Bucky Barnes woke up to a cold, wet nose in his ear and a pressing weight on his bladder. "Mmph," he mumbled, pushing half-heartedly at the muzzle, hoping for a few more blessed minutes of sleep. Instead, he heard a pitiful whine, then the nose burrowed under his chin.
"M'kay, okay." He opened bleary blue eyes to stare into the deep brown ones of his Lab/Retriever mix, Cap, who gave him a friendly lick across the cheek. "I can take a hint."
He got a sharp bark in reply, and absent-mindedly scratched Cap behind the ears. "Don't suppose you're hiding any Advil, are you, baby girl?" Already, he could feel the beginning of an epic headache hovering behind his eyes like a vulture circling its prey. He blamed Morita. Or maybe Clint. Or maybe that last bar they'd hit the night before, with too many shots and not nearly enough water.
When he stumbled out of the bathroom and down the hall, after taking a much needed piss and brushing the fungus off his teeth, he found Morita fast asleep on his large sectional sofa. The other man was stripped to his boxers, comfortably sprawled out, and snoring loud enough to wake the dead. Winter, Bucky's Chow/Black Lab mix, was curled up at his feet, snoring almost as loudly. Bucky envied them the sleep they were getting.
The heavenly smell of freshly brewed coffee drew him into the kitchen, Cap enthusiastically nipping at his heels the way she always did. Clint was at the stove, dressed in a pair of cut-offs and nothing else, his flyaway blond hair pulled off his face by a bright purple headband. He was mixing some sort of egg and veggie concoction into a bowl while butter sizzled merrily in a frying pan. He looked remarkably awake and aware for someone who'd not only played a gig last night, but had drank pretty much everyone under the table.
Fucking musicians, man. Bucky was positive they all had some sort of super livers or iron constitutions or some superior genetic coding.
"Coffee's ready, babycakes," Clint said, without looking up from his task. Musicians were also saints.
Bucky made a beeline for his favorite NASA mug. "I would totally marry you if the courthouses were open today."
Clint just laughed. "What makes you think I'd have you when I've got Wanda?"
"Once she realizes you're way beneath her pay grade, she'll trade up for someone better –"
"– you mean, like she did you?"
Bucky punched Clint on the shoulder, but it lacked its usual sting. It was too early for serious physical activity. "Hey, I did you a favor, introducing you two."
"That you did," Clint agreed.
After the first few, life-affirming sips, Bucky felt somewhat human enough to scrounge through his cabinets for the bottle of Advil. He washed four down with another hit of coffee, then tied his own messy mop of dark-brown hair back into a quick manbun. "Hey, wasn't Sam with us last night?"
"Yeah, he took a shower and bailed already." Clint poured the mixture onto the pan, spatula at the ready. "He and Natasha have some early appointment with, I dunno, the wedding coordinator or something. I wasn't paying much attention."
Bucky winced. "Lucky Sam. Sounds fun."
"He is getting Nat out of the deal," Clint argued amiably and, well, he had a point.
Cap gave another pitiful whine and looked up at Bucky with soulful eyes. "I think that's my cue," Bucky said.
Clint tossed him Cap's leash and body collar. "Breakfast'll be ready when you get back. We'll let Morita take care of Winter."
"Good plan." Bucky poured his coffee into a takeout mug and snapped both collar and leash on Cap. Instantly, she started tugging him towards the door. Bucky bussed a quick kiss to Clint's cheek as he walked past. "You would make a great wife, by the way, sweetcheeks."
Clint preened and gave a flirtatious wink. "Maybe I'm just holding out for someone to treat me like the princess I am."
"Awww, you know I'd treat you right."
"Damn right you would!" Clint called after him.
The morning was crisp, cool, carried the first faint tinges that fall might be on the way at some point soon. Bucky looked around while Cap did her business, admiring the way the mountains rose around him like a protective shield. The first faint rays of sunlight were peeking from behind the treetops, casting the valley below in prisms of gold. He would always be a New Yorker at heart, but there were some definite advantages to living in L.A., and a view like this was a big one.
"Morning, Bucky, how's it going?"
Bucky raised his mug in greeting as Thor and his two enthusiastic mutts came trotting towards him. Much like his dogs, Thor was a big, friendly sort, with the body of a fullback, but all of the good-natured energy of a barrel of kittens, and a grin that rivaled all of the stars in the sky for brilliance. He was also a certified genius scientist with degrees that Bucky couldn't even pronounce, let alone understood.
"Hey, man, 'sup?" he called back, squinting as the light hit his eyes. He should've grabbed his shades or his ballcap.
Thor let out a low whistle when he got close enough to see Bucky's face. "Looking pretty rough there, my friend." Grace and Hunter, Thor's dogs, barked at Cap in greeting, and all three settled into the serious business of sniffing each other's butts.
Bucky nodded and took another sip of his coffee. "Clint had a gig at Hotel Cafe. There may have been a few more bars after that."
"That explains the drunk text from Sam last night telling me to come hang."
"You made a good life choice by staying home," Bucky replied, and wasn't sure if he was joking. Cap finally got bored with her companions and started straining against her leash, eager to get going. Patience was not his girl's best virtue. "Clint's making breakfast, if you wanted to come up to the house. Looked like omelettes."
"I'm always up for Clint's cooking," Thor said, and tugged on Grace and Hunter's leashes to get them to move along. "I meant to ask how Eddie did on his science show and tell."
Bucky grinned, as he always did when anyone mentioned his son. "According to Pegs, it went great. He was a real hit, thanks for your help." Eddie had done the gravity-free water experiment and, by all accounts, it had gone without a hitch, and – more importantly – without water spilling everywhere. "If you've got time after breakfast to stick around for my Skype chat with him, you can ask him yourself. You know he loves talking to you."
"I enjoy his questions," Thor replied. "His enthusiasm reminds me why I love what I do."
"Well, if I'm lucky, he'll follow in your footsteps, not mine." Not that Bucky really cared what it was Eddie wanted to do for a living, as long as he was happy and healthy.
The dogs all insisted on stopping to scope out one of the neighbor's trees (probably because it smelled like the neighbor's boxer), so Thor and Bucky let them at it. "Speaking of, I've actually been meaning to talk to you," Thor said. "I have a friend that might be dropping by your shop later today or tomorrow."
"They looking to get some ink done?"
"Sort of. More of a cover up job."
Bucky nodded in sympathy. In his line of work, he'd spent more than his fair share of time correcting stupid and youthful mistakes. "One of those, huh."
"Indeed. And I know you've got a pretty big waiting list these days, but I was hoping you could at least meet with him."
Bucky shrugged. "Yeah, tell him to stop by, we'll have a chat." He was, thankfully, pretty busy, but he wasn't the sort to turn down a friend in need. And any friend of Thor's was a friend of his. "I'm sure we can arrange something, provided he's patient."
"I'll let him know," Thor said, and they were finally able to get the dogs to get moving again.
Bucky's tattoo shop – Commandos Ink – was nestled in the heart of the Melrose shopping district, between a day spa and an alternative clothing store that mostly specialized in fetish wear. He ran his place with only a few simple rules – don't blow off jobs, be professional about the actual work, be creative but listen to the clients, and have a little fun with it, because, fuck, body art should be fun. He ran a full crew, with five other artists, and Tony, who pretty much ran the piercing side of the business.
Tony and Sam, who co-managed the place, had already opened shop by the time Bucky and Clint rolled in. They'd left Morita snoring on the couch – it was his day off, anyway, and Bucky knew better than to try to wake him up when he was sleeping one off.
Bucky settled into one of the comfy chairs in the lobby area with his sketchpad. He didn't have anything until his first consult at eleven – a vet looking to potentially cover up some trauma scars – so his morning was free to do a little creative freehand. Sam and Tony were sitting comfortably at their respective stations, Tony with a mug of his favorite tea (some herbal matte thing that smelled like socks and tasted a little like pot), and Sam drinking some bright green smoothie concoction. The bluesy guitar of Gary Clark Jr. was playing through the speakers, which meant Sam had picked the music.
"How did the thing with the wedding planner go this morning?" Bucky asked Sam, after everyone had gotten settled.
"Man, I don't even know what the hell. We're picking out napkins and napkin rings." Sam sounded completely befuddled, a frown marring his handsome face. "Who cares what sort of napkins we have for the reception?"
"I guess someone does since there's a billion dollar industry devoted to weddings." Clint cuffed Sam across the back of the head as he made his way towards the coffee pot along the far wall. When he wasn't too busy being a budding rock god, he ran the head shop – Smoker's Paradise – that rented space at one end of the tattoo shop.
"Huh, I didn't figure Nat as the bridezilla type," Bucky mused.
"Every woman is the bridezilla type, given enough time and stress from over-bearing family members," Tony said, with a sage nod. "It's a sad byproduct of our capitalistic society as a whole that we've commercialized something meant to be a spiritual bond."
Tony, in addition to working at Bucky's shop, was also heavily involved in politics, and spent a large amount of his free time discoursing with various right-wing bloggers about their misguided philosophies, as well as going to political rallies and marches with his girlfriend, Pepper. Bucky was sure both of them were on some sort of NSA watch list or ten.
Clint held up a finger. "Wait, I thought last week you were saying that marriage started as a means to legally prevent women from owning their own land."
"That was last week."
Sam jerked a thumb in Tony's direction. "Nat's not even the problem. It's her mother and mine and my sister. They're driving me nuts and dragging Nat into it. Always calling and emailing and going over notes and, I mean, it's a wedding. Why can't we just show up in front of a preacher and say our vows, and have a keg party with some steaks on the grill after?"
"Because you're not marrying a guy?" Clint suggested, leaning against the counter.
"I don't think every woman wants a big wedding, Clint," Bucky said. "You remember when Becca got married – she threw a beach party and showed up barefoot and in a sundress."
"And looked stunning in it, too," Sam replied. "Maybe I should've married your sister."
"Yeah, no, that's just...no." Bucky shook his head. "I love you like a bro, bro, but you'd never survive a New York winter."
"You don't think she'd've moved out here for me?"
"Not in a billion years." Bucky loved his family to death, but they were New York down to their bones. He couldn't imagine his mom or pops or sister living on the beach with a tan. If Eddie's birth couldn't convince them to move west of the Hudson, nothing would.
"Besides," Clint said, "Nat would kill you if you dumped her, and I'd be morally obligated to help her bury your body."
"Not to mention, she's called dibs on the group if you guys ever broke up, which means I'd have to fire you, and I really don't wanna do that," Bucky added.
Tony saluted Sam with his mug. "Just ride it out, big guy. Let your moms have the wedding – you guys get the rest of your lives."
"Look at you, being all wise and shit," Sam marveled, raising his own cup in response. "Someone note the date."
"Ha, that was so clever except in all the ways it wasn't," Tony replied, just as the front bell jingled, and Sharon and Wanda walked into the shop.
"Hey boss," Sharon said to Bucky, and nodded to the others. "Boys."
"Ladies," Bucky said, as Clint walked over to wrap Wanda in a hug.
Wanda smacked his arm when she pulled back, but she was smiling as she did it. "We're at work, Clint. Try to be professional."
"Yeah, no canoodling in front of the boss." Not that Bucky gave a shit, really. He just liked giving Clint a hard time.
"Wait, weren't you the one that hooked them up?" Tony asked.
Not this again. Bucky groaned. "I wouldn't go that far..."
"You definitely introduced us," Wanda said, because she was the worst.
Tony gave him a wide grin. "Just like you definitely hooked up our soon-to-be newlyweds."
"Oh, and our fair Sharon and Morita of the soon-to-be epic hangover, can't forget them," Clint said, because he was also the worst.
"Our very own patron saint of matchmaking," Sam added, with his own grin.
Bucky had no idea why he even called these people his friends. "All of you can fuck right off a cliff."
"Alright, who knows what they've got going on today?" Sharon asked, taking pity on him, because she was awesome like that, and thankfully, the talk moved on to work.