it goes like this: the aerial corps don’t particularly like steve, but at least they take him.
steve spends the first half of 1942 trying to prove that he’s as good as anyone else, and the second half slowly realizing that it doesn’t matter; no one cares, because no one thinks a dragon would ever choose him.
some days, steve thinks maybe they’re right.
he keeps to it anyway, does the trigonometry exercises and throws himself into life in the covert. he learns how to patch up a harness when everything’s rationed, discovers the spot between a dragon’s eyes that makes one shiver in pleasure when scratched. he tends the eggs on rotation, and sometimes in between; he likes it, and the eggs are easier to talk to than people.
the ssr names their dragons after presidents, ever since their first dragonet crawled out of its shell and captain bradley stammered “george washington”, the first name to come to mind. the one due to hatch in ‘43 is supposed to be named james buchanan, but steve can’t quite reconcile a stiff name like that with the fight and fire of a dragon; he takes to calling it bucky.
the egg hatches in the middle of the night. they hurriedly line up the bleary-eyed candidates around the egg, and the last of them slides into place just before egg cracks, jaggedly across the top. steve stands there, heart pounding; the dragon is beautiful, its eyes large and bright, and it swivels its head around impatiently until it finds steve.
steve doesn’t quite believe it until the dragon is nudging firmly at his shins. “steve,” he says. “i’m hungry.”
the brass have a hard time of it, and spend the first few days trying to convince him to change his mind. bucky won’t have any of it.
“steve’s mine,” he tells them, bristling, “you can’t have him,” and at one point threatens to bite a colonel’s head off.
(”you wouldn’t, really,” steve says, stroking his ruffled scales, and bucky mutters, “sure i would,” into his flank.)
so steve becomes a captain; and then he goes off to war.