Steve stepped out of the corner store, a loaf of bread tucked under his arm, and started to head back home. He passed an alleyway and paused when he heard whining and growling. He backed up a few steps, peering down the alleyway to see two boys laughing and throwing rocks at a pile of blankets. They both looked a couple years older than him, maybe eight or nine, and were significantly taller than him, which wasn’t unusual. He took a couple steps down the alley, realizing as he drew nearer that the pile of blankets was actually a burlap sack tied off, with something inside it. The sack was trying to move away from the stones it was being hit by, but the boys were moving around it, not giving it a way out.
“Hey!” Steve yelled, as loudly and deeply as he could.
The boy with his back to him stiffened and then tore off in the other direction, never looking back to see who’d yelled at them. The other boy started to dash off, but glanced back to see if he was being pursued. Catching sight of Steve, stopped running and broke off laughing, turning around and walking towards Steve.
“Jesus, kid,” he chuckled, “I thought you were somebody to worry about for a second there.”
“You’re a kid, too,” Steve scowled. “And I could be somebody to worry about. What were you doing to that…whatever it is?” he asked accusingly.
The older boy’s face darkened. “None of your business, little guy,” he crossed his arms. “Now why don’t you get outta here and I won’t hafta bust your face open?”
“No,” Steve jutted his chin out defiantly. “ You get outta here, and leave that poor thing alone,” he gestured towards the burlap sack.
The other boy glowered down at him. “You got a real big mouth, you know that? Somebody oughta teach you a lesson,” he sneered, grabbing Steve roughly by the front of his shirt.
Steve laid his bread, still wrapped up, on the ground beside him. “Fine by me,” he shot back, stubbornly glaring back.
The boy shook his head and snorted in disbelief before roughly shoving Steve into the brick wall of the alley. Steve wriggled in his grasp, kicking him in the legs and grabbing his wrist where he was holding Steve.
“Seriously, kid?” the older boy smirked, slamming him into the wall again before adding, “Just give it up and run on home, okay?”
“Never gonna happen,” Steve kicked him again. When that proved ineffective, he sank his teeth into the knuckle of the hand that was pushing him up against the wall.
“Ouch!” the boy yelled, dropping him as he pulled his hand away. “You’ll pay for that,” he growled, wiping his hand off on his shirt and then pinning Steve to the wall again. He saw a fist raise and braced himself, wincing as the other boy landed a solid punch square to the jaw.
“HEY!” he heard a voice yell, much deeper than he’d managed to sound earlier.
Both boys turned their heads toward the source of the sound. At the entrance to the alley was a brown-haired boy, probably a few years older than Steve, but definitely around the same size as the boy currently beating on Steve.
“Leave him alone,” the new voice said, confidently and clearly. The boy pinning Steve to the wall let out a frustrated exhale, glancing between Steve and the newcomer a few times.
“Whatever,” he scoffed after a second, relaxing his hold on Steve. “You ain’t worth it, besides,” he added, shoving Steve on more time. He snorted when it knocked Steve to the ground and heading towards the other end of the alley, disappearing around the corner.
“You okay, pal?” the stranger asked, holding a hand out to him. Steve hesitated for a second before taking it.
“Fine,” he responded, letting himself be pulled to a standing position by the older kid. “I coulda taken ‘im,” he added stubbornly. The other boy laughed at that, but there wasn’t anything mean-spirited about it.
“Sure,” he agreed, grinning. “But why should I let you have all the fun?”
“Fair enough,” Steve allowed. “I’m Steve,” he tacked on, holding his hand out. “What’s your name?”
“James,” he responded, shaking Steve’s hand, “but everyone calls me Bucky.” There was a quiet whine from the burlap sack that was a few feet away, diverting their attention.
“Okay, Bucky, give me some help with this?” Steve asked, heading over to investigate the squirming bag. He dropped to his knees and started trying to undo the knot.
“Here,” Bucky said from over his shoulder, pulling a penknife from his pocket and offering it to Steve.
“Hey, thanks,” Steve took the knife, quickly cutting through the rope and getting the bag open. A snout poked its way out, sniffing for a second or two before an entire head appeared. “Poor little guy,” Steve muttered, pulling the sack the rest of the way off the animal. It was a small, scruffy-looking dog with matted fur that looked like it was probably white underneath all the dirt. The dog leaned forward slightly and sniffed Steve some more, looking up hopefully.
“I think he’s hungry,” Bucky had his hands stuck in his pockets and was standing behind Steve, looking over his shoulder.
“I gotta loaf of bread over there,” Steve remembered, gesturing to where he had dropped it.
“Gotcha,” Bucky ran over and grabbed the bread, unwrapping it as he came back over. He handed it over to Steve, who tore off a large chunk and offered it to the dog. It sniffed the food cautiously, looking warily at the two boys before taking the bread and swallowing it down in just a mouthful. “Bet he’s hurt,” Bucky guessed. “Those boys from before?” he asked.
“Yep,” Steve confirmed, “they musta tied ‘im up so he couldn’t fight back.”
“Wish I could take ‘im home,” Bucky said, staring sadly at the dog. “My Pa’d never stand for it,” he sighed. Steve took a second to consider.
“I’ll take him with me,” he decided. “Ma’s a nurse, she’ll be able to fix him up fine,” he explained, glancing at Bucky and holding a hesitant out to the dog. It sniffed Steve’s hand a few times before licking it. Steve smiled and gently pet the dog’s head, who flinched then relaxed under the affection.
“She’ll be ok with it?” Bucky asked, sitting down next to Steve and holding his hand out as well. The dog looked more wary about Bucky, so Steve ripped off another chunk of bread and handed it to Bucky, who slowly held it out to the dog. It took the food and sniffed Bucky again, seemingly no longer bothered by either of them.
“Sure,” Steve shrugged. “She likes taking care of people. And dogs, too,” he added, laughing when the little dog shoved it’s head underneath Steve’s hand, asking for more affection. He obliged, scratching it under the chin.
“You gotta name ‘im, then,” Bucky decided. “How ‘bout Hunter?” Steve took a second to think it over before grinning widely at Bucky.
“Hunter?” Steve asked, raising an eyebrow. “He don’t look like a hunter with how scrawny he is,” he pointed out.
“Naw,” Bucky laughed, shaking his head and feeding the dog another piece of bread. “I mean cause you found him off an alley on Hunts Lane,” he explained, jerking his head back towards the main street.
“All right, Hunter it is,” Steve agreed, cracking up when Hunter clambered onto Bucky’s lap and started licking his face.
“You like it, huh, pal?” Bucky asked, laughing.
“Yeah, I think he does,” Steve snorted, scratching Hunter under the chin. “I guess I’d better get ‘im home, then.” Bucky stood up, offering his hand to Steve, who grabbed it and pulled himself up.
“Probably,” Bucky nodded in agreement.
“You wanna come?” Steve asked, grabbing the rope from the sack and fashioning a makeshift leash for Hunter.
“Me?” Bucky asked, surprise evident in his voice.
“Sure,” Steve replied easily. “Ma won’t mind one more for dinner,” he shrugged.
“All right, then,” Bucky acquiesced.
“C’mon then,” Steve nodded his head back towards the main street and headed that way. Bucky ducked to grab the loaf of bread and followed after him.
“I'm following you,” Bucky replied easily.