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“I've been thinking about getting a dog,” Steve says in a near mutter.

The words are out of his mouth before he can decide whether he wants to talk about it or not. It's been on his mind for a while but he hasn't had a chance to really talk about it with anyone. Now seems as good a time as any to bring it up.

He's sitting by a corner table in the diner just around the corner from his apartment building, a plate with nothing but crumbs left on it and a half empty cup of coffee in front of him. His best friend Sam is sitting on the other side, his plate and cup not empty yet.

Sam looks up from his food, fork halfway to his open mouth. He pauses there for a moment, then he lowers the fork back down and rests his forearm on the edge of the table. He places the fork on the plate but doesn't let go.

“Yeah?” he asks encouragingly, a small smile tugging at his lips.

Steve hums and nods, then brings his cup to his lips and takes a sip. The coffee has gone cold but he doesn't care; it's still coffee and he hasn't finished it yet. He's been staring at a spot on the table for the past several minutes but finally, at Sam's encouragement, he looks up and meets his eye.

He doesn't say anything though, only nods again.

“What kind would you get?” Sam asks.

“I don't know,” Steve says. “I didn't get that far in my head.”

“You could always go to a shelter,” Sam says. “Maybe adopt one of the older dogs. Barely anyone even considers them, it's kinda sad.”

Steve hums quietly. “Maybe,” he says. “It was just an idea.”

“A good one,” Sam says and smiles at him. “I think a dog would do you good.”

“But would I be good for the dog?” Steve shrugs. “I doubt it.”

“I don't,” Sam says. “You'd be giving the dog a home and I know you would love the shit out of it.”

“I still,” Steve starts but doesn't finish. They both know how the end of that would sound.

“I know,” Sam says, because he does. “You're doing a lot better, though.”

Steve doesn't argue. He doesn't agree either, only looks down at the table and rubs his thumb against the smooth handle of the cup that he still has between his hands.

“Just think about it,” Sam says after a minute. “Play around with the idea for a while.”

Steve takes in a breath, then he nods and says, “Okay. I will.”

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

He doesn't really plan it but a couple of days later, Steve finds himself walking into a shelter.

There's a woman behind the counter at the front. She looks up from the paperwork spread out before her and smiles when her eyes land on him. He smiles back and approaches her hesitantly, still not a hundred percent sure what he's doing here or if being here at all is a bad idea.

The woman introduces herself as Sabine as she leads him through the shelter toward the dog kennels in the back. Steve could already hear barks from the front and they only get louder once Sabine leads him through to the row of cages.

Steve takes in a breath and scratches at his bearded jaw in a nervous habit.

They pass by a good handful of dogs; some small, some bigger, some more excited about their presence than others. Sabine tells him about each dog when they pause in front of cage after cage but Steve doesn't really pay attention to what she's saying, pays more attention to the dogs.

There are a few that he genuinely considers for a second, especially the one that hops up onto its hind legs and whines at him while its tail wags wildly behind its fluffy body. It's cute and licks at his hand when he reaches out to pet it through the gap between the cage door and the wall.

But he continues on because it's not the right one.

Sabine leads him through the rest of the shelter dogs and they make it almost all the way to the end, Steve getting more and more disappointed the further they go, before he spots a dog that makes him stop for a lot longer than the one before.

The dog is big, not necessarily huge but nowhere near small either. The color of its fur is dark, a mix of black and brown, and its ears perk forward when their eyes lock, the dog's head tilting ever so slightly to the right as it stares at him.

Steve has never been good at identifying dog breeds but he knows this one; a rottweiler.

The dog stares at him.

Steve stares back.

The dog blinks, then starts wagging its tail and inches forward with a low, deep boof.

Steve smiles, heart warm.

Bingo.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Sabine shows him to the visitor's room and brings in the dog a minute later. There's a thick leash wrapped around its neck, not that it seems necessary because the dog isn't tugging or trying to get anywhere near Steve. It's staying by Sabine's side, its ears perked in curiosity and tail moving in slow wags from side to side.

The leash stays on until Sabine closes the door behind them but even after it's removed and Sabine steps out of the way, the dog doesn't move. It lowers its head a little but stays still, attention fully on Steve and nostrils flaring as it sniffs.

Steve doesn't move either. Instead he smiles and crouches down to be on eye level with it.

“This is Alice,” Sabine tells him from the side. “She's four years old and has been with us for six months.”

“Why hasn't she been adopted yet?” Steve asks without taking his eyes off the dog.

Alice. He likes the sound of that, it feels fitting.

“Because she's a rottweiler,” Sabine says. “Most people that come in here are families and when they see a big dog that's often seen as aggressive and violent, they want nothing to do with her.”

Steve pauses and looks up at Sabine. “And is she aggressive?” he asks.

“Not at all,” Sabine says and smiles. “She has a gentle, caring soul. She just— takes some time to warm up to people. She is still a rottweiler, so she's got a lot of energy and can be a bit rough. She has had training though, so aggressive is not a thing she is as long as she's entertained enough. Just like any dog, really.”

Steve nods, then returns his attention to Alice.

Alice is watching him, assessing him. Nothing but her tail moves for a minute but then she starts moving toward him with careful steps and Steve holds out a hand. He doesn't touch her, not until she sniffs at his hand and presses her snout into the palm of it. He smiles when the touch makes her tail wag faster, the smile only growing when she leans into his touch.

Yeah, he thinks as Alice steps into his space. This is the one.

Steve lets himself get pushed onto the floor when Alice jumps up and forces him down, chuckling and throwing his arms around her in reflex as he goes. She crawls into his lap and licks at his face, her tail going a mile a minute and slapping against his legs.

She's heavy but it's not a bad thing. He actually really likes it, likes being smothered and having to nearly fight to stay upright. It's nice, having a big dog like Alice smother him in such a way. It fills his heart with warmth and he never wants it to end.

After a while, Sabine gives him a toy that Alice instantly digs her teeth into. She's strong, holding onto it as she flops down into his lap with her teeth clamped down hard on the toy. Steve holds on too, smiling down at her as he tugs and she growls at him playfully.

Steve wants to stay here forever.

“Please tell me I can adopt her,” he says when Sabine puts the leash back on Alice. “I'm not sure I can leave without her, to be honest.”

“If it were up to me, you could take her home with you right away,” Sabine says, a smile on her lips. “Unfortunately, there are some steps we have to go through before that.”

Steve looks at her and takes in a breath, shoulders setting with determination.

He wants this, more than anything he's ever wanted.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Steve goes through an interview and has someone from the shelter come over for a house— well, apartment visit before he gets to adopt Alice. The second he gets the call with the good news, he goes to the nearest pet store and buys everything he needs and a handful of things he doesn't.

Steve doesn't own many things. When his mother died mere weeks after his eighteenth birthday, he had to sell most of the things in their apartment just to be able to pay rent and make it through the week with enough money for food and other essentials. He eventually had to move out to a cheaper place and got rid of the rest, save for a few sentimental things.

He joined the army not long after and never bothered getting things when he was send home and then retired. He has furniture like a comfortable bed, a decent couch, among other things. But that's about it. He doesn't own much.

But now he does.

Granted, the majority of the things he owns aren't for him anymore but it makes his apartment feel a lot less empty and more like a place he feels comfortable seeing as a home. Or at the very least, a home in the making.

He puts the dog bed in the bedroom, on the floor next to his own, and the bowls in the kitchen. He puts up a hanger by the front door where he hangs the leash he bought and temporarily places the collar as well. There's a dog tag attached to it, with Alice's name engraved on one side and his phone number on the other.

The kitchen area is to the immediate right when you step inside his apartment, so Steve puts the dog treats and poop bags in the cupboard closest to the door. It has been empty for weeks anyway, so he decides this might as well become Alice's cupboard from now on. He puts the brush and everything else related to cleaning there too.

All the toys that he buys— and maybe he's bought too many but he doesn't care. He has the money saved up and no one to use it on until now and Alice needs some good toys to chew on. He puts them in a basket that he places next to the couch. He has no doubt that they won't be staying there for long once they get in use but for now it looks good.

And then finally, Alice gets brought home.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Clint is the first person to meet Alice.

He comes over only three hours after Steve has brought Alice home, minutes after she has walked around the whole apartment several times to get familiar with her new home and figured out where the food is stored away.

The second there's a knock on the door, Alice shoots up from where she's been laying on the ground with her teeth digging into one of her toys. She barks and it startles Steve, making him flinch where he's sitting on the couch nearby. That's definitely something he has to get used to, the barking.

She keeps barking even after Steve has told her to stop, although she does do it quieter. She follows him curiously to the door, sticking to his leg like there's a rubber band stuck to her and Steve's holding onto it.

It doesn't look like she's about to go anywhere but his side, but he grabs onto her collar when he opens the door anyway.

“Hey, dude,” Clint says after the door opens, a toothy grin on his lips and eyes falling to Alice.

“Hey, Clint,” Steve says and steps aside to let him in. “I brought her home three hours ago. You couldn't have waited a little longer?”

“Three hours is waiting,” Clint says and steps inside. “Besides, you're living in my building. I think it's fair that I get to meet your dog first.”

Steve rolls his eyes but doesn't argue. He's still holding onto Alice's collar when he closes the door but he lets go when he feels confident enough that she won't jump on Clint. She's growling but her tail is wagging.

Steve read up on rottweilers; they're protective. Alice doesn't know Clint yet and he came into her new home, of course she'd be wary. However, he knows that it won't take long for her to figure out that Clint is the biggest dog lover there is.

Clint crouches down a couple of steps away from her, a smile on his lips.

“What's your name, buddy?” he asks, voice soft and calm.

“Alice,” Steve answers.

“Alice,” Clint repeats and holds out a hand. “Hey, Alice. I'm Clint.”

A beat passes, then Alice carefully approaches Clint and sniffs at his hand curiously. The two of them get along swimmingly, after that, and Steve ends up having to kick his own landlord out of his apartment because Clint won't leave, too busy roughhousing with Alice.

Steve is almost jealous but Alice falls asleep in his lap after they've both had dinner, so it's all good.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Sam is the second person to meet Alice.

Unlike Clint who doesn't have any patience when it comes to a dog, Sam gives them a day to settle in and bond before he shows up, a bag of toys in hand and a smile on his lips. Alice ruins one of the toys within minutes but it's okay because the rest of them look made for a dog like her.

“Good choice,” Sam tells him while Alice rips into a toy with a playful growl. “She suits you.”

Steve looks at him for a moment, then he looks back at Alice. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess she does.”

“She does,” Sam assures him. “She's gonna be good for you.”

Steve smiles at him. Sam might be right, he thinks.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Clint stops by on the same day, this time with his dog Lucky in tow. Lucky is a labrador retriever with one eye that Clint says is his best friend and possible soulmate. Steve has seen the two share a pizza up to several times, has seen them go through a lot together. He tends to agree with that sentiment.

Lucky gets excited the second he sees Alice while Alice is a little less enthusiastic. She barks at him and for a second, Steve fears the worst. The thought of having to take Alice back to the shelter because she's not good with other dogs makes his stomach clench horribly. It's only been a day but he's already become attached and he doubts he'd be able to give her back.

Sam puts a hand on his arm. Steve takes in a breath and holds it.

Alice warms up to Lucky quickly though and it doesn't take long before they play around in the apartment like they're old friends. Alice is bigger and rougher than Lucky but Lucky doesn't seem to mind it one bit and only lets himself get dragged across the floor, refusing to let go of the toy they're both biting into.

It's nice.

They tire themselves out eventually and while Lucky flops down on the middle of the floor to take a nap, Alice trots over to Steve, hops onto the couch, and lays down with a grunt and her head in his lap. She's asleep within seconds.

“Aww,” Clint coos as he lays down next to Lucky, eyes on them. “That's adorable.”

Steve smiles down at his dog and strokes a hand down along her back. The sound of a fake camera shutter grabs his attention and he looks up to see Sam with his phone out of his pocket and a smile on his lips.

“I'm sending it to Nat,” Sam tells him. “It's too cute, she's gonna barf.”

Steve wants to protest but instead he says, “Send it to me too.”

Sam does, and Steve makes it his profile picture on every social media he uses.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Alice ruins a pair of Steve's shoes five days after being brought home. Steve doesn't have many, only a few boots, one or two sneakers, some running shoes, yet she somehow manages to get her teeth into the ones he uses the most while he's out on his usual morning run.

He scolds her, of course he does, but then he takes her with him on his morning run the next day and finds that having a companion is actually pretty nice. He used to run with Sam, still does every once in a while, but this is different. Alice is fast and only slows down when either he does or when she needs to pee or take a shit.

Steve brings her along for runs every morning after that and she doesn't ruin more of his shoes.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

She ruins several of her toys instead.

Steve buys her more.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Two weeks go by where Steve gets to be a regular guy, learning how to be a dog owner and discovering that he really enjoys it. It's the most alive and living he's felt in years.

Two weeks.

That's all it takes before his past comes back to haunt him in the form of a nasty nightmare. It's not the first time he's had this particular one, far from it, but that doesn't matter. He could have it a million times more and it would still be as painful as the first.

He wakes up with a gasped scream, eyes flying open as horror filled images flash in his mind and breath coming out in heavy, unsteady pants. It takes him longer than it should to realize that the wet feeling on his cheek isn't the sweat that has formed from his thrashing nor is it tears. It's Alice.

Alice has her front paws on the edge of the bed, wet nose pressed against his cheek. She licks at him and that's enough to make him move. The second he shoots into a sitting position, panicked and breathing too loud, Alice jumps up on the bed and steps into his lap, whining.

Steve closes his eyes tightly, breathes in deeply, exhales slowly, clenches his fists. The nightmare won't leave his mind. It keeps flashing behind his eyelids and not even closing them harder and digging his blunt fingernails into the palm of his hand help. Nothing does and he's starting to panic, wants to move.

But he can't because there's a heavy dog in his lap.

“Alice,” Steve says, voice cracking. He doesn't get another word out before Alice leans into him and starts licking at his face, whimpering and wagging her tail.

Steve opens his mouth to tell her to get off the bed but the words don't come out of his mouth. He can't seem to push her off either because when he lays a shaky hand on her, he doesn't push but he pets long, slow strokes down her back, again and again.

Surprisingly, that helps. A lot.

Usually, when he has a nightmare this bad, he would get out of bed and go for a run, even if it's in the middle of the night and the sun is hours from rising. He would go to the gym to punch a bag or two because punching out his frustrations has always felt natural even if it didn't help him sleep better.

None of what he usually does in a situation like this ever helps, not really and not much.

This time, Alice forces him to stay in bed until his heart stops racing in his chest and until his hands stop shaking. She forces him to lay back down and then lays on top of him, but in a comforting way where he can still breathe and she can lick at his face until he breathes properly.

Steve ends up falling asleep again, after an hour of that. He decides that Alice can sleep on the bed whenever she wants to in case he has another one of those horrible nightmare. And also because it's nice to have someone nearby in his sleep.

Alice spends most nights in his bed and Steve is more than okay with that.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

It's an adjustment, having a dog, but it's one that Steve finds easy to make. Alice fits well into his life and it only takes a couple of months before he starts to notice how much better he's doing since getting her.

His days are fuller now. Before, he often didn't know what to do with himself. He didn't have a job, not that he does now, not yet, but now he has something to make his days feel less empty and meaningless.

He gets out of bed easier too, actually wakes up feeling excited to get the day started. Alice is too, always bounces in excitement to get her leash on the second he steps into his running shoes. His runs used to feel like a chore or a punishment but now they feel more like a reward. The runs have become longer too, faster because he has the energy again.

He sleeps better. Whether that's because he uses up all his energy throughout the day by keeping Alice entertained or because having her sleep on the foot of the bed is comforting, he doesn't know nor does he care. He still has nightmares but it's a lot easier to calm down now.

Alice comes with him to his group therapy meetings, too. She comes with him for support even though she's not a service dog. She doesn't have the proper training for it and even though she may have been, it's too late for that now. She helps him in other ways, like laying on his feet during meetings and being calm and quiet the whole time.

It feels good to have a companion with him wherever he goes. Well, almost everywhere. He can't take her with him to the grocery store or to the gym, even though Luke has told him she's welcome anytime. But he can't focus on two things at once so she stays home.

Steve is doing better. He's still not doing well but he's better than he was. Sam and Natasha notice it too, both of them bringing it up on separate occasions even though Steve knows that they've talked about it behind his back. He knows because they say the same thing; you look happier.

And he is, honestly. Alice has helped a lot.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Steve is sweaty and already feeling the soreness in his legs as he walks up the stairs toward his apartment, a panting Alice by his side. It's almost ten in the morning and they've just returned from their (accidentally late) morning run, both of them hungry since neither of them have had breakfast yet. They make it to the right floor and—

Steve stops walking.

There are boxes in the hall, stacked and lined up outside the apartment next to his own, the one that has been empty for the past three months since Simone and her sons moved out. The door is wide open and Steve can hear someone puttering around inside, a quiet voice speaking.

Steve doesn't stand there for long but it's long enough for Alice to become impatient, tugging at her leash and grunting at him. Before he can move though, the voice from inside the apartment becomes louder and louder, nearing along with heavy footsteps.

Steve doesn't move. He keeps his eyes glued to the open door and holds his breath when a man appears and steps into the hall.

He's handsome, is Steve's first thought. His hair is a dark shade of brown and looks long, gathered into a bun that sits messily on the nape of his neck with locks of hair falling artistically around his face. Stubble decorates his sharp jawline and his shoulders are wide, filling out the short sleeved shirt he's wearing.

Steve hasn't always been comfortable with his bisexuality. It took a couple of years after first realizing his attraction to other guys before he could even say the word out loud and then months after that before he was ready to say it to someone else. He's fine with it now, can say it easily because it's been more than ten years and coming out isn't quite as scary as it used to be for him.

Steve's eyes travel downward but he doesn't get much further than the man's torso because something catches his attention. Specifically, the man's left arm does. It's a prosthetic, a high tech one that looks either new or well taken care of. That's not really what catches his attention, though.

There's a cat there, draped along the forearm of the prosthetic and dark tail swaying back and forth. It looks relaxed, head rested against the crook of the prosthetic's elbow and eyes, icy blue in color, open and on him and Alice.

Steve stares back at it for another second before he drags his eyes back upward only to find the man already staring back at him. The man is standing still now as they look at each other and Steve notices that the man's eyes match his cat's, although slightly less icy and a bit more gray. There's a smile on his lips too, small and crooked but there.

“Hey,” the man says, his voice smooth and deep.

“Hi,” Steve says, dazed, then snaps back to reality. “Hi. Uh, hi. Hello.”

The man furrows his brows, the smile never leaving his lips. “You alright there, pal?”

“Yeah,” Steve says and starts moving forward, keeping a tight hold on Alice. “Yeah, sorry. Guess I wasn't expecting to see someone moving in. It's been a while since we've had someone new.”

“You live here?” the man asks, face smoothing over.

“Right next door, actually,” Steve says and gestures to his own apartment. “Looks like we'll be neighbors, now.”

“Looks like it,” the man says and steps closer, holds out his empty hand. “Bucky Barnes.”

Steve smiles and shakes his hand. “Steve Rogers,” he says. “Good to meet you and welcome to the building.”

“Thanks, you too,” Bucky says, letting go of his hand. “The meet part, not the other part.”

Steve gestures to the cat and asks, “Who's your armpiece?”

“This,” Bucky says and looks down at the cat, “is Benjamin. He's an asshole.”

“Benjamin?” Steve repeats, questioningly and chuckling. “That's not really a cat name, is it?”

“No?” Bucky asks, brows raised. He lifts the cat slightly and asks, “Benjamin, did you know you're not actually a cat?”

The cat— Benjamin twists around to his back, bats at Bucky's face, and meows.

Bucky hums, nods, and says, “That's what I thought.”

Steve stares at them for a minute, eyes shifting from Benjamin to Bucky. He blinks, then blinks again when Bucky looks over at him and gives him a smile that is tiptoeing the line of a grin, a teasing glint in his eyes. On his arm, Benjamin stretches and lets out a happy purr.

Steve stares at them, then he smiles and snorts out a laugh.

“Alright,” he says. “My mistake, it is absolutely a cat name.”

“You're damn right,” Bucky says, smiling. “Now, who's your armpiece?”

“Oh,” Steve says and looks down at Alice who's standing by his side. “This is Alice.”

“Alice?” Bucky stares at him, smile gone and eyes slightly wider. “Steve, that ain't a dog name.”

Steve laughs, head bopping in a nod. “I deserved that.”

“She's beautiful though,” Bucky says, looking at Alice with a smile on his lips. “How old is she?”

“Four,” Steve says. “How old is Benjamin?”

“Five, but I got him when he was two.”

“Oh yeah? I got Alice about, uh, must be five months ago now.”

“Rescue dog?”

“Yeah.”

“That's pretty cool.”

Steve hums noncommittally and nods. They both fall silent, the conversation coming to a sudden end. The silence between them is a bit awkward, or at least Steve feels the awkwardness. Judging by the way Bucky shifts his weight from one foot to the other and briefly darts his eyes around, Steve guesses he feels the awkwardness too.

They've only just met, of course it would be awkward.

“Well,” Steve says to break the silence. “You need a hand with anything?”

Bucky stares at him silently for a second.

“Sorry, pal,” he says and nods down to his left hand; the prosthetic. “You're a little late on the hand charity.”

Steve's eyes widen and his face flushes. “I didn't mean—”

“I know,” Bucky says and grins. “I just wanted to see if you'd turn red and you did.”

Steve knows that the comment only makes his face redder, so he shoots him a displeased glare.

“But really,” Bucky says with a chuckle. “It's nice of you to offer but it's okay. I don't wanna keep you and that one is starting to look real impatient.”

Steve follows Bucky's gaze down to Alice. She's staring back up at him, eyes big and pleading. She does, truthfully, look impatient and Steve doesn't blame her. He's getting pretty hungry himself, not to mention the sweat is starting to become a bit too gross.

“Yeah,” Steve says and looks back at Bucky. “She hasn't had breakfast yet, so.”

“Ah, poor baby,” Bucky says with a smile.

Steve returns the smile, then starts walking toward his own door. He sticks his free hand into his pocket for his keys and turns around to look back at Bucky who hasn't wasted a second and has already moved on to grabbing the box on top of one of the piles in the hall.

“I'm right next door if you ever need anything,” Steve says and smiles when Bucky looks his way.

“Thanks,” Bucky says. “I'll keep that in mind.”

With a nod, Steve opens the door to his apartment and walks inside after Alice. And if he sends Bucky one last, maybe slightly lingering look before closing the door behind him, then that's only for him to know.

 

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

“Who's Bucky?”

The words are out of his mouth the second Clint turns and looks at him. Steve has had the question on the tip of his tongue ever since he and Clint left the building and headed for the dog park nearby where they sat down on an available bench while Lucky and Alice ran off to play and burn off some energy.

Okay, truthfully, Steve has been wanting to ask that question since he met Bucky a couple of days ago but Clint hasn't had time to hang out before now and he's terrible at answering his texts so Steve hasn't bothered trying. His curiosity has been killing him.

“Who is what?” Clint asks, eyes on him as he fiddles with his hearing aid.

“Bucky,” Steve repeats. “The guy who moved into Simone's old apartment.”

“Oh, Bucky,” Clint says. “He's an old friend who needed a place to stay. I had an empty apartment and can be generous with the rent for a bit while he gets his shit sorted out. Seemed like the perfect solution to a shitty problem. Why do you ask?”

Steve shrugs, cheeks a little warm. “No reason, I was just curious.”

“Is he a terrible neighbor?” Clint asks. “Is this a complaint? 'Cause you know that's not how we do those.”

“It's not a complaint,” Steve says, interrupting him. “I was curious, that's it.”

Steve looks away, as if that will somehow hide the color gathering in his cheeks. He knows it won't, knows that not even his beard, as thick and full as it is, will help hide it either. But if he ignores it, maybe Clint won't catch on or ask more questions.

In hindsight, bringing Bucky up may have been too obvious.

Steve watches Alice instead, watches her run around with the handful of other dogs that are in the park. They know each other, him and the owners. They're all frequent visitors and they know that Alice is well behaved. Steve has had to assure too many people of that too often.

He understands the concern. Alice is a big dog and rottweilers are often seen as violent, aggressive dogs with too much bite. Admittedly, Steve used to think similarly. But Alice is one of the kindest and most playful souls that Steve as ever seen and having to explain to people that she's properly trained several times a week, well. It gets annoying.

Steve can feel eyes boring into the side of his skull. He takes in a deep breath through his nose, swallows thickly, and chances a glance over at Clint. Clint is watching him, eyes narrowed ever so slightly and lips pulled into a thin line.

“What?” Steve asks, his cheeks warm.

“Are you into him?” Clint asks.

Steve gives him a deadpan look. “No,” he says. But his blush calls him out on his lie.

“That sounds like a lie.”

“It's not.”

“Uh huh, okay. Sure.”

Steve doesn't say more and neither does Clint. They stare at each other for a long moment; Clint smiling knowingly and Steve glaring while doing his damnedest to ignore the warmth now spreading to the rest of his face.

Clint is the first to look away. Steve follows his gaze a second later, leaning back on the bench. Both of them are silent for a while, watching the dogs run around and fall over each other. Despite still having many, countless questions about his new neighbor, Steve is glad the subject is dropped.

Or it is, until Clint opens his mouth again.

“Ten bucks you end up falling in love with him,” he says.

Steve punches his shoulder.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Having a neighbor again is an adjustment, too. Simone and her boys were noisy in a way that every family is, regardless of how small or how big, and when Steve first moved in only weeks after being discharged from the hospital, more of a mess than he'd like to admit, it wasn't hard to adjust to. After all, there are no boys under the age of ten playing superheroes in an active war zone.

That and Steve grew up in a building with plenty of noisy people, families and roommates alike, so the adjustment was filled with pleasant memories rather than the opposite.

Steve liked them, Simone and her boys. They would often knock on his door and ask if he wanted some of their leftovers. He misses that, sometimes. Clint tells him they're doing well, wherever they are. Clint never elaborates, so Steve has stopped asking.

Bucky isn't like them.

He's not quiet like Steve got the impression that he would be, but he's not loud like the family Steve is used to either. Bucky isn't so loud that it annoys him and becomes a problem. He's the right amount of noisy to be tolerable and maybe even nice.

The walls in this building aren't thick. They're not thin but they're not thick enough to shut out all noise from the apartments to either side and even above, so Steve can occasionally hear Bucky talk on the other side of the wall. Sometimes he's talking to an actual human but it's phone conversations more often than not.

Steve has even heard him talk to his cat, Benjamin. Not just once either but often.

It's cute. A little ridiculous, maybe, but Steve talks to his dog too so who is he to judge?

Sometimes, Bucky plays his music so loud that it's almost like he's in the same room. The music he listens to is always something that Steve doesn't recognize, at least not with the slight muffle that the wall does provide.

On one memorable occasion though, Bucky puts on Disney music and Steve recognizes every song in a heartbeat. That night, Steve is positive that he hears Bucky sing along to just about every song and he can't help but smile a little wider, a little brighter, at Bucky when he passes him on the stairs the following morning.

“Hey,” he greets him and nods.

“Hi,” Bucky greets him back and stops, one foot on the next step. “You're out early this morning.”

“Morning runs,” Steve says and nods down at Alice who's standing by his side. “Every morning.”

“At the crack of dawn?” Bucky huffs and shakes his head. “That's practically torture.”

“You're one to talk,” Steve says. “You're out early, too.”

“Only because I haven't gone to bed yet and my trash was full.”

Steve hums, lets his smile turn teasing. “Late night?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Bucky says and scratches his cheek. “Lot'a work to be done.”

Steve nods and says, “And a lot of music to listen to.”

“Yeah, it—” Bucky cuts himself off and looks at him, wide eyed. “Shit. It wasn't too loud, was it?”

“Nah, it was fine,” Steve says. “I especially liked the Disney songs.”

Bucky stares at him for a moment, then narrows his eyes. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?” Steve asks, his smile widening.

“Like you just grabbed the last cookie from under my nose.”

“Oh, that. That's nothing. I just think you have a lovely singing voice.”

Bucky blinks and suddenly there's a blush painting his cheeks a pretty pink. He shifts where he stands and lowers his head, as if to hide the way his cheeks are growing shades darker and darker. It makes Steve's smile grow wider, toothier.

“Okay, bye,” Bucky says in a rush and walks away, taking two steps at a time up the stairs.

“I think it's cute!” Steve calls after him.

From around the corner, Bucky calls back, “Fuck off!”

Steve laughs to himself, his smile turning soft.

Having a new neighbor is an adjustment but it's not so bad when that neighbor is Bucky. They pass each other most days on the stairs, occasionally in the hall and rarely by the entrance. Steve always smiles at him in greeting because they don't always have time to stop and talk, and Bucky always smiles back, his cheeks always a subtle shade of pink.

Steve doesn't know what to do with the feeling every encounter gives him.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

› From Natasha, 14:36: come over. i miss your dog :(

Steve is on the couch reading with Alice asleep in his lap when the text comes in. His phone buzzes on the armrest and he glances toward it, stopping mid sentence on the page. He closes the book around a finger and lifts his other hand from the top of Alice's head despite the dissatisfied grunt she gives him, then he grabs his phone and reads the text from Natasha.

The sigh that leaves him is involuntary but the eye roll that follows isn't. He shifts the phone into the palm of his hand and types out a reply with his thumb, while Alice scoots further into his lap looking for attention.

‹ To Natasha, 14:39: You can come over yourself.

Steve doesn't bother putting his phone down because he knows how quick Natasha is to respond. Instead, he pulls his finger out from the book and lets it close, putting it away and freeing up his hand. He puts it on Alice's head to pet her, and she sighs heavily and leans into his hand.

His phone buzzes only seconds later.

› From Natasha, 14:40: i'm not the one struggling with isolation

He glares down at the screen, thumb already moving to send back an angry emoji when another text comes in.

› From Natasha, 14:40: besides sam made your favorite pie ;)

Steve stares down at the screen for a moment, but then he sighs in defeat.

‹ To Natasha, 14:41: On my way, asshole.

Locking his phone, Steve nudges Alice and makes her move out of his lap. She follows him off the couch when he stands, trotting after him when he goes into the bedroom to get changed into something other than the stained sweats and the shirt he slept in that he has on now. She stretches and yawns while he gets dressed and makes himself look somewhat presentable.

“Come on, Alice,” he says after and heads for the door, keys in hand and phone in his pocket.

Alice sprints ahead of him, a bounce in her step and tail wagging behind her. She gets her leash on, Steve steps into his shoes and stuffs a couple of poop bags into his jacket, then he opens the door and lets Alice pull him out along with her.

They make it all of two steps down the hall before someone comes up the stairs and makes Steve look up from where he's putting his own keys away. Bucky is coming up the stairs, a bag of groceries in his left arm and his right hand digging into his pocket.

“Hey, neighbor,” Steve greets him and smiles when Bucky looks over at him.

“Hey, you,” Bucky greets him back, a smile on his lips. “Where 're you off to?”

“My friends',” Steve says, stopping in front of him. “They're forcing me to come out of my apartment by bribing me with desserts.”

“Damn,” Bucky chuckles. “That's cruel. And you call these people your friends?”

“I know,” Steve says. “I should get better friends.”

“Maybe, but would you rather have good friends or get free desserts?”

“That's a good point.”

“I know, I make a lot of those. I'm pretty smart, I'll have you know.”

“Oh yeah?” Steve takes a step forward, gravitating closer.

“Oh yeah,” Bucky echoes and smiles at him. “I bet I could get you free desserts without having to deal with those awful people you call friends.”

“And how would you do that?”

Bucky looks at him for a moment, then he smiles and says, “Let me get back to you on that.”

“Alright,” Steve says, chuckling. “Maybe I'll even share those desserts with you, if you do.”

“Oh, you better,” Bucky says and starts moving forward. “I only accept payment in desserts.”

“Duly noted,” Steve says and smiles when he passes. “See you 'round, neighbor.”

Bucky smiles at him and walks over to his apartment, pulling his keys out of his pocket and sticking one into the lock. Steve gives him a lingering look but for no more than a second before he forces himself to look away.

Ignoring that feeling in his chest, he heads down the stairs and out of the building, Alice following eagerly.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

“I have a new neighbor.”

Steve doesn't look up from his plate when he says it, even though the crumbs aren't that interesting and his friends are looking at him now. He keeps his gaze lowered, feet tugged in under the chair he's sitting on and elbows resting on the table.

Sam is sitting to his right and Natasha is on his left, while Alice is snoring softly by his feet. Natasha's cat, Liho, is walking around somewhere in the apartment. Alice has stopped paying attention to her but Steve hasn't; he saw her silently run across the room a few minutes ago.

“Yeah?” Sam asks. “Is there a second part to that, or?”

“No,” Steve says. “I don't know. It— That's the only interesting thing that's happened in weeks.”

“What's your new neighbor like?” Natasha asks. “Are they nice?”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “He's— His name is Bucky. He has a cat. I don't know much about him.”

“A cat?” Natasha repeats and rests her chin in her hand, a smile on her lips. “Tell me more.”

“What do you want me to say?” Steve asks flatly. “It's a cat.”

Natasha scoffs at him and says, “Typical dog person.”

“His name is Benjamin,” Steve says. “He's... well, I guess he's kinda cute.”

“The cat or the person?” Natasha asks, a glint in her eye.

Steve gives her a deadpan look. “The cat,” he says. And the person, he doesn't add.

“What's this Bucky like?” Sam asks. “He a good neighbor?”

“I guess,” Steve says with a shrug. “We talk occasionally, whenever we run into each other. I think he works from home, has a lot of late nights doing whatever he's doing. Sometimes he still hasn't slept by the time I go for a morning run with Alice.”

“Sounds like an insomniac,” Sam says.

“Maybe,” Steve says. “He's nice, though. And it's nice with a neighbor again.”

Sam hums and asks, “How's Simone doing, do you know?”

“Clint says she's fine,” Steve says. “Her and the boys.”

“That's good.”

“Yeah.” Steve smiles, small and crooked. “I kinda miss them, actually. The noise was— They were nice.”

Steve looks down at his plate again, so he misses the look that Sam and Natasha share.

“Is Bucky noisy?” Natasha asks.

“Well,” Steve says and leans back. “He plays his music with the volume cranked up and sings along to it, sometimes. He's noisy but, uh. It's good. The good kind of noisy.”

“Good,” Sam says and smiles. “Maybe I'll stop by one day and meet the guy.”

Steve looks up and meets Sam's smile with his own. They fall silent, the subject dropped. Sam reaches out and cuts himself another slice of pie, then looks at Steve with a silent question in his eyes. Steve nods and slides his plate over, smiling when Sam plops a slice onto it.

“By the way,” Steve says as he sits back, fork in hard. “How's the boyfriend doing?”

“He's fine,” Sam says. “And again, not my boyfriend.”

“Oh, right,” Steve says. “You just go on dates, spend the night at his place all the time, constantly text, but sure. You're just friends.”

“Calm down,” Sam says with a scoff. “We're just not official yet.”

Steve nods, then asks, “Why not?”

“His situation is— complicated.”

Steve pauses, stares at him. “Is he famous?” he asks. “Sam, are you dating a celebrity?”

Sam smiles at him but he says nothing and only shovels a forkful of pie into his mouth.

“Actually,” Steve says, realization hitting him. “You haven't told me jack shit about him. I'm hurt, I'm supposed to be your best friend.”

“You can wait,” Sam says.

Steve gives him an offended look, then he turns to Natasha. “You're his roommate,” he says. “What do you know?”

“Nothing,” Natasha says. “And trust me, that annoys me as much as it annoys you.”

“You two are too nosy,” Sam says.

“And you're too secretive,” Natasha says.

Sam quirks a brow at her. “Says you.”

“You know who I'm dating.”

“Yeah, only because she wanted to meet your friends.”

“Ah, that's the problem,” Steve says. “Your boyfriend doesn't wanna meet your friends. Sam, you deserve better than that. Who is this guy? I'll punch his face in.”

“Nice try,” Sam says and shoots him a humorless smile. “I'm still not telling you.”

“Well,” Steve says and meets Natasha's eye. “It was worth a shot.”

The pie gets eaten, and Steve stays until night falls and Alice starts whining at him, impatient and hungry and bored. He leaves with a bag of leftovers from their fridge and with a kiss on the cheek from Natasha as well as a hug from Sam.

When Steve returns to his building, he gives Bucky's door a lingering look.

But no one needs to know that.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

He can't stop thinking about him, is the thing. Bucky, that is. Steve can't stop thinking about him and he can't quite figure out whether to be annoyed or intrigued by that. He's both, he supposes. Annoyingly intrigued is the best way to describe it. Bucky himself isn't annoying, although the fact that Steve can't tell if he's flirting or being friendly kind of is. But he, as a person, is not.

Steve has had new neighbors before, more than once, both when he was growing up and as an adult. He has befriended some of them and ignored others but mostly gotten along well with the people living in the same building as him. Bucky is no exception.

But he has never felt like this. Not for a neighbor, at least. The only other time he has felt this level of attraction was in the army when he met... when he met...

Anyway.

Steve isn't stupid, nor is he oblivious. He knows Bucky is a handsome man and he knows that he is stupidly attracted to him, can't deny it. He hasn't told anyone and no one but Clint has even hinted at it. Not even Sam and Natasha who tease him about everything between heaven and earth, although they do ask about his neighbor a lot, asks how it's going with that as if a neighborly relationship is supposed to go anywhere.

Thinking about it now, the two of them are probably being more subtle about their teasing while Clint is forward and upfront about it.

Steve sighs and shakes his head in an attempt to clear his head. He's sitting in his living room, in the chair that he has facing the window. Outside, the sun is high and bright on the clear blue sky, birds are chirping and cars and people are noisy on the streets below. Alice is keeping his feet warm on the floor, not that he's cold or anything. It's comforting, that's all.

There's a book open in his hands but he hasn't read a single word for—

He wakes up his phone and looks at the time. He hasn't read a single word for forty-nine minutes and during all that time he has been sitting here thinking about Bucky while staring out the window like he's daydreaming.

He's daydreaming. Too much, in fact.

He closes the book and puts it away. Alice stirs by his feet but doesn't fully wake, only grunts and shifts closer to him. She's halfway under the chair by now and Steve smiles down at her, sliding a foot around to rub at her now exposed belly.

Alice lets out a happy sigh but then instantly scrambles to her feet when someone knocks on the door. She barks and Steve stands, telling her to stop. She does but starts growling instead and follows close behind while he walks toward the door of his apartment. He grabs onto her collar and opens the door, a smile on his lips when he sees who's on the other side.

Speak of the devil.

“Bucky,” Steve says. “Hey, what's up?”

“Hey, Steve,” Bucky says, eyes dropping to Alice who wags her tail. “And you too, Alice.”

There's a smile on his lips but there's something off about it. He's holding himself differently too, shifting from foot to foot and fidgeting. He's nervous. Steve frowns at him.

“Buck,” he says. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Yeah, uh. You wouldn't happen to have any sugar, would you?”

Steve blinks at him. “Sugar,” he repeats.

Bucky looks at him. “Yep,” he says.

Steve stares at him, his eyes narrowing little by little. Bucky's cheeks have gone ever so slightly red but the color is quickly darkening. It makes Steve's previous smile return in the form of a grin.

Oh. Okay.

“Are you coming onto me?” he asks, tone teasing.

“No,” Bucky says. He's flushing, lying.

“Oh,” Steve says and grins wider. “I think you are.”

Bucky's face turns deadpan, not that it does any good when his cheeks are reddening.

“Right,” he says. “Because if I was coming onto you, I'd use the lamest line in the book.”

He scoffs and rolls his eyes, and Steve's smile becomes toothy. It doesn't sound like a lie, so he figures Bucky really is asking for sugar because he needs some and has none. But something tells him that Bucky knows what it sounds like, him asking for it, and maybe it's not far from the truth.

“Uh huh,” Steve says. “I'll get you some sugar, hang on a second.”

Bucky nods, eyes darting away and his cheeks staying pink. Steve lets his eyes linger on him for another second, then he steps back with a grin and that fluttery feeling appears in his chest. He pulls Alice with him and tells her to sit while he walks to the kitchen. She does, staying still near the door like a guard dog.

In the kitchen, Steve grabs the bag of sugar that he has stored away in one of his cabinets. He doesn't use sugar that often so giving it away doesn't hurt. Besides, if he really needs it for whatever reason, he has a small bowl of it ready to go.

He returns to the front door and hands the bag over to Bucky, a smile on his lips.

“Here you go,” he says and meets Bucky's eye.

Bucky looks at him, then looks at the bag of sugar. There's a pause that lasts no longer than a second, though it feels a lot longer, and Steve nearly opens his mouth to ask what's wrong. But then Bucky squares his shoulders and grabs the bag, yanking it out of Steve's hand.

“Thanks, bye!” Bucky says and leaves without another word, his door slamming after him.

Steve stares after him, hand dropping. He blinks, then snorts and steps back inside with a shake of his head. The smile stays for longer than he expects it to.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

There's a knock on his door again, a few hours later.

Steve has already had dinner by then and has taken Alice out for her night walk. She's playing with her toy, rolling her ball around and nudging the kibble out of it, and Steve is cleaning up in the kitchen when the knock comes.

Alice barks at the sound, instantly alert and ball forgotten. Steve tells her to sit and stay, which she does instead of following him when he walks to the door. On the other side is Bucky, his hair a little messier than earlier but still gathered into a bun. His cheeks are still a pretty shade of pink, too.

He's holding a plate with clear foil wrapped over it and a slice of cake underneath. Steve looks at it for only a moment before he lifts his gaze and looks at Bucky, a smile already forming on his lips.

“Hi again, Buck,” he says.

“Steve,” Bucky says and holds out the plate. “Here you go.”

Steve drops his gaze to the plate again and doesn't hesitate to reach out and take it from Bucky. He does it slowly though, his smile gradually turning crooked and his brows furrowing ever so slightly into a questioning look that he directs at Bucky.

“And here I thought,” he says, “that you were the one accepting payment in desserts, not me.”

“I made too much,” Bucky says. “Figured I owed you at least one slice since I used up most of your sugar. And don't deny that you want it, Steve. I know it looks good. Tastes even better, trust me.”

Steve smiles at him, then he asks, “Chocolate?”

“Yep,” Bucky says with a nod, a smile on his lips.

“Thank you, Buck,” Steve says and lets his smile turn soft. “You didn't have to.”

“I know,” Bucky says. “But I wanted to. And if you want more, come over.”

“Anytime?”

“Anytime you want.”

“I'll keep that in mind.”

Bucky smiles at him, and Steve smiles back.

There it is; that fluttering feeling in his chest. Steve welcomes it.

Bucky lingers by his door for another handful of seconds, then he nods a silent goodbye and turns to walk back over to his own apartment. Steve takes a step into the hall and leans against the frame of his door, watching as Bucky opens his door and steps inside.

Before he does though, Bucky looks back over at him and smiles. This smile is different. It's a subtle kind of different; the smile is softer, as is the look in his startling blue eyes that comes with it. It's a smile that makes the feeling in Steve's chest grow a little warmer and he's suddenly glad he's leaning against something because his knees decide to malfunction thanks to that look.

Steve holds onto the plate a little tighter, holds his breath until Bucky disappears into his apartment.

Oh, that look—

Maybe Steve isn't the only one with that feeling in his chest.

Maybe, just maybe, Bucky feels it too.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Steve savors every bite of the cake.

It's good and Steve decides he could eat himself fat in Bucky's baking.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Clint has a potluck one Saturday evening, every resident of the building invited and the invitation extended to Sam and Natasha because they may not live here but they're practically family and that counts for something in this building. Well, to Clint it does and he owns it.

Clint has already fired up the grill by the time Steve steps onto the roof. He spots Natasha and Sam standing near there and walks over to them without a thought, nodding his hello to Aimee and Deke whom he passes by on the way over to them. He doesn't see Bucky anywhere.

“Hey,” he says and throws his arm over Clint's shoulders. “What are you making?”

“Burgers, steaks,” Clint says. “Anything your heart desires. Well, the heart in your stomach.”

“A burger sounds good,” Steve says.

“You got it, dude,” Clint says and reaches over to fish out a patty. “One burger coming up.”

With a smile, Steve pats Clint on the shoulder and steps back. Clint turns to him but the smile on his lips falls the moment his gaze lowers to Steve's side. The pout is barely there but it's hard to miss the disappointment in his eyes when he looks back up.

“No Alice?” he asks.

“No Alice,” Steve echoes. “She's sleeping downstairs.”

“Aww,” Clint whines.

“Oh please,” Natasha says with a halfhearted scoff. “You didn't bring Lucky either.”

“I see Lucky every day,” Clint says. “I don't see Alice every day, I'm allowed to be disappointed.”

Steve taps his shoulder and says, “I'll stop by with her tomorrow.”

“That better be a promise,” Clint says.

“Cross my heart,” Steve says with a nod.

Clint smiles at him, bright and toothy.

Steve rolls his eyes at him but there's a smile on his lips that he doesn't try to hide.

He gets a beer shoved into his hand and ends up sitting on the ledge of the roof with Natasha and Sam on either side of him while Clint stays by the grill and talks to the residents while simultaneously making sure not to burn anything.

“So,” Natasha says after a while. “This new neighbor of yours. Is he here?”

Steve looks up from where he's been peeling the label off his bottle. He can pick out just about every resident in the building, although there are some whose name he doesn't remember or maybe never knew, but he can't see Bucky anywhere.

“No,” he says, feeling disappointed. “I don't think so.”

“That's a shame,” Natasha says. “I was gonna ask him about his cat.”

Steve scoffs and says, “Typical cat person.”

Natasha elbows him in the side and gives him a displeased glare.

Steve sticks his tongue out at her because they're both children stuck in grown bodies sometimes.

“How's that going, by the way?” Sam asks. “Is he still a good neighbor?”

“Yeah,” Steve says and turns to him, ignoring Natasha poking at him. “He is. He gave me cake last week.”

“He gave you cake,” Sam repeats in a flat tone.

“He did,” Steve says. “He borrowed— well, I gave him my sugar and he used most of it so he repaid me with a slice of the cake that he baked. It was good.”

Sam hums, a little smile tugging at his lips. It looks near smug, maybe even teasing.

“Sounds like courting,” Natasha says and sips at her beer.

Steve doesn't protest. He just shrugs and smiles down at his hands.

“Oohh,” Sam croons and throws his arm around his shoulders, pulling him in and poking at his cheek. “You're blushing. Steve, are you being courted by your neighbor?”

“Shut up,” Steve huffs and shoves at his friend but his smile and blush stay on his face.

“Look at that face, Nat,” Sam says, smiling widely. “I think our little Steve has a crush.”

“Aww,” Natasha coos at him and pinches his red cheeks.

“Okay, that's enough!” Steve says, laughing as he slaps their hands away.

But they don't stop, at least not for a while. It takes Clint coming over with plates of food for them to stop being all over him and Steve silently thanks his savior, signing it when he gets a fresh burger in his hands. Clint smiles at him and shoots finger guns at the three of them, then he leaves.

There's no teasing while they eat, which Steve is grateful for. His empty stomach appreciates the burger too and soon, he finds himself roped into conversation with his two best friends. He stops paying attention to the rest of the roof, stops glancing toward the door in hopes to see Bucky come out of there, and starts enjoying himself a bit.

It lasts only thirty minutes, give or take.

Clint comes over to them when their plates are empty and their beers are getting there, bellies full and warm. He has a bottle of beer in one hand, full and newly opened, and an almost teasing grin on his lips.

“Hey, Steve,” he says and stops in front of him, his grin growing wider.

“Hey, Clint,” Steve says, eyeing him. “What's up?”

“Guess who finally showed up,” Clint says and shifts to the side ever so slightly.

Steve stares at him in question for a moment, then he looks to the side of the roof that Clint had been blocking with his body before and his breath catches in his throat.

Bucky is sitting on the ledge on the other side. His hair is loose for once, blowing in the wind and hanging down to his broad shoulders. He has his legs pulled up to sit crisscrossed, a plate in his lap with a half eaten burger on top. His head is turned, eyes on the other residents and he's alone.

Steve moves without thinking. He stands and takes the beer bottle from Clint's hand, ignoring his protests when he does. He walks over toward Bucky in long, quick strides and forgets all about the empty plate and nearly empty bottle he left behind, as well as the introduction that he promised Sam and Natasha.

They can wait. He can't.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Steve says and smiles as he sits down beside Bucky on the ledge.

Bucky turns to him and gives him a soft smile, his face smoothing over to match it. It makes Steve's own smile turn a little softer too, that fluttering feeling hitting him like a punch of fresh air, and he lets himself shift the tiniest bit closer.

“Well,” Bucky says with a shrug. “It is a building potluck and I do live here, so.”

“I'm glad,” Steve says. “But why are you sitting over here by yourself?”

“I, uh,” Bucky says and scratches his cheek. “I don't know anyone. Didn't wanna bother anyone, either.”

“You could've bothered me,” Steve says. “I wouldn't have minded. I would've liked it, actually. My friends have been wanting to meet you.”

Bucky stares at him. “You been talking about me?” he asks, cheeks coloring.

“Yeah,” Steve says and shrugs. He's blushing, he knows it. “'Course I have.”

“What have you been telling them?” Bucky asks and nudges him with a smile.

“That you listen to music too loud,” Steve says and nudges him back. “And that you're a bit of an ass but I like it.”

“Oh, you do, huh?” Bucky turns more to him, his smile curling into a grin.

“Just a bit,” Steve says with a half shrug.

Bucky hums, looking at him for a long moment. Then his eyes dart over to the other side of the roof and Steve follows them. On the other side, Clint has taken his spot between Natasha and Sam. The three of them are watching them and not being subtle about it in any way.

It makes Steve blush a little brighter but he ignores them, turning back to Bucky.

“Sam and Natasha?” Bucky asks and glances back at him.

“That's them,” Steve says. “The assholes I call my best friends.”

Bucky smiles at him but it falls off his lips the moment he looks back over at the three. Curious, Steve looks over and sees Clint leaning into Natasha and telling her something that makes her smile and elbow him in the side.

“And, uh,” Bucky says. “Clint and Natasha. Are they together, do you know? Clint hasn't mentioned dating anyone.”

“They're not,” Steve says. “They used to be but, well. It didn't work out.”

“Oh,” Bucky says with a frown. “That sucks.”

“They're still friends,” Steve says. “Good friends, obviously. Nat is dating someone else, her name's Sharon. She's nice. And Clint... well, he has Lucky and Kate. Pretty sure that's all he needs.”

Bucky hums noncommittally and nods.

“Are you and Clint close?” Steve asks. “He told me you're friends.”

“He's like a brother to me,” Bucky says. “We met, uh, maybe ten years ago. Maybe even twelve. Fuck, we're old. Anyway, I pulled him out of a dumpster once and haven't been able to get rid of him since.”

Steve huffs in amusement and says, “That sounds like Clint.”

“I know,” Bucky says, chuckling. “That guy's a disaster but I love 'im.”

Steve laughs along with him, but then they both fall silent. It's a surprise when he finds that it's comfortable to sit here with Bucky and not have to say anything. A nice surprise. He looks at Bucky and smiles when he looks back, the smile only growing when Bucky dips his chin with a bashful smile on his lips.

While Bucky finishes his burger, Steve manages to drink about half of the beer that he stole from Clint. They do it in silence, watching the other people mill around among each other, but then, once Bucky has swallowed the last bite and put the plate away, Steve turns to him and breaks the silence.

“So,” he says. “What do you do?”

“For a living?”

Steve nods in answer.

“I'm an editor for Shield Publishing,” Bucky says. “I work from home most of the time, read a bunch of garbage scripts and an occasional good one.”

“Anything I might have read?”

“I mean, even if you had, I can't take credit for anything.”

“You approved of it. Maybe I'd like to know what gets that honor.”

Bucky looks at him, a smile on his lips. “I'll give you a list,” he says.

“I'd like that,” Steve says and smiles back.

“And what do you do, Steve?” Bucky asks, tugging a lock of hair behind his ear.

The movement briefly distracts Steve, his hand curling into a fist to prevent himself from acting on the sudden urge to touch and maybe do the same, brush his fingers through Bucky's hair. But then the question registers and Steve feels his smile fall from his lips, shame filling in his gut.

He looks down at his hands and says, “Nothing.”

“Nothing?” Bucky echoes questioningly.

“At the moment?” Steve shrugs. “Yeah, nothing.”

Bucky doesn't say anything, so Steve doesn't look at him again. When he looks up, he looks across the roof instead and meets Sam's eye. Natasha isn't looking this way anymore, Clint having grabbed her attention, but Sam is and there's a frown on his face. Steve can see it, despite the distance.

Sam doesn't move but Steve can tell that he wants to. That's one of the many things he appreciates about him; he's always ready to come to the rescue if he has to, always ready to help him. But Steve doesn't want him to, not right now. He can handle a bit of awkward silence.

Steve takes in a deep breath quietly through his nose and turns to Bucky, smiling despite the small furrow between Bucky's brows that's asking a million silent questions, none of which Steve wants to answer.

“No one does nothing,” Bucky says. “How do you spend your days?”

Steve chuckles humorlessly and scratches at his cheek. “It's not interesting,” he says.

“Try me,” Bucky says.

Steve looks at him, sees kindness in his eyes.

“I run with Alice in the mornings,” he says. “Then I— well, I guess I do whatever I want.”

Bucky shifts where he's sitting, turning more toward him. The smile on his lips gets a bit softer but there's genuine interest in his eyes. The fluttering feeling in Steve's chest grows stronger and warmer.

“Like what?” Bucky asks.

Steve stares at him for a moment, then he takes in a breath and tells him. He tells him about all the boring and uninteresting things that he spends his days doing, tells him about his reading and his dog and his friends. And Bucky listens, nodding in the right places and asking the right questions.

Steve doesn't notice but they gravitate closer and by the time Sam, Natasha, and Clint come over to join them, Bucky's knee is touching Steve's thigh and Steve has one of his hands dangerously close to resting on Bucky's thigh.

And Steve realizes that while he may be attracted to Bucky, there's something else between them too and that something else could very well be something real, something good.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Afterward, things go back to normal but different at the same time. They run into each other in the hall, on the stairs, in the lobby, sometimes outside the building too and they stop to talk for a minute or two or more, not much has changed there.

But the tension between them is different, now. Their interactions haven't changed much but they stand a little closer, look at each other a little longer, even touch each other now, and Steve has a way to describe the warm, fuzzy feeling in his chest now; love, a crush, something along those lines.

Neither of them make a move, though.

Steve tells himself to do it several times, pretty much every time he sees Bucky anywhere, even from far away. But every time, without a doubt, he chickens out in the last second and doesn't ask Bucky out like he so badly wants to. He beats himself up over it after too, always.

Bucky doesn't ask him out either. For a while, Steve feared it's because he's straight or closeted or still questioning but Bucky has mentioned being gay several times with such an ease that comes with being out for a long, long time. In return, Steve has mentioned being bisexual, a subtle wink win nudge nudge ask me out but nothing happened.

Nothing happens.

But it's fine.

They're fine.

Steve wants more. He wants, wants, wants

But he can be patient.

“That's the biggest lie you've ever told,” Natasha tells him. “You have no patience, never have.”

“I do have patience,” Steve says and crosses his arms.

Natasha gives him a look, raises her brows.

“Sometimes,” he adds in a mutter. “But this is different. I can be patient because—”

“Because what?” Natasha asks, interrupting him. “Because you two haven't been dancing around each other enough already? Or because you're too scared to make a move?”

“I'm,” Steve says, then stops. “I'm— busy.”

Natasha looks at him and says, “No, you're not.”

Steve sighs and slumps down on the couch. He's in Natasha's apartment. Sam isn't here, he took Alice with him on a run because she had some extra energy and Steve has a low energy day today. This works fine, Liho is more relaxing to be around and Natasha doesn't expect anything from him.

This is fine.

“What are you really afraid of, Steve?” Natasha asks.

Steve frowns down at the floor and stays silent for a minute, maybe two.

“What if,” he starts, then stops and swallows. “What if something bad happens? Again.”

“What if something good happens?” Natasha counters. “You can't let fear stop you.”

“I know,” Steve says. “I never thought I'd be someone who let it stop me but, well.”

“Trauma does that to a person,” Natasha says.

Steve lets out a breath and nods, subconsciously rubbing at the space between his right thumb and pointy finger. His hand is sore again, or maybe it's all in his head. He doesn't know anymore.

“Do you like him?”

Steve looks up at Natasha. She smiles at him when he does, small on her bare face. He knows the answer to her question, knows that she knows too, but he also knows what she is going to say once he gives her that answer.

“I do,” he says anyway. “I like him, a lot. And I think we could have something good. But I'm da—”

“Don't say it,” Natasha interrupts, her smile gone and eyes hard.

“Natasha—”

“No, Steve,” she says. “That excuse doesn't hold, not here.”

“Fine,” Steve says, face going hard. “What do you want me to say, then? That I'm gonna march over there and ask him out?”

“Yes. Why not?”

“Because I can't, Nat. I don't—”

“Why. not?” she asks again, firmly. “It's not that serious. If he says no, then that's that.”

Steve stares at her for a moment, then he sighs and leans back on the couch. He rubs his hand, takes in a deep breath, clenches his fist.

“When you say it like that,” he says quietly, “it sounds so easy.”

“It's not easy,” Natasha says. “I know it's not. Love never is.”

Steve's eyes snap to hers, cheeks warm. “I never said anything about love,” he says.

Natasha gives him a pointed look, a smile on her lips.

“Your face says it all,” she says. “As does everything you've said so far. You're afraid of hurting him, aren't you?”

Steve doesn't answer, not verbally. He lowers his gaze and that's answer enough.

“Well, I've got some news for you, Rogers,” Natasha says. “You will. You'll hurt him and then you'll make it good again because I know you. Once you care, you care deeply. You'll fuck up but not for good.”

Steve stares down at the floor for a moment, then he smiles a little and looks up at her.

“You just gave me relationship advice,” he says. “You, Natasha Romanoff.”

“I know,” Natasha says with a scoff, rolling her eyes. “I blame Sharon. She's making me soft.”

“She's good for you.”

“She is. Too good, I think.”

“I doubt that. You deserve it.”

Natasha quirks a brow, smiles, and says, “So do you.”

Steve smiles at her but says nothing. She doesn't either, both of them falling silent. It doesn't last long.

“You know,” Steve starts. “He asked me what I do and I said nothing. It got me thinking, maybe I should— Maybe I should do, I don't know, something.”

“Not a bad idea,” Natasha says. “What do you want to do?”

Steve pauses, then he asks, “How's Sharon?”

“She's fine,” Natasha says, giving him a look. “Don't avoid the question.”

“I don't know,” Steve sighs. “I don't really know what I like doing, to be honest, not anymore.”

Natasha hums quietly, then falls silent. She's quiet for maybe ten seconds while she looks at him, eyes narrowed ever so slightly, and Steve shifts uncomfortably under her stare.

“Have you thought about picking up art again?” she asks, after a while. “You used to draw, I remember.”

Steve thinks about it, thinks about holding a pencil in his hand again and dragging the tip of it across the white plane of a blank piece of paper, thinks about all the small, careful lines that go into details and—

He clenches his right fist and shrugs.

“I don't know,” he says. “Maybe.”

“Think about it,” Natasha says. “Can't hurt to try.”

Steve looks at her, then he smiles. He doesn't tell her she's wrong.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Steve never threw away his art stuff. He hasn't touched them in years but he still has them, stored away somewhere in the bottom drawer of his dresser. He has barely even looked at them since he moved into this apartment and before that, he didn't pay them any attention since before he joined the military and went overseas, leaving them behind.

They're still there when he goes looking for them, a couple of days after his talk with Natasha. His sketchbooks, his pencils and pens and chalk, the colored pencils that his mom got him for his sixteenth birthday, it's all there right where he left it.

He never had the heart to throw any of it out, although the thought has crossed his mind more times than he can count. But the sketchbooks hold countless drawings of his mom, of people no longer in his life, of memories that his brain hasn't contained. He can't throw those away, even if they do hurt to look at.

Steve grabs the one on the top of the pile and pulls it out. It's not full, far from it. There are a few sketches in it, mostly buildings but a few animals too like a bird singing drawn notes and a golden retriever basking in the sun. They're good, he can admit that. But he knows he can't draw like this, not anymore.

Can't hurt to try, Natasha's voice reminds him in his head.

Right. Try, that's all he needs to do.

Sketchbook in hand, Steve grabs a pencil too and stands. He walks over to the desk in his room and sits down, placing the sketchbook in front of him and the pencil beside it. Alice hops onto the bed and lays down by the foot of it to sleep while he grabs an eraser too and flips the book open to a blank page.

He takes a hold of the pencil, fiddles with it for a moment, then he puts the tip to the page and—

And nothing.

Nothing happens.

He doesn't know what to draw, nothing is coming to him. He was sure something would come to him, it usually does— well, did after he'd lay everything out and get himself ready, roll his wrist and neck and tell himself to draw.

But now? Nothing.

Not for a while, anyway. Not until Alice yawns noisily from the bed and rolls onto her back, stretching out and exposing her belly, relaxed and content.

Ah, there it is; his muse.

Steve smiles and draws the first line, and then the next and the next. For a while, it feels good to be doing this again. It feels almost natural, although his hand does shake a little and his lines aren't as smooth as they used to be and the thing on the paper doesn't necessarily look anything like a dog but he's drawing.

For a while, it's good.

And then it's not.

He doesn't get much further than a rough sketch of the snout and an ear before the tip of the pencil snaps on the paper. He stops breathing, going rigid. In an instant, he is so far from okay, he may as well be on a completely different planet.

His grip on the pencil tightens and he lets it snap in his hand. He takes in a deep, deep breath while his hands curl into fists; one around the remains of the pencil and the other around the sketchbook. The paper rips a little, ruining the rough sketch, but he doesn't care.

The breath leaves him but it's too late. He's already angry.

The sketchbook gets thrown away, slamming roughly against the wall and clattering noisily to the ground, and Steve stands up so suddenly that his chair scrapes back against the floorboards. His hands curl into his hair for a brief moment before he lets himself punch the wall in front of him.

It hurts and he groans, not because of the pain but because he's angry and frustrated.

Steve doesn't even notice Alice until she jumps at him, her front paws landing on his chest and pushing him off balance. He steadies himself quickly but doesn't say upright. A hand on Alice's head, he lets himself fall to his knees with a long string of curses.

Alice licks at his face and Steve holds onto her.

How long he sits there, he doesn't know. But it's long enough that he has calmed down enough to breathe properly when there's a knock sounding through the apartment and Alice starts barking. She's in his lap and it's too loud too close to his ear but he doesn't mind.

Steve sighs and hangs his head, resting his forehead against Alice's chest. He lets her bark for a minute, then he stands and tells her to stop but doesn't stop her from following him when he goes to the door.

He doesn't want to see anyone, not like this, but whoever is knocking on his door is not stopping.

When he opens it, he realizes why.

It's Bucky, frowning and looking worried.

“Hey,” he says when the door is open. “I heard something— Are you okay?”

Steve blinks at him, stares for a second. Then he clears his throat, smooths his left and uninjured hand over his beard, and shifts where he stands. He can't look good, he knows this. He doesn't even dare to look at the knuckles on his right hand. They're probably real bad but he's had worse. A lot worse.

“Yeah,” Steve says— lies. “I'm fine.”

The frown disappears from Bucky's face, an unimpressed look replacing it.

“Really?” he asks flatly. “Because I'm pretty sure I heard something hit the wall. Twice.”

Steve shrugs and says, “I was, uh, hanging up a picture.”

Bucky stares at him, although it's closer to a glare.

“Buck,” Steve says. “I'm fine, really.”

Bucky's eyes narrow into slits and his lips pull into a thin line. The glare is no longer there which is an improvement but he doesn't looked convinced, far from it actually. The look he gives Steve is assessing, narrowed eyes flickering across his face until they finally meet Steve's again.

“Grab your coat,” he says. “Shoes too. And leave your dog.”

Steve stares at him, then asks, “Uh, why?”

But his hands move to grab his coat anyway, shrugging it on and stepping into his shoes. Bucky doesn't answer him, only gives him an impatient look, so Steve dips his chin and looks away before he grabs his keys, tells Alice to stay, and closes the door after stepping out into the hall.

Bucky leads him to the top floor and then onto the roof, and Steve follows without question. Once there, Bucky holds out his right hand and gestures to the ledge in front of them. He doesn't smile, only watches Steve with a careful eye.

Sighing, Steve sits down and stuffs his hands into the pockets of his coat, both because night has fallen and the air is cool up here but also because he doesn't want to see what his hand looks like so he might as well hide both of them.

Bucky sits down next to him, head tipping back and eyes going to the dark sky above them.

“I come here sometimes,” he says after a minute. “Not for Clint's potluck but alone, just me and the stars. I like it here, it's quiet. Calm.”

Steve turns his head and looks at him. He doesn't look to the stars, although he suspects Bucky wants him to. He can look at the stars any other time though, they can wait.

“Why'd you bring me here?” he asks in a low voice.

“Because you're upset,” Bucky says and looks at him. “And I have a feeling you're not gonna tell me why so I brought you here to calm down.”

Steve sighs and says, “I'm fine.”

“You said that, yeah,” Bucky says. “But I don't believe you.”

Steve looks down at the ground.

“Let me see your hand,” Bucky says and holds out his own, metal glinting in the moonlight.

Steve looks at it, stares while his right hand curls into a fist in his pocket.

“If you're not comfortable with this hand,” Bucky says after a moment, “then I've got another.”

“It's not,” Steve starts, then cuts himself off to clear his throat. “It's not that.”

“Then what is it?”

Steve swallows thickly but his throat is so tight that he nearly can't. He hunches in on himself and keeps his hand in his pocket.

“You're getting upset again,” Bucky says, voice soft.

Steve takes in a deep breath and pulls his hand out of his pocket. It stays curled into a fist when he lays it into Bucky's palm. It's cold when it curls around his hand but Steve doesn't look at it. He's tense, his fist holding a tight grip on the air.

Fingers touch along his knuckles, these ones flesh and human and surprisingly soft. His curiosity gets the better of him and he lets himself glance over, eyes landing on where Bucky is holding his hand and carefully brushing his fingers over the bruised and red knuckles on Steve's hand.

Steve lets out a breath and lets his hand relax, uncurling.

“These are gonna need ice,” Bucky says. He doesn't let go of his hand, instead he squeezes and keeps it wrapped up in his two own.

Steve stares at it and wishes that the fluttering feeling would appear. He knows that it would, had it not been for his previous freak out that has left him this— this more angry than empty.

No, he's actually only more upset than empty now.

“Steve,” Bucky says in a whisper. “Look at me.”

Steve hesitates, but then he takes in a breath and does.

Bucky isn't looking at him with any pity but he is looking at him with worry, more now than when he knocked on his door only ten minutes ago.

“I'm not gonna judge you,” Bucky says. “Whatever upset you enough to punch a wall, you can tell me. The roof is a judgment free zone, you have my word on that.”

Steve stares at him for a moment, then he looks out across the city.

“I used to draw,” he starts. “All the time. At least one drawing every day, even if it was crap and nothing but a rough sketch of— I don't know, a stick figure. Now, well. Now it looks like I've forgotten how to.”

“And you got angry,” Bucky guesses.

“Yeah,” Steve sighs. “I got angry, upset, frustrated, whatever the fuck you wanna call it. Drawing used to be the one thing that could make me happy, no matter what, and now I can't even do that.”

“Well,” Bucky says. “Things like that don't disappear forever. It's like riding a bike, right? Maybe you forgot how and the first few times might be shaky and unsteady. But it'll come back to you, just give it time and keep trying.”

Steve looks down at where their hands are wrapped around each other when Bucky squeezes. His own has relaxed and curled its way around Bucky's, holding it back without realizing until now. He's quiet for a long time, staring down at their hands.

Then he looks away again.

“I'm a veteran,” he says quietly after a while.

Bucky pauses, then he nods and says, “I figured.”

“I retired,” Steve says, “after me and my squad got into an accident.”

Bucky tenses beside him. Steve wouldn't have noticed had Bucky not been maybe absently caressing the back of his hand with his thumb but that movement stops the second the word accident is out of his mouth.

He doesn't think too much into it and keeps talking.

“There was an explosion,” he says, “and a building collapsed on us. No one died. Yes, we were all severely hurt but we were fortunate that the worst we got was...”

“Was what, Steve?” Bucky asks quietly when Steve trails off.

Steve chews on his lip. “Me,” he breathes.

Bucky squeezes his hand. “What happened to you?”

“I was in a coma,” Steve says. “For about six weeks. They told me I was buried under the building for a while and lost a lot of oxygen to my brain so when I woke up, well. I had to relearn how to hold a pencil, write my own name, and—”

“Draw,” Bucky adds for him, softly.

“I never got around to that last one,” Steve says, a humorlessly smile on his lips. “I was discharged from the hospital as soon as I could write my own name with a regular pencil. Didn't think trying to draw would be worth it since I already hadn't drawn a single line in years, anyway.”

“How long ago was this?”

“What is it now, May? I woke up nine months ago.”

“Steve,” Bucky lets out in a breath. “That's— Shit, I'm sorry.”

“Most of the people in my squad are still on active duty,” Steve says. “A couple of them aren't but most of them decided to go back. Once I recovered and was cleared, I just— I realized that I didn't want to go back. I'd be a liability. I wasn't clear headed, still aren't. I get anger spurts and the only way I know how to deal with that is with my fists.”

Steve pauses for a second when Bucky starts caressing his hand again.

The fluttering feeling is back, tenfold.

“My, uh,” Steve says, clearing his throat. “My friend, Luke. He has a gym that I go to regularly, mostly to punch some sandbags and occasionally box with him. It helps. Alice helps too. But I'm not— I still can't draw and it makes me angry.”

He lets out a sigh, then swallows thickly.

“My mom used to tell me I could be an artist when I grew up,” he continues quietly. “I'm glad she never got to see that go right down the drain the second I stepped onto that war zone.”

He stops talking. Bucky is quiet next to him too. Only the sounds of the city night life are keeping it from being completely silent; a couple of cars driving up and down the streets, distant voices talking and shouting, a car honking, a dog barking several blocks away.

Bucky is still holding his hand too, keeping it warm between his own two.

The fluttering feeling doesn't leave.

“When I lost my arm,” Bucky says after a pause, “people told me that there would be a lot of things I wouldn't be able to do again. They told me I couldn't drive and well, they weren't wrong about that but I live in the middle of the city. I don't need to drive, anyway.”

Steve cracks a smile and looks at him.

“The list was long,” Bucky says, sighing. “Overwhelmingly long. You know what I did, though?”

“What?”

Bucky looks him in the eye and says, “I proved them wrong. Hell, I even proved myself wrong because I started to believe them. But here I am, functioning like any person with two arms except I only need the one.”

“You have a high tech prosthetic,” Steve points out.

“I do,” Bucky says. “But I don't need it to function. I learned how to function with one arm before I got this one. You might be functioning differently now, Steve, but that doesn't mean you can't do the things you used to do.”

Steve looks at him for a moment, then he says, “If I break my hand because I decide to try again, I'm gonna give you a hundred percent of the blame.”

“Alright, punk,” Bucky says and laughs. “I'll take the blame while getting you to the hospital.”

Steve laughs with him. It's quiet and more of a chuckle but it makes Bucky turn to him with this soft smile on his lips that makes Steve want to kiss him.

He doesn't but he does lean into him a little, knocking their shoulders together.

“You still talk to them?” Bucky asks, a minute later. “Your squad, I mean.”

“Only one,” Steve says. “Peggy. She's still on active duty, overseas right now.”

Bucky is quiet for a moment, then he says, “You two were close.”

It's not a question, it's more of a statement.

“Yeah,” Steve says and lowers his gaze. “We were, ah. Well, I guess we never really were anything but. I loved her. And then— well, here I am and there she is.”

“Long distance is a thing, you know,” Bucky says.

“I know,” Steve says. “She writes to me a lot. I— do sometimes, too.”

“And, do you still love her?”

Steve glances at Bucky, sees him watching him back but with his brows furrowed and the corners of his lips tugged down into a small frown. Steve smiles at the sight of it. He knows jealousy when he sees it.

“Yes,” Steve says. “Not in the way I used to and she's moved on too. We work better as friends.”

Bucky hums noncommittally and nods. He looks like he wants to say something more, worrying his bottom lip as if to keep himself from blurting whatever question is on his tongue, but he drops the subject.

Instead, he squeezes Steve's hand and smiles at him.

“You feeling better now?” he asks.

Steve smiles back and nods. “Yeah. Thank you, Buck.”

“Anytime,” Bucky says, then lifts both of their hands. “Now, let's get some ice on these knuckles.”

Steve huffs, a smile on his lips, and follows him off the roof.

Bucky doesn't let go of his hand. Neither does Steve.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Two days after, Steve drops Alice off with Natasha and goes to the gym with Sam. His knuckles are still bruised and his hand still hurts but he wraps it well and only takes out a few punches on a sandbag before he joins Sam and Luke in the ring. Sam pins him to the floor and Luke nearly bruises his shoulder. He gets some good punches in, too.

Afterward, he and Sam sit down on the bench on the sideline to cool down with a bottle of water each. They sit in silence, panting and watching as Luke trains one of the newbies whose name Steve still hasn't gotten around to asking about yet.

Steve breaks the silence and tells Sam about his failed attempt at drawing, tells him about breaking the pencil and punching the wall, and tells him about Bucky calming him down after. Sam gets this smile on his lips that is surprisingly soft while Steve expected it to be teasing.

He blushes and looks away, downing a big gulp of water.

Sam throws his arm around his shoulders and gives him a half hug. He doesn't ask questions, doesn't make him talk more about the bump in the road. Instead, he tells him about his not-boyfriend. No specific personal details and still no name but it's more than he has before and it makes Steve forget about everything else for a while.

Both because he has wanted to know more for months but also because Sam gets this soft, happy look on his face when he talks about the guy he's seeing. It's nice to see his best friend like this.

Steve decides that whoever this guy is is alright in his book.

For now, at least.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

It's only a few hours later, after he's come home and showered, that there's a knock on the door. It's a quiet knock that Steve doesn't hear because he's listening to music through his headphones but he does hear Alice barking and running over to the door. Steve pauses the music, gets up, and walks to the door.

“Alice, back,” he orders once there, waiting until she has stepped back before he opens the door.

Bucky is on the other side and Steve feels a smile form on his lips in an instant. However, it doesn't get to be there for long before it disappears at the same time his eyes lower to the things in Bucky's arms; a canvas and a bucket full of paint tubes and brushes.

Frowning, Steve looks at him and asks, “What's this?”

“This,” Bucky says and lifts the things, “is what we're gonna do today.”

He holds the things out toward Steve and Steve takes them from him without thinking, the frown only getting more pronounced.

“You want us to paint?” Steve asks, looking from the things now in his arms to Bucky.

“I sure do,” Bucky says and smiles at him. “How's Alice with cats, by the way?”

“Uh,” Steve starts. “She's fine with Nat's.”

“Perfect, I'll be right back,” Bucky says and then leaves.

He comes back less than a minute later. Steve hasn't moved in that time, so he's still standing in the door when Bucky comes back with Benjamin in his arms and a smile on his lips. Bucky steps around him to get into the apartment, patting his shoulder and then petting Alice who wags her tail excitedly at his presence.

Steve blinks. Then he closes the door and turns around.

Benjamin hops out of Bucky's arms and starts walking around the place on quiet feet. He doesn't seem to be bothered by Alice at all and Alice doesn't seem interested in him either, too busy getting pets from Bucky who coos at her and calls her a good girl.

“You want us to paint,” Steve says after a long pause.

“Yeah, I already said that,” Bucky says and looks at him. “You okay? You look—”

“Confused?” Steve finishes for him. “Because I am.”

Bucky is silent for a long moment, then he stands up straight and turns to him. Alice nudges at him but he ignores her, stepping over toward Steve and giving him his attention instead.

“You said you had a hard time drawing,” he says. “I figured painting might be a good place to start, get back into it. A different way of making art but same concept.”

Steve stares at him. “You don't have to do this,” he says.

“I know,” Bucky says. “But I want to.”

Bucky puts the canvas up near the window in the living room, propped up on a chair and a box to make a makeshift easel because neither of them own one. Steve decides to sacrifice one of his sheets and spreads it out on the floor beneath the canvas, while Bucky presses paint out of the tubes onto a plate.

Alice takes an interest in what they're doing for a while but she quickly gets distracted when she notices Benjamin wandering around the place. She's cautious about him, curious but careful. Benjamin, on the other hand, quickly hops up onto the fridge and stares back at her.

Steve watches them for a moment but then Bucky catches his attention.

Because Bucky is taking his shirt off.

Steve only gets a glimpse of bare, tan skin and a flat stomach before he tears his eyes away and looks anywhere but over there, his cheeks burning hot and heartbeat racing.

“What are you doing?” he asks, voice higher than he wants it to be.

“Taking my arm off,” Bucky says. “It wasn't cheap and I'd rather not have to explain to Shuri why it got ruined. She'd get mad at me. Well, actually, I'm pretty sure she'd make fun of me but I wanna avoid that too.”

Steve keeps his eyes away for a while— well, it's maybe only ten seconds but it's a lot longer than he would have liked it to be, and then he can't help but turn and look over toward Bucky.

Bucky's shirt is off and carelessly thrown over the arm of the couch. His arm is attached an inch or two below his shoulder and is held on by two harnesses; one wrapped around his chest and another wrapped around his opposite shoulder, meeting in the middle of the former.

The harnesses get undone and Bucky pulls the prosthetic off his stump. There isn't much left of his arm and what is left is full of angry, pink scars that Steve tries not to stare at for too long. So he doesn't, letting his eyes wander over the rest of Bucky's body.

He's... well, he's in good shape and attractive, and Steve belatedly realizes he's ogling.

Bucky is looking back at him when Steve lifts his eyes from his torso, a glint in his eye and a crooked smile on his lips. His cheeks have gone a pretty shade of pink which makes the teasing brow raise he does have less of an effect.

It doesn't stop Steve from blushing, though.

Bucky puts the prosthetic down on the couch cushion and puts his shirt back on. He does it with his back turned to Steve and if it wasn't for the look he gave him before turning around, Steve would have thought nothing of it.

But it happened, so Steve lets his eyes wander down his back, lets himself look down, down, down.

When Bucky turns back around, the smile has grown on his lips and he walks back over to their makeshift art corner, crouching down to grab two brushes in his hand. He holds them out for Steve and Steve takes one of them from him.

Unlike Bucky, however, Steve doesn't turn to pick out a color on the plate.

Instead, Steve can't stop looking at Bucky.

“Buck,” he says, hesitantly. “Can I ask, uh.”

“How did I lose my arm?” Bucky asks for him, glancing at him with a smile.

“Yeah,” Steve says and scratches his neck. “You don't have to answer.”

“It's okay,” Bucky says and shrugs.

He doesn't say anything else though, so neither does Steve.

After a pause, Bucky takes in a breath and says, “I fell out of a helicopter.”

“You—” Steve stares at him, eyes wide and brows furrowed. “What?”

“I'm a vet too,” Bucky says. “My unit and I were transferring over to another base when we were shot at. Helicopter broke, I fell out before it hit the ground and exploded. I was lucky, only lost an arm and got a hell of a lot of bruises and cuts.”

“And.” Steve pauses, a frown on his face. “And your unit?”

“A couple others survived,” Bucky says, then lowers his gaze. “But most of them are dead.”

“Bucky,” Steve breathes and takes half a step closer. “I'm sorry.”

“Me too,” Bucky says with a sigh. “It's been seven years though, I've worked through most of it. Can you believe it happened at the end of my first tour? That shit fucked me up real good, lemme tell ya.”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “Being in the army does that to a person.”

“Fuck the army,” Bucky says and looks at him. “And fuck the military. What good are we doing over there anyway? Not much, if any.”

Steve smiles at him and says, “I'll drink to that.”

“Oh man,” Bucky says in a breath. “I would love a beer. You got some?”

“I should, yeah,” Steve says and clasps a hand onto Bucky's shoulder, squeezing.

Bucky meets his eye and for a second that stretches and feels like ten, there's a spark of something between them, something that makes Steve look at Bucky's lips and consider, for a mere second, to lean in and kiss him.

He doesn't.

Instead, he smiles and walks to the kitchen. Benjamin is still on top of the fridge but Alice has lost interest in him and has left the kitchen. She's in the living room, laying on the couch and sniffing curiously at Bucky's arm but doing nothing more because she knows it's not one of her toys.

Steve gets two beers out of the fridge, twists the caps off, and returns to Bucky. He hands him one, they clink the necks together, smile at each other, and each take a long swig of their respective beers.

Bucky adds color to the canvas first. He dips the brush into blue paint and drags the end of it across the middle of the white canvas, then he turns to Steve with a quirked brow and motions to the plate of paint, silently telling him to join him.

Steve looks at the rainbow of colors on the plate, then he looks at the brush in his hand. He doesn't move for a while but then he dips his brush in red and adds it underneath Bucky's blue. In any other case, this would mean nothing but Steve turns to Buck with a breath and a smile, and Bucky meets his eye with a smile of his own.

Steve has painted before, of course he has. It was never his preferred medium of creating art though, so it was never something he considered when he realized that drawing might be a long, long road of trial and error ahead of him.

Painting with Bucky is an experience but a good one. They don't paint anything specific and only add every color on the plate to the canvas, creating a mess of nothing but everything at the same time.

It's fun. Steve finds himself laughing more than he remembers having done in months. They both end up with paint splattered on their clothes but neither of them seem to really care. At one point, Bucky even puts his wet brush against Steve's cheek and Steve retaliates by wiping his own on Bucky's bicep.

Afterward, when the canvas is full of paint and the plate is an artwork of its own, they both step back and look at the work they've created. Steve only looks at it for a second or two before he finds his attention gravitating to the man to his right.

Bucky is still looking at the painting, a smile on his lips and hair falling out of the bun. He's a little sweaty, a little covered in paint himself, and Steve's heart aches. He's beautiful.

Bucky turns to look back at him and his smile grows softer, fonder.

“I'm gonna kiss you now,” Steve says, voice lowered.

Bucky's smile falters ever so slightly on his lips but then it settles and his cheeks turn a pretty pink. He takes in a breath and releases it a second after, his shoulders dropping in something close to relief, as if he's been waiting for this for as long at Steve has.

“Okay,” Bucky whispers in a quiet voice.

Steve lets his brush fall from his hand as he walks over to stand in front of Bucky, leaving barely a breath of space between them. He lifts his hands and cups his face, thumbs brushing over strong cheekbones while his eyes never leave Bucky's lips that are parted ever so slightly.

Steve licks his lips and sucks in a breath when he sees Bucky doing the same. He lifts his gaze to meet Bucky's but Bucky isn't looking at his eyes so Steve doesn't wait any longer. He closes the space between them and kisses him.

Bucky's lips are soft against his own. He goes pliant in Steve's hand and leans heavily into him as he kisses back, his hand moving up to grab at his neck and keep him close. Not that Steve plans on going anywhere, he's more than good right here.

The kiss could last anything between ten seconds and ten minutes, Steve has no idea. It never becomes anything more than lips sliding together in soft yet firm and passionate kisses but it shakes Steve to the bone, makes him feel everything at once, and it's addicting.

Bucky is addicting and Steve could kiss him forever, if he was allowed.

Bucky is the one who breaks the kiss, pulling back with a shaky breath. He doesn't go far, only just far enough to break the kiss before he leans back in and rests his forehead against Steve's, his hand squeezing where it lays on his neck.

Steve licks his lips, tastes Bucky on them, and caresses his face in gentle brushes.

“Your beard,” Bucky says quietly. “It tickles.”

“Good or bad?” Steve asks.

“Good,” Bucky croaks and slides his hand around to touch it. “Real good.”

Steve smiles and turns his head to kiss the palm of Bucky's hand. The hand stills for a minute to let him but then Bucky grabs his chin and guides him back into another kiss. Steve lets himself be guided, lets himself melt into this kiss that is open mouthed and less innocent.

This kiss doesn't last very long either, only long enough for Steve to realize how effected he's getting by, well, all of this. The kissing, the touching, the closeness, everything. He's getting hard in his jeans and it takes a mere shift forward to feel Bucky having the same reaction.

“How long have you wanted to do that?” Bucky asks him once the kiss breaks.

“Long enough for people to tell me I was pining,” Steve says.

Bucky snorts and says, “Yeah, me too.”

Steve kisses him again, lets his hands move from his face to his hips. He grabs him there, pulls him closer to himself, and tilts his head to the right to deepen the kiss.

Bucky moves his hand into Steve's hair and holds him close, opening his mouth to welcome Steve's tongue when it licks at his lips. Bucky rocks against him, and Steve lets out a noise close to a moan that he can't hold back even if he tried to.

“Stay,” Steve whispers roughly against his lips. “Stay for dinner.”

“Okay,” Bucky whispers back, nipping at his lips. “I'll stay.”

Steve smiles and kisses him once more, because he can and is allowed to.

Bucky chuckles against his lips and kisses him back with vigor.

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Steve wakes up to someone warm wrapped around him. For a second, he thinks it's Alice because that's what he's used to but the body behind him is significantly less hairy than hers. It doesn't take long for his brain to catch up and he smiles before the realization even finishes in his head.

He turns around in Bucky's hold to face the man in his bed. Bucky is still asleep; his eyes closed, lips parted as he breathes deeply, and his loose hair a bird's nest fanned out on the pillow. He's beautiful, so relaxed and calm, and it does things to Steve's heart to see him like this.

Steve lays there for a while, one arm thrown around Bucky's middle. He watches him sleep and maybe that's a little creepy but he can't stop himself, can't take his eyes off of this beautiful man sleeping so peacefully beside him.

After a while, Bucky stirs in his sleep with a hum and shifts ever so slightly closer. Steve smiles and keeps watching him, the smile growing softer when Bucky blinks his eyes open and looks at him. Bucky stares back at him for a moment, then he grunts and moves to hide his face in Steve's neck.

Steve chuckles and kisses his shoulder, wrapping both arms around him to keep him close.

“Morning,” he whispers into his ear before kissing the side of his head.

Bucky lets out a long grunt in reply, clearly not fully awake yet and definitely not a morning person.

Okay, Steve can work with that.

He moves a hand up and down along Bucky's back, leaving a trail of gentle touches going lower and lower, skirting over the band of the underwear that never came off the night before. He kisses his shoulder, his jaw, his cheek, then gives his earlobe a gentle bite while he wiggles one of his legs between Bucky's to get closer to him.

Bucky makes a noise that sounds close to a moan when Steve rocks against him and sucks onto his earlobe. It urges Steve on, his hand moving down to grab onto Bucky's ass and pushing their hips together as he rocks lazily and uncoordinated.

“Steve,” Bucky lets out in a breath, lips brushing over Steve's collarbone.

Steve hums in reply and nibbles at his ear, pressing closer and more persistently.

Bucky reacts by grabbing onto his bicep tightly and letting out a strangled noise, his hips stuttering in response to Steve's lazy rocking.

“Steve,” Bucky repeats, breathy. “Fuck. Can't you give me a second to wake up, asshole?”

Steve moves his hand to Bucky's hip and rolls them over. He plants a hand beside Bucky's head on the mattress and hovers above him, grinning down at him when Bucky glares up at him halfheartedly with a blush painting his cheeks.

Steve grinds down and Bucky's mouth falls open, the glare fading away.

“Nope,” Steve says with a smile.

Bucky doesn't respond. He throws his arm around Steve's neck and pulls him down, kissing him open mouthed and throwing a leg over his hip to give Steve more access and to pull them closer together.

Steve happily kisses him back and lets his hand wander up along his side, his hips moving in lazy circles against Bucky's on their own. Neither of them are awake enough to be at anything but half mast but they're getting there little by little, both swelling in their underwear.

“Your morning breath is terrible,” Bucky mutters into the kiss.

“So is yours,” Steve retorts, then pulls back a little. “Want me to go brush my teeth?”

Bucky holds him tighter and says, “Don't you fucking dare leave this bed.”

Steve grins toothily and ducks down to kiss him again.

It takes a while before their lazy rutting becomes desperate grinds, neither of them in a rush but both of them getting hard in their underwear and desperate, panting into each other's mouths. Steve lifts himself up a little and reaches down to tug at Bucky's underwear, wanting it off.

Bucky happily obliges and lifts his hips to help him get them off. They get thrown somewhere in the room, Steve doesn't particularly care where exactly.

“Where's Benjamin?” Bucky asks, breathless and head thrown back.

“I don't know,” Steve says and kisses down his neck. “Not here, if that's what you're worried about.”

“Good, okay,” Bucky says and pulls at Steve's underwear. “Get these off, Steve. Get naked.”

Steve does as he's told, then makes himself comfortable between Bucky's spread legs. They're both naked under the covers now and it gives this whole thing a completely new form of intimacy. Steve craves more of it, so he kisses him and blindingly reaches out for the bottle of lube in his bedside table.

He fumbles for it, knocking over a thing or two, and Bucky laughs against his lips. But eventually, Steve gets it and he pours a generous amount onto both his own hand and Bucky's when he holds it out for him.

They don't stop kissing while they reach down between them, Bucky wrapping his hand around Steve's cock and Steve wrapping his around Bucky's. They're in no rush, Steve reminds himself, so he strokes Bucky lazily and slowly, humming when Bucky whines into his mouth.

“Steve,” Bucky moans and tugs at his cock. “C'mon, don't tease.”

“You like it,” Steve says, keeping his strokes teasingly slow.

Bucky groans at him but stops complaining. Steve kisses him for another moment, then he leans back a little to look down at him, his hand slowing down until he's only barely stroking him.

Bucky is panting beneath him, flushed and naked and—

“Pretty,” Steve says in a breath. “You're so fucking pretty, Buck.”

Bucky looks up at him, a smile on his lips. He stretches out, arching his back and spreading his legs further while tugging Steve further down and closer to him. It aligns their hips and Bucky bucks up into him, both of them moaning at the movement.

Bucky comes first, moaning and spilling over his own stomach. Steve is close behind. It only takes a few quick, firm strokes before his hips stutter, jerking into Bucky's fist, and he comes over Bucky's stomach too, Bucky's name rolling off his tongue in a choked moan.

After, Steve takes a minute to breathe before he falls back onto the bed beside Bucky. Bucky wipes his stomach off with the covers and rolls over, throwing an arm and a leg over Steve and kissing his shoulder. Despite wiping his stomach, he's still sticky.

“We need a shower,” Steve says but wraps an arm around Bucky to keep him close anyway.

Bucky hums and lays his head on his chest, his hand resting on his stomach.

“I don't wanna leave this bed,” he says with a sigh. “Can't we just stay here, all day?”

Steve kisses the top of his head and smiles down at him. There's a sure on the tip of his tongue but the word doesn't get to come out before the foot of the bed dips down and something jingles. He blinks and looks toward it.

Benjamin is walking up toward them on quiet feet, meowing softly and purring as he rubs his head against Bucky's back. He doesn't seem to care about their undressed state, climbing onto his owner's body and perching on top of him like this is his spot.

Bucky doesn't seem to mind, smiling as he lifts his hand from Steve's stomach to pet Benjamin.

Alice comes trotting into the room only seconds after, tail wagging and ears perked. Steve doesn't need to look at the time to know what it is because he knows that look in her eyes; it's morning run time and she's not waiting around for him any longer.

“Well,” Steve says and glances down at Bucky. “I don't think they're gonna let us.”

Bucky lets out a sigh that quickly turns into a groan, but he rolls off of Steve anyway to lay on his back. He takes Benjamin with him, holding him to his chest, and Benjamin purrs loudly and rubs his head against his chin.

Steve sits up, leans over to kiss Bucky's forehead, then gets out of bed. He puts on a pair of clean underwear and considers, for just a second, to skip his usual morning run. But Alice is whining at him so he decides not to.

“You going for a run?” Bucky asks from the bed.

“Yeah,” Steve says, pulling on a shirt. “Shouldn't be long. You can stay in bed if you want.”

“Oh, I plan to,” Bucky says. “But only if you make me breakfast when you get back.”

Steve turns to him, a smile on his lips that grows soft at the sight he's met with. Bucky is laying naked in bed, one leg stretched out while the other is bend with his foot flat on the mattress. His hair is a mess on the pillow and Benjamin is perched on his chest, pawing at Bucky. Bucky is letting him, a soft look on his face.

Steve likes this look, could get used to Bucky being in his bed. Benjamin too, of course.

So he doesn't hesitate to say, “Deal.”

 

∘ ∘ ∘

 

Having Bucky in his life as a boyfriend rather than a neighbor is an adjustment. Although, Steve has been adjusting for so long that it feels like a natural progression, as if Bucky has been a part of his life for longer than he actually has and the romantic aspect of their relationship is the only natural next step to take.

It's an adjustment, like Bucky is a blurry figure in the distance coming into focus and he is Steve's new favorite subject to put in front of his lens. It's an easy adjustment to make, smooth and simple and good.

And Clint, the smug bastard, gets his ten bucks.