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The Barnes Exotic Animal Rescue (for Magical Creatures)

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Steve Rogers loves fall weather, so when the temperature drops, he stops by his favorite Brooklyn coffee shop. It's a local place, not a chain, and the coffee is good. The coffee of the day is pecan praline, and he gets a big cup and just stands for a minute outside the shop, breathing in the scent of it, the steam from his cup fogging the cold air.

He's tired, but not exhausted; the Avengers were on a tough mission last week, but they've been back for a few days, long enough for him to sleep for about twelve hours straight and to eat his weight in takeout. Long enough for him to want to stretch his legs with everyone else, to want to interact with people whose lives aren't entirely about fighting, the way his seems to be.

So he gets his coffee and goes for a stroll, just taking in the people around him living their lives, mostly oblivious to him walking through them in his leather jacket and baseball cap, cradling his paper cup between his hands. He's walked down this street a hundred times in just this way, so he doesn't know what it is that catches his attention, at first; he stops walking abruptly and raises his hands in apology, barely holding onto his coffee, when someone bumps into him.

"Tourists," the woman hisses, and stalks away.

Steve stares indignantly after her, but is at least aware enough to shuffle off to the side of the sidewalk, and then he hears it again, the thing that caught his attention in the first place.

It sounds like barking, sort of; like a very big, very hoarse dog. The sound seems to be coming from the alley half a block from the coffee shop, and Steve finds himself following it almost helplessly, without thought. The alley dead-ends, but it's got some apartments in it, a bookstore, and—at the very end, where the street terminates into something that's almost a courtyard—a storefront with a large, faded, hand-painted sign that reads BARNES, and then in slightly newer lettering, Exotic Animal Rescue

The hoarse barking echoes, louder in the alley, and Steve pushes open the door. A bell over the door rings.

All that's inside is a desk, empty of anyone manning it. There's the smoky smell of incense in the air, but very little in the way of the animal odor that Steve expected.

The hoarse barking sounds again from the doorway off to the right, and Steve frowns. That dog sounds deeply unwell. He could wait for someone to come out of the door, or he could follow the sounds.

Steve's never been one to wait when he could take direct action, so he swings the door open and starts looking for the source of the barking. Not five seconds later, another door further along the corridor bursts open in a flurry of feathers and fur, a voice says, "Oh, god, Percy, no!" and something very fast and very pointy hits Steve square in the chest.

He falls back and raises his hands above his face, his coffee cup falling somewhere behind him, and the animal above him barks the hoarse sound he tried to follow.

"Fuck!" someone says, and the animal rears back. The buckle of a collar gleams, and he can see the suggestion of a leash being tugged back. "Are you okay?"

"I think so," Steve says, staring at the water-stained popcorn ceiling above him. "Maybe?" He makes an effort and sits up.

Then he has to do a double take, or at the very least, a suspicious squint, because the sight in front of him is unbelievable at the very least.

The animal—the creature—that knocked him over is—is—

It's half-covered in fur, and half in feathers, and it's the size of a pony, and it has wings and a terribly wicked beak, and it should look wrong , but it doesn't. Steve would have to say it looks like a gryphon, only that would be impossible. But he doesn’t know what else he could possibly call it.

"Look, I'm so sorry about Percy. He didn't bite you, did he? Or—oh shit, his claws," says the person holding the leash. Steve forces his gaze away from the.. from Percy, and takes in the man holding his leash.

He's tall and pale and angular, a man made entirely of angles, it seems, dressed all in black and with inky hair brushing his shoulders. The only color on him that Steve can see is the pale ice-blue of his eyes, so close to gray that on any other person, they'd look colorless. His right hand is white-knuckled around the leash, and his left is silver and looks like a sculpture, and frankly Steve can't process any of this at the moment.

The man holding the leash asked him something, though.

"I'm... okay? He didn't hurt me," Steve manages to say from his very cool position of sprawled on his ass on the linoleum.

"Thank the fates," the man says.

"Um," Steve says. "What is he?"

"Oh," the man says, in tones of faint surprise, as if he didn't have some kind of impossible creature on a lead. "He's a gryphon."

Percy turns his dinosaur-orange eyes on Steve and blinks. Steve is affronted to notice that his eyelids go from bottom to top when he closes his eyes rather than the other way around.

"That's impossible," Steve says.

"Oh," the man says again, in a completely different tone of voice. "You. You're not? This is surprising?"

Steve considers all of these questions for a long moment. "Yes?" he offers at the end of his consideration.

The man blows out a breath. It's a surprisingly prosaic noise. "Let's start over," he decides. "I'm Bucky." He wraps Percy's leash around his left hand, leans down, and holds out his right. Steve takes it. It's warm and calloused, the skin a little rough. "Bucky Barnes." He tugs at Steve's hand and Steve lets himself be helped to his feet.

"Steve Rogers," Steve says. "What the fuck?"

Bucky laughs.  

Steve has to make himself let go of Bucky's hand after what he hopes is a normal amount of time, not a creeper amount of time. Bucky's laugh is really nice. He thinks he'd like to hear it again. But first, there's the matter of the gryphon.

"I'm sorry," Bucky says. His eyes are still terribly amused. "No one's meant to be able to come through the door who isn't already aware of things like gryphons."

"Well, I don't fall into that category." Steve wipes his hands on his jeans to still their faint adrenaline tremor and then turns to look behind him. "I'm sorry. I spilled my coffee on your floor."

Bucky looks behind him. "I'm sorry. I'm pretty sure Percy spilled your coffee, not you. I'll buy you another one if you want."

"At least let me help clean it up," Steve says and then wonders at a world where he can see a fucking gryphon and something this banal can come out of his mouth. "And maybe you can explain to me how I'm looking at a gryphon."

"Wellllllll," Bucky says, "we really are an exotic animal rescue. Just, like, really exotic animals."

Steve stares at him.

"Come on." Bucky gives Percy's leash a little tug. "Let's put this guy up and I'll show you the rest of the menagerie.

🦄

Bucky wasn't kidding when he said menagerie. The rooms he leads Steve through would not be out of place at the sort of high-end spot that calls itself a pet resort. Instead of kennels, there are a series of large rooms and what Steve can only think of as habitats. It's immediately clear that this place is much bigger than it looks from outside.

But as interesting as the habitats are, it's their inhabitants that leave Steve with his mouth hanging open. There are tiny dragons, the length of his forearm, flying around a closed room, breathing tiny, almost colorless tongues of flame that smell strongly of incense. There are jackalopes, an extremely affectionate hellhound with glowing red eyes and strings of slaver and a rapidly-wagging tail; there's a phouka shaped like a horse, except for the eyes, cooling its forelegs in a pool of water.

"This can't be real," Steve says helplessly. "How did I not know?" How is it possible that all of this just exists out in the world and he has been completely, utterly ignorant of it all?

"You're not supposed to know," Bucky says, and shoots Steve a smile. "But you're also not supposed to be able to stumble over this accidentally, so I don't know how you ended up here." He chews on his lip and Steve finds himself distracted for an entirely different reason. The rest of him is so pale, but his lips are very red.

"But," Bucky says, turning back to Steve, his eyes bright. One of the tiny dragons has flown down to his shoulder and coiled itself around his neck. It's adorable. "There might be a way we could find out."

"Oh?" Steve says.

"Follow me," Bucky says, and dragon around his neck or not, there's nothing Steve wants to do more.

They walk through a large room that look like a deep forest, with what sounds like a creek somewhere in the distance, and when Steve starts to ask a question, Bucky hushes him, looking at the foliage around them.

"What's out there?" Steve asks, and he can't tell if the look Bucky shoots him in reply is nervous or knowing.

Bucky taps his lips with one finger in the universal gesture for be quiet , and neither of them makes a sound until they've gotten through the habitat.

"Sorry," Bucky says once the door is closed behind them. He and the dragon around his neck both visibly relax. Steve doesn’t hear the door latch, and wonders if he should say something, but this is Bucky’s place; he knows what he’s doing. "That's where the unicorn lives. You don't want to fuck with that."

"Okay," Steve says, not sure if Bucky is joking or what.

"Sorry for shushing you," Bucky says. "It's just that it's a young unicorn and they can be kind of—" He wiggles his hands, possibly trying to convey that unicorns don't make great airplanes. Steve squints at him. "—aggressive," Bucky decides, finally. "Stabby. They settle down a lot as they get older."

Steve smiles; that's not unlike himself, to be honest, although his youth had been less stabby and more punchy.

"Anyway." Bucky shoots a smile over his shoulder and starts walking again. Steve follows him into what looks like a very old-school library, complete with leather-bound books, a rack full of rolled-up parchment scrolls, and a massive wooden desk, on which are a planner, a cup full of pens next to an empty crystal pen stand, a powered-down laptop, a binder full of print outs, and several romance novels. The dragon climbs down Bucky's arm and up onto the pen stand and makes himself at home. He looks up at Steve and makes a little trilling noise. Steve feels dreadfully charmed by the noise and by the tiny dragon.

"Is he okay on your desk?" Steve asks.

"Oh, sure," Bucky says. He strolls over to the bookshelf and starts flipping through some of the volumes. "Iggy's in here all the time. He knows what's up." Bucky pulls down a slender, red-bound book and walks over to the desk, pulls open a drawer and rummages through it.

"He knows....what's up," Steve says slowly.

"Yes." Bucky pulls out a small leather case with a little noise of triumph. Inside it is what appears to be a spectacularly ugly pair of reading glasses. He unfolds them and puts them on, and Steve is even more charmed by Bucky in a pair of glasses than he was by Iggy the pocket dragon crooning at him. But he can't help but notice—

"Um. Your glasses. Are they supposed to be glowing?" Steve has to ask.

Bucky grins, a wide, uncomplicatedly happy expression that makes a little strand of warmth uncurl in Steve's chest. "Not everyone would be able to see that," he tells Steve. He looks through the glasses at Steve's chest, apparently, and Steve has the strange impulse to shield himself with his hands like Bucky is seeing into him somehow, which is clearly impossible. Of course, he'd have said dragons were impossible an hour ago. "But yes. Iggy knows what's up because he's my familiar. He's my familiar because I'm a witch. And you, my friend, are absolutely soaked through with magic."

"Me?" Steve shakes his head, not exactly denying, just very, very confused. "But I've never cast a spell or whatever in my life. I'm not a witch."

"I never said you were," Bucky says. "I don't think you can cast a spell—but I think a spell has been cast on you."

"That's ludicrous," Steve says, but even as he says it it feels wrong. He slept seven decades and woke up. He works with an alien from another planet, or possibly a god. There are more things on heaven and earth, et cetera, et cetera. "Wouldn't I have noticed?"

"Maybe," Bucky says. "Maybe not. Was there ever a time in your life when something happened that was so crazy, so impossible, it feels like it must have been magic?"

"Yes," Steve says softly. "But it was science."

"Are you certain?" Bucky pats the book that he pulled down from the bookshelf. "I can help you figure it out, if you want." Steve thinks about it. What would it mean if somehow the serum were magic instead of science? How would it change what he did with his body, with the gifts he has been given?

"I don't need to know," he says. "The effects are the same either way."

"If that's what you want," Bucky says. "Sometimes I think it helps to have an explanation for things. For how you ended up here." He waves a hand at Iggy. "For how you can see this."

Steve thinks about it, but even he isn't sure what he's going to say. As it turns out, he doesn't say anything, because as soon as he draws breath to speak, the door bursts open.

"Oh shit," Bucky says as an animal runs through the doorway. Steve has no trouble identifying it even though he's never seen anything like it before.

It's about the same size as a large dog, and has some dog-like features: the white fur, the pointing muzzle, the sharp teeth. But its head is wider and broader, the eyes bigger, rolling up, white around the edges. And then of course, there's the big fuck off horn spiraling out of its forehead. That's kind of a giveaway, when he thinks about it.

Iggy hisses and flaps his tiny wings, throwing himself off the desk to hurtle through the air towards Bucky. He circles Bucky's shoulders like a tiny tugboat circling a larger ship. But unlike any naval vessel Steve's ever heard of, he's sucking in breath and trying to produce a flame. The faint smell of incense suddenly gets much stronger.

"Oh no," Bucky says. "Iggy, stop that. Get out of here, buddy."

Steve steps forward, not even sure what he's going to do, just knowing that he has to do something. The unicorn's head swivels as it turns to look at him, its nostrils flaring as it tries to catch his scent.

Then, to his surprise, it seems to relax, its head coming up so the horn isn't pointed quite so menacingly at the three of them. It takes a few stumbling steps closer to Steve.

"Bucky?" Steve says quietly. He doesn't want to panic the thing, but he also has no interest in being impaled in the gut. He'd probably heal from it, but it doesn't sound fun.

"Don't move," Bucky says, his voice just as low. He sounds a little strained, and when Steve lets his gaze flick to him, just for a second, he sees that Bucky has Iggy in his arms, not so much cradled as desperately kept from lunging away . "Let her come to you if she wants."

"What about the aggression? What about the stabbing?"

"If her ears go back and her horn lowers, then we need to be concerned, but Steve...I think she likes you. This is bonding behavior."

Steve doesn't dare take his eyes off the unicorn again; she's taking small, almost mincing steps toward him, her tail flicking back and forth, her ears forward, her nose snuffling. She looks cuter now, her eyes no longer so frantic, her teeth no longer bared. "Bonding behavior?" he whispers in as incredulous a tone as he can manage.

"Have you ever wanted a special animal friend?" Bucky says. "Because I think you're about to get one."

"I can't even keep a cat," Steve hisses. "I'm gone a lot for work."

"Okay, that's fine," Bucky says soothingly. "If that's what's happening, we can figure something out."

Steve wants to keep telling him what a terrible idea this is, but the unicorn has closed in on him and suddenly he loses his train of thought. The unicorn, close up, has a faint iridescent sheen to her fur, and her eyes aren't black, like he thought, but a very dark purple. Her horn is a delicate spiral, sharp and dangerous, but beautiful too. She walks up to him, lays her chin along his thigh, and looks him in the eye.

Steve reaches out, and buries his hand in her fur. She's the softest thing he's ever touched, and she leans into his hand, and before he knows it, he's sunk down to sit cross-legged on the floor so he can pet her better. She lays her head in his lap and he gives her a good scritch under the chin, a wave of helpless affection swamping him. She’s just a little thing, really; she was scared, and now she’s not.

And then he freezes. "Um," he says, which doesn't tell anyone anything, but is about all he can manage right now. She nudges his still hand with her nose and he obligingly gets it moving again. "So there might be a problem?"

"What's that?" Bucky says. Steve looks away from the unicorn— his unicorn, some part of him insists—and catches Bucky watching him, the corners of his mouth ticked up. Iggy is no longer struggling against him, but back on Bucky's shoulder with his tail wrapped tight around his neck, watching the unicorn through narrowed eyes.

"Um, everyone says that..." Steve can feel himself flushing, his cheeks heating up, and he curses his pale skin. Bucky just looks at him. "That. Unicorns have a thing for. Virgins?"

Because the thing is, Steve hasn't had a lot of sex, but he hasn't not had sex either. He's never experienced that immediate flash of attraction that people talk about, but he's found a few people that only got more and more attractive as he knew them. 

He doesn't want to explain all of that to Bucky, though; in his experience, not too many people understand it, and he just met the guy.

"Oh yeah," Bucky says. "That's a misconception, actually. Unicorns tend to like purity of heart or purity of purpose. It really doesn't have anything to do with your body or whatever you've done or not done with it."

"What does that even mean?" Steve runs his fingers along the unicorn's jaw, watching her eyelids sink until her purple eyes are mere slits.

"It means you're a good man, Steve."

Steve twists his torso so he can look at Bucky, a little shocked at the echo of words from his past. He can hear Dr. Erskine saying them like it was yesterday; and suddenly he does want to know.

"Can you still tell me when it was magic got used on me?"

"Sure," Bucky says. "Just stay there with your new friend while I get my book."

Bucky moves slowly and smoothly to his desk. The unicorn opens her eyes a little more and watches him, but lazily.

"All right," Bucky says when he's seated. "Tell me about the time it seemed too good to be possible."

Steve takes in a deep breath. He doesn't know if Bucky has clocked him as Captain America yet; sometimes people do and sometimes they don't. But he doesn't want to lie about this, because Bucky needs all the information.

"All right," he says on an exhale. "I was a lot smaller as a kid. I wanted to enlist, but I was too sickly. There was a doctor—Dr. Erskine—who—"

"Holy shit," Bucky says, loudly enough that the unicorn snorts and lifts up her head to glare at him. Steve soothes her by rubbing at her ears until she lies down again. "You're Captain America."

Steve flinches a little and the unicorn turns her head just a little to nibble on his fingertips. She has very sharp teeth, but her mouth is gentle on his hand. "I'm Steve Rogers," he says.

"Sorry," Bucky says, and he really does sound it. "I didn't mean that the way it sounds. It's just—there's been so much speculation over the years. The Erskines were well-known to be a magical family, but..."

"So you really think Dr. Erskine cast a spell on me?"

"I do think so," Bucky says slowly, "but, you know, you might have been a little magical to begin with."

"Maybe," Steve says doubtfully, letting the unicorn gnaw on his fingers.

"Well, either way, you've got a new friend." Bucky shoots him a smile. 

"I'm not sure I can keep her at AvengersTower," Steve says.

"Well." Bucky's smile gets wider. He takes off the glasses. The skin to the side of his eyes is crinkled up with merriment. It's a good look on him. "I guess you'll just have to keep coming back, then."

So Steve does.

🦄

For starters, he comes back the next day, just to convince himself it wasn't all some kind of a dream. But Bucky is still there, and so is Iggy, and so is the unicorn—his unicorn—and it's all still very real. Bucky tells him they've been calling the unicorn Almalthea, after a unicorn in a book, but that's kind of a mouthful, so Steve just calls her Thea.

"Thea's a good name," Bucky says. They're in the unicorn habitat and he's showing Steve how to groom her; how to brush her fur and mane, how to oil her horn. It's surprisingly soothing to Steve and Thea certainly seems to enjoy it. She leans into the strokes as he brushes out her silky fur, and that's when Steve learns that unicorns purr.

Bucky passes him a comb for her mane, and the light glints off his metal arm. Steve can't help his gaze lingering on it, and of course Bucky catches him.

"Go ahead," he says, and hands Steve the comb. "You can ask."

Steve hesitates, but he does want to know, and Bucky said he could. "What happened to your arm?"

"I'm sorry to say that the sewer alligators of New York are real, and they are venomous. I was helping my mom extract an infestation of them when I was eighteen, and I got bitten. It was just a little bite, so I didn't tell anyone, and the arm got infected."

"I'm sorry," Steve says, but Bucky shakes his head and smiles.

"Don't be. I was lucky—lucky enough to get an artificer to make me this one. I usually wear a glove when I go out. It could have been a lot worse."

"You're something else, Bucky," Steve says.

Bucky's smile turns wide, awfully fond for someone who's only known Steve a day. "Says the guy with the baby unicorn on his lap." 

He comes back the day after that, too, and the day after that. After a month, he accepts that he's just going to be there for a part of every day he can; it's where Thea is, and Bucky.

He meets Bucky's sister, Becca, who is also a witch, and also kind, although not as warm as Bucky—but then, no one is as warm as Bucky.

"I'm not actually a very good witch," Bucky confides one day, when Steve has been coming to the sanctuary for a few months. It’s cold outside, but Steve picked them both up a coffee at the little place on the corner, and they had apple caramel muffins, so he got some of those too. Steve glances at Bucky, but he seems cheerful as ever. Steve pauses in his task of combing out Thea's mane. She rolls a violet eye at him to get him going again. "Not like Becca is."

"You seem like a perfectly good witch to me," Steve says, because he does.

"What would you know about it?" Bucky says affectionately. "I'm good with animals, and I can handle basic spells, but Becca's really great at ritual magic. She's going to get her Masters in it."

"There are universities for magic?" Steve is startled by the thought. "Is Hogwarts real?"

"Ugh, no," Bucky says indignantly. "Don't get me started on those books. They're fun stories and all, but witches are just people, not an entire separate society. No, she's going to NYU. Theoretically she's enrolled as a grad student for Performing Arts—at least that's what it'll say on her diploma."

"What about you?" Steve asks.

"I'm really happy here," Bucky says simply. "It's the family business, but it's one that I love. You get a rogue gargoyle in Central Park, I'll come take care of it."

"Gargoyles go rogue?"

"Sure. Most of the time they're more scared than anything, but they can do a lot of damage before we calm them down."

Steve tries to envision what that might entail and fails. "How do you do that?"

"A lot of them find Gregorian chanting soothing. That, and we feed them pigeons." Steve lifts and eyebrow at that, and Bucky smiles. "It's their natural food source, Steve."

"Of course it is," Steve murmurs, and twines a ribbon through Thea's mane.

🦄

Natasha notices, of course.

"Where do you go?" she asks bluntly, one day when they're getting coffee.

Steve accidentally pours too much sugar into his drink and then frowns at her across the table. They're in a little place with outdoor tables, and he's soaking up the sun.

"I'm volunteering at an animal shelter," he says, stirring the sugar until it dissolves into his coffee.

"Interesting," she says. "They're not asking you to drum up publicity? Do some commercials?"

"No," he says. "I'm just helping with the animals."

"Are you going to bring a cat back to the Tower?" she asks.

He thinks of Thea, of how she's getting bigger, her gangly legs more muscled, her horn sharper.

"Probably not," he says.

🦄

He can't come every day, of course. He has missions with SHIELD as well as the occasional Avenging to do. He comes back from a two-week stint of fighting robots with the Avengers to find a series of texts from Bucky: silly memes and reports on Thea, a picture of Iggy wrapped around Thea's horn—how the tables have turned since the days they wouldn't go near each other—and one text that makes him stop in the middle of his apartment, still half in his uniform, and stare at the screen with a smile that makes his face ache.

Can't wait to see you when you get back.

Thea misses you.

And so do I. 

He showers and changes into civilian clothes in record time and is back out of the Tower, on his way.

He thinks, idly, or maybe not so idly, that maybe he should move closer to the Barnes Exotic Animal Rescue. He'd be closer to Thea, and Bucky, who's more than just someone he volunteers with, regardless of what he said to Nat. He's his closest friend this century, the person he talks to the most; the person he likes the best.

He gets off the subway and walks four blocks, stopping in the coffee shop by the alley to get them both a sweet drink—by now he knows that Bucky likes chai mocha best but will drink nearly any mocha if it comes down to it—and some banana muffins for him and Bucky, and a few peanut butter dog treats for Iggy and Thea, because despite both being primarily carnivores, they adore peanut butter.

The bell rings over the door as he pushes it open, but he knows by now not to wait for anyone to come answer. Instead, he walks back into the shelter, calling Bucky's name as he pushes by the harpy with the splinted wing and the quiet, dark kennel where the rat king lives.

He finds Bucky and Iggy and Thea overseeing Percy as he runs through the courtyard behind the building, which is set up with not only a stretch of green grass but an obstacle course suitable for many of the creatures that live there.

Thea senses him first; whether she smells him or sees him, he's not sure, but she bounds over and pushes against him, leaning into his legs like a dog. He staggers a little; she's gotten bigger. He runs his hands through her fur, and tells her that he's happy to see her. She stretches up to lick his face, and when she's done and he's wiping his face and laughing, Bucky is right there, watching them, smiling softly. 

"Hey," Bucky says. "I missed you."

And in that moment, Steve realizes just how much he missed Bucky too. He knew that he did, but seeing him here, smiling because he's happy to see Steve, does something to Steve's heart. It feels bigger, somehow, warm and a little melted. Steve doesn't know how he didn't notice this before.

He pushes Thea's head away just enough so that he can step around her to get to Bucky, and then he wraps his arms around him. It feels nice; it feels right. It feels like coming home.

"I missed you too," Steve says, but that doesn't seem like enough. He finds that his hands don't want to let go, that he doesn't want to step back, that he doesn't want to be away from Bucky.

"Listen," Steve says, and it's an impulse, but he really doesn't have to think about it, "do you want to do something tonight after work? We could go to dinner."

Bucky looks surprised and pleased. They spend hours together at the shelter most days, but until now Steve didn't realize that he wanted more than that. He wants much more. 

"Are you asking me on a date?" Bucky's eyes are sparkling.

"I am," Steve says. "If that's what you want it to be."

"Yeah," Bucky says. "I really do."

Steve's always known that, objectively, Bucky is a handsome man. But right now, with his eyes bright and an excited dragon wrapped around his neck, he's never looked better to Steve. Suddenly, it's the easiest thing in the world to take his hand and lean forward, over the unicorn still butting her jaw against his hip, and press a kiss to Bucky's mouth. His lips are soft, the stubble of his jaw a little scratchy, and it's quick and chaste, but Steve doesn't remember anything ever feeling so right. It's even easier to lift a hand and cup it against Bucky's cheek, a gentle touch, not so much holding him in place as confirming that this moment is real. Bucky leans into the touch of Steve's fingertips against his skin—

—or he does until Thea gets impatient and shoves between them.

"All right, all right," Steve says to her. "You've made your point."

Bucky grins at Steve. "I liked the point you were making. I might need you to make it again later."

"I think I can handle that," Steve says.

🦄

Later, after they've eaten dinner and are walking back to the subway stop, holding hands, Bucky says, "I'm just curious. What made you ask me out now?" He ducks his head, then adds, quietly, "I, um. I've liked you for a while, but I didn't think you were interested."

Steve thinks about how to say it. He curls his fingers through Bucky's. "I've thought of you as my best friend for a while now. But today, when I saw you...it just hit me that I want more of you in my life. However much you want to give me."

Bucky stops dead on the sidewalk, two blocks from the subway station, and kisses Steve on the mouth, uncaring of the people grumbling and going around them.

"Fucking tourists," someone hisses, and Steve smiles against Bucky's mouth.

"I want more of you too," Bucky says, tugging at his hand as they fall back into the pedestrian traffic.

🦄

And as time goes on, they do get more of each other: as they rehab a thunderbird with a broken wing.

After Sokovia, when Steve brings a sad, heartbroken witch named Wanda to the shelter to give her something to do.

As Steve moves out of Avengers Tower into the apartment above the shelter—Bucky's apartment.

As Thea gets bigger and and escapes the shelter to take an impromptu tour of Central Park, giving the more out-there sort of tabloids a field day.

As Becca graduates NYU, and Steve retires from the Avengers to help Bucky more.

That time Thanos comes to Earth and Steve rides into battle on a unicorn, and Bucky and Wanda combine their powers, and the Avengers beat Thanos before he can complete whatever his plan was.

When Steve retires from the Avengers again.

When Steve and Bucky get married.

As they build a life together.