“There’s a Bigfoot in my treehouse.”
Bucky looked up from his paperwork and peered over the rim of his glasses.
“What was that, Little Bit?”
Tabitha, Bucky’s 7 year old daughter, was wringing her hands as she stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the back yard.
“Treehouse,” she pointed vaguely behind her. “Bigfoot.”
“That’s what I thought you said,” Bucky put down his papers and took off his glasses. “Have you been watching monster movies with the Strode girl again?” Tabitha stepped closer and took Bucky’s hand, urging him to move.
“I think he’s dead.”
While Bucky didn’t really think his daughter had discovered a legendary creature in their back yard, the words ‘he’s dead’ were enough to inspire urgency in him. Together they made their way to the base of the tree that held Tabitha’s playhouse.
“You stay here,” Bucky informed her. She nodded once and Bucky turned to start up the ladder.
It wasn’t a Bigfoot.
Bucky could see how Tabitha may have come to that conclusion. The figure lying unconscious in her treehouse was tall and broad, with shaggy brown hair and a beard. He was also wearing a horsehair coat that almost matched in shade. Carefully, Bucky edged closer. He could see the slight movement in this man’s chest that confirmed his breathing. Reaching out a hand, Bucky touched the man’s shoulder and shook.
“Hey,” he whispered.
The man awoke with a jolt; wide eyes scanning the space and landing on Bucky. For his part, Bucky didn’t move. He didn’t want to crowd the man, nor did he want to move aside. He was blocking the only exit: blocking the way down to Tabitha.
“Where am I?” The man asked; his voice rough with dehydration.
“My daughter’s treehouse,” came Bucky’s reply, and the unimpressed, sardonic look the man gave set Bucky’s heart racing.
He told himself to calm down, dammit. Just because it’s been a while, and this handsome stranger has haunting eyes, doesn’t mean this whole thing isn’t very very weird.
“What state?” The man clarified.
The man heaved a sigh of what could only be called relief. He shifted to sit up, and it was then that Bucky noticed the bloodstain on his shirt collar.
“Are you bleeding?” Bucky asked carefully. He hoped it wasn’t someone else’s blood.
“Not anymore,” the man gave a tight smile that formed more like a grimace. Bucky made a small, sympathetic noise, and the man’s smile grew warmer. “I’m Steve, by the way.”
“James,” Bucky replied warily. They were silent for a long moment; looking at each other. Steve didn’t seem eager to offer any explanations, and Bucky had no idea how to handle the situation.
Bucky’s attention was drawn by the feel of something poking into his back. He turned his head to see what it was. He didn’t know whether to laugh or scream at what he saw.
A barbecue fork.
Taped to a mop.
Taped to a broom.
With Tabitha at the end, holding it up towards the treehouse.
Bucky risked a look back to Steve, and saw him trying to suppress a grin.
“Baby, what are you doing?” Bucky shouted down to his daughter.
“For protection,” Tabitha called back. “Normal knives won’t work.”
At that Bucky did laugh. “Silver is for werewolves, sweetie,” he called back. “Also that’s not real silver. Also, it’s not a Bigfoot.”
“Oh,” Tabitha sounded disappointed as she withdrew her homemade weapon. There was a brief moment of silence before she called back up. “Can we make waffles?”
That was enough to break Steve’s resolve, and he burst into laughter along with Bucky. When the laughter died down, Bucky turned a serious look towards Steve.
“I’m going to need a lot more information before I let you anywhere near my child.”
“That’s fair,” Steve’s smile was crooked, and Bucky willed himself to look away. “Could your wife take her out for a little while? I promise I can be out of your hair in a few hours.”
“It’s just me and her,” Bucky admitted, and surely he was imagining the pleased look in Steve’s eye at that information?
“Ok, um… can we at least get out of the tree? I’m not really the right height for this place.” Steve demonstrated by sitting up fully and resting his head against the ceiling of the treehouse. Bucky tilted his head in concession and began to back out onto the ladder.
“Tabitha, go inside and close the door,” Bucky called as he was descending. Thankfully, Tabitha didn’t seem to be in the mood for arguing. She ran inside and closed the door. Bucky got to the bottom of the tree just as Steve was beginning the descent. Resolving that he wasn’t going to stare at the stranger’s really nice ass, Bucky turned back towards the house. He could see Tabitha’s head poking up over the kitchen sink to watch the proceedings. As long as she was safe inside, he didn’t mind her curiosity. Steve made it to the bottom, his lips turned downward in concern.
“Something wrong?” Bucky asked.
“I think I pulled my field stitches,” Steve mumbled, touching at his chest where there was fresh blood. Bucky barely had time to form a question or response to that, because he heard Tabitha scream and all his attention immediately turned to her. The girl’s eyes were wide, and she had turned unnaturally pale. Bucky swore under his breath before turning back to Steve.
“She hates blood,” Bucky explained, noting Steve’s distress at his daughter’s reaction. “Can you cover up with your coat? I’ll get the neighbour to take her, and we’ll get you fixed up.”
“Thank you,” Steve wrapped his coat tighter around himself, and Bucky gave a short nod before leaving to deal with Tabitha.
“I really appreciate this, Laurie,” Bucky was handing over money to the smiling teenager as he spoke. Tabitha was already out the door and playing with Laurie’s dog, Freddy. Crumpling the money into her pocket, Laurie gave one last reassurance to Bucky before leading his daughter away from the house.
As soon as they were gone, Bucky headed back into the kitchen where he’d left Steve. His mouth became suddenly dry upon entering. Steve had his shirt off, and was working on fixing the stitches that he’d pulled earlier. His soft hisses of pain were doing bad things to Bucky, and he felt immediate guilt at his reaction. Gritting his teeth, Bucky forced himself to move into the kitchen and catch Steve’s attention.
“Here,” Bucky held out his cordless home phone when Steve looked up. “Call whoever you need.”
“Thanks,” Steve’s smile was so genuine that Bucky found he needed to sit down. “I’m sorry for all this trouble.” Steve was dialling as he spoke, so Bucky was free to continue checking him out unnoticed. “I wish I could make it up you.”
“You could start by telling me what the hell this is all about,” Bucky suggested. Steve stopped dialling and looked up at the comment.
“I wish I could. Really, I do, but… it’s classified.”
“Classified?” Bucky’s eyebrows rose.
Bucky grew silent as Steve gave him one more apologetic look before dialling the rest of the number and pressing ‘call’. Bucky drifted in and out of the one-sided conversation, picking up on phrases like “target eliminated”, “minimum casualties”, and “civilian location”, before the call ended and Steve handed the phone back.
“My partner will be coming for me in the next few hours.”
“Partner?” Bucky asked, tilting his head to the side slightly. Steve’s lips curved in a wry smile at this.
“Work partner,” he clarified. “She’ll be here soon.”
“Ok,” Bucky stood up, suddenly needing to move. “Do you want something to eat? You must be hungry. I have coffee, too.”
“Anything would be great,” Steve turned in his chair to follow Bucky’s movements. “I really appreciate all you’ve done for me, James.”
“Oh, um… You can call me Bucky, if you want.”
Steve’s smile was radiant and the way he repeated the name made Bucky’s insides swoop. Bucky busied himself making coffee and quickly threw together a bagel sandwich for Steve. Thankfully, when Bucky turned back Steve had his shirt back on, although it was unbuttoned low enough to still be distracting.
“I know you can’t tell me what you were doing,” Bucky hedged as he placed everything on the kitchen table and sat down. “Could you at least tell me how you ended up in the treehouse? Of all the places to hide,” Bucky’s smile was wry as Steve ducked his head.
“It’s stupid,” Steve almost whispered, before raising his gaze back to Bucky’s face. “I got out from… where I was, and it was really dark. I don’t know how long I ran for, but then I saw… Your daughter, she has,” Steve waved his hand vaguely towards the back door, his meaning of the treehouse clear. “There are stickers? Glow in the dark ones. Planets and stars. I saw them, and the adrenaline was wearing off, and I couldn’t see anyone around. It felt like somewhere safe.”
Steve was clearly embarrassed. Bucky was smitten. Instead of responding verbally to the story, Bucky pushed the plate that held the bagel towards Steve. He took it with a grateful smile, and silence reigned.