Kala didn't mean for it to happen.
No really, she didn't. Sobbing hysterically over dropped groceries while her neighbor from the apartment three doors down --the one that lives with the Captain America look alike-- who she doesn't even know that well tries to comfort her had not been on her agenda when she dragged herself out of bed this morning. It's just been one of those weeks.
All she wanted was strawberries. It wasn't too much to ask for. Just some strawberries from her favorite fruit vendor and then a long nap on her couch because that walk all the way there and back had her muscles screaming. She may have vastly overestimated her energy levels today. The broken elevator that made her take the stairs didn't help either.
The elevator had been broken for as long as she can remember. Kala hopes that there never comes a time when a quick escape down the stairs is necessary. She lives on the fifth floor and depending on the day running down the stairs may prove to be nearly impossible.
She has lived in the building since she was four, when she was shipped off by a mom who didn't want her to live with an aunt who didn't really want her either. Her aunt likes to reminisce about the old neighborhood where she had a big house with a garden and all the neighbors got together for block parties every other weekend. Kala has few memories of this place; a yellow and white room, playing hide and seek with two other little girls whose names she can't recall. But if she had to be honest, she preferred the cramped Brooklyn apartment with the window that never quite opened all the way and Mrs. Jones who always baked her cookies.
What she tries not to think about is that her Aunt Latrice hates this place and that it's all her fault the old house was lost.
Kala is reminded of that fact every day.
By the time she makes it to the top of the stairs her lungs are burning and she can hear herself wheezing. It's nothing new to Kala. Bad asthma and just being out of shape in general will do that to a person. She's also tired, shaky, and aching everywhere. Again, none of this is new. Annoying, but nothing she isn't used to feeling. She's been sick the entire fourteen years of her existence, after all.
Telling herself that it's only a few more feet to the apartment she drags herself to the door and grabs the handle to pull it open, only for it to be slammed open from the other side, effectively sending her bags flying and her crashing to the floor. She lands on her backside on the grimy floor next to her groceries.
For a second she does nothing. Just sits there staring at the fruit that took so much effort to buy and bring home today.
"Are you okay, kid?"
Kala looks up to see a man dressed in dark jeans and a shirt, hair falling just above his shoulders, face unshaven. He's staring down at her with a look of concern, fingers twitching. She's pretty sure she's seen him in the hallway a few times. Always with the guy who either was actually Steve Rogers or just a damn good cosplayer.
She realizes that this is the point when she's supposed to say "I'm fine," and reassure him that she wasn't upset about him accidentally sending her tumbling to the floor. It technically wasn't his fault. He couldn't see her behind the door and she was naturally clumsy anyways.
Kala would have told them all this if her vocal cords hadn't seized up for some inexplicable reason.
"Kid?" he asked hesitantly.
She's not sure why what happens next happens. Maybe it was because she wasn't feeling good at all at the moment, or the fact that Aunt Latrice had been meaner than usual this week. It might be because she's still torn up about her cat dying on Monday or the terrible report card she got in the mail. It could be a combination of all of these things, who knows? Not her. But for whatever reason, being knocked to the floor and seeing her strawberries that she wanted so bad hit the ground was the straw that broke the camels back.
And Kala proceeded to burst into tears.
Like gross, obnoxious sobbing.
If she were thinking clearly she might be embarrassed about losing it in front of someone she barely knew. But in this moment she couldn't care less. The tears wouldn't stop and all she wanted to do was curl up into a ball on the floor.
"Shit, you're hurt aren't you?"
The man crouches down in front of her, hands fluttering around like he wants to check her over, but is too scared to touch her.
"N-N-No," she forced out between gasps. God this was humiliating. Couldn't he just leave already.
"Then why are you crying?" He sounds confused.
It's an innocent question. One she can't answer right now.
"I..I...I d-don't know!" Kala bursts into a fresh round of sobs and the man in front of her tenses.
She felt bad. Clearly this guy hadn't planned on dealing with the weird kid from down the hall who cries when she falls over like a toddler. He probably had things to be doing and people to go see, and here she was making him deal with her.
"Okay. That's okay. We all have our bad days," he says, his voice going soft.
Kala can't tell if he's actually trying to be nice or if he's just trying to pacify the crazy girl he happened to run into.
She hears him let out a sigh and plop down next to her. Chancing a glance in his direction, she notices he doesn't look upset or annoyed like she though he'd be. Just concerned. Sitting close enough to let her know he was there and not leaving, but still keeping a little bit of space between them like he doesn't want to crowd her. He offers her a small smile.
"C'mere, kid." He holds out his arm, waiting for Kala to make a move or not.
She shouldn't. All those talks about stranger danger should have her running screaming from the guy she doesn't really know offering her a hug. The guy could secretly be a serial killer or something. But a hug sounds really freaking great right now.
Sorry Officer Greg, that lecture in first grade was good but she was so going in for the hug.
She scooted closer to him, allowing him to wrap his arm around her tightly. How long had it been since since someone had hugged her? Kala honestly couldn't remember. But it felt nice.
After what feels like hours --which is probably only ten or fifteen minutes at most-- the faucet in Kala's eyes decides to stop leaking. She's reduced to the occasional sniffle as she leans against neighbor dude's shoulder, attempting to catch her breath.
Harsh sobbing, as it turns out, wasn't great for lungs that shirk at their one job. They were currently throwing a hissy fit in retaliation.
"Feel a little better?" Her neighbor's voice startles her out of her thoughts. She sits up, wiping at her eyes.
"Y-Yeah. Yeah, I'm good. Um...." Kala fishes for the right words. What do you say to the guy who took time out of his day to sit on a floor that probably hasn't been cleaned since the building was built (oh god, ew, she's just now thinking about that) and let you put your tear stained, snotty face on them? "Thanks for dealing with my weirdness. You uh...give good hugs?"
The words come out a little strained, her wheezing more noticeable than before. Wow was it her, or was the air in the room getting thin?
His lips twitch upwards at the last part, but his expression quickly goes back to worried when he takes note of her breathing. It would be difficult to miss, what with her going full wheezer right next to him.
"Are you feeling alright?"
"Crappy lungs. Have one job. Can't even do that." The feeling in her chest was starting to get a little painful, and Kala was one hundred percent certain that her rescue inhaler was on the coffee table and not in her bag where it's supposed to be. "I have to go...get...inhaler."
Before she can even attempt to get up on her own, the man is on his feet holding his hand out for her to grab. She takes it gratefully, allowing herself to be hauled to her feet. She is immensely proud that she manages to keep herself upright after the fact. Her legs feel like jello.
"Do you need help getting back?"
Kala shakes her head. "Nah. I...I'll be fine. Just gotta.." she waves her hand in the general direction of the door, "like now."
"You sure?" he asks, opening the door and ushering her through to the hallway.
"Mhm. Thanks though. For like everything um....?"
"Bucky. You can call me Bucky."
If she had enough oxygen coursing through her lungs to laugh, she might have. Bucky was such a weird name. And like, an old man's name. Who was named Bucky anymore except for guys who had been born in the first half of the 20th century?
"Kala," she manages.
She gives him a tiny smile before turning and hightailing it back to her apartment. Well, she went as fast as her unsteady legs would take her (which wasn't very fast). Kala feels his blue eyes watching her until she's safely inside, but she's too exhausted and oxygen deprived to feel creeped out.
Grabbing her inhaler and taking a much needed puff, she falls onto the couch.
She's completely ready for this day to be over.
Math tests suck.
But missing a math test and having to make it up later sucks worse.
Three days after what she dubbed "the strawberry incident", Kala finds herself curled up on the couch under a blanket when she should be sitting in Mr. Branson's class taking her pre-algebra test. She'd actually studied this time and everything. Today could have been the day she got a grade higher than a D- on a math test, if her lungs hadn't thrown themselves into a tizzy and if she hadn't caught the plague.
Okay, maybe calling it plague was a slight exaggeration. But she still felt awful.
Her head hurt, her chest hurt, her throat hurt, the coughing wouldn't stop, her nose was plugged and she had a weird outbreak of hives which was a thing that happened now apparently. Basically, her entire body was in revolt and she just did not have time for this today. Or any day.
Asthma is annoying. Being sick is annoying. Missing yet another day of school is annoying.
Kala is propped up on a couple pillows, the mask of her nebulizer (which is in the shape of penguin! How cute are pediatric nebulizers? She named it Claire) resting on her face and having her breathe in the medicine that temporarily calms her lungs when they're being little shits, but also makes her feel kind of weird. The TV is on, the volume turned down low. She's not really paying attention to it, just using it for some background noise while she lays there finishing her breathing treatment and trying not to dose off.
Until a knock disturbs the quiet. Groaning she opens her eyes, turning to glare at the door. Seriously, it had to be right now? Maybe if she just lays still and ignores it, the person on the other side will take a hint and get lost.
Or they could just knock again, louder this time. She tosses the blanket off her, hissing at the sudden onslaught of cool air, and forces herself to stand up. This better be important. Like, world ending stuff.
Thankful that Claire was portable, Kala picks up the bird shaped nebulizer (the penguinizer??) and shuffles to the door. Her hair is a mess of frizz and curls, her pajamas are old and ratty, and the flare up on her skin can't be making her look too attractive at the moment. But maybe (not likely) she doesn't look as god awful as she thinks she does.
She opens the door and comes eyes-to-chest with a rather large man and looks up to see neighbor dude holding a large brown bag and staring down at her with a slightly horrified expression.
Yup, she definitely looks like the human disaster she is. And of course it's Bucky. She had been doing her best to avoid the guy after all those waterworks last Friday, still completely embarrassed about the whole thing. But now, here he was. Screw you too, universe.
Alright, play it cool.
"Hey Bucky," her voice is rough and muffled by the mask still attached to her face. She probably shouldn't be talking during a breathing treatment but whatever.
He stares at her for a moment longer before speaking.
"Hey kid, I was just uh, stopping by to see how you were doing. And to drop these off." He motions to the bag with his free hand and for a second Kala swears his fingertips that are barely visible look almost like metal. She has to stop herself from blurting out the ultimate inappropriate question.
Oh jeez. He actually walked down here to check on her and he brought stuff to give to her. Now she felt like trash for trying to avoid him.
"I've definitely been better. I'm pretty sure I caught the plague," she jokes.
Clearly Bucky did not see the humor in the situation and if possible looked even more nervous. Maybe joking about the plague wasn't such a good idea.
"Really, it's okay. This happens all the time. I'm fine-"
The coughing fit that starts 1.2 seconds after the word "fine" leaves her mouth says otherwise. And probably does nothing to ease neighbor guy's mind. Two minutes of painful hacking later she is leaning against the door frame, head spinning and chest burning.
"Should I call someone? Your mom? Is there something I need to do? You probably shouldn't be up moving around."
"No, no, and yeah. Probably not." Kala is still a little breathless. "I just need to sit."
Setting the bag down, Bucky puts a hand on her back and slowly guides her to the couch. Once seated, he gently pushes her back onto her pile of pillows and covers her up with her blanket. Kala almost has enough energy to feel indignant about being tucked in like little kid.
He crouches down in front of her. "You sure you don't need anything while I'm here?."
Kala shakes her head. "I'm good. For real this time. I think I'll just take a nap after this," she gestures to the mask and the machine, "is done."
Bucky looks unsure, but nods. Standing up he crosses the room back to the door and then into the kitchen. Briefly the thought that maybe she shouldn't be letting him wander through the apartment crosses her mind, but I mean, it's not like the guy has done anything bad. He's only tried to be helpful so far.
She hears him rustling around in the kitchen for a moment before he comes back into a view. There's a piece of paper in his hand that he places on the coffee table next to her apple juice. She glances at the paper, and then back up at him.
"It's my number. And Steve's too, just in case. Call if you need anything, kid."
He takes his leave after that, shutting the door behind him. She hears his soft footsteps padding down the hall.
Kala's not sure if she'll ever feel comfortable enough to take him up on his offer.
But it still makes her smile.
Hours later, the sun is setting and Kala has migrated to her room. Aunt Latrice kicked her off the couch as soon as she got home, saying that she wasn't in the mood to see her face tonight.
Aunt Latrice isn't really in the mood to see her face any night, but whatever.
She's lying there, almost asleep, when a loud yell startles her awake.
"Who put all these damn strawberries in here!?"
Oh my god. Oh. My. God.
And Kala can't help it. She busts out laughing.
So that's what was in the bag.
A few apartments over, Bucky Barnes is also lying in bed when his phone dings.
Reaching over he grabs it off the night stand and clicks on the new message.
This is a ridiculous amount of strawberries. What am I supposed to do with all of them? Come on, dude!
He can't contain his laughter either.