The moon is a pale sliver in the corner of the window when slow footsteps sound out in the hall. A white envelope slides under the gap between the door and the floor boards. Steve unfolds himself from the hard-back chair where he’s been hunched over the small table drawing comics his mother would never approve it. It pays the bills, he won't mooch off Bucky. That isn't how things work between them.
The hall is empty when he opens the door with a soft, “Hello?”
There is no name on the letter. No stamp or address.
Shrugging he brings it over to his desk, flips the envelope over and pulls his Remington pocket knife out of his pocket to open the letter. The knife is warm from his pocket, red and white striped celluloid and steel smooth under his fingers. The paper cuts clean.
A single white feather fills the envelope.
“Coward,” he says, voice hard and the air leaves Steve’s lungs. His jaw locks up tight and his guts twist.
“What time’s it,” Bucky calls out from the doorway to his room. He’s dressed in a white undershirt and a loose pair of boxers, hair stuck up at odd angles, stubble covering his chin.
“Late,” Steve says, hunching his shoulders in. He keeps his breathing slow, in and out.
“Whaddya got there, Steve?”
“Nothin’, Buck, go back ta sleep,” he says crumpling the envelope and feather in his hand.
“What you got there,” Bucky asks, jerking his chin at Steve’s hand. “Don’t lie.” Steve’s shoulders slump and he tosses the balled paper to Bucky. He catches it before it hits him in the face. Steve’s always had good aim. The paper crinkles in Bucky’s hands and he smooths it out and pulls the feather, now bent, from it. “A feather.”
“I'm a coward,” Steve says flatly.
“S’what it means. A white feather for a coward.”
“It wasn’t meant for you, pal.”
“Who the hell is it meant for? Everyone knows you’re not a coward, Buck.”
Bucky laughs then, dark and ugly. “I'm tellin' ya you got it all wrong. It was meant for me. I’m the one. I’m the coward.”
“I got drafted, Steve.”
“That doesn’t prove-.”
“It proves I ain’t nothin’ but a liar and a coward,” Bucky says letting the paper and the feather drop to the floor. “Don’t say a fuckin’ word,” Bucky says, turning on his heel and slamming the door shut. The sound echoes through the apartment, rattling the framed sketches on the wall.
The feather drifts across the floor to Steve’s feet.
Tomorrow, he thinks. Tomorrow he will try and enlist again.