.”
Tony blushes. Smirking, he says, “No promises.”
It takes Steve a moment but his face soon flames red.
Tony laughs. “I’ll buy you a new one. Or maybe a new apartment.”
“It’s decided. Not taking a ‘no’ for an answer. I’ve already got Pepper on it.” Tony picks up his tablet again.
“Don’t,” Steve lurches, smacking the tablet out of Tony’s hands.
He looks up and Tony’s face is fucking close.
“Uhm,” Steve says.
Tony moves forward and, instead of the kiss Steve is half expecting, Tony rubs their cheeks together.
Steve aches, the familiarity of it just like every time Baby—Tony’s little dragon form—would butt his head against Steve’s cheek.
And then Steve gets the kiss he was expecting.
Tony’s lips are warm and soft and just slightly chapped and it’s a really fucking nice kiss.
“Tony,” Steve says again but Tony cuts him off.
“I’d really like to take you out some place nice and buy you dinner. And not just as a ‘thank you’ but as a date. I sorta fe—I think you’re pretty awesome. And this time I can talk back and everything!”
Steve blushes but he agrees to dinner before he can think better of it.
Tony smiles and Steve’s pretty sure he’s doomed.
Three weeks later and it’s raining again. Steve’s at the Starbucks by his campus and he’s staring out the window at the big, fat rain drops.
“I can’t believe you’re making me go through with this,” Bucky says.
Steve beams and reaches out to ruffle Bucky’s hair.
Bucky knocks at his friend’s hand and mutters, “I can’t believe you’re fucking taller than me. This is fucking ridiculous.”
The door to the café opens with a jangle and Steve’s grin widens.
“Am I late?” Tony asks, walking over and pulling off his sunglasses.
“Nope, just in time,” Steve smiles and wraps an arm around Tony’s waist, pressing a kiss to his temple.
“You, sir,” Tony points to Bucky, “have a promise to keep.”
“This is bull shit,” but Bucky heads over to the counter anyway.
“I wondered how long you would stand there and grumble at each other,” Sam smiles. “Can I get you anything?”
Bucky glares, cheeks slowly turning red. Finally, fists clenched, he says, “Dinner.”
Sam, the little shit, smirks and says, “What was that? I didn’t hear you.”
Bucky turns and glares at Steve but Steve just raises his eyebrows in a ‘Go on’ gesture.
Turning back to Sam, Bucky says, “Would you like to go to dinner?”
Bucky feels like breaking something. “With me.”
Sam’s grin is breath taking. “Thought you’d never ask.”