They're supposed to go to the game, but when Bucky shows up at Steve's door, Mrs Rogers answers and says that morning Steve had an attack bad enough his lips turned blue and he's not going anywhere. Bucky hesitates, but if he goes without Steve he'll have to get Billy or Warren to help him sneak in, and then he'll have to put up with Billy's stupid friends or Warren demanding more than his fair share of whatever they get to eat, and that'll probably end up with someone getting a black eye, and then Bucky'll be in trouble about fighting. Again.
Okay, true enough that if he went with Steve there'd be an even-odds chance of getting into a fight anyway, but Bucky's mom gets less mad about fights when he's with Steve, since Bucky can usually make Steve wait until the other kid throws the first punch, and at that point it's all about defending and it's the other kid's fault. When Bucky's on his own it doesn't matter who hit first, he's still in trouble. Well, more trouble.
Considering Aunt Bess always makes Warren tea and gives him a sweet and fusses over him when he gets a black eye, Bucky finds this grossly unfair, but when he tries to point this out to his mother she just says that just because her good-for-nothing sister-in-law's raising a barbarian doesn't mean she, Bucky's mom, has any interest in doing the same and if Dad's around that starts a fight and it's just not worth it.
Besides, it is Steve's birthday. So instead Bucky says, "Okay, Mrs Rogers, I'll be back in a minute," and runs home.
He has to climb out his window to sneak the radio out past his dad sleeping in his arm chair, and he almost drops the speaker and if his mom comes home before Bucky does he's gonna get in trouble for stealing the radio anyway, but he hasn't been in trouble all week so he'll put up with it. He's still got a couple coins in his pocket meant for food at the game, so he gets some candy and some nuts and ends up having to be a little bit rude and kick Steve's door gently because he doesn't have any free hands.
When she opens the door this time, Mrs Rogers looks down at him and folds her arms, but he can tell she's trying not to smile, so he makes big eyes back.
She asks, "Does your mother know you have that, young man?" and she nods to the radio.
"Mom's at Aunt Mary's til tonight, but Dad was in the house when I brought it," Bucky replies solemnly, managing an answer that's technically completely true. Mrs Rogers tries to pretend she's giving him a stern look, but she steps back anyway and calls back at Steve.
Steve's sitting on the sofa with the little green blanket on his lap, arms folded and sulking, and Steve's good at sulking. He frowns even more fiercely as Bucky comes in and puts the radio down on the kitchen table, then fiddles around setting the speaker back on it.
"You're s'posed to be - " Steve starts, but stops because he has to duck because of how Bucky throws the bag of candy at his head.
"Shut up, grump," Bucky replies, as he finishes setting up the radio so it's best aimed at Steve's good ear. "S'fun stuff on the radio anyway, 'n'if I went to the game without you I'da been stuck with my cousins."
Steve scowls at him for a second longer before he gives in and says, "Well. Okay." He picks up the back of candies from where it ended up at the other end of the sofa and scoots over to give Bucky room.
"And happy birthday," Bucky adds, before he forgets and just as he manages to tune in to the program about history and Independence Day and stuff.
Mrs Rogers does stuff in the kitchen and then listens to Steve's breathing with her funnel-thing before she says she's gonna go take a nap before work; Bucky asks if she needs to turn the radio off, but she says it's fine and kisses the top of his head after she kisses Steve's.
Not a lot of people take the day off, this year, and neither Steve nor Bucky does either. Bucky's already gone when Steve gets up, leaving Steve to pull on his clothes in an empty place that still has the same uncomfortable silence that hangs around after a fight, the same uncomfortable silence they both went to sleep in after Bucky told him to stop being stupid and come back inside.
They run the air-raid sirens around noon, but there's not much in terms of celebrating. Roosevelt makes a speech. When Steve gets home, Bucky's sitting on the top step with a bottle of beer open. It's too hot, even for Steve, so he goes inside and gets rid of his shoes and socks, rolls up the cuffs of his slacks and undoes his shirt before he comes back out with a Coke and sits down beside Bucky.
Steve'd noticed, when he went in, that the stamped form was still on the table. Bucky hadn't touched it. Steve'd crumpled it up and thrown it away.
There's a bunch of kids from the other apartments crouched over something in the other corner of the courtyard, but there's no noise so whatever it is that's got their attention so securely, they're probably not tormenting something still alive. The sunlight's slanty and golden and'll end up gone soon.
"I'm sorry," Steve says, after a few minutes of silence between them. When Bucky glances his way, he adds, "For what I said." Clarifies it.
Because he'd be lying if he said he was sorry for going to the recruitment office at all, and he'd be lying if he so much as implied that he's not going to follow up, at some point, on his threat to just try again. They both know it, and if Steve's honest with himself he also knows he takes another drink right then so he can look away, because there's something in Bucky's face that reminds him of his mom, and Steve really doesn't want to think about what it is or what it means or even really confirm that it's true.
"Yeah," Bucky just says, quietly. "Me too."
Steve almost leaves it, but the quiet and tense is too much for him, so he ends up giving Bucky a sly sideways look and asks, "You're sorry for what I said?" and then ducks away as Bucky immediately reaches over to try and shove the side of his head, Steve laughing at him.
"No, smartass," Bucky retorts, "for what I said. You're a punk, you know that." But he's half-smiling, which means Steve wins.
It turns out the kids were poking at a dead bird of some kind: one of them uses a stick to flip it at one of the others, who yells and backs away shouting about how disgusting it is, while the others laugh. Steve says, "You're gonna be late," but Bucky shakes his head.
"Nah," he says, taking a swig of his beer. "Nothing really going on anyway, and pretty sure Tess's done with me." Which is news to Steve, but might've happened earlier today; Bucky replies to Steve's look with, "I declined to think up names for our future children," in his best dry and bland voice and Steve laughs once, short and incredulous.
"She's only known you a month," Steve protests - granted that it wouldn't've done her any good to know Bucky longer since Bucky's actually a lot more likely to volunteer for the Army than he is to actually ask someone to marry him.
"Yeah, well," Bucky says, "she got herself into a real snit when I wouldn't, and that was yesterday, and when she stopped by work at lunch I think she expected me to make up to her and got pretty injured when I didn't, so all things considered . . . " he shrugs.
Bucky has this problem, Steve muses. He never promises anything, Steve knows he's damn careful about it, but girls always want more from him than he's willing to give, and eventually they get tired of waiting for it. It never seems to bother Bucky much, he mostly shrugs and carries on, occasionally seems flat out relieved. It's the truth of these things that's hard to escape - women want Bucky for more than just dancing and kissing, but not Steve even for that.
"Oh, hey - " Bucky puts his beer down and gets up, suddenly, darting into the house and leaving Steve blinking. When he comes back, he's carrying a book, brown-covered with gold-leaf embellishments, and he taps Steve on the head with it. "You know Lawrence of Arabia did the Odyssey? Happy birthday."
They're of them taking shelter behind a stone wall, Dernier squinting fiercely for any sign of danger making it around the wall and everyone else taking five minutes to pretend that rations are actually food while the group of Germans they still need to finish wiping out take potshots at the wall occasionally and pretend to do the same. They're all soaked in a fantastic and aromatic mixture of muddy and bloody water and whatever else is in the muddy and bloody water, and Gabe just really doesn't like the weather in France.
After a minute Barnes digs something out of a pocket and hucks it at Cap's head and says, "Happy birthday, by the way, Captain Oh-Sixty-That'll-Be-No-Problem-General. If you get shot today I'm gonna point and laugh."
For a minute, Cap looks just really, really put-upon and says, "We're fine - "
"I'm still gonna laugh at you if you get shot," Barnes interrupts. "And you're still an overconfident punk. You're also twenty-six, so eat your fucking chocolate bar before I take it back."
Gabe glances at Monty, who is, in fact, wearing a slightly pained expression. "You did that just to make me feel old, didn't you," and everybody either grins or chuckles, except Morita, who suddenly looks like he's thinking about something and then starts ticking something off on his fingers before squinting and frowning at Cap, who's taken his gloves off, unwrapped the chocolate and is handing pieces of it around, except for the piece he gives to Barnes, which he throws at Barnes' head.
Barnes catches it, of course, but then Morita says, "Hold on, are you saying you were actually fucking born on the God-damn fourth of fucking July? Really?"
"Wait, is it the fourth already?" Gabe interrupts without actually thinking, because he's lost track of some days somewhere if so. Morita glances at him.
"Yeah, happy Independence Day," he says, with that same slight bitter twist to it that he's got for just about everything overtly patriotic, and nobody calls him on, because they all know his letters to his wife go to a camp. "But seriously, Cap?"
Cap looks slightly sheepish, and Barnes's got the sharp little half-smirk that means he's enjoying Cap feeling awkward, and Cap says, "Yeah, really and truly. Every year of my life." And now Gabe's staring at him too.
After a second, Gabe says, "I thought the Senator made that one up," feeling himself start to grin. "Just fate, huh?"
After a second of Barnes laughing, Cap balls up the chocolate wrapper and throws it at him. "If anyone gets shot today it'll be you, and they'll triangulate by the noise, you jerk."
Steve gets invited to more Fourth of July things than he can actually remember - a party, a couple of barbecues, a really excessive-sounding paintball game - and he truly, sincerely means to pick one of them, RSVP, and go. And he doesn't, and he's not really sure why except that somehow it slipped his mind, so right now he's at home and he feels too awkward to show up at any of them anyway, to crash.
He puts a record on, puts leftover pot-roast in the microwave, and listens to voices that come in through the open windows, trailing in. He should probably have those closed, have the AC on; it's hot, almost hot enough to be uncomfortable. But he doesn't.
Life seems to be a lot of probably-shoulds and doesn'ts, he thinks, and then shakes his head, pulls dinner out of the microwave when it beeps, and goes to stand by the window that looks over the street.
The fact is, if he's honest, he doesn't really want to be around people today anyway. There's turning ninety-five and twenty-seven at the same time and those are uncomfortable enough that instead of being cheering, the rest of the festivities feel like they're shouting at him, jumping in his face, and they have all day. Like someone's made the whole world louder and brighter and harder to follow.
He's melancholy, if he's honest. And at somebody's house, somebody's party, being melancholy would feel like an insult to their generosity and hospitality, and plastering on a happy act would just make him worse.
Steve knows he'll have to get over this eventually. There are a lot more birthdays to come and hitting this rut every single year just seems, well, sentimental, maybe self-indulgent. It's going to be this every year for the rest of his life: he's still going to be here, having woken up in the future, and it's also still going to be a holiday, the Summer Holiday, and everything else that's all tangled and twisted up.
There's nothing to do with that except say deal with it, Rogers and figure out how not to mope exactly like this every single year, but this year he hasn't figured it out yet.
He makes himself a sweet herbal tea he picked up from a nice little place while he was wandering a few weeks ago, and sits and just listens to the record for a while.
A few hours later, he's still melancholy, except he's also decided he hates God-damned fireworks. A lot.
[me] Happy 97th Birthday. Did you know New York (the state) has one of the highest percentages of seniors over the age of 90?
[steve] I can't say that's information I ever bothered to look up, no. are you going to make a joke about senior services? :P
[me] Well I was, but you just ruined it.
[steve] I'd gloat but then you'd just try harder.
[me] Not everyone's incapable of backing down from ridiculous challenges. Doing anything exciting?
[steve] yes I will be resisting the urge to find every idiot amateur messing around with fireworks and smack them upside the head.
[me] Fun times. Anything else?
[steve] honestly? I forgot what day it was until you texted. haven't been keeping close track of the days.
[me] Steve, that's almost as bad as missing Christmas.
[steve] FUNNY STORY
[me] Well done.
[steve] these things are honestly not that high on my priority list right now, Natasha.
[steve] thanks for reminding me that there are going to be fireworks, though.
[steve] you'd think them being illegal would mean a bit more.
[me] I'd offer you a cane to make yelling at the kids to get off your lawn more fulfilling, but you don't have a lawn.
[steve] ha ha ha miss has-been-out-of-the-USA-every-single-july-4th-i've-known-her-for.
[me] I'm going to order you a cake. With sparklers.
[steve] No. Don't.
[steve] Mean that, Natasha. Please don't.
[steve] look, I forgot, I don't care, pretty sure if Bucky realizes he forgot it's going to be a Thing.
[steve] basically anything that gets forgotten at any point is a Thing.
[steve] we don't need another Thing.
[steve] _I_ don't need another Thing. So don't.
[me] I'll order you a cake without sparklers.
[me] You can blame it on my having a whim.
[steve] A whim.
[me] I'm very whimsical. You must have noticed.
[steve] I appreciate the thought, but I don't NEED a cake, Natasha.
[me] Nobody needs a cake, Steve. That's the entire point of cake: you don't need it.
[me] You have it because you want it.
[me] and if you try to tell me you don't like cake we'll both know you're lying
[steve] Are you bored? :P
[me] no, Steve, I'm being a friend. Friends buy birthday cakes. :)
[me] it should be there by dinner time.
Some idiots are getting an early start on their explosives. It's not actually what keeps Bucky awake, but it's another layer of irritation. It occurs to him that one previously unconsidered advantage to Barton's bow is that it's hard to send a bullet with a note that says I am too tired for your shit cut it out now by firing to miss just above the asshole's head.
When it comes to messages, bullets are all limited.
What keeps him awake is something else, he's not even fucking sure what, but at around quarter to one he gives up on sleep and gives up on not waking Steve up and goes to sit out on the deck, because the fireworks are a little more tolerable if he can see the bursts occasionally. The idiot kitten follows at his heels, then hesitates for five minutes at the door the way she does, before she jumps up on the outdoor futon beside him and climbs his arm.
It's a nice night, still warm, pretty clear except for light pollution and the smoke from the completely and totally illegal fireworks everyone keeps letting off.
Takes less time than usual for Steve to follow him out, and that probably is the fireworks, the noise keeping him close to the edge of waking up so he notices Bucky's gone sooner. Bucky watches him take the second to frown at the empty living-room before he comes to the balcony door and the frown smoothes out. "Hey," he says, and then yawns, stepping outside.
His hair's sticking up again, slanting to the right this time; he looks tired but as the frown goes away he doesn't look unhappy. He leans on the railing for a minute and looks out and up. Another firework explodes somewhere out there and Steve's lips compress. It's not really that funny, but Bucky ends up laughing just a little anyway, maybe because he could so easily take a picture of that (if he had his phone) and tag it "#america scowls at firework #old man yells at cloud" and then spend the next two weeks watching people argue about what it all means.
Steve glances at him and Bucky raises his eyebrows. "Damn those kids, get off your lawn?" he suggests, and Steve makes a face.
"I know," he says, coming over to sit down, "I know. In another world we'd be setting them off - "
"Yeah," Bucky says, amused, "this one, 1939."
"Just at this point I feel like saying, yeah, so, we were stupid jerks, too," Steve grumbles. As he sits, Bucky leans over and catches Steve's arm with his right and pulls him over, and then reaches down to hit the handle that lets the futon recline. Steve doesn't seem to object, resettles himself closer with his hand resting on Bucky's abdomen. The kitten objects, but she does that all the time.
For a minute they just lie there, Bucky's right hand threading fingers through Steve's messy hair, fingertips tracing over his scalp, before Bucky remembers and says, "Happy birthday, by the way. You're old." And as Steve rolls the rest of the way over and braces himself by his forearm on Bucky's chest, Bucky adds, "It's the first day this week I've known what day it is and it's only because of those assholes, and I haven't been outside in two days, so you don't get a present."
There's a small smile playing around Steve's mouth, and he reaches over with his left hand and lightly flicks Bucky's ear, or tries to; Bucky blocks him. "Yeah," Steve says, "I do."
It takes Bucky a second to follow what Steve's getting at, and then he gives Steve an incredulous scowl. "Did you actually just say that? That's fucking ridiculous." Steve gives him a very patient look, so Bucky adds, "That's sentimental garbage, Steve."
"I'll fight you," Steve says, solemnly. Then he smiles and shakes his head. "Yeah, it's sentimental garbage. I'm sentimental. It's not like you don't know that. It's also," he says, shifting his weight onto his other hand, braced on the futon, "true."
And fuck, his ability to radiate sincerity gets annoying. Which is absolutely what it is, and what Bucky means, and not any damn thing else, and while he's at it his throat isn't closed, and he isn't balanced on the edge of turning nasty just because this shit is suddenly hitting his head the wrong way, and while he's at it Patton was a humble and penitent man. He manages, "Your standards've gotten pretty low, Steve."
This time Steve manages to flick his ear - his other ear - because Bucky's too busy concentrating on keeping his voice even. "Maybe," Steve says firmly, "you should quit talking about my best friend like that."
Damn him. And Bucky doesn't mean that, at all, and clutches at the lifeline of some kind of retort and falls back on, "Maybe you're fucking ridiculous."
And the second Steve looks innocent Bucky knows where this is going so by the time Steve's started to say, "Well, yeah, of course I am - " he's already shoving him off-balance and onto his back, and Steve's grinning up at him and then pulling Bucky's mouth down to his before Bucky can figure out what he wants to say, Steve's other hand falling to Bucky's thigh.
"Shut up," Steve says, after the kiss, their mouths still close enough Bucky can feel the breath from the words. "You're here. I'm happy. It's a good birthday. Just leave it, okay?"
Bucky stumbles on an answer, decides to kiss Steve instead.