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Fill Your Heart Without Trying

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Steve trips again.

He trips and curses his life and tries to right himself only to trip once more. Really, if he could, he’d punch the sadistic bastard who came up with the idea to put a bundle of too much fur on top of tiny paws.

Tumbling over puppy paws again, Steve would cry if he wasn’t so stubborn.

This is his own fault, honestly. He shouldn’t’ve been messing around with someone else’s Book of Shadows. Especially when he didn’t even know who it belonged to. To be fair, he had only been trying to figure out who it belonged to. He hadn’t meant to read a page. As a caster, Steve’s magic relies on pushing spells and incantations away from his body. He’s particularly good at protection spells-- shields and wards and even counter defenses. It’s what made him so useful in the war.

Spells that bring magic and energy inward? Clearly, not his forte or he wouldn’t be running around the streets of Brooklyn as a golden retriever puppy right now. At least, he thinks that’s what he is. Steve stops running for a second and checks his reflection in a nearby store window. Yep. Golden retriever. Steve sighs. It comes out as a little puppy sneeze.

Steve zigzags between walls of legs, trying his hardest not to get noticed while also avoiding getting stepped on by sharp heels and sneakers. All he needs to do is get to Wanda. Her shop of Witchcraft and Mysticism must have something in it that will fix this. If not, she’s a strong enough witch that she’ll figure something out. Steve’s sure of it.

Course, that might include involving Tony and his magitech and then Steve will never hear the end of this. Ever. From anyone, why the hell did he ...oh, is that a squirrel?!

It smells like one--why Steve knows that he’s not sure--and it looks like one and now his one and only goal is to catch that damn squirrel. He's gotta. He has to. No squirrel is a match for him. No squirrel is allowed on his sidewalk! He'll show that damn squirrel who's boss. Even when it dashes up a tree and he tries to convince it to get back down here.

‘Get down here!’ Steve yells. Barks. He… barks. ‘Come down here, now!’

No, wait. What is he doing? He’s supposed to be getting to Wanda’s, not chasing after squirrels. Also, he’s itchy. Right behind his ear. How the hell is he supposed to reach that? Steve gives it a shot with his front paw before realizing he’s seen it done a million times.

Turns out, it’s not so easy. Steve plops down on his butt, tries reaching over but ends up falling onto his side before he comes even close. Which is completely ridiculous. Steve was a Captain in the Army, honorably discharged right after the end of the war against Hydra. It shouldn’t be this hard just to scratch behind his ear. It takes him another three tries to finally get it and when he does, most of his puppy fat falls in front of his face and this time he falls forward.

Sure, he’s spent the past three years trying to make a new life for himself, but this is just ridiculous. Not exactly what he’s had in mind.

After a long, grueling trip through the park and down one long city block, Steve finally reaches the corner. He stays off to the side though. Tries to keep out of sight. Most people don’t notice him. A few do. One or two take a glance like they’re confused by the little puppy hanging out all by himself, but they keep on going. Two kids holding their parents’ hands smile and reach for him. Luckily, they don’t stop.

Water would be fantastic. It’s so damn hot out. Steve doesn’t realize he’s panting until he sees drops of drool at his paws. Oh, this really sucks. Steve rolls his tongue back in and looks up at the street signs. Okay, yes, perfect. He’s headed the right way. He’s just gotta get across the street.

Which, well, it might be a little more difficult than normal, but he can do it. Cross at the green, not in between. Shouldn’t be too hard. Only doing this in the crosswalk probably isn’t the wisest decision if he wants to keep away from people, so Steve figures it might be best to just get across as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, when he gets to the edge of the curb, it’s a hell of a lot higher than it’s ever looked before. Steve steps forward and gauges the height. If he can just get off the sidewalk and into the street, then he can just cross it. Probably. It’s just… actually… a little scary…

He inches closer. Puts one paw out in front of him and backs away again before placing it down since the second he tries Steve’s completely sure he’s going to fall off the face of the earth. Which is totally ridiculous, what is wrong with him?

Okay, Steve. Think about this rationally. You’re not really a puppy. You’re a man. A fully grown man. A caster. You were in the army. You went toe-to-toe with the most powerful magic in the world during the war. You can step off the curb and not be swallowed by the earth because there’s no such thing as being swallowed by the earth.

Once again, Steve gets closer to the edge of the curb. He glances down at the pavement and really hates how high he is, but if anyone hears about this somehow, he’ll never live it down. Oh, man, if Sam finds out Steve Rogers was afraid of stepping off a curb when the man himself can sprout beautiful red wings and fly and talk to birds? No. No, he’s gotta do this.

Letting out a tiny whimper, Steve just goes for it. His two paws slip off the edge and at the very last second he changes his mind and he wants to bail, bail, bail but it’s too late, no backing out of this now. Steve falls forward. He flips once and lands with his butt on the ground and smiles proudly, his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth.

Well, he thinks, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Although, now that he gets a really good look at how far the other sidewalk is, Steve thinks he might not’ve thought this entire plan through so well. It’s miles and miles away. Even if Steve does cross with the traffic, he’s not so sure if he’d make it in time.

Not to mention the fact that those big ass cars are making a hell of a lot of noise. Since when were cars so loud? Why did they have to honk so much? And those engines. They’re so mean.

Steve backs away as a car rolls to a stop near him. He doesn’t like it. At all. All the fur on the back of Steve’s neck stands up as a tiny, puppy growl rumbles through his belly.

He’s just about to bark, just about to tell this mean ol, nasty car to go away and never come back here again when he’s suddenly being lifted into the air. Fast. Steve yips and tries to yell, but is cradled up against something warm and comfortable.

“Hey there, little guy,” someone says. “What’re you doing out here?”

Steve looks up into the steel-blue eyes of the most adorable guy he’s ever seen. A big, warm-hearted smile pulls up on his lips as the guy holds him carefully in his arms--one made of flesh, the other metal--while also looking around as though searching for someone who might be missing him.

“S’not safe for you in the road, buddy,” he says. “You might get hit by a car. You belong to anyone?” He looks for a collar and, upon finding none, shrugs. “Well, I guess I can’t leave you here, huh? I’m Bucky. I’ll take you home and see if we can find where you belong.”

‘No, no, wait,’ Steve barks. ‘Uh…’ What’d he says his name was? Bucky! Wait, try to pay attention. I’m not a dog, I’m a person! You gotta take me--’

“You’re a yappy little guy, aren’t ya?” Bucky laughs. “You’re gonna have to keep it down at my place. Dunno if I’m actually allowed to bring a pet into the apartment or not. But we’ll keep it our little secret, yeah?”

‘Ugh, no. You’re not listening!’

Nope. Not even close to listening. Bucky just takes another quick glimpse around before fixing the black hat over his head and adjusting the straps of his backpack so that they're no longer making his red Henley bunch up. Almost looks like the guy is trying to hide without looking like he’s trying to hide. Steve gets the sudden urge to project a shield out for him. Keep him hidden in plain sight.

Strange, that. The sudden need to keep this man hidden even though Steve has no idea if that’s what Bucky’s goal is or not. Though, there’s something oddly familiar about Bucky. Like Steve should know who he is even though he’s perfectly aware they’ve never met before.

Obviously, this Bucky character doesn’t possess any magical talent. Or, if he does, isn’t very good with it. The whole way back to his place--which he now elects to walk to instead of taking any public transportation since he’s picked up a new puppy companion--he never once picks up on the fact that his animal friend is not an animal at all. Any talented magic user would’ve noticed.

Well, okay, maybe that’s not fair of Steve. He is rather cranky. Probably the whole, accidentally turning himself into a puppy thing.

When they get to Bucky’s place, the first thing Steve notices are the wards the guy’s got set up. Some pretty strong ones at that. Like whatever he’s trying to keep out is something or someone specific. Steve, after being set down on hardwood floors, gives a test to them. Finds them not exactly personal--probably store bought--but still fine-tuned. Expensive, then. Top of the line protection. Bucky’s at least skilled enough to mess around with pre-made wards to set them to how he wants them.

While Bucky sits on his sofa, opening his laptop to apparently search if anyone in the area is missing a puppy, Steve takes a look around.

It’s a small place. One bedroom. Living room connected to the eat-in-kitchen. Cute. Rundown, but clearly meets the guy’s needs. There isn’t much by means of personal effects. The bare minimum, really. Looks like he’s got just what he needs to survive. In fact, the state of the art technology is actually somewhat surprising given the rest of the stuff.

The nice laptop and the phone beside it stick out on the crummy old coffee table in front of the shabby couch.

Steve follows his nose under the kitchen table. There, he finds crumbs and excitedly licks them up before even considering that not only is he licking up crumbs, but he’s licking up crumbs from someone’s kitchen floor. He slumps over, his head squished under the leg of the table and somehow still comfortable.

“Welp,” Bucky announces when he enters the room, bending down to talk directly to Steve. “Doesn’t look like anyone is missing you. Not that I can see anyway. I put a bulletin up that I got you, just in case.”

‘No such luck, guy,’ Steve mutters. ‘No one’s looking for me. Well, maybe a six foot, blonde, blue-eyed, clumsy caster, but they ain’t gonna be answering to that bulletin.’

“Fuck, you’re cute,” he says. “Guess I’m stuck with you for now, hm? Not such a bad thing though. I could use a friend.”

He reaches under the table to pet the top of Steve’s head and Steve’s first instinct is to retreat. No way is he going to suffer that. He doesn’t even know this guy. Hardwood floors, as it turns out, aren’t so easy for a quick getaway. Not with claws and padded paws. Steve slips and falls all over himself, and much to his chagrin, Bucky laughs before petting a hand over his head.

About to reach back and chomp down with his fierce, mighty jaw--piercing into this guy’s hand with the sharpest fangs in existence--Steve opens his mouth and gets fingers onto them. Only before he can close these choppers around those fingers, Bucky scratches right behind his ear.

Right. Okay, that’s not… so bad. Yes. Yes, okay, keep doing that. Right there. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. More of that.

“Oh, you like that, don’t you?” Bucky asks with a very clear and present smile in his voice. “Belly rubs for the puppy.”

Belly rubs? What?

Steve lifts his head and realizes he has, indeed, rolled onto his back and now Bucky’s fingers are rubbing into his belly. Oh, this is so fucking mortifying, but Steve doesn’t have it in him to move away. Especially when those magical fingers hit some crazy spot that makes Steve’s mind go blank and leg start kicking as though his life completely depends on it.

“Could you be any cuter?”

I don’t know, just don’t stop doing that.

“Okay. I think you need a name.”

Quickly sitting up again, Steve shakes his head out, fur flying away from him.

‘No, no. I have a name. It’s Steve,’ he barks. ‘I’m not really a puppy, okay? I’m a person. And I really, really, need you to try to understand me right now. You have to get in touch with Wanda Maximoff, she’ll know what to do.’

“You’re awfully bossy.”

All Bucky’s doing is smiling at him. Adorably, too. He’s flat on his belly, chin in his metal hand. He could use a shave. And a haircut.

‘Ugh, c’mon, man.’ Steve nibbles on the fingers that Bucky tries to pet him with this time. ‘You gotta listen to me. At least try.’

Like earlier, Steve’s struck with some odd sense of recognition, but he just can’t put his finger--or paw--on why. Bucky just really looks like someone he knows. Or should know. Or something like that.

“You like being in charge, huh?” Bucky shakes his head. “Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that someone else wants to hand out orders. I don’t mind. Even after everything. As long as it’s you this time.”

Steve gives a desperate puppy whine, charging forward in an attempt to make Bucky pay attention to him. All this does is get a nose collision. Wet to dry. Bucky falls over with a laugh, picking Steve up and putting him on his chest as he does.

“Puppy needs to be in charge.” Bucky laughs. “Okay then. How about Captain? You like that?”

That actually makes Steve laugh, inadvertently also causing his tail to wag. A very strange sensation indeed. He tries to stop it, even turns in circles to grab it with his mouth but no matter how hard he chases it the damn thing won't sit still. All Steve's valiant efforts get him are him sliding off Bucky's chest and landing with a fluffy thud back on the floor.

Rolling back onto his stomach, Bucky rests his temple over folded arms and chuckles.

“Is that a yes?”

Well, if he’s gotta be called something other than his name, Captain isn’t so bad. Fits, too. Steve was a captain in the army. His unit--the Howling Commandos--used to call him Cap and everything. Though each of them had their own special set of skills, Steve was the only magic user among them. It was Steve’s skill with shields and their ability to work together that made the Howlies the go-to team some of the toughest, most secret missions during the fight against Hydra. Steve’s even got a medal of honor at home. It’s tossed in a drawer. Steve never feels much honor looking at it, given the reasons he got it and all.

“Captain it is,” Bucky says as he stands up again. “I wonder if I should take you to the vet or something.”

Oh, no, please. Please, no vets. That’s the last thing Steve needs. Unless the vet is able to tell the difference between puppies and puppies that are people who’ve just accidentally turned themselves into puppies. Then maybe it’s a good idea.

Over at the sink, Bucky’s filling up a bowl with water. He’s still talking to himself about the vet, but it’s mostly to himself. Well, technically it’s all been to himself. The poor guy has no idea none of this isn’t actually being said in confidence.

A pang of guilt hits Steve right in the chest. So far, Bucky’s been nothing but hospitable. Sweet and kind if not rough around the edges. The type of person who rescues stray puppies from the clutches of evil cars getting ready to attack them. And all Steve’s done so far is gripe and complain. True, it’s because he’s spent most of the day as a puppy, but he could afford to be a little more gracious.

Not that any of that matters since the very second Bucky puts that bowl down, Steve realizes it’s a bowl of water and it’s just gotta be meant for him. He takes off for it and must look like some sort of cartoon running in place since his paws gather no traction on the floor the first few attempts.

When he finally does get over to the bowl, Steve damn near dives into it. Head first. It takes a second to figure out how he’s supposed to drink anything, but then he just sticks his tongue into the bowl and it’s amazingly incredible that he’s able to just sort of toss the water right into his mouth so he can slurp it all down.

Not only that but suddenly water’s become the most fascinating thing in the world. Look at the way it moves back and forth like that in the bowl. Ha! It moves even faster whenever Steve hits it with his paw, this is incredible!

‘Bucky!’ Steve barks as water falls over the sides of the bowl. ‘Bucky, come look at this; it’s awesome!’

Busy pawing at the most amazing water ever--splashing it everywhere and hopping into the small puddles he’s made--Steve doesn’t realize he’s just about emptied the whole bowl. Now that there’s nearly nothing in it, it’s entirely lighter and much easier to flip over. Which happens when Steve tries to get some more water to come splashing out.

The whole bowl flips and makes a loud crashing sound when it lands upside down, shocking the hell out of Steve and spitting water up right at his face.

Hey, what the hell?

Steve barks and spins around and runs for his life before the monster bowl can attack again.

‘Bucky!he shouts. ‘Bucky! Bucky! Bucky! I just saved us from the monster bowl! I did! I--’ Steve looks back at it and cowers behind Bucky’s ankles. ‘Make… make it go away now, Bucky…’

“Aw, what’d you do?” Bucky bends down and picks him up. “Did the mean bowl get you?”

Burying his face in Bucky’s shoulder, Steve would give anything to just disappear. Yes. Yes, the mean bowl just got him. Because he just ran away from a bowl. A bowl.

“Looks like I’m gonna have to get you some proper dishes, Cap.” He sets him down on the kitchen counter and Steve doesn’t even dare try to look down at the floor. If he thought the curb was high, he doesn’t even want to know what this looks like. “Clint said we could come in to see him, too. So, that’s good.”

Ears perking up, Steve tilts his head to the side. Curious. The only way he can pull the genuine expression off. It makes Bucky snicker and smother a hand over his head.

“It’s like you can understand me or something.”

‘That’s because I can, Bucky, I can! If you’d just pay attention!’

No such luck. Bucky doesn’t pay any closer attention than he has been. Which, for a guy who just plucked a stray pup off the street, is a lot. So, really, Steve should stop all his nagging and be grateful he’s not in the pound or something.

Even if the Clint Bucky mentioned earlier happened to be the vet. A non-magic user at that. Which means now Steve’s sitting on a cold examination table while Bucky explains to his friend how he came across this random puppy and Steve is still stuck without anyone knowing he’s not really a puppy.

At least it’s better than the waiting room. Steve didn’t like the way those other dogs were looking at him. They were giving him the stink eye, he was sure of it. If they didn’t cut it out, he’d’ve had to show each and every last one of them that he could take them. Just cause he was a puppy didn’t mean he couldn’t, no sir. Lucky for them, Bucky was called into the room.

“You think they’re gonna be mad at me?” Bucky’s asking.

Clint shakes his head. “For getting a dog? Nah. Besides, you know me. I’m a total advocate for pets.”

“Yeah, but he’s not a service dog or anything.”

“So?” Clint shrugs. “He’ll still come in handy, I think.”

They’re quiet for a few moments while Clint does some technical work on the computer end of things. Steve, though, wishes they’d drop some clue as to what the hell they’re talking about. All he can do is sit in the table because it’s super ridiculously high and it's impossible to get away.

At least Bucky is petting him as he talks to Clint. It’s nice. Comforting. And the face he's making while talking to Clint, sort of nervous and unsure, Steve knows he's seen it before, he'd swear it.

“You think I should tell them?” Bucky asks. “About the puppy?”

“Why?” Clint questions. “You’re a free citizen. You don’t need to give them a play-by-play.”

Bucky seems to think on that for a moment. “Are you going to tell them?”

A crooked grin plays on the corner of Clint’s mouth. “I’m retired, kid. All right,” he says and comes forward. “Let’s see this big guy.”

But Steve, now realizing he means him, backs up, wanting to be closer to Bucky. This guy, though he sounds and looks perfectly nice, smells like one too many other animals. Seriously, doc, you just get this up close and personal with all the other animals?

“Aw, it’s okay, Captain,” Bucky soothes. “Clint won’t hurt you.”

‘Yeah, but, Bucky, I--’

Before he can say--squeak, really--anything else, Clint is picking him up and taking him away from Bucky. Steve squirms and struggles in Clint’s gentle grip. He yips and munches on his hands because who does he think he is. Steve is a great, mighty hunter and no one is going to tell him otherwise.

“Oh, you think you’re big and bad, eh?”

That’s right, I am!

Steve chomps aways. He knows he’ll get somewhere. He will. He just… has to keep at it. It’ll hurt. Just wait. He’ll bring this guy on his knees and begging for mercy any second now.

“Okay, here we go, let’s get you here on the scale.”

‘Ha ha!’ Steve yells when Clint puts him down. ‘Victory is mine!’

“So, he’s about eight pounds,” Clint tells Bucky, writing it down in his own charts. “That’s about average for an eight weeker.”

Eight weeks. That’s what Steve’s done to himself. He’s turned himself into an eight-week-old puppy. Wow, he’s really gone and made a mess of things.

Clint goes on with his examination. Checking Steve’s coat. According to Clint, it’s perfect, so Steve can’t help feeling quite proud. His teeth, which prompts Steve to once again try to take his fingers off when they’re pulling his gums this way and that. His paws and claws. Tail.

Then, “Okay, well, he looks to be a great health and all. Just need to give him his boosters and rabies shots.”

Wait, what? Shots?

Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Come on, there’s no need for shots. That’s not fair. That’s just ridiculous. Steve doesn’t plan on staying in this body long enough that he needs shots. This is so unnecessary.

The whine he makes is enough to get Bucky’s attention. Bucky pets him and tells him it’s okay. That it’s not gonna hurt.

Oh, come on, please? I hate shots! Don’t make me get ‘em, please, Bucky?

“Okay,” Clint says, coming back over. “You might wanna hold ‘im.”

***

“Oh, you’re just a big, ol baby, aren’t you?”

Steve puts his nose up in the air. Kind of a bad idea since his nose picks up so many different scents.

The food vendors coming up--falafel, tacos, and, oh, hot dogs. Pigeons and seagulls. A coffee shop. Two Tai places and an Italian place on the next block. Garbage. Urine. So many different kinds of people. Very overwhelming.

But he’s not speaking to Bucky right now.

Not gonna hurt.

Hmph.

The second those needles touched Steve he was yelping and wanted to run and hide. Everywhere Steve was stuck with those things is still throbbing. To make matters worse, after each prick, Clint hand-fed him a treat, and although Steve tried to object with every fiber of his being, he only found himself gobbling them down and so excited to get one again that his tail just wouldn’t cooperate with him at all. He hates that he knows the red ones taste the best. Steve’s mouth waters just thinking about it.

He squirms a little in Bucky’s arms as the guy carries him to somewhere that’s most decidedly not his place. His place is in the opposite direction, but Bucky will not tell him where they’re going. It’s a surprise. For a dog. If he’s this insufferable towards a puppy, Steve doesn’t even wanna know what it’s like dealing with him when he’s human.

“Okay, Cap, here we are.”

Here? Where? Where’s here? What’s going on?

Once again squirming around, Steve twists and turns, his butt wiggling while his tail wags, until he’s finally being hugged against Bucky’s chest instead of cradled comfortably in his arms. That’s okay. This position gives him the chance to see where he’s been taken and it’s a pet store.

Well. Steve nibbles on the fingers petting his face. I’ll maybe consider talking to you again if you get me those delicious cookies.

If he’s gonna be stuck like this for another day, he might as well get some of the perks. Dog treats, though they’re dog treats, are great for bribes when you’ve turned yourself into a puppy.

Bucky puts him into the front of a shopping cart. Steve hasn’t ridden up here since he was small enough for his mama to put him there. It’s actually tons of fun. Front paws up on the handle, Steve can’t help smiling at literally everything he sees, even if Bucky keeps on having to push his butt back into the seat so he sits back down.

Every time they happen to pass by someone else with pets of their own, Steve feels the need to yell at them. How dare they come so close to him and Bucky. Not on his watch.

By the time they leave the store, it’s with an entire shopping cart full of stuff and a collar around Steve’s neck--which he’s not too thrilled about, but the little boned-shaped charm engraved with Captain hanging off of it sorta makes up for the whole thing. When Bucky puts him down on the sidewalk, Steve, just excited to be down on the ground again, runs and gets maybe four feet before the collar’s choking him.

“Whoa there, Captain,” Bucky says as he both tries to not drop his bags while also quickly apologizing to the few people the leash Steve’s attached to almost tripped.

Strange, though. Bucky’s keeping his head down as though he’s afraid to look up at them. He did that in the store, too. Almost as if he doesn’t like to look people in the eye. Or doesn’t want people looking at him. Strangers, anyway.

“C’mon, Cap,” Bucky says once he’s got himself more organized. “I can’t really hold you this time. Think you can work with me?”

‘Yeah, yeah. I got ya.’

Bucky smiles. “I thought so. That’s cause I found the smartest dog in the world, right?”

Spinning around and hopping, Steve actually gets out a bark with no real purpose.

‘Damn right you did!’

Once they get back to Bucky’s, Bucky get straight to work setting everything up. Two dishes get placed right in the kitchen, one already filled with water. Steve is more careful this time when he gets himself a drink though it’s awfully tempting to start playing again. He also didn’t realize how hungry he was until Bucky scoops a cup into the other bowl.

The sounds of the kibble hitting the bottom the bowl get Steve so excited again that he turns in circles and tries, unsuccessfully, to squeeze between Bucky’s legs to get to the food. He didn't realize just how hungry he'd been until a meal was presented. Dog food or not, Steve gobbles it down so fast he barely even tastes it anyway. And actually, hey, that wasn't so bad and he’s still hungry, or maybe not hungry but he wants more food anyway so he scratches at the inside of the bowl.

‘Hey!’ he barks while Bucky’s busy doing something else. ‘Bucky, come gimme more food! I want more! Gimme, gimme, gimme!’

“No can do, bud,” Bucky answers his persistent barking. “Clint says you can only have that much three times a day. Otherwise, you'll get sick. You get more when you get bigger.”

That's completely ridiculous. Clint has no idea how big he really is. He's over six feet and weighs two twenty five. Steve needs a lot more than just ⅓ cup of Kibbles and Bits three times a day. He'll waste away.

Groaning, Steve plops down and then rolls over. That gives him a view of Bucky again. He's on his hands and knees. Which means Steve has a perfect shot of the guy’s ass. It’s a nice view.

Until Steve realize exactly what it is Bucky’s been doing and he flies right back up to his feet to run over there.

‘And what the hell do you think this is? I’m not getting in that thing!’

Laughing, Bucky guides Steve away when he starts chewing on the bars of the cage he’s set up. He’ll get rid of this thing. Just give him some time and he’ll chew right through it, just watch him, he knows what he’s doing.

“Captain!” Bucky chuckles. “Come on, buddy, I’m almost done! Here. Why’d you go get this?”

No, I don’t want that.’ Whatever it is. ‘I’m telling you that I’m not getting in-wait,’ Steve says when Bucky squeezes the thing in his hand. ‘What… what is that?’

He tries to climb up on Bucky’s lap and get a good whiff of it, but before he can, Bucky grins and tosses it across the room. Steve gasps and doesn’t even care what the hell the thing is. All he knows is that he wants it. No, he needs it, and he slips and slides all over the floor when he tries to turn so quickly, but he runs after it anyway.

I got it, I got it, I got it, I got it!

It bounces off the wall. Since Steve is going at full speed he runs past the thing and glides across the floor and can’t stop. He, too, bounces off the wall. Sits up with a little shake of his head, a bit confused at what just happened. What is he doing again?

Oh, that’s right! The thingy! Steve hops up again and races towards it. And it’s a plushy dragon. Steve sinks his teeth into it. The second he does, it squeaks again and, oh no, this thing isn’t about to talk back to him. Steve gives it a rough shake. He’ll show this dragon who’s boss. That’s right. He’ll get to tell Peggy that he took on a dragon. A dragon.

Bucky!’ he growls with his jaw still clamped around the stuffed dragon. ‘Come look at this! Look at my greatness! Buck-ugh, you’re not listening again.

Keeping it in his mouth, Steve trots back over there and gives it another squeak to get Bucky’s attention. It works this time and Bucky smiles.

“What’cha got there?”

A dragon! And I killed it for you!’

Bucky takes hold of one end of the toy and at first, Steve thinks to let it go but then realizes he doesn’t want to. He tightens his grip. When Bucky gives a light pull, Steve holds onto it even more cause uh-ah, no way, he’s gone through a lot of trouble to get this thing. He’s not letting go so easily.

A tiny growl--no ferocious, definitely ferocious--rolls through his chest. He yanks back. Gives it his best pull. Only Bucky doesn’t relent either. He keeps on pulling, too. And pulls hard enough that Steve needs to let go.

Hey!

“Okay, enough playtime,” Bucky says. “It’s getting late. I should take you out.”

Out? Oh. Oh, he means. Well, that’s good. Steve hates to admit this, but he’s kinda getting the urge, the feeling, the need, to kinda… have to… go…

Steve’s not exactly sure what to do about that. On the one hand, Steve’ll finally be able to relieve the ache in his bladder. On the other, the last place he wants to do that is outside where anyone can see him going.

So, okay, these dog instincts are a lot harder to ignore than he previously thought. He’s chased squirrels and attacked a bowl of water and knows that the red treats taste best and gobbled down kibble, but so help him, he is going to find some other way to go to the bathroom.

It’s just not that easy when Bucky snaps the leash back on him and lights a cigarette once they’re outside and walks with him up and down the block encouraging him to go. If he was his normal self, he’d be grabbing onto his crotch and doing quite a dance right now. But he just can’t bring himself to do it.

‘Oh, please, Bucky, please,’ he whimpers their third time around. ‘Please, don’t make me do this.’

“Come on, Cap,” Bucky says. “You haven’t gone this whole time. I know you gotta do somethin’ and I’d really rather not have you peein’ all over my floors.”

No. Oh, no, that is his only other option. It’s either out here or in there. Steve could just cry. If he could, he probably would. But instead, he just… closes his eyes and lets it happen.

Turns out it’s not so bad as long as he just pretends he’s drunk and had to stumble into a back alley. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Steve spent a lot of nights at the bars after coming home from active duty. Fighting back the Dark Magic of Hydra, side-by-side with the Howlies, had taken a toll on him, of course, but it was that last fight. Just him and Hydra’s secret weapon. The one thing that Steve wishes he could go back and do over. Regret and guilt hooked deeper into his bones than he’d realized. Way past the end of the war. Steve had to watch the trial, too. And found his solace at the bottom of a bottle. So often that it became normal to reek of booze and come home stumbling drunk. It took him some time to finally figure out that he had a problem and couldn’t go on that way.

What happened in the war wouldn’t be fixed by drowning his sorrows in liquor. He’d done what he’d done and he’d have to live with that. Throwing his life away would do nothing.

So Steve got help and has now been sober for eighteen months and finally found a little something to do for himself. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Maybe opening a coffee and tea house with Peggy wasn’t what people expected of him when he returned, but it’s nice and it’s calming and he still gets to help people. It’s a small place, in their own little corner of Brooklyn, but they’ve got a reputation of feeling warm and safe.

The kind of place people come to when it’s raining or when they’re having a bad day and need to forget about life for a while. Between the obviously toasty aura of Steve’s shields--which he makes noticeable on purpose--and Peggy’s alchemist mind constantly experimenting with new recipes to keep the soul at ease, the place is always packed.

It’s at least a little something to ease Steve’s guilt.

Steve wonders what they’ll think if he doesn’t show up for a while. Probably not much, at first. He’s a little prone to taking impromptu getaways without saying much of anything. Though, he usually leaves a voicemail or something. Someone’s gotta realize he’s missing after a few days. Not that it’ll do him much good. They’ll be looking for him, not a little golden retriever puppy. He just hopes they don’t think he’s fallen off the wagon. Gone out on a bender somewhere.

Guilt rivers through him at the thought. He doesn’t want anyone worrying about him. If it was any one of them, Steve knows damn well he’d be a mess.

Steve sighs and rolls onto his side, making himself more comfortable on Bucky’s lap and lifting his chin so he can scratch more under there. The guy tried to leave him on the floor while he took the couch to watch television and Steve just stared at him and whimpered until Bucky caved and pulled him up there with him. Every now and then, Steve looks up at him and wonders why he feels like he should , know Bucky from somewhere.

They’ve been there for a few hours now. Show after show after show. Steve isn’t sure Bucky’s actually been watching any of them. The television is just on and the lights are out, but he’s not sleeping. He hasn’t eaten dinner either. Unless dinner counts as nearly a half a pack of cigarettes which it most decidedly does not.

“I should go to bed.” Bucky clicks off the television. “It’s getting late.”

The clock reads a few minutes till ten and Steve looks up at him, puzzled that this still pretty young guy would consider any time before ten o’clock ‘getting late’. Even he doesn’t consider that getting late and his friends call him an old man since birth.

“What?” Bucky chuckles when he notices Steve looking at him. “Can’t I be tired?”

Tail wagging--why does this thing have such a mind of its own?--Steve stands and inches closer to him.

Yes, but if you’re gonna be such a drag, would you at least get in touch with Wanda Maximoff so I can get out of this body? Please?’

“Fuckin’ hell, you’re so cute.” Bucky covers Steve’s head with his hold hand. “Now, c’mon. It’s bedtime.”

Bedtime is apparently code for putting Steve in that atrocious cage Bucky bought from the pet store. The thing is lined with newspapers and Bucky’s placed the water bowl inside it and the little dragon toy, too. None of that makes up for the fact that he’s put Steve in a cage to sleep.

“Get some sleep, Cap,” he says as he closes the door. “I’ll see ya in the morning.”

What do you mean: get some sleep?’ The lights shut off. ‘Bucky! Bucky, get back here! I’m not sleeping in this thing! Bucky? Bucky! Bucky! Bucky, Bucky, Bucky, Bucky, Bucky, Bucky, Bucky, Bucky!’

Steve doesn’t know how long he shouts for, but he is aware that his barks get whiny and high-pitched. There’re lots of annoying howls in there as well. He’ll give this much to Bucky, the guy’s got a lot of resolve. He’s able to ignore him for quite a while. But there if there’s one thing Steve knows about himself it’s that he knows he can be a pain in the ass.

“Oh, my god, Cap, please!” Ha. There we go. Might’ve taken some time, but Steve knew he’d wear ‘im down. “It’s almost two in the mornin’ I gotta work tomorrow, I’m begging you here!”

Steve bites down on one of the bars of the cage. Figures it might be nice to give Bucky a bit of a reprieve. He’s pretty sure Bucky’s a smart enough guy to know what it is that he’s after.

Alas, “Look, Cap, I’m really sorry, but Clint says I’ve gotta be strong if I’m gonna train you right.”

I don’t need training.’

“Please, just… be good, all right?”

The lights go off again and Bucky can’t’ve even made it halfway to his bedroom before Steve starts right back at it. When he hears the desperate, pitiful mix between a grunt and a whine, he almost feels bad, but then he remembers he’s in a cage. If he’s going to get out of it, this is the only way he knows how.

“Okay, okay, okay,” Bucky relents this time as he comes rushing back into the kitchen. He crouches down to open the cage and Steve is excited enough to start nibbling on his hand. “Yeah, yeah. You’re lucky you’re cute.” He takes him to the bedroom and gently places him on the bed. “Just this one night, got it? One night.”

Right. Sure. That works for Steve.

He doesn’t plan on staying long anyway.

One night is just fine by him.