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The Day Before

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James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes lay sprawled on the couch in the living room of the apartment he shared with Steve Rogers, lost in thought and nursing a beer. He heard movement, from the bedroom, and sat up just as Elizabeth Goins came out. Bucky gave her a wry smile.

"How'd it go, Liz?"

"The same as usual," She smiled. "All he wants to do is talk. Well, I did all the talking, and he did this." Elizabeth pulled a piece of paper out of her handbag and unfolded it for Bucky to see. It was a charcoal sketch of Elizabeth lying naked on the bed.

"He's hopeless," Bucky snorted and slapped his knee.

Elizabeth picked up the pack of Lucky Strikes on the end table and lit one of the cigarettes.

"He's really good," She said between puffs.

"I know. Steve's trying to get a job in one a them big advertising firms. He’ll take anything to start, even a spot in the mail room, but you know how it is...”

“They give him that, ‘times are tough’ line?’

“Yeah, times are tough ... and you either had to go to the right school, or else know the right people, and we ... well, we ain't got either going for us."

"'We,' you two are quite the pair," Elizabeth snickered.

"Hey now! I pay you good money, Liz. No lip."

"Oh, calm yourself. You know I don't mean nothing by it. We're from the same neighborhood, you guys are family. I'm glad you look after him. Everybody loves little Stevie. He's a good Joe."

"Yeah, he is."

"Its just - and don't get me wrong, I appreciate the business - but you're spending money you don't need to spend, Bucky. He ain't interested and you never needed to pay for it."

"I'm just trying to do a solid for my pal. What kinda a guy would I be if I can't get my best friend laid, once in a while."

"He ain't that kinda mook, and you knows it," Elizabeth grinned. "He's a good boy, he always has been. The only person he's interested in is you."

Bucky gave a little start and narrowed his eyes at her.

"You know what I mean,” Elizabeth sighed. “He looks up to you,"

"Yeah," Bucky exhaled with relief. It was dodgy to bring girls back here to share, or try to share with Steve, especially one that knew them both. He got a feeling in the pit of his stomach when he thought of Steve and being close to him. That feeling that lived right next to panic.

"But you are..."

"Am what?" He shook his head to clear the thought.

"That kinda mook."

"Oh, yeah." Bucky flashed his big movie star smile.

"So ... when do you ship out?"

"Day after tomorrow," his face twisted.

"You told him yet?"

"Nah, haven't found the nerve." Bucky watched Elizabeth put on her heels. He noticed the line of her stockings, up the back of one leg, was smudged. Smudged? "Nice stockings, there, Liz."

"Ain't you heard?" Elizabeth twisted her leg around showing off a shapely calf. "It's all the rage, we girls gave up our silk stockings to the war effort. Now to make it look like we still have 'em, y'just draw a line up the back of your leg."

"Well, if that don't beat all."

"Talk to your friend, James," Elizabeth said with authority, and leaned down to give him a kiss on the cheek. "See you around," she said flatly.

"So long, Liz," Bucky replied and got up to follow her to the door. It was a goodbye, and they both knew it. Impulsively Elizabeth kissed him again,

"I never could resist a soldier. You take care of yourself," she choked.

"Hey, if you ... when you see Steve on the street..."

"Yeah?"

"Just, keep an eye out for him."

"You got it handsome," Elizabeth smiled and shut the door behind her.

Bucky locked the door, and sighed as he looked around the room. He'd miss this place, run down and ramshackle as it was.

It had been Steve’s mother’s place. Bucky had run here all too often for refuge from his own home. When Steve’s mother had died, far too soon, he came over here and just never left. The landlord never cared as long as he got his rent, and one way or another, he and Steve had always managed to scrounge that together.

Even if he was living on the base now, this was their place, his and Steve's. It would always be their home.

He went to his duffel bag for the third time, and checked to make sure everything was in it. In the outside pocket he found the pictures they’d taken from that photo booth in the city, down on Broadway. They spent too much time in the city, he thought, and then chuckled, looking at their stupid grins. It was eight photos for twenty-five cents, he still couldn’t believe they had spent that much money. He had four of the photos, Steve had the other four.

Bucky resolved to send half his pay home to Steve, so he could use it to keep a roof over his head. He had already talked to a few of the guys, it was nothing to wire your pay home, unless you were right on the front line. There was also the YMCA and Salvation Army, they would help you get money home too. Steve would be fine, he told himself. I’ll make sure of it.

Steve had tried to find work, but it had been hard for him. Bucky had found it easy of course, there was always manual labor for men willing to do it. It was not that Steve Rogers wasn’t willing, but bosses took one look at him and passed. Or worse, they laughed right out loud. The laughing was the worst. Bucky just wanted to punch them when they laughed at Steve. His pal was worth more than a dozen of any of them.

Some of the work Bucky found was even government sponsored, jobs created just to put people to work, and to keep public morale up. At one site on Staten Island they would dig holes in the morning, only to have another crew come in that night and fill them in again. It was stupid, hard work, but they got paid for it, and no one complained.

He folded up the photos and put them back into his duffel bag. Tomorrow night, he would tell Steve, tomorrow night. Bucky had to report back to base, but he could go find Steve tomorrow night. They always went to the nickel picture show at the Odeon in Times Square on Tuesdays. Maybe they could take the E train and go see the World’s Fair in Flushing. Bucky knew a couple of girls who might be interested in going with them.

He turned out the lamp and crept through their railroad apartment back to the single bedroom and the single bed. Bucky slowly opened the door, relieved to hear Steve’s heavy breathing. He’s asleep. Good. He slowly lay down on the mattress, careful not disturb Steve.

Lying flat on his back, he stared up at the ceiling. His eyes traced the cracks in the plaster that he knew so well.

Steve grunted and flopped over, instinctively nuzzling up against Bucky’s broad chest. James Buchanan Barnes sighed and ran a hand through Steve’s blond hair. What am I gonna do without you?

He quietly resolved to get up right then and leave. That way there would be no awkwardness in the morning. That was how they worked it, the agreement unspoken between them that there were no goodbyes. When Bucky had left for basic training eight weeks ago, he’d done the same thing: he’d left quietly in the morning before Steve woke up.

That was the plan. No goodbyes. Just get up and leave. But as he lay there in his bed, with one hand on Steve’s back, he found it impossible to move. Just get up and leave. Then Steve shifted against him again and started lightly snoring. Bucky had fallen asleep to those soft snores for years now.

This was home, Steve was his home.

Well, damn.

Bucky Barnes fell into a light sleep.