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Little Bits

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Steve dug the tiny plastic shovel into the sand and frowned when the handle bent under the weight. It was a bit damp out still, probably too damp to be playing with Tony’s gardening tools, but after three days of summer storms, Steve had seized the first moment where it wasn’t actively raining to get Tony outside.

The grass was cool and damp, and the sky was filled with dark clouds, but no drips landed on Steve’s upturned face, so they stayed out. Tony needed fresh air, and both of them were suffering from a bit of cabin fever after so long. Despite the ominous weather, Tony was enjoying himself, smacking his plastic trowel against the sand and then waving it in the vague vicinity of his bucket. He wasn’t making much progress - Steve assumed, he wasn’t actually sure what Tony was trying to accomplish - but he was smiling and babbling softly, so Steve was happy.

Tony said “affff” solemnly, then rattled his trowel around inside his bucket while Steve continued to dig halfheartedly in the damp sand. Tony’s trowel lifted, then froze, and Tony made a noise not entirely dissimilar from the one last week’s mugger had made when he’d turned around and found himself face-to-face with Captain America.

Tony’s eyes popped wide, and his mouth fell open. Steve followed his line of sight. About fifteen feet away, a young man - maybe 17 or 18 - was walking across the park, earphones in, glued to his phone, with a leash looped over his arm. His free hand was stuffed in the pocket of his jacket, and he nodded his head along with his music while he walked. He had the floppy, unkempt hair teens seemed to wear these days, and his pants were distressingly baggy. And he was slouching.

But at the end of the leash that draped casually over his arm was a dog. The dog was about knee-high, trotting along at her owner’s heel with a wide, tongue-lolling smile. She was a cloud of golden-brown fluff, culminating in a wide ruff around her neck, so plush that her collar wasn’t visible, the leash simply disappearing into the fur somewhere behind her fuzz-covered, tip-tilted triangle ears.

Steve realized with a soft smile that Tony had never seen a dog like that before, at least not in the time Steve had been caring for him. There was a woman in Steve’s building with a tiny, short-haired thing she carried around in her purse, and once in a while they’d passed one on a leash while Tony was curled up in Steve’s arms, but this dog was close by, and at Tony’s eye-level, and Tony was clearly smitten. Steve could practically see little hearts popping above Tony’s head as he lifted one sand-covered hand and pointed towards the dog.

Steve hesitated, but as the boy curved closer to the playground, he called out, “Hey,” before he could stop himself. The boy startled, pulled one earphone out and peered over towards Steve, then his mouth fell open, eyes going wide in an amusing reflection of Tony’s expression, his gaze fixed on Steve.

He tugged the other earphone out too hard and winced, stuttering to a stop. His dog stopped too, gazing up at him adoringly. “Hi… Sir,” he said. And Steve gave up on there being any chance he hadn’t just been recognized. Teens these days only called him Sir if they’d played with his action figures as kids.

“Sorry to bother you, but would you mind if my, um, nephew met your dog? If she’s friendly.” He put careful emphasis on “nephew” that made it clear that there weren’t to be any questions raised on that topic.

But the boy brightened and nodded, then bent and unclipped the leash from the dog’s collar who immediately took off towards them. Steve tensed, not wanting the dog to get too excited and barrel Tony over, but she skidded to a stop right in front of the startled toddler and collapsed onto the ground about a foot away. She dropped her head onto her paws, stretched out as close to Tony as she could get without actively touching him and gave a soft sigh, her puff of a tail swinging back and forth violently. “She loves kids,” the boy said, appearing at Steve’s side. “She’s super gentle.”

And she was. With a little encouragement, Tony reached out and placed his hand on top of the dog’s head. Steve pet her too, trying to show him the best way to do it, and the dog’s tail swished impossibly faster. Her tongue popped out then sucked in again, and she whined softly, wriggling closer to Tony’s knees. Tony screeched, and Steve winced, but it was followed by a cascade of wild, giggly laughter. His joy only drew the dog closer until her head was practically in his lap. He ruffled his fingers through her hair then tugged on her ears.

“Tony, gentle,” Steve chastised, shooting the boy an apologetic look. But he shook his head.

“It’s fine. She’s just happy to be touched, honestly.”

With Tony and the dog getting along swimmingly, Steve pushed up to his feet and offered the kid his hand. “Steve Rogers.”

“Mike. Mike Lampton.” The boy shook his hand then wiped his palm on his pants nervously. “It’s awesome to meet you, Captain. Uh, Sir.”

“Thanks for letting him play with her.” Steve looked down, and the dog had rolled onto her back, her feet hanging limply in the air while Tony cackled wildly and grabbed at her jowls. “Hey, Mike? I’d appreciate it if you’d keep it to yourself that I’m watching my nephew. I wouldn't want to draw any unwanted attention.” He gave Mike a stern look.

“Oh, totally. Of course. Won’t say a word.”

Tony shoved both hands in the dog’s mouth, and Steve winced again, flinching towards them; he was ready for Tony’s hands to reappear less a few fingers. But the dog just rolled back onto her side and licked at the knees of Tony’s pants, letting him grab at her tongue and play with her lips. “She’s so good to him.”

“Yeah. I’ve got a lot of younger siblings, so she’s used to kids. She’s such an attention hog.” He rolled his eyes, but Steve could hear the affection curling through his words.

Steve crouched down in front of Tony again who reached for him, a huge grin plastered across his face. Steve tugged him into his lap and held him on one knee while they petted the dog again. She sprung to her feet and shoved her face into Tony’s stomach making him screech with laughter and fist a handful of her fur in each hand.

In the end, the boy had to grab the dog’s collar and drag her back while she whined and lunged for Tony and Steve. He scolded her gently, and she stopped pulling, trailing along at his heel as he walked away, though she kept shooting looks back at them. Steve hadn’t known that dogs were capable of pouting.

And Tony was pouting too.

Steve picked him up, then tossed all his toys back in the bucket and hooked that over his finger. He started back to the apartment. “You liked the dog, huh?”

“Noooo,” Tony whined. “Tog. Hi.”

“Wow, that much? Really?”

“Tee,” Tony said, shooting him a look.

Steve shifted him in his arms, chuckling at Tony’s put-out expression. Steve wasn’t exactly a dog person, but he wasn’t not a dog person, and he had to admit, it was pretty amazing watching Tony enjoy that so much. He also hadn’t known you could get dogs that small that weren’t quite as… pocket-y as the purse-bound dog in the building. Steve shook himself. It would be stupid to think about getting a pet for a kid that wasn’t really a kid. Tony wouldn’t be a baby long enough for it to matter.

Steve’s arms tightened around Tony’s back, and the baby sighed and tipped his chin onto Steve’s shoulder. “We can go back to the park tomorrow. Maybe we’ll see Mike and his dog again, huh?”

“Tog,” Tony whispered into Steve’s lapel, and Steve smiled.