Steve’s in Cleveland when Tony Stark corners him in a parking lot and shoves what appears to be a 12 year old at him.
“I need you to watch him.” Tony says, looking frazzled and manic and well, like Tony.
“What.” Steve says emphatically.
“This is Peter.” Tony says, seeming to finally realize he needs more of an explanation than ‘here, watch this preteen while you’re romping around the country, trying to take out as many Hydra bases as you can while waiting for your brainwashed boyfriend to decide he’s willing to see you.’ “He’s, I don’t know, an aspiring superhero? Got bit by a spider or something. Real smart, real inventive. Problem is, he keeps trying to fight people bigger than him and I’m worried his aunt’s gonna kill me. Or get Pepper to kill me. Or that Pepper just might kill me even without the aunt? And I figure, hey, who do I know that tries to fight everything bigger than him and could probably be a good influence on this kid cause truth justice blah blah blah the american way? My first thought was your honeyboobear Wilson, he seems to have at least some sense, but Romanof says he’s in Europe, so that left you.”
Steve’s only listening for the important bits, because if he tries to listen to everything Tony Stark says in any given sentence he might end up strangling him one day. Still, he catches the gist.
“You want me to take care of a-” He pauses, squints, tilts his head as he takes in the kid, “Thirteen year old?”
“I’m fifteen.” The kid insists while Tony says, “Sure, yeah, that’s exactly what I want. He’s pretty self sufficient. Just, I don’t know, water him regularly and make sure he doesn’t go after any super villains when you’re not looking.”
“Tony, I know nothing about ki-”
Tony cuts him off with a back pat and is speaking even as he walks away to the jet he’d somehow managed to find room for in the parking lot. “Thanks Rogers. Real grateful! I owe you one. I’ll send you a fruit basket! You like pineapple? Nevermind, of course you like pineapple…”
Steve’s left staring at the kid- Peter, his brain helpfully reminds him. The kid is staring back.
“So, you’re, like, Captain America, huh?” Peter asks, and he looks a little starstruck but less so than he did when he’d stared at Tony Stark’s jet taking off.
“Uh, yeah.” Steve says, staring hard at a spot just past the kid’s shoulder as he shoves his hands as deep as they can go into the pockets of his jeans. “Call me Steve.”
“Cool.” Parker breathes, and Steve tries not to think about just how badly this is going to go.
Steve is aware of just how bad an idea this is when he realizes he’s been sleeping in a stolen 1984 Honda Civic for the past week and a half and that kids maybe possibly require better accomodations than a stolen car.
(How Steve can be a good influence, he doesn’t know.)
“So, uh, I guess we should find a motel or something?” He asks into the silence of the car as they drive past a sign proclaiming that they’ve entered “ASHLAND; WORLD HEADQUARTERS OF NICE PEOPLE!” Which is creepy, and makes Steve eye the stretch of highway suspiciously, because that seems like the kind of shit that would be hiding a Hydra base. Or maybe a freakish cult of stepford esque brainwashed humans. Either way, it can’t be anything good.
He decides they’ll go another couple exists, loop back around tomorrow after they get some sleep and check the place out. Tony’d said Peter was an aspiring superhero, surely he could handle one little bitty Hydra raid.
“Mr Captain America, sir, Mr Rogers? Mr Cap? Mr Captain Rogers-”
“Right, Steve, I kinda get the feeling you’re a little bit bad at this -no offense, seriously- and that if I wasn’t here you’d be like, I don’t know, sleeping in a random corn field somewhere? Again, seriously no offense Captain America, sir.”
Steve takes a breath. Releases. Takes another, holds it for five seconds like those youtube breathing exercises Nat keeps sending him tell him to do, and then releases it again.
Peter’s doing something with his phone, which isn’t weird, because Peter’s been doing something with his phone since the moment he got into the car. What’s weird is that now he’s showing it to Steve with a little “Found a place!” and there’s a voice coming from the tiny speakers, telling Steve where to turn off.
Steve is tempted to deliberately miss the exit and keep going just to spite the phone’s voice.
The hotel Peter found, when they get there, is just like every other budget hotel Steve’s seen in this century. There’s a microwave and a fridge, two beds, and a crappy desk with a chair.
Despite this, Peter throws himself into one of the beds, grinning for all the world like this is some terribly amazing adventure he’s being taken on.
Ashland, Ohio does in fact have a Hydra base.
Peter Parker knocks out the agent sitting in a cramped security booth, phones a fucking friend , and proceeds to use the computer to absolutely obliterate Hydra’s security system.
After, when they’re rounding up agents and Steve’s strategically placing bombs wherever he thinks they’ll do the most amount of structural damage, Peter hands the phone to Steve with a cheerful “Ned wants to say hi.”
“Uh, hi Ned?” Steve says into the phone, tossing his shield at a particularly tenacious Hydra agent.
“Don’t steal things.” Steve says, trying to sound stern and be a good influence while he hotwires a car at 2 am somewhere in Kentucky.
“No offense, Cap, but you’re literally stealing a car right now.” Peter points out.
“Borrowing.” Steve insists, moving his and Peter’s bags from the back of the Civic into the trunk of a grey Hyundai. “I’ll send them a check for it later.”
“I feel like the entire foundation of American history has been shaken in like, 24 hours.” Peter says, sounding dazed as Steve gently pushes him into the passenger seat.
“To be fair, there was like 70 years of my history that I wasn’t around for.” Steve says, frowning a little as he pulls them out of the admittedly bad neighborhood he’d found a car in and onto the highway.
“Still.” Peter says, like the one word is some sort of all encompassing point, and then again, with even more emphasis, “Still.”
“Order something with vegetables.” Steve says at a hole in the wall outside of Birmingham. They’re on their way to Pensacola because Steve knows for a fact there’s a shady little Hydra op going on down in that hellhole.
“I don’t think there’s anything with vegetables in it that aren’t fried, Steve.” Peter says and Steve blinks at the menu, then shrugs because yeah, point.
“You’re genetically modified, right? You’ll probably be fine.” He says and lets Peter order a ridiculous amount of fried food and a milkshake to go with it.
They don’t blow up the Hydra base this time. This time Peter sticks the handful of agents there to a wall with the weird webbing he shoots out of his damned wrist, they handcuff a scientist to his lab table, and leave the whole lot to be picked up by SHIELD.
Steve buys Peter the biggest ice cream that’s possible to order on the way out of town and teaches him how to hotwire their next car as a reward.
They don’t run into any trouble until Albuquerque, which is of course where things take a nice little detour.
“You got him arrested?!” Tony’s voice through the phone is doing that thing- that thing being the thing that happens when someone’s confronted with the sheer idiocy that Steve is perfectly aware he’s capable of and they go all high pitched and disbelieving because how, Steve, how? Steve wishes he had a proper answer for how, really, he does.
Okay, no, he doesn’t, but he can pretend.
“They dropped the charges. I used the Captain America Is Very Disappointed In You Gentleman face, cops can’t resist.”
“I hate you. Why did I send you a kid? Who in their right mind would let you handle a child?”
“I ask myself the same question everyday, pal.”
“Put the kid on Capsicle.”
Steve passes the phone to Peter who looks absolutely ecstatic despite having just spent a few hours in a cell. Kid’s a trip and a fucking half, jesus christ. Bucky would love him.
“Hey Mr. Stark!” Peter sounds exceedingly chipper for the night he’s had, so Steve doesn’t actually worry too much about him. Besides, getting arrested is practically a right of passage, right? Right . “Oh yeah, I’m totally fine Mr. Stark sir! Just a misunderstanding. The guys in jail were actually pretty cool, they liked my suit.”
Steve can practically feel Tony Stark’s judgemental expression through the phone, even if he tries not to listen to the man’s rant. Peter’s fine, and it’s not like Stark really has all that much room to judge. Steve’s seen his mugshots. All of them.
Natasha made a scrapbook out of them and gifted it to Tony last Christmas.
Steve busies himself with rearranging the mountain of stuff they’ve seemed to accumulate in the trunk, making sure his shield and weapons were at the top.
A few minutes later Peter’s head pops up out of the car and he flashes a bright grin at Steve, “Where to next Cap?”
They get their first bonafide supervillain in Vegas.
Peter ends up with a broken arm and Steve almost, almost yells at him to be more careful, to keep himself fucking safe because he’s still a kid, but Peter looks so goddamn proud of himself for taking the asshole down that Steve can’t find it in himself to be pissed at either Peter or himself about this.
He grips Peter by his good shoulder and tugs him into a rough hug, ruffles his hair
“You did good kid”
“Yeah?” Peter sounds unsure and hopeful and so fucking 15 that Steve wants to pack him away, convince him to go be a kid instead of a superhero
He gets it though, he gets it. Steve hasn't been able to stop since they pumped him full of serum. Hell he thinks even before that he was itching for this, wanting to help , feeling like it would be irresponsible not to. So Peter, the good fucking kid that he is, needing to feel like he's doing something after being saddled with super powers? Yeah, Steve gets it.
“Yeah. Yeah. You did good. No casualties, minimal damage. Maybe next time watch out for yourself a little more though.”
“Next time?” And there's that hope again. Steve wonders if maybe Peter hadn't been expecting to be sent packing back to his aunts.
“Yeah pal, next time.” Which is stupid. It’s probably terribly stupid to agree that there’ll be a next time, but Steve’s pretty sure even if he didn’t Peter Parker would still do the whole Spiderman thing and at least this way he’s got some goddamn backup.
On the way back to the hotel, Steve hears Peter whisper “Captain America called me pal.” in awe and politely doesn’t acknowledge it.
Bucky shows up just outside of San Francisco. Technically , they’re on the freeway past the Golden Gate, just past the sign that declares they’re in Sausalito and Bucky lands on the top of the car then wiggles his way through the sunroof and ignores Peter’s shriek of “ What the fuck?!”
“Buck.” Steve says, looking at Bucky in the rear view mirror and attempting to not sound as pants shittingly surprised as he fucking is right now.
“Who the fuck gave you a child?”
“I’m not-” Peter starts and goes quiet when Bucky’s gaze lands on him.
“You’re 15, Parker.”
“You post pictures of your own damn self on fucking instagram kid, it’s not exactly hard to figure out.”
“Tony gave him to me.” Steve says before Bucky can keep confusing and possibly terrifying Peter. Sure, the kid decided to be a superhero by his lonesome, and the two of them just thwarted a super villain in Nob Hill, but he’s still a kid.
(And Steve really needs to make sure the kid’s not posting pictures of himself as Spiderman and pretending he got them by chance right after beating evil or whatever it is they’re doing.)
“Why.” Bucky doesn’t put much inflection into the words but Steve can practically feel the baffled confusion rolling through the one word. Which, okay, yeah. He gets it. Steve and children have never been a match made in heaven, but Peter’s pretty cool. Reminds Steve of himself, which is terrifying , but also kind of neat. He doubts this is what being a parent feels like, but it’s at least parental-adjacent.
“Apparently he needs a good influence in his life?” Steve says, asks, because Steve’s not sure how exactly 70 years in the ice ended with history thinking he was a good influence on anyone or anything.
“Jesus fucking christ, this century.” Bucky mutters like he’s having the same thought and then leans forward through the gap in the seats, swiveling his head to stare at Peter.
Steve damn near runs the car off the road when Bucky gets close and a metal arm snaps out and grabs the steering wheel, rights it without even looking at the road. Steve has the desperate urge to reach out and touch but he’s also a little terrified that if he does he’s going to have 200+ pounds of supersoldier worming their way back out of Steve’s sunroof and jumping across three lanes on the freeway just to get away from him.
“Steve Rogers has never been a good influence on anyone. Ever.” Bucky tells Peter with the utmost seriousness and Peter is darting a look at the door like maybe he can survive jumping out of the car going 70 on the 101. Steve feels for Peter, he does.
“He uh, he tells me to eat vegetables?” Peter tries and Steve flashes him a smile at the defense of Steve’s influencing abilities.
“Jesus christ.” Bucky says again, emphatically.
Steve stares at him a little like he hung the moon.
Steve keeps driving north and the three of them crowd into a tiny Mexican restaurant near Eureka.
Bucky hasn’t left.
Peter hasn’t attempted to escape Bucky’s admittedly a little bit threatening presence.
Bucky hasn’t left.
Steve hasn’t stopped smiling since Santa Rosa.
“Stop starin at me like that, Rogers.” Bucky snaps as they’re pouring over the menus and pretending they’re not going to order what probably amounts to everything .
“Whatever ya say, Buck.” Steve says and absolutely not not stop staring.
“So, like, were you two together together?” Peter asks and Steve chokes on the complimentary chips and salsa.
“I- That’s-It’s-” Steve’s not sure how to answer because well, yes, but also, it’s not like he and Bucky have had a sit down conversation about anything yet. He doesn’t know what Buck remembers, if he even remembers any of it.
“Of course we were. I’m apparently painfully attracted to dumbass.” Which okay, yeah, that answers the question of whether he remembers.
Steve hides what is certainly an even more ridiculous smile than the one he’s been sporting the past few hours by shoving more chips into his mouth. Then he says “Takes one to know one.” Because Bucky has a way of making Steve revert to being an actual child.
“See?” Bucky says to Peter, waving a chip at Steve like he’s just proved his point.
They order enough food between the three of them that the waitress looks at them like they’re a bunch of lunatics, but they’re two super soldiers and a kid who got bit by a radioactive spider so they can damn well pack it in.
Bucky asks Peter a million questions. They start with how Peter ended up with Steve (“Mr. Stark thought he could teach me some sense or something.” “How the smartest people in the world can be such goddamn idiots, I don’t even know.”), move onto what Peter’s family thinks he’s doing (“Stark Institute’s summer internship upstate.”), transition into school, and then end with Bucky asking a million questions about whatever science-y thing Peter’s been working on.
Steve doesn’t understand a goddamn word once they get into science, but he does know the bright eyed, fascinated look on Bucky’s face. It’s the same one he wore when he dragged Steve to Stark’s Expo, when he shoved his nose into books, or came home from college yammering about engineering and building the future, Stevie.
Steve hasn’t seen that look since before the ice, since before the war if Steve’s honest, and he’s not going to get weepy, he’s really not, but if he smiles into his enchiladas like it’s the first time he’s seen the sun in this century, then well, no one can really stop him can they?
They pile into a hotel room a few more hours down the road. Steve gets a rollaway bed for himself because he doesn’t want to assume Bucky wants to share or anything like that. ‘Painfully attracted to dumbasses’ or not, that doesn’t mean Bucky’s ready to jump right back into bed with Steve and continue where they left off.
Even if Steve would really, really like to faceplant into Bucky’s chest and stay there for approximately a hundred years.
Bucky looks at Steve, looks at the rollaway bed, looks at Steve again- this time like he’s the biggest idiot in the world. God, Steve’s missed that. Then, Bucky manhandles Steve into bed and lays on top of him like the world’s heaviest, pointiest blanket. Steve’s pretty sure he can feel the handle of a knife jabbing into his kidney, but he’s also so damn happy he can’t complain.
Peter’s already in the other bed, headphones in and laptop balanced on his legs, typing away at what could be homework just as easily as it could be something weird and science-y that the kid does for fun. It means there’s just enough privacy for Steve to press his face into the side of Bucky’s and mumble something along the lines of “ God, I missed this.”
Bucky’s arms squeeze tight around Steve, says “I know,” voice gentle in a way it hasn’t been since he dropped through Steve’s sunroof.
“You gonna stick around awhile?” Steve asks, manhandling Bucky until they’ve switched positions and Bucky’s on the bottom, wriggling until there’s no weapons jabbing into any of Steve’s sensitive spots.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m gonna try.”
“Good.” Steve breathes, rubs his nose against a cheekbone and presses his lips against the hollow below.
“Somebody’s gotta keep you from turning that kid into another you. The world might actually self destruct with a two of ya around.” Bucky says, light and easy and teasing as his hand starts up a path up and down Steve’s back.
“Forget everything I’ve said, you’re the worst, get out.” Steve says, arms going tight around Bucky as he wiggles his way down until he can squish his face right into Bucky’s throat.
Steve and Bucky somehow convince Peter to wait in the car while they lay waste to a small Hydra outpost hidden in Yellowstone.
Steve wishes, not for the first time, that Bucky had been along this whole trip considering Peter actually seems to listen him.
It’s in the middle of the base that Bucky kisses Steve for the first time since 1945.
Steve’s just thrown his shield into a Hydra goon’s head and Bucky shoves him against a wall, scowling at him.
“You’re a goddamn idiot, you know that Rogers? Just throwing your best goddamn defense around like it’s a fuckin frisbee. Who the fuck taught you how to fight, huh?”
Steve has just enough time to get out “You did, asshole.” before Bucky’s metal hand is fisted in the front of his t-shirt and he’s getting kissed like they’re trying to make up for 70 years apart in this one crash of lips against lips.
They’re in the Middle Of Nowhere, Wyoming when Bucky decides it’s a good idea to teach Peter how to shoot a gun.
Steve argues against it. Loudly.
Peter says “Uh, Mister Winter Soldier, sir, I’m not sure that’s a great idea.”
Bucky rubs his temples like they’re both being idiots, says “Jesus christ, it’s not like I’m saying put one in his hand and aim him at every bad guy in Queens. It’s a good skill to have though, especially if he’s insistent on being some sort of vigilante crime fighter.”
Peter says, “Superhero, not vigilante.” and Steve and Bucky both ignore that.
So they drive off the highway and into Even More The Middle Of Nowhere, where Bucky sets up some cans for target practice and teaches Peter how to shoot a goddamn gun.
He’s good at it, is the thing. Teaching. He shows Peter how to load and unload the gun, how to line up a shot, goes over gun safety and says things like “Don’t ever aim at somethin you wouldn’t be okay killin.” and “Keep your hand off the damn trigger unless you’re about to shoot something, it ain’t a toy.” and says other things like, “There you go, good job kiddo.” and “You’re a damn natural kid, way better than Stevie’s ever been.”
It makes Steve feel things. Not just because it’s encoded into Steve’s subconscious like a pavlovian response to find anything Bucky Barnes ever does attractive, but because it’s Bucky. It’s Bucky being helpful, being interested, being thoughtful, being Bucky.
70 years on ice didn’t do a goddamn thing for how much Steve Rogers loves Bucky Barnes, and when Steve watches him that fact is slammed right in his face like a goddamn mack truck on a highway.
Steve doesn’t mean to be disappointed when they get back to New York. It should be a good thing, should be what he’s been waiting for because it’s not like he voluntarily signed up to cart Peter Parker around the country.
It is though. The beginning of the school year has rolled around too soon and Steve’s disappointed when he drives the beat up truck they’d picked up in Wisconsin into the parking lot for Stark Tower.
“You didn’t kill him!” Tony says, sounding surprised and also delighted when they get inside and Peter drops his bags, looking sunburnt and tired and also a little awestruck in the presence of Tony. “And you found the murderbot!”
“He dropped in through the sunroof in San Francisco.” Peter says, still sounding like that’s about the coolest thing ever. There’s a lot from the trip that Peter makes sound like it’s the coolest thing to ever happen to him.
Everything goes quickly after that and it’s no time at all before Tony’s leading Peter off, planning what they’re going to tell Peter’s Aunt May and talking about some upgrades to Peter’s spider suit.
It leaves Steve and Bucky standing there alone.
“You wanna-” Steve starts at the same time Bucky says “We should-” and they both break off, staring at each other for a moment.
Then, slowly, Bucky’s lips curve into a small smile and he reaches out, slides a hand down Steve’s arm and then tangles their fingers together and tugs until Steve takes a step forward. “You gonna miss him?”
“No.” Steve says and means yes, and he’s sure Bucky can tell.
“Maybe we should stick around. Keep an eye on him. Just in case. God knows Stark’s not any sort of good influence.” It’s for Steve. Steve knows it’s for him. But it’s also- it’s as good of a declaration as any that Bucky’s sticking around now that they’re home. That he doesn’t intend to go running off to Europe or anywhere else to get away from Steve, or to get revenge he probably deserves.
“Yeah.” Steve says softly, then a little firmer. “Yeah. Maybe we should. I hear Staten Island’s pretty nice these days.” He says just to see Bucky glare.
“If you think we’re living anywhere other than Brooklyn then you’re a bigger idiot than ever, Rogers.”
“You like it when I’m an idiot.” Steve grins, pressing his lips to Bucky’s jaw, his chin, the corner of his mouth.
“God help me, I do.” Bucky says, looking for all the world like this is a curse the world has thrust upon him.
“I’d say you can blame it on the brain damage, but y’know, it’s always been there.”
“Someone musta dropped me on my head when I was a baby. God knows someone did you.”
Steve’s grinning like an idiot, he knows it, but he can’t help himself, not when Bucky curls an arm around his shoulders and tugs him in close, leads him from the building and into the streets of New York.