Chapter 3.7 || Might well be the Aristocats
They make their way up to the first floor in silence, at least Alexander is smart enough not to pick an apartment for which he has to go up seemingly endless stairs. Alexander offers to carry the third bag for Steve, but Steve declines with a teasing:
“So you can go and act tough, carrying all the groceries? No thanks.” Alexander actually laughs at that, and when they actually arrive at the first floor, Vanessa is already waiting in the doorway. At first she’s got her arms crossed, but when she sees Steve she uncrosses them and actually smiles at him.
“Found this guy in the supermarket, staring at the coffee like he’d just lost his dearest little puppy, so I got him for you,” Alexander says teasingly. “I can probably exchange him for another one, if you don’t like him. Maybe with one of James’s brothers, he’s got plenty of them. Don’t think he’d mind having this particular this guy either.” Alexander pokes Steve in the shoulder and then just barks a short but loud laugh. Vanessa has a sort of ‘Oh, God, someone stop him’ look about her.
“Sorry, brother, you know what it is like. No returns. I’ve tried that with you, didn’t work,” Steve replies as he raises his eyebrows, daring Alexander to reply to that. This is probably the most at ease that Steve has seen Alexander outside of the family. Vanessa makes way so they can pass without spilling groceries all over the living room and hallway.
Two little goldfish swim towards the edge of their bowl at the sudden movement in the living room, but soon lose interest in the newcomers. Alexander puts his bags of groceries down on the kitchen table, and instructs Steve to do the same. Vanessa starts unpacking groceries and frowns at the two bags of coffee, but when Alexander takes the second bag of coffee and puts it aside for Steve, she seems to understand.
“I hope Alexander didn’t actually force you to come along,” she says to Steve as she moves the eggs towards their rightful spot in the fridge. Steve’s already moving to help them, grabs the bag of flour, but she stops him. “No, you don’t have to. Go sit, you’re a guest.” So, Steve just takes a seat in one of the kitchen chairs and watches Vanessa and Alexander move around each other in the small kitchen, barely managing not to knock into each other.
“No, he didn’t, he replies. “I kind of invited myself, actually. Couldn’t leave this guy to carry all those groceries himself. I hope you don’t mind. Can’t stay very long though.” Alexander reaches past Vanessa to put away the bag of lettuce, Vanessa gently rests her hand on his shoulder. It is almost like she doesn’t even notice, but they both smile a little when they do. She has to reach up because Alexander is a good four inches taller than Vanessa is. God, they’re so settled already. Vanessa turns to look at Steve.
“No, of course I don’t mind! Thank you, both in name of the groceries and for myself. Didn’t want squashed eggs now, did we?” Vanessa side-eyes Alexander. “Aren’t you even going to offer your brother something to drink?” But the look Alexander gives Vanessa says enough.
“You can get water, Steve. Or juice. No coffee for you.” Steve pouts. "And no pouting! I'm not moving you to the ER because you overdosed on caffeine!” Steve pouts all the same.
“Bucky would let me have coffee,” he says. “Come on, I didn’t drink that much coffee. I just didn’t sleep yet.” Alexander shakes his head in defiance.
“Steve,” he sighs. “James wouldn’t have to deal with our mother trying to kill him for allowing that to happen. James dragged you into the damn war. I don’t care what he’d let you do. Now, what’s it gonna be.” Vanessa looks at Alexander thoughtfully for a minute, then moves towards one of the kitchen cabinets. Alexander continues to unpack groceries, but he keeps an eye on Steve all the same. Wary. Like he isn’t sure just what Steve will do. Vanessa emerges from one of the kitchen cabinets, with a package of instant, decaffeinated coffee in hand.
“This we can do,” she offers. “It isn’t that bad, I used to drink it a lot. Normal coffee is better, of course. But... It’s something.”
“You don’t have to go through the bother,” Steve starts to say automatically. “I can just as well drink juice or something...” But Vanessa has already turned on the water boiler.
“Don’t you worry about it,” she replies. “You’ll only help me empty it. I’m the only one here who drinks it. Me, and my grandmother but she doesn’t come by very often. So you’ll do me a favor.” And when she says it like that, Steve will gladly agree.
“If you insist,” he says and then just sits and watches, as they unpack the rest of the groceries, still so weirdly in sync. Sure, the caffeine-less coffee is not actual coffee, but it goes down well, once Steve lets it cool down. One attempt at burning his tongue is enough, for one day. And it really does hurt, when he burns his tongue. He won’t be able to actually taste it, for a bit, but that is okay.
“You know, I’ve heard a lot about you, from Alexander,” Steve says, expressly eying Alexander, who looks like he just might be wondering exactly what he’s told Steve. “Gotta say, I didn’t actually believe he’d found someone that can match him. But he obviously has.” Vanessa smiles warmly. Like this is the last thing she’d been expecting, but that she’s very happy with it. She grabs her own cup of instant coffee and takes a seat with Steve.
“Ain’t easy, matching this guy,” Vanessa replies. “But I try. Gets especially difficult when he brings home stray kittens and wants to take care of all of them.” Steve stares at his brother suspiciously, as Alexander pours himself a cup of steaming coffee. Steve sniffs the air appreciatively. Damn it, that smells good.
“All of them?” he asks and sips his own ‘coffee’. “... Alexander?” Alexander discards the shopping bags and takes a seat opposite Steve, cup in hand.
“There were three of them!” Alexander protests. “I couldn’t just take one little kitten, have it miss its little brothers and sisters, and leave the other two in the ‘Kittens. Four weeks old, mixed breed. Free’ cardboard box someone left outside the hospital now, could I? I am not that cruel!” Alexander turns his attention towards Vanessa. “Besides, our landlord didn’t make it much of an issue. He just warned us that if he ran into any trouble with the neighbors, we’d need to find a new home for them. They are very well behaved little kittens. Haven't made a problem yet.” Steve unwillingly looks around the apartment, as if a trio of little troublemakers wouldn’t have caught his attention earlier.
“They’re at the vet’s,” Vanessa explains. “My brother took them for a routine checkup. Trust me, they would be climbing all over you if they knew you were here. Especially Oscar. He’d climb up in your lap and not let you leave ever again.”
“How are they doing?” he asks. “Four weeks… That’s very early to leave their mother.”
“They had some issues with worms at first, but after medication, things have gotten better,” Vanessa says, “We had to keep them with different colored collars, and had a whole schedule on the corkboard, because we kept forgetting which one had already been given its medication. And well, which one was which.” Steve’s gaze wanders over to one of the walls, at all he pictures that have been put up. There’s a lot of familiar faces, a picture of Joe Rogers, with a baby Alexander in his arms next to it Alexander’s med school graduation picture. These two are surrounded by pictures of Vanessa’s family. “They’re little troublemakers. The three of them.” She sounds fond. Alexander may have brought them home without Vanessa’s consent, but she seems to like them just as much as Alexander does, now.
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