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Water Landing

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Today is a good day.

It’s Friday. The sun is shining, glinting off the water. The conference finished early. His favorite coffee shop brought back his favorite drink. The chocolate croissant he just finished had the perfect buttery-to-melted mixture, and the hot dog he just got from the vendor has the perfect balance of spicy mustard, kraut, and onions.

Bucky takes a bite and licks excess mustard off of his lips.

A very good day.

He takes a sip of his coffee, iced to – dare he say it – perfection, and then goes to take the second bite of his hot dog. He’s stopped by a shout, turning to look at where it’s coming from (he’s from Indiana, not New York, so he hasn’t quite perfected the “ignore anything that you see or hear” coda) only to find a slobbering, furry horse running at him at full speed.

“Holy shit,” Bucky manages to get out before someone yells, “look out!” and the wooly mammoth slams into Bucky, knocking him off his feet and into the fountain behind him. He goes under the water, and his head smacks against the concrete. After taking a second, two hands grab his and pull, helping him out of the water.

Bucky wrenches his hands free and combs his hair back out of his face, blinking to get the water out of his eyes. The sunlight is blinding around the shadow in front of him, and he must have hit his head harder than he thought, because that is an angel.

“You okay?”

Except he’s pretty sure angels don’t sound like they’re from Brooklyn.

He blinks again and the shadow resolves into a face. The one next to him resolves into a wildebeest or possibly a dog. A dog with mustard on the fur around its mouth. It licks its lips, then starts panting, and Bucky will swear to his dying day that the damn thing is smiling.

“You ever heard of a leash, buddy?” He looks at the dog again, who steps forward and licks Bucky’s hand, then tilts its head. Ignoring it, Bucky turns to look at the owner who has to weigh maybe half of what the dog does. “Or buying a dog you can handle?”

“She has a leash.” He grabs it and shows it to Bucky before he loops it around his thin wrist. “I was just distracted. I can handle her just fine.”

“Given that my ass is soaking wet, I’m gonna have to disagree.”

“You kind of look like my ex. She didn’t like him. So she… well. Sorry.” He ducks his head, but not before Bucky can see pink tint his cheeks. “I think about the time she realized you weren’t him, she’d spied the hot dog.”

Bucky stands up, and he’s at least a foot taller than this guy. Water drips down Bucky’s neck, and he shivers. He plucks his dress shirt away from his chest, though it goes right back to clinging to his skin immediately. The guy’s eyes dart to Bucky’s chest and stomach and then he takes a step back.

“What is she?”

“Newfoundland.”

“Name?”

“Cap.” He shrugs. “Well, Captain. But I call her Cap.”

“Captain.” The dog reacts, jumping up on Bucky and very nearly knocking him over again.

“Cap. Cap.” The guy tugs on her leash slightly. “Sit.”

The dog plops down and starts licking up Bucky’s spilled coffee. The guy tugs lightly on the leash again and Cap looks up at him with pleading eyes, then drops her head and moves away from the coffee. Bucky takes pity on her, squats down and rubs her head. “Hey, Cap.”

She immediately rolls onto her back, looking at Bucky expectantly. He can almost hear the guy’s smirk when he says,“Congratulations. You’ve fed her, given her something to drink, and are petting her. In her mind, you belong to her.”

“Well, it’s hard to resist a beautiful girl like you, isn’t it, Cap?”

“So let me give you my number. Let me know how much your dry-cleaning bill is. We can meet up again and I’ll give you the money. And get you a new hot dog and coffee.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

The guy sets his jaw and looks down, meeting Bucky’s gaze. “Yes. I do.”

“Okay.” Bucky straightens up, ignoring Cap’s disgruntled huff. He takes his phone out and hands it over. “You have a name?”

“Steve.” He puts his number in and hands the phone back to Bucky.

“You know Steve’s not spelled C-A-P, right?”

“Figure you’re more likely to remember her than me.” Bucky texts him and Steve pulls out his phone. “Bucky?”

“That’s me.” He adjusts his, thankfully dry, messenger bag and gives Cap one last scratch between her ears. “Now I’m going to head home and put on some dry clothes. See ya.”

**

They meet up on Tuesday outside Bucky’s office. Steve’s dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, an unbuttoned too-large plaid shirt over that. He smiles at Bucky, looking up at him through his lashes and his bangs. Bucky swallows hard and smiles back.

“No Cap today?”

“She doesn’t come with me to work.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a bouncer.” He looks over at Bucky and laughs at the look on his face. The sound louder than his body should be able to hold. “No. I work at Time Enough.”

“Bookstore, right?”

“Books, records, coffee. Yeah.” He shoves his hands in his pockets. “How much was the dry cleaning?”

“You really don’t have to.” Bucky bites his lips to keep from smiling when Steve’s eyes narrow. “Fifteen.”

Steve pulls out his wallet. “Coffee?”

“I’d love to.”

Steve stops thumbing through his money. “What?”

“You just asked me out for coffee.”

“No. I asked you how much your coffee cost.”

“You said coffee like it was a question. That means you were asking me out for coffee.”

“Okay.” Steve sighs and pulls two twenties from his wallet. “This should cover everything. I’m really sorry about the inconvenience.”

“I didn’t even catch a cold.” Bucky doesn’t take the money. “Come on. Let you buy me coffee.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” Steve stuffs the twenties in Bucky’s breast pocket. “There. We’re all squared away.”

“Why didn’t she like your ex-boyfriend?”

“Probably because he was an ass. You know we’re not friends, right? I mean, we had an accidental encounter, my dog ate your hot dog. We’re good.”

Bucky pouts. He’s been told it’s a good and hard to resist look on him “Does that mean I can’t call you?”

“Yes!”

“Wait. Yes I can, or yes I can’t?”

“I’m leaving now.” He starts to walk off and Bucky grins, watching him. He takes out his phone and dials Steve’s number. Steve is practically growling when he answers. “What?”

“Have a good day at work.”

**

“Cap! No!”

Bucky’s hit with a sense of deja vu when two weeks later, he hears Steve’s voice – it has to be Steve, right? – and turns, only to get body-slammed by Cap. He waves his arms to try to keep his balance, but instead they both go down.

Right into the pond.

Steve comes up to them, panting from his run from wherever Cap got away from him. Bucky swipes a hand across his eyes and pushes his hair out of the way. Cap licks his entire face happily, though Bucky’s pretty sure the pond water isn’t good for her.

“Cap. Goddamn it.” Steve sighs and grabs her leash, tugging her away from Bucky. It’s a struggle of will and strength, and Bucky’s not sure Steve’s going to win. “Cap! Heel.”

She looks back at Steve, then slowly backs away from Bucky, settling at Steve’s side. Bucky holds his hand out and Steve takes it begrudgingly, helping to pull him to his feet. He’s completely drenched and dripping water. Steve’s eyes linger a little longer on Bucky’s transparent white T-shirt, and Bucky wants to say something. Actually he wants Steve to reach out and touch him.

It’s not a surprising thought, but it’s an urgent one. Bucky takes a step forward, stopped by Cap stands up and shakes herself off, spraying them both with water. Bucky can’t actually be wetter, so it doesn’t bother him, but Steve takes the brunt of it. His blond hair turns dark and his entire right side is splattered with water.

“I went to a different park to avoid you.” Steve groans. “Why are you here? I told you she was going to adopt you for feeding her!”

“I don’t even have a hot dog this time! Besides, I wasn’t aware we were supposed to be avoiding each other. Besides, how was I supposed to know you were going to be here?”

“I don’t know. Are you stalking me?”

Bucky thinks about the host of unanswered texts he’s sent Steve – mostly wishes for him to have a good day, a photo of his coffee and hot dog, and a link to a news story about cheese that, for some reason he thought Steve might like – and shrugs. “Not on purpose?”

Steve hangs his head, then groans again, walking to the pond and fishing out Bucky’s coffee cup. “I owe you a coffee again.” He looks Bucky over, far less hungrily. “I suppose you’re the kind of guy that gets his jeans and T-shirts dry-cleaned.”

“Not usually.” He looks down at his clothes. The shirt is one he’s had since college, worn and soft and with a hole just beneath the collar. The jeans are faded and, apparently when wet, cling to his thighs like a second skin. “Besides, I think if any kind of chemical touched these, they’d probably disintegrate.”

Steve swallows hard, his eyes dropping down to Bucky’s thighs. The look is blatant, gone the minute Steve seems to realize he’s doing it. Bucky squats down to pet Cap, knowing exactly what his thighs probably look like. “You should go. Change. Home and change.”

“Let’s have coffee.”

“I can just give you the money – ”

“Steve. You owe me coffee.”

“I just said – ”

“Coffee that involves you sitting down with me. You’re walking Cap, right? I’ll walk with you, and then we’ll get coffee.”

“You’re drenched.”

He shrugs. “C’mon.”

Cap’s ears perk up and she looks up at Steve. He sighs. “Fine. C’mon, girl.”

They walk together, but Steve offers little in conversation, answering all of Bucky’s questions as monosyllabically as possible. At this point Bucky judges him to be about seventy-five percent resentment. Finally he sighs.

“Is there a reason you don’t like me?”

“I don’t not like you.”

Bucky bites back a smile. “Did that hurt to say?”

Steve gives him a dirty look, and Bucky does laugh. It makes Steve glare harder. Cap moves in front of Steve to get to Bucky.

“Might be safer if she walks in between us. I’d hate for her to tangle you up and then you land in the pond.”

“Don’t give her ideas.” Steve switches the leash to his other hand and lets Cap move between them. “So… You have a dog or anything?”

It’s the first time Steve’s actually attempted to start a conversation, and it takes Bucky by surprise. “No. Not for a while. When I was a kid. You know those little tiny terriers that spend their entire lives shivering?”

“Yeah.”

“We had two of those. They were my mom’s, but you know who had to clean up after them. One of my sisters had a hamster. The other two had guinea pigs. We had a barn cat that would just as soon kill you as look at you.”

“You had a barn?”

“Grew up in Indiana living on a farm. My dad died and we moved into the city. The company I worked for got bought out by Stark Industries, so here I am in beautiful New York.”

“But why Brooklyn? I thought all the Starkettes lived in Manhattan.”

Bucky snorts a laugh. “Starkettes. I like that.”

Steve shrugs, but his cheeks color. “Seems like that’s what most of them are. Sycophants to the almighty Stark.”

“He’s not actually that bad. I mean, he used to be, but he’s better now. Putting his money into clean energy, food resources, vaccines. Anyway.” He stops when he sees Steve’s shoulders tightening. “I spend two days a week here in Brooklyn helping at one of the outreach centers they’ve created, partnering with Wakanda. STEM stuff for underprivileged kids. The other three days I’m in Manhattan paying my dues.”

“Mm.”

“How long have you had this princess here?”

“About five years. Friend of mine passed away, and I took her in. I mean, he had a house, so it was a little more appropriate, but…”

“But you took her in.”

“Yeah.”

“And you have an apartment?” Bucky smiles, somehow not surprised by any of it. “That she’s way too big for?”

Steve laughs, and Bucky decides he’s going to do everything humanly possible to make that happen again. A lot. “Yeah. But then, my apartment is kind of a closet. But she’s worth it.”

“So why doesn’t she like your ex?”

Steve falters a step, the slight smile he’d been wearing traded for a frown and furrowed brow. “What?”

“The first time we met. You said she thought I was your ex.”

“I think she figured it out quick and then just wanted your hot dog.”

“Is it the whole devastatingly handsome thing?”

“No.”

Bucky slides his lower lip out in a pout. “Ouch.”

“We fought a lot. He didn’t like her. She didn’t like him. It’s not like there’s drama. He upset me, she didn’t like that. He wasn’t abusive or anything, if that's what you’re thinking.”

“I’m not thinking anything.”

“Because I can handle myself.”

Bucky nods. “I have no doubt.”

“I don’t have her because I need a big dog to protect me or anything. Newfies are sweethearts.”

“Okay, I think you’re having an argument that I’m not part of.” Bucky holds up a hand, which causes Cap to stop, the leash jerking Steve backward. He falls on his ass and glares up at Bucky. “Oh, shit. Sorry.” He reaches down to help, but Steve ignores him, getting to his feet on his own. “Didn’t know that was going to happen.”

“It’s fine.”

“Anyway,” Bucky takes a cue from Steve’s stubborn expression and drops it. “I’m not saying anything. Obviously, if he’s your ex, you dealt with it. And you already told me you found her. You don’t have to prove anything to me.”

Steve nods and sighs. “Sorry. People see me with her and assume.”

“Well, people are dicks.” He looks at Steve out of the corner of his eye, and there’s a warm pink blush on his cheeks. “So do all your partners have to pass the Cap test now?”

“I wouldn’t go out much if that was the case. She tends not to like a lot of guys.”

“So I should feel special.”

“Or she just knows she can bowl you over, so she doesn’t care.”

“Ouch. You are seriously a blow to my ego.”

Steve shrugs one shoulder. “Call it like I see it.”

“You’re wounding me. Seriously.” They get to the edge of the park, and Bucky points up the street a ways. “Just another block.”

They walk together, not making conversation, but it’s a different kind of quiet. Whatever tension was in Steve’s shoulders seems to have faded. Bucky wouldn’t go so far as to say he looks relaxed, but he looks more relaxed. They get to the shop, and Bucky heads for one of the outside tables.

“This okay?”

“It’s fine. What did you want to drink?”

“I can get it.” Steve sets his jaw and his eyes narrow.

Bucky doesn’t think he’s ever met anyone so defensive and prickly. “Okay. Okay. Venti mocha, extra dark chocolate.”

“Okay.” He hands Cap’s leash over to Bucky. “Don’t lose my dog.”

“You seem to do that enough for both of us.”

Steve’s eyes widen, then he scrunches up his face and glares at Bucky. “I take it back. I don’t like you.”

Bucky grins. “Nope. Can’t take it back. You like me.”

“No, I don’t.” He looks at Cap. “Stay with your new best friend here, traitor.”

“Aw, am I your new best friend, Cap?” Bucky grabs her face with both hands and wiggles it from side to side. She tries to lick him and he just laughs, watching Steve as he walks away. “You owner is very, very cute, Cap. You’ll have to tell me how to get him to like me. Because he’s a prickly little shit. Isn’t he? Yes he is.”

“Is that your dog?” Bucky looks up at a gorgeous brunette who’s leaning over the iron rail that separates the patio from the sidewalk. “He – she?”

“She.”

“She’s just beautiful. You can tell you take really good care of her.”

“Belongs to a friend actually.”

“Can I pet her?”

“Um…sure? I mean, Steve didn’t tell me that she couldn’t be, so…”

The girl comes around and pulls a chair up right next to Bucky’s. He shifts slightly and she turns a little, her knees brushing his thigh. “What’s her name?”

“Cap. Captain. Goes by Cap.”

“Aw, that’s not a good name for you, is it sweetheart?” she bends over and scratches Cap between the ears. Turning her head, she looks up at Bucky through her lashes. “She’s not a Captain. She needs something sweeter. Something that fits a pretty girl.”

“Cap fits her just fine.” Steve sets Bucky’s coffee and a pastry bag in front of him. He takes Cap’s leash from Bucky’s hand. “I have to go.”

“I thought we were having coffee.” Bucky’s brow furrows.

“I just remembered that I can’t. Sorry.” Cap looks at Bucky, then obediently tags along behind Steve. Steve doesn’t look back and Bucky frowns at his coffee.

“I have no idea what just happened.”

“Maybe your friend didn’t want to get in the way.” She smiles at him. “I’m Carolyn.”

“Nice to meet you. Here, have a coffee and muffin.” He gets up from the table and takes off after Steve. He’s obviously walking quickly, but Bucky’s longer stride helps him catch up. He slows and falls in step beside Steve. “You want to tell me what that was?”

“I just remembered I have something to do.”

“She just wanted to pet Cap.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Cap likes people. People like to pet her. It’s not a big deal.” He glances at Bucky. “Where’s your coffee?”

“I gave it to Carolyn.”

“Right. Carolyn. Well. I hope she enjoys it. Now I’ve got to go. Bye.” He turns onto the next street and hurries away again. Bucky stops and watches him go.

**

“You are hopeless, James.” Natasha’s judging look had been part of the deal since the day he’d moved in with her and Clint. Actually, it had come with just being friends with Natasha, though she’d no doubt assure him it was because he was an idiot, not just her natural instinct.

“What? What did I do?” He throws up his hands. “What?”

“It was a coffee date.”

“No. It was a ‘your dog pushed me into the water twice and I lost my coffee both times’ thing.”

“Hopeless.” She leans back and looks over the back of the couch. “Clint!”

He walks out of the ktichen, a slice of pizza sticking out of his mouth. “Mrph?”

“You’re disgusting. Bucky was getting coffee with his hipster crush – ”

“He’s not a hipster! And he’s not a crush.”

“Mm. They walked to the coffee shop together. Mr. Not-a-crush went in to buy them coffee. Meanwhile a girl sat next to James and started petting Not-a-crush’s dog.”

“Stop calling him that. His name is Steve.”

“Fine. Petting Steve’s dog.”

“Show me this dog. I can’t make any kind of decisions without a picture.”

Bucky pulls up a picture of Steve and Cap that he’d surreptitiously taken and shows it to both of them. Natasha coos. “Oh, he’s adorable.”

“Cap’s a she.”

“I meant Steve. No wonder you’re crushing on him.”

“I am not!”

“How cute was the girl?”

“What?” Bucky looks up at Clint. “I don’t know. Cute?”

“Crush.” Natasha holds out her fist for Clint to bump. Clint hops over the back of the couch and settles next to her. “He’s right though. Not a hipster. There’s nothing ironic about that dude.”

“So you were on a coffee date.”

“He doesn’t even like me!”

“When people you don’t like try to guilt you into buying coffee, what do you do?” He opens his mouth then shuts it. Natasha grins triumphantly. “He likes you. You like him. You were on a date.”

“And you were with a girl.”

“She was petting the dog!” Bucky flops back in his chair. “Besides, he doesn’t even know that I’m bisexual. I haven’t said a word about it. So it wasn’t a date, and there was no issue with me talking to Carolyn.”

“You know her name.”

“Yeah. She introduced herself.”

“How are you so dumb?” Natasha sighs.

“Put yourself in his shoes, dude. You know he’s gay, right? Or at least digs guys. So some objectively cute guy – ”

“Hey!” Bucky interrupts.

“– keeps bothering him. Texting him and shit. Then he goes to a different park than where they met but the guy’s there. And insists that he replaces his coffee. And hang out with him. So maybe he thinks the guy’s interested, so he goes to coffee with him. Goes in to buy it, and when he comes out, the potential man-crush is talking to some hot girl who’s petting his dog and bitching about the dog’s name. And maybe – just maybe – it looks like the guy’s flirting with her.”

“I wasn’t!”

“You’re in his shoes, James.” Natasha reminds him. “How does it look to him?”

“Ugh.” Bucky groans and slumps back in his seat. “So what do I do?”

“Why do anything?” Natasha grins at him. “Since you don’t have a crush.”

“He’s a nice guy. If he thinks I was flirting, he thinks I was blowing him off. And I don’t want that. Pretty sure he’s got self-esteem issues or something. He’s really weird about people seeing him as unable to take care of himself.”

“He has a dog that’s nearly as big as him. I think I can imagine why they’d think that.”

“Yeah, well, maybe he just likes the dog.” Bucky gets up. “I’m going to text him.”

“From the privacy of your own room?” Clint asks, eyebrows raised. “You can’t text him from here?”

“With you two as the peanut gallery? No.” He goes to his room, which is the smallest in the house. It suits him fine, since he doesn’t have a drum set like Clint or what might be a torture dungeon like Natasha. It’s just his bed, desk, and dresser. Admittedly, his closet is stuffed full of far too many clothes, but needs must. He flops down on the bed and unlocks his phone. There aren’t any messages from Steve, because Steve doesn’t respond. Still, Bucky was kind of hoping to be surprised.

Taking a deep breath, he texts Steve. Can I talk to you? Please?. He doesn’t get a response, so he dials Steve’s number. It rings twice and he waits for it to go to voicemail, but then it stops mid-ring and he can hear Steve sigh.

“You’d think you’d get the hint.”

“I’m really bad at that.” Bucky closes his eyes and listens to Steve breathing. “I wasn’t flirting with her.”

“Okay.”

“I just didn’t want you to think that I was.”

“I’m not sure how or why it matters.”

“Well, Natasha and Clint told me that maybe you thought it was a date.” Steve’s silent for a few moments that seem to stretch like taffy.

“Well, whoever they are, Natasha and Clint are wrong. I just wanted to give you the money, remember?”

“They’re my roommates. Housemates.”

“Bucky? Do me a favor?”

“Sure. Yeah. What do you need?”

“Lose my number. Okay?” He pauses, but Bucky doesn’t say anything. Can’t think of anything to say. “Goodnight.”

**

He’s honestly minding his own business, cutting across the park to save time, not on the off-chance he might see Steve. It’s been almost two months, and Bucky’s done as Steve asked and left him alone. He may or may not have a folder of pictures and links of stupid stuff to send to Steve, just on the off chance Steve calls him out of the blue.

He’s walking past a copse of trees when he hears the growling. He’s not sure whether to edge closer or away. There’s another growl, a bark and then a yip, so Bucky heads over. He starts hearing voices, another yip, and then a shout.

“Goddamn fucking dog. Get the fuck off of me!” The yip is much louder this time, and Bucky pushes his way into the trees. There are two guys, one kicking something on the ground and the other holding the leash of the dog trying to get across to the other guy, kicking it all the while. Between kicks, the dog bites wildly, straining to get away.

“Hey, assholes!”

The dog lunges toward Bucky, choking as it reached the end of its leash. That’s the first time Bucky gets a good look at the dog, and it’s Cap. Which means whatever the other guy is kicking is most likely Steve. He doesn’t even think, just charges toward the guy, tackling him to the ground. It takes the one holding Cap’s leash by surprise, which gives Cap enough time to turn on him and sink her teeth into his arm.

Bucky’s wrestling with the guy on the ground, and he gets a few good punches in before two park attendants show up. “Hey! What’s going on here!” One of them radios in as the two guys scatter. They give chase, and Bucky puts them out of his mind, following Cap to where Steve is lying on the ground.

“Fuck. Oh, fuck, Steve. Fuck.” His hands shake as he calls 911. He sits down hard, wrapping one arm around Cap’s neck to keep her back from Steve. She whines and goes down on her belly, trying to crawl forward.

Steve still hasn’t woken up by the time the ambulance shows, and Bucky focuses on his breathing to try and stave off a panic attack. They ask him to move back, and it’s a struggle to get Cap to come with him. She keeps whining, trying to get to Steve.

“You know him?” one of the EMTs asks.

“Sort of? His name is Steve. I don’t know his last name. I… We’re friends? New friends. Is he going to be okay?”

“Is there someone you can call? Family?”

“I don’t…” He realizes he’s got Steve’s phone in his hand, even though he doesn’t remember picking it up. “Um. Let me…” Thankfully the phone’s unlocked and Bucky opens Steve’s email program. “Rogers. Steve Rogers. I’ll…”

The majority of Steve’s emails are to a guy named Sam, and they’re recent, so he knows it’s not the ex-boyfriend. Or if it is, they’re still in contact. He finds Sam’s name in Steve’s contacts and presses call.

“I just talked to you an hour ago, Rogers.”

“Is this Sam?”

“Who the hell is this? Where’s Steve?”

“I’m Bucky. I’m with him. He… He got beaten up. I’ve got Cap and they’re going to take him to the hospital, but I didn’t know who to call, and you’re the one he talks to most, and…”

“Which hospital?”

“Where are you taking him?” Bucky asks.

“Brooklyn Hospital.” The EMT counts to three and they lift the stretcher, carrying Steve out of the wooded area. Bucky follows them, barely keeping Cap in check as she keeps trying to get to Steve. “Afraid you can’t ride with us.”

They get Steve in the ambulance and they’re gone. Bucky realizes Sam is still talking to him and blinks hard and shakes his head. “I’m sorry. What?”

“Can you take care of Cap?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I can… Are you going to go to the hospital?”

“I’m his emergency contact, so yeah. Keep his phone on you. I’ll get in touch.” Bucky can hear keys jingling, the pound of footsteps, and the sound of a car starting as Sam talks. “You might have to sedate Cap if she starts freaking out about Steve not being around. Fifty milligrams of Benadryl every eight hours as needed. Can you do that?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Let me know how he’s doing. Please. As soon as you know.”

“Yeah. Look, I have to go. I’ll be in touch.” Sam hangs up and Bucky swallows hard, trying to stay under control. He kneels down and buries his face in Cap’s fur.

“He’s going to be okay, Cap. I promise. I’m gonna take you home and we’ll take care of you until he’s better. I’m going to take good care of you. Get you back to Steve as soon as I can.”

She whimpers and Bucky’s breath hitches. He gets to his feet and leads her away from the clearing. She pulls at the leash, trying to go back. The smell of Steve’s blood is strong in the air. Bucky pulls her until she falls in step with him and starts walking. He doesn’t remember the entire walk back, but he ends up at home.

“Anybody home?”

“Kitchen.” He heads to the kitchen where Natasha is standing at the refrigerator eating cold leftovers from a carton. She looks at him, down to Cap, then back up. “Did you kidnap a dog?”

“Steve’s in the hospital. He got… mugged? Beaten up? I don’t know. I said I’d keep Cap. I told his best friend I would. I guess he’s his best friend? He was going to the hospital. Can you call Clint? He’s working at the hospital tonight, right? Ask him about Steve Rogers?”

“You know he can’t tell us anything.”

“Right. Right.” He undoes Cap’s leash and she heads directly for the door, standing there and whimpering. “Oh, god. We don’t have any food. What do we feed her? We have water, right?”

“Okay. You need to sit down. I’ll set up a bowl of water and run out and get some food. There anything else she needs?”

“Sam said Benadryl. Because she’d be freaked out. She’s freaked out. I’m freaked out. I should have Benadryl too.” He goes over to the couch, then slides down onto the floor in front of it. Cap looks back and walks over to him, grabbing his jacket sleeve with her teeth and trying to drag him over.

“I’m pretty sure she doesn’t need sedating, but I’ll buy some just in case. You two stay here and I’ll be right back.” She leans down and kisses the top of Bucky’s head. “I’m sure he’ll be okay.”

“You didn’t see him.”

“I’ll call Clint and tell him to check on him. He can at least do that.” Bucky nods and Nat presses her face to the top of his head for a moment before kissing it again. “Just keep breathing, okay? Do that for me? In and out. Nice and slow.”

Bucky nods and she goes. Cap races for the door as soon as it opens, but Natasha’s quick to shut it behind her. Cap lies down in front of it and cries softly. “Cap. Hey, Captain.”

She looks back at Bucky, then slinks over to him, crawling onto his lap. He hugs her, holding her tight. He doesn’t realize he’s crying until she starts licking the tears from his face. As soon as he realizes it, he loses control, outright sobbing against her.

**

He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he wakes up to the sound of voices. Cap has moved off his lap and is curled up beside him. Bucky gets up carefully so he doesn’t disturb her and goes to the kitchen. His entire body feels worn out and sore, and he thinks the last time he was this thirsty was the day he got promoted and Clint and Natasha decided he needed to drink at every bar in the borough.

Natasha’s sitting at the kitchen island, talking to someone Bucky doesn’t recognize. He blinks at him, then walks to the sink, sticking his head down and drinking straight from the faucet.

“We have glasses.”

Bucky finally pulls away and grabs a glass, filling it up and drinking it down twice before he turns to face her. He knows his face is probably blotchy, his eyes red. “Who’s this?”

The guy stretches out his hand. Bucky looks him over, cataloguing him. Dark skin, dark hair cut close to his scalp, lean but muscular, and when he gives Bucky a slight smile, he can see the gap between his teeth. “Sam Wilson.”

Bucky shakes it a few times before he realizes that Sam Wilson is probably Sam. Steve’s Sam. “How is he?”

“Stable.” He sighs. “Not great, but stable.”

Bucky exhales deeply. “Good. Stable’s good. Um. I’m Bucky.”

“Yeah. I know. I had to hear a lot about the guy Cap actually likes.”

“He talked about me?”

“Keep it in your pants, Barnes.” Natasha reminds him and Bucky’s face likely gets blotchier when he blushes. “How long will he be in the hospital?”

“They’re guessing two weeks if everything goes well. Of course, knowing Steve…” Sam sighs. “But that’s sort of why I’m here. I have to go out of town for a week. Can’t get out of it. I was wondering if you guys would be cool keeping Cap during that time?”

“That won’t be a problem,” Natasha assured him. “We’ll need some things.”

“I can take you to Steve’s place, get anything you need.”

“Can I see him?”

Sam looks at Bucky. “I can talk to the hospital. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll go with you to his place.” Natasha stands up. “I don’t think you’re in a state to go anywhere, James. Stay here with Cap.”

“Yeah. Okay. Yeah.” He reaches out and grabs Sam’s hand. “When you see him, tell him she’s safe. I’m going to take good care of her.”

“I know you will, man. Steve told me how much she likes you. I’ll get in touch after I talk to the hospital.” He stops to talk to Cap, then heads out with Natasha.

Bucky drinks another glass of water, watching Cap as she looks out the window. She glances back at Bucky and he moves back to the couch. She climbs up next to him and puts her head in his lap. He pulls out his phone and texts Clint.

okay, so maybe I have a crush

The response doesn’t come for a while and then he just gets a series of laughing emojis. “On the dog, right? You have a crush on the dog?”

Bucky sighs and closes his eyes for a moment before informing Clint that he hates him.

**

Bucky hates hospitals. At least he thought he did.

Until he goes to visit Steve. Because Steve takes it to a whole new level.

“Mr. Rogers, if you don’t calm down, I’m afraid we’re going to have to sedate you. Or restrain you.”

“I’m fine.”

“You are not fine. You know that as well as I do.” Bucky stops in the doorway to see Steve struggling to sit up. “You’re going to hurt yourself even worse, and then you’ll be stuck here for longer. I don’t think either of us want me to have to call Mr. Wilson.”

“You like calling Sam. You derive a sadistic pleasure out of it.”

“Mr. Rogers, there is absolutely nothing about your frequent stays here that give me pleasure.” She pats him on the head. “Do not make me sedate you.”

“Sam’s out of town!” He raises his voice as she starts walking away. “You can’t tell on me.”

“Yes, I can.” She turns around and smiles at Steve, her hands crossed over her chest. “You’ll just have to wait to hear from him, which means he’ll have time to develop a full head of steam.”

“I don’t like you, Nurse Rached.”

“She won an Academy Award for that, so I take it as a compliment.” She walks up to Bucky and smiles at him. “You must be the friend.”

“Um.”

“Try and convince him to stay in bed. We’re not above breaking his legs to keep him here.”

“What happened to ‘first, do no harm’?”

She turns back and looks at Steve. “Hippocrates had never met you.”

Bucky watches her leave, then looks over at Steve. He lifts his hand in a weak wave. “Hey.”

“You didn’t have to come by.” He tries to sit up again and Bucky just walks over and uses the button to adjust the bed so he doesn’t have to struggle. Steve narrows his eyes, then slumps back. “Sam said you found me.”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks.” He looks more embarrassed than thankful, his face not quite as red as the tips of his ears. “I mean, I can handle myself.”

“I know. But there were two of them, and they were going after Cap.”

“Sam said she’s okay. She is, right?” He straightens up and winces. Bucky puts a hand on his shoulder and guides him back to the bed gently. “She’s good. Misses you. I’ve been taking her for walks though. She seems upset that if I’m walking her, she can’t push me into the water.”

Steve smiles. “I’m sorry you got roped into this. I should be home soon, and then I can take her off your hands. I mean, they can’t keep me here forever. I’m practically healed.”

Bucky looks Steve over, and doesn’t actually respond, but given how Steve’s expression hardens, he doesn’t need to. “I’m happy to take care of her as long as you need me to. I was going to ask you, actually. Would it be okay if I took her to my outreach programs? I mean, is she okay with groups of kids?”

“She’d love that.” Steve smiles, but it’s not exactly a happy one. He doesn’t look at Bucky. “I should probably get some rest.”

“Okay, what did I say?” Bucky sighs.

“What?” Steve asks.

“You got all prickly. Look, I won’t take her if you don’t want me to. I mean, I’m not trying to steal your dog. She just misses you and I thought maybe it would be a distraction.” Bucky sits next to Steve’s bed in one of the plastic chairs. “Maybe you could bring her instead. After you’re out of here.”

“Not sure when that will be. They’re all sadists.”

“So what happened?”

“There were some little kids playing soccer. I was walking by and I heard the guys say some things. Things that they’d do to them. And I maybe lost my shit.”

“You didn’t think to call anyone?”

“Who was I going to call? And say what? Tell the police that some guys are saying disgusting things about little kids? They’re not going to care. Even if they did, they couldn't do anything.”

“There were two of them. And I think they both had at least fifty pounds on you.”

“What’s your point?”

“Maybe you were a little outmatched?”

“I was fine.”

“I don’t think ‘fine’ ends up with you hospitalized.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“You didn’t see Cap. She was a mess. Kept trying to get to you, and he kept kicking her to try and control her.”

Steve straightens. “She’s okay? Did you get her checked out?”

“She’s fine. I promise.” He presses on Steve’s shoulder to get him to relax again. “Next time, call me, okay?”

“What makes you so sure there’ll be a next time?”

“One, because I saw the way the nurse was talking to you, and two, I’ve met you.”

“My mom was a nurse. Here. So they all know me. And… Yeah. I tend to end up here more than I should. Sam keeps threatening to file for shared custody of Cap.” Steve sighs and closes his eyes. Bucky watches him, watches the fight go out of him. “I just see a situation, you know? I can’t just walk away.”

“That makes you a good guy.” Bucky reaches up without thinking, brushing hair off of Steve’s forehead. Steve’s eyes open, wide and blue. “Not a bad thing to be.”

“Sam might argue with you.”

“I think Sam might argue that being a reckless good guy might not be the best thing.” He keeps stroking Steve’s hair as it falls back across his forehead. Bucky realizes what he’s doing about the same time Steve seems to, and he pulls his hand back quickly. “Sorry. Sorry. Shit.”

“It’s all right. It does that a lot.” Steve’s eyes close again. “Really should rest.”

“Yeah. Yeah. You do that.” Bucky stands up and pats Steve’s hand. “I’ll tell Cap you said hi.”

“Tell her I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

“I will.” He starts toward the door, pushing back the curtain when Steve clears his throat. He turns around and Steve’s giving him a small smile.

“Bucky? Thanks. For everything.”

**

How’s Cap?

Bucky stares at his phone in shock, rereading the message more times than anything only involving two words should require. He double-checks the source and the past texts he’s sent, just to make sure it’s not Natasha or Clint fucking with him.

Steve?

Is there someone else that might ask you how my dog is doing?

Sam?

Ok. That’s fair. But it’s Steve.

You texted me.

Is that a problem?

No! No! It’s fine. Good.

There’s a few moments of nothing and then finally he gets another text.

So? How is she?

Good! She’s good. She misses you. She looks at me like I’m hiding you somewhere and I’ve betrayed her. I’m seriously contemplating taking her into the hospital to see you. Except I don’t think I could get her to leave.

She’s behaving for you though, right?

She’s great. You might have to pry her away from Clint. He’s the guy who keeps poking his head into your room, staring at you, and then leaving. He’s a nurse there.

That’s a relief. I was starting to think I was seeing things.

I would hope if your mind was conjuring stuff up, it would do better than Clint.

And he’s your friend?

Yeah. He, Natasha, and I share a house.

There’s another pause and Bucky looks at his computer and the work he should be doing. He keeps checking his phone, even though he hasn’t gotten a notification. He shuts the file down, because he knows there’s no way he’s going to get anything done if he’s waiting for Steve. When he finally gets the notification, he nearly drops his phone when he grabs it.

You together?

Me and Clint?!

Or you and Natasha. Or all three of you.

One – Clint is a disaster. Two – Natasha can kill people with a look. Three – He’s straight, she’s flexible, I’m gay.

How come those are all one thing?

How long have you and your ex been separated?

Somehow I don’t think that question’s on the same level as mine.

Four – She’s flexible. Five – I’m gay. Better?

We’re not separated. We’re broken up. It’s been six months. Why are you so hung up on him?

I need to feel superior.

Cap likes you. That makes you superior.

Have you been behaving for the nurses?

They won’t let me have pudding if I don’t stay in bed.

Is it chocolate?

Would I stay in bed for any other flavor?

Not sure. Are we at the point where I know your favorite pudding flavors?

Well, either way, now you know.

**

Tony dumps two more projects on him, so Bucky ends up swamped, texting Steve that he’s going to be out of contact for a while. Steve sends him a text in all caps asking what he’s going to do without a daily picture of Bucky’s lunch.

Bucky assures him he’ll still manage to make that happen, but other than that, he’ll have to live without him. He does make Clint take a box of pudding cups to Steve. Clint comes home with a thank-you card with a drawing of Steve with a bloated stomach, sitting in his hospital bed and surrounded by empty pudding cups.

Bucky hangs it up by his desk at work, taking a picture of it to send to Steve before he has to go to the lab and bury himself in work. He doesn’t surface for much of the next week, sleeping in his office, surviving off the stashes of Tony’s blueberries he finds around the lab.

“Barnes. Barnes!”

Bucky looks up from the model he’s working on and blinks rapidly. Stark is standing a couple of feet away from him, and from the looks of it he’s been calling Bucky’s name for a while. “Yeah?”

“There’s a delivery for you at the front desk.”

“Can’t they just send it up?”

“Apparently not. Go. Be back in ten minutes or I’m firing you.”

Fortunately the elevators at Stark Tower are quick and numerous enough that ten minutes isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. He hurries over to the front desk when he reaches the lobby. He’s a little out of breath when he gets there, and a quick glance at his watch informs him that he’s got four-and-a-half minutes. He doesn’t think Tony would actually fire him, but when it comes to Tony Stark, there are worse things than getting fired.

“Hi. Bucky Barnes? You have a delivery for me?” The receptionist points, and Bucky’s unclear how he missed the life-sized stuffed Newfoundland beside her chair. “What is that?”

“There’s a note.” She unties an envelope that’s affixed to the dog’s collar and hands it to him. Bucky opens it, completely forgetting about his time limit.

Cap started humping this at the store, so I had to buy it. We won’t talk about what the salespeople probably think I bought it for. Sam said you missed her, I thought you might like one of your own.

Bucky starts as Stark peers over Bucky’s shoulder at the note.“Is there a reason there’s a particularly large dog in my lobby?”

“It’s stuffed.”

“I think he means that one.”

Bucky’s eyes go to where the receptionist is pointing. Steve’s standing there, still looking a little worse for wear, holding on to Cap’s leash. “Steve.”

Steve waves. “I know you’re really busy at work right now, but I was wondering if you had time for coffee?”

“He does,” Tony says. “In fact, I was just about to tell him to take the rest of the day off.”

Bucky turns to Tony. “No you weren’t.”

“Yes I was.”

“No you weren’t.”

“Barnes. Take the rest of the day off or you’re going to have every day off.”

“Why are you always threatening to fire me?”

“So you won’t believe me when I actually do and you’ll just work for free.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“You can get fired for calling him that,” The receptionist – and Bucky’s really going to have to learn her name since he’s apparently going to be here forever - says.

“I can apparently get threatened with firing for almost anything, so I’m going to take my chances.”

“Besides, he’s right, I am an asshole.” Tony nods toward Steve. “That dog looks like it’s about to pull the guy across the lobby. And I think we have a no-pets policy. Maybe you should leave.”

“Yeah. Yeah. I’m going.” Bucky fights his smile as he heads over toward Steve. Cap barks and strains at her leash, but Steve keeps a tight hold on her. “Hi.”

“Hey. So, I’m out of the hospital.”

“I see. Did they allow you to leave, or did you just take it upon yourself?”

“Sam wouldn’t let me have Cap if I hadn’t gotten the all clear. I mean, I’m not, obviously, but I’m no longer in need of hospitalization. Pretty sure all the pudding helped.” He jerks his head toward the doors. “I think I owe you coffee.”

“You know what?” Bucky wraps his arm around Steve’s shoulders as they walk toward the door. “I think you do.”