Audrey's life gets a new routine. Every Sunday that Steve isn't out saving the world with the Avengers, he comes over and has dinner with her and Liz. He always brings something—a cake, flowers, a bottle of really good bourbon—and he always arrives early enough that he can help out around the house first. He changes light bulbs they can't reach. He replaces old fire alarms. He rakes leaves.
At first, he causes a minor stir in the neighbourhood. Word spreads that Captain America is visiting Audrey, and for a few weeks Steve has to run a gauntlet of kids and adults who want autographs or pictures or just to gawk. But then he cleans Mrs. Lambert's gutters and helps Herb fix his car and plays catch with the Gutierrez kids down the block, and he becomes Audrey's friend, Steve, to everyone.
Steve always tells her about his work at the Pride Center. Sometimes he comes to the dance studio to watch her teach and to talk to a kid she's noticed might be having trouble at home or in the world. Sometimes the kid is gay or lesbian or trans, sometimes not, but Steve always seems to know what to say to them.
It's a nice routine, and it's only thrown occasionally when Steve is off being a superhero and comes back with bruises or stitches or, once, an arm in a sling. (The serum always works its magic and Steve is good as new in less than a week, but it doesn't mean Audrey doesn't worry about the boy.)
There's a bigger disruption in the routine when Steve finally decides to come out to the world at large. There's a press conference, and demonstrations for and against him. On Audrey's street, there are harsh words said, and Steve pulls back for a bit from helping Herb with his car or playing ball with the Gutierrez kids. She knows it hurts Steve, but he never loses his dignity. And it doesn't last long.
Herb finally comes over to ask Steve to help installing a tricky timing belt, and then tells Steve about his favourite cousin dying of AIDS in the '80s.
Then one of the Gutierrez kids, Daniel, knocks on the door and ends up tearfully coming out to Steve. Steve talks to Daniel and makes a plan with him. ("Do you have somewhere you can stay? Just in case." "Don't be stupid," Audrey tells them both. "He can stay here with me and Liz if he has to.") Then walks him back to his house to help him talk to his parents. Things are tense for a few weeks, but then Mrs. Gutierrez finally shows up on her doorstep one Sunday just after Steve has arrived. She brings a cake and her thanks for helping her husband understand their son.
Shortly after that, Steve is just Audrey's friend, Steve, once again. He helps Mrs. Lambert dig her garden in the spring and gives a reference to Mr. Gutierrez when he's applying for a new job. Having Captain America as a reference gets Mr. Gutierrez the job, and from that point on Mr. Gutierrez is Jonás and Mrs. Gutierrez is Patricia and they invite Steve and Audrey over for ceviche and gorditas.
Audrey begins to hope that Steve is getting the sort of life he deserves.
Then Steve misses Sunday dinner, and there's some sort of attack in Washington at SHIELD headquarters and Audrey and Liz spend three days watching replays of horrific news footage of giant flying fortresses crashing into the Potomac and hoping against hope that Steve wasn't on them.
She doesn't hear anything from Steve, but a friend of his, Sam, finally calls and tells her Steve is in the hospital. He's going to be okay, Sam says. She shouldn't worry, Sam says.
Of course, that makes her worry more.
When Steve finally shows up the next Sunday, he has Sam, with him. Sam hovers at his side, and Steve looks worse than Audrey's ever seen him. He has stitches and bruises on his face, and he's carrying himself like he feels every one of his ninety-odd years. He sits on her couch while Sam is charming and funny and doing his best to distract her from the fact that Steve's not saying a damn word.
After dinner, she shoos Sam into the kitchen to help Liz with the clean up and sits beside Steve on the couch and pats his hand.
"What happened?" she asks him, keeping her voice low and steady.
He shakes his head, and sits up a bit straighter.
"I may have to go away for a while."
"You're barely keeping yourself upright. Don't tell me they're going to send you out on missions already."
"They're not sending me anywhere. I'm sending myself."
"You don't want to know."
"I do want to know Steve. You're in a giant battle in Washington and show up here looking like you nearly died, and you want to disappear without telling me why?" She squeezes his hand as tightly as she can. "That's not going to happen."
"You don't want to know this, Audrey. Trust me."
"And you should trust me. I'm ancient. I've seen a lot. I can take anything you can throw at me. Metaphorically, anyway."
Steve sits and looks at her, looking miserable and indecisive.
"Do you really want to know?" he asks.
"I really want to know," she insists.
"Okay." He takes a deep breath and then he speaks, his voice nearly a whisper. "Bucky's alive."
"That's impossible!" She can't have heard him right.
"It's not. He's alive." His voice is slightly stronger. "He's the one I was fighting. He's the one who did this." He gestures at his face, at his body, and she wonders how many injuries his clothes are hiding.
"Bucky would never hurt you!" There's not a lot she's certain of in this world, but that's one thing she is. Steve wouldn't hurt Bucky, and Bucky would never hurt Steve.
"He didn't have a choice." He stops for a moment and his breath hitches. "The things they did to him, Audrey. The things they made him do."
"Oh, Steve." She reaches out to him and he collapses, his head on her shoulder.
He doesn't cry. It's not like the night they held a wake for Bucky and Steve wept until he fell asleep. It's worse. He clutches her shoulders and breathes carefully in and out, and Audrey thinks he's going to shatter in her arms.
"Do you know where he is?" she finally asks.
He shakes his head.
"We're going to find him." Sam is leaning against the doorway into the kitchen, his arms crossed, a determined look on his face. When he'd arrived with Steve, Audrey had wondered if Sam was his boyfriend, if he'd finally grieved enough and moved on. Now she's not sure what to think. Except she knows the sort of devotion Steve inspires. She's sees it in the neighbourhood, she sees it at the dance school. She saw it back on the USO tour. Sam is the latest in a long line of people who'll do anything for Steve because they know he'll do anything for them.
Audrey pats Steve's back but looks directly at Sam. She's impressed when he doesn't look away, but meets her gaze head on.
"You look after him," she tells Sam fiercely. "You look after them both."
They're gone days, then weeks. After a month she's worried. After two months, she's frantic.
Twice, he leaves voicemail messages, hurried assurances that he's all right and will be home soon that do nothing to calm her worry. Once, he sends her a postcard, Greetings from the Jersey Shore, and she wonders if he's as close as Jersey why he doesn't come see her.
A week after the postcard arrives, on a pleasant September Sunday afternoon, there's a knock on her door and there he is, looking exhausted and frayed and…happy.
"I found him," he says, and then he hugs her, right there on her front porch, where the whole neighbourhood can see. She sees the two people with him, Sam and another man hiding behind him.
Sam smiles at her, but she can see the worry at the edges of his expression.
"Hi, Audrey," Sam says.
"Hi, Sam." She pulls out of Steve's hug. "Where are your manners, Steve? You haven't introduced me to your friend." She almost says "fella," but she's not sure if that's true anymore.
Steve stands up straight and he looks so proud that Audrey almost can't stand to look at him.
"Audrey Smythe, this is James Buchanan Barnes. Bucky, this is my friend, Audrey."
Bucky finally steps from behind Sam and nods at her.
"Hello," he says, his voice tentative. He keeps his eyes directed down, and begins to reach out to shake her hand before thinking better of it.
She only met Steve's Bucky once, during the war. He and Steve had been on leave, both in dress uniforms, both smiling and handsome and happy.
Now, Bucky looks like he hasn't smiled for decades. His dark hair is long, nearly down to his shoulders, and stuffed under a frayed ball cap. In spite of the warmth of the day, he has a henley and multiple t-shirts layered under an army surplus jacket that's seen better days, and black leather gloves on both hands. He's wearing dark jeans, with his feet shoved into what look like combat boots. His eyes dart all over, as if even on this quiet residential street he's looking for threats.
"It's nice to meet you, James Buchanan Barnes." She wants to hug this man, to give him some comfort he so clearly deserves, but she's not sure that would be entirely safe. Instead she will treat him with the courtesy and respect he's so clearly been denied.
"You can call me Bucky."
"Thank you, Bucky."
She herds them into the house, hoping that the neighbours haven't seen their resident superhero and his entourage. They've all been concerned about Steve, but she doesn't think any of her guests is up to visitors at the moment.
"Liz," she calls out. "Look who's come for a visit!"
Liz and Sam take charge of dinner, leaving her free to talk with Steve and Bucky in the living room. Bucky sits beside Steve on the couch, not quite touching him, but not far from his side. The contrast between the two men nearly breaks her heart.
Steve is practically glowing. He smiles more than she's ever seen him, his gaze moving to Bucky frequently as he shares stories of when they were kids and young men, growing up in Brooklyn.
Bucky looks lost. He's taken off the jacket and ball cap, but still has the left glove on. She wonders what the long sleeves and glove are hiding, and imagines it's nothing good. From his expression, Audrey can tell Bucky doesn't remember half the stories Steve is telling, and when he does remember something, there is as much pain as pleasure in his eyes. She wonders briefly if Steve knows how damaged his friend is, but then remembers the last time she saw him. ("The things they did to him, Audrey.") Steve knows. He definitely knows.
Conversation finally turns to their reunion.
"I chased him halfway around the world, and I finally found him in Jersey," Steve says.
"Jersey!" That explains the postcard.
"Yeah. Paramus. He was in an apartment over a little store. Weren't you, Buck?"
"Why Jersey?" Audrey asks him.
Bucky blinks and looks down, wringing his hands before he answers.
"I knew it was safe."
"Yeah, no self-respecting Hydra goon would be caught dead in Jersey," Steve says. Audrey can see Steve go to elbow Bucky, and then rein himself in.
"And I remembered…" Bucky trails off, and Audrey sees Steve lean toward him, as if to drink up every last thing Bucky does remember.
"You remembered?" Steve prompts.
"I remembered you trying to enlist. Lying. Saying you were from Paramus." Bucky speaks slowly and deliberately, as if each word costs him great effort.
"Jesus, Bucky." Steve leans back. "I didn't remember that." This time, he does elbow Bucky, a light contact that Bucky leans into, ever-so-slightly.
Bucky smiles at him, the first time Audrey's seen that expression on his face. It's a delicate thing, like thin sunlight breaking through a dark cloud bank, but it's a smile. And the joy it puts on Steve's face is like the sun on a bright summer day, illuminating everything it touches, including Bucky.
Steve reaches out and tentatively rests his hand on Bucky's right shoulder. Bucky closes his eyes and lets him.
It's going to be a long road, Audrey thinks, but she's sure they're going to make it.
Audrey has a new routine.
Every Sunday without fail, Steve and Bucky and Sam arrive at her door. ("Sam is staying with us for a while," Steve tells her. "He's a counsellor at the VA. He can…help." He doesn't have to say what Sam is helping them with. She can imagine.)
Steve still helps the neighbours and plays ball with the Gutierrez kids. (Daniel has a boyfriend now, Kevin, and Kevin joins them more often than not.) Sam cleans gutters and plays ball and fixes cars with Steve. Bucky stays inside the house, talking with Audrey (well, more like listening to Audrey) and helping Liz with dinners, chopping vegetables and washing lettuce and peeling potatoes.
After the first couple of weeks, Bucky finally takes off his left glove inside the house, and Audrey can see what he's been hiding: a gleaming, metal hand, looking like something out of one of those science fiction movies she never bothers with.
He catches her staring at it.
"I can put the glove back on," he offers.
"No! Heavens, no! It's fine. It's just that I've never seen anything like it."
He holds it up for her to look at.
"It's remarkable," she finally says.
"It works okay," he says, but she can tell he's a bit pleased at her attention. Those Hydra bastards may have given him that hand, but it's his now, a part of him.
Every week, he seems a bit better, a bit more present. He starts to tell his own stories instead of just listening to Steve's. He and Liz start talking about science, about subatomic particles and gravity waves and all sorts of things that leave her eyes glazed over but have him display more enthusiasm than he's shown over anything except Steve. He leaves every week with books and articles and addresses of websites from Liz. One day he even goes out and plays ball with Daniel and Kevin and Daniel's little brother, Luis. The boys are all impressed that he can catch a ball in his left hand wearing nothing more than a black leather glove.
Her routine is altered again one Sunday when Sam tells her he's going back home to Washington.
"I need to get back to my job, and I think these two idiots will do okay on their own, now. And they probably want me out of their hair." The two idiots in question are sitting on the couch. Bucky is resting his head on Steve's shoulder, and Steve has one arm wrapped protectively around him. They're definitely going to do okay.
A few weeks more, and Bucky perks up when Audrey is talking about the dance school, and the class she ran this week for a couple of old students who are auditioning for ABT.
"They taught me how to dance." Bucky's voice is soft, as if he's remembering something pleasant. Steve's as much as told her that most of Bucky's Hydra memories are anything but pleasant. "I was training these youngsters, girls, and they all did ballet. They said it would make me a better fighter, but I…" He trails off, looking embarrassed.
"Yes, Bucky," she pushes him.
"I just liked it."
Bucky never tells them what food he'd prefer or what show he'd rather they watched on TV or when he'd like to go home. He leaves almost all choices to Steve. Apart from talking with Liz about science, this is one of the few times he's mentioned anything he likes, and Audrey jumps on it.
"What sort of dance?"
"Would you like to dance again?"
Bucky hesitates and looks at Steve.
"It's up to you, Buck," he says, and Audrey thinks good for you, Steve, letting him make his own choice.
"Y-Yes," he stammer out. "Yes, I would."
"Then you're going to dance. Liz! Get the car ready! We're going to the school."
"Audrey, you can't," Steve objects. "It's late. You must be tired. And you can't just open up the school on a Sunday night."
"Two things about getting old, Steve: I don't sleep that much, and I do whatever the hell I want. I'm the damn owner of the school, and if I want to open it up on a Sunday night, I'll open it up on a Sunday night."
Nobody argues with her.
The four of them drive to the school. Audrey turns on the lights in the back studio while Bucky pulls his hair back with a tie from the jar on the front desk, and digs through the lost-and-found bin for something to replace his jeans. Sasha is about Bucky's size and Bucky comes into the studio wearing a pair of leggings Sasha has left behind. She gives him an appreciative stare, and smirks. They'll have to get him a dance belt if this is something he's going to do, or he'll be giving her a bit more of a show than he'll want to.
Bucky is still wearing his usual long-sleeved henley with three layers of t-shirts under it. Audrey sits on her stool and points at him with her cane.
"You're going to get too hot with all of that on."
He hasn't looked afraid for weeks, but he looks afraid now.
"It's okay," she assures him. "We're all friends."
He nods, and begins peeling off the layers. She's seen his hand. She doesn't think he can be hiding anything more that will shock her, but she's wrong. He gets down to a tank undershirt and she can see everything: the metal arm with the red star on the shoulder; the scar tissue around the arm. She can't imagine the pain he must have gone through for that thing. She wonders if it still hurts.
She realizes she must be staring when Bucky crosses his arms, hiding the metal one behind flesh. She berates herself for treating a friend like a thing, and gets herself into the frame of mind to teach.
"Are you ready to warm up?" she asks matter-of-factly.
He nods, and uncrosses his arms and takes his place at the barre.
Liz and Steve watch silently from benches on the side as Audrey takes Bucky through a basic warm up. He's rusty at first, but quickly corrects himself with her prompting. She taps out the beat with her cane, and he follows her instructions, becoming more and more fluid as the minutes pass.
He's good. He's very good. More bulky than usual for a dancer, but he moves beautifully. She's sad that he developed this ability in the cause of violence, but it's good that he can take joy in it now.
She looks across the studio to Liz and Steve. Liz spent her childhood in this school. She's seen hundreds of dancers, good, bad, and indifferent, and she's looking impressed. Steve, though… Steve looks like he's having an epiphany. His eyes are wide and his mouth is open and he's clutching the bench with both hands. She's not surprised. His fella is a handsome guy, and a beautiful dancer.
Time to show them both what Bucky can really do, she thinks.
"Do you want to try something more?" she asks.
He shakes out his arms and legs, and stretches his neck, then gives her a nod.
"Steve, can you start up the CD, second track?"
She works Bucky through a simple sets of moves, and when he picks those up easily, she takes him through the choreography she created for the boys auditioning for ABT. It's meant to showcase strength and agility, and Bucky takes to it immediately. When he runs through it perfectly on the third try and takes a bow, both Liz and Steve leap to their feet, applauding and whistling. Bucky looks down at the floor, looking both pleased and embarrassed.
Steve finally rushes Bucky and gives him a hug.
"Steve!" Bucky tries to fend him off. "I'm a sweaty mess."
"I don't care." Steve squeezes him even harder.
"Punk," Bucky says.
"Jerk," Steve replies.
Audrey doesn't know why both of the boys have tears in their eyes, but she knows something has changed, here in this room. And she knows it's definitely a change for the better.
Bucky does the routine one more time, but Audrey can see exhaustion in the line of his arms, in the way his grand jetés aren't quite so grand. She's getting tired herself.
"Time for you to get your fella home, Steve," she says, the first time she's called Bucky Steve's fella out loud. The smiles she gets from both of them makes her happier than she'd thought possible.
Another new routine develops.
Audrey makes sure she takes a long nap on Sundays before Steve and Bucky arrive. Bucky helps Liz makes dinner, Steve does his usual neighbourhood rounds, and then the two men spend dinner side by side, constantly reaching out to poke, prod, needle, elbow and otherwise touch each other constantly. Audrey's heart just about bursts every single time; they both look so happy. After dinner, Steve drives them to the school, and Bucky dances until they're all happily exhausted. Liz always looks askance at them all when Steve brings her back home, but even she can see the differences in them both. Especially Bucky. He glows almost as much as Steve.
But then one Sunday they show up and they don't look happy at all.
"I'm leaving tomorrow," Steve says. "Avengers' business."
Bucky doesn't say anything, just looks down at the floor and clenches his metal hand, looking as miserable and lost as he did the first time he showed up at her door behind Steve, all the gains of the last weeks evaporated like steam from a sewer grate.
"How long will you be gone?" she asks.
"I'm not sure. At least a few days. I've told them at the Pride Center I might be gone as long as two weeks."
With every word Steve speaks, Audrey can see Bucky's muscles tighten more, see his shoulders hunch further. She makes a decision immediately.
"Bucky, why don't you stay here while Steve's gone? I hate to think of you in Brooklyn on your own."
Bucky looks a bit less tense, and Steve brightens immediately.
"Really?" Steve sounds surprised. As if she wouldn't do what she could to help them both. Sometime in the last few months, they've both become family. "That would be okay?"
"More than okay. We have a spare room that's not doing anything, and we'd love the company, wouldn't we, Liz? And Bucky can earn his keep. Change a few lightbulbs. Take out the trash."
"Shine your shoes," Bucky says. Steve jolts immediately, and Audrey knows Bucky's regained another memory, has recovered another touchstone between them.
Bucky arrives the next afternoon, the ball cap pulled firmly over his eyes, a duffle slung over his shoulder, and with even more layers of clothing on that usual. Audrey shows him to his room and insists he lies down. She's become a firm believer in the restorative powers of naps, and he does look stretched less thin when he comes down for dinner.
Steve's gone for a week and a half. And for a week and a half, Bucky is back to checking his surroundings constantly for threats. The only times he relaxes are when Liz takes them to the school so he can dance, and when Steve manages to steal time away from whatever secret operation the Avengers are working on to call him on his cell phone. Bucky slips away to his room for those calls, and always reappears breathing slightly easier.
When Steve shows up one evening at the front door, Audrey doesn't think Bucky is going to let go of him long enough to get them home.
A few weeks later, there's another crisis, another assignment, and this time they all just assume Bucky will stay with Audrey. Steve's only gone five days this time, but Bucky is just as tense for all those five days. This time, though, he ventures out of the house. He helps Mrs. Lambert with her garden and Herb with his car. And when the Gutierrez kids knock on the door after school one day, he goes out and throws the ball with them, showing off his catching ability with the gloved metal hand. Audrey sees how good he is with the kids, how patient he is with Mrs. Lambert, and she starts to form a plan. But the plan is going to take some research.
First, she calls Sam.
"What can I do for you, Mrs. Smythe?" Sam is always a gentleman with her.
"I have a question about Bucky."
"Is he safe?"
"What do you mean?" Sam's tone is careful, measured.
"Put another way, is he dangerous? Could he hurt someone?" Audrey hates that she has to ask this, but she knows she does. ("The things they did to him, Audrey. The things they made him do.")
"We all could hurt someone," Sam says immediately. "If someone harmed Liz, I'm sure you could do some damage with that cane of yours."
"That's not quite what I meant." She pauses and thinks carefully about what she does mean. "Could he hurt someone without meaning to?"
"That's an entirely different question." Sam goes quiet on the other end of the line for a few moments. "I'm guessing you know Bucky's history?"
"Neither of them have told me details, but they've told me enough."
"Then you know he was conditioned, forced to do some pretty horrible things. He's worked with some people Stark recommended to break that conditioning."
"And with you?"
"And with me. Though what he's been through, it's way above my pay grade. I'm just a VA counsellor with some coping mechanisms up my sleeve."
"You're a lot more than that, Sam Wilson." Because it's true. Sam is kind and compassionate and, along with Steve, one of the most honourable men she knows.
"Thank you, ma'am."
Not to mention polite.
"Did they work? The treatment and your coping mechanisms."
"They worked. He won't do anything against his will. And I'm sure you know him well enough to know he'd never willingly hurt anyone. Not unless they were harming someone he cared about. Does that help?"
"It does, indeed."
"Now, can I ask why you wanted to know that?"
"I may have a bit of a secret project of my own. I'll let you know when I can."
"You're a tricky one, Mrs. Smythe."
"I'm going to take that as a compliment."
"That's how it was meant, ma'am. You take care of yourself."
The next part of her plan happens the next Sunday, when Steve and Bucky come for their next visit. She leaves Bucky with Liz to manage dinner and gets Steve to take her to the market in Liz's car. They really do need whipping cream for the strawberry shortcake Liz has made, but she mostly wants to talk to Steve alone. So, when Steve parks, she doesn't get out of the car.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Is Bucky in hiding?"
Steve immediately comes alert. He reminds her of Bucky on a bad day, scanning for threats and constantly on guard.
"Has anyone approached you? Have you seen anyone suspicious?" To Audrey, Steve looks like he's 30 seconds away from grabbing what (and who) is most important to him and running until no one can find him.
"It's nothing like that," she assures him. He relaxes slightly. "But there's something I'd like his help with and it would be best if he were, well, legal."
"Can I ask what you're planning?"
"I'd like to run it by Bucky first. Once I know it's possible."
Steve chews his lip for a minute, gripping the steering wheel tightly.
"Well, he's not exactly illegal. But he's not entirely legal either. Since SHIELD imploded, we've been sort of avoiding the authorities altogether." He stares off into the distance. "I suppose it's time to deal with all that. Maybe Tony can help." He doesn't look confident about that, though.
It still amazes her that Steve is on a first-name basis with Tony Stark. But then she's on a first-name basis with Captain America, so she shouldn't talk.
She puts her plans on hold, and life continues.
Steve goes on a few more Avengers assignments; Bucky stays with her and Liz every time. He helps the neighbours. He plays baseball with the Gutierrez kids. He dances. Audrey has long since given him his own key to the studio so he can dance whenever the school is closed.
Then one Sunday, Steve and Bucky show up for their weekly visit and Bucky is beaming.
"Look what Steve did for me." He holds up a passport.
"It wasn't me," Steve insists as Audrey takes the precious document from Bucky and opens it up. There it is: James Buchanan Barnes. Born in Brooklyn, March 10, 1917. Citizen in good standing of the United States of America. "It was mostly Tony." He thinks for a second. "Well, probably mostly Tony's lawyers."
"Everyone's going to think the birth date is a mistake," Bucky says as he takes the passport back from Audrey and puts it respectfully in his jacket pocket.
"Just tell whoever asks that you're a very well-preserved 97." Audrey pats him on the arm. It's a mark of how far he's come that he allows the contact without a flinch.
"The passport came with a full presidential pardon for any crimes committed while he was a prisoner of war," Steve tells her when Bucky heads for the kitchen to say hello to Liz. "Not to mention a distinguished service cross."
"So, he's really free now."
"He really is." Steve looks to the back of the house where they can hear Bucky discussing dinner with Liz. "He can do anything he wants." He turns his attention back to her, his gaze razor sharp. "Now, what did you have in mind for him?"
When she reached her eighties, Audrey though she was done with change. She thought things would continue as they always had, until she slowed down and finally passed away in her sleep. Or maybe during a dance class. (It would be a horror for her students, but she wouldn't be sad to breathe her last at the school.)
Instead, Steve and his friends have brought her more change than she'd gone through in the twenty years before. She gets used to one routine, and then a new one crops up.
She has a new routine now.
Three days a week, Bucky comes over and makes her lunch. He runs any errands she needs. And then he heads over to the school to help Katie open up. He's just helping Katie teach for now, while he studies for his teacher certification, but he's already a natural, just like Audrey knew he would be. He does best with the littlest kids. He gets their attention by being as goofy as they are and then directing their energy into the lesson. And they've never had so many boys in the classes. Apparently ballet is cool for boys if it's taught by a veteran with a metal arm. Audrey can see their point. She's arrived at the end of one of the toddler classes to find four kids hanging off of Bucky's metal arm as he spins around. She wasn't sure who was laughing more, the kids or Bucky.
Bucky is happier than Audrey has ever seen him.
Not that he doesn't have bad days. There are days when a cloud hangs over him, and she has to cajole him out the door to teach. And there are days when Steve's away on an assignment and Bucky's an anxious mess. But more often than not, there's a smile on his face and a loose grace in his stride.
If Bucky is happy, Steve is ecstatic.
He's always touching Bucky, wrapping an arm around his shoulders, around his waist. When he realizes that she and Liz don't give a rat's ass what they do, he'll give Bucky a kiss whenever he can get away with it. Bucky always makes a sour face after it happens, and makes a show off wiping off his mouth, but Audrey can see his shoulders relax, can see the contentment slide into his bones.
She's so proud to have given them a safe space where they can become the men they always should have been.
Captain America has found his fella, and all is right with her world.