"Now, don't get him too excited," the nurse cautioned. "Your friend's been through a lot, and he's still on the mend."
Bucky resisted the urge to roll his eyes--he wasn't stupid--and answered with a polite, "Yes, ma'am."
She smiled kindly at him. "Fifteen minutes, okay?" His face must have given away his shock of disappointment, because her smile slipped away to be replaced by a sympathetic look. "I know, but he really does need his rest. You can come back this afternoon, and maybe even this evening, too, if he's not too tired."
"Okay," Bucky said, impatient with the need to see Steve right now. He could try to sweet talk one of the nurses into letting him stay for a longer visit later, when they'd all seen how much better Steve felt when Bucky was around.
The nurse smiled at him again and motioned him towards an open door. "He's right in there. I'll be back in fifteen minutes."
Bucky remembered to say, "Thanks," at the last second, when he was already through the doorway. Steve was down at the very end of the room, just visible behind the screen that sheltered his bed. There were other beds lined up along the walls, most of them filled with other sick kids, but Bucky didn't pay them any mind. He hurried down the length of the room--not running, but close--and peeked around the screen to make sure Steve was awake.
He was, his eyes fixed on the window by his bed, staring at the tenement across the street, and Bucky's eyes followed his by habit, trying to see what Steve saw. The building looked busy and alive: laundry flapping in the wind, birds settling on the windowsills for a moment before flying away again, a few kids playing on the fire escape.
"Nice view," he said, and Steve's head whipped around to look at him, already grinning.
"Bucky!" he said.
There was a chair next to Steve's bed and Bucky sat down, dragging it closer to the bedside a little gingerly. Steve was even skinnier than usual, his face pale in a way that was almost a relief after having seen the bright red rash from his scarlet fever, but that still didn't look healthy. Bucky was half-scared to breathe on him, he looked so fragile.
Of course, Steve being Steve, he didn't let how bad he had to be feeling slow him down for an instant. He nodded at the window and said, "This is new. They had me in an isolation ward until this morning--didn't want the disease to spread--and the only view in there was of the brick wall ten feet across the alley. Wish they'd let me have a pencil and paper now, but the doctor says I need to rest."
"Maybe I could smuggle something in," Bucky volunteered. "They're only letting me stay a few minutes, but I'm allowed to come back this afternoon."
Steve's face lit up, and Bucky added sternly, "But only if you promise to take it easy. I can't see how just drawing could hurt you, but it's no good if you get so excited about your picture that you don't sleep when you need it."
"I promise," Steve said. "Trust me, I don't wanna be here any longer than I have to. I'm just going stir crazy in here with nothing to do."
"I bet," Bucky said. He hated being sick himself, and all of his illnesses were mild enough that he could at least stay at home for them, with his own toys and books and his annoying little sister for company.
"I'm really glad you came to visit me," Steve added, sounding almost shy, and Bucky flushed with embarrassment and pleasure. As if he hadn't been twice as wild to see Steve as Steve was to see him.
"The neighborhood hasn't been the same without you," he said.
"Oh, yeah?" Steve said, obviously not believing him even though Bucky was only speaking the truth. He coughed abruptly once, twice, and Bucky felt the sound seize in his own chest, but Steve just shook his head in muted frustration. "Well, what's been happening that I should know about?" he asked when he'd caught his breath.
"Not much," Bucky said, shrugging. He told Steve about the black and white puppy Harry Whalen had gotten and about the Studebaker President Eight sedan he'd seen parked right around the block for half an hour and how Billy Ross had cut his middle finger almost to the bone playing mumblety-peg. (He didn't tell Steve about how he'd been the one to scrounge up a mostly clean handkerchief for Billy's finger and to walk him home, both of them furiously ignoring the tears spilling down Billy's cheeks.)
Steve was quieter than usual, though he nodded along with all of Bucky's stories, his eyes bright and interested, and Bucky found himself talking faster like he wanted to reward Steve's attention. Or maybe it was just that he wanted to distract himself from that uncanny quiet, disrupted occasionally by the heartstopping sound of Steve's coughs. A couple of times, Steve let Bucky pass him the glass of water on his bedside table, but mostly he waved it away and asked for Bucky to continue his story.
Much too soon, the nurse who'd shown him to Steve's room was back. Bucky forced a smile even though his stomach was sinking in disappointment. "Sorry, it's time," the nurse said; Steve's face went blank, just as it always did when he was upset about something and didn't want to show it.
"I'm coming," Bucky said and stood up. The nurse, who seemed pretty swell as far as nurses went, gave him an encouraging nod and stepped away a few feet to give Bucky a chance to say goodbye.
"I'll be back real soon," Bucky promised. "You should try to take a nap now, so that you're awake when I get back, okay?"
Steve nodded, a determined look on his face that Bucky would've thought meant no more than that Steve resolved to follow his advice except that he also said, "Sure, Bucky. But, listen, it's okay if you can't come back today, if you're too busy. I know it's not a lot of fun--"
"Stop being stupid," Bucky interrupted fiercely. "You're the most fun, always."
Steve gave him the look that meant he thought Bucky was just being nice, when Bucky wasn't, not at all; he was way too selfish to be as nice as Steve believed he was. That expression always made Bucky feel like a heel, but even more so when Steve still looked so sick and when it hadn't been three days since Bucky had stopped worrying that Steve might die. Bucky choked a little on the sudden lump in his throat and leaned down to kiss Steve's thin cheek, too damned grateful to have Steve there to worry about his own dignity.
"I'll be back this afternoon," he said roughly, not quite able to meet Steve's eyes. Then he whispered, "Think of a good hiding place for your paper and pencil."
The smile that shone on Steve's face was too bright to ignore, and Bucky grinned back at him helplessly for a long moment until the nurse cleared her throat pointedly, and he had to skedaddle before she got annoyed enough to disinvite him from returning later.