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whiskers on kittens

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It’s 9:00 am and Steve’s on his way back from his morning run when he hears it. It’s a tiny little noise, a pathetic barely-there thing that just manages to grab his attention. Steve skids to a stop as it sounds again. Now that he’s heard it a second time -- it’s definitely an animal, something small and tiny. Probably just a  baby. He turns to the right, and looks at the empty lot he’s just passed. Walking backwards for a second, Steve goes still, listening for the noise so he can narrow down a location. It takes another moment, but whatever animal it is calls again, and then Steve’s got it.

He steps carefully through the unmown grass, and finds a wet, dilapidated cardboard box at the back. Steve gently moves one of the flaps, and there, underneath, is a tiny, emaciated kitten. It’s sopping wet -- grey fur matted to its skin.

“Oh, you poor thing,” he says, scooping it up into one palm. It meows again, squeaky. Steve tucks it up under his chin, and immediately comes to a decision: this baby is coming with him. 

Steve pauses just for a moment to whip his shirt off, and uses it to wrap the kitten up inside. It smells a little, but what will the cat care if she gets warm and dry? He holds the bundle up against his chest, and starts off towards the brownstone he and Bucky call home. 

 

***

 

As soon as he throws open the backdoor, Steve shouts out into the house. “Buck!?” 

“Yeah?” comes from upstairs.

“C’mere, I need your help!” 

There’s a sigh that Steve can hear even from the mudroom, and then a loud thump. A few seconds later, Bucky’s socked feet appear on the stairs. He hurries down the last few steps, moving quickly to stand beside Steve. He’s still in his pajamas, which means he hadn’t moved at all since Steve left, which is not surprising considering Bucky regularly sleeps past 11:00 am. 

“Whatcha got there?” Bucky asks, standing on tip-toes to peer into the bundle against Steve’s chest. His hair is a rat’s nest on the back of his head, a giant wad of it knotted and hanging over one ear. Steve’s heart clenches at the sight. 

Steve adjusts his cargo at Bucky’s question, revealing the tiny kitten inside his shirt. “I found her? Him? In that empty lot three blocks away. Was just crying its head off.”

Bucky’s grey eyes go wide. “Oh god, she’s so tiny.” He reaches out one finger and brushes the grey fur over the kitten’s nose. The kitten makes a little ‘mrrp’noise in response. 

Steve melts, relaxing his death grip just a little. “Can you fill the sink with some warm water? She’s filthy and wet. Gotta be freezing.”

“Sure,” Bucky says. He turns the sink on, twisting the handle until the water runs warmer. Steve watches as he puts in the stopper, and lets the basin fill. “What’ll we wash her with?”

“That dish soap, I guess,” Steve says, with a slight shrug. He’s seen the commercials for it -- all those oil spill animal victims being cleaned with it. If it’s safe enough for them, it should be safe enough for their -- the kitten. 

“I’ll get towels,” Bucky says, stepping around Steve to get into the mudroom. He comes back a beat later holding two rag-towels over his arm. “Let’s get her washed, yeah?”

Steve slowly unwraps the kitten from her warm, stinky shirt. Her little feet cling to him, digging into his bare skin. He unhooks her carefully, and then takes her in one hand. The kitten makes her displeasure known the minute Steve lowers her into two or so inches of warm water at the bottom of the sink. She hisses and spits, swiping at Steve’s hands with her tiny paws. 

“She reminds me of someone,” Bucky says, on a laugh. He’s leaning his hip against the counter next to Steve, demonstrably helping. So far all he’s done is hand Steve the soap. “Little spitfire, picking fights with someone a million times bigger…” 

“Ah, shuddup, wouldya?” Steve says, throwing a grin Bucky’s way before starting to scrub at the tiny feline’s spine. She meows again, unhappy, turning her huge green eyes up to him. “Aw honey, I’m tryin’ta help ya, okay? Lemme get you clean, then we’ll get you dry,” Steve murmurs to her, pausing in his cleaning to rub gently at one triangle ear. She turns her head up into it, clearly enjoying the attention. Steve regretfully pulls his hand away, going back to rubbing soap into her fur. Dirt comes off in rivers, turning the clear water to a soapy, murky brown mess. 

The bath reveals that her fur is mostly light grey with darker grey stripes, but her feet are pure snow white. Once she’s properly rinsed and clean, Steve wraps her back up in a towel, gently patting her to get her dry. She mews again, only this time it sounds less angry. Steve looks at her in his arms, and sighs. She’s gotta be starving.

“She probably can’t eat Alpine’s food, can she?” Steve asks, glancing at Bucky. 

Bucky looks up from the kitten, nose scrunched in adoration. “Probably not the kibble stuff? But maybe a can of the wet kind?”

At the mention of his name, Alpine saunters out from nowhere, twisting himself around Steve’s ankles. He looks up, meows once, and then moves over to Bucky’s legs to wind himself between them. Bucky bends and scoops the cat up into his arms, pressing kisses into his neck fur. “Steve brought you a sibling,” Bucky tells him, booping Alpine on the nose. “You won’t mind if she eats some of your food, will you?”

Alpine meows, which Steve takes to mean that he does mind, thank you, but Bucky ignores the cat as he sets him back down on the ground. 

“Hang on, I’ll grab her one,” Bucky says, stepping towards the pantry. He returns a moment later with a small can with a pink label, proclaiming itself to be ‘Tender Chicken Feast’. Steve blinks at it, shrugging. Seems good enough to him, and the kitten is probably hungry enough to eat just about anything.

“Can you put it in a bowl for her?” he asks, softly. 

Bucky smiles as he turns, grabbing one of the wide, flat bowls he uses to feed Alpine. He opens the can, and immediately the disgusting smell of ‘Tender Chicken Feast’ wafts through the kitchen. Alpine perks up from his spot on the floor, hurrying to rub up against Bucky in hopes of getting fed. Bucky nudges him away with a foot. “This isn’t for you,” Bucky says, setting the bowl on the kitchen table before sitting down at it. “Here, we’ll feed her up here so we can keep Asshole down there away.”

Steve pulls out a chair, and sits next to Bucky before unwrapping the kitten again. He sets her down on the table, letting her take her time about getting to the food. She wobbles her way towards it, on uncertain paws. She pauses at Bucky’s side, staring up at him with huge eyes. 

“Hey sweetheart,” Bucky says, moving slow and predictably as to not startle her. He brings his left hand up, and uses it to stroke one metal finger down her back. She arches up into it. “We’re not gonna hurt ya.”

She blinks at him one more time before closing the distance between her and the food. After a single cautious sniff, the kitten sets upon it, ravenous. 

“We need to get her to the vet. See if she’s chipped,” Bucky says, watching her eat. “And if she’s not, get her chipped.”

“You think she’s old enough for that?” Steve asks, uncertainty dripping down his spine. What if she’s someone’s cat that got lost? He’d have to do the right thing and give her back, when all he really wants to do is tuck her up under his chin and keep her safe. 

Bucky shrugs. “Dunno. I think she’s younger than Alpine was when we got him, but I have no idea by how much.”

“You think Alpine’s vet can get her in?” Steve asks, looking towards the white cat sitting at their feet. He looks less than pleased at the idea of someone else eating his special food. His fluffy tail thumps against the ground.

“Won’t know til we call, right?” Bucky says, shifting slightly to tug out his phone from his pajama pocket. He slides it across the tabletop towards Steve. Steve picks it up, unlocks it by code, and scrolls through Bucky’s contact list until he finds the familiar name of the veterinarian. He presses dial, and listens to it ring.

 

***

 

“She -- and she is a she -- is about two months old,” Dr. Mahoney announces as she comes back into the room holding their kitten under one arm. The kitten looks a little baffled at the treatment, but takes everything as it comes. Dr. Mahoney sets her back down on the examination table, and lets her wander. “She’s very underweight, but otherwise looks healthy. We’re gonna do a little blood work, but I don’t anticipate anything coming up on it.”

“And a chip?” Steve asks, barely able to keep the question back. Bucky grabs one of his hands and holds it in his own to keep him from outright wringing it.

Dr. Mahoney flashes a knowing smile at him. She shakes her head, sending her dark, curly hair swinging. “No chip.” She reaches out to pet the kitten, who immediately turns to receive more attention. “She’s all yours, if you want to keep her.”

Bucky snorts out a laugh. Steve’s stomach goes warm. There’s no doubt in either of their minds about who the kitten is going home with. Bucky pipes up before Steve gets a chance, saying, “We’re keeping her. Can you chip her for us?”

“Mm. Not until she gains a little more weight,” Dr. Mahoney says, scritching the kitten under the chin. “But after that, absolutely. We can register her under you in our system, though.” She looks up at them both. “She got a name yet?”

They shake their heads simultaneously. 

“We’ll just put her under Kitten Rogers for now, but you work on a name, okay? Everybody has to have a name, right, Miss?” Dr. Mahoney says, smiling as she kisses the kitten on the forehead. The kitten mews at her. “We gave her all the shots she’s qualified for, so watch for any reactions in the next hour or so. I think she’ll be just fine, though.”

“And...uh...introducing Alpine?” Bucky asks, staring at the kitten. The kitten flops onto her side, showing the vet her very adorable spotted tummy. Dr. Mahoney tickles it with the tips of her fingers, and the kitten playfully attempts to bite her. 

Dr. Mahoney lets out a little laugh. “Don’t force it. Let them figure each other out on their own. She’s very young, so that’ll help smooth things over. And if you hear hissing, don’t be too worried.” She pauses, and then adds, “I also wouldn’t leave them alone together if you guys leave the house at all. Just in case.”

Steve nods, committing all of this to memory. 

“Don’t worry too much, boys. I’m willing to bet she’ll have you eating out of her paw in no time,” Dr. Mahoney says, with a huge smile. “You’re all set. They’ll have your bill up front for you. I’ll have them throw in a packet about kittens, too.” She pets the kitten one more time, and then heads out of the back door of the examination room, leaving them alone.

“Well, Stevie, looks like we got another cat,” Bucky says, patting Steve on the thigh. He stands, hurrying to gather the kitten up into his arms before she falls off the table. He pets her, absent-mindedly, before turning and kinda shoving her into the cat carrier they borrowed from Alpine. Bucky shuts it behind her, pressing the locks into place. 

“This not at all how I saw today going,” Steve says, with a laugh. He scrubs a hand over his eyes. Really, he thought it would be like all the other days since he’d officially retired from Avenging. Steve has a routine, one that he loves -- he gets up, goes for a run. Then he comes home and showers, and then paints for a few hours in the little studio Bucky built for him. Bucky makes lunch for them both whenever he gets out of bed, and then they sit and read together in whatever spot of sunlight they can find. Some nights they have movie marathons. Some nights they climb up to the roof and listen to the city around them.

It’s a good life, considering everything they’d been through. A good life that they both more than deserve.

“It’s better than what you anticipated, right?” Bucky says, knocking his shoulder against Steve’s, and knocking him out of his thoughts. “C’mon, let’s go pay so we can go spoil her at the pet store.”

Steve pauses just long enough to kiss Bucky thoroughly, and then leads the way back out to the front. He pays the nice lady at the front desk $250 for the shots and the office visit, and then they’re off. 

 

***

 

There’s a boutique pet store about two blocks from their house, so that’s where they head. The kitten meows her displeasure from inside the carrier, but after a few minutes of walking goes quiet. Steve glances down to check on her, and is more than a little happy to see her laying down right at the opening, watching the world as it goes by.

“What about Maggie for a name?” Bucky suggests, sending a stone flying with one kick of his foot. It pings off a trash can, and settles against the side of a bodega. 

“No, too... human?” Steve answers, unsure. Maggie doesn’t sound right. “I’ll know it when I hear it.”

“Hmm okay,” Bucky says, narrowing his eyes in Steve’s direction. He pulls his phone out and types for a second. He starts listing out names, a moment later, looking up every so often to check his trajectory. “Luna? Lily? Chloe? Bella? Or Lucy’s kinda cute…”

Steve wrinkles his nose at all of them. “No. Definitely not.” He glances back down at the cat carrier, and then up at Bucky.  

“How’d you name Alpine?”

Bucky bursts into giggles, slapping a hand over his mouth to stifle them. Once he’s got them under control, Bucky answers with, “I, uh, saw a commercial for Alpine Spring Water.”

Steve stares at him. “You named your cat after a brand of water?”

“Sort of?” Bucky admits, descending into giggles once more. “It fits him, though, doesn’t it?”

Steve nods, resisting the urge to roll his eyes at his husband. A water company, really? Poor Alpine. Then again, no one has to know how Bucky found the name. He shakes his head a little, but agrees, “Yeah, it does. Alright, so see? I’ll know it when I hear it.”

“Fair enough,” Bucky says, with a grin. He turns them around a corner, and then opens the door to the pet shop. 

It smells like artificial cinnamon inside, which is a slight surprise. Steve had been expecting the faintly musty odor of long-kept animals, but he thinks this is infinitely better. The store is one long hallway, one side with cat products, the other dogs. 

“C’mon, she needs toys,” Bucky says, seizing Steve’s hand and dragging him towards the toy section. They throw a handful of small faux-fur mouse into their basket, along with a catnip toy shaped like a carrot. A few mylar scrunchie balls and one long plastic spring-thingie complete the toy shopping. 

“She doesn’t need much, Buck. Alpine has toys she can play with, too,” Steve says, gently tugging Bucky away from the feather teasers. He’d read an article about how feathers were bad if ingested while waiting for the vet to return, so there’s no way he’s buying one for the kitten. Steve pushes Bucky towards the cans of food a little further down. “She does, however, need special food.”

By the time they leave the store, Steve has shelled out another $110 on toys, food, and a small cave-like cat bed. He doesn’t regret spending that much at all -- what good is backpay for if not to use on the people and animals he loves?

 

***

 

A couple of days after Steve rescues the kitten, Bucky comes to find him in his studio. He leans against the door jamb, watching. Steve can see him out of the corner of his eye as he applies a thick layer of Titian red paint to his canvas. It’s only when his brush starts to run dry that he turns to smile at his husband.

“Need something?” Steve asks, raising a single eyebrow. He’s wearing on his painting shirt -- an old, ruined button-down absolutely covered in paint. He messes with the sleeves while waiting on Bucky’s answer, trying to roll them up without setting down his brush. Bucky rescues him with a fond roll of his eyes, moving forward to quickly deal with the sleeves, rolling and shoving them up past Steve’s elbows so they stay put.

“Wanted to see if you’d maybe wanna watch a movie with me?” Bucky asks, running his hands down Steve’s forearms. 

“Sure,” Steve says, with a smile. He dunks his brush into a cup full of soapy water, and then moves to the small industrial sink at the back of the room. Steve twists the sink on, and then starts washing his brushes carefully, taking the time to treat the fibers nicely. “What movie?” 

"Matilda?” Bucky says, voice rising at the end like he’s not entirely sure. “Natasha said we should watch it. It’s a kids’ movie, I think.”

“Nothing wrong with a good kids’ movie,” Steve says, finishing at the sink. He sets his brushes to dry on the counter, and starts to wash his hands properly with a thick bar of cream-colored soap. As he’s reaching for a rag to dry them on, Steve asks over his shoulder, “Wanna make popcorn?”

“Duh,” Bucky says, with a laugh. “Meet you in the kitchen.”

By the time Steve makes it downstairs, Bucky’s most of the way through popping corn. He’s got a giant saucepan on the stove, and is moving it slowly across the burner with a low whirr-whirr noise. There’s a small bowl full of melted butter on the counter next to him, and a bigger bowl sits next to their salt cellar.  On the other side of the stove, the kitten sits, watching Bucky’s progress with wide eyes.

“I thought we weren’t letting the cats on the counters,” Steve says, still standing at the bottom of the stairs. He stays there for a second, shaking his head. 

“She’s supervising,” Bucky retorts, throwing a smile over his shoulder. “The noise startled her, so I was showing her it’s nothing to be scared of.”

“Uh huh,” Steve says, with a laugh. He scoops the kitten up into his arms, and sets her on his shoulder. She goes easy, used to this method of transportation by now. Her tail hangs over his shoulder, curling slightly.  Steve reaches up to scritch at her chin as he asks, “Miss, what do you think of popcorn?”

The kitten mrrps, and butts her head into his hand. 

“See, she’s fine with it now,” Bucky says, still grinning. He shuts the burner off with one hand, and drags the pot over to the cool side of the stove. Steve watches as he takes the lid off, and slowly drizzles the melted butter over the contents of the pot. “How much salt are we feeling today?”

“Lots,” Steve answers, wrinkling his nose as he laughs.

“You got it.” Bucky finishes with the popcorn toppings and dumps everything into the huge green bowl, giving it a good shake to coat everything evenly. He gathers it up into his arms and nods them all towards the living room. 

Steve settles first,  in the corner of the couch. He moves the kitten to the crook of his neck. Immediately she shifts, twisting her tail around her feet and tucking her head under Steve’s chin. He feels more than hears her start purring. Over the past few days, she’s taken a liking to sleeping there, all curled up in a tiny little ball. 

Bucky sidles himself up to Steve’s side, and sets the bowl between them. Alpine jumps up behind them, glaring at the kitten before settling down on the back of the couch, right next to Bucky’s head. Bucky reaches for a blanket with one hand, yanking it up over his lap, and then and only then does he hit play on the movie.

They fall in love with Matilda and her ferocious kindness almost immediately. But when Miss Honey makes her first appearance, Steve’s heart clenches inside his chest. He is instantly, and completely overwhelmed by memories of his mother. The way she always smelled a lot like warm bread, and  a little like antiseptic. Her warm, dry hands that cracked and bled in the dead of winter. Her bright blue eyes, sharp for any mischief Bucky or Steve tried to get into. Her soft, faintly Irish voice as she read him to sleep those long, long nights between coughing fits.

The comparison isn’t perfect, nothing ever is. But regardless, Miss Honey’s soft, gentle manner, and her furious protection of Matilda reminds Steve of her so much that it hurts. His chest aches for the rest of the movie, until he tugs the kitten down. Steve pets her, forcing away the tough memories. She purrs louder at the attention, like a jet engine ready for take off.

It’s only when the credits start to roll that Steve looks down at the kitten, stroking one silky ear. Quietly, he says, “I got her name.”

“Matilda?” Bucky guesses, rubbing at one of his eyes with the heel of his hand. 

“No,” Steve says, shaking his head. He runs the tip of his finger down the short fur on the kitten’s nose. Booping her on her tiny pink nose, Steve finishes with, “Miss Honey.”

“Oh! That’s perfect,” Bucky says, dropping his hands down into his lap. He beams at Steve, reaching over to run his fingers down the kitten’s small, arched back. “Hello, Miss Honey,” Bucky says, smiling. “Welcome to the family.”

 

***

 

Three satisfyingly dull months pass. Miss Honey integrates her way into their lives fully, always following Steve around like a fluffy shadow. She supervises him while he paints, sitting on a stool and watching as he drags the brush across his canvas. She follows him into the bathroom, sitting on his feet while he does his business. She fills out quickly with regular access to food, slowly growing into something less kitten-shaped and more fully-grown feline. 

Steve hadn’t thought there was any more room left in his heart to love. All of it is taken up by Bucky, his mother, Sam, and Nat. But Miss Honey fills in the tiny infinitesimal space in between his friends, filling him up with so much love he feels sometimes like a pot ready to boil over. He feels warm, thinking of all the love he gets to pour out into the world. 

He’s in the kitchen one afternoon, watching his bread slowly brown in the toaster,  when he hears Bucky whisper-shout his name from the living room. Steve makes a face at his half-toasted bread, but moves quietly on socked-feet into the other room. 

There on the back of the couch is Alpine, sleeping in a neat white ball. Sidling closer is Miss Honey, moving slow and steady, careful not to startle him. She gets as near as she dares, laying down and curling up into a small oval. She shifts a second later, pressing her tiny back into Alpine’s. 

Alpine makes a soft mrrripnoise at the touch, blinking awake. He lifts his head and looks down at Miss Honey with bright blue eyes.

Steve holds his breath. Bucky holds his metal fist against his own mouth.

This is the closest they’ve gotten to one another since Steve brought Miss Honey home.

Alpine heaves himself up to his paws just long enough to curl around Miss Honey’s body, flopping back down, surrounding her with himself. Alpine licks at the top of her miniscule head,  once, twice, and then settles into another nap.

Steve turns to Bucky, eyes wide. 

Bucky lifts his eyebrows, and mouths, “Holy shit!”

The last member of their little family has finally accepted the newest.

Steve grins, unreasonably proud. He whispers, “Let’s leave them be.” He tugs at Bucky’s hand, intertwines their fingers as soon as he gets it free. Pulling them to the stairs, Steve turns and waggles his eyebrows at Bucky. “C’mon, you can come sit and model for me.”

“With or without clothes?” Bucky asks, smirking.

Already half-way up the stairs, Steve calls down in a teasing voice, “Up to you!”