“I think you should get a dog.”
“Hey Clint, you should stop by my apartment later! Oh don’t worry about the locked door just climb in through the window, I think we’ve reached that level of friendship.” Steve dumps his gym bag on the floor and glares at Clint, who’s sprawled out on the couch.
“You done?” Clint asks, sticking a large scoop of ice cream in his mouth.
“Is that my ice cream?”
“It was.” Clint grins around the spoon. Steve glares harder, to no avail. “Also I broke in through your vents not the window, if that’s any better.” Steve switches to his Captain America is disappointed in you look hoping it’ll prompt Clint to stop eating Steve’s favorite cookie dough ice cream. Clint takes another spoonful straight from the tub. It’s clear Steve’s lost the ability to intimidate his teammates with facial expressions alone. “And you should get a dog.”
“Climbing through the vents is not better than the window,” Steve says, walking over to the freezer and pulling out another tub of cookie dough ice cream. Clint shoots him a proud look. “And why should I get a dog?”
“Nat thinks you’re lonely.”
“Natasha should mind her own business.” Clint raises his eyebrows, and Steve huffs out a weak laugh. Natasha’s never going to mind her own business. “I’m not lonely.”
“No,” Steve says, except he is a bit lonely. He’s just learned to live with it. He was lonely as a friendless child, and he’s lonely as a national icon. Steve Rogers knows lonely as intimately as he knows his own shadow. “I like dogs though,” he says when Clint doesn’t say anything else.
“Same,” Clint says, “I’ve got one called Lucky.”
“Since when?” Steve asks, “I’ve never seen your dog.”
“He lives at mine and Nat’s place.” Clint shrugs. Steve’s never seen Clint and Natasha’s place either. He sometimes doubts they actually have one. “If you get a dog will you call it Clint?”
“No,” Steve says, “that’s an awful dog’s name.”
“I’ll call my next one Steve?”
“Just don’t call it Tony, I’ll be real hurt if you call it Tony.”
“I’m not naming my non-existent dog after any of you guys,” Steve says firmly.
“Fine,” Clint sighs. He turns on the TV and flicks through the channels before settling on The Simpsons . Steve’s not seen this episode — he hasn’t seen many episodes though, because despite Clint’s protests, Steve doesn’t view The Simpsons as one of his necessary catch ups. Also, Bruce’s told him that as long as he knows the character names he can act like he understands it. “Thor would make a good dog name though.”
Steve thinks about that for a second as he spoons another heap of ice cream into his mouth. He’ll probably eat the whole tub and tell himself it’s because his body needs the calories after his workout. “Thor would make a pretty good dog name,” he admits.
“Like a golden retriever,” Clint says, “or maybe you’d be the golden retriever.” Steve’s thinks that’s a compliment.
“What dog would you be?”
“Dude, my name’s Hawkeye!”
Steve grins. “Actually, I reckon you’d be some kind of mangy cat.”
“Cats eat birds!”
“Why is that the part you have a problem with?”
Clint laughs and stretches out, legs draped across Steve’s lap. “‘Cause the mangy part is probably true.”
Steve pretends to pet Clint and Clint let’s out an awful attempt at a miaow. It’d be nice, Steve thinks, to have a dog. A friend to keep around his apartment.
He refuses all of Tony’s dramatic requests to move into the Avengers Tower, but Brooklyn’s not home in the way it used to be. Steve could see himself with a dog, taking it for walks as he relearns the streets — he’d need one with lots of energy to even try keep up with him — and curling up with it to watch TV in the evenings. A companion of sorts.
“I want a rescue dog,” he says.
“I’ll have Nat text you the list of shelters she’d found.”
“How’d she know I’d say yes?”
Clint doesn’t even bother to respond to Steve’s question, which makes Steve smile. He should know by now that where Natasha Romanoff has a will, Natasha Romanoff has a way.
It’s Natasha Romanoff’s will and way that finds Steve standing outside of the Brooklyn Buddies animal shelter a week later. He’s spent the last week torn between thinking this is the dumbest thing he’s ever considered — I kill plants, how am I supposed to look after a dog? And what would I do about missions? — and deciding that Steve is going to look after this dog better than anyone’s ever done before.
He’d spoken to his landlord about whether or not the apartment allowed for pets and found out that when Captain America asks for something, he gets it. His landlord had assured him it was all A-okay, and Steve’d only later found out that he’s not supposed to have pets in his contract. However, he’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Tony had tried to bribe him into calling his dog Tony by sending him the most expensive dog equipment that money can buy. Steve had kept the bed and refused to call his dog Tony all the same.
The red bubbly letters of the sign seem welcoming enough, and Steve steels himself. This place had been on Natasha’s list of approved no-kill shelters. It had lost points for its overall appearance but had the best reviews for the dogs and owners. It seemed everyone who got a dog from Brooklyn Buddies was happy with the result. Natasha had told him this was a family-run establishment that worked to rehabilitate street dogs into new homes. She’d offered to come with him today, but he’d refused. He doesn’t want her to feel like she has to babysit him. He regrets the decision now.
A bell jingles cheerfully when he walks into the reception. It’s shabby inside, and Steve can tell that the walls could use a new coat of paint. They’re faded blue with wonky red bones painted on top. There’s a red sofa in the corner of the room and a box overflowing with dog toys beside it. Above the sofa is the self-dubbed Wall of Buddies , a title that looks like it was drawn on in Sharpie, but under the letters are numerous pictures of dogs and their beaming owners.
“Hi, welcome to Brooklyn Buddies, how can I help you?”
Steve turns at the sound of the voice to see a dark haired woman smiling at him, her hair tied back in a messy ponytail, and there’s a leash draped around her neck.
“Urm,” Steve says eloquently.
She sends him a pitying smile, and he tries not to bristle. He knows she’s only doing her job, and he is standing there like a lemon. “Are you here to adopt a dog or volunteer?”
“Adopt,” Steve says, “or look at adopting anyway.”
“That’s great,” she says, “my name’s Becca and if you give me a—”
Before she can finish her sentence the door flies open, and a man stumbles in trying to wrangle three yapping dogs.
“Hey, hey, hey,” he says, dropping to his knees and pulling one of the dogs closer. He’s handsome , Steve thinks. He’s handsome with a wide smile that makes Steve’s stomach twist. The dog jumps up, resting his legs on the man’s shoulders and licking his face.
“He’s never going to learn if you let him do that,” the woman sighs, but she’s smiling too. They’ve got the same smile, Steve notices. He wonders if they’re siblings.
“Yeah, he will,” the man says, still cooing at the dog. He pulls back suddenly, nose wrinkled. “Now, now, Captain America—”
Steve’s eyebrows shoot up.
“—what’ve I told you about biting?”
“To keep it in the bedroom?” The words fall out of Steve’s mouth before he can stop them. The man turns to stare at him, eyebrows raised, but that wide grin is still on his face. “Sorry,” Steve says quickly, “it’s just you said Captain America and well…” He gestures to himself dumbly.
“Huh. Oh, fuck,” the man says, head tilted to the side, “you do really look like Captain America.”
Steve smiles weakly. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“It’s a compliment.” The man winks at him.
“Bucky,” the woman says firmly. “He’s a customer.”
The man — Bucky? — stands up, and offers Steve his hand, the dogs still jumping up at him. “Hi, I’m Bucky, welcome to Brooklyn Buddies, how can I help you?”
Steve takes Bucky’s hand and tries not to notice that Bucky’s even more handsome up close. Steve wants nothing more than to ask Bucky for coffee; he wants to sit and draw Bucky’s gorgeous face. Spend hours working on Bucky’s mouth, the way it curls at the corners as if he’s just a second away from making a joke. “I’m Steve, and I’m looking for a dog.”
“Well you’ve come to the right place.” Bucky holds Steve’s hand for a second longer than normal, and Steve’s sad to let it go when he has to. “We’ve got dogs coming outta our ears, ain’t that right?” He turns and strokes the three dogs running around his and Steve’s feet. Steve holds his hand out and the one Bucky’d called Captain America bounds over and sticks his wet nose in his palm. Steve scratches under his chin as Bucky repeats, “Ain’t that right?”
“Bucky,” the woman says again, but she’s laughing. “Can you put them away so Steve can get a proper look at them all?”
“Alright,” Bucky says, he grabs the three leads and pulls the dogs toward him. Captain America lets out a whine and tries to return to Steve. “He likes you.”
“He’s sweet,” Steve says, scratching the dog’s ear.
“Don’t tell the others, but he’s one of my favorites,” Bucky whispers loudly, before shooting innocent looks at the other two dogs who are staring at him expectantly. “Oh, don’t give me that look, Iron Man, you know I’m always going to be a Cap boy at heart.”
Steve nearly chokes. “Sorry, did you say Iron Man?”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, scratching the black dog’s head. “He’s too smart for his own good.” The dog somehow manages to give Bucky an unimpressed look, and Steve wishes Tony could see this. “Becca’s got some weird thing for the Avengers, so she names all the dogs after them,” Bucky explains.
“Bucky Barnes,” the woman, who Steve is guessing is Becca, “don’t even try put your superhero obsession onto me.”
“Guilty,” Bucky shrugs, he grins at Steve and then bustles through the backdoor, the dogs following behind him as if he’s the Pied Piper.
Steve’s not sure how to react. He just stands there and watches Bucky vanish from sight and tries not to think about how good Bucky’s ass looked in the jeans he was wearing.
“Sorry about him,” Becca says, but she’s grinning at Steve’s bemused expression. “Our folks always used to call him Hurricane Bucky.”
“No,” Steve says, “it’s fine.” It’s been a long time since anyone’s treated him as normally as Bucky had even with the admission that he’s a Captain America fan. Steve doesn’t want to reveal the truth yet. He doesn’t want to hand over the stupid ID SHIELD got for him that clearly states he was born in 1918. There’s no mistaking who he is after that. Steve Rogers, America’s favorite fossil. “The dogs clearly love him.”
“They do,” Becca says, face softening. “I’ve yet to meet a dog that doesn’t love Bucky. Even the most difficult ones we get have a soft spot for him.”
“Makes sense,” Steve says. Becca gives him a knowing look and he quickly adds, “‘cause he clearly loves them.”
Becca hums as if she sees straight through Steve’s bullshit. “Can I see some form of ID?”
Steve digs through the pockets of his leather jacket and hands it to Becca. He’s got a baseball cap on and the fake glasses Natasha had given him, but he knows he doesn’t have to take them off for people to realize it’s really him. Especially if Becca’s peering at his ID the way she is.
She glances between Steve’s face and the photo on his driving licence before setting the ID down on the counter and sliding it back to Steve.
“You look an awful lot like Captain America, Steve Rogers,” she says pointedly.
“I get that a lot,” he repeats. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have—”
Becca laughs and waves off his apology. “You don’t need to apologize,” she says, “Bucky’s going to shit himself, but that’s going to be hysterical for me, so no apology needed.”
“Now,” Becca says, cutting him off, “I’m going to have ask you to fill in this form about your day-to-day life because we want to make sure you’ll be able to take care of the dogs, so that includes noting down when you’ll be out for,” she smirks, “business trips.”
“Of course,” Steve says, taking the clipboard and pen from her. The pen’s red with Brooklyn Buddies in black font, and Steve’s starting to notice a color theme.
Becca gestures toward the couch. “Even American icons have to be vetted properly. We can’t send our dogs home with people we don’t trust.”
Her tone is teasing, and Steve smiles. “I’d be disappointed if you did anything less.”
Becca gives him an approving nods, and waits until Steve’s settled onto the couch before she leaves. Steve presumes she’s gone to tell Bucky the news, but he finds that he doesn’t mind. Becca hadn’t treated him differently. She’d teased him, but he didn’t mind that. Not many people outside of the Avengers dared to do that anymore.
He stumbles over a couple of questions, such as what he’d do with the dog when he was off on business trips, and how long said trips would last. That was the only real problem, everything else he was good for. Clint seemed to manage with the dog that he claimed to have, but Clint had been balancing everyday life and missions for much longer than Steve had.
Once he’s done as much as he can, he waits for Becca to return so he can ask her some questions of his own. However, it’s Bucky who comes back through the door, a rueful grin on his face.
“Is this the part that I try convince you that I’m not a weird fanboy who had posters of you in his room as a kid?”
Steve surprises himself by laughing. “Depends, would it be a lie?”
“Nope,” Bucky says, “I’ve got your whole World War Two comic collection, but no posters to moon at. Scouts honor.”
“Oh, God,” Steve groans, “the comics were worse.”
“You’re a lot smaller in person,” Bucky agrees, pulling a face as if he’s disappointed.
“I don’t think it’s humanly possible to have muscles like they drew me,” Steve says.
“I dunno,” Bucky says, flexing his arms, “think I’m pretty close.”
Steve’s mouth goes dry because Bucky has really nice arms. Bucky notices that Steve’s floundering for things to say and returns to professionalism — or his version of it. Steve’s almost disappointed; he likes Bucky flirting with him. At least he’s pretty sure that’s what Bucky’s doing.
“Becca’s just getting them in from the play area, as otherwise you won’t be able to view them properly,” Bucky explains. He takes the clipboard and scans the answers, frowning. “So, you’re not sure how much time you’ll be out of town?”
“Pretty much,” Steve says. “I’d need to clarify all that.”
“Makes sense,” Bucky says, peering at the clipboard. He sets it down with an exaggerated groan before beginning to hunt around the desk. Steve raises his eyebrows in question. “I need reading glasses ‘cause I’m like secretly eighty,” he explains, giving his glasses a dirty look. Steve thinks they look good on him.
“Don’t worry,” Steve says, “I’m not so secretly in my nineties.”
Bucky laughs and talks Steve through the rest of the process and possibilities that might work for him. Steve can see why Brooklyn Buddies has such stellar reviews. They genuinely care about the dogs. Bucky explains that because they’re private it means they can afford to be more careful about whom they send their dogs home with; however, it also means that they can’t take in every dog.
Eventually Bucky has Steve’s details entered into the system and leads him into the back room to meet the dogs.
Bucky reintroduces him to Captain America first.
“Cap’s a Vizsla crossed with a Spaniel, I think,” Bucky says as he hands Captain a treat and the dog wolfs it down. Bucky passes one to Steve, and Steve holds it out for Cap to take. “Cap can be wary of people, but he’s got great instincts.” Cap takes the treat from Steve. “And he clearly likes you, which is good. It’d be awkward if your dog-self didn’t like you.”
“Yeah.” Bucky rubs the back of his neck with an awkward smile. “He reminded me of your comic-self anyway, so that’s why he’s Cap.”
Steve laughs. “He’s not as big as my comic book self.”
“Yeah, he’s like pre-serum you.”
“Ill all the time?” Steve guesses.
“He’s got a heart murmur,” Bucky says, “vet didn’t think he’d make it this long, but here he is, still standing.”
“You called him Captain America even with a heart murmur?”
Bucky shuffles his feet and doesn’t meet Steve’s eyes. “It was never Cap’s muscles that made me like him.”
Steve thinks there’s something he ought to say. No, he knows there’s something he ought to say. However, his brain refuses to engage with his mouth as he stares at the sides of Bucky’s head while Bucky quickly moves on to introduce him to Iron Man.
Steve knows logically that it isn’t the muscles that make him Captain America, that Erskine picked him for the core values he’d had back in Brooklyn. Still, so many people forget about that now. Steve’d been reduced to strength and shield while he was frozen, and here was Bucky saying that he knew Steve was more than that.
“Here’s Hawkeye,” Bucky continues, and Steve knows he’s missed his opportunity to tell Bucky what that dog meant to him. “He’s got the most lethal gas known to mankind.” Hawkeye wags his tail proudly.
Steve grins and feeds Hawkeye a treat. “Good selling point.”
“It’s not really that bad,” Bucky says quickly, “and he’s got so many great traits!” Bucky launches into a story about Hawkeye’s tracking abilities and tendency to get over-excited and run into walls. Steve takes a photo to show Clint his dog-self. He knows Clint will love it.
“I can show you the newest recruit if you want, but if I’m honest, with your schedule I don’t think he’s the sort of dog you’re looking for,” Bucky says, pausing before the final cage.
“He’s not…” Bucky’s mouth twists. “He’s not great with people. He’s highly mistrustful of most people and is easily spooked. I’m working with him at the moment, as even Becca thought we’d have to put him down, thought his old owners had hurt him too much for him to ever be okay with people again. Also, most people don’t like German Shepherds anyway…”
“But?” Steve prompts.
“You look like you’re not saying something,” Steve says.
Bucky gives Steve a small shrug and a tiny smile. “Guess what I’m not saying is that he’s my favorite.”
“Well then I’d love to meet him.” Bucky’s face lights up.
“As I said, most people don’t like German Shepherds, but that’s ‘cause they don’t actually know anything about them. And Winter’s a real softy underneath his grumpy exterior,” Bucky says, as he bends down in front of the cage. He gestures for Steve to stand behind him. “He’s an absolute mutt as well, I’m pretty sure he’s got a firm bit of German in him, but there’s also other things. I want to say husky, which explains his eyes — oh my God, Steve, his eyes are so beautiful — and his fur’s so fluffy.”
Bucky’s voice is low as he pulls a treat out of his pocket and holds his hand into the cage. “You’re a real beauty, ain’t that right, Winter?”
“Winter?” Steve asks, mimicking Bucky’s soft tone. He presumes it’s to ensure Winter doesn’t get spooked.
“Yeah, Winter Soldier, you know the brain-washed guy from the Cap comics?”
Bucky chuckles. “Fair enough, some of them don’t suck, just so you know.”
“Yeah, I just find it weird reading about myself.”
“Fair,” Bucky says, “anyway the Winter Soldier is a guy who was captured and experimented on by Hydra, and forced to commit all these crimes, but he never wanted to. He wasn’t in control of himself. And I figure Winter’s like that. He was mistreated by his old owners and then thrown onto the streets, it’s not his fault he’s mistrusting.” As Bucky speaks, Winter moves toward him from the back of the compound. Steve sees what Bucky means about Winter’s eyes: they’re pale blue and stark against his fur.
He’s a big dog with thick black fur flecked with grey patches, such as his left leg. He hesitates just out of Bucky’s reach and stares at Steve.
“Heya, Winter,” Bucky says, hand flat and outstretched even as Winter bares his teeth. “This is Steve, and he’s a friend of mine.” Steve likes the idea of being Bucky’s friend. “You gonna come say hi?”
Winter growls. Bucky slowly moves his other hand behind him and tugs on Steve’s trouser leg. Steve lowers himself to mirror Bucky’s position.
“I know, bud,” Bucky continues, “Steve’s size is a little intimidating at first, but he’s not scary, same as you.” Winter sneaks Steve another wary glance but takes a step closer to Bucky. “I know you want the treat ‘cause you’re a greedy shit, ain’t ya? You’d eat me outta house and home if you could.”
“Tony always says the same about me,” Steve murmurs.
Bucky’s shoulders shake with amusement. He doesn’t laugh though, just keeps talking to Winter, who closes the final distance and takes the treat from Bucky’s hand before stepping back again. “Looks like you two’ve got a lot in common then.”
Steve smiles at Winter, who trots to the back of his cage again and lies down, staring at them.
“He doesn’t hate you,” Bucky says, grinning. “With a lot of people he won’t even come near me if they’re there, so for him to do that is a big thing for him.” Bucky chucks another treat into Winter’s cage and winks at Steve. “Don’t tell the others.” Winter gobbles the treat up loudly, and Bucky laughs.
“Of your blatant favoritism?”
Bucky hushes him. “They’ll hear you and hate me!”
“I don’t think any of these dogs could ever hate you,” Steve says earnestly. Watching Bucky with the dogs is amazing. He seems to know exactly how to treat each one, and they all love him to pieces. Steve’s had more fun here at Bucky’s shelter than he’s had in a while. Dogs don’t care who he is, and there’s something relaxing about Bucky too, as if despite his love for the Captain America role, he sees through that and sees Steve.
Steve waves goodbye to Winter and follows Bucky back through the kennel. The dogs yap as Bucky leaves, but when Bucky whistles they fall silent and stare at him like scolded schoolchildren. Steve laughs again at the sight of Bucky standing with his hands on his hips, glaring at them all with fondness written across his face.
“Right,” Bucky says when they’re back in the reception. “As I said, I’m going to need a bit more information before I let you take one of my babies, but I can give you my number and you can text me with any questions you have. If you want, of course.”
Steve smirks because he’s pretty sure that’s not how most businesses are run, and he knows Bucky’s personal number wasn’t on the website, but Steve isn’t going to protest. He’d been trying to work up the courage to ask for Bucky’s number as it was.
“So, speak to your bosses. Is that like the president?”
“Obama isn’t my boss,” Steve says.
“Shame,” Bucky says, “that’d be cool. Anyway, yes, speak to your boss about your schedule and friends and neighbors about how they’d feel about dog-sitting. If you did ever need—” Bucky’s cheeks go red “—I’d be able to dog-sit, but of course, that’s a kinda ‘if you were ever desperate’ offer.”
Bucky smiles down at the desk as he scrambles for paperwork and a business card to give Steve. Steve watches as Bucky scrawls his number onto the business card. His hair falls across his face, and Bucky blows a strand away with an irritated huff. He’s too attractive for his own good, Steve thinks. The pouty mouth, bright eyes, and high cheekbones all beg to be drawn. He’s got nice hands too.
It’s been a long time since Steve’s felt a level of interest this intensely. He can tell when people are objectively attractive, or artistically beautiful, but it’s always been more about personality for Steve. He’s drawn to Bucky in the same way he was Peggy, and his heart clenches.
“Can I come back and see the dogs soon even if I can’t adopt just yet?”
“Yes! I mean… you’re welcome to volunteer if you’d like! We’re always looking for volunteers, and that’d be a great way to get to know the dogs!”
“That’d be great!” Steve says back just as eagerly. “I’m always looking for a way to kill time, and I’d love to spend more time with you… and the dogs!” he adds. He has no idea if Bucky even likes men.
“Yeah,” Bucky says. He pulls out another form and hands it to Steve. “Do you want to fill this out now, and then I can give it to my mom, and she’ll get you sorted as soon as possible?”
“That’d be great!” Steve repeats stupidly. He takes the form from Bucky and starts filling it in. “So, this is a family thing then?”
“Yep, Barnes’s Brooklyn Buddies.”
“Run by Becca and Bucky?”
“It’s a lot of b’ s,” Bucky sighs. “My mom and dad are Winnie and George Barnes, so they’re fine. It’s Beck’s and I that are the walking advertisements.”
“It’s real nice though,” Steve says, “that you all work together.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees, smiling. “It’s pretty great.” He takes Steve’s form back and slides it into a purple folder marked Volunteers . “So, I guess I’ll be seeing you when I see you.”
“Yes.” Steve nods, sticking his hands in his pockets. He doesn’t want to go, but he ought to let Bucky get back to work.
“Hopefully that’ll be sooner rather than later,” Bucky adds with a small grin.
Steve smiles back. “I hope so too.”
“Text me if you need me.”
“Will do,” Steve promises. He’s not a big texter, and often finds himself muting the Avengers group chat — mainly due to Clint and Tony’s meme obsessions — but he’d like to text Bucky.
Steve turns, and just before he gets to the door Bucky’s voice rings out. “Oh, I forgot to ask which dog was your favorite?”
Steve pauses, hand on the doorknob, and thinks. “Winter,” he admits finally, “I liked Winter the most.”
There’s a pause, and when Bucky laughs, it’s soft and warm. “I knew I liked you, Steve.”
Steve glances at Bucky over his shoulder as he walks out the door and spends the rest of the day thinking about Bucky’s smile.
“Where’s your dog?”
“Did you both come through the vents?” Steve asked.
“No,” Natasha said, popping a cookie in her mouth. Steve frowns at the sight of his precious Chips Ahoy S’more edition cookies disappearing into her mouth. “I picked the lock. Why would I bother climbing through the vents?”
“It’s fun,” Clint says, stealing one of the cookies. “Anyway, as I said, where’s your dog?”
“Don’t have one,” Steve says. He sinks into his chair, as Clint and Natasha are taking up his sofa. “The guy wants me to find out more about my schedule before I take a dog home, or figure out how I’d take care of it when I’m away.”
“Kate takes care of our dog.”
“Your dog,” Natasha says firmly, “that thing is not my dog.”
“Who is Kate?”
“Neighbor,” Clint says, “Lucky’s a third hers at this point.”
“Half hers,” Natasha corrects, “I have no role in the dog’s life.” Clint grins, and Natasha shoves a cookie in his mouth. Steve loves watching them like this. Natasha is always most relaxed outside of work with Clint. Steve thinks this Natasha is as close to the real Natasha as he gets to see.
“Did you see any dogs you liked?” Clint asks.
Steve nods. “Yeah, Bucky showed me…” He trails off when Natasha holds up a finger, her eyebrow arched delicately. Steve has no idea how she does that with such precision. “What?”
“Yes,” Steve says, “Bucky’s one of the guy’s who owns it.”
“Bucky’s a weird name,” Clint says.
“He was nice,” Steve says, “good fun actually, clearly loves the dogs a lot. He seemed really smart, the way he interacted with all the different dogs. Apparently he’s the best with them, there’s not…” He stops, frowning at the way Natasha and Clint are smiling at each other. “What?” he asks again.
“Sounds like you like Bucky is all,” Natasha says.
“He was nice,” Steve repeats.
“Nice,” Clint leers. They’re both facing him now wearing matching smirks, and Steve understands exactly why they’re SHIELD's top spies.
“What?” he asks stubbornly.
“You like him,” Natasha says. It’s not a question. He momentarily regrets confessing to them that he likes both guys and girls but forces himself to get over it. Steve doesn’t regret anything about coming out to his teammates and not having them think he’s perverted for it, even if it does mean he has to endure conversations like this. “Is he hot?” Steve shrugs in response, and her smirk grows into a full-blown grin. “Oh my God, you actually thought he was hot! You never think people are hot!”
“To be fair,” Clint says, “I’d fuck him.”
Clint holds his phone out for Natasha to see, and Natasha whistles. “Nice work, Cap.”
Steve grabs Clint’s phone because it’s easier than having to ask what again. He stares down at Bucky’s grinning face. “How did you…”
“Went onto the Brooklyn Buddies Twitter and found his account. Bucky Barnes, presume that’s him?”
“You can’t just stalk him!” Steve says in weak protest.
“So you don’t want to see the photo of him shirtless next to a dog?” Clint asks, “‘Cause it’s something else.”
“Gimme.” Natasha takes the phone off Steve, and she and Clint flick through Bucky’s Twitter account.
“We shouldn’t be stalking him,” Steve says, because he doesn’t want to invade Bucky’s private life.
“His profile’s public,” Clint says. “He wants to be stalked.”
“Didn’t Tony teach you about Twitter?”
“Yes,” Steve says, “I understand it perfectly. It just feels wrong to stalk Bucky.He didn’t tell me about this account.”
“Well, he follows you,” Natasha says.
“He does?” Steve replies too quickly.
“Yep,” Natasha says, smiling the same smile she uses when someone cracks under interrogation. “You going to follow him back?”
“—just follow him!” Clint groans. “He’s definitely into guys, so what do you have to lose?”
“How do you know that?”
“Found his ex-boyfriend on Instagram,” Clint says. Steve decides not to push that any further.
“But what if he doesn’t like me back?”
“What are you? Twelve?” Clint laughs, shoving another cookie in his mouth.
Natasha fixes him with an even look and says, “So you can jump out a plane without a parachute, but you’re too chicken to follow a guy you like on Twitter?”
Steve glares at her as he pulls out his phone and follows Bucky back on Twitter. Natasha offers him a cookie and smiles smugly.
“Hey, stranger.” Steve smiles at the sound of Bucky’s voice as he walks into Brooklyn Buddies. “Long time, no speak.”
Bucky’d messaged Steve on Twitter as soon as Steve’d followed him back, and they’d shot messages back and forth all night. Clint and Natasha had stayed at his apartment watching reality TV and beaming like proud parents every time Steve’s phone dinged with Bucky’s response.
Steve had woken up to a Twitter notification that Brooklyn Buddies had followed him, and a message from Bucky saying his mom had sorted all the volunteer paperwork and that Steve could head over whenever he wanted, as Bucky would be in all day.
Steve spent more time trying to decide what to wear than he ever had before; with Peggy he hadn’t had to think beyond his army uniform or Cap suit. He’d refrained from asking any of his friends, because they’d rip him to shreds for it.
“Heya, Bucky,” Steve says. “You going to put me to work?”
“Kinda,” Bucky says. “Today is orientation day, which means you’ll be shadowing me, and I’ll take you through what volunteering here involves. You put down on your form that you were happy to work as many hours as possible on the days you could do, so I’ve got a full day planned, if that’s okay?”
“That’s great,” Steve says. It’s not like he has anything better to be doing with his time — not that he’s going to admit that to Bucky.
“Awesome,” Bucky says. “First things first: you’re going to put on this badge.” Steve catches the badge Bucky passes him, red with Brooklyn Buddies Volunteer written in black font. He probably looks like an idiot wearing it, but he puts it on anyway.
“Where’s your badge?”
“Perks of the full-time job, no stupid badge,” Bucky says. “However, we are technically supposed to wear the world’s ugliest t-shirts, but Beck’s and mine keep going mysteriously missing.”
“Funny that,” Steve says dryly. “Shouldn’t you be leading by example? How can you expect me to wear my badge if you won’t wear the shirt?”
“One, it’s do as I say, not as I do.” Bucky shoots him a shit-eating grin. “And two, you would not be saying that if you saw how ugly the shirt is.” He shudders. “My mom should not be allowed to design t-shirts.”
Steve wants to tell Bucky that he can’t imagine any t-shirt would make him look ugly, especially not today when Bucky’s hair is tied back in a messy bun, strands falling down to frame his face. However, he doesn’t dare. He’s not that brave.
Bucky has Steve sign a couple of insurance documents and then begins showing him around the shelter. He tells Steve that the kennels he’d seen last time were where the dogs slept, ate, and were displayed for viewings, but otherwise they gave the dogs as much freedom as possible. It was why they had to keep their numbers so low, Bucky says, otherwise they’ll start overcrowding.
He’s introduced to Bucky’s parents, who are busy cleaning the dogs’ rooms. They greet him with warm enthusiasm that seems to have very little to do with Captain America and everything to do with the fact they’re down on volunteers. Becca is in the staff room with Peter, one of the volunteers, working on advertising for a fundraising event.
Bucky talks Steve through the feeding schedule and shows him the play and training rooms. They’ve got a fantastic set up, but Steve can see the wear and tear on the place. Bucky doesn’t need to tell Steve they’ve got money troubles for Steve to notice it. The shelter isn’t functioning at full capacity because they don’t have the volunteers or funds to treat every animal the way they’d like to.
Steve vows to do everything he can for Bucky and the dogs. He’s felt like he’s been drifting ever since he came out of the ice. He’d tried throwing himself into missions, but that had left him feeling hollow, as if nothing he’d done had ever been enough. His mom had always told him that he couldn’t help everyone, and that he’d burn himself out trying. These last few months Steve’s finally started to understand what she meant.
Something settles within him as he watches Bucky instruct Widow to high-five him before feeding her a treat. Yes, he thinks, he might not be able to help everyone but he can help these dogs, and for now, that might just do.
“And now,” Bucky announces once he’s taken Steve around the building and settled in the utility room, “it’s time for us to undertake the most important job there is at any dog shelter.”
Bucky pulls a handful of red leashes out from behind his back and dangles them in Steve’s face.
“Kinky,” Steve deadpans before he can stop himself.
Bucky’s face lights up in surprise, and he laughs. “Biting and rope tying, I’ll keep that in mind.”
Steve shuffles his feet, his cheeks burning. “You’re keeping a list?”
“It’s important to always be prepared, right?” Bucky says innocently. “My scout leader always used to use you as the pinnacle of that.”
“I’m never prepared,” Steve says, wondering how America had got him so wrong while he’d been under the ice. “I used to jump out of planes without a parachute.”
Bucky’s eyebrows shoot up. “I don’t know if I should be impressed or horrified.”
“Yeah, I’m going to go with both.” Bucky shakes his head, smiling to himself. “Anyway, right. Where was I?”
“Bondage?” Steve says, because he likes the sound of Bucky’s laugh.
Bucky laughs and hits Steve with one of the leads. “Dog walking. They need as much exercise as they can get. We try get them all out once a day for half an hour minimum, and then they can burn the rest of their energy off in the playroom.”
“Dad and Becca have already both been out this morning, which means we have the honor of walking—” Bucky frowns at the list tacked to the wall, “—Thor, Spidey, Marvel, and Cap. You good with that?”
Steve nods and takes two of the leads from Bucky. “Sure thing.”
“You can take the two Caps, Cap,” Bucky says, snickering at his own joke.
Steve rolls his eyes. “Do you just have a rolling loop of dogs with superhero names?”
“Yep,” Bucky says, “whenever they get adopted it means I’m free to name the next dog after them, if it fits of course. I like to give it a couple of days before I pick the name so I can ensure it’ll fit.” He shoots Steve a goofy thumbs-up and leads him back to the playroom to get the dogs. “It’s super nerdy, I know.”
“No,” Steve protests weakly.
Bucky laughs and flips him off before launching into an explanation about how they tend to group the dogs by energy levels for walks, and the four they’re walking now are the ones that need the most exercise.
“Who does Winter walk with?” Steve asks, catching sight of the large bundle of black fur curled up in the corner by himself. The other dogs seem to know to avoid him, and Winter seems content to watch them all play warily. Steve wants to go over and stroke him anyway. He reckons despite his aloof attitude, Winter craves affection. Steve knows he does. He doesn’t know how to get it from his teammates; he’s never been very good at asking for what he needs. It’d been his ma before she’d died, and then Peggy during the war, but now…
Steve’s apartment is very empty sometimes. He’d like something or someone to fill the space with.
“Me, and me alone really,” Bucky says. “I have to take him out by himself, as he doesn’t like being close to the other dogs. I take him for morning runs when I can. It means there’s less people about for him to be spooked, and then he’s calmer for the rest of the day.”
They clip the leads onto the dogs, and Bucky passes Steve some black bags and a handful of dog treats to put in his pockets. Steve switches his glasses for sunglasses and grabs his hat from the staff-room. “Just easier,” Steve says when Bucky shoots him an enquiring look. He’s in incognito mode anyway with his leather jacket and jeans, but he hates seeing pictures of himself online.
“I can’t even imagine,” Bucky says. He steps back and looks Steve up and down, and Steve’s mouth goes dry at the sensation of Bucky’s eyes slowly dragging over him. He doesn’t think he’s imagining the way Bucky takes longer than he needs. “Yep,” Bucky says, “I reckon we’re good to go.”
“Am I ordinary looking?”
Bucky’s mouth curls at the corner, and Steve wonders what it would be like to kiss Bucky. His mouth is so expressive, and Steve wants to know exactly what those lips feel like against his. “How are we defining ordinary exactly?”
“No one would look twice.”
“Then no,” Bucky says. Steve’s shoulders start to sag, but Bucky’s not done. “But they’ll look twice because you’re a hot guy walking dogs, and everyone loves that. They won’t look because you’re Captain America.” He starts walking out of the building, leaving Steve staring like an idiot. Bucky’s right, it’s impossible not to stare at a hot guy walking dogs, especially when he’s got an ass like Bucky’s. Bucky pauses as if he can read Steve’s mind and turns back, grinning. “You coming?”
For the first time in a long time, Steve’s unable to do anything but follow.
“Hey, Steve,” Winnie greets him when he walks into Brooklyn Buddies.
“Hello, Ma’am,” Steve says because he’s unable to break the habit, no matter how much Bucky laughs at him for being technically older than his mom. It’s good manners, and he defends it.
“Bucky’s not in till this afternoon, but I’m presuming you can get on by yourself.”
“Think I’ll manage without him supervising me for a few hours,” Steve says, deliberately staring at the wall when Winnie gives him a pointed look. Steve’s never been good at subtle, and his crush on Bucky has only grown since he’s been volunteering here. He thinks it can probably be seen from space now.
There’s only been a few couple of day missions in this last month, so he’s been free to spend most of his time at Brooklyn Buddies. He doesn’t need a supervisor at all, but Bucky has a tendency to schedule Steve’s hours to align with his own, and Steve has had no reason to complain.
“Task lists in the staff room,” Winnie calls as he walks back.
He finds Darcy in the staff room poking at the coffee machine and smiles in welcome. He’s chuffed to see he’s been trusted with a lot of Bucky’s own tasks despite being the newest volunteer. He knows the Barneses wouldn’t have given him those tasks if they didn’t think he’d be able to perform them to the best of his ability.
He takes a picture of himself with the task list and sends it to Bucky, calling him a slacker.
“You guys are so cute,” Darcy coos.
“That was to Bucky, right?” Darcy says, letting out a triumphant sound as the coffee machine beeps to life. “Honestly, like, relationship goals.”
“Oh we’re not…” Steve gestures pathetically, “you know…”
“Yeah,” Steve says, sticking his hands in his pockets so he’ll stop waving them around like an idiot. “We’re just—”
“Good friends who flirt and stare longingly at each other?”
Steve feels whatever answer he gives is the wrong one.
“What are you two chatting about?” Steve welcomes Becca’s entrance as a chance to escape this conversation.
“Steve and Bucky’s completely platonic relationship.”
“Oh, are you giving Steve shit for not making a move yet?” Becca asks, obliterating Steve’s hopes that Becca would bring a return to sanity. “I’ve been telling Bucky to get his head out of his ass ever since they first met.”
Steve groans, because he can’t escape this anywhere. Natasha texts him three times a day to ask if he’s asked Bucky out yet. “We’re just friends.”
“I do not stare at my friends asses the way you stare at Bucky’s,” Darcy says. Steve squawks, because that’s Becca’s brother she’s talking about, but Becca just waves at her hand at him and says, “You’re hardly subtle.”
Steve feels awful that Bucky’s own family has caught him checking Bucky out. He wants to return to the ice. It had been a lot less embarrassing being frozen.
“It’s fine,” Becca says, “he’s been into you since he first realised he liked guys.”
Steve tries not to look too interested by that and mutters about going to check on the dogs before running as fast as he can from the room. He’s a super soldier, he’s faced down Hydra, aliens, and a god, and all of those were less terrifying than the combined meddling force of Becca and Darcy.
He finds solace taking care of the dogs and settles in the corner of the playroom with Winter. Much to Bucky’s shock and delight, Winter’s warmed to Steve in a way that he hasn’t warmed to anyone but Bucky. He sticks by Steve’s side and follows him around, keeping a wary eye on the other occupants of Brooklyn Buddies . He’s better with the other animals when he’s with Steve, better with company, full stop. That’s not to say he’s an easy dog: he’s still full of hang-ups, and he snaps at Steve sometimes. Steve’s not afraid of him, though. He thinks that’s why Winter likes him. No matter what happens, Steve’s never afraid of him. Steve should probably stop seeing so much of himself in a dog.
However, he can’t help but see himself in Winter, and so outside of his volunteering, he works with Bucky on Winter’s training and general demeanor, because as soon as he can, Steve’s going to adopt that dog and give him the best home. No one else will get Winter like he does, apart from Bucky, but Bucky can’t keep Winter at the kennel forever. Bucky wouldn’t want to keep Winter there forever, because Brooklyn Buddies does its best, but it’s not the same as a home.
“Did you miss me?”
“Oh, were you not here?”
“Ha ha. You ever thought about hanging up that shield and trying your hand at comedy?”
“No, but I’ll keep it in mind.”
Bucky laughs, and bends down to stroke Winter’s head. Winter’s hovering outside of Thor’s compartment while Steve cleans it out.
Bucky pulls a face and leans against the wall. He’s looks tired from whatever he’s been doing, and Steve wants to make him smile again.
“S’alright,” Bucky says, shrugging. “Just finance talks and shit, trying to figure out how to make ends meet, you know?”
“I could…” Steve starts, before trailing off when Bucky fixes him with a glare. Steve’d offered to write Brooklyn Buddies a blank check at the beginning of his volunteering, but the Barneses had flat out told him they couldn’t just take his money like that.
“It wouldn’t be right for us to take advantage of you,” Winnie had said as she’d offered him one of the cookies that George had baked that morning. Steve doesn’t think the Barneses are aware of quite how much it’s Steve that’s taking advantage of their kindness. He’s claiming that he’s here for the dogs, but he knows that’s not it. “Help brainstorm fundraising events sometime if you like?” he finishes. “I’ve worked with Pepper a few times so I might have some ideas that could be useful.”
Some of the tension seeps out of Bucky’s shoulders. “Yeah, that’d be great,” Bucky says. “What about you? You had a good day?”
“Yeah,” Steve says, “it’s just been so nice and peaceful, and Winter and I’ve managed to get so much done, because there hasn’t been someone chattering in our ears constantly.”
“Oh, really?” Bucky laughs. “Pretty sure you’re the distraction, pal.”
“Me?” Steve mouths in faux-outrage.
“Oh, don’t give me that ‘I’m so innocent, I’m Captain America’ face,” Bucky groans.
“Actually this is my ‘No, officer, I didn’t just get into another street fight’ face, which I perfected back in the 30s, so you don’t stand a chance.”
“They left your street fighting out of the history books.”
“Apparently the fact I used to get beaten up daily doesn’t fit with my image.”
“Why’d you get beaten up so much?”
“I was five foot five with every illness under the sun,” Steve says, shrugging. “Also, I’ve never been good at staying silent when I see something I think injust.”
Bucky stares at him, the corner of his mouth curling into an apostrophe. “Guess that’s where me and the history writers differ.” Steve raises his eyebrows in question. “The fact you stood up for what’s right even before you knew you’d win, that’s what makes Captain America inspiring.”
Bucky gives Steve a soft smile, and squeezes his shoulder, touch lingering. “Anyway, suppose I ought to go be useful. Wouldn’t want to distract you, after all,” Bucky teases.
“Yeah,” Steve says, his skin burning from where Bucky’s fingers had brushed his neck.
“You coming, boy?” Bucky calls to Winter before sighing dramatically when Winter doesn’t move from Steve’s side. “It’s fine, you just betray me for Steve, whatever.”
“Can you blame him?”
Bucky gives him another one of those looks that has Steve’s stomach tying itself in knots. “No, I can’t say I can.”
Bucky turns to leave, and Steve thinks it’s the fact that Becca and Darcy had egged him on earlier, and he’s never been able to back down from a challenge. Or maybe he’s finally found that bravery that everyone always praises him for, but he says, “Would you want to grab a coffee later? Or some sort of drink whenever you finish for today. We could talk fundraising or talk about anything, if you want.”
Steve’s not sure he’s breathing as Bucky turns back to him, but then Bucky nods, and Bucky’s grinning, and Steve’s grinning despite his racing heart. “I’d like that,” Bucky says, “yeah.”
“Yeah.” Steve’s unable to stop smiling.
“Cool.” Bucky gestures over his shoulder. “So, I should probably still…”
“Yeah!” Steve says, “Urm, go work!”
Bucky laughs. “Yes, Captain.” Steve rolls his eyes, and nothing’s changed between them even if Steve’s pretty sure they’re going for a date. He hopes that’s what they’ve agreed to, anyway. “So, I’ll see you later, for that drink and talking?”
“Yeah,” Steve says because his brain seems to have forgotten how other words work. “Drink and talking.”
Bucky bites his lip, smiles and leaves. Steve watches him go with a smile so dopey that Natasha would never let him live it down.
Winter barks at him, and snaps Steve out of his daze. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get to work too,” Steve says, scratching Winter behind the ear and moving on to clean Hawkeye’s compartment. He doesn’t even mind that it smells, not when he’s got a date with Bucky Barnes to look forward to.
He freezes and shoots Winter a desperate look. “What am I going to wear?!” Winter stares at him blankly. “Yeah, yeah, you’re a dog,” Steve says, “you don’t have to worry about this.”
Winter continues to stare at Steve like he’s a lunatic who’s talking to himself — which is justified — so Steve sucks it up and texts Natasha because he’d rather her laugh at him for being clueless than Bucky laugh at him for dressing like a grandpa on their date. It’s the lesser of two evils.
When Steve meets Bucky outside of Brooklyn Buddies, he’s in a Natasha-approved outfit without the usual fake glasses that he wears out in public. He wants to be himself for Bucky.
Bucky looks gorgeous, as always. Steve’s dumbstruck by the fact Bucky’s agreed to go on a date with him.
Steve’s not sure how he’s supposed to do this. He’s not sure how he’s supposed to greet Bucky, especially as Steve’d only seen Bucky a few hours ago and had texted him even more recently. If Bucky was a dame in the 1940s he would have kissed his cheek or hand, but Bucky’s Bucky, and a man in the twenty-first century.
Bucky luckily is more prepared for this than Steve and pulls Steve in for a hug, steps back and grins at him.
“It’s nice to see you when you don’t smell like dog,” Bucky says, bumping Steve’s shoulder with his own.
“You think you have it bad? Try having enhanced senses.”
Bucky’s face contorts with horror. “Tell me you’re joking.”
“I think I can still smell Hawkeye on you,” Steve muses. He steps closer to Bucky and sniffs dramatically. “Yeah, there’s a faint smell of—”
“—Oh fuck off,” Bucky groans, shoving Steve away. Steve could plant his weight, but he lets Bucky push him, smiling when Bucky’s fingers catch Steve’s jacket to pull him back in.
“You don’t smell like dog,” Steve promises.
“Wow, you really know how to woo a guy, don’t you?”
“You said I smelt of dog first,” Steve points out.
Bucky pouts. “Yeah, but you’ve got super-senses! If you smell like dog to my meager human nose, I don’t even want to know how I smell to you!”
Steve rolls his eyes, grinning. “You smell good, okay?” Bucky smirks. “Ohh, you were just begging for that compliment, weren’t you?”
“Never,” Bucky says, but he’s still smirking proudly so Steve doesn’t believe his innocence for a second. “Right, where are we heading? I’m presuming we’re not just walking around aimlessly chatting?”
“Well, I did promise you drinks and chatting, so I was thinking a bar would be nice?” He’s suddenly worried that Bucky’ll think it’s too much. Perhaps all Bucky had wanted was coffee and to talk about fundraising ideas. He catches sight of Bucky smiling at him, and just the sight of it relaxes him.
“Sounds good to me,” Bucky says, before Steve can descend too far down that panic-induced train of thought. “You got a place in mind?”
“Nat recommended me a place, pretty low-key, but still nice.” Steve’d wanted somewhere he didn’t have to worry about anyone photographing him and Bucky together and blaring it across the papers. There’s no telling how the American public would react to the news that Steve was into guys, and Steve wants to keep Bucky and Brooklyn Buddies to himself for as long as he can. It’s nobody else's business but his anyway.
“Awesome.” Bucky smiles, and Steve knows this is going to be the best date of his life. The competition isn’t hard, not when the girls he’d taken on dates in Brooklyn had never liked him that much, and he’d never had the chance to take Peggy on a date. He wishes that weren’t the case, but he doesn’t want to dwell on a misspent past. He’s here in the present with Bucky, and it’s not as awful as he’d feared it would be. For everything he’s been through, Bucky, his teammates, and Brooklyn Buddies make it all a little more bearable each and every day.
Natasha’s bar is designed like a Prohibition underground bunker, and Steve rolls his eyes fondly at her antics as they enter the disguised boiler shop entrance. The bouncer manages to hide his shock when Steve hands over his ID, and Steve decides he likes this place. Bucky’s staring around slack-jawed at the fairy lights strung around the banister of the stairs as they descend into the main bar. It’s a large room with dark walls covered in twinkling lights that remind Steve of the stars. The tables are lit by candles, and there’s a band playing in the corner.
“How’ve I lived here my whole life and never known this place exists?” Bucky laughs, reaching out and taking Steve’s hand. Steve entwines their fingers. Bucky’s hand is large, soft, and slightly clammy, and Steve squeezes it, smiling as he looks around the place that is the perfect blend between the life he had known and the one he has now.
“That’s Nat for you,” Steve says.
Bucky drags him over to the bar and orders them two drinks. Steve offers to put his card behind the bar for them both, but Bucky waves him off.
“We’ll take turns, okay?”
Steve knows what it’s like to not be able to match people financially, and he vows to be more careful about it in the future. He doesn’t want to offend Bucky, and Bucky’s pride is something Steve admires about him.
“Sounds good to me,” Steve says, squeezing Bucky’s hand again before wandering off to find a table. He’s inspecting the snack menu when Bucky comes back with two cocktails that he looks extremely happy with.
“Last Word cocktails,” Bucky announces, setting them down on the table. “It’s like this drink was made for you.”
Steve opens his mouth to make a remark about how incredibly hypocritical that is, but then realises it’s exactly what Bucky’s set him up for. Bucky grins smugly as he sits down and takes a sip of his drink. Steve opens and closes his mouth a few times before crossing his arms and glaring at Bucky; Bucky takes another sip and switches his smile to a sweet one.
“Just so you know I can’t actually get drunk,” Steve says, downing half his drink in one sip and matching Bucky’s sweet smile.
“Are you joking?”
Steve shakes his head, and takes another — albeit smaller — sip. “Nope.”
“You’re not trying to get me drunk to take advantage of me, are you Rogers?” Steve rolls his eyes. “‘Cause you don’t have to.” Bucky smirks when Steve chokes on his drink.
Steve takes a second to regain his faculties at the flood of images that hit him. It’s not that he hasn’t thought about taking Bucky to bed, because he has, a lot. It’s just he’s never actually done… that… and it’s now a possibility. A possibility not a fantasy.
“Well, I didn’t think I’d have to work too hard,” Steve says, refusing to let Bucky win this round. “A little birdy told me I was a crucial part of you realizing your sexuality.”
Bucky buries his face in his hands. “I no longer have a sister.”
“Hey, it’s flattering,” Steve teases. Bucky flips him off and takes a sulky sip of his drink. “Anyway, did you want to talk fundraising or…” Steve trails off as Bucky laughs at him. “I’m going to take that as a no?”
“Steve,” Bucky says, “this is a date, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Steve agrees quickly.
“Good,” Bucky says, “so we’ll talk fundraising tomorrow at work, but for now I just want to get to know you outside of that.”
“I’m not very interesting.” Bucky arches his eyebrows. “I’m not!”
“Steve,” Bucky repeats, “you’re like the opposite of not interesting, okay? And not just ‘cause you’re Captain America. You’re interesting ‘cause you’re you , so tell me something about Steve Rogers.”
“I went to art school for a year or so back in the 30s before the war?”
“Really? That’s sick!” Bucky says “Fancy drawing me?” He pouts dramatically at Steve.
“Yeah,” Steve says, “I’d love to.”
“Oh,” Bucky says, he takes a sip of his drink and blushes, clearly thrown by the earnestness of Steve’s answer, but it’s true. Steve has wanted nothing more than to draw Bucky ever since he saw him. “I could draw a stick figure of you if you wanted?”
“You’re so sweet.”
Bucky grins. “I know.”
They finish up their drinks, and Steve goes up to order the next round and some snacks. The conversation never stops flowing, and they end up walking around Brooklyn together until Steve can see that Bucky’s about ready to fall asleep on his feet. It’s understandable seeing as he’d had to wake up at 6am for his meeting, and unlike Steve, isn’t pumped full of superserum. Steve walks Bucky back to his apartment and kisses him good-night.
It’s meant to be a sweet kiss, a promise of more to come, but it ends up heated as all of the tension between them bubbles over.
Steve pulls back and stares at Bucky with his swollen lips and flushed cheeks; it’s the most erotic thing he’s ever seen. Bucky’s breathing hard, his hand fisted in Steve’s shirt, and Steve’s heart is pounding a mile a minute.
“I should—” Steve starts just as Bucky asks, “Do you want to come in?”
“I should come in,” Steve says, nodding keenly.
“Yeah,” Bucky says, twisting around to unlock the door and giving Steve the opportunity to find out if Bucky has any sensitive spots on his neck. “Yeah,” Bucky repeats, breath hitching as Steve finds the right spot. “You should definitely come in.”
Bucky takes so long to get the door open that Steve momentarily considers the pros and cons of just kicking it down, but before he can voice the suggestion, Bucky opens the door and drags him inside his apartment. And then Bucky’s kissing him again, and Steve’s unable to think of anything that isn’t Bucky.
Steve walks into Brooklyn Buddies, and his whole body aches. He’s drained emotionally and physically from the last mission and once he’d been cleared by SHIELD medical he’d been tempted to go home and curl up and sleep for the next week, but his desire to see his boyfriend had won out.
The mission had been a technical success, but it had been gruelling and heart-wrenching, and Steve’s starting to wonder if he’s getting too old for all of this. He’s tired of being Captain America. He spends all his time on missions wanting to get home again, to Bucky and back to his life. Working at Brooklyn Buddies has reminded him that there’s a life for him outside of SHIELD and his own shield, and Steve wants the chance to explore that more.
Bucky’s convinced him to sign up for art classes again, and Steve thinks he’d like to take up art full-time again. Ever since the Second World War started Steve has done very little but fight, and he thinks he’d like to go back to just being Steve Rogers again.
He’d like to paint and maybe sell a few paintings. He’d like to adopt a dog and not worry about leaving it alone when he’s pulled away for missions every other week. He’d like to let his relationship with Bucky grow without Bucky being terrified about Steve risking his life.
There’s no one on the front desk because it’s past opening hours, but Steve makes his way out back to the playroom where he knows Bucky will be with the dogs.
When Steve enters the playroom, he see’s Bucky’s not alone, but with a handsome man that Steve recognises from Bucky’s Instagram feed as Bucky’s friend Sam. Sam’s Bucky’s running partner, if Steve remembers correctly.
Before he can call out a greeting to the two men, Winter catches sight of him and barks loudly. The other dogs start toward Steve but pause when Winter sprints over and jumps up, huge paws hitting Steve’s chest. Due to his exhaustion, Steve staggers slightly under Winter’s weight, but he laughs, wrapping his arms around the big dog’s body as Winter sniffs him as if checking him over for wounds.
“Down boy.” Steve hears Bucky call, and glances up from Winter’s fur to see Bucky advancing toward him with Sam following him. Winter gives Steve’s face a defiant lick before dropping down, and moving to stand behind Steve. “I can’t believe you managed to turn that dog completely against me,” Bucky says, shaking his head.
“Good to see you too,” Steve says, leaning in for a quick kiss hello. Bucky pulls back and copies Winter in inspecting Steve over for any visible wounds. “I’m alright,” Steve promises, which is true. His body had mostly healed itself on the journey home. He’s just tired now.
“Good,” Bucky says, pressing a fierce kiss to Steve’s lips. Steve wants to let himself get caught up in the moment, but he’s aware that Sam’s in the room too, and now that Winter’s given them permission, he’s got a dozen dogs vying for his attention at his feet.
“Sam, right?” Steve says, extending one hand while using the other to try and stroke twelve dogs at once.
“Yep,” Sam says, taking Steve’s hand, “and you’re the Steve that I’ve heard so much about.”
“Sam,” Bucky groans.
“Shouldn’t have spent every day since Steve’s been gone chatting my ear off about him then,” Sam says, giving Steve a conspirator’s grin.
Steve decides he likes Sam. “Hope he’s only been telling you good things.”
“I haven’t,” Bucky says at the same time that Sam says, “He has, it’s revolting, honestly.”
“Can I go back in time and make it so you two never meet?”
“Nope,” Steve says, wrapping an arm around Bucky’s waist and pressing a kiss to his temple. It’s only partly for show, it’s mainly because he’s missed the affection Bucky provides since he’s been away. Bucky leans into him, and Steve welcomes his familiar weight.
“No way,” Sam says. “In fact, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, don’t you, Steve?”
Bucky groans again. “I should go back to only hanging out with dogs. They’re much nicer to me than you two.”
“Ouch,” Sam says, clutching his chest like he’s wounded. Bucky pulls a face at Sam, who laughs.
“Speaking of dogs,” Steve says, “what time you getting off today?”
“Well,” Bucky starts, smirking at Steve.
“No way,” Sam says, pointing menacingly at Bucky, humor vanishing from his face. “I do not want to hear about you two doing the nasty.”
“Gay sex isn’t nasty, Wilson,” Bucky says primly. “Don’t be a homophobe.”
“All thoughts of your dick are nasty, Barnes.”
Steve laughs, pinching Bucky’s hip. “Time?”
“Oh, yeah,” Bucky says, chewing on his lip. “Urm, I hadn’t really thought about it. I was planning to be here till we put the dogs to bed for the night, really. I hadn’t known you were coming back.” He shoots Steve an apologetic look.
“S’alright,” Steve says, hiding his disappointment. He’d been hoping he’d be able to curl up with Bucky and watch a film tonight, maybe get take-out. “I’m really tired as it is, so I’ll just go home and relax.”
“I—” Bucky starts, face contorting. “I don’t want you to be alone tonight.”
“You could always swing by when you’re done?” Steve offers. “I won’t be great company anyway.” He doesn’t want Bucky feeling bad, but he’s touched that Bucky knows exactly what he needs after a mission.
“Or you could both stop looking like a pair of sadsacks, and go home?” Sam interrupts.
“What?” Bucky frowns.
“I’ll cover your shift,” Sam says.
“Sam,” Bucky says, clearly torn. Steve holds his breath to see what Bucky says, he doesn’t want to put Sam out, but he also so selfishly wants Bucky to come home with him now. “I can’t ask you to do that.”
“Yeah you can,” Sam says, fixing them both with a firm look. “I’ve volunteered here enough to know what I’m doing, and isn’t the best part of being your own boss being able to give yourself the night off to take care of your boyfriend?”
“I don’t need taking care of!”
“You look like you’re about to pass out,” Sam says, crossing his arms and staring evenly at the pair of them. “Take him home, Barnes. This isn’t a debate.”
“Military?” Steve asks, Sam’s tone striking him as familiar.
“Air force, two tours,” Sam says, “pararescue.”
“Thank you for your service,” Steve says, holding his hand out for Sam to take again.
Sam takes it and grins at Steve. “Right back at you, man.” He lets go of Steve’s hand and turns back to Bucky. “Now get out of here before I change my mind about spending my evening with a bunch of stinkin’ dogs.”
“You love them,” Bucky says, giving Sam a hug and saying goodbye to the dogs.
“Thanks, pal,” Steve says, a layer of tension leaving him now that he gets to go home with Bucky.
“Any time,” Sam says.
Steve turns and says goodbye to Winter, promising to see him tomorrow before letting Sam push him and Bucky out of the play room.
Steve waits for Bucky to grab his jacket, then they head back to Steve’s place. Bucky’s got a toothbrush and a few items of clothing there now, so they don’t have to swing by Bucky’s place first. It makes Steve feel warm inside.
“This is nice,” Steve says, chewing on a spring roll. Bucky prods his ribs, and Steve reaches up to let Bucky have a bite. He’d tell Bucky off for being a lazy shit, but Bucky’s currently using one hand to massage Steve’s scalp, and Steve doesn’t want him to stop.
“It is,” Bucky says once he’s finished chewing. “I’m glad I can be here for when you get home.”
“Me too,” Steve says, because it’s easier than telling Bucky exactly how much it means to him.
“I hate that you have to go at all,” Bucky says. Steve doesn’t say anything, because he doesn’t know how to respond. Bucky doesn’t seem to expect a reply, and that doesn’t make Steve feel any better.
He offers Bucky another bite of the spring roll and says, “Part of the reason Clint told me to get a dog was ‘cause coming home from a mission to an empty house sucks.”
“I wish I could sign Winter off to you,” Bucky says, “I’m just worried ‘cause he’s a full-time dog and—”
“—Hey,” Steve says, leaning up and kissing Bucky quiet. “I’d never ask you to let me have a dog if you didn’t think I’d be the best home for it.”
“I know,” Bucky says, “but I think you would be the best home for Winter if it wasn’t the whole… You’re the perfect owner for Winter — possibly the only person who would ever want him — it’s just…”
“I know,” Steve says, and in that moment he hates the shield. He hates that it’s depriving him of the simple life he craves. “I know.” Bucky sighs and Steve changes the topic. “How was Buddies while I was away, anyway?”
“Good,” Bucky says, “met with Pepper again about organizing the Avengers and Buddies dog play day. She thinks we can organize a dog picnic sort of thing in the park, get everyone to bring their own dogs and you guys will be in charge of looking after your namesakes, and it’ll just be good promotion. People will be able to leave donations if they want to, and we’ll spread the word for dog shelters all over New York, maybe even the country or world. It’s the Avengers after all.”
“Sounds good to me,” Steve says. “Would you make a speech or anything?”
Bucky shrugs. “Pepper wants me to, but I don’t know if I ought to let mom or dad do that. Buddies is theirs after all.”
“Speak to them, and find out what they think’ll be best.”
Bucky nods. “Pepper wanted you to say something too, but I told her that wouldn’t be necessary.”
“I’d speak if you wanted me to,” Steve says, “if it’d be the best thing for Buddies.”
“Of course,” Steve says, kissing Bucky because he doesn’t have the words to tell Bucky that he’d do nearly anything for him. He hopes the kiss will do for now.
“Do you think it’d be possible for me to ever retire?”
Natasha and Clint don’t look at each other as Natasha slides over ten bucks to Clint.
Steve rolls his eyes. “Well, do you?”
“I mean you’re perfectly justified to,” Natasha says slowly, “you’re the longest serving military official in history.”
“Also the oldest,” Clint adds, “but I’ve got to ask what’s changed your mind?”
Steve shrugs. “I want a dog.”
Clint and Natasha share a look before adjusting themselves on Steve’s sofa. Clint offers Steve a chip.
“So you want out?” Natasha asks.
“Yeah,” Steve says, “I mean I’d be willingly to come in if they really needed me, but I’d like to settle down. I’m nearly one hundred. I think it’s time.”
“Couldn’t have said it better if I’d tried,” Clint says, passing Steve another chip, which Steve takes as high praise.
He’s been thinking about it a lot since the last mission. He doesn’t necessarily want to quit the Avengers, but take a more secondary role like Tony, Bruce, and Thor have. He’d like to live a quiet life and only take up the shield if he’s really needed. He’s ready to leave the other work to the professionals like Natasha and Clint. Steve’d always been a soldier, not an agent.
“I want my life back.”
“Good,” Natasha says, “you deserve it.”
Steve narrows his eyes at the pair of them. “Why are you so unsurprised?”
“We thought it was time,” Natasha says. “You needed a life outside of Captain America.”
“Did you guys plan this?”
Clint grins and points at himself. “Spy.”
“Spy,” Natasha echos, mimicking Clint’s action.
Steve drags a hand over his face to hide his smile. He thinks he should have seen this coming. “But you couldn’t have known—”
“—About Bucky?” Natasha interrupts, “no, that was a delightful surprise even for us.”
“I hadn’t really planned beyond you getting a dog and wanting to give it the best home possible,” Clint says, “but yeah, I’m happy for you and the Buckmaster.”
Steve chuckles at the nickname. “Can you imagine how that meeting with Fury will go? Hey Sir, I’m thinking of giving up the Captain America mantle unless its a national emergency to settle down with my boyfriend and the dog I want to adopt.”
“The papers would still probably refer to Bucky as your buddy,” Clint says, and Natasha rolls her eyes at the world’s stupidity.
Steve can relate. He’s pretty sure the papers would refer to Bucky as his buddy at their wedding at this point. Steve had come out a couple of weeks ago with a statement that he was bisexual. Maria had had the whole thing covered, and Steve had agreed to give an interview to one LGBT+ magazine, and that was it. In Steve’s mind, his and Bucky’s relationship is none of the public’s business. He’s happy with Bucky and doesn’t see anything changing that. He’s not going to hide their relationship from the public, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to talk about it either.
Steve’s sexuality has nothing to do with holding the title of Captain America, though he’s sure that someone will twist it to make it sound like he’s stepping down due to pressure, because of course Steve can’t love a man and also be Captain America. There’s a loud minority who like to proclaim that Steve’s no longer representative of American values, but for the most part, Steve’s been blown away by the support.
“So, you’re really going to do it?” Natasha asks after they’ve sat in silence watching the TV for a while.
“Yeah,” Steve says, “I think I am.”
Natasha smiles at him, and Steve knows he’s making the right decision. He’ll always be there if they need him, but he’s looking forward to some time to himself.
“Can I be there when you tell Fury?” Clint asks, wearing a shit-eating grin.
Steve steals his chips in response.
“Hawkeye!” Steve grins as both the dog and Clint pause at Natasha’s firm tone, and then laughs when Natasha rolls her eyes and says, “I could not have more obviously been speaking to the dog.”
Clint barks sarcastically at her before returning to trying to get Widow and Lucky to high-five each other.
It’s a beautiful day, and the park is absolutely overflowing with people and their dogs, all here to support Brooklyn Buddies and see the Avengers.
Tony was there trying to get Iron Man to play with the robot toy he’d invented especially for the occasion, and the dog seemed more than happy to play along. Steve’s favorite has to be watching Thor with Thor though; the two seem made for each other.
The day’s been a great success so far, with Bucky and Steve making a joint speech to welcome and thank everyone for coming while Winter sat proudly beside them. Winter’s been Steve’s permanent shadow for the day, as they helped each other deal with the constant stream of attention. They’d both made huge steps forward in the last month since Steve retired from SHIELD and adopted Winter for good. Steve hadn’t realised how much of his life he spent looking over his shoulder until suddenly he wasn’t fighting anymore. He thinks it’s the same for Winter.
“You owe me five bucks.” Steve glances up, and smiles as Bucky presses a kiss to the top of his head before dropping down beside him.
“Has Sam really done it?” Steve’s glad to have lost the five bucks, if he’s honest.
“Yep,” Bucky says, “he’s run off with Becca to sign for Cap before the masses can.”
Steve laughs, shoulder brushing Bucky’s. “I’m glad he finally came to his senses.”
“Me too,” Bucky says. Steve and Bucky have been waiting for Sam to adopt the latest Captain America dog ever since he came in a couple of weeks ago and the pair fell in love instantly. They sit there with Winter beside them, staring out over the park as people play with their dogs. The rest of the Buddies workers walk around collecting donations, and Steve knows they’re going to go and help out in a bit, but for now he’s happy to sit beside Bucky and Winter and watch his friends make fools of themselves.
“Mom’s talking of taking advantage of the next few days to get started on renovations,” Bucky says, leaning his head on Steve’s shoulder.
“You reckon all the dogs will go?”
“It’s looking that way,” Bucky says, “and I know that’s the point of today, and I’m happy that my babies will be happy, but God, I miss every single one that goes!”
“You’ll still have Cap and Winter,” Steve says. Winter barks in agreement at the mention of his name.
Bucky reaches round Steve stroke Winter’s head. “Yeah, I know.”
“Do you ever get used to them leaving?” Steve asks, because it feels like his heart is wrenched every time one of the dogs is adopted though he knows the dogs are going to good homes, that they’re going to get the life they deserve. It doesn’t stop him from missing them even if he doesn’t spend as much time with them as Bucky does. Steve’s cut down his hours at the shelter now that he’s spending more time on his art.
“Nope,” Bucky says. They both laugh as Tony lets out an indignant squawk when Iron Man shits next to him, and Pepper plainly tells him that he’s going to have to pick that up. “We did good here today, didn’t we?”
“Yep,” Steve says, unable to stop smiling at how free he feels. He leans over, face cupping Bucky’s jaw and kisses him. Kisses him to say thank you for everything he’s brought into Steve’s life, and Bucky kisses Steve back like he knows exactly what Steve means.
Winter barks at them, and they break apart laughing. “Suppose we ought to get back to work?” Bucky sighs, but he’s still smiling.
“Suppose we ought to,” Steve says, but he’s leaning in for another kiss. After all, what’s the rush?