A boy is to be born.
The Pattern flows without cease in all dimensions, and it is only the sharp eyes of its watchers that catch the snarl of possibility wrinkling its threads.
A boy is to be born, the Pattern declares. A watcher bends close to examine the snarl. It reveals itself to be a single thread, warped and fragile, spun from a warped and fragile mother. The watcher traces its line forward out of history and frowns, for the fate of countless threads, countless choices and turnings, hinge on the fate of this one.
A boy is to be born, the Pattern hums into the air, a plucked-string resonance that ruffles the watcher's wavelengths. A boy is to be born, a boy is to be born, but he may also die.
The watcher does not sigh, for the watcher does not have the physicality to sigh; nor does it feel exasperation or wearied expectation. It merely follows its duty, recording the manifold twists of fate raveling out from the snarl of the boy's birth and passing the data to its superiors.
A hushed confabulation ensues. Representatives from the Great Three convene to hear the news, to peruse the list, to peer across at the snarl, resting innocently in its nest of tangled threads.
This boy should be safeguarded, the eldest affirms. See how monumental his life, should he survive his trials?
All the better to let his life run its course unmolested, the youngest replies. If it is truly so great, then it will carry through with or without our oversight.
No, their middle brother cuts in. He gestures to a turning just past the snarl's weakest point, where the possibilities cleave in two. Observe: without a guiding force at this branch he will not achieve the greatness we desire. And all through here: this surely is death. Already it savors of Azriel. I am sure the High One stares now at his book in despair, for this child insists on having not one death, but five.
His siblings glance at one another. The eldest indicates his indifference. He is to be born under your domain. If it is anyone's choice, it is to be yours.
The middle brother nods. Then he will be safeguarded. This thread of possibility will do; an angel, I believe, is what is called for.
It is measured out and decreed, his sister says. She and her brother stand back, permitting their middle sibling sway. He summons a messenger to his presence.
Bring me our most promising recruit, he says. It does not matter which corps. He watches the Pattern, and already it is shifting, the snarl of threads and uncertain possibilities loosening into coherency. It speaks anew, in a thrum of power: protect Steven Rogers.
The Keepers of the Watch bow their heads in reply.
James Buchanan Barnes is born March 10, 1917, to Winifred Agatha Barnes and George Buchanan Barnes, Jr. It is eighteen months before the end of the Great War, and a year before the Spanish 'flu rips through the nation. Thousands—millions—of children die, but James survives. His mother clumsily crosses herself when her husband is not looking and thanks God for His mercy.
Little James proves to be an uncommonly bright child. He is crawling by eight months, walking with assistance by ten, and at a year old he can string together coherent, if broken, sentences. His parents are surprised, but pleased; his doctors are shocked and fascinated.
On July 4, 1918, James turns his parents' pride into worry when, at the tender age of sixteen months, he tries to run away from home. It is a poor attempt, but he has learned how to unlatch his crib, and the only obstacle to his leaving their shabby, cramped apartment is that he is too short to reach the doorknob. His mother finds him by the door sobbing brokenheartedly, and she scoops him up with a frightened cry.
"What if he'd gotten into something when we weren't there?" she asks her husband that night, after they put their strangely restless son to bed.
"We can't think about that, Winnie," is his uneasy reply. "It didn't happen, and we'll make sure nothing else does."
If little James remembers the incident, or his parents' distress, he indicates nothing; but it takes a week for him to stop asking, "Steve?" in a piteous voice.
The incident becomes, in time, merely the most notable in a series of small, inexplicable happenings centered around their son. He never cries for food, and often resists being fed; yet once he can be persuaded past the first bite he eats ravenously, often with a rapturous, puzzled expression. He picks up languages the way pockets collect lint; by the age of three he speaks fluent Italian and German, and has learned a smattering of Norwegian and Polish. Worse, he is learning Yiddish from the Jew down the hall, and now that he can reach the doorknob, goes visiting the neighbors when Winifred isn't looking.
Most worryingly, he manages to escape the polio epidemic that sweeps through the neighborhood children. He is blithely unaware of the danger, and rather than maintain quarantine as his mother tells him to, he sneaks out to give his cookies to Martha next door when her legs are put in braces. Winifred examines him each day after for headaches or stiffness, but it is a pointless endeavor: James seems immune to childhood frailty. He has never broken a bone, only rarely has colds, and never a fever, let alone polio. James Buchanan Barnes is the healthiest child on the block.
This should make her happy.
Winifred comes from Orthodox stock, the same as her husband's family—but they are a long way from Romania and many generations removed. George sometimes tells her the half-remembered flotsam of his grandfather's tales, pieced-together accounts of moroi, the zburător, and the little spiriduşi, in the evenings after their son is put to bed. She doesn't know much of religion; she was raised by Catholic nuns, and their lessons were both cryptic and haphazard.
She begins taking her son to the Catholic church around the corner, just in case. It is closer than the Orthodox or the Episcopal churches, a fair concern when she faces teetering stacks of laundry that only rise higher each day, and while mingling so closely with the Irish immigrants makes her nervous, she supposes it all comes out in the wash.
She spends the first weeks silent and withdrawn, speaking only to her son. It doesn't last, for James is a boisterous and outgoing child, and he refuses to let her remain in isolation. He takes to the Masses with wide eyes and wonder, and babbles at the parishioners afterwards in their own guttural tongue.
"Have you baptized him, yet?" Molly Connelly asks her one day, and Winifred, slightly embarrassed, replies, "Reverend Thompson Christened him at his birth."
Molly's eyes widen. "Thompson? The auld Anglican sourpuss? That'll never do. You talk to our Father Brannon. He'll do you up right." She brushes a hand over James's wild curls. "He speaks pretty as a prince," she says. "You must be proud, to have such a son."
Winifred gives her a wan smile and bundles him back home.
When James Buchanan Barnes turns six, he has already read most of the Bible. He understands more than a child his age should, and he frowns at most of what he reads. He asks questions of Father Brannon that leave the old churchman squirming in his chair. He speaks to the boy's mother and father, and while Mr. Barnes brushes off his concerns as simply what is to be expected of any curious boy, there is a shadow in Mrs. Barnes's eye. He finds her after the next Sunday's services with intent to ferret out the cause.
"Is there something about your son you wish to unburden?" he asks. "Something perhaps you feel you cannot share?"
She gives him a wary look. "Is this Confession, Father?"
Father Brannon offers a gentle smile. It is a shame she will not find her own way to God's true path, but her son, at least, is saved. "Only if you wish it, Mrs. Barnes. But I think James is... unusual in more ways than just his interpretation of Scripture?"
Winifred Barnes pales. "One should not be frightened of one's child," she murmurs, half to herself.
Father Brannon frowns. "I beg pardon?"
"I clean laundry for the tenants," she begins, then hesitates.
Father Brannon, sensing blood, nods encouragingly. "Yes?"
"I was pouring out dirty water from boiling Mrs. Partridge's sheets and I—my hands slipped." She shows a livid burn on the palm of her hand. "I only saw James after I dropped the basin, he was right there, there's no way I could have missed—" She swallows. "He wasn't burned at all. He cried, but I think it was more from surprise than pain."
The venerable pastor was anticipating, perhaps, a tendency to bite the neighborhood children, or toys in James's room that were not his own. Such things were unfortunate, but not unknown. This, as reluctant as he is to consider it, speaks more to the stability of the mother than the son. "Ah. I... I see."
Winifred stiffens, her inward-turning gaze sharpening outward to defensiveness. "I know that look, I get it often enough from George. I'm not making this up."
Father Brannon looks over her shoulder, unable to meet her eyes. "Of course not."
That is the last time Winifred Barnes speaks meaningfully with Father Brannon. But James loves church, so she continues bringing him each week. The day of his seventh birthday she convinces George to buy him a simple wooden rosary. Her husband, a devout Marxist and even leerier of the Catholics than his wife, complies with the greatest reluctance, and frowns whenever he sees his son recite the prayers.
Rebecca May Barnes is born that October, and James is enchanted. Winifred, uneasy with her son's distant, un-childlike behavior, smiles in relief when she sees his simple wonder. He sits on the couch with Rebecca in his lap and spends hours staring at her, examining her fingers, her toes, her belly button and hair. He pokes his fingers into her mouth to feel her soft gums, and giggles when she sucks them. He stares into her eyes, and Winifred's unease returns when he looks up and says to her, quite matter-of-fact, that Rebecca is like new paper, unmarked and clean.
"We're making the first fingerprints on her soul," he says, peering into his sister's vague eyes. It is only the tenderness he shows her that keeps Winifred from snatching her daughter away from him.
Rosemary Bernice follows soon after, and James is as fascinated by her as he was by her elder sister. "I see now," he says to the both of them when he doesn't know Winifred is listening. "You aren't new paper, you're shaded with outlines. It is up to us to help fill in the rest." He rubs their bellies. "You have good outlines."
Winifred disappears into the kitchen, her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes.
Perhaps it would have continued that way. James would have remained the clever boy, growing into a clever, outgoing man and learning beneath Father Brannon's increasingly stifling tutelage. Perhaps he would have worked in the factory, like his father, or entered seminary as Father Brannon pointedly suggested.
Perhaps James Buchanan Barnes would have remained utterly unremarkable, a footnote in the passage of time—but for the fact he met Steven Grant Rogers, and everything changed.
"Eat dirt, Rogers!"
Baruchiel cranes his neck to look. He isn't especially interested in the petty fights of children, but this sounds like a good one.
The voice is tiny, yet determined. A thread in his heart hums to life, and Baruchiel follows its pull into the alley to investigate. He should be buying sugar for his mother—but this is vastly more compelling.
"He pushed me! The little wimp pushed me!" There is the sound of flesh hitting flesh, and a yelp. Baruchiel turns the corner into the alley's end. It is a hot August afternoon, the asphalt bubbling up to stick to the soles of his shoes. The smell of garbage and piss is pungent. He looks, and he sees a small boy, little more than a scrap of flesh pulled over delicate bone, facing down a gang of older children with blood on his teeth and fire in his heart. His resolve is iron.
This is he, Baruchiel knows in that moment. This is my charge. His breath catches and his eyes widen, and a flash of something flickers before his eyes—an impression of devotion beyond anything he has ever known—and he understands that he, a changeless angel of the Most High, will bend and warp for this child. A frisson of fear coils up his spine, shaking his eight-year-old limbs.
Baruchiel has not been moved for eight long years. He has stood calm amidst the storm, dispassionate and distant as a Guardian ought, and naught could shift him from his purpose. Today was no different, though it should have been; for today was the day of his First Communion. He knelt at the rail before Father Brannon and tasted the bitter wine and dry wafer. He felt the joy of celebration in the hearts around him, and he felt their communion with God; but Baruchiel felt nothing, for he is an angel, and angels were not built to have faith in the abstract. Today, he learned that human rites are as empty as air.
Baruchiel is lonely. It has been eight years since he heard the voices of his brethren—a mere pittance to an angel, but a lifetime for a child—and he cries out against the silence.
Silence, but for this: he looks at a boy standing firm as a tree beside a river, and his heart sings an echo of the Most High.
A shout jerks him from his trance, and he sees that the boy, his Steven Grant Rogers, has pushed the ringleader to the ground. He stands over him, glaring at the others with a righteousness that would not be out of place on the face of Michael himself. Baruchiel smiles in pride for his charge, his boy.
Until the ringleader regains his feet, fists clenched. His face is as dark as a winter storm.
"Hey!" Baruchiel yells. "Why don't you pick on somebody your own size!"
All four boys turn, and Baruchiel reads in their hearts the petty schemes of childhood, their joys and fears, their black hates. He sees the dark cupboard and shouts that mar the soul of the leader. He sees the hope for protection and fear of reprisals that vein through his companions. He sees, and Baruchiel knows compassion.
But he also sees that Steven Rogers has a bloody nose and seizing lungs, and Baruchiel's compassion can only stretch so far. The leader raises a fist, and Baruchiel doesn't think. He wades in, fists flying, and decks the boy as hard as he can. "Leave him alone!"
The pack turns on him, and Baruchiel gains a shiner and split lip. He breaks away to end the fight for good. He plucks at the shadows around him, casting his own closer to its truth; steam from the sewer vents congeals over his shoulders, stretching to the sides of the alley like wings, and he lets a trickle of Heavenly light shine from his eyes.
"Leave him alone," he repeats, commanding in childlike tones. He runs along the ley lines of his opponents' hearts, stoking their apprehension and fear.
The leader is braver than he gave him credit for. "Yeah? You gonna make me, Barnes?"
His name is Franklin Casey McRae. They go to school together. He is tall and mean, and his mother doesn't see the druggist for his syrups and pills. "I'm gonna tell your ma you stole that Baby Ruth bar from the corner store if you don't."
Frankie's face darkens in anger. "You don't have the guts."
Baruchiel doesn't care that Frankie stole candy. But Frankie cares if his mother finds out, and Baruchiel smiles a hungry smile. "Try me and see."
The contest of wills is short and brutal. Frankie glares at Baruchiel, but he breaks first. An angel's stare is not for the guilty to withstand. He mutters to his cronies, "C'mon, let's beat it," and makes sure to ram his shoulder against Baruchiel's as he passes.
Baruchiel turns to his charge.
"I had him," Steven Rogers says between wheezes. "I didn't need your help."
Baruchiel dissipates his summoning and strides forward. "Yeah, well, you got it anyway. Here." He offers his handkerchief. "I'm James Barnes."
"Steve Rogers. Thanks." He dabs his nose, smearing blood all over his face.
Baruchiel rolls his eyes. "Gimme that, you're makin' it worse." He steers them over to a back-alley stoop and sits them down, then takes Steve's head between his hands. His nose isn't broken, he sees that immediately, but it hasn't clotted yet. He shakes his head. "They got you good. Lean forward a bit." He clamps the handkerchief over Steve's nose and steadies him when he wobbles.
"Baby. Hold that in place for me, would'ya?"
Steve's hand comes up, and he watches Baruchiel curiously. "You don't really look like a James," he says after a moment.
Baruchiel smirks and cocks his head. "I don't, huh?"
"Nope. What's your middle name?"
Steve's face crinkles in amusement. "Your parents named you James Buchanan?"
Baruchiel has no real attachment to his given name, but he puffs himself up for the show of it. "Yeah, you got a problem with it?"
"No way. But we can't call you James Buchanan." He squints at Baruchiel for a moment, then says, "You look like a Bucky."
The root of Bucky's soul resonates at that pronouncement. Bucky. You look like a Bucky. He hides his shock. Naming is a powerful art, and it takes practitioners many years to gain any proficiency—yet this boy has spoken a name, and it echoes to the very core of Baruchiel's being.
No, not Baruchiel. Not any longer, not truly. It, like James Buchanan Barnes, is just a name. Now, and until Steve decides to change it, his name is Bucky.
He shrugs. "Whatever you say, Stevie."
Steve sticks out his tongue at him. He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Did you really see Frankie McRae steal a Baby Ruth?"
"Nah, I was bluffing."
Bucky smiles. "I guessed. He's always eating 'em, you know? I made a guess that he'd stole one from the corner store, made like it was true, and he fell for it, which means he had."
Steve frowns. "Ma says it's not right to lie."
"My ma does, too. She lies about a lot, though, so I reckon some lies are better than others."
Steve gives him a probing look. "How old are you?"
Three thousand, five hundred and twenty-three— "Almost eight and a half."
"Oh. I just turned seven a month ago."
They sit. Bucky watches steam condense on the fire escape.
"So why was Frankie McRae pounding on you?"
Steve shrugs a shoulder. "He said Mitchell Grant was a coward. He's not." A glint enters Steve's eye, and his spine straightens unconsciously. "Ma said he was a soldier in the Great War, an' that's why he's so twitchy even though it's been ages, an' Frankie lit off a firecracker an' laughed when he startled. He was just surprised, is all, he's not yellow. I couldn't let him keep sayin' that."
Bucky feels a wave of emotion—pride, respect, and more complicated, mystifying sentiments—rise through him at Steve's words. So young, and already so wise. He puts his arm around Steve's skinny shoulders. "C'mon. Let's go get some Baby Ruths."
Steve smiles, and hands Bucky back his handkerchief. "Okay."
They giggle all the way to the corner store, telling their funniest stories in an effort to show off. Bucky takes out the dime his mother gave him, and a sinking feeling runs through him. "Hold on," he says. "I need to get sugar."
"Why?" Steve asks.
"Because today was my First Communion, and my mother wants to bake a cake."
Steve gives him a curious look. "Are you Catholic, too?"
Bucky shrugs. "I s'pose I am. I mean, I go to the Masses an' all, but it's kinda boring, you know? You shouldn't need all that to believe in God."
Steve bobs his head. "No way. God is everywhere, right? That means He's at the swimming pool, too."
Bucky laughs. "Yeah, He's at the swimming pool. No more church on Sunday, let's go swimming!"
He asks the salesman for a sack of sugar to go with his candy bars, and gives him the dime. They spill out into the afternoon sunlight with chocolate on their faces and joy in their hearts.
Bucky's mother clucks over his black eye and bloody lip, and welcomes Steve into their house with quiet surprise.
"I'm Steve," he says, bright-eyed and glancing to Bucky. "I just moved from Vinegar Hill."
"It's nice to meet you," Winifred replies. The boys scamper off, and she backs away into the kitchen. "Steve," she mutters to herself, remembering a name called out in a plaintive, infant voice. She watches him carefully, but even she can't hold back her smile when he plays endless games of pat-a-cake with Rosemary, and listens solemnly to Bucky's every word as to how beautiful his little sisters are, even though they're still babies and most boys his age wouldn't care. Perhaps it truly is nothing to fret about.
Bucky watches Steve play with Rosie, and his heart fills with gladness. He is gone from the Host, parted from his kin for as long as his duty demands; this is all he has left. He sits beside Steve and looks into his beautiful, Heaven-touched face, and he is no longer lonely.
Those are their halcyon days, when they run like mad things through the streets of Brooklyn and read pulp novels and comics when it gets too hot. They eat apples on the fire escape and ride the subway when they have spare nickels. It is easy for Bucky to be Steve's Guardian, then. Their mothers roll their eyes at their sons and share tips on cold remedies; their meals are ample, their clothes almost new and their beds warm and soft.
Bucky runs to Steve's apartment after school, carrying his lessons and the funnies underneath, and together they make a fort under the covers and whisper secrets to each other until it's time to go home, and never mind Steve's rattling lungs.
Steve saves up his pennies and treats them to licorice and caramels at the drugstore, and Bucky smiles under the December sky and feels as warm as June.
"Stevie, wait up!"
"Hurry, we'll miss it!"
"I'm here, I'm here. Geez, you run awful fast for a skinny little twerp."
"Yeah? Well, my grandma runs faster than you."
"You're a punk!"
"No, I'm not!"
Steve catches strep from the Polish kid down the road. Bucky watches as first he coughs, then coughs harder, then swells up like a bullfrog when his lymph nodes catch on. He watches as Mrs. Rogers, who is a nurse over at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, palpates his neck and peers down his throat, her brow creasing in worry. She shoos Bucky from the room, but he wriggles by when she's not looking and jumps up on Steve's bed.
"Hey, Bucky," Steve croaks. He is pale, tired. He has lost weight because it hurts to swallow.
"Hey, Stevie." Bucky touches Steve's throat, and he feels the raging fire of battle within, Stevie's body fighting tooth and nail against the bacterium. Steve swallows, grimacing.
"Bucky, I told you not to come in here," Mrs. Rogers says in her soft lilt. She bustles in, a bowl of broth in her hands. Dark circles underline her eyes.
"I'll be fine, Mrs. Rogers," he says, taking Steve's hand where it lies on the blankets. "'Sides, I gotta keep Steve company. Right, Steve?"
She sets down the broth. Bucky can hear the hunger pangs her body is sending out, but he has noticed that Sarah Rogers eats on a very precise schedule, and always less than she wants.
"No. It's too dangerous for you. Go on, go outside and play."
Bucky sullenly complies, squeezing Steve's hand before letting go. He runs down the stairs, taking out his frustration in pounding hops from step to step. There's a game of stickball right outside the door; he doesn't know the kids very well, it's a different street from his, after all, but they welcome him easily enough. Bucky runs harder and throws faster, and he hits a home run every time. His team trounces the other guys, but his heart and mind are fixed upstairs, beside a small boy coughing through his tears.
Steve seems to get better for a few days, his throat settling down to a more manageable pain, and Mrs. Rogers tentatively lets Bucky back in his room.
But then the worst happens. Bucky wakes up one morning from where he is lying curled back to back against Steve, and the feeling of his charge's body has changed. He's warmer, drier, quieter. He turns to look, and he sees the ominous red flush creeping up Steve's neck and cheeks. Bucky knows what this is, every child does.
"Mrs. Rogers!" he yells, panic boiling in his veins. "Mrs. Rogers, quick!"
"Not so loud, Bucky," Steve murmurs, and his eyes are glassy in the morning light.
Bucky is summarily ejected from the room. He can't go home, not with two small children waiting, so he takes to sleeping on the floor outside Steve's door, piling the couch cushions together and heaping spare blankets over the top. He hears Mrs. Rogers's whispered prayers, hears the rasp of damp cloths against Steve's skin. Steve rambles whenever he's awake, and his sleep is restless.
Bucky knows he won't catch sick. He sees into his body, and the strep could find no purchase. Steve is harmless to him. He tries to explain to Mrs. Rogers that he could stand in the middle of a TB ward and come out clean, but she won't hear a word.
"You stay right where you are, James Barnes. Don't you dare step into this room, am I clear?"
She is very clear. Bucky sees precisely the fear in her heart: that her son will infect his friend, and that he will carry it to his sisters, and that they will sicken and die. Visions of an outbreak tearing through the neighborhood haunt her dreams. But Bucky is not just a boy, and when she goes out to fetch groceries, Bucky sneaks into Steve's room.
A striated pall hangs over Steve's soul, inflamed and oozing infection. Bucky gasps. He has never seen sickness like this; angels are incorporeal, and they have no mortal bodies to suffer. Neither has he seen a human sick up close, for the Barneses are a sturdy lot, even discounting Bucky.
Steve, however, is flushed and still, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling.
"Stevie?" he asks, heart in his throat.
Steve blinks slowly and turns his head to look at Bucky. He blinks again, this time as though confused, and his eyes widen. He takes a deep breath, and then he screams.
It is a high-pitched scream of terror, hoarse and primal and uncomprehending. Bucky freezes. An image flashes in his mind of an impossibly tall being, misshapen by the outline of a dozen wings and covered with lidless, staring eyes; its head flickers through a rank of fearsome animals, and each is saying, "Stevie? Stevie?" in a hollow voice fit to raise the hairs on the back of Bucky's neck.
It's him. Steve is seeing his true form. He runs from the room, slamming the door behind him, but Steve's screams don't stop until exhaustion drags them down into incoherent sobs. Bucky curls up on his pile of cushions and rocks himself, horrified. He starts to cry as well, hating himself for it but unable to stop.
Mrs. Rogers bursts in the front door, dropping her purchases in the entryway in her rush to Steve's side. "What happened?" she demands.
"I don't know," Bucky lies. "He just started screaming."
Mrs. Rogers's face goes white. "He's hallucinating," she says, and scoops her son into her arms, cradling him to her chest. She whispers soothing words, and eventually the sobs fade. Bucky tucks his face against his knees and shudders.
The fever runs its course a few days later, but not before stealing away the strength of Steve's once-sturdy heart. Bucky hugs him fiercely and sends thanks to God for his recovery, no matter how bittersweet it is.
Two years later Steve catches strep again, and this time it turns into rheumatic fever. Mrs. Rogers doesn't bother trying to keep Bucky out; she lays one hand on Steve's fevered chest and strokes his hair with the other, and her prayers are unceasing. "Mea culpa, mea culpa," she whispers. "Mea maxima culpa." She pays no mind to the stubbornly healthy ten-year-old boy staring at her son, a strange, white-hot fire in his eyes.
Steve doesn't die from the fever, but he never runs again. His heart sees to that.
There is a devil that comes to ride on Steve's shoulders, as he grows older. It digs in its spurs and drives him to fight after fight he has no way of winning. Bucky hears the words whispered behind Steve's back: Look at that, Rogers is sick again, what a surprise, and He'll never amount to anything, just be a drain on society, and worst of all, His mother should have drowned him at birth. They make Bucky's blood boil, but they make Steve stand as tall as he can and demand they say it to his face.
Often, they don't. Sometimes, they do. Those times, Steve comes home bruised and bloody, his hair mussed and anger hot beneath his skin, and his mother tuts while Bucky bites his lip to keep from yelling.
When Mrs. Rogers isn't looking, Bucky teaches Steve to throw a punch, to save his knuckles. Teaches him how to hold himself despite his bent back, how to shift his weight to compensate for the unevenness of his reach, how to take advantage of the openings his opponents make. It's little enough, and more often than not Bucky has to bail him out anyway, but they're nigh inseparable, so it makes no difference. Bucky comes to school with bruises and bright, cocky grins, and he takes the name of scrapper with pride.
And yet, the more fights Steve gets into, the more Bucky realizes his charge is genuinely good. He doesn't just fight for himself, but for others, too. His fights are for the noble causes: for injustice, to stop cruelty, for what's right. Steven Grant Rogers cares. He rescues kittens from drainpipes and punches bullies on the nose and sits with Mr. Tripp in the afternoons, listening to him ramble about his sons, all three dead in the war, and his daughter, married and living in Schenectady with four children of her own.
"He's lonely," Steve says. "There's no one here for him."
"He smells like cabbage," Bucky replies. He's an angel, not a saint.
Steve rolls his eyes and pushes him into the kitchen. "Ma made soda bread," he says. "Maybe if you ask nice you can have some." Bucky knows he can, because it has raisins in it and Mrs. Rogers doesn't eat sweets.
Sarah Rogers is as gentle as her son is fierce, and as fierce as he is gentle. She works a grueling schedule, and when she comes home Bucky smells sickness and disinfectant on her clothes, and sees exhaustion in her eyes. Sometimes, after the hardest shifts, he smells the sweetness on her breath that means she needs another dose of insulin. She is frail, but she is always there for her son, always feeds him and Bucky as much as they can hold, and patches their cuts with steady hands. She never speaks of the hard hours she works, or her worry when Steve starts wheezing, or what she'll do when their medications run empty right before rent is due.
She is a good woman. Bucky sees it in her soul. But she is human, and frail, and her son is worse.
All Creation know that angels are strong. They are beings of energy, of Will, of purpose. Angels feel the thrum of the universe and play harmonics across it. Angels see far, and hear further; they are mighty. Bucky is an angel, and unwavering strength is his due.
By all rights he should see men as lesser beings, as weak, awkward gobbets of meat. Lord knows there are those of his kind that do. Keeping company with Steve and Sarah Rogers, the epitome of frangible, ephemeral humanity, should do little but enhance that belief—but the longer Bucky stays with them, the more he realizes it is not true, that it is impossibly far from the truth.
He frowns at the cut on his hand, a jagged slice leaking blood over his fingers. The pain of it is astounding. He watches red drops force their way from his skin by the pounding of his heart; he feels shock tremble in his limbs. The moment is bright and clear in his mind.
This is what is true: the strength of men's sight is weak compared to what an angel might see. Their will, insignificant. Before Bucky was born, he could see an ant three miles away twitch in instinctual fear. He could hear a man's darkest thought whispered into the black of night. He could hold fast for countless eons until reinforcements arrived. Before he was born, he was mighty.
But now he is a man himself, or will be soon, and his body is the strongest thing left to him. He is grounded by the press of the earth against his feet. His vision may be dim, and the world around him may seem one of shadows and sadness, but the sun is warm on his skin, and the pain in his hand sends waves of gooseflesh over his arms and back. There is something in the solidity of his frantic heartbeat that is reminiscent of flight.
"Geez, Buck, what did you do to yourself?"
"C-coffee can lid," he manages.
"Gotta look out for those. C'mon, let's get you inside so Ma can patch you up."
Steve Rogers is weak. He catches bronchitis like clockwork every spring when it gets warmer and the mold starts growing. His vision is dreadful; the doctors talk about myopia and astigmatism over their heads, and Bucky would be annoyed, but he is still a child, so he can't blame them. Steve Rogers is deaf in one ear. Steve Rogers has anemia. Steve Rogers's spine twists to one side, making the muscles of his back clench and spasm.
Steve Rogers has more will than ten men, but compared to an angel he is a puff of air against a gale.
Steve's hand on his wrist is cool. It is a brand against his skin. Bucky feels Steve's pulse thrum against his own, and it is the most immediate thing he has felt in three millennia of existence. Steve is here, and he is alive.
It is the truest thing in Bucky's narrowed world.
"Can't believe the Robins finished sixth again."
"What's that, four times now?"
"Think so. Hey, that's my Dazzy Vance card! You go get your own!"
"Aw, c'mon. I don't have any more pennies, and Ma wouldn't let me buy any more gum even if I did. I'll trade you my Burleigh Grimes."
"Not a chance, Barnes. Unless..."
"No. Jake Daubert's not up for grabs."
"Then get your paws off Dazzy Vance."
"You're a hard man, Steve Rogers."
Bucky Barnes may be a child, but he isn't naive. He knows sooner or later things will change, that he and Steve will grow up and be forced by life to go their separate ways, Guardian or no. But there is an innocence in his heart, and he never knew it was there until it was shattered.
First it is a broken leg, the first real injury Bucky has ever had. He is forced to hobble around on crutches, unable to run and jump as he desperately needs to spend his energy and feel free. It is miserable and frightening, and only Steve, walking slowly beside him carrying his books, or sitting at his bedside without a care for his own health, can keep him calm.
Then Bucky's father dies in a factory accident, a crucible of unrefined ore snapping its chain and crushing him and three other workers beneath it. His mother is inconsolable; Bucky watches her in confusion. Angels do not die. They understand death, but they do not feel that profoundest touch directly. Bucky curls around the hollow ache in his stomach.
He had not been close to George Barnes. His father had never been a demonstrative man, preferring to read aloud Socialist rhetoric than to engage in intimate conversation with his son. Bucky is surprised how much the empty place at the dinner table, the silence where once had been political discourse, the lack of whiskery kisses on his forehead when he feigned sleep—he is surprised at how much these absences hurt.
Is this what it means to be human? To love as indiscriminately as an angel, but to feel the consequences of it? He touches the tears that run down his face, and tries to help his mother keep strong. It is hard, especially after she comes back from the doctor. She is three months pregnant with her fourth child. Mrs. Rogers comes over that day, and she makes Winifred soothing tisanes and sits with her at the kitchen table, sharing her burden.
Bucky sits beside Steve on the couch. He hadn't known Joseph Rogers died in the Great War, or that he never got to see his newborn son. Steve shrugs. "It's ancient history," he says, but Bucky can see the old longing in his heart, worn smooth with time and frequent handling. Bucky vows to speak often and well of George Barnes, for the sake of his mother's baby.
For two months there's a heavy, foreboding air about his mother, as though she expects the worst. Bucky ignores it, thinking it human superstition, but then comes Black Tuesday, and with it goes the last of Bucky's human innocence. He hears his mother crying at night, muffling her sobs against his father's coat. He sees the worry and gray, sagging fear in the faces around him. WALL ST. IN PANIC AS STOCKS CRASH! scream the headlines. Hope lingers for a week or two; Mr. Watkins next door can be heard through the walls announcing it is a short-term blow, that the stock market will recover in no time.
November proves Mr. Watkins wrong. Bucky sits with Steve on the fire escape outside Steve's bedroom window and watches as people try to sell their cars, their family heirlooms, their spare clothes. Some sell apples or pencils, or shreds of anything they can scavenge.
"Ma said she'll keep her job," Steve whispers to him, as though he's afraid to jinx her good fortune.
Bucky swallows. His ma takes in laundry and sewing for their building. He doesn't know if it will be enough, anymore, not with midwife's fees and the money they owe for the funeral. For the first time he is torn between duties. There is his chief duty to Steve, but neither can he neglect his mortal family. Rebecca still asks for Papa, and Rosemary cries angrily at the thin soup they've begun to eat for every meal.
"I can probably find work somewhere," he says, willing it to be true.
"You're twelve," Steve says, frowning. "There's laws or something."
"Nah, just means I can't work a factory job," Bucky replies. "I can get something else, like selling papers. Or, hey, maybe I could get a job at Coney Island! What do you say to that, Stevie? I'd get to ride the Thunderbolt and the Cyclone every day!"
"We can help," Steve says, ignoring Bucky's patter. "If you get stuck. We don't need much."
Bucky shakes his head. "I can't take your money, Steve."
Steve frowns and lights up another asthma cigarette. Winter is coming on, and the cold does nothing good for his lungs. "I'm serious, Bucky. I'm only eleven, and Ma wouldn't let me work even if I could, but whatever I can do, just say the word."
Tears prick Bucky's eyes. He blinks them back. "You're the best friend a kid could ever have, Steve Rogers," he says, and throws an arm around his shoulders.
He feels Steve's heart lighten. He's too smart to believe Bucky's brave face completely, but it's enough. Bucky bites his lip when Steve isn't watching. Please, let it be enough.
He gets a job with Mr. Grossman down the street at the Jewish bakery. His fluency in Hebrew and Yiddish impress the baker, and he hires Bucky part-time to deliver his goods to the older members of the Jewish community who can't make it to his store. The pay is only a couple of pennies a day, but it adds up, and more importantly, Mr. Grossman doesn't expect Bucky to quit school.
"Look at you, you're smarter than I am," the old man says. "A gentile who speaks Hebrew like a rabbi. No, you get your learning, Barnes, and you get a better job than this, you understand?"
"Yes, sir," Bucky answers, and carefully loads his delivery box.
It's strange, thinking about the future. When he was younger and adults asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, Bucky had a list of answers that made them smile and nod knowingly. But now, when he permits himself to truly think about it, the only thing he can say with certainty is, "By Steve's side." For an angel with a charge, there is no higher wish.
Suddenly the weight of society's expectations are an unwelcome burden, and the truth that childhood will not last forever sits heavy in his stomach.
Daisy Georgina Barnes is born January 15, 1930, a beautiful, colicky baby that fascinates Bucky as did both her sisters. He's learned his way around a baby by now, but he still marvels over the smallness of her feet and the mysteries in her vague, infant stare. "Your daddy got me my rosary even though he thought it was useless," Bucky tells her, cradling her over the radiator to keep her warm. "He was kind and generous. If he's in Heaven, or wherever it is atheists go, he's looking down on you, Daisy-girl, and he loves you, no matter what."
His mother, meanwhile, grows quieter and quieter, and takes to counting the money she and her son bring in morning and night, as though it might have somehow increased without her looking.
Months pass. The Dow Jones shows no signs of an upturn, instead lingering at a low-level, miserable average, and unemployment skyrockets. Mr. Watkins shifts his ranting to President Hoover's inadequacy as shantytowns sprout across Prospect Park.
Bucky grows, and he is certain it is his angelic constitution alone that gives him the fortitude for it. "Another growth spurt," his mother sighs, eyeing the fraying cuffs of his trousers. "I'll see if I can hem something of your father's to fit." The shoes are a touch too large, but newspaper stuffed into the toes helps with that. The jackets and shirts still smell like his father's pipe smoke.
He is more concerned with Steve's growth than his own. No matter how the years change, Steve remains small and thin. Mrs. Rogers tries, but decent food is harder and harder to come by, and Steve has never been truly healthy.
There is only so much Bucky can do about it, short of nudging the hospital director to increase Sarah Rogers's pay.
He pauses, a pilfered apple halfway to his mouth. He supposes he could do that. It wouldn't take more than a suggestion and Steve could have actual chicken in his chicken soup.
Would that be overstepping his bounds? He is expected to watch over Steve, yes, but what are the limits of what he is allowed to do for his sake? He growls and tears off a bite. He misses the certitude of his angelic form. This mortal shell holds nothing for him but overstimulation and too many doubts.
He lets out a sigh. He won't do it. They aren't the only ones struggling, and besides, if Steve knew he wouldn't approve.
When he turns sixteen Bucky takes an early shift stocking produce at the Romanian grocery store on Eastern. He grows stronger in leaps and bounds, and Steve doesn't. It rankles him, Bucky can tell. More than ever Bucky is having to bail Steve out of fights, and he takes to checking alleys and back lots for tenacious, towheaded figures staring inequality in the face. It's almost like breathing: find Steve fighting against too many taller, stronger boys and wade in with fists flying and shouted insults on his tongue. Eventually it gets around that you only mess with Steve Rogers if you want to mess with Bucky Barnes, too.
"I had 'em on the ropes," Steve says.
"I know you did," Bucky replies. "Thought I'd help out, is all."
Steve makes sure Bucky never sees his anger and resentment, or his embarrassment at his own perceived weakness, but even with mortal eyes Bucky can see that Steve is ashamed of his frailty. It makes him stubborn, and that makes him push himself, to show that he isn't useless, that being short and bent and sickly doesn't make him a burden. Bucky's heart aches. He wishes he could ease Steve's trial, but if the alternative is to let him get pasted by the neighborhood yahoos Bucky refuses to accept it. As long as Steve holds fast to ideals regardless of opposition, Bucky will stand by his side, ready to pull him out of the fire.
He supposes it's why he needs a Guardian in the first place.
It's on a summer day in 1933 that Bucky is reminded of the other reason Steve Rogers needs a Guardian.
They're in an abandoned factory sunk by the Depression; Bucky's snagged a bottle of bathtub gin off Old Man Withers, and Steve shows him the broken board covering the side door. They wander around, staring up at the cavernous, cathedral-like interior and swapping the bottle back and forth, all while making like the burn doesn't bring tears to their eyes.
Steve kicks at a pile of dead leaves. "This used to be a shoe factory, didn't it?" He steps under a wash of light from the grimy windows high above.
Bucky trails behind him, peering around at the piles of trash heaped in the corners, at the dust kicked up by their footsteps, at the decaying hulks of the machines that loom in the shadows. He takes a sip. "Yeah."
"This isn't right," Steve says. "It's just not right."
"Not much we can do about it."
Steve's jaw firms like he's about to make one of his crazy stands, but he looks down and scuffs his feet. "There should be."
"What, you wanna start it up again? Get those machines makin' wing-tips again? No one's buying shoes, these days, Steve. Least not the ones who'd buy factory-made shoes."
"Yeah." He looks helpless and frustrated, and Bucky hates that look on Steve. He hands him the bottle.
"Things'll get better," he says. "They have to. Nowhere to go but up."
Steve takes a drink. "Shouldn't have gone down in the first place."
"Ah, Stevie," Bucky says, and he feels the weight of his years pressing on him. "All things gotta come down, eventually. That's time. But if you live long enough, you get to see it come back up, again. And if you're lucky, you get to help build it. It ain't the end of the line, yet. Not by a long shot. We just gotta stick with it."
Steve looks to him, looks into him, his eyes dark and fathomless in the gloom. "You with me, Buck? To the end of the line?"
Bucky nods. "Angels couldn't tear me from your side."
As if in reply, a flock of pigeons startles from the rafters, fluttering and cooing and sweeping down on them in a shower of dust. They duck, shielding their heads, and the covey flies out a broken window. Bucky straightens first, forcing a lop-sided grin over his sudden dread. "Thinkin' maybe I shouldn't have—Steve?"
Steve is bent over, his hands on his knees, and he's struggling for breath. "B-buh—"
Bucky's insides freeze. "Shit. Shit, we gotta get you outside. Was it the dust?"
Steve nods, his eyes wide, and his breath wheezes in his throat. God, he's suffocating, and it's on nothing but thin air. Bucky grabs his arm and throws it over his shoulder, and drags him back to the busted board. The bottle lies forgotten on the ground.
It's a bright, sunny day, the clouds high and wispy in the sky, and Bucky's heart is cold as he sits on the warm ground. He's leaning back against the rusted hulk of an old Buick, Steve tucked between his legs, and his back is pressed against Bucky's chest. "C'mon, Stevie," he murmurs, forcing himself to breathe in a slow, steady rhythm despite the fear choking him. "Nice and easy, breathe with me, you can do it, just in and out..."
Steve is shaking in his arms, arching and gulping for air that's not getting through to his lungs. Tears track down his cheeks; Bucky can feel his blind panic, and he presses a trembling hand over Steve's chest. His own breath stutters. "Oh, no."
Steve's heart has an arrhythmia on the best of days, and the valves leak like a sieve—but now it's going ninety miles an hour, and it's not pumping a damn thing. Its spastic, lopsided pulse vibrates against Bucky's hand. Steve lets out a strained whimper. His lips are turning blue, and his fingers where they're clenched in Bucky's pant-legs are ice-cold.
"Oh, God," Bucky whispers. "You gotta stay with me, Stevie, it ain't your time yet. It can't be. Shit, what do I do?" His mind races, and he rubs gentle circles over Steve's chest.
It's the flickering sparks of electricity shorting through his heart that give him the idea.
An angel is made of pure energy; manipulating it is their stock in trade. Bucky presses his hands against Steve's chest and feels the poles of the charge. He summons static from their clothes and shifts his grip, moving one hand beneath Steve's collarbone, the other near his floating ribs. He hesitates a moment, then with a soft breath, sends the charge jolting from one hand to the other through Steve's body. Steve twitches, and for a bare second his heart stops.
It's the longest second of Bucky's life. Please, he prays to the silent heavens. Please don't let me have killed him. But then he feels it: the thready lub-swish-dub of Steve's heartbeat.
He gasps in relief and clenches his stinging hands into fists. He crushes Steve against him, fighting his tears, and keeps an iron hold on his breathing. He feels lightheaded. "That's it, Stevie," he says. He presses his cheek against Steve's. "Just breathe. In and out, follow me."
It seems hours pass before Steve's lungs ease up. He sags back into Bucky's arms, shaking with exhaustion, face drawn and sweaty. Bucky runs a hand through his hair. It's softer than it looks, and fine as silk between his fingers.
"God, don't scare me like that," Bucky whispers, too overcome yet to trust his voice not to crack.
"Din' mean to."
"Yeah. Yeah. Just don't do it again, okay?"
Bucky half-carries him home, and Mrs. Rogers's face, when he explains what happened, is torn between horror, sick relief and gratitude so profound the words get stuck in her throat. She has Steve breathe into the nebulizer for a while, then sends him to bed. He falls asleep from one moment to the next.
Bucky she feeds beans flavored with a bit of hoarded bacon, watching to make sure he eats it all, and then hugs him so tight he feels his ribs creak. And Bucky, he means to stay strong, but he's still a boy and he just watched Steve nearly die. He curls himself around Sarah Rogers's tiny frame and cries into her shoulder. She strokes his hair and whispers soothing words.
"Sometimes I swear you're his guardian angel," she says, and Bucky cries harder.
The remainder of the thirties pass in a wave of hand-me-downs and patched, second-hand clothes. Those years taste of watery cabbage-and-potato soup, and Bucky grows up strong despite. He explores his youthful, vital body, and his first orgasm is almost better than Revelation. Once more he finds himself conflicted, for while the strength of his dedication is unmoved, his body has other ideas.
He takes to slicking his hair back the way his father did, and learns from his mother and sisters how to alter his clothes. He starts setting aside a small portion of his pay for dates. It takes him time to figure out the rules: girls are fair game, but be cautious asking boys; don't be too frank—flirting and cleverness are far more enjoyable; and dancing? Dancing is always a good idea.
High school feels like a holding pattern, a way to pass the time before life begins. Bucky tries to enjoy his last years of childhood, but it's been so long since he felt like a child he chafes against the idea. He graduates with top marks, to the continual, amusing surprise of his teachers, and two years later Steve graduates, his grades no more than fair due to his constant illness, and with a black mark on his reputation that lumps him in with the rest of the neighborhood troublemakers. They make noise about moving in together, but Steve catches his spring bout of bronchitis and their plans grind to a halt while he recovers.
Bucky divides his time between work, sitting at Steve's bedside and stepping out. He learns the best clubs to go to, either for girls or boys, and how to draw attention away from his shabby clothes and rough speech. He learns the social power of walking out with the right girls in the right places, and in dark alleys down by the shipyards he learns the sharp rush of pleasure shared with another.
He notices in an abstract way that Steve isn't joining him in this awakening, but it doesn't come to a head until Bucky is nineteen and Steve is eighteen and considering taking formal art classes over the summer.
"You mean someone just sits naked in the middle of the room and everyone draws 'em?"
"Yeah, Buck, I already told you." It's hot for May. They're at Steve's place, where they usually hang out these days because Bucky's apartment is crowded and Mrs. Rogers works long hours. Steve's asthma is flaring. He's wheezing like a bellows, and testier than usual as a result. "Miss Tomlin said it could really help my figure drawing."
"But—why would anyone do that? Be drawn naked, I mean."
"Same reason you haul crates at Lăcustă's," Steve says. "It pays."
Bucky can't fault that logic. However, "Ain't you worried you'll, you know, like what you see?"
Steve gives him an exasperated, irritated look. "You mean get a lift? No, Bucky, I'm not worried, because it's an art class, not a damn cat house."
Bucky sits back, surprised at the swear. "What was that all about?"
"Well, Buck, when a person has a skill they want to improve, sometimes they take special classes to—"
"Not the drawing, you dummy," Bucky snaps. "Why are you angry at me? 'Cause that was more than just me being my usual idiot self."
Steve glares at him for a moment, then goes back to his homework without answering. Bucky frowns, worry settling in his gut. "Steve, what's wrong?"
Bucky can be as stubborn as Steve when he wants to be, and this is setting off sirens left and right in Bucky's brain. "It's not nothing. Are you sick again?"
"For Chrissakes, Bucky!" Steve explodes, throwing his pencil down. "I'm not sick, I'm fine! And if I were sick, it'd be of you harping on me until you go out on your next date, and then forgetting whether I said good or bad!"
Bucky blinks, Steve's eyes widen, and the silence stretches. "Forget I said that," Steve says hurriedly, and Bucky shakes his head.
"Not a chance." He frowns. "It bothers you, that I go out on dates?"
Bucky can't see Steve's face, the way he's looking down at his lap, but his ears are bright red. "Sometimes," he mumbles. "It's just, we don't hang out as much, anymore. Starting to feel like the third wheel when we do."
"Oh." Bucky's mind whirls. "Don't—don't you ever go out on dates of your own?" He scrabbles through his memories, trying to recall if Steve'd ever mentioned a girl, or spent a night out. Aside from a few crushes he'd teased him about, he comes up blank.
"No." Steve still can't meet Bucky's eyes. He looks mortified, ashamed, and Bucky wants to throw his arms around him. "I don't go out on dates. Not many dames are interested in a guy like me."
"That's..." Bucky trails off, horrified with himself. He's been wasting time on frivolous pleasure while his charge has been hurting.
Steve shrugs. "It is what it is. I can't blame 'em, I mean, look at me."
I am looking, Bucky thinks, only it seems as though for the first time he actually does. He looks, and he sees how Steve's fair hair has darkened to burnished gold, how his lashes lay long against his cheek, how the pale, sickly cast to his skin creates a fragile beauty that Bucky has never let himself notice. And Steve is beautiful: all lithe, slender limbs and sharp edges. Bucky shudders beneath a sudden wave of arousal and confusion.
Does Steve even want to... with a guy? Bucky doesn't know. It's not something that's ever spoken of. Bucky may be open to all comers, but he's heard the slurs thrown at the drag queens and punks down on Sands Street, and he knows men with men (and women with women, too) is somehow immoral. It's definitely illegal, if nothing else. Bucky has had to learn circumspection with his pleasure.
Bucky licks his lips, aware he's nudging out on thin ice. He hesitates, but this is Steve, and Steve wouldn't know how to be prejudiced if his life depended on it. "Any fellas, then?"
Steve's eyes widen. "What! Bucky, that's—why would you ask that!"
It's Bucky's turn to look down at his knees. "Not all my dates are with girls," he says simply. "I know a thing or two about it."
He heard Steve defending Tiny Pete not even two days ago, and he's never been the one shouting abuse on the street corners. That's not who Steve is. But it might be different, now that it's his best friend. Bucky bites his lip. He doesn't think he could handle it, if Steve turned from him in disgust.
He hears the click of Steve's throat as he swallows. "I—Bucky, I didn't... Why didn't you tell me?" There is no rejection in his tone, merely shock and confusion.
The rush of relief through Bucky's chest nearly takes his breath away. "Why didn't you tell me you weren't getting any dates at all? Geez, Stevie, that's something I can help with."
And just like that Steve's irritation is back. "I don't need your help, Buck."
"Looks to me like you do. I know a couple'a girls, we can go out together, you know, a double-date."
"If you think I'm going on a—"
"Or I could take you to one of the queer bars I know." Bucky's staring at the wall, mouth dry as a bone. Across from him, Steve falls dead-silent. Bucky presses on. "They don't mind 'em small, there. You'd be a hit."
Steve's jaw firms, and his voice when he speaks is soft. "I'm not a girl, Bucky. I won't be their girl."
"Didn't say that," Bucky says. "There's more'n one kind of fairy out there. Just... think about it." He has to get away. The air is too close, too hot; he can smell Steve's hair cream and his soap and the graphite smell of his pencils, and he imagines sucking bruises into his slender neck and it's too much.
"Bucky, wait," Steve calls out, but Bucky's already out the door.
A theologian once said that angels are constructs of love and holy rage, and chained to obedience through both. Or maybe a theologian hadn't said that. Maybe it was the Bright One himself, or just Uriel being grumpy.
But Bucky knows that he loves Steve, and he loves his taskmaster of a boss even as he gripes about him over beers after work, and he loves the dames with their red, red lips and smooth, soft curves (and he loves the guys, loves their strength and the tall, proud lines of them), and he loves old Mrs. Greene even when her rheumatism acts up and she turns mean as a wet cat. But he loves Steve most of all, and if Bucky is shackled to mindless obedience because of it, he calls it a good trade, because Steven Grant Rogers is the best person he knows. When it comes down to it, he figures his desire only adds a new dimension to a love that was already there, glowing hot enough to burn.
He was sent to Earth in a cage of mortal flesh to watch over Steve, and Bucky can do no less than love him with all his heart.