They were getting strange looks, and a wide berth.
Most of the rest of the squad was too drunk to really notice, but Steve and Buck were sober enough to register the looks. Steve was no longer able to get drunk, no matter how much he drank, thanks to the serum. Not that he had been inclined to do so before hand. Bucky was possessed of a burning protective urge that had led him to befriend and protect a little Steve Rogers, and now also to look after this little squad that same no-longer-little Steve had adopted.
The Commandos had just returned from another mission to destroy a Hydra base and they were all feeling both the strain of expectations, and the euphoria of a job well done. It had been a hard one though. Morita’s arm was still in a sling and they were all a little battered.
The release of tension they felt at being safe and back at base had made them even more rambunctious than normal. They had already broken three mugs and a chair.
Steve winced at the ominous sound emerging from Dugan’s seat and mentally added that one to their tab for tonight.
Dugan was gesturing expansively and telling a vastly exaggerated tale of one of their past exploits at the top of his lungs. Jones was protesting some part of it with drunken insistence, almost hanging off Dugan with laughter even as he tried to get him to stop.
When a particular look was directed at the scuffling men by a passing civilian Steve let a small glare slip out at the perpetrator, only feeling a little guilty as they scurried away, looking terrified. Just because some people still thought black men shouldn’t serve didn’t give them the right to be looking at a member of his squad that way. When they had done half of what Jones had done for this war, then they could give them weird looks and stay righteously close-minded. He heard Sarea’s disgusted snort from the floor, and leaned down to give his grumbling daemon’s ruff an affectionate ruffle. Neither of them could stand for discrimination of any kind, especially not after the way they grew up; constantly shunted to the side and alternately feared or ridiculed. Tiny little Steve Rogers and his huge dog-daemon. Who had ever heard of your daemon being bigger than you? And those who noticed that she wasn’t quite a dog? They really feared him. They thought there must be something wrong with him, to have a daemon that was a hybrid, and part wolf at that.
Only Bucky, growing up, hadn’t ridiculed or feared them. His pure wolf daemon had made him a shoe-in for the army who hadn’t known what to do with Steve’s hybrid and poor health. So, Steve knew all about discrimination for things you couldn’t control. He would not allow even the shadow of it to touch his men tonight, not while they were in such a good mood.
In a mirror of their partner’s scuffling Jones’s Althea, a large golden Labrador, was snarling as she attempted to pin Dugan’s Demetria to the ground to get her to stop chuffing with the reflection of her partner’s amusement. Demetria, a big mastiff, much larger than Althea, simply rolled and casually pinned her instead. Althea broke free and pounced, sending them rolling over each other and into Jaques’ Luciana. A spunky Irish Setter, she reacted predictably by swatting them both and joining in the wrestling, almost unseating a nearby table with a terrible rattle.
At that, Bucky’s Aesina lifted her head from where it rested on Sarea’s flank and snarled lowly in warning. When the tousling did not immediately stop Sarea cracked open her eyes from where she was curled around Morita’s Hoshi. The hare was was a little weak from her partner’s pain, but was resting comfortable, tucked into Sarea’s belly.
The rumbling growl that echoed out of the wolf-dog’s throat stilled the fight immediately and the three perpetrators whined and shuffled over (which the occasional shove back and forth) to beg for forgiveness. Sarea snorted and told them to stop breaking furniture, then swatted Lucina into Althea and watched, amused, as they started up again, slightly more careful of their surroundings.
Aesina snorted and rested her head against Sarea’s flank again, grumbling about puppies.
Sarea laughed and, gently nosing Hoshi out of the way, pinned Aesina to the ground and started to groom her as if she was a pup, chuffing with laughter and ignoring her indignant protests.
Steve smiled. All was well in his team, then. He cast a fond look at Bucky, who was looking back with tolerant amusement, a strange blush on his face.
“Mother” the second in command mouthed at him in response to his questioning look and Steve grinned sheepishly.
Bucky looked away again, shaking his head at Steve’s obliviousness. Bucky had been noticing the glares and disapproving stares as well (and hadn't been shy at all about returning those glares either) but unlike Steve, he seemed to actually have a clue what they were about.
Yes, people who didn’t know them might glare at them for having a "negro", or a "jap", or a frenchman on the team, but that wasn’t what was causing the majority of the looks.
Bucky cast a fond glance at his daemon.
Aesina had given up protesting and was stretched out bonelessly on the floor under Sarea as the wolf-dog groomed her fur. Bucky felt the heat rise in his face at her shamelessness, but couldn’t get her to stop without calling attention to it.
Steve, in one of those stunning gaps in his social awareness, didn’t see anything wrong with the casual way the squad’s daemons interacted. Let alone the almost intimate way his own Sarea and Bucky’s Aesina behaved. Hopefully no one would ever clue him in. Bucky wouldn’t give this up for the world.
The other daemons had calmed down from their mock-fight, coming over to flop down beside Sarea and Aesina, panting, tongues lolling with happiness.
Demitria grabbed Hoshi with infinite care in her massive jaws and deposited her in the hollow left in the puppy pile that was herself, Luciana and Althea. Falsworth’s Cassiopia stalked over to the heaving pile of daemons now that the fighting was done. The bobcat carried herself with nfinite dignity; which was spoiled when Demitria bowled her over with one huge paw to join the in their undignified sprawl. She yowled with indignation but did not struggle as she was dragged closer. In fact climbing atop and then settling heavily upon Demitria in retaliation, ignoring the winded ‘oof’ and breathless protestations, and the others laughter.
Sarea, finally satisfied with the state of Aesina’s fur, nudged her until the slightly smaller canine was curled up in front of her; with Aesina firmly wedged between Sarea and the rest of the squad’s daemons.
Bucky’s blush worsened, not aided at all by Morita’s knowing look. Ever since Steve and Sarea had rescued him and Aesina (not to mention the rest of them) from Hydra’s base, she had been a little over protective of the brown wolf. Bucky knew this was an extension and an expression of the concern his friend wanted to express for him but was too awkward, and too familiar with Bucky’s temper, to attempt. Hoshi had been getting the same smothering from the daemons on the squad since Morita had been injured, but they were taking in in good humour. Team dynamics had finally settled to the point where they could all express concern without getting their teammate’s backs up.
Well, except for Steve it was still like pulling teeth to get the man to admit he was wounded. Bucky would cheerfully kill the damn scientists and officers for instilling the feeling into Steve that he had to be perfect and not admit faults, if the damn stubborn man hadn’t been like this as long as Bucky had known him. The only was that now more often than not Sarea was willing to rat Steve out to Aesina, or Bucky himself, if she felt he was being stupid.
That was a change, and a positive one. It used to be that she wouldn’t admit to ingury or weakness either; as stubborn a protector of Steve’s pride as he was. Then again the scale of Steve’s potential injuries had graduated from what bullies could inflict to possible gunshot wounds so really, all this proved was that her self preservation instincts were better than his.
Bucky was pulled from his contemplation by the simultaneous uproarious welcome from the commandos and their daemons of;
Howard Stark had just walked into the pub and was paused halfway to the bar with an astonished look on his face. Phoena was likewise paused with one paw off the ground, her gorgeous white and black striped fur glinting with snow. They were both staring at the intertwined pile of daemons on the floor next to the table. Stark hadn’t had the chance to see them all together in a relaxed setting and, as evidenced by the glares they’d been getting all night, not everyone reacted well to the way their daemons interacted.
Bucky bristled defensively, and Aesina’s head came up, hackles raised. Not growling yet, but alert.
Steve smiled welcomingly at the rich inventor.
Serea rolled her eyes and used a paw to push the wolf’s head down as she welcomed Phoena at a lower decibel than her companions had.
Howard shook himself quickly and walked over to the table, skirting the pile of daemons. Phoena paused in front of Sarea and Aensia, who both rose as she approached.
“So, the victorious company returns.” Howard said cheerfully. “I trust you’ve brought all my equipment back in good repair?” He smirked, and Bucky rolled his eyes as the table exploded in drunken laughter. The man had asked that every time they’d returned and after the first time, when he’d looked genuinely hopeful, it had become something of a joke. The Howling Commandos *never* returned without equipment casualties.
“Unfortunately not, Mr. Stark.” Steve responded, and Bucky shot him an incredulous look. Mr. Stark? Really?
“I thought so.” The man sounded long-suffering, though a spark of humour danced in his eyes and his lips quirked upwards helplessly. “Anyway, I just came by to tell you that I’ve got a few new toys for your men to try out since last time...Captain Rogers.”
The emphasis on the last words made Steve laugh.
“Alright Howard, I’m sorry. Force of habit. When do you want me?” Steve asked with a brilliant smile.
There was a blink of silence as everyone contemplated whether or not their captain was that oblivious before Howard managed his response.
“Late morning is fine. I don’t imagine you boys will be up much before then anyway.” A glance encompassed the many empty mugs, flushed faces, and listing bodies around the table.
“Why don’t you stay?” Steve invited. “Have a drink with us?”
Howard looked caught off guard momentarily, and so did the Commandos. There was a moment of tense silence as they kept one eye on Steve, Howard and Bucky, one eye on Sarea, Aensia and Phoena.
“I- Thanks for the welcome Captain, but I’ve got several things to finish up tonight and-”
“Stay, Howard,” interrupted Serea. “You can work on your inventions tomorrow.”
Howard turned to gape at her, caught off guard at being directly addressed by another’s daemon. Serea chuffed and rubbed along Phoena’s side in welcome before settling down on the ground again.
“She’s right you know,” Steve laughed. “Stay and have a drink.”
Aensia looked squarely at the white tiger who was displaying an unusual timidity and wistful longing as she stared at the pile of daemons and at Sarea.
Howard looked at Bucky, sitting at Steve’s side. The Commandos split their attention between their second in command and his daemon.
In a move that could have been choreographed Bucky reached out and yanked Howard down into a seat Morita pulled out. Almost simultaneously Serea lunged up to grab the scruff of Phoena’s neck and haul her down as Aensia swiped her legs out from under her and flopped down on top.
The surprised yowl of man and daemon blended perfectly and made all the Commandos howl with laughter, tension broken.
“Sit, Stark,” Bucky instructed, as the man attempted to gather his ruffled composure. “I’ll get you a drink.”
Bucky gave to man a look, squeezing his shoulder as he stood.
So what if Stark was crushing? Steve was oblivious to the both of them; they might as well commiserate over a beer, rather than fight.
Next: Pack Disasters